Ethos Education

Life of Pi: Rational Belief

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Assembly Objective:

  • How do we decide what to believe? This assembly explores the Bible’s teaching about not just believing anything, but testing everything to work out what’s true.

Film:

  • Life of Pi (20th Century Fox, 2012, certificate PG). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Bible:

Supporting Values Education:

  • The value of Individual Liberty is essential to the educational goal of developing pupils with ‘rational autonomy’. This assembly explores the importance of using our freedom to think rationally so that we can decide what we believe to be true, whilst also showing Respect and Tolerance to those who hold different beliefs.

OPENING ACTIVITY

Believe it or Not (quiz)

Download the Belief Believe it or Not PowerPoint with this activity.

  • [PowerPoint slide 1]
    • Ask one or more students to guess whether each of the ‘facts’ you put before them are true or false. You could either ask the entire audience to guess, raising their hands to indicate what they think, or you could get a student to come up to the front to answer on behalf of everybody else. If you want an element of competition, either split the room in half and play one side against the other, or bring two volunteers up to the front.
  • [PowerPoint slide 2]
    • Worldwide, more Monopoly money is printed each year than real money [click to reveal:] True.
  • [PowerPoint slide 3]
    • Human eyeballs remain the same size from birth through to death [click to reveal:] True.
  • [PowerPoint slide 4]
    • Women are scientifically proven to be worse drivers than men [click to reveal:] False.
  • [PowerPoint slide 5]
    • Wayne Rooney is the youngest player to score a goal in the Premier League [click to reveal:] False. He was, but his record was beaten by James Milner, then of Leeds United, on Boxing Day 2002. 
  • [PowerPoint slide 6]
    • Julius Caesar is thought to be the first person to undergo open heart surgery and survive [click to reveal:] False, though he is thought to be the first person to be born by Caesarean section.
  • [PowerPoint slide 7]
    • George Washington, first President of the United States of America, had wooden false teeth [click to reveal:] True.
  • [PowerPoint slide 8]
    • Genghis Khan’s troops lived by the motto ‘Can we kill them? Yes we Khan!’ [click to reveal:] False.
  • [PowerPoint slide 9]
    • The King of Diamonds is the only king in a standard set of playing cards not to have a moustache [click to reveal:] False – only the King of Hearts has no moustache.
  • [PowerPoint slide 10]
    • The Mona Lisa has no eyebrows [click to reveal:] True.
  • [PowerPoint slide 11]
    • A jiffy is an actual, quantifiable unit of time [click to reveal:] True – it is 1/100 of a second.
  • [PowerPoint slide 12]
    • The average person eats the weight of six elephants over the course of their lifetime [click to reveal:] True – approx 60,000 pounds of food.
  • [PowerPoint slide 13]
    • One quarter of the bones in your body are in your feet [click to reveal:] True.
  • [PowerPoint slide 14]
    • Melted cheese contains twice as many calories as raw cheese. The least calorific way to eat cheese is grated. [click to reveal:] False. 
  • [PowerPoint slide 15]
    • The legendary American outlaw Billy the Kid was so called because of his resemblance to a goat [click to reveal:] False. 
    • Assuming that nobody managed to get every single answer correct, congratulate the winner(s) and comment that sometimes it can be hard to be sure what is true and what isn’t. In today’s assembly, you are going to be thinking about how we decide what to believe.

Faith Matters (something to listen to)

  • Say the following to the students:
    • How much does it matter what you believe?
    • In 1859 the French acrobat Charles Blondin crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. In fact, he did it a number of times. First, he simply walked across, but he went on to cross while blindfolded, while in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, walking on stilts and any number of other theatrical variations on the basic man-crossing-waterfall concept. He even stopped halfway across on one occasion and sat down to cook and eat an omelette.
    • Eventually, Blondin asked whether the crowd believed he could cross the Falls while carrying a man on his back. The crowd enthusiastically gave their assent – yes! We believe you can do that. Then Blondin asked for a volunteer to be the man he carried across the falls. Suddenly the crowd was a lot less sure in the belief in Blondin. The only person who was willing to let the great acrobat carry them across was Blondin’s manager. History doesn’t record whether his decision was based on his complete confidence in his friend, or in an awareness that it would be bad for business if nobody volunteered.
    • Explain to the students that this story about Blondin reveals that it’s easy to say we believe something without really thinking through whether there is any basis for believing. In today’s assembly we are going to be thinking about the importance of having good reasons for the things we believe.

FILM CLIP

  • Play the clip from Life of Pi (20th Century Fox, 2012, certificate PG).
    • Start time: 0.18.18 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
    • End time: 0.20.15
    • Clip length: 1 minute and 57 seconds
  • The clip starts with the Patel family sitting down for a meal. The first line is the father (Adil Hussain) saying, ‘This lamb is exquisite.’ It ends with Pi (Ayush Tandon) saying, ‘I would like to be baptised.’
  • The clip shows Pi’s father challenging Pi’s adherence to three contradictory religions, urging him to trust reason as a way of evaluating the worth of different belief systems.

TALK

Download the Belief Life of Pi Talk PowerPoint with this presentation.

  • [PowerPoint slide 1]
    • Sometimes it’s not easy to be consistent. For example, most politicians would publically argue that we have to take care of the environment, to protect the planet and to preserve what we pass on to future generations. At the same time, [click] politicians of all parties have a history of approving policies that are potentially harmful for the environment, policies such as building new airports or motorways, reducing the tax charged on petrol or aviation fuel. Sometimes we say one thing and do another.
    • We’re going to watch a film clip now, with an example of someone who is challenged about his willingness to embrace mutually contradictory ideas and beliefs.
    • Play the clip from Life of Pi:
      • Start time: 0.18.18 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
      • End time: 0.20.15
      • Clip length: 1 minute and 57 seconds
    • The clip starts with the Patel family sitting down for a meal. The first line is the father (Adil Hussain) saying, ‘This lamb is exquisite.’ It ends with Pi (Ayush Tandon) saying, ‘I would like to be baptised.’
    • If you are unable to play the clip, say, ‘In the film Life of Pi, a flashback section of the film shows the lead character, Pi as a boy. In particular, one clip shows his father talking to him about his religious beliefs. Dad has rejected religion and is disconcerted to discover that Pi follows the religious practices not only of the Hindu religion, but also the Christian and Islamic faiths. Dad suggests that ‘Believing in everything at the same time is the same as believing nothing’, and urges Pi to subject his religious beliefs to the scrutiny of reason.’
  • [PowerPoint slide 2]
    • So, Pi’s Dad doesn’t like religion, that’s fairly clear. Earlier on in the film he informs his sons that ‘religion is darkness’. But it’s also worth pointing out that in this clip he isn’t telling Pi not to believe in religion, just to think through what it is that he does believe in. He tells Pi, ‘I’d much rather have you believe in something I don’t agree with than to accept everything blindly. And that begins with thinking rationally.’
    • All of which begs the question, is it possible to think rationally and to believe in God? Pi’s father seems to have concluded that it isn’t, and he’s hoping that Pi will come to a similar conclusion. Lots of people in the world make a similar assumption, that it’s impossible to be rational and to believe in any kind of supernatural or spiritual element to life.
  • [PowerPoint slide 3]
    • The scientist Richard Dawkins once said, ‘Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.’
  • [PowerPoint slide 4]
    • Is that right? One scientist who disagrees is Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project. He has written about how as a young man he was an atheist, but became a Christian after he realised that science had nothing to say in answer to questions like, ‘What is the meaning of life?’, ‘Why am I here?’, ‘Why does mathematics work, anyway?’, ‘If the universe had a beginning, who created it?’, ‘Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?’, ‘Why do humans have a moral sense?’, ‘What happens after we die?’. His realisation echoes the sentiment that Pi’s Mum expresses during the film clip – science is great at telling us what’s ‘out there’, but not what’s ‘in here’.
  • [PowerPoint slide 5]
    • Collins has also observed that he sees no contradiction between the laws of science and belief in, for example, the resurrection of Jesus or his miracles. [click] He also points out that approximately 40% of working scientists claim to be believers, and they presumably don’t see a contradiction either. The key thing for Collins is that he has examined the evidence and applied it to just the test of reason that Pi’s Dad urges him to pursue.
    • The Bible, perhaps surprisingly, also backs up Pi’s Dad in calling on people to apply their minds to the question of faith.
  • [PowerPoint slide 6]
    • Jesus endorses the Old Testament instruction for people to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ (Luke 10:27, NLT). The Bible also commends people for being open-minded and searching hard to discover whether the Christian message was a true one, rather than closing their minds and refusing to consider it.
  • [PowerPoint slide 7]
    • I don’t think anyone should believe anything without questioning it, including that statement. God has given people minds with the capacity to think, to reason, to analyse. Many Christians, along with believers of other religions, would argue that there is nothing inconsistent in believing in God and believing in science and reason. The important thing is to genuinely search for the truth, rather than to blindly believe in anything, or – just as bad – to blindly reject it.

Headings and Bullets

Download the Belief Life of Pi Talk PowerPoint with this presentation.

  • [PowerPoint slide 1]
    • Sometimes it’s not easy to be consistent.
      • Politicians claiming to be green.
      • [click] Approving policies that harm the environment.
      • Sometimes we say one thing and do another.
    • Introduce film clip.
      • Someone challenged about holding mutually contradictory beliefs.
    • Play clip from Life of Pi.
      • Start time: 0.18.18 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
      • End time: 0.20.15
      • Clip length: 1 minute and 57 seconds
    • The clip starts with the Patel family sitting down for a meal. The first line is the father (Adil Hussain) saying, ‘This lamb is exquisite.’ It ends with Pi (Ayush Tandon) saying, ‘I would like to be baptised.’
  • [PowerPoint slide 2]
    • Pi’s Dad doesn’t like religion, but:
      • His point here isn’t ‘religion is bad’.
      • He tells Pi ‘I’d much rather have you believe in something I don’t agree with than accept everything blindly. And that begins with thinking rationally.’
    • Is it possible to think rationally and to believe in God?
      • Pi’s Dad doesn’t think so.
      • Lots of people make similar assumption.
  • [PowerPoint slide 3]
    • ‘Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.’ (Richard Dawkins)
  • [PowerPoint slide 4]
    • One scientist who disagrees is Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project.
      • An atheist as a young man.
      • Became a Christian after finding science had nothing to say to big questions in life.
      • ‘What is the meaning of life?’
      • ‘Why am I here?’
      • ‘Why does mathematics work, anyway?’
      • ‘If the universe had a beginning, who created it?’
      • ‘Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?’
      • ‘Why do humans have a moral sense?’
      • ‘What happens after we die?’
      • Collins drew the same conclusion as Pi’s Mum: science is great at telling us what’s ‘out there’, but not what’s ‘in here’.
  • [PowerPoint slide 5]
    • Collins sees no contradiction between the laws of science and, for example, the resurrection of Jesus, or his miracles.
      • [click] He claims approximately 40% of working scientists are believers.
      • Collins has examined the evidence and applied the test of reason that Pi’s Dad called for.
    • The Bible also backs up Pi’s Dad in calling for people to apply their minds to the question of faith.
  • [PowerPoint slide 6]
    • Jesus endorses the Old Testament instruction for people to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ (Luke 10:27, NLT).
      • Bible also praises open-minded people who search to see if the Christian message is true.
      • Bible criticises those whose minds are closed to considering it.
  • [PowerPoint slide 7]
    • No one should believe anything without questioning it, including this statement.
      • God has given people minds that can think, reason and analyse.
      • Many Christians (and believers of other religions) see nothing inconsistent with believing in God and believing in science and reason.
      • Important thing to search for truth rather than blindly believing or blindly rejecting.

Photo Copyright for Belief Life of Pi Talk PowerPoint: Slide 1, 5 and 6 iStockphoto.com / Slide 2 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Slide 3 Mattias Asgeirsson / Slide 4 Maggie Bartlett / Slide 7 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation


RESPOND

Prayer

  • Dear God, thank you that you gave us minds and the power to reason things out. Thank you that you don’t ask us to believe impossible things, and that belief in you is a credible intellectual position. Help us all to be honest in how we look at the world, and to recognise when we are mistaken in the things we believe. Amen.

Reflection

  • How much time have you spent thinking about why you believe what you believe? Are your views based on evidence and reason, or on irrational gut feeling? Which do you think is better? Which is more reliable? Do you need to rethink any of the views that you have accepted unquestioningly up to now?

YOU WILL NEED:

  1. Life of Pi (20th Century Fox, 2012, certificate PG). Click here to buy the DVD online.
  2. Belief Believe it or Not PowerPoint.
  3. Belief Life of Pi Talk PowerPoint.

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