Ethos Education

Paul: How do we decide what we believe?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand some of the reasons for believing (or not believing) in the existence of God.
  • Knowledge of the ways in which, according to believers, God can be known.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Students reflect on the difficulty of determining truth when there is no evidence.
  • Students reflect on how they decide what to believe.
  • Reflect on what evidence they would require to come to a decision about whether or not to believe in the existence of God.
  • Evaluate the roles of evidence and experience in understanding the truth.
  • Analyse the basis for Christian claims for the existence of God.
  • Synthesise learning by compiling lists of reasons to believe or disbelieve Christian arguments for the existence of God, and then by writing a short statement based on those lists.

STARTER:

Play ‘No-clue Cluedo’. Display a list of the Cluedo suspects, weapons and rooms at the front. This game is based on the original version of the classic board game, not the recently revamped one. In case any students have never played the original form of the game, explain that in it, players gather clues to solve a murder, attempting to identify the murderer, the murder weapon and the place where the murder took place. No-clue Cluedo works in exactly the same way, but there are no clues – simply a list of possible suspects, weapons and places. For your references, here is the full list of official Cluedo clues:

Suspects:

  • Colonel Mustard
  • Miss Scarlet
  • Professor Plum
  • Reverend Green
  • Mrs. White
  • Mrs. Peacock

Weapons:

  • Dagger
  • Revolver
  • Lead Piping
  • Candlestick
  • Rope
  • Spanner

Rooms:

  • Hall
  • Lounge
  • Dining Room
  • Kitchen
  • Ballroom
  • Conservatory
  • Billiard Room
  • Library
  • Study

In advance of the lesson, prepare an envelope with the correct solution (one suspect, one weapon, one location) inside it. Ask the students to write down which cards they think are inside the envelope, then swap their answers with another student. You could offer a prize for the correct answer if you wanted to (the chances are that you won’t have to give it out to anyone, but only offer something that you are prepared to give away, just in case). Reveal the solution and find out whether anyone has won. Point out that it is impossible to work out the right answer without any clues (if anyone did happen to get the right answer, make the point that they didn’t work it out, they just got lucky and had no more insight than anyone else in the class). Ask the students what kind of evidence would have helped them to guess the solution more accurately.

Explain that in this lesson you will be considering how we know what is true and what helps us decide whether to believe in something.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the first clip from the film Paul (Universal, 2011, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that in this clip, Clive (Nick Frost) and Graham (Simon Pegg) are settling into their hotel room in America. They are respectively the writer and illustrator of a science fiction graphic novel, and are combining a visit to a comic book convention with a road trip of ‘UFO hotspots’. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the different attitudes towards extra-terrestrials shown by the hotel porter and the two Brit sci-fi nerds.

  • Start time: 0.05.13 (beginning of chapter 2 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.07.08
  • Clip length: 1 minute and 55 seconds

The clip begins with Graham and Clive in bathrobes in their hotel room. Graham is on the phone confirming the booking of the trailer for their road trip. The first line is Graham saying, ‘Yes… yes…’. The last line is Graham saying, ‘Ahh, thank you,’ to the hotel porter.

Ask the students what they think the hotel porter thought of Graham and Clive’s interest in UFOs. What did his answer to the question ‘Do you believe in UFOs?’ suggest about his attitude? Draw out that not only did he not seem to believe in them, but that it wasn’t an issue that he appeared to have given much thought to.

Now ask the students how they think Clive and Graham felt about the hotel porter’s reaction. Draw out that they clearly both have strong views about the existence of aliens, and that they have both obviously spent a lot of time exploring the evidence and become well informed about the various theories and claims in this area.

Ask the students how they think Graham and Clive might have attempted to convince the porter that aliens existed. From their point of view, what could they have done? From his point of view, what might make him believe in extraterrestrials and what would he be likely to dismiss as the incoherent gibbering of a couple of British sci-fi geeks?

Get the students to discuss in small groups what kind of evidence might be required to convince them one way or the other about the existence of God.

Show a second clip from Paul. In this clip, Clive and Graham get the ultimate confirmation that their belief in extraterrestrials is a correct one.

  • Start time:       0.10.55 (Beginning of chapter 3 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.15.20
  • Clip length:     4 minutes and 25 seconds

The clip starts with a road sign for the Extraterrestrial Highway. The first line is Graham saying, ‘Black mailbox.’ The clip ends after Graham tells Paul (Seth Rogan) that Clive has a child’s bladder, to which Paul replies, ‘Oh, fantastic.’ Please note that this clip includes one instance of swearing (Paul the alien says the f word under his breath). If you want to avoid the swearing, you could stop the clip at 0.14.01, immediately after Clive laughs and feints. The swearing comes straight after this, so you need to stop the clip smartly.

Ask the students what difference meeting Paul might make to someone trying to decide whether or not aliens existed. What difference would Clive and Graham subsequently telling someone about their encounter make? Explain that many Christians would argue that their claims about the existence of God are based, at least in part, on personal experience. For the rest of this lesson you are going to help the students to explore those claims.

Get the students to read John 1:14 and 18. Explain that ‘the Word’ is Jesus, who Christians believe is God come to earth as a human. Discuss what implications these verses have for what Christians understand to be true about God.

Hand out the worksheet and ask the students to consider why Dr William Lane Craig decided to believe in God. (Dr William Lane Craig is a respected philosopher and Christian speaker whose work is part of the WJEC Philosophy and Ethics ‘A’ level syllabus. The story on this worksheet is taken from www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-curley08.html where it is part of a larger debate between Dr Craig and Dr Edwin Curley on the existence (or otherwise) of God. You could refer more able students to the full transcript of the debate to provide differentiation within this lesson.) Ask the students to write down the main reasons why experience might prompt people to believe something is true, as well as writing down any objections they can think of to these arguments.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to prepare a list of reasons for trusting the evidence cited by Christians for believing in the existence of God, and a parallel list of reasons to not trust that evidence. Students should use their lists to write a short statement about the merits of believing (or not believing) in God. They can choose to let this statement reflect their own personal point of view, or to generally address the issue of weighing evidence and coming to a decision without nailing their own colours to the mast. You might want to remind them that they won’t be marked for coming to the ‘right’ conclusion (whatever you deem that to be), only for demonstrating their understanding of the relevant issues.

YOU WILL NEED:

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