Response Paper on H.J McCloskey’s On Being An Atheist
McCloskey’s stand as an atheist could be considered controversial especially with this article. One would need to be open-minded while reading his article as not only he tried refuting the arguments on God’s existence but also gave his opinion that having an atheistic perspective regarding religion would give more balance and peace on the individual’s thinking than theism could offer. His explanations were quite simple and parsimonious but as always, people whether they are theists or philosophers were bound to make a critique against him. In this response paper, it would be best to not only examine McCloskey’s theory but also to find other references that supports or negates his argument; evidences that showed the impossibility of God’s existence and him trashing down the given proofs from the theists that supported their belief. All the points raised on his article would be discussed below.
History could tell us that the growth and development of humans were not without scientific discoveries and the different cultures nurtured with each time span. As humans enhanced their way of thinking, they also started to unravel for answers with all the questions popping into their minds. It is only natural that back in the primitive age, they could not fathom all the mysteries surrounding them. Imagination and fear became the factors for humans to believe in the supernatural and thus, the birth of different religions. McCloskey stated that theists believe on their God not because due to the gathered evidences but for different reasons.  He noted that most people had a drive in them to believe that there must be a First Cause or Creator that brought out everything in front of their eyes. It is just to satisfy their curiosity and be done with it finally. McCloskey also pointed out that, no matter how ‘’inconclusive’’ the argument was, people would be stubborn and stay rooted on their stand- the evidence of the perfect design of the universe and the purpose of human existence is enough to prove that God exists. As any reader would have guessed, McCloskey tackled on the theists’ two proofs (cosmological proof and teleological proof or the evidence of design) that conclude that a Higher Being do exists, along with his discussion on the defects he found on the above-mentioned proofs.
Cosmological argument is, as mentioned above, supports the existence of God through his role as the First Cause; him as an uncaused cause and a ‘necessarily existing being’ in the creation of the universe. The First Cause Theory conclude that this Being cannot ‘not’ exists therefore there is also no need to probe further on his existence. McCloskey argued that the argument is very faulty; if the universe is indeed the reflection of a godly existence, then that god is far from the omnipotent and perfect being that the theists described to. It does not make sense for this god to be the first cause or uncaused cause seeing that the world the god supposedly created is far from perfect at all. The biggest flaw in the world’s creation is the existence of evil. How could a perfect god let his creation marred by pain and sin? Surely it would be a jest to suggest that this god created evil on purpose. Thus, the cosmological argument is not only confusing but also put their God on a very low and limited pedestal … a far cry from the glorious stories about the Being’s omnipotence.
McCloskey’s argument against the cosmological proof was sound and precise. As a matter of fact, the cosmological argument was often refuted by several notable philosophers. Richard Dawkins, a famous atheist and author of The God Delusion, stated in his book that to rely on this argument solely is an act of ‘evasion of stupendous proportions’. Dawkins argued that it too impossible, statistically speaking, that there is an existing god that controls and monitors every individual particle in the universe yet have to answer to all spiritual problems. Theists had been trying to prove the being’s existence and insisted that the idea is just too simple. The universe design itself is a proof of divine intervention yet, as Dawkins noticed, the theists still failed to explain on how their god came out of nowhere. It is really far from simple at all. David Mills, another philosopher, also refuted the First Cause theory. There were two points raised: one is if God do already exist then it should be much simpler to consider that physical matter also ‘always’ exists and second is with this argument (God always exist!) then it greatly contradicted the First Cause’s premise- the Law of Cause-Effect. Mills even went as far as calling it as the ‘philosophical and theological plaything’.
The teleological argument or the argument of design was defined as the existence of God proven by the order and design by nature. Theists had been using this argument centuries before that it would be too impossible that the universe would be in such organized order and perfect mathematical design just by itself. Some of the theists even consider this as a divine knobbing from their god. As this debate would just go in circles seeing that both sides would throw against each other theories that could never be conclusive, McCloskey still insisted that, similar to the cosmological argument, the design theory is flawed. If anything, the existing god is nothing more but a malevolent designer- if this world was indeed created in the most perfect manner then why is it that this God still shoved the evil’s existence to the people’s faces? The teleological argument derived from the Greek word ‘telos’ meaning purpose… McCloskey argued that having evil as a part of God’s design did not give a valid purpose at all. Ludwig Feuerbach also agreed with McCloskey’s idea. He, though, approached it in a different manner. He explained in his book The Essence of Christianity that the argument of the design is should not be considered as enough proof of god’s existence. It is, according to him, one of the many examples of ‘self-affirmation’ of the philosophers’ understanding. The only existence that it could claim is external, beyond the human five senses.
McCloskey also discussed his view on faith. He acknowledged that regardless of how much the two mentioned proofs were refuted several times; theists would not be shaken from their beliefs. Most believe through subjective reasoning; theists call this as faith. They described faith in God as taking a risk with a lifetime commitment. It could be compared as a loyalty on one’s friend who used to be a man of dignity yet at the present accused as a criminal; relying on the past knowledge with the danger of being mistaken. According to McCloskey, however, it is quite erroneous to apply one’s loyalty to a close comrade to that of the God situation. He said that, objectively, humans do not hold the ‘past knowledge’ of God’s perfection. All of the believers’ conception was made through this being’s supposed works and the former do not strongly support that this god, indeed, is omnipotent. It is quite an act of stupidity if one would believe on this Being’s perfection in the presence of evil around him.
The existence of evil was the central argument of McCloskey against all proofs given by the theists. It had been the most mind-boggling question to several theists. Modern philosophers such as Mills and Dawkins had rebuffed all the theistic theories supporting God’s existence for the same said reason. How was it even possible for a perfect being to include evil in his creation that usually brought forth catastrophes and pain on people? McCloskey also questioned the purpose of having an individual free will. This contradicts the image of an existing infallible god; why give the humans a chance to commit sins? William Craig, however, countered this argument. Craig observed that regardless of the problem of evil, no one had really given clear evidence that this premise is incompatible with that of the second statement. He presented three counter-arguments against McCloskey’s idea; a) we are not in a good position to assess with confidence the probability that God lacks morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world, b) Christian theism entails doctrines that increase the probability of the coexistence of God and evil and c) There is better warrant for believing that God exists than that the evil in the world is really gratuitous. His approach may be subjective yet Craig had made a reasonable reply. It would be quite arrogant on the atheists’ part to just conclude all the being’s existence through the occurrence of physical and moral evil.
Craig, William L. The Theistic Critiques on Atheism. US: Cambridge University Press 2007
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press, 2006
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan
Onfray, Michael. In Defense of Atheism. Canada: Penguin Group, 2005
McCloskey, H.J. On Being An Atheist. 1968
Mills, David. Atheist Universe. US: Ulysses Press, 2007
Ferreira, M. Jamie, “Faith and the Kierkegaardian leap”, “The Cambridge Companion to Kierkegaard”, Eds. Alastair Hannay and Gordon Daniel Marino, Cambridge University Press, 1998, Cambridge Collections Online, Cambridge University Press.25 March 2009, http://cco.cambridge.org/extract?id=ccol0521471516_CCOL0521471516A010
Feuerbach, Ludwig. ‘’The Contradiction in the Existence of God’’. Essence of Christianity: Part II, The False or Theological Essence of Religion. Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/feuerbach/works/essence/index.htm
Parsons, Keith, “Some Contemporary Theistic Arguments”, “The Cambridge Companion to Atheism”, Eds. Michael Martin, Cambridge University Press, 2007, Cambridge Collections Online, Cambridge University Press.25 March 2009, DOI:10.1017/CCOL0521842700.007
Rist, John, “Faith and reason”, “The Cambridge Companion to Augustine”, Eds. Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, Cambridge University Press, 2001, Cambridge Collections Online, Cambridge University Press.25 March 2009, http://cco.cambridge.org/extract?id=ccol0521650186_CCOL0521650186A004
 Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
 H.J McCloskey, ‘’On Being An Atheist’’, Question 1, (February 1968): 50-51
 Ibid, 51
 Ibid, 64
 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, pp. 143-146
 David Mills, Atheist Universe, pp. 69-71
 H.J McCloskey, ‘’On Being An Atheist’’, Question 1, (February 1968):64-65
 Del Ratzsch, ‘’Teleological Arguments for God’s Existence’’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (June 10 2005)
 H.J McCloskey, ‘’On Being An Atheist’’, Question 1, (February 1968):65
 Ludwig Freuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
 William Lane Craig, Theistic Critiques on Atheism, pp 73-74