Refuting McCloskey: “On Being an Atheist”

This essay will discuss and refute the atheistic views of H. J. McCloskey as mentioned in his article “On Being an Atheist.” It will cover McCloskey’s referring to the cosmological argument, teleological argument, and argument from design as invalid “proofs” of the existence of God. This essay will also discuss the cosmological argument and the necessity of an uncaused cause of the universe; the teleological argument, the need for a Designer; and what the Designer’s roles are in the terrestrial happenings. It will present a theological response to McCloskey’s problems with evil as a way to disprove God’s existence, and why God did not created free-will agents who always choose what is right. Lastly, the topic of atheism being more comforting than theism will be negated.

In McCloskey’s article he refers to the cosmological and teleological arguments, along with the argument from design as invalid proofs for the existence of God, and, according to him, should be abandoned as a way of proving the existence of God. The problem with McCloskey’s argument is that the theist does not use the above three arguments to prove that there is a god. The theist uses the arguments as the best explanation for the existence of God. Additionally, the theist will admit that not one of the three arguments are strong enough to stand on its own in validating the existence of God, but the combination of the arguments is the best explanation for God’s existence.

In disputing McCloskey’s claims against the cosmological argument, it first needs to be stated that this argument does not argue for the existence of a god, but for the first cause of the universe, that the universe was indeed created. The basis for this argument is contingency- that nothing in the universe is necessary, including the universe itself. In short, if nothing in the universe is necessary, or needs to exist, then something greater than the universe itself would have had to “create” it.  A contingent being, or object (an unnecessary being or thing,) could not have created the universe; without event causation (a first cause) there is the danger of the infinite regress problem. Therefore, something distinct from the universe, some unconditional agent would be necessary to have created the universe.

Secondly, regarding the cosmological argument, McCloskey claims this argument does not support the presupposition of an omnipotent, consummate, uncaused cause. In this argument, McCloskey is arguing a claim that is not made. The theist never states that the cosmological argument is sufficient evidence to support the claims of the power and perfection of the first cause. The theist is only claiming that all contingent beings have a creator, and the theistic stand is that God is necessary and He is the creator of the universe; the cosmological argument is a critical segment in the argument for the existence of God, but does not argue the personal traits of God, as suggested by McCloskey.

Additionally, McCloskey attempts to nullify the teleological argument and argument from design, through their lack of indisputable examples of design and purpose in the world. However, the same can also apply to the argument for atheism as well. He argues that indisputable evidence is needed to support God’s existence through the arguments above. But it must be said, indisputability is not the criteria that the theist is basing his or her argument on. The theist is basing their argument on the probability and best explanation for God’s existence being evidenced in the arguments above. Indisputability is unreasonable for the defense of theism and atheism alike.

While the theist cannot offer an indisputable example that supports design and purpose, Aquinas has observed two elements that nature presents: order (beneficial order) and value, which point towards intelligent design. According to Aquinas order does not exist by chance. The atheist could argue that this point does not give sufficient proof of God, however the theist would say that a god is the best explanation for the order and value of the design found in nature based on plausibility. The argument of beneficial order can be seen in the way humans create “ordered” objects. Humans create things with a purpose and an end result that is most often a good result. This can be seen in the man-made, analogous objects like computer and modern-day smart phones, which are created to bring about a positive result. The argument is that the created objects of humans result in a beneficial outcome, which reflects the same results found in nature. Since humans are intelligent and capable of creating order and value, then there must be a creator of nature and the universe that is intelligent. There are no indisputable claims for the existence of God, but probability allows for a greater chance of the existence of God than not, especially when considering the teleological argument and argument from design.

In addition to arguing that the teleological argument and argument from design need indisputable proof, McCloskey also implies that evolution has negated the need for a designer. The response of the theist is that evolution may be likely or perhaps necessary, however, the process of evolution, the mechanical process by which a natural organism successively changes from generation to generation for the greater good would be a process that is guided by an intelligent being. The theist might also reply that the process of evolution is the evidence of God realizing His purpose for creation that the intricacy of the ordered world is one that changes continually for the greater good. Through the arguments listed above the theist is not arguing about the presence of evil or the presence of imperfection in the order and value of the world. The theist is arguing that the teleological argument, the argument from design and the cosmological argument are the best explanations for a god.

McCloskey continues his antitheist’s attack by broaching the subject of evil and the magnitude at which the world experiences evil. He argues that a creator and perfect being should not allow for such innocent suffering as is seen in the world. When looking at the evil of the world in a way that is justifiable, one might agree with the atheist of the travesty and incorrigible effects evils has on humanity. However, the simple fact that evil cannot be justified by humanity is an indicator of a higher power and greater purpose to the evils of the world. Evil can be seen as a catalyst for the revelation of the greater good of God. The pinnacle of the argument is that the existence of evil in no way proves the nonexistence of God, the atheist lacks an ability to contradict the existence of a God simply by the presence of evil in the universe.

The argument from McCloskey does not stop at the magnitude of evil in the world, but goes on to evaluate the free will that is given to all of humanity. He argues that a good and righteous God would create free will agents that would choose what is right, and the evils of the world would be of a lesser degree. The theology of evil goes beyond human capacity. It becomes a matter of faith, faith in knowing that God has not fully revealed His purpose to humanity, but it is justifiable to say that a good and gracious God has a purpose to the evil in the world that’s result is a greater good.

McCloskey goes on to claim that the atheistic belief is more comforting than the belief in God. His argument is the utter depravity of man under the influence of evil and the relentless suffering the world point towards a hopeless, Godless world. In a defense of this claim is Lane’s “The Absurdity of Life without God.” Lane states that if one does not believe in God or if there is no God then life as is known is purposeless. Secondly, if there is no God then one may live as he or she pleases, without care or worry of the effects one has on another’s life. Also, if there is no purpose in life except the expectation of a being dead and buried one day, then life is truly pointless. The fact that an atheist would find the above mentioned more comforting than a loving, intelligent creator, who has not been fully revealed, but exists with the intention of the greater good in life, is an unfathomable and rather bleak and scary way of life. A life free from God lacks the hope and security found in the God of creation.

J. McCloskey’s article “On Being an Atheist” is an easily refuted article. While one may respect McCloskey’s attempt at negating the presence of God as the creator of the universe, as the essay discusses, his views are easily refuted and nullified.   The cosmological argument, teleological argument, and argument from design, while are not valid “proofs” of the existence of God, as a cohesive unit contribute to the plausibility of the existence of a god in the best explanation argument for a uncaused cause of the universe. Additionally, the presence of evil in the world is argued by the finite state of humanity and infinite state of God. McCloskey’s attempt at proving the inexistence of God fails in his article by the definition of plausibility and best explanation.

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3 comments on “Refuting McCloskey: “On Being an Atheist”
  1. one4reason says:

    If there is order, of what purpose do all the asteroids floating through space serve? Why doesn’t God at the very least protect Earth from external agents such as asteroids? One could make an argument as to why natural disasters on Earth occur due to sin… but that argument doesn’t hold up with external elements such as asteroids. Is God throwing the asteroids at Earth? For what purpose would God do such a thing? If God is in control of everything… one can only conclude that he is responsible for them flying at Earth. Is it meant to be entertaining to him? I mean… I think it is a topic that deserves serious consideration. Although I have yet to hear any explanation worthy of serious consideration. What are your thoughts?

    • My dear friend, you are correct. However, the difficulty lies in our dimentional understanding. I have the utmost respect for your words and concern, but we don’t exist on a level where we can fully understand and grasp the multidimensional complexity of our God. The troubles and unexplainable-ness of our time and existence aren’t to shut off God but to further embrace him as we delve into the fascinating and unanswerable reign of our God. Not scary, my friend, when we know we are secure in Him. Shalom!

  2. Michael says:

    What an elegant, insightful, and God honoring reply. Thank you for demonstrating the love of Christ in a way that answers the question better than the explanation requested ever could. God bless.

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