Ethos Education

Paul: What is the relationship between Christian faith and a belief in a scientific understanding of the world?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of the similarities and differences of Christianity and science.
  • Understanding of different accounts (scientific and Christian) of how the world was made.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the way in which some things are naturally in opposition to one another, while others can happily coexist.
  • Analyse the relationship between science and the Christian faith.
  • Analyse the biblical account of creation and compare it with the prevailing scientific view of how the Earth was made.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a discussion between a creationist Christian, a scientifically minded Christian, an atheist scientist and an extraterrestrial.

STARTER:

Ask the students to play a game of Friend or Foe. Explain that you are going to say a series of pairs, and that you want the students to decide whether the two specified things are in a state of conflict (that is, inherently contradictory to one another and in a natural state of opposition) or whether they can happily co-exist. For example, if we said ‘football and cricket’, students would have to decide whether it is possible to be a fan of both, or whether it is necessary to choose one over the other. You could ask the students to pass their judgements either by a show of hands, or by asking everyone to stand up in the middle of the room, and move to one side of the room or the other to show their point of view.

Here are the pairs.

  • Healthy eating and chips.
  • X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.
  • Labour party and Conservative party.
  • Europe and America.
  • Environmental concern and motor racing.
  • Science and religion.

Allow brief discussion if there are any interesting differences or patterns in the students’ voting. After the final pair, explain that today’s lesson is going to be looking at the question of whether science and religion are natural enemies, or whether they can happily coexist.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

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

Explain that Graham (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are on a road trip across America when they pick up Paul (Seth Rogan) an extraterrestrial on the run from the American secret service. In this scene they are woken by a knock at the door of their trailer. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the two different explanations for the origins of the world that are put forward in the clip.

  • Start time:         0.35.21 (beginning of chapter 8 of the DVD)
  • End time:          0.37.25
  • Clip length:       2 minutes and 4 seconds

The clip starts with Graham, Clive and Paul all sleeping. After a knock at the door, the first line is Paul saying, ‘Argh, who’s knocking?’ The last line is Paul saying, ‘And that’s Jenga’ after Ruth (Kristen Wiig) faints. Please note that this clip includes one instance of swearing. If you feel it is inappropriate for your students, please do not show the clip.

Ask the students to summarise the two points of view presented about how the world came to be. Draw out that Ruth’s belief (the Universe is only 4,000 years old and can only be the product of Intelligent Design) is in contrast to the views put forward by Clive (biological order came through the maelstrom of physical and chemical chaos) and by Paul (small details such as the human eye didn’t just come into being but are the culmination of billions of years of development across countless species).

Ask the students whether they think that Ruth was a good representation of what Christians believe about the creation of the world. Do the students think that the conflict between Ruth’s Christian faith and Clive’s belief in science was an inevitable one? Are Christian faith and science mutually incompatible? Draw out that while some Christians do believe what Ruth believes, there are others who take a different position on how the world was created. While some Christians and some scientists see the two as incompatible, there are many others (Christians, agnostics and atheists) who do not see any problem with believing in the Christian God and believing in science.

Explain that you are going to compare scientific accounts of the origins of life on Earth with the story of creation found in the Bible. The main biblical account of creation is found in the first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2. It is worth pointing out that this part of the Bible tells the story twice – Genesis 1:1-2:3 tells the story from a cosmic perspective, whereas Genesis 2:4-25 is more personal, with a greater emphasis on Adam and Eve as individuals, rather than on the creation of the planet and of humanity in general. Some Christians would argue that there is nothing in the prevailing scientific view which contradicts the Bible, while others would have extreme difficulty reconciling the two accounts.

There are a number of different Christian perspectives on how the creation accounts from Genesis should be understood. Some Christians – like Ruth – believe that they are literally true, and that God took six days to create all life on the planet. Other Christians believe that the language used is more symbolic – that God did create the Earth and all life upon it, but that he didn’t necessarily do so over such a short timescale. What Christians agree on is that the Earth didn’t just happen, it was made by God, and that Genesis 1 and 2 provide a description of this process. It is probably fair to say that Genesis 1 and 2 is concerned with who is responsible for the creation of the world (God), rather than with the mechanics of how he created it.

Give out copies of the How Did the World Begin? worksheet and ask the students to read the summary of prevailing scientific theory about the beginning of the Universe. Ask them to read through the account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 and to fill in the other half of the worksheet, suggesting verses that seem to either agree with or to contradict the scientific account. Students should also write a sentence or two to summarise whether or not they think the biblical account of creation is compatible with modern scientific thought.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write a continuation of the scene, where Ruth wakes up and discusses the subject of evolution/creation/Intelligent Design in a calmer manner. For the interest of the assessment activity, ask the students to make Graham – the only character in the scene not to explicitly state his position – a Christian who is happy to combine science and the Bible in his understanding of how the world came to be. It is worth pointing out that this is in no way the perspective that Graham has in the film.

YOU WILL NEED:

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