Friday, May 16, 2014

A Response to, “On Being an Atheist” by H. J. McCloskey

Another Essay written for my philosophy class.  Here is a link to a copy of the article. 
A Response to, “On Being an Atheist” by H. J. McCloskey
This essay is written as a response to the article entitled “On Being an Atheist” by H. J. McCloskey as published in 1968. As this article is clearly an attack on both Christianity and theists in general, we need to be always ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (I Peter 3:15). A verse, which has a much deeper meaning in the context of McCloskey’s claim that because of the problem of evil, “theists should be miserable just because they are theists.”

At first, McCloskey tries to offer snippets of a much grander discussion on some of the primary arguments for God and refers to the arguments as “proofs,” claiming that they cannot definitively establish a case for God. However, these couple pages are not nearly enough to cover such deep arguments and his attempt to dismiss them are reminiscent of Dawkins’ work in The God Delusion, which philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls sophomoric (Plantinga, 2007). McCloskey, like many other atheists, sets up a straw man and easily knocks it down. The arguments for God that McCloskey mentions, ontological, cosmological, teleological, and the argument from design, are combinatorial in nature. If one argument is apparently weak the other arguments more than make up for supposed weaknesses in each other. Also, McCloskey dismisses the ontological argument apparently only because ordinary theists do not typically believe in God as a result of these types of proofs, which isn't an argument.

In terms of the cosmological arguments, McCloskey seems to be commenting on both the temporal and the non-temporal arguments for God at the same time, using what has become a worn-out critique, “Who created God?” That question, used by many atheists who seem to smugly stand up as if they have won the argument, is completely unimportant to the question. The cosmological argument from contingency has nothing to do with an infinitely old universe, which is where the critique only makes sense. Saying, “Who created God?” is like asking who created the uncreated, or who made this square circle, it's nonsense. It is a philosophically useless question considering the contingency of the universe. The only serious issue with the contingency argument, is that just because everything we have experienced in the universe appears to be contingent, does not necessarily mean that the universe itself is contingent. That too can be answered in that, the fallacy of composition, though technically can be applied to certain premises in the argument, the entire argument does not hinge on whether everything is contingent or if the universe itself is contingent. If any part of the universe is contingent then there must be a non-contingent, necessary being.

McCloskey makes the same mistake Dawkins makes in his books and Professor McGinn makes in his lecture series on philosophy, that is, take one argument for God, point out its weaknesses then apply that to other, completely separate arguments for God (McGinn, 2003). No one, that this author knows of, is claiming that the cosmological argument “entitle[s] us to postulate an all-powerful, all-perfect, uncaused cause.” As professor Kreeft says of Aquinas’ “ways,” “They claim to prove only a thin slice of God, so to speak, but enough to refute atheism” (Kreeft, 2009). Why do so many make the logical leap from, “a God exists” to “the Christian God exists” when no legitimate Christian apologist does so?
Then McCloskey turns to the teleological argument for God and claims that one would need “indisputable examples of design and purpose.” Again, a huge logical leap is being made here from the possibility or probability of design to indisputable examples of design. Why, when counterexamples are given from evolution, is plausibility the only thing needed to disprove creative design, and yet one that argues for creative design must give indisputable examples? Many atheist evolutionists seem content to give plausible explanations of how time, chance, and natural selection can explain away professor Behe’s irreducible complexity, however the question isn’t is it certain that a creative designer was involved, merely is it more probable that a designer was involved. In all these arguments the goal is not certainty, but plausibility. It is more plausible that an intelligent designer was involved than mere time/chance/natural selection.

There are so many examples of design it is difficult to choose just one. However, the so-called “fine-tuning argument” seems to be the most powerful argument because it circumvents any natural selection critiques. Though some seem to think there is an evolutionary answer, that some invisible, untestable, un-provable multiverse theories or universe generating machine theories, and no matter how unlikely these objections may be, are accepted by dogmatic atheists. But at its very core the fine-tuning argument is a powerful argument as our knowledge of the universe deepens.

As the fine-tuning argument makes teleological arguments more probable, so does the idea of abiogenesis. There is no designer required in either of these portions of the teleological arguments for God. However, even conceding evolution as true, the question of design is still not answered. The evolutionary process appeals to the laws of nature to work in a certain way, which implies a goal or an end. The very idea of an end or goal in a process requires the existence of a mind to imbue the process with a purpose. Purely natural or chemical processes, though at times orderly e.g. crystal formation, they don’t in themselves have any purpose. One possible critique is that the only purpose is to live and reproduce, but even that is a purpose and requires an explanation. And, if that is true, the entirety of McCloskey’s article is rendered worthless. If all of life has no meaning or purpose or goal save to live and reproduce, the atheists’ attempts at conjuring meaning in life come up empty.

Again McCloskey attacks a conclusion from an argument that has not (yet) been made. He has only answered the cosmological and the teleological arguments and ignored the ontological and the moral arguments for God. The teleological and cosmological arguments only show that it is reasonable to conclude that an all-powerful entity created the universe. These arguments do not speak to the characteristics of this entity other than power, creativity, and intelligence. The problem of evil must be made in the context of a particular view of God, that is, a theological context. It can be said to perhaps show that a particular view of God might be wrong, but it does not show that there is not a God at all. These direct philosophical questions and claims of inconsistency, which William Lane Craig seems to claim that current philosophers (even atheists) have abandoned (Craig, "Reasonable Faith Podcast", 2007), fall short of the goal of proving that God does not exist. The apologist need only show that it is possible that an all-powerful, all-good God to have reasons for permitting the existence of evil, to answer direct claims from the problem of evil.

Despite the more modern philosophers’ neglect of the logical problem of evil McCloskey seems to be clinging on to it saying, “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.” This completely ignores the concept of the “greater good” “second-order goods.” The former is best illustrated in the heroic soldier falling on the grenade to save his comrades, wherein the death of the soldier is evil but is required for the greater good of saving his comrades. Also, it is required for suffering to occur if one is to learn patience in the face of adversity.

Both Mackie and McCloskey have made similar claims against the free will answer to the problem of evil McCloskey saying, “might not God have very easily so have arranged the world and biased man to virtue that men always freely chose what is right?” and Mackie, “why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?” (emphasis added). At first glance it doesn’t seem like a response is needed, because part of the idea of freedom is the ability to choose otherwise. Even so, Plantinga gives an interesting answer that illustrates how that question forms a possible world that even an omnipotent being cannot create because it hinges on the choices of the created beings’ choices.
As McCloskey closes this article, and indeed the whole purpose as stated from the beginning, he claims how, in light of the problem of evil, atheism is more comforting than theism. There is little comparison between this article and Professor Craig’s “The Absurdity of Life without God” chapter in the book Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Dr. Craig references dozens of atheist writers and philosophers who have all come to a similar agreement, there is no meaning in life. Who are we to trust? McCloskey’s blatant appeal to emotion essentially claiming, because theists have to answer the philosophical questions of why God would permit certain evils, their worldview is less comforting than the humanists’ perspective of self-reliance and self-respect. But as Nietzsche, is quoted by Craig from “The Gay Science,” in The Portable Nietzsche, “Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? God is dead. … And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?” (Craig, 1994, p. 77). Which is actually more comforting, the idea that there is an all-powerful creator that imbues the entire universe with meaning and life, or dust that is only on this dust ball for a blink in the eye of eternity blindly flying through space? The answer is intended to be rhetorical, but the picture is clear. Despite the theists’ need to explain the existence of evil in the context of an all-powerful, all-good God, it is much better than being nothingness’ accidental offspring.
Beebe, J. R. (n.d.). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Logical Problem of Evil. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from
Craig, W. (2007, August 5). Reasonable Faith Podcast. iTunes. Retrieved March 31, 2014, from
Craig, W. L. (1994). Reasonable faith: Christian truth and apologetics (Third ed.). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co..
Kreeft, P. (2009). The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books.
McCloskey, H. J. (1968). On Being an Atheist. Question 1, 51-54.
McGinn, C. (2003). Discovering the philosopher in you the big questions in philosophy. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, LLC.
Plantinga, A. (2007, March). The Dawkins Confusion. Books and Culture. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from

Ruse, M. (2003, August 30). Creationism. Stanford University. Retrieved May 4, 2014, from