Mccloskey Response Paper

In his article, On Being an Atheist, H. J. McCloskey tried to show that atheism is a more reasonable and comfortable belief than that of Christianity. McCloskey argued against the three theistic proofs, which are the cosmological argument, the teleological argument and the argument from design. He pointed out the existence of evil in the world that God made. He also pointed out that it is irrational to live by faith. According to McCloskey, proofs do not necessarily play a vital role in the belief of God.

Page 62 of the article states that “most theists do not come to believe in God as a basis for religious belief, but come to religion as a result of other reasons and factors. ”  However, he feels that as far as proofs serve theists, the three most commonly accepted are the cosmological, the teleological, and the argument from design. It is important to note that he considers these arguments as reasons to “move ordinary theists to their theism. ” (McCloskey 1968) This is not necessary the case and contradicts the former statement that most theists do not hold to these proofs.

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As such, the attempt to dispute these arguments as a reason not to believe in God is almost not worth attempting. If theists do not generally hold to these proofs as reasons for faith, then why bother trying to dispute them to theists? Continuing to do so seems as though he is motivated to prove a point few are not interested in disputing, and thus is purposely trying to set up theist belief as ridiculous; in other words, he is looking to pick to a fight. This is not an intellectual objective article. Bias necessarily forfeits intellectual objectivity.

McCloskey argued that the cosmological argument was an argument from the existence of the world, as we know it. He stated that believing in an uncaused first cause of the universe is a problem because nothing about our universe forces us to that conclusion. The cause-effect rationalization understands a relation between things that are in existence, will come into existence, and pass out of existence. If God, or something else (a power, force, whatever) were part of the frame of causation already in motion, then it would belong to that which is caused by something else.

The uncaused cause holds to that which is outside the framework of causation. Most philosophers hold that this first cause cannot be caused for the reason that it is outside causation. Something would need to set forth in motion the ring of causality. If the premise stands, then such a first cause would have to exist necessarily, otherwise it would have been caused. This necessity is one of causal relation, as long as the premise is accepted.

As regards the cosmological argument itself, McCloskey states that “all we 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. ” (p. 63)  This is indeed true, there is no reason to necessarily infer a God person, however; the inference is of the nature that suggests (hence the term infer) a cause of such magnitude that it is practically God-like. Moreover, his words do not disprove the rational of a God.

Entitlement not to call this cause “God” is neither entitlement to deny calling this cause or considering this cause to be “God. ” McCloskey grouped the teleological argument and the argument from design together and summarily rejected them both by suggesting that mankind does not yet have a full understanding about creation. He offers the theory of evolution as the explanation of many examples of creation that would have once been explained by the teleological and argument from design. The objections in this section are based on his want for “indisputable” proofs (p. 4) of design in the same manner as there are supposedly indisputable proofs for evolution. The primary difficulty of evolution is that is has no proof of the actual existence of first organism development nor the actual pattern of this evolution. The whole theory is based on biological likeness between organisms. The weakness of this argument is many. First, the change from simple forms to such complex forms of diverse species. Did we all exist as the same simple organism or did many simple organisms exist and evolve? In either case, there is no foundation for understanding where those first life forms came from.

At the same time, other things come into play that we do not understand. For example, are we part descendents from Dinosaurs? If they were erased from the earth for whatever reason, did their biological complexities survive into part of us today? What came after them to evolve into the millions of organisms in existence today? The second issue regards the problem of similarity. Evidently, there are biological similarities between organisms, yet is this sufficient to disprove the presence of God? Science affirms what is there – the physical – not what we are.

Despite the similarities, the differences are of greater magnitude. It is difficult to reconcile the enormous leap from animal to man. How can self-understanding and self-realization be explained biologically through evolution? This essential difference is too enormous. The argument from design, or intelligent design as it is also known, is based on the rationale of the known order and movement of the universe. The universe operates according to set laws, continuing to unfold and subsist in a pattern. The chances of such accidental creation to have taken place are grossly phenomenal.

Even mathematically, it is astonishing. For many, this is too much to be coincidental. Part of the problem is, in fact, that it does not necessity a God nor prove a God, however, neither does it disprove. It does suggest there is another reason, or cause, for which the universe is as it is. Still, the greater the odds, the less likely such things occur of accident. The chances of life occurring on this planet, of all planets, in the whole universe, is less than 1 chance in 10182. Others, considering the possibility of life on other planets, based on evolution, hold it to be less than 0. 1 per cent over four billion years. ( (Staff 2008)) Even scientifically, these probabilities are practically null. Based on the article, McCloskey’s view of faith is based on Tillich’s definition of faith as “being ultimately concerned, as claiming truth for its concern, and as involving commitment, courage, and the taking of risk. ” (P. 65)  In response, McCloskey holds that this ‘risk’ is reckless and irrational due to the problematic nature of evil. The mere existence of evil in the world suggests that an all-perfect being is not perfect, otherwise creation would have no flaws.

In effect, he is using the same argument from design and the teleological argument – that from the effects you can determine the cause. So if creation is flawed by these evils, and creation goes back to God, then God is flawed. McCloskey does not continue to prove or disprove any valid reason for accepting or denying God’s existence. In effect, he is guilty of begging the question. Is faith in a friend, based upon predetermined knowledge, really faith? The decision to trust a friend is based upon the rational of previous actions and the probability of this friend either repeating the actions or changing the actions.

This is rational probability, not faith. Moreover, If we understood God and all his actions, then there would not be a need for faith, because we would already know God. Faith presupposes little to no knowledge of the individual or action/event to take place. The problem of evil has been a long-standing issue in philosophy and theology. Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile the idea of an omnipotent and caring Being if evil continues to subsist in the world. McCloskey does not formally define what he understands evil to mean. He provides all kinds of “familiar” notions for explaining evil (see p. 6), but he is really utilizing hearsay, opinion, and figures of speech to validate his own point. Most philosophers distinguish between types of evil; physical evil – the deprivation of something that naturally belongs to someone, such as missing an arm when we normally have two. There is natural evil – when some unforeseeable wrong occurs outside of anyone’s control; such as natural disasters. Moral evil is an action resulting in a negative effect. McCloskey first disregards physical and moral evil as the result of a bungling God. These things would not occur if creation were always perfect.

However, the existence of evil in these manners does not disprove the omnipotence nor care of a Creator. In fact, McCloskey feels he sufficiently eliminates the possibility of a loving and perfect God by describing that which we already know – that evil exists. The problem of evil is really his only answer to theism. He does not provide any ontological disproof, or physical disproof, of God’s existence. He merely says “there is evil, therefore there is no God”, a fallacy pro quid quo. There is a difference between direct evil and unintended evil.

If the world is created in such a pattern that its laws must take effect, then these effects will occur. Hurricanes occur because of the nature of warm sea air. Hurricanes do not occur because God determined hurricanes should strike and kill people, much rather they occur because the physics of warm air over the seas have that causal relation. Surely, things like a plane accident cannot be directly blamed on a hateful God. Accidents of this nature are due to the mechanics utilized by man. Moral evil and the non-existence of God is the most irrelevant argument of all.

Free will is the most obvious and self-evident of all truths. If free will were not true, then all laws, reward, punishment, and so forth would be void of meaning and purpose. It is evident that we make choices. Removing that free will from creation would be the crowning disregard for creation. If free agents were not free, there would be no virtue, wrong, or right. There would only be action towards a predetermined end, much like a computer. Right and wrong require the ability to know and understand the difference between the two as expressed in action. So really, how can we compare freedom to non-freedom?

How is it possible to ask, as McCloskey does, “would it really be a worse total state of affairs for us to be rational automata? ”  If freedom were removed, to what end is there a rational method; I would already have to know what to do and how to do it in order to be automata. This is a contradiction. 6. McCloskey’s view that atheism is more comforting. The first problem in this section is the use of the phrase “acts of God. ”  Based on this term, McCloskey attributes all evil to God. First, the phrase is a figure of speech commonly used to describe unforeseeable events.

He holds that a bad action is, for some reason, an injustice or wrong afforded an individual, as such with disease. Which is inferior, the laws of nature or our ability to understand the laws of nature? These laws, as laws, must follow their established patterns. If there were no patterns, no laws, no effects, no consequence, and so forth, to what end is there creation? It would then be like a toy God created to amuse himself and to demonstrate to himself, for whatever reason, that he could create such things. It is the act of an omnipotent and loving God to create in a manner where creation holds part of its own determination.

To allow that is mightier than automatic machines that do as predetermined. I am comforted by the thought that a divine being allowed me to see and know the good and evil in the world and through that recognize God’s action. Resources: H. J. McCloskey, “On Being an Atheist”, from Question 1, February 1968, pp. 51-54. Arthur F. Holmes, Ethics: Approaching Moral Decisions Second Edition, Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2007. C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking of Faith, Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 1982.


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