Steven Pinker, in an address to colleagues on this year’s Curricular Review Committee on General Education at Harvard, raises exactly the concern around which we’ve been dancing. I think his conclusion leaves room for both of us, though our conversation on god’s place is far from settled. In discussing the Harvard curriculum’s “Faith and Reason” requirement, Pinker worries that

“…the juxtaposition of the two words makes it sound like “faith” and “reason” are parallel and equivalent ways of knowing, and we have to help students navigate between them. But universities are about reason, pure and simple. Faith—believing something without good reasons to do so—has no place in anything but a religious institution, and our society has no shortage of these. Imagine if we had a requirement for “Astronomy and Astrology” or “Psychology and Parapsychology.” It may be true that more people are knowledgeable about astrology than about astronomy, and it may be true that astrology deserves study as a significant historical and sociological phenomenon. But it would be a terrible mistake to juxtapose it with astronomy, if only for the false appearance of symmetry.”

He’s exactly right. Universities work because the processes on which real, rational knowledge is built are transparent, accessible, repeatable and above all knowable. In matters of faith, where accepting mysteries is a prerequisite to everything, how is knowledge attained? This is as clear as I can make my question. What do you think?

–Morgan Hubbard