In his article “On Being an Atheist,” H.J. McCloskey has argued in many instances that absolute certainty of God’s existence cannot be proved using the “proofs” embedded in classical arguments. According to McCloskey, the classical proofs for God’s existence do not portray Him as the all-knowing, all-powerful, or all-perfect being that Christians perceive Him to be. The existence of evil in a world created by a God with the qualities of being all-knowing, powerful, and perfect leads McCloskey to conclude that atheism would be more comforting than to believe in such a God. McCloskey’s disapproval of God creates a serious challenge for the Christian who must respond to his objections. Of course, the initial responses would involve dealing with his disapproval of the arguments as “proofs,” and that will form the basis of this discussion.
McCloskey does not believe in the arguments (“proofs”) that theists use to explain God’s existence since they cannot make a definite case and cannot rationally convince all people. Mark Foreman explains that the objective of the arguments is to explain the occurrences witnessed in the universe in best way possible rather than give absolute proof of God’s existence (Foreman n.p). Foreman further informs individuals who study classical arguments that there is no single argument that can be used to explain God’s existence on its own, but rather that a more powerful case for God’s existence can be made when the arguments are combined (Foreman n.p). Even though classical arguments do not provide absolute proof for God’s existence, they still retain great value. In spite of whether definite proof is obtained from the arguments or not, profound implications result on the atheist if any of them is omitted.
The cosmological argument’s non-temporal contingency perspective explains that the universe has some beings that could not just exist easily (Evans and Manis 69). As a result of the existence of contingent beings, this argument states that there must be an uncaused or a necessary being in existence (69). McCloskey however refutes the cosmological argument stating that “the mere existence of the world constitutes no reason for believing in the existence of such a being (a necessarily existing being).” As a response to his objection, McCloskey should review the outcome of the claim that a necessary being cannot exist as an uncaused cause.
According to Evans and Manis (69), if something is as a result of something contingent, the cause of the result will also need an explanation, and this would continue unless an uncaused being that requires no explanation is found to exist. Objection of the existence of an uncaused being would create an infinite series with each being having a cause (73). This infinite series however brings along a number of problems. One problem is that this perspective is partial since it only shows the existence of contingent forms, and does not explain how the contingent beings’ series began. According to Evans and Manis, the infinite series has many shortcomings; hence McCloskey should consider giving an alternative argument for contingent beings in existence having no cause, or, as a cruel fact (73). Evans and Manis hold that this view goes against adequate reason–that all things must have a cause (75). With these explanations, I hold that the universe can best be explained as having been created by an uncaused cause.
McCloskey argues the cosmological view “does not entitle us to postulate an all-powerful, all-perfect, uncaused cause” (McCloskey 51). In response to this I would use Evans and Manis’ claims that on its own, the cosmological argument only claims the existence of a necessary being. The Cosmologic argument would describe the God of the Bible, and would also be compatible with other perceptions of God other than that described in the Bible (Evans and Manis 77). The argument would only give a person an incentive to find more information about God at its best (77).
With regard to the teleological argument on design, McCloskey states that “to get proof going, genuine indisputable examples of design and purpose are needed” (McCloskey 64). I would respond to him by saying that in this world, an example of anything that is indisputable cannot be given by a human being. Humans lack omniscience, hence cannot comprehend all complex issues, and they also lack an objective “bird’s eye view” when it comes to such matters (Dew and Mark 68). Due to their limited nature, it would be impossible for humans to give absolute certainty concerning anything (68). Therefore with this nature, humans cannot give something that lacks disputability. This renders McCloskey’s indisputability standards unachievable as well as unreasonable.
Even though there isn’t an absolute example of a design within the universe, there is still great evidence of the existence of designer. The example that Evans and Manis give is that of animals having the characteristic of possessing many organs and systems (like hearts and lungs), which play critical roles to the principle objective of reproduction and continuation of existence (Evans and Manis 78). Additionally, an animal like a bird is able to preen its feathers and fly towards a designated goal of survival and reproduction, even without intelligence. According to Thomas Aquinas, an organism that lacks intelligence lacks the ability to move towards a designated end; therefore, a bird must have been designed by a great designer with the wing size, feather shape, feather distribution, and other features required for flying (77-78). McCloskey on the other hand would attribute this evidence to evolution.
McCloskey argues that “so many things which were, before the theory of evolution constructed as evidence of design and purpose, are now seen to be nothing of the sort” (McCloskey 64). He argues that theists cannot marry the concept of evolution with their belief in an intelligent designer. Rather than using the concept of an intelligent design, the evolution theory explains the order of the universe using instances of natural selection as well as random variations (Evans and Manis 82-83). I would respond to McCloskey’s use of the evolution theory by stating that even though evolutionary changes may have occurred, this process cannot be explained by using mechanistic terminology only, but rather that the process was guided by an intelligent designer (82-83). Another way of expressing this is that God, as an intelligent designer may have designed the process of evolution in the universe as a means of fulfilling His purpose (82-83). In my argument, I do not dispute that the evolutionary process exists, but I am emphasizing the argument that it does not have to substitute the possibility of the existence of an intelligent designer.
McCloskey claims that the presence of imperfection and evil in the world proves against “the perfection of the divine design or divine purpose in the world” (McCloskey 64). In response to this, a perfect intelligent designer is not mentioned in the conclusion of the teleological argument. The conclusion of the teleological argument only gives a concept of the probability of existence of an intelligent designer (Evans and Manis 86). The classical arguments do not give the direct proof of an all-perfect, all-powerful knowing, or an all-powerful God. The arguments however only give a limited description of God, excluding vital attributes like His all-knowing, all-perfect, as well as His all-powerful nature (Foreman n.p.). In my opinion, this explanation does not mean that God lacks a combination of these characteristics, I am only claiming that profound knowledge of God cannot be provided by natural theology to the extent that special revelation as well as religious experience can (Evans and Manis 86).
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 (and in fact could have been created so as not to) engage in morally evil acts, which very often result in injury to innocent persons” (McCloskey 65) The logical form of the problem is that God’s existence and the presence of evil in the world contradict each other; hence, God’s existence is impossible (Evans and Manis 158). In response to this, it would not be necessary for me to know the precise reason as to why God allows evil; the probable reasons for God allowing evil to occur is the only thing I may need to know (167). For instance, God may allow the occurrence of evil so that second-order goods like sympathy may develop (161). Apparently, humans were granted free-will by God and consequently, not all choose to practice second-order goods (161).
Another way through which the contradiction of God and evil is argued by McCloskey is through asking, “Might not God have very easily so have arranged the world and biased man to virtue that men always freely choose what is right?” (McCloskey 66). In response to this question, I would say that the world we know is the best that God could have created. With the free will humans were given in the world that God created, they would still in the end have misused the freedom given in spite of any other kind of world God could have created. To prevent evil from occurring, God would have created beings that did not have the freedom of free will, which the world that McCloskey seems to propose in this context. If man was biased by God to only virtue and hence only choose what is morally upright, this would completely eliminate the free will that man has. In such a case, man would not love or obey God out of free will, but because it would be the only choice available. We can thus conjecture that God justified evil by concluding that a world having free will and the evil that comes along with is better than a world without free will and without evil (Evans and Manis 166). It is vital to note that this is only represents a probable reason for God allowing evil to occur in the world and not necessarily his definite reason (166). Additionally, only God knows why He allows evil to exist and no man can definitely claim that evil exists without a reason since he is not capable of knowing God’s reason for allowing it (170).
McCloskey states that he considers atheism to be more comforting than to believe in a God that allows evil and suffering to occur. My response to this is that living in a world without God would condemn humans to death and loss an eternity spent with God (Craig 71). The purpose of living would hence be lost since it wouldn’t matter whether an individual lived or not if everything comes to an end after death. Another point to consider is that without God one’s existence would just be as a result of time and chance; hence an accidental existence (71). Lastly without God, there would be no standards of morality since objective standards of right and wrong would be lost (74). People’s standards would be subjective, hence would not matter much, allowing people to act as they please (selfishly) for they would know that they would not be held accountable for their actions.
n conclusion, theists still believe in God’s existence even in the presence of evil in the world. They believe in God as a result of faith and religious knowledge as well as divine revelation. The classical arguments of proofs for God’s existence are however used to convince those who dismiss God’s existence like McCloskey. In my opinion, I would rather believe that I am a result of divine purpose and design, rather than an accidental cosmic effect of time and chance. Based on the arguments described here for God’s existence, it would be much easier to believe that God exists rather than believing that He doesn’t.
Craig,William Lane.Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd Ed.Wheaton, IL:Crossway Books, 2008. Print.
Dew, James K, and Mark W Foreman. How Do We Know?A Short Introduction to the Issues of Knowledge. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012. Print.
Evans, C. Stephen, and Manis, R. Zachary. Philosophy of Religion: Thinking About Faith. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009. Print
Foreman, Mark. “Approaching the Question of God’s Existence.” PointeCast Presentation,Philosophy 201 Online Class through Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, October 27, 2014
H.J. McCloskey, “On Being An Atheist”, from Question, February 1968