Ethos Education

God’s Not Dead: To what extent are Christian faith and science mutually incompatible?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Consider the similarities and differences between Christianity and science.
  • Understanding of different accounts (scientific and Christian) of how the world was made.
  • Understanding of how some scientists see science as leading to or supporting belief in God.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on a number of common factual misconceptions.
  • Analyse the different demands of faith and fact, and the relationship between those two ways of understanding the world.
  • Analyse the relationship between science and faith.
  • Reflect upon a selection of quotes, and discuss questions about science and faith that are prompted by those quotes.
  • Analyse a number of questions to identify whether they are in nature scientific, theological or both.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a letter to a newspaper complaining about bias, either towards faith and against science, or vice versa.

STARTER:

Ask the students to take part in a true or false quiz. Read some or all of the following statements, asking students to indicate whether they believe the statement to be true or to be false. However many statements you choose to use, get the students to make their guesses for all of them before revealing any of the answers.

True or false:

  • Sushi is raw fish. (False: not all sushi includes raw fish. The word ‘sushi’ literally means ‘sour rice’ and is a reference to the vinegared rice commonly used in sushi).
  • The Great Wall of China is the only man-made object visible from space. (False: none of the Apollo astronauts reported seeing it, and it is barely visible to Earth-orbiting astronauts. By contrast, city lights are easily visible on the night-side of Earth from orbit).
  • Vomiting was a common feature of ancient Roman dining. (False: the ‘vomitorium’ was an entranceway for people to enter or exit a stadium, not a special room for the purging of food, but the name has led to a popular misconception).
  • Adults in medieval England expected only to live to the age of around thirty years. (False: the average life-expectancy was around thirty, but that figure was heavily influenced by the high infant mortality rate. Someone who reached adulthood could reasonably expect to live into their sixties.
  • Viking helmets featured animal horns. (False: the common image of horned Viking helmets only dates back to an 1876 production of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle).
  • The American Declaration of Independence was signed on 4th July 1776. (False: the final wording was agreed on that date. The actual document was not signed until 2nd August 1776).
  • Napoleon Bonaparte’s imperial ambition was fuelled by his below-average height. (False: although Napoleon’s height is often listed as 5’2”, this is in French feet, which corresponds to approximately 5’7” or 1.69 metres. Napoleon was slightly above the average height for a Frenchman of his time).
  • According to accepted theories of aviation, bumblebees should be incapable of flight. (False: a French entomologist, Antoine Magnan, proposed this to be the case, but subsequently realised that his conclusion was based on flawed techniques and retracted it).
  • Ask if any of the students were surprised by any of the answers. In particular, ask if any of the students had previously heard that any of the false statements were true. Point out that each statement reflected a commonly held belief and is often reported as being true, despite actually being false. Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about people’s relationship to facts and evidence in matters of faith, and in particular the relationship between science and Christian faith.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the first clip from the film God’s Not Dead (Signature Entertainment, 2014, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that in the film, a Philosophy Professor required his class to start the course by signing a statement that ‘God is Dead’, in order to save the wasted time of going through all the arguments against the existence of God. One student, a Christian, refused to sign and the Professor offered him the chance to make the case for God in three twenty minute sessions at the end of three lectures. This clip shows the first of Josh’s (Shane Harper) presentations. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Josh says about science. You might also need to either tell students to ignore the brief interruption where the scene cuts to a local pastor trying to hire a rental car, or to skip that interruption by fast forwarding from 0.35.43 to 0.36.55

  • Start time:       0.32.40
  • End time:         0.40.02
  • Clip length:      7 minutes and 22 seconds

The clip starts with Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) in mid-sentence, saying, ‘But there are some flat-earthers out there…’. The clip ends at the end of Josh’s presentation. The last line is Professor Radisson saying, ‘Class is dismissed.’

Ask the students if, before Professor Radisson’s interjection, they felt that Josh had presented a good argument. On the basis of this clip – including the interjection – do they feel that science and religion are compatible with one another?

Introduce the second clip from God’s Not Dead. This is the second of Josh’s presentations. Ask the students to focus on whether Josh’s arguments here make any difference to their perception on the compatibility of Christian faith and science.

  • Start time:       1.00.38
  • End time:         1.06.24
  • Clip length:      5 minutes and 46 seconds

The clip starts with Josh saying, ‘In our last class, I was asked a question that I couldn’t answer.’ It ends with Josh saying, ‘…divinely controlled from start to finish.’ Again, the scene cuts away midway through. You could fast forward from 1.02.50 (last line: ‘… no need for this class’ to 1.04.24 (first line: ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, for the last 150 years…’

Take feedback on whether Josh’s two presentations support or refute the claim that science has disproved Christian faith. It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the purpose of Josh’s task, which was to disprove the notion that God doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, by utilising scientific arguments to that end, he was also implicitly seeking to demonstrate the compatibility of the two.

Ask the students whether they think there is any overlap between science and faith? Divide the class into small groups and give each group one set of question cards. You will need to photocopy the handout sheet and cut the cards up for each group, unless you trust the students to cut their own cards. The group’s task is to consider each of the questions in turn and try to decide:

  • Which are scientific questions (i.e. questions which, in principle, scientific inquiry can produce an answer for).
  • Which are theological questions (i.e. questions which are of special interest to Christianity?).
  • Which have scientific and theological aspects (i.e. questions which fit into both of the above categories).

Note that the groups’ task is not to answer the questions on the cards, but to say whether the questions are best answered by scientists, Christians, or both.

Each group should present their conclusions visually (the simplest solution would be a table with three columns; more interesting would be a Venn diagram with two overlapping circles).

To provide some differentiation, students in groups that finish quickly should choose one or two questions from each category and write a paragraph on each to explain why these questions were assigned to a particular category.

Take feedback and compare the answers of the different groups. If there is any disagreement as to which category any questions belong, let the students discuss the matter as a class. Even if there is no disagreement, ask students to explain their reasoning.

Reiterate that although some people – including both Christians and scientists – see Christianity and science as being locked in combat with no common ground, they are in fact asking different kinds of questions about life. Science is concerned with mechanisms; Christianity is more concerned with meanings and relationships. Most Christians who are scientists have no difficulty reconciling their faith and their work because they understand them to be complementary rather than contradictory.

Students could be referred to the following two articles for further reading:

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write a letter to a newspaper complaining about either a report on a religious matter or on a scientific matter, where the journalist failed to acknowledge the other dimension of the debate (failing to acknowledge a faith point of view in a science article, or failing to acknowledge the place of science in a religious article). Students should demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between the two and the different ways in which each approach has value in helping people to determine truth and reality.

YOU WILL NEED:

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