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Activity 2: Story - Reason, Science, and the Question of God

Activity time: 15 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Make copies of the story-two for participant volunteers, one for each leader.
  • Make nametags for the forum participants-Linus Pauling, Charles Hartshorne, and Moderator.
  • Line up three chairs where everyone can see them.

Description of Activity

This activity is a fictitious forum between Linus Pauling and Charles Hartshorne that is designed to explore the use of reason and science in religion and the question of God's existence.

Welcome the group to a fictitious forum set in the late 1970s on the topic of "Reason, Science, and the Question of God." The panelists are: Linus Pauling (1901-1994), a chemist, humanist, and peace activist; and Charles Hartshorne [pronounced Harts-horne] (1897-2000), a process philosopher and theologian. Explain that you will serve as the moderator of the forum, and then ask for two participants to volunteer for the roles of Linus Pauling and Charles Hartshorne. Give volunteers nametags and copies of the story. Ask them to sit in the chairs.

Present the fictitious forum using the story script.

At the conclusion of the forum, thank the volunteers.

Point out that this forum illustrates how the work, activism, religious involvement, and ethical orientation of both Pauling and Hartshorne are informed by reason and science, yet they reached very different conclusions about the existence of God. Pauling was an atheist, and Hartshorne was a theist.

Belief in God is just one example of a theological question that reason may inform.

Ask participants to raise their hand if they use their minds-reason, logic, and intellect-in forming their religious beliefs and perspectives. Then ask participants to raise their hand if they are atheists, or don't believe in God/gods. Now ask participants to raise their hand if they believe in a god/gods of some kind. Then ask them to raise their hands if they don't know whether or not they believe in the existence of God/gods of any kind. Invite discussion on the diversity of beliefs within the group when all likely use reason to reach different religious beliefs.

Share the following quote from A History of Unitarianism, Vol. 2 by Earl Morse Wilbur:

Of course it is inevitable that free minds guided by individual reason and conscience, and influenced by different factors, should often reach differing conclusions, and it is natural that having reached them they should conflict with each other... Now there are but two ways in which such conflicts may be resolved. The parties may abandon the hope of mental freedom and submit to the judgment of another, or else they may waive the effort to think alike as futile, or at all events incidental, while they agree nevertheless in working for the ends they have in common. [page 487]

Pauling and Hartshorne had common ends and ethical goals originating with their use of reason and conscience as guides. Ask participants to raise their hands if they want their lives and work to contribute to a more loving, fair, and peaceful world. Explain that this is the two men's common end.

Say to participants:

Sometimes we encounter people with religious beliefs different from ours and we may ask ourselves, "How can any sane person believe that?" Our use of reason may not bring us to the same conclusion, but that does not mean that the other person does not have reasonable explanations for believing as they do. As Unitarian Universalist, we use reason as a tool for shaping our own religious beliefs-not as a weapon to destroy the beliefs of others. Francis David, 16th century founder of the Unitarian church in Transylvania, famously said, "We need not think alike to love alike." Four hundred years later, Pauling and Hartshorne remind us of the truth of this statement.

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