In Response McCloskey’s Paper, “On Being an Atheist”
In his article, “On Being an Atheist” McCloskey provides several arguments that seek to justify the non-existence of God, Atheism. This he does using several claims made by theists on a general level as well as focusing more on the Christian God. The claims are divided into several sections upon which he lays his countering arguments. At the introduction, he provides a brief overview of the arguments presented by theists, who he refers to as ‘proofs,’ claiming that none of the proofs create enough justification to believe that God does exist. Although one of the proofs may not show the existence of God, all the proofs together provide a strong evidence for the existence of God considering their accord or lack of contradiction. However, if the existence of God is based on such proves, his proofs or objections that God does not exist are debatable, as well.
On cosmological argument, the first argument he puts across is that the “mere existence of the world constitutes no reason for believing in such a being [i.e., a necessarily existing being]” (McCloskey 51). The fact that there are creatures in the world that do not know how they came into existence is an indication that some being must have been there in order to cause their existence or else, these creatures would not be in existence since the trail could not be infinite(Evans and Manis 73). In the world, almost everything happening has to be caused by something, a tree may not fall if not cut or too old to stand. Therefore, the existence of the universe has to be dependent on a cause that was not caused because the causes are not infinite. According to Evans and Manis final paragraph on page 77, McCloskey could be right that the cosmological argument, “does not entitle us to postulate an all-powerful, all-perfect, uncaused cause,” (51).
Regarding theological argument, the design arguments contends an argument based on intelligence concerning the way the world came to be in existence. In countering this argument, McCloskey purports that, “to get the proof going, genuine indisputable examples of design and purpose are needed.” He further suggests that what we need to believe is that there was a malevolently powerful or an imperfect designer, (52). This is in contradictory to his argument on the breaking of nature, where there was an uncaused cause. Further, he has no undisputable proof that an imperfect designer was there, which makes his claims disputable, as well. By suggesting there was an imperfect designer of the world, he agrees to the fact that nature was broken at one time. On his idea of indisputability of a proof of God’s existence, he is wrong as Evans and Manis contend that indisputability is, “so high, perhaps, that a proof of theism is in principle unattainable,” (87). His conclusion on indisputability can be considered conclusive since it has no undisputable proof as well, which makes it unreasonable.
Evans and Manis offer an example of a design, although not disputable, that proves the existence of a designer of the universe. The analogous example tries to counter the argument by using real life examples of human creation. This is the intelligence example aforementioned that suggests that human beings make use of intelligence to make machines that play a certain role. It suggests that manmade machinery come from an intelligent design, where the materials are intelligently combined together. Similarly, natural things are made of parts, which combine together to achieve certain purposes. Thus, objects in nature could be the consequence of intelligent designs from several parts, put together by a supernatural being. Although disputable, this design is quite convincing considering the world is made of parts joined together.
Further, McCloskey suggests that because evolution exists, it displaces the need for a designer. However, one could say that God designed the world to continue evolving in it without needing redesigning. Even if it was true that evolution displaces the need for a designer, it can be implied that just as the machinery, equipments achieve their purpose of being designed, and so did God achieve His Purpose. For instance, a computer is designed to serve varied purposes and can be changed to serve others. In the same way, God created animals in a way they could evolve. Therefore, in evolving, His design of the world has achieved its purpose. According to Evans and Manis, “the evolutionary process, even if it is a mechanical process, is simply the means whereby God, the intelligent designer, realizes his purposes,” (83).
McCloskey further argues that the presence of imperfection, as well as evil is proof that the divine perfection of God does not exist. It is true that evil and imperfection exists in the world and using this as proof that the divine purpose of the world is not true is quite convincing. However, responding from the perspective of Evans and Manis on evil and imperfection, one can argue that the cosmological argument does not contend a perfect world without evil. Rather, it argues that an uncaused cause of a first cause existed, which does imply perfection of lack of evil. Therefore, without such an understanding of the cosmological argument, an atheist like McCloskey can assume that the divinity of the world or its purpose is something that one is supposed to see or realize (Evans and Manis 77).
Further, on the issue of evil, McCloskey argues that atheists are not affected by evil as theists are or life is more comfortable as an atheist. This is not reasonable considering imperfection and evil does not distinguish between theists and atheists. If it did, it would be true that atheists could have a more comfortable life than theists have. However, suffering and evil as well as imperfection are all over the world and affect all human beings as well as other living things in the universe. Moreover, how would one believe there is evil if the opposite, which is goodness, did not exist?
The atheist argument is based on the notion that the world is evil, and no perfect being could create a world with imperfections. McCloskey argues, “No being who was perfect could have created a world in which there was unavoidable suffering or in which his creatures would (and in fact could have been created so as not to) engage in morally evil acts, acts which very often result in injury to innocent persons.” (56). The argument assumes that for God to exist and be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent there could be no evil since He would have the power to eliminate it. “It does not seem to be true…that a good being always eliminates evil as far as it can. What is true, perhaps, is that a good being always eliminates evil as far as it can without the loss of a greater good or the allowance of a worse evil,” (160). If evil was to be eliminated, it would mean having to eliminate the human race considering it is the one that commits this evil out of their free will. Evil exists, as the opposite of good, and without both, there would be no evil or good. It is important to appreciate that the opposite of something helps in deriving the meaning for its exact opposite.
Free will as mentioned is found in all human beings, which dictates their actions, including the choice to believe in God or not to believe. In his discussion, McCloskey asks, “might not God have very easily so have arranged the world and biased man to virtue that men always freely chose what is right?” (66). This would be very untrue considering that for a right to exists; a wrong must exist as well. Additionally, this would mean that there are only two options in life, the right and the wrong, which is not true. However, one can ask where the morality comes in. for there to be morality; a guiding principal has to be in existence that makes people realize immorality. Otherwise, nothing could be moral or immoral.
In this question, he suggests that God gave people a right to decide what is wrong and what is right. If it were so, how then could atheists recognize right and wrong? They could simply do something wrong and say it is right according to their free will. It is surprising as well as he agrees with the same things that a theist would agree to be wrong. In his article, he mentions that killing innocent people is wrong. Was it not the free will of those people to kill and interpret killing as right? Clearly, the is a moral guiding principle that exists to guide people on good and bad, but humans make the choice on what action to take. Without God, there would probably be no sense of morality. Another example is where both theists and atheists would agree that some acts done legally in other places such as sex trafficking are wrong. This brings about the question of what makes them wrong if those who do it see it as right. Therefore, a guiding principle that governs what is right or wrong exists, clearly showing that if God never existed, everything on this world would happen as accidental and no body would questions the other. Precisely, there would exist no evil or good. If this was true, how does he recognize that evil exists?
In the end of his article, McCloskey argues that atheism is more comforting than theism. He argues that pain is evil, which means that if God existed, he would eliminate this for all of us, which is the same as living just for the sake of our lives. Craig argues that if there were not God, the life of human beings would have no meaning. He says that, ““If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint,” (6). This would mean that life here on earth had no meaning if ones end comes when he dies. Therefore, if it made no meaning to live a better life, why then would the atheists want to live a good life, free of immorality and evil or without pain. Why would it matter how they live in this world. However, considering that being atheist does not mean one stops suffering, what then is the need of living without God. It does not mean that, being a Christian, one has to suffer. This is what he implies, which is quite wrong and farfetched.
It makes no sense to argue that believing in the inexistence of God makes life better and comfortable. This would mean not believing in anything that relates to God, including life after death. This would make life not worth living, and it would be meaningless to live if ones efforts in life end when he dies. Further, failing to believe that God exists because there is evil might not make sense to claim that an atheist life is better since the evil will still come to all, whether believers or nonbelievers (Keller 27).
Clearly, McCloskey’s counterarguments to the existence of God hold no proof at all. Considering he counter argues the proofs that theists provide as evidence for existence, he has no proof either that god does not exists. Expecting theists to have an undisputable proof of Gods existence would in order to proof he exists would imply to him as well, where he would be required to provide an undisputable proof to his arguments. From the proofs provided by theists, it is clear they add up and are incongruence with each other. On the first argument, he dismisses that a creator existed by arguing it is displaced by evolution. This might not be true according to the example provided as well as the fact that everything that exists has to have had a start. The causes cannot be infinite, meaning there was a cause that was independent and not caused by another cause.
Craig William Lane. The Absurdity of Life without God. reasonablefaith.org, n.d. Web February 28, 2013.
Evans, C. Stephen and Manis R. Zachary. Philosophy of Religion, 2nd Ed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. Print.
Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. New York, NY: Riverhead, 2008. Print.
McCloskey, H.J. “On Being an Atheist,” Question 1: 51-54. Print.