What is the Greatest Obstacle to Faith?

The Ottawa Citizen runs a feature each week called “Ask the Religion Experts” in which representatives from religious backgrounds are invited to comment on general religion-related questions. They also ask an atheist to join in so that there’s at least one rational answer in the mix.

Last week’s question was an interesting one: What is the greatest obstacle to faith?

The religious answers include: Our own egos prevent us from knowing God, we’re selfish, we have too much faith in science, we’re weak, and we’re scared.

So it’s good to have the Centre for Inquiry’s Kevin Smith to set everyone straight. The problem isn’t knowing too little, he says. It’s knowing too much:

The greatest obstacle to faith is knowledge and that’s something religionists understand. They commit the primordial sin against freethinking by banning books that question corporate dogma, as the Vatican has done.

… [The world-wide-web] is weaving a net where it’s said religion comes to die. For those who experience doubt, there are megabytes of information to feed their curiosity. Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins have replaced Matthew, Luke and John as disciples of the new age of reason.

Strong words at the end — maybe too strong — but Smith nails it with the bit that knowledge is the greatest obstacle to faith.

Just think about all the Religious Right tries to do — prevent kids from taking comprehensive sex education classes in school, prevent gay marriage before the country finds out it’s not a big deal, prevent kids from reading certain books before they learn new ideas, pulling kids out of their schools when other students are expressing their free speech, “teach the controversy” before you learn too much about evolution…

They’re all for miseducating you before you learn too many facts and realize they’ve been lying to you this whole time.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Mommiest

    “What is the greatest obstacle to reason?”

    Superstition.

  • http://onefuriousllama.com/ onefuriousllama

    “They’re all for miseducating you before you learn too many facts and realize they’ve been lying to you this whole time.”

    RAmen.

  • Antinomian

    Facts and Reality.

  • ruth

    I liked the rabbi that said the greatest obstacle to faith is religion.  He did a nice job, even if I don’t agree with what he said.  

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      I think it reminds me too much of the way Christians insist that they aren’t religious because “It’s a relationship!”

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The greatest obstacle to faith is the fact that for human beings, the sense of sight is far more compelling than the sense of hearing.

    It’s much easier to assume the reality of something when you’re looking right at it than to only be able to hear about it from people who claim to know, and who only offer excuses for why you can’t see it for yourself.

    Young people sit in pews hearing about what the world is, a description that has been heard and repeated for thousands of years. But when they go outside and what they see does not match what they’ve been told, a crisis begins to form in their minds. Will they believe what their beloved parents and trusted authority figures have told them, or will they believe their own eyes?

    It’s a very difficult, painful crisis for many. What we can do is to offer them warmth and understanding as they struggle to find a way to keep loving the people who told them about the world, even as they accept what their own eyes are showing them.

    • Evertoniancalvinist

      You too Richard. Very silly. It does not sound like you have thought this out. Let me ask you a question: On what basis do you have to trust your 5 senses and your reasoning? Try to answer without being circular.

      • oblivnow

        If you’re going full solipsist, this whole discussion is pointless and you don’t have evidence either, at which point the default is once again non-belief. 

        • RobMcCune

          Nah, his position is things can only be true if god orders them to be true. Without an authority he can’t conceive of anything at all.

          • Evertoniancalvinist

            No Rob… It is you who can’t account for truth. Why are the thoughts fizzing out of your head true and mine are false? What standard of “truth” are you appealing to and where did it come from? Why would the brain matter in our heads react to produce truth and sometimes untruths? Can you account for rational thought? Rob?

            • RobMcCune

              I didn’t say you couldn’t account for truth. Only that your account of it essential boils down to god commands this, god commands that, and that you can’t conceive of anything being true with out a command making it so.

      • Deven Kale

         Funny you mention circular arguments, considering your only argument is a circular one.

        Lately I’ve been reading a lot of things about the Munchhausen trilemma. You might be interested in learning a bit about it; especially considering how much it pertains to your argument.

        • Evertoniancalvinist

          Devan.. In a sense, all arguments are circular. Because we are finite, we all need to start somewhere. My argument is: only when you start with the Christian God can we then account for all the things we take for granted….. Like, the uniformity of nature,which makes the scientific method possible. Like … Laws of logic, which keeps you from getting hit by a truck when crossing the street. Etc etc. Keep reading Deven. Mix in a little Van Til or Bahnsen.

          • Deven Kale

             Wrong, not all arguments are circular. You obviously didn’t read wikipedia entry I linked to. Circular reasoning is only one horn of the trilemma, and is generally considered the weakest.

            • Evertoniancalvinist

              Dev, Did you use your reasoning to tell me I am wrong about arguments being circular? Yes you did use your reasoning. And how do you know this reasoning you applied is valid? Try to answer without appealing to your reason. You won’t be able to as an atheist. Which makes a big fat circle. Dev… I got to sleep. Goodnight. I’ll answer whatever you say in the morning.

              • Deven Kale

                I don’t know my reasoning is valid, because reason is a poorly defined term. I know my logic is valid due to my own personal history with the reactions of others to my previous attempts at logic. When my logic fails, I’m nearly always informed of it rather quickly from multiple reliable sources (of which you are not). I’ve learned from those failures and strengthened my logical faculties to the point where I can now know with high confidence that my logic is valid.

                Now stop avoiding the topic and admit you’re wrong for once. The Munchhausen trilemma is valid in it’s criticism and explanation of the different forms of finding truth, and that there are more and better methods of finding it than circular arguments. In fact, circular arguments are the least reliable.

                And btw, it’s not even my logic which I was using in my argument. The argument is based on the logic of Hans Albert, who originated the idea in the first place. You’re going to have to ask him how he accounts for his logic too. He lives in Heidelberg, Germany according to Wikipedia.

              • Maria

                As mere human beings, our reasoning is all that we have. Unless you count faith. pffft.

              • Glasofruix

                So basically what you’re saying is to “try to define logic and reason without using either one” so in your braindead example the only valid answer (for you) is “gawd made it so”. We do have our share of stupid around here everyday, but you are raising very quickly to the top ten.

                • Patterrssonn

                  I beginning to think that ET is actually a Zen master and his posts are really koans.

              • Deven Kale

                 The worst thing about you is that when somebody has an argument which actually does account for how they know something you completely ignore it, such as the case of my reply to you below. Or even worse, when somebody explains to you how wrong you are and completely demolishes your argument to the point where there isn’t even a possible response of “uh, well, but…” you just stop and pretend nothing happened.

                Then a couple days later you come back on some new post and start spouting the same old crap again, as if it’s your first time posting here and nobody’s discredited your arguments multiple times over. It’s even worse than usual in this case because you actually said “I’ll
                answer whatever you say in the morning,” and then show yourself as a
                liar and a coward by only responding to 2 or 3 flippant comments while completely ignoring the comments which threaten your worldview, such as mine.

                It seems that, as usual, you’re overconfident in your belief that we’re unable to account for anything without your god. Which is why when I can, you’re left without response. You’ve done this multiple times with me now, and I’m starting to recognize a pattern. It’s obviously nothing more than self-preservation, and it’s a little saddening.

                At the very least, I wish you’d realize that nobody here is ever going to accept your crap. Your arguments are empty, vacuous, fallacious, ridiculous, laughable, tiresome, and the only person here who doesn’t see them as such seems to be you. I’m hardly even willing to call them arguments they’re that bad.

          • RobMcCune

             Things like uniformity in nature and logic are properties of reality, no need to make them the arbitrary whims of some god or another.

          • Maria

            Ok, do you realize that just because you attribute god to the natural world and its perfect order doesn’t make it so? That’s not a legitimate argument to make at all!!!

          • WildRumpus67

             Right!  Like you have to start with the Christian God in order to account for the banana.  We have proof that God made the banana.  The banana and the hand are perfectly made, one for the other.  Checkmate, atheists…

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

            And my argument is that only when you start with The Blessed Unicorn Herd that bestowed us with logic and thought can you account for these things. How do I know? Because we are all using logic right now, so that right there proves the Herd. 
            Logic doesn’t fit in your worldview because who granted your god with logic? Did he just arbitrarily make it up? Is it logical because he decided what logic was or did logic exist before him? If he made it up, how do we know it’s right? (If your logic is from God, I’ll stick with my own, thanks.) If it existed before him, who gave it to him?
            I don’t know how you still don’t see the flaws in your arguments. You claim we can’t have logic because we don’t believe what you believe, ignoring that we have our own ideas about why we have logic. They’ve been explained to you before, but you conveniently forget. I suppose it’s easier to be right if you ignore the best arguments people throw at you. 

          • Greisha

             “… only when you start with the Christian God can we then account for all the things we take for granted…”    How?

    • Doomedd

      While
      I like your idea, I don’t think sense dominance is detrimental to
      faith, What matter is people of faith describe a world that doesn’t
      exist. Modern minds are likely to know enough to call bullshit. They
      are likely to live in a culture where you can question authority.
      Combine educated populace, a capacity to question authority and add a
      bit of general culture; you get trouble for faith. Doubt is not
      caused by dominant sight, doubt is caused by false advertising that
      we are more and more able to detect it.

      I’ll
      give you a concrete example. Catholicism (I was raised as one) claim
      an authority on morality. It even claim that you can’t be moral
      without faith or pretend to be the mother of morality if it need a
      break.  Funny thing, those  claims are plainly false,
      Christians aren’t more moral than non-christian or non believers. You
      can find better (IMO) morals systems if you look beyond Christianity.
      Nothing has to do with sight.

    • Doomedd

      While
      I like your idea, I don’t think sense dominance is detrimental to
      faith, What matter is people of faith describe a world that doesn’t
      exist. Modern minds are likely to know enough to call bullshit. They
      are likely to live in a culture where you can question authority.
      Combine educated populace, a capacity to question authority and add a
      bit of general culture; you get trouble for faith. Doubt is not
      caused by dominant sight, doubt is caused by false advertising that
      we are more and more able to detect it.

      I’ll
      give you a concrete example. Catholicism (I was raised as one) claim
      an authority on morality. It even claim that you can’t be moral
      without faith or pretend to be the mother of morality if it need a
      break.  Funny thing, those  claims are plainly false,
      Christians aren’t more moral than non-christian or non believers. You
      can find better (IMO) morals systems if you look beyond Christianity.
      Nothing has to do with sight.

    • Nope

      It sounds like you’re just making this up as you go along. I doubt your post is based on any evidence except that it “feels true”.

    • Blacksheep

      I agree with the hearing / seeing thing. But for me and many others that I know, it’s experience and feeling that drives faith. In the ups and downs and ebb and flow of life, if faith continues to offer comfort, peace of mind, and joy that is real because it has a 100% real effect, then there’s power in that. I think people who go outside and see or hear things that don’t match their faith may have a crisis, as you said. But when they feel it, and it makes a real difference in their lives, it breaks down that obstacle of faith.

  • DJnKC

    My wonderful, well intending wife but sadly misguided and delusioned by her own indoctrination tries her best to prevent our kids from being exposed to anything but dogma….  Thankfully, in this accord, she is failing :)

    • JohnnieCanuck

      Ditto, except for the last sentence. Unfortunately my wife has succeeded all too well. I keep waiting and hoping, though.

    • Octoberfurst

       I feel your pain. I have a girlfriend who insists that God exists despite all the lack of proof. She keeps telling me “I FEEL he is real” as if somehow that makes it so.  It can be quite frustrating.  But I love her so I guess I will have to deal with her delusional beliefs and hope that someday reason prevails.   :-)

      • Evertoniancalvinist

        October….Don’t lie. You don’t have a girlfriend. Come on now. Jk ;) ….But seriously, how do you account for the “love” you feel for her? Giver your material universe, how do you account for abstract concepts? I know I know… you wont answer. Silly loverboy.

        • Octoberfurst

           I don’t understand your obsession with saying “How do you account” for things like morals, love, logic, etc. Love is just a result of evolution. What is YOUR answer? I’m going to assume it’s “God”. And I can use the same argument you use against others—how do you KNOW your God is real?  What proof do you have?  And how do you know your God is correct in his proclaimations?

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

            “I know I know… you wont answer.”
            Lol I love how he thought he got you there!

        • Maria

          *sigh* You do know love can be manifested in actions, words, etc. Plus, love may be something that we feel but love isn’t something we try to anthropomorphise, giving it itself words and thoughts and actions that it itself carries out. God on the other hand, is a very anthropomorphised being, with people trying to claim that he talks to them, or moves through them. Love on the other hand, is just another emotion that we feel , along with anger, happiness, depression, etc.  And emotions, as October pointed out, are products of our BRAINS which have EVOLVED to feel emotion, for various reasons that we’re still figuring out. See the difference?

          p.s. – even faith itself is being given an evolutionary explanation, or rather, many are trying to figure out its evolutionary advantage. IMO, I think faith ties into the whole self-preservation category.

          • Deven Kale

             I agree with you on the faith thing. The best explanation I’ve heard is that seeing agency (actions of an intelligent creature) where there is none turned out to be more beneficial than not. Even though it’s often wrong, a false positive in that sense is better than a false negative, which would get them eaten by a predator. The idea of gods just came naturally from this with increased intelligence.

            • Foster

              True, but how do you account for altruism when kin-selection and gene preservation does not favor putting oneself in danger or sacrificing oneself to help or save another? 

              • Deven Kale

                 The genes which favor altruistic behavior have already been passed on to the children of the altruistic individual, who survive along with the rest of the group. The alternative, self preservation, means that the individual survives but the children, and possibly the entire group, are killed off.

                I think that explains it well enough right there.

        • amycas

          Love is just the name we’ve assigned to a particular emotion or action we take. There’s no need to account for it. Love is subjective.

        • Sindigo

          Love is explicable by hormonal changes in the body and the millions of years of evolution that have enabled us to feel such changes. It is no less profound for that though. I know, I know, you don’t have an answer for that and will continue to bang on about how your poor understanding of moral relativism proves that a divine creator exists. Silly theist.

        • Greisha

           What do you mean “… how do you account …”?

      • Maria

        Have you tried asking her if she FEELS that santa claus is real? Or fairies? Or unicorns? Maybe that will help her shine light on why you think her beliefs are ludicrous!

        • Octoberfurst

            I did ask her what she would think if I said I felt that leprechauns were real. She took offense to that and said I was mocking her beliefs.  I told her I wasn’t. I was just trying to make a point that just because you “feel” something is true doesn’t mean it is.  She then said  that God is real to her and for me to dismiss her beliefs was just being “arrogant.”   >sigh<  

          • amycas

             So, you’re arrogant for essentially saying you don’t agree with her?

            • Octoberfurst

              Basically yes. For some reason she thinks that questioning someone else’s religious beliefs is being “arrogant.”  Apparently you’re suppose to accept everyones beliefs at face value & never ever question them no matter how weird or bizarre they are.  So, in theory, someone could say they worship a pink unicorn and she would see nothing wrong with that and never question it because it is THEIR belief and therefore it is right for them.  >sigh<

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

    After coming out to my MIL, she said:

    “I think you just read to much and educated yourself away from Jesus.”

    While this statement was absolutely true, she made it sound as if reading and getting an education were things to be avoided.  Very telling.

    • Xavier

       Wow, did you reply to that? That’s one of the stupidest replies to an atheist coming out I’ve ever read!

    • Evertoniancalvinist

      Kacy, Was your “MIL’s” statement really “absolutely true”? As an atheist, you don’t really think you are absolutely certain about anything, right? When you “educated” yourself away from Jesus, did you read about certainty and absolutes in the atheistic worldview? You shouldn’t have them. Let me ask you a question to highlight my point: Do you now anything for certain, and how do you know it?

      • JohnnieCanuck

        Assuming you actually are a Calvinist, that means you presume to know who is and is not predestined to make it to your Heaven.* Why then do you taunt non-believers? It can’t be that you are trying to save us. Is it just that feeling of smug self satisfaction you get from it?

        Kind of like going to the zoo to throw rocks or poke sticks at the lions, perhaps? Nothing they can do about it except react.

        Truth is, no-one is going to Heaven and no-one is going to Hell. It’s all over when it’s over, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

        • Evertoniancalvinist

          Johnie… Calvinist do not claim to know “who is going to heaven.” I’ll answer any questions on Calvinism, but I don’t think that is what this blog is about. It is about atheism. Also, I do not think I “taunt” anyone. I ask pointed questions in the hope that somebody reading will see the folly of the atheist worldview and how in cannot account for the world we live in. As to your last point, “nothing after we die” are you absolutely certain about that? Or is that a “most likely” guess on your part? You said it like you are certain.

          • Coyotenose

             You repeat long-answered questions – which you are doing here AGAIN with your “how can we know anything” gibberish, which you have tried before – to get a rise. That is trolling, which is taunting. It is also lying.

            Without fail, you try to derail topics, and yet you’re citing the blog’s focus to try and change the subject when it gets uncomfortable. So you’re also a hypocrite.

            Your questions aren’t pointed. They are shallow regurgitations of very old, very trite apologetics. Your ego is showing.

            • Evertoniancalvinist

              Coyote… You never answer a single question. I don’t think you have answers. You just called me a liar and a hypocrite. Question Coyote: Given your atheism, why is it bad to lie and be hypocritical? Can you give me a answer to this question? Didn’t think so.

              • Deven Kale

                Why is it bad to lie? Because we’re human, and humans don’t like being lied to. Also the person telling the lie can be assumed to know that humans don’t like being lied to.

                With these two axioms, we can infer that the person telling the lie cares more about themselves and their own image than acting in a manner concordant with how they themselves want to be treated. It raises the question as to whether they would be willing to act so selfishly in other areas as well, and therefore makes us unable to predict their behavior in any meaningful way.

                tl:dr, because when a person lies, it makes them less trustworthy.

                Due to it’s inherent inconsistency, hypocrisy is similar. When a person speaks one way yet acts another, the implication is that they don’t truly believe what it is that they’re saying. This gives the impression that the hypocrite is lying, even though they may believe themselves to be telling the truth.

                • Evertoniancalvinist

                  Dev…So it’s bad to lie because humans don’t like it? I like to lie to people, so I think it is good to lie. Are you okay with that arbitrary answer? Didnt think so. You need to tell me the standard for calling something bad. In your second paragraph you sound like Jesus teaching the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Are you borrowing from my worldview again? You are. Also, what in heck is wrong with being selfish in a pure random chance universe? It’s a dog eat dog world man.

                • Deven Kale

                   I’m saying it’s axiomatic: Humans don’t like being lied to. The fact that you think it’s good to lie to people doesn’t change the fact that you don’t like being lied to (it does, however, confirm you’re just a troll). Show me a real person that enjoys being lied to and you may have a point.

                  Yes, do unto others as you would have others do unto you is a pretty good rule. I agree with it, and everybody with a properly working ability to mentalize would also, since it’s just an inversion of that ability. I’m glad you recognize that, because it means you have actually started paying attention to me rather than just ignoring like you do with everyone else. I’m perversely flattered.

                • Glasofruix

                   That rule doesn’t come from jebus, it’s way older and comes from logic and life in a community.

                • Evertoniancalvinist

                  Look at Glasso appealing to a universal law of logic. That where we got the golden rule he says. Glasso, thank you.

                • Deven Kale

                  I’ve already explained this to you, EC: there is no “universal law of logic.” Logic is a man-made tool we use to determine if our thought processes are valid. It’s a method (yes, it’s a method-based tool) we use to confirm that our conclusions actually follow from our premises, as well as a way to determine if our premises are valid. Logic has no “universal laws” any more than science, yet another man-made tool, has them.

                  The fact that you can be refuted over and over again and still make these vacuous claims is really starting to become tiresome. I’m sorely tempted to just start flagging every single one of your posts that I see as inappropriate since you’re obviously not here for discussion, but to get a rise out of us. That’s the very definition of a troll.

                • Glasofruix

                   Are you an idiot?

                • Thumper1990

                  “So it’s bad to lie because humans don’t like it? I like to lie to people, so I think it is good to lie.”

                  Which simply proves Deven’s point that Liars are inherently selfish. “we can infer that the person telling the lie cares more about themselves and their own image than acting in a manner concordant with how they themselves want to be treated”. So you just proved your opponents point, thus invalidating your own argument. Congratulations.

                • RobertoTheChi

                  Your worldview? You mean the world view that pre-dates christianity and was stolen by the christians? Is that the world view you’re speaking of?

                • Blacksheep

                  The Torah, which is the roots of Christianity, was created in approximately 450 BC – so nothing was “stolen” – in fact it gives Chritianity ancient lineage.

                • Patterrssonn

                  You mean 250 BC, but even 450 BC hardly qualifies as “ancient”  

              • phantomreader42

                Lying and refusing to admit that people have answered your dishonest, idiotic questions doesn’t magically make the answers go away, you worthless lying sack of shit.

          • Maria

            The folly of the atheist worldview? Look, it may seem that way to you, but others obviously just see the world differently. Why can’t you accept that?

          • RobertoTheChi

            And what exactly is the folly of the atheistic world view?

          • Patterrssonn

            There’s a big difference between certainty and absolute certainty, an infinity of difference in one respect. Certainty is an emotional state, how can you have an absolute emotional state? Certainty is a feeling, a feeling that you have adequate knowledge to decide that a thing is true? Absolute certainty would require total confidence that you have total knowledge, absolutely no doubts, not even a quaver.

            I know you’d like to think that such a thing is possible, you’d like to believe that you have absolute certainty in the existence of your god. But if you actually did I doubt you’d be wasting your time trolling an atheist web site. Especially as the only ‘argument’ you have is the insistence that you “know” that god exists.

             I think the only person you’re trying to convince is yourself. We are just stand-ins for your doubts.

          • http://www.facebook.com/conticreative Marco C

            Funny, I have been reading your posts for a while and all I have taken away is that you are even crazier than I thought. 

        • Antinomian

          “Assuming you actually are a Calvinist, that means you presume to know who is and is not predestined to make it to your Heaven.* Why then do you taunt non-believers? It can’t be that you are trying to save us. Is it just that feeling of smug self satisfaction you get from it?”
          He does it for Jesus Points Johnnie..

          He’s just not smart enough to see that they’re non-redeemable. In other words, someone sold him the Brooklyn Bridge to some swampland in heaven..

      • Patterrssonn

        What evidence do you have for god’s existence?

        • Octoberfurst

           He doesn’t have any. But he will babble about “absolutes” and morals and other things he obsesses about. It won’t answer your question but it will let him feel superior to all us heathens.  He thinks he is very clever but he is really just a douche.

          • Patterrssonn

            I thought I’d draw him out a bit, put him on the defensive. While it’s fun to have a troll, I’m getting tired of ET and his incessant non-argument.

        • Evertoniancalvinist

          God is not on trial. I don’t need to give evidence for His existence. Everyone knows He exists. He has revealed himself to us in creation. (rom 1). If you deny this, you are supressing the truth in unrighteousness. The proof that he exists, is that you can’t prove anything without him. You can’t account for all the necessary components needed to prove something. So when you ask me to “prove” God, I will say you just did by assuming there is such thing as proof.

          • Michaelbrice

            Astounding, simply astounding. You Sir have drunk the Kool-Aid, and apparently you liked it so much you went back for seconds.

          • Phil

            “Everyone knows…..”

            Typical preface to bullshit.

          • RobMcCune

             In other words, for all your demands others justify their world view you can’t justify yours! How perfect, all your presuppositionalism is just you being mad about others “unrighteousness”.

          • Maria

            Ok, just so you know, saying “Everyone knows he exists” carries exactly just as much weight as saying “Everyone knows Santa Claus exists!” It literally means that much. 

          • amycas

            I don’t know god exists. Don’t lie to me about what I know or don’t know.

          • Piet Puk

            Thank you for showing us that realitiy and logic are no obstacles to you.
            You have made it clear that reasoning with you is an exercise in futility.
            But then again, that’s what we get for feeding trolls..

          • Thumper1990

            “I don’t need to give evidence for His existence. “. Yes you do. Ever heard of Russel’s Teapot? Look it up.

            “Everyone knows He exists”. Actually I’m fairly certain he does not exist, as is everyone else here with the exception of yourself. And before you sieze on the “fairly certain”, I am merely attempting to be fair and balanced. Again, Russel’s Teapot. I am “fairly certain” God does not exist in exactly the same way that I am “fairly certain” that unicorns, elves and dragons do not exist.

            “The proof that he exists, is that you can’t prove anything without him”. I could list a multitude of  proven scientific theories which do not invoke God, but I have neither the time nor the inclination. Suffice it to say that you are so wrong it is painful to see.

            “You can’t account for all the necessary components needed to prove something. So when you ask me to “prove” God, I will say you just did by assuming there is such thing as proof. ” This is just nonsensical. What on Earth are you on about?

          • The Other Weirdo

             

            God is not on trial. I don’t need to give evidence for His existence.
            Everyone knows He exists. He has revealed himself to us in creation.
            (rom 1). If you deny this, you are supressing the truth in
            unrighteousness. The proof that he exists, is that you can’t prove
            anything without him. You can’t account for all the necessary components
            needed to prove something. So when you ask me to “prove” God, I will
            say you just did by assuming there is such thing as proof.

            This entire paragraph needs to be copied and posted every time this person posts anything at all or demands any sort of proof for anything.

          • RobertoTheChi

            You most certainly DO have to give evidence for such an outlandish claim. The onus is on you. And to say that everyone knows your sadistic imaginary friend exists is laughable at best. Stop trolling.

          • Pascale Laviolette

            Wow, I’m embarrassed for you.

          • Foster

            Your interpretation of the Romans 1 passage is suspect and I do not share it because Paul was specifically talking about literal idol-worshippers (go back and read the passage) and those who suppress the truth, rather than making a blanket-statement about all mankind.  While I believe that Catholic Christianity can be logically arrived at by anyone with both an unhindered reason and all the facts, I disagree with you in your suggestion that “everyone knows.”  Due to our limited knowledge as finite human beings, some may not be in a position to grasp the evidence pointing towards belief.  I take the passage you cite rather to mean that in every generation since the beginning of the world, there have been those who were wise enough to perceive God in the created world, yet they suppressed what they knew even in their own minds because it was inconvenient, but this does not imply that everyone knew.  That’s not what the Bible says.  The plain observable truth is that most people are sheep, and are incapable of reasoning for themselves because they lack the education to do so, ignorant of Aristotelian type logic, although we all wish it were otherwise.  It certainly seems to have been inconvenient for Socrates, to give a pagan example, to come to the view of God that he did. Would you rank him also among the damned, because he should have known about the historical Jesus, despite his historical context, despite his being put to death for what he apparently believed to be true about God and the gods?  How does your interpretation of Romans 1 apply to him?  I am legitimately curious.

        • Blacksheep

          Sorry, I know you were not adressing me, but to chime in:
          I have a deep interest in science, espcially physics. And for me, the more I learn, the more in awe I am of the magnitude/detail/harmony of the universe, and the more I am convinced that at the very least an inteligent force created it. 

          • Patterrssonn

            You’re right I wasn’t addressing you, neither am I interested in your convictions. What does interest me is that neither you nor ET are able to answer the question.

            • Blacksheep

              Wake up on the wrong side of the bed did we?

              • Patterrssonn

                Still unable to answer the question are we? Perhaps we woke up on the wrong side of rationality today.

      • David B.

        But, “as an atheist”, Kacy would surely not ascribe to an absolute meaning of “absolute”, since she couldn’t be absolutely certain of one, so by your own argument it’s quite okay for her to describe things as “absolutely true”, as this could be quite correct for particular values of “absolute”.

      • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

        Religion does two things.

        1. Pre-supposes some higher power or supernatural cause for unexplainable things.
        2. Through tradition and a long “game of telephone” adds details and a story-line to this pre-supposed supernatural power. 

        Religion then says that faith in believing the “details” and story-line about the pre-supposed supernatural power is a virtue. 

        The problem is that education and knowledge about the world chips away at the religious “details” and story-line.  It becomes harder to have faith that they are true with more and more knowledge. 

         Religious people need to either insulate themselves from certain subjects of knowledge or give up certain “details” and religious story-lines from the bible and assume they are really metaphorical.  We are seeing religious people start to give up having faith in the “details” and story-line of their particular religions and drop back to the simple Deist notion of the world needing some kind of supernatural creator.  The Deist notion does not need so much faith because it doesn’t make any falsifiable or implausible claims.  It is just the god of the ultimate gap.

        • Blacksheep

          Hey Jeff,

          That’s why I stick with the Gospel of Jesus as written in the Bible- education and knowledge never chip away at that!

          • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

            That is fine if you stick to musing about what goes on in a theorized un-falsifiable afterlife. But the rub is that there are all sorts of different religions with their own notion of this theorized un-falsifiable afterlife and new ones can be thought up at will. I can sit down and think up new ones any time I want. There is nothing objectively special about the one you mention. It is just the one that you are used to and have some cultural bonding to.

            Religion becomes a problem for the rest of us when people try to bring their theorized un-falsifiable notions about an afterlife to the here and now and make laws about what the deity supposedly wants us to do.

            And yes, I think the Gospel of Jesus is just the by-product of a century long “game of telephone”. Line up 500 people in a row and have the first one start with any arbitrary story and have each one repeat the story down the line.  By the time you get to the end of the line you have a new religion.

            • Blacksheep

              A departure from my comment – my take was that knowledge does not chip away at the Gospel – I’m not speaking for any other faith.
              (The translation of the NT is pretty faithful to the original texts – but I agree that people argue over the meaning of those texts all the time).

              • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

                Yea but the oral transmission period in the first century was a bit like a “game of telephone” before anything was written down. If you were to find an original copy of the Gospels written around 100 AD or so, you would have to read them with the expectation that a lot of stuff was invented in the oral transmission stage.

                This knowledge about New Testament scholarship contributes to a loss of faith in the exact word of the Gospels.

                • Foster

                  Ah, but the fact that we have four different gospels does tend to suggest the extent of the changes the game of telephone resulted in: remarkably little  in the essentials concerning their agreement of who Jesus is and the nature of his ministry.  Being Catholic, I don’t mind small historical mistakes that the authors of the gospels committed.  Luke doesn’t even suggest that his gospel is more than a collection of eye-witness accounts.  Rather, it is the doctrine of the gospels (and the sum of scripture) that is the infallibly inspired truth as it touches on Christian Faith and morals.

            • Deven Kale

              For the sake of clarity, and to not give religious ideas more credit than they deserve: Each instance of “theorized” in the previous post should be read as “hypothetical,” and even that may be giving them too much credit.

              A hypothesis is a testable claim, and a theory is a collection of hypotheses which have been shown to be valid. While an unfalsifiable hypothesis is oxymoronic, it reads better than “untestable wild-ass guess.”

          • Patterrssonn

            Sorry BS, but I think you’ll find that they are doing exactly that.

      • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

         Meh.  If you want to go with a technical definition of absolute, that’s fine.  But this wasn’t meant to bring up the philosophical debate of absolutes vs. relativism.  It was meant more in the common, vulgar definition of “absolute,” which is perfectly fine for everyday human discourse.  And if you think your Calvinist worldview offers any sort of absolute absolutes, you’re just playing word games and deceiving yourself.  (this coming from a former Calvinist)

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

       You’re not alone there. My BIL said that the only reason I’m an atheist is because of logic and reason, as if logic and reason were bad things.

      Sorry, bro, but I like being logical.

  • C Peterson

    I believe Smith has it wrong. Knowledge is little obstacle to faith. Knowledge is just the fodder filling our minds; its value is only as good as our ability to process it, to understand it, to weigh its relative value and veracity, to make connections.

    The greatest obstacle to faith is reason. Of course, you still need to work from accurate knowledge, but without reason, the knowledge is pretty useless.

    • Evertoniancalvinist

      C Peterson .. “The greatest obstacle to faith is reason”. Nonsense. What silly statement Peterson. Let me ask you a question: how do you know the reasoning you are are using is valid? How do you know your reasoning is good, sound reasoning?

      • amycas

         Oh, ffs, flagged from now on. This is ridiculous.

        • Glasofruix

          Funny isn’t it? He accuses everyone of following a circular logic while he himself is running around a pole with a rope around his neck, let’s hope that at some point he chokes himself.

          • Deven Kale

             Full-on hardcore right-wing Christians like him tend to be pretty freaky. My vote is on auto-erotic asphyxiation.

        • Gus Snarp

          Seriously, is everyone done with this guy yet? His circular reasoning and repetitiveness and deafness to argument make him nothing but a troll of the kind that the phrase “don’t feed the trolls” was built for. I know it’s hard for us to not tear into such weak arguments, but it’s gone on long enough now. The exercise is finished, he’s not listening, and he’s not giving us anything new to chew on, so let’s all agree to ignore him, pretty please? As long as we respond he’ll keep thinking he’s having an argument and keep commenting, and since we’re arguing through long threads with what sound at first glance like actual philosophical discussions, Hemant is not likely to moderate him. 

          Please, for FFSMS, flag and ignore ET from now on.

          • Evertoniancalvinist

            Okay Okay… I’ll leave. I hope my arguments have caused somebody second thoughts. If not, I tried. Thanks to all of you who engaged me with serious discussion. There is forgiveness and love found in Jesus. Good bye now ;)

            • Silentbob

              Congratulations. You have realised the futility of trying to find holes in the “atheistic worldview”. There is not now, nor ever has been, evidence for gods. The “atheistic worldview” is simply the “I’m not superstitious” worldview.

              Please don’t stop there. Get yourself an education in science. Start with children’s books from the library if you have to. I’m not being patronising. They are often good for getting an easy-to-understand overview of a subject before moving on to more advanced texts. You’ll find all your “How do you account for this?” questions answered.

              Don’t let people fill your head with nonsense. Get into the habit of asking, “How do you know that is true?”.

              The authors of the bible knew so little of the world around them that they thought the world was flat, the Moon shone by its own light, and disease was caused by evil spirits. The world was so mysterious to them that, in their innocence, they imagined some giant man in the sky must be making everything happen. We know better now.

              There is no reason to waste any more of your life inventing paper-thin rationalisations for vainly trying to cling to the long-discredited superstitions of ignorant goat-herders from the ancient middle east. The real world is infinitely more wondrous than they ever imagined in their most absurd fantasies.

              Come join us in the 21st century. You’ll be glad you did.

      • C Peterson

        I suggested that reason is the enemy of faith, not reasoning.

        Reason describes a methodology of thinking that as been empirically demonstrated to lead to more accurate knowledge. Reasoning is simply another word for any thinking process, which may be effective or not.

        • Foster

          It’s obvious from the context of EC’s comment that he was using “Reason” and “reasoning” synonymously.  You should exercise the principle of charity and describe why you think Reason is valid, rather than latch onto a meaningless distinction that EC obviously was not making or intending to make about the difference between Reason and the straw man “reasoning.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

         Well, one way would be to check if you have any objections to the premises, or particular steps in the inference chain. Of course, that will take some time.

        Let’s start with the Commutativity of Logical Inclusive Disjunction. Do you accept that (P OR Q) is equi-inferrable with (Q OR P)?

      • phantomreader42

        All presuppositionalists are child-molesting serial killers who drown puppies and set kituens on fire for fun. This is absolutely, unquestionably true, and I don’t need to offer even the slightest speck of evidence to support it, because the whole point of presuppositionalism is asserting that whatever ridiculous nonsense some delusional presuppositionalist pulls out of his ass is absolute unquestionable truth and rejecting the very idea of evidence.

  • Phil

    Those who purvey it are blatant, prideful, arrogant idiots and hucksters.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, Blonde

    the realization that most religious leaders/con artists/spiritual guides are hypocrites, hucksters, grifters, liars, pedophiles, closet cases, and/or fabulists who just make shit up because they don’t want to have to work for a living, and/or want political & social power the easy way: by conning the poor, ignorant, and desperate. it’s a great con if you have no moral or ethical system and don’t mind getting what you want by causing the suffering of others, especially the confused, children, and downtrodden.

    sure, there are some “nice” religious types out there, doing good work helping people in need. i went to div school, i met some. they were fun. but in the end, i just couldn’t stomach the equation “intellectual dishonesty about my faith/tradition/organization is just the price i have to pay in order to be Holy.” sorry, can’t do that. and if you can, well, don’t ask me to respect you, or your mythology, which you all know is just that… myth. 

    honestly i think that’s what offends me most about the religious leadership of almost all faiths. it’s really not that hard, for any critic of any faith, to find the crucial and absolute moment of intellectual or moral dissonance, and present that to a congregant or spiritual leader and say, “but what about this? how can you defend or support or say you believe that it true, when all evidence to the contrary proves it is not?” and they always, every frakking time, whimper and whine as a last defense, “why do you have to be so mean? waaaaah! tell her to leave me alone, Sky Daddy!”

     that sort of cowardice is what made me the militant atheist i am today. i hate intellectual hypocrites and moral cowards as much as i hate republican queers and Uncle Tom african americans. they will never receive my deference, silence or respect. 

  • Stephen Cameron

    To exercise faith, which is to say, to deliberately attempt to be more certain of something than the available evidence warrants, is very obviously, if your intent is to figure out to the best of your ability what’s actually true, as it turns out, an all too obviously idiotic approach.    Why would it ever be a good idea to attempt to be more certain of something than the evidence warrants?  The very concept of faith itself is, at its core, fundamentally and obviously idiotic.   There’s no escaping it.  Faith is, *by definition* idiotic.

    Far too many arguments focus on the specifc arguments arrived at by faith, and far too few directly attack the very notion of faith itself. This strikes me as weird, as “faith” is an invented word which seems to mean: “believing a claim without regard to evidence for or against, or even in the very teeth of evidence against the truth of that claim.” The *very core* of faith is not just rotten, but a total vacuum. We should maintain a sustained attack on the very notion of faith itself, not just the conclusions reached by means of faith.

    • The Other Weirdo

       Or, put more succinctly, faith is believing what you know ain’t so. Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that?

  • Coyotenose

    ” Knowledge”, “reason”, and “evidence” are ideas that are so tied up together that I’m not sure we can pick one discreet term to be the “greatest” obstacle to faith. I’d go with “evidence”, though.

    “Logic”, unfortunately, can’t make my short list, because by itself, it is very easy to abuse and manipulate. See apologetics. Also see the usual liar below.

  • Sindigo

    Up to now, when asked this question I would have said education. Whether you’re reading science, art, history or even the Bible, you’re effectively inoculating yourself the disease of the mind that is religion. However, with the recent gains made in the numbers of individuals coming out as secular I think faith’s biggest obstacle is its own bigotry.

    Sooner or later, religion outs itself as bigoted. Whether it’s Islam and its fear of women, X’tianity and its hatred of GLBT individuals or the Hindu caste system (I know that’s its partly cultural as well as religious, adhering to it is a faith position IMO) as more people have access to more information, particularly the internet, more people realise that bigotry has no place in society and it turns them from their faith.

    So yeah, bigotry and the internet. Because, even if they are a Muslim, or are darker skinned than you or have different high holidays or play soccer rather than football, everyone loves a picture of a cat in a box. And once those parallels are drawn it’s harder to hate.

  • Earl G.

    The wording of the question (“obstacle”) is skeezy; it presupposes that faith is a good thing.  Would anyone ever ask “What’s the greatest obstacle to violence?” or “What’s the greatest obstacle to failure?”  

  • NickDB

    Well considering that from the very first book of the bible knowledge is associated with evil and that  Lucifer is the “Bringer of Light, the Morning Star, Intellectualism, Enlightenment” then  I’d say the founders of all religions knew that knowledge is their kryptonite, and therefore  religious leaders have always been against progress and knowledge.

  • Blacksheep

    In my opinion, the greatest obtacle to faith is that religion is annoying – it claims to know the truth about the human condition, it asks us to serve, and it tells us what to do. It’s an affront to my ego. But knowledge does not take away from the Gospel of Christ – so for me it’s not an obstacle.

    • Deven Kale

       I always find it funny that it’s only those who are still stuck within religion who feel that way. Once a person breaks free of it, they realize that such a viewpoint is only a caricature they needed to convince themselves that there was a valid reason to be religious.

    • matt

       The actions and morals of bible god make me suspicious. 

      He birthed himself into the human race simply to sacrifice himself to HIMSELF for the alleged wrong doings of his first children (And he purposely tempted them with…KNOWLEDGE).  Does this sound like an omnipotent and omnipresent god?

      Why a New and Old Testament? All knowing God needed to come down a 2nd time?  He must’ve forgotten to mention something to Moses.

      Many aspects of Christianity were borrowed from previous religions.  This knowledge and knowledge of the bible itself actually chip away at Christianity quite well for me.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    testing

  • Richard Treitel

    I liked the rabbi’s answer best.  It explains so much (though more about X’tians than about Jews AFAICS).

  • Veronica Abbass

    “So it’s good to have the Centre for Inquiry’s Kevin Smith to set everyone straight. ”

    Smith certainly tried to set me straight in his reply to this post on the October 20th “Ask the Religion Experts”column: http://canadianatheist.com/2012/10/20/religion-experts-respond-to-aggression-and-terrorism/

  • Abeofglenmoorper
  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    Not sure I like the wording of the question, but for me, the greatest obstacle to faith is evidence, or rather, lack of evidence. There’s simply no reason to think that the supernatural is real.


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