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Response to H.J. Mccloskey

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    In his 1968 article, On Being an Atheist, H. J. McCloskey attempts to refute the arguments of God’s existence and explain how “atheism is a much more comfortable belief than theism. ” (McCloskey 1968) He first attempts to discredit the Cosmological and Teleological arguments for God’s existence, then he turns to the existence of evil as “proof” that God does not exist, and finally closes his article back where he began- claiming that atheism is a more comforting belief than theism. Here I intend to explain how McCloskey is incorrect in his arguments and beliefs.

    McCloskey actually changes the “arguments for” God’s existence to “proofs of” God’s existence. He claims that the individual “proofs” cannot provide a definite proof of God’s strength, security, or existence. (McCloskey 1968) I first want to argue his claim but stating that theists do not claim to prove God’s existence, theists argue for God’s existence with the cumulative case approach. Taking all of the possible explanations regarding the universe, design of the universe, and moral values theists find that God is the best explanation.

    A common example of this approach (the best explanation), as given in the Approaching the Question of God’s Existence presentation, is in the field of science regarding magnetic fields. Scientists have no empirical evidence that the magnetic field exists but it is the best explanation for the way magnets behave the way they do; just as a personal, moral (moral argument), intelligent (teleological argument) creator (cosmological argument) of the universe is the best explanation for the universe we experience.

    McCloskey attempts to dismantle the cosmological argument, the argument of existence, by claiming the “mere existence of the world constitutes no reason for believing in such a being [i. e. a necessarily existing being]. ” (McCloskey 1968) However, the universe is contingent -which means all of the objects within it do exist but might easily have not existed. (Evans and Manis 2009) In order for a contingent being or object to have meaning, or an explanation of their existence, there must be a cause or necessary being.

    The argument is as follows: some contingent beings exist, and if they exist then a necessary being must exist because, as previously stated contingent beings require a necessary being to have caused them. Therefore, there must be a necessary being which is the cause of the contingent beings. (Evans and Manis 2009) McCloskey makes the statement that the cosmological argument “does not entitle us to postulate an all-powerful, all-perfect, uncaused cause. ” (McCloskey 1968) As it would be, taking only the cosmological argument into consideration, McCloskey would be correct.

    However, as asserted by Evans, any person who accepts the cosmological argument should continue to learn more in regards to God. (Evans and Manis 2009) As stated previously, the best explanation is a cumulative case which not only accepts the cosmological argument but also the teleological and the moral arguments. Each argument leaves much to be desired on its own, but cumulatively provide the best explanation. As McCloskey tries to refute the teleological argument, he claims that “to get the proof going, genuine indisputable examples of design and purpose are needed. (McCloskey 1968) I would first argue, as Evans did, that to be rationally convincing, or “indisputable”, to all is too high of a standard, which further leaves the possibility that all claims of philosophy are unproven. (Evans and Manis 2009) I would also argue that McCloskey’s own claim makes his argument just as invalid as he is trying to make theism. As pointed out in the text by Evans, “Physicists are now able to calculate what the universe would have been like, in certain respects, had one or more of these laws or physical constants been different. (Evans and Manis 2009) What they have concluded is that “the odds of a single universe just happening to have a combination of such values that makes the emergence of life possible are infinitesimally small. ” (Evans and Manis 2009) This recent development leads to the fine-tuned design of the universe, that is, the universe was “intentionally designed for the (eventual) emergence of living beings like ourselves. ” (Evans and Manis 2009) Although, this design is not “indisputable” it does force the atheist to accept a position in which there is no empirical evidence. Evans and Manis 2009) These same premises can be used to refute McCloskey’s claim that evolution has displaced the need for a designer. However, for argument’s sake, if the theory of evolution was correct I would ask McCloskey, “Why it is then that mankind has failed to evolve any further? ” Furthermore, we could take a look at Evans example of the production of shoes. Let us say that a person wants to produce shoes and designs a machine to do such. When the material is put into the machine at one ends, the result at the other end of the machine is a shoe.

    Two explanations are available: the first which is mechanical- the machine created the shoe, the other is that the machine created the shoe because that is what it was designed to do. Therefore, “the evolutionary process, even if it is a mechanical process, is simply the means whereby God, the intelligent designer, realizes his purposes. ” (Evans and Manis 2009) McCloskey proceeds to then argue that “the presence of imperfection and evil in the world argues against ‘the perfection of the divine design or divine purpose in the world’”, which is his main objection to theism. McCloskey 1968) Reflecting back to the text by Evans, I would respond that neither the cosmological nor teleological arguments on their own, nor the combination of the both without the third argument, address the aspects of imperfection and evil. As Evans clarifies, the cosmological argument is a claim that a necessary being, who created the universe, must exist (Evans and Manis 2009) and the teleological argument is a claim that an intelligent designer created the universe due to the appearance of a purposive order. (Evans and Manis 2009) Neither of these arguments are claims that God is a perfect being, they advocate that He is a necessary (cosmological) being that caused the universe with a purposive order or design (theological). McCloskey renders his own opinion invalid by arguing from one point or the other, instead of cumulatively with the third argument. McCloskey argues that, “No being who was perfect could have created a world in which there was unavoidable suffering or in which his creatures would engage in morally evil acts, acts which very often result in injury to innocent persons. (McCloskey 1968) As Evans states, the burden of proof is on McCloskey to show “that the existence of God and evil are logically contradictory: specifically, he needs some proposition that is necessarily true and that, combined with the fact that evil exists, entails that God does not exist. ” (Evans and Manis 2009) Unfortunately for McCloskey, and other atheists, he fails to give any good reason why this would be true. Furthermore, as discussed by Evans, there is a limitation set upon omnipotence: “God cannot do what is broadly logically impossible. (Evans and Manis 2009) Even more, in order for there to be certain acts of second-order good, there must be some level of evil. McCloskey argues that if, God were perfect and loving and had created all of us with free will, “might not God have very easily so have arranged the world and biased man to virtue that men always chose what is right? ” (McCloskey 1968) As best described by Evans, “God desired to make creatures who would freely love and serve him. therefore “God allows humans to act freely because, without doing so, humans could not be morally responsible agents, capable of freely doing good by responding to loving their neighbors and their Creator. ” (Evans and Manis 2009) Basically, McCloskey is arguing that God should, could, and would have created humankind to be perfect and always choose “right” when there is a choice between “right” and “wrong” if He was truly omnipotent. Yet, that would not be a choice at all.

    McCloskey wraps up his argument regarding evil as the evidence that God does not exist by stating, “The existence of evil is therefore fatal to the claims that there is a Supreme Being who is perfect in every respect … ” (McCloskey 1968)To refute this I would like to point out that being finite beings, humans are not privy to the vast knowledge of God or the reasons for his allowance of evil. (Evans and Manis 2009) In the final paragraphs of McCloskey’s article he reiterates his opinion from the beginning, which is that “atheism is a much more comfortable belief than theism. (McCloskey 1968) He argues that it would be more comforting to not believe that there is an ultimate being, God, responsible for some tragic event in our lives- such as a death of a child or being disabled into a paraplegic state of being. (McCloskey 1968) However, reflecting on William Lane Craig’s article The Absurdity of Life without God, I would argue that life would be much more devastating believing that upon death everything I have done has meant nothing. (Craig 2008) That I, or a loved one, just become a box in the ground is more horrific than believing that there is ome ultimate reason or purpose for death or suffering. I would much rather live my life believing that I have an ultimate purpose, that there is meaning to my actions, and an ultimate reward at the end for doing what is right rather than live just to die. Bibliography Craig, William Lane. “The Absurdity of Life without God. ” Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 2008, 3rd ed. Evans, C. Stephen, and R. Zachary Manis. Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith. 2nd. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009. McCloskey, H. J. “On Being an Atheist. ” Question One, February 1968: 62-69.

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