Are faith and reason compatible?

Jon Meacham: I don’t see faith and reason as being incompatible. John Paul the II once said, “They’re the two wings on which we rise on the contemplation of truth.” Very grand image. But the final leap of faith in monotheistic terms – to limit the conversation somewhat – is in fact irrational. As Henry. . . as Coleridge said, “It’s the willing suspension of disbelief.” So yeah, at the end of the day I make a leap into the irrational. But all the way up to that point, I think that my own particular religious faith is as well grounded in history and argument as anybody else’s, and sometimes perhaps more so than in other traditions. I like to think that the coherent element, if there is one – the common dominator – is a kind of hopefulness that whether one is intensely secular or intensely religious, one hopes for . . . presumably hopes for something better tomorrow than one has today. And how we get there is often what the fight is about. I have no interest in evangelizing. I have no interest in converting anyone to anything except one hopes a kind of matasonian appreciation of the fact that there are many conflicting forces all of which should be heard. And then we work out what we need to work out; but we have to do it with some sense that we’re doing it not simply for our appetites of the moment, but to make the world a better place in the sense that we will be more secure. We would be happier. We’re doing so for our children. And so I think hope is the linking . . . the linking factor because reason is not a particularly useful faculty if it’s not leading to something. And faith is not a particularly useful faculty if it doesn’t shape one’s behavior in ways that make one less likely to . . . As Thomas Jefferson once said, makes ones less likely to “pick someone’s pocket or break their arm.”

 

Recorded on: 7/3/07

 

 

 

Faith and reason, Meacham says, are not incompatible.

Related Articles

Why the world needs death to prosper

Scientists have developed new ways of understanding how the biological forces of death drive important life processes.

Surprising Science
  • Researchers have found new ways on how decomposing plants and animals contribute to the life cycle.
  • After a freak mass herd death of 300 reindeer, scientists were able to study a wide range of the decomposition processes.
  • Promoting the necrobiome research will open up new areas of inquiry and even commerce.
Keep reading Show less

Why birds fly south for the winter—and more about bird migration

What do we see from watching birds move across the country?

E. Fleischer
Surprising Science
  • A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
  • The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
  • Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
Keep reading Show less

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less