- Free Essays, Term Papers, Research Papers and Book Reports

Response from a Theist Point of View to H.J.McCloskey's "on Being an Atheist"

By:   •  June 18, 2012  •  Essay  •  2,541 Words (11 Pages)  •  6,257 Views

Page 1 of 11



Darlene Lee

Phil 201 - D51

May 10, 2011


In his article “On Being an Atheist”, Australian philosopher, H.J. McCloskey, who wrote a number of atheistic works in the 1960’s and 70’s for the journal Question, takes a critical stance on arguments against God’s existence, and offers numerous reasons including the problem of evil to suggest that one should not believe in God. He believes that atheism is a much more comfortable belief versus having a belief in God who allows the suffering of innocent persons so that He could get the glory out of their lives and ultimately achieve the ultimate good. McCloskey moves on to say that ultimately, to live in this world, one must seek comfort from wherever one can find it. Because atheism was adopted by a thoughtful and sensitive person, this leads to a spirit of self-reliance, and on to a self-respect which causes one to comfort and help those who need support, and in doing so, it will reduce or moderate the blows of fate. In essence, McCloskey is saying that it is better to help each other than to believe in a God that could not be perfect himself because the world is imperfect. If he were perfect, then the world would be perfect. But because evil exist, God could not exist, therefore we must move through this world as it exist, and except the absurdity of life and come to terms with it. McCloskey’s arguments are neither logical nor sound, and its going to be interesting arguing against them.


McCloskey throughout his article uses the word “proof” when referring to arguments which he believes can’t definitively establish a case for the existence of God as Creator. First, one must understand that no one argument can get one to reach the point of certainty of the existence of God. Theists, according to McCloskey, uses the cosmological, teleological, and the argument from design, as different proofs to support their claim, but theist uses coherence in their arguments, those beliefs that relate mutually together to support their argument regarding the existence of God.

Coherence is important in the life of a theist because their beliefs cohere together to form knowledge of belief in God. If a proposition is true because it coheres with another true proposition, this forms a basis for truth. Coherence helps established these truths in areas where facts may not be known. Christians in particular, do not just take one argument and try to establish truth; we gather evidence, whether subjective or objective, and base our understanding on it.

Personally, I believe McCloskey is narrowed minded in his thinking. Most theists do not come to God just based on their proof or non-existence of proof thereof of God as Creator. Most times there are other underlying reasons for belief in God. Without having knowledge or insight into creation or evolution, which ever you choose to believe, the universe itself shows proof of an intelligent, all-knowing, and all-powerful being, which a normal person couldn’t wrap their minds around. McCloskey states that theists are more concerned with the cause of the entire creation theory, and that there must be a first cause, a creator who not only created everything, but continues to operate in the universe.


McCloskey moves his argument next to the subject of the cosmological argument, which he believes is absurd to say the least. In this argument, he attempts to attack it as simply an argument from the existence of the universe as we know it, and not the universe as existing from something. He believes that the universe as it exists does not prove that it was caused, as in purpose and design. His premise is that the theist knows nothing of evolution and if they did, they would know that this argument has its defects. There must be evidence of something about the universe that lends support to the claim that it indeed had a cause and that cause was God. As Evans points out, contingency would be the term used to pulled this argument together. If we were to observe objects around us in the universe, one would wonder if they had to exist. They may not have a natural reason for existing but are necessary. If the existence then is not necessary, then it makes it incomplete unless it has a causal purpose of a necessary being. In essence, there is no explanation for the existence of a contingent being, unless a necessary being exists. A necessary being is the only being that exist which requires no further explanation. McCloskey moves on to suggest that there is nothing about this universe that makes one believe that a necessarily existing being had to exist. He states: “If we use the causal argument at all, all we are entitled to infer is the existence of a cause commensurate with the effect to be explained, the universe, and this does not entitle us to postulate an all powerful, all-perfect, uncaused cause.” By all means, the cosmological argument does have its limitations to answering all of the questions of the proof of the existence of God, and there are only 2 premises to this argument. Premise (1) states that there are contingent beings, and premise (2) if a contingent being exist, then a necessary being must exist. This may not prove the existence of God, but may pose a question of which metaphysical view is more plausible. Rejecting the cosmological argument, implies that one is taking a view such as pantheism which holds that God is not a personal being or maybe not a being of any kind, or take a naturalist view which most atheist hold, which causes them not to believe in any supernatural realm beyond nature. They believe that things just exist on their own. To those that accept the conclusion of the cosmological argument, would have to adopt the attitude of getting to know more about God for themselves.


When considering the teleological argument, you will find the same premises as the cosmological argument. Both point to a universal order and a divine creator, but the teleological argument, often referred to as the argument from design, proposes to exhibit a purposeful order in the universe. McCloskey claims that “to get the proof going, genuine indisputable examples of design and purpose are needed.” McCloskey dismisses the argument on the same premises as the cosmological argument; they both do not prove God as the designer. He goes on to say that there is no proof that the universe has evidence or indisputable examples of design and purpose. If we were to look at McCloskey’s theory that the universe evolved, what would explain the order of things.

When looking at the precise placing of the galaxies, the structure of the human body and how everything functions together in precise rhythm, the way nature takes care of the environment for animals that were created just for certain climates and habitability; one can see the order, those things in nature that always act in the same way. If the universe evolved, how could it evolve in a way that natural order took place? The probability of that is nil to none. Evans uses the analogy of a watch to show beneficial order that is required for the watch to run. I prefer to use the example of the GPS system of an automobile. That tracking device has to know your exact location of where you are presently located, in order to provide you with the directions on where you would like to go. There must be a tracking device that keeps up with your every move so that if you make a wrong turn, the tracking device is able to signal that incorrect turn, and direct you in the correct way. Without the accuracy of the tracking device, nothing about the system would work. What this shows is that it took a designer to make something of this nature to work, just as it took design and purpose for the universe to have causal affect.

McCloskey comments on this by saying that so many of the things that existed before the evolution that were once construed as proof of design and purpose, has now been seen as nothing of the sort. He also goes on to add that evolution has displaced the need for a designer. For arguments sake, let’s say the evolution theory has validity. A defender of the teleological argument can argue that the evolution process only happens as it does because of the laws of nature. The evolution argument does not lessen the theory of a beneficial order, what it does is increase our awareness of the fact that it took a designer to put all of these natural laws in order, they could not have just happened on their own.

What then can we say regarding McCloskey’s claim that the presence of imperfection and evil is incompatible to “the perfection of the divine design or divine purpose in the world?” It appears on all levels that McCloskey is losing ground on his previous arguments of cosmological and teleological subjects and is reaching to find


Download:  txt (14.6 Kb)   pdf (162.7 Kb)   docx (14.7 Kb)  
Continue for 10 more pages »