Some of the world’s most revered religious figures were, at one point or another, racked by doubt — Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed all hesitated at times, unsure of their fidelity to their callings. In the Middle Ages, religious philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, Moses Maimonides, and Averroes began by doubting and used Aristotelean logic and reason to reaffirm their faith. Throughout history, doubt, it seems, has worked well for believers.
“There are two ways to slide easily through life,” the noted linguist and mathematician Alfred Korzybski once said. “To believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.”
Those two paths-unquestioning belief and unyielding disbelief, fundamentalist faith and radical skepticism-have for years polarized the debate over religion. In its starkest equation, the polemic pits those who view reason as wholly antithetical to their beliefs, against those whose rationalism leaves no room for the mysteries of faith. But is there some middle ground?
PBS journalist, Bill Moyers asked writers, philosophers, and scientists to discuss that perpetual tension. Atheists like Salman Rushdie and Colin McGinn, agnostics like Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis, and believers like Mary Gordon and Sir John Houghton offered their views on religion, God, and reason, putting forward their thoughts and their visions for future understanding. “People will probably never agree about the large questions of life,” says philosopher Colin McGinn. “What’s important, I think, is that they hold their beliefs with the right kind of doubt and qualifications and they’re aware that other people have different beliefs which they also believe in to the same degree.”
“Most of my life is spent among non-believers, which is the way I like it,” says author and practicing Catholic Mary Gordon. “I wouldn’t like to be in a world where everybody was a believer and we all sort of fell back into this comfort zone of agreeing with each other all the time. I think there are many more good reasons for not believing than believing. [Religion] is a very strange thing, a very mysterious thing to believe.”
PBS journalist, Bill Moyers hosted a seven-part series focused on the question: in a world where religion is poison to some and salvation to others, how do we live together?