Ok, I need some help on my teaching methodology. I haven’t had much of a problem in the past, but during this summer semester, I can’t get the class to get past idea of letting the evidence come to them.
Example: We went over Aquinas’ arguments for God’s existence. This is how the conversation went:
Me: Anyone have any questions about these proofs?
Student: I don’t think it’s a good proof.
Me: Ok, why?
Student: Because I don’t believe it.
Me: But why don’t you believe it?
Student: Because I don’t believe in God.
Me: Ok, that’s fine. But if you don’t believe in God, that means that you find something problematic with these arguments, right?
Me: Ok, what’s the problem? Where does Aquinas go wrong?
Student: It’s not a proof. He’s just putting down what he believes.
Me: Well, let’s pretend that Aquinas started off agnostic and he really wanted to investigate if God really existed or not. So now he’s providing a proof. Is this a good proof?
Me: Why not?
Student: It’s just what I believe.
You can understand my frustration. This isn’t just one student. It’s almost the whole class. The class seems to think of philosophy of a way to defend beliefs. But philosophy isn’t an apologetics class. I need to get them out of the framework of here’s a belief, and I’m going to defend it any way I can. Instead, I’m trying to get them to look at the structure of arguments and say that here is an argument, a proof, some evidence and if the argument is a good argument, then the rational person would have to believe where the evidence leads them. I can’t get my class to have this thinking mode. Of course, as a philosopher, this is just part of the thinking so I can’t quite put this to words to undergrad students.
I’ve thought of an example:
- Murder is wrong.
- Abortion is murder.
- Therefore, abortion is wrong.
I’m assuming that since this is Utah, most of the student will agree with this. Now I’ll say that this is an argument. If the premises are true (1 and 2), then number 3 has to be true. That’s just how an argument works. Hopefully, they’ll understand that. Then, I’ll switch it and say:
- Murder is wrong.
- Abortion is NOT murder.
- Therefore, abortion is NOT wrong.
Now here, I’ll repeat that if the premises are true (1 and 2), then number 3 has to be true. That’s how the argument works and so the rational person must therefore believe the conclusion. Of course, I’m sure some people will contest number 2, but I’ll just repeat, assume that number 2 is true. Thus, number 3 has to be true. Therefore, we must follow the evidence and conclude that we must believe number 3. That’s just how arguments work. I’m hoping this example might get them to change from “I must defend my beliefs” to “I will go where the evidence takes me.”
Can anyone think of some good examples of doing this? Or any other methodologies of how to get the students to think this way?