Ethos Education

Sherlock: The Final Problem: What evidence might lead someone to believe in God?

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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:

  • Reflect on how evidence is crucial in helping someone come to a conclusion about what they believe.
  • Reflect upon different reasons for believing or not believing in God.
  • Analyse six different arguments to determine whether each makes belief in God more or less.
  • Assert their own belief regarding the existence (or non-existence) of God.

Supporting Values Education:

The value of respectful attitudes to faiths and worldviews is based on a belief that humans are capable of applying reason and intelligence to formulate their own beliefs about the great questions of existence. This lesson encourages students to understand the basis on which Christians believe in the existence of God, and to consider their own response to the question of whether or not God exists.

STARTER:

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 Suspects and Evidence cards 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:

Suspects:

  • Big brother
  • Big sister
  • Little brother
  • Baby sister

Evidence 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.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from Sherlock: The Final Problem (series 4, episode 3). The Final Problem is the third episode on the DVD Sherlock: Series 4 (BBC DVD, 2017) certificate 15. Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), along with his brother Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) and his friend Dr John Watson (Martin Freeman) has been captured by his long-lost sister Eurus (Sian Brooke), a deranged evil genius. In this scene she is forcing Sherlock to solve high-stakes puzzles in order to gain the chance to save the life of a young girl trapped on a soon-to-crash plane. Ask the students to pay particular attention to how Sherlock goes about the task of identifying the murderer.

  • Start time:       0.50.50
  • End time:         0.55.34
  • Clip length:      4 minutes and 44 seconds

The clip starts with Eurus saying, ‘Time to play a new game’. It ends with Sherlock saying, ‘John, don’t let her distract you. Soldiers today.’

After the clip, ask the students whether anyone could have worked out the puzzle that Sherlock faced. Although Sherlock’s powers of deduction enable him to find answers that elude most people, actually all that he does is identify small but significant pieces of evidence and use them to work out what happened. In theory, anyone could do the same thing. Evidence can solve most puzzles if we know which evidence is relevant.

Give out the Arguments concerning God’s existence factsheet and go through it with the class. Ask the students to consider how persuasive they find each of the following arguments:

Arguments concerning God’s existence:

The argument from first cause
Everything in the universe is caused, i.e. brought into existence, by something else. These causes in turn have something that caused them, and so on back up the chain of causes. Eventually there must be something that started off the chain and which is dependent on nothing else as its cause. This thing is the ‘first cause’, and the first cause is God.

The argument from design
This argument states that the world is so complex and intricately fitted together that it could only be the result of design, rather than random chance. If this is the case, it is logical that there is a designer, and this designer is God. The examples of the complexity of the human eye and the intricate workings of a clockwork watch have been famously used to illustrate this argument in the past.

The argument from experience
There are different types of religious experience, which may persuade those who experience them that God exists. These range from seeing God’s hand in the blooming of a flower or the beauty of a sunset, to witnessing a breach in the laws of nature (a miracle) or experiencing a direct encounter with God, such as the one claimed by Saul on the road to Damascus.

The problem of evil
The argument goes that if God cannot stop evil, he is not all-powerful. If he can stop evil but chooses not to, then he is not good. If he could stop evil and chose to do so, then there would be no evil in the world…but there is, therefore he does not exist. A possible Christian defence against this argument is that it assumes that there are no good reasons why God might choose to delay dealing with evil. Christians believe that one day Jesus will return to judge the world and put everything right. However, once he does this, it will not only mean the end of evil, but also the passing of the last chance for people to put their faith in Jesus and be saved.

The argument from morality and conscience
If there is no God and we are the product of blind chance, then there can be no such thing as morality. The fact that we instinctively have a sense of right and wrong is incompatible with a random origin to human life. Our moral sensitivity points towards the existence of some external basis for determining morality, and the source of our sense of right and wrong is God.

Pascal’s Wager
This takes as its starting point the assumption that logical reasoning is incapable of determining whether or not God exists. If this is the case, we are left with an uncertain wager. If you place your bet on God existing, and you are wrong you lose nothing (whether you believed in him or not, you still cease to exist). If you place your bet on God not existing, you gain nothing for being right, but stand to lose everything – heaven, eternal life – if you are wrong. Pascal concluded that to bet on the side of God was to stand to win everything and risk losing nothing, but to bet against him was to win nothing and risk losing everything. Pascal’s wager cannot be used to force belief, but is often cited as an incentive to seek God out.

Hand out the William Lane Craig 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.)

Discuss the questions on the worksheets with the students.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, ask the students to write a summary of each of the six arguments from the worksheet, putting the case both for and against the existence of God according to that particular argument. They should also explain whether or not they are persuaded one way or the other by each argument (and why). Students should also add a final paragraph (or more) where they state their own view on whether or not God’s existence can be proved either way, and also stating their own view on whether or not there is a God.

YOU WILL NEED:

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