- 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.
- Reflect on the way new evidence changes what people believe about things.
- Reflect on how people 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.
Divide the class into small groups (or, alternatively, you could run the activity as a whole class). Explain that a vase has been broken in a family home, and they have to decide what happened. Give out the suspect cards (scroll down to page 2 of the PDF) and ask the students to discuss which of the four suspects they think is responsible for the breakage. Students may opt to point the finger at one or more suspect, or to argue that it’s impossible to make an assessment in the absence of any evidence. Either way, give out the evidence cards (which need to be cut up in advance and arranged in the correct order) and ask the students to reveal the cards one at a time. After each card, students should decide whether or not they have enough information to draw any conclusions and, if so, who they think is responsible.
Once the groups have worked through all of the evidence cards, ask how many people changed their mind as the activity went on. Ask what led to these changes and draw out that as students built up a fuller picture and had access to more evidence, so they were better able to determine what really happened.
Explain that in most real life situations it is rare for us to be absolutely certain that we have all the evidence available to us, so we have to draw conclusions on the best available evidence. In today’s lesson you are going to be thinking more about how people weigh the evidence concerning the existence or non-existence of God.
Here is the text of the cards:
Evidence card 1: The vase was intact when Mum went to the shops at 2.15. It was broken when she came home at 4.30.
Evidence card 2: Big brother and Little brother like to play with a ball inside the house.
Evidence card 3: Big sister likes to dance in the room with the vase, and often knocks ornaments over while doing so.
Evidence card 4: Baby sister is very inquisitive and very clumsy.
Evidence card 5: Big sister went to the shops with Mum.
Evidence card 6: It was a sunny day, and Big brother and Little brother were playing football in the garden all afternoon.
Evidence card 7: Baby sister was left unattended in the room with the vase for several minutes.
Evidence card 8: Baby sister has not yet developed the ability to crawl, and was inside a playpen out of reach of the vase at the suspected time of the accident.
Evidence card 9: Big sister came home from the shops half an hour earlier than Mum.
Evidence card 10: While at the shops, Big sister bought a new CD of dance music.
Evidence card 11: Dad was at home, and told Big sister to go and play her so-called music in her room.
Evidence card 12: Dad looked very embarrassed when Mum got home and discovered the broken vase.
Introduce the first clip from the film Prometheus (20th Century Fox, 2012, certificate 15). Click here to buy the DVD online.
Explain that in this clip the crew of a scientific research space ship are awaiting their mission briefing, having arrived at their destination and been awoken from hibernation.
- Start time: 0.14.32 (beginning of chapter 5 of the DVD)
- End time: 0.19.15
- Clip length: 4 minutes and 43 seconds
The clip begins with one of the crew saying, ‘I bet a hundred credits it’s a terraforming survey.’ It ends with Ellizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) saying, ‘I don’t, but it’s what I choose to believe.’ Please note that this clip includes two instances of swearing. You can avoid the first one by starting at 0.14.44 (first line: Holloway says, ‘You look nervous, El’ to Shaw), but to avoid the second one would mean losing the line ‘…it’s what I choose to believe’.
Ask the students why some of the crew are so sceptical about Shaw and Holloway’s (Logan Marshall-Green) theory of ‘the engineers’. Draw out that it seems to contradict previously accepted knowledge and theories about where humans came from (specifically, Darwinian theories of evolution). Ask how they felt about Shaw’s statement that she doesn’t know the theory is right and Darwin wrong, but it is what she chooses to believe. To what extent do people choose what to believe, and to what extent are people’s beliefs determined by how they engage with the available evidence? It might be worth pointing out that in the case of the film clip, both Shaw and the crew member who challenges her are choosing to ignore some evidence in order to hold a firm position – she is rejecting several hundred years of Darwinism, and he is rejecting the new evidence that Shaw and Holloway have found. Neither of them can claim to be blindly following the evidence, just as neither are entirely basing their belief on guesswork or idle choice.
Explain that this lesson isn’t particularly focused on whether or not evolution is true, and it certainly isn’t focused on the existence of extra-terrestrial beings who may or may not have visited Earth thousands of years ago, created human life and then left an invitation for us to come calling once we developed interplanetary travel. Rather, we are going to be thinking about the basis for the things that people believe. In particular, for the things that people believe concerning God. Ask the students whether they think that there is sound evidence one way or the other to determine whether or not God exists? Is this something that people simply have to decide to believe (or not), or can it be proven?
In small groups, ask the students to discuss what kind of evidence might be required to convince them one way or the other about the existence of God. After a few minutes, have the groups report their conclusions back to the whole class.
If it wasn’t suggested in the previous discussion activity, point out that some people might say that they would believe in God if he actually made himself known to them, rather than being an unseen, unfelt presence (or, depending on your point of view, absence). 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: