This paper is a response to an article written in 1968 by H. J. McCloskey titled ‘On Being an Atheist’. The article by McCloskey explores the various beliefs of an atheist and mainly aims at discrediting theism. McCloskey also tries to give the reasons why theists believe in God and shows the inadequacies of such grounds. Furthermore, McCloskey gives his reasons for considering atheism as more comfortable than theism and explains that it is important for an individual to regularly question his beliefs and virtues. McCloskey raises a couple of philosophically valid questions such as the existence of a supernatural being which he refers to as an ‘uncaused cause’. Some of the propositions and claims made by McCloskey are countered by C. Stephen Evans in his book ‘Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about faith’.
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McCloskey notes that many modern philosophers place a lot of emphasis on the existence of or lack of evidence as the basis of their religious alignment. He further claims that most theists do not believe in existence of God after carefully considering evidence of his existence, but rather, as a result of other factors. McCloskey states that ordinary theists are motivated toward their belief in the existence of God mainly by three arguments namely; the cosmological proof, the teleological proof and the argument from design.
The cosmological proof of existence of God is faulted by McCloskey in many instances. For instance, McCloskey says that the cosmological argument alludes that the first cause must be explained as an uncaused cause. This is in order to shoe his supremacy and separate him from other gods. The dogma created by an uncaused cause is a driving force for fear and reverence observed in most theists. The mere existence of the world and the universe in general does not justify theists’ belief of an omniscient, all-powerful God. The derelict and dilapidated state of the world as we know it should show that the uncaused cause is all-powerful and imperfect.
The Assertions made by McCloskey are countered by the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig in the kalam cosmological argument. Craig makes two premises and a conclusion to explain the existence of God. First, whatever begins to exist has a cause, and the universe began to exist. Thus, in conclusion, the universe has a cause. Craig adds that the premises made are intuitively obvious and warns that nobody should try to prove wrong what is obvious by means of the less obvious. Craig suggests that the cause of the universe must be an uncaused, personal Creator who, like the universe is beginningless, immaterial, changeless, spaceless, timeless and extremely powerful.
Craig pushes his analysis by explaining that the uncaused cause exceeds space and time since he created both time and space. It must also be changeless and immaterial because ‘timelessness entails changelessness, and changelessness implies immateriality’. Furthermore, the cause must be beginingless and uncaused according to Ockham’s Razor, which prohibits multiplication, of causes without necesity. The cause must also be all-powerful and omniscient since it created the entire universe from nothing. Lack of any reasonable scientific or philosophical explanation for the beginning of the universe creates an inference that the whole experience was very personal to the supernatural cause. Craig further claims that the fine-tuning of the universe which facilitates the development and continued existence of intelligent life forms on earth is the work of a highly intelligent and skillful personal creator.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, belief in God usually entails more than the belief that God caused the universe to come into existence. It is also the belief that God is responsible for the continued existence of the universe. According to Aquinas, there must be a first cause of the existence of necessary things. This cause is God. Aquinas believed that a necessary thing is one which is by nature, is eternal and imperishable, and will continue to exist forever and never decay. However, God is different from other necessary beings in that he is ‘unconditioned’ – that is, his necessary existence does not depend on anything else. Other necessary beings depend on God for their necessity, but God depends only on himself .
McCloskey further challenges the cosmological argument by suggesting that the world would not be so full of evil and avoidable suffering experienced by innocent human beings and animals if there was a powerful and righteous supernatural cause. McCloskey concludes that the creator of the universe is either a malevolent, powerful being or a well-intentioned muddler. McCloskey adds that belief in such a being would not be a source of security or strength.
McCloskey rejects the teleological and the design arguments. According to him, the design argument fails to meet the mark by rejecting the premise that there is evidence of design and purpose. Elements and objects that were considered to be evidence of the theory of design and purpose have ceased to be so since the theory of evolution was forwarded. McCloskey asks for genuine indisputable examples showing evidence of design and purpose of the universe. The ontological argument that attempts to show that the very concept of God implies his existence is also vehemently disregarded by McCloskey. The ontological argument states that if an individual can clearly conceive the concept of God in their minds, that alone proves the individual’s belief in the existence of God. St. Anselm created the argument that for a fool to reject the idea of God’s existence, the fool must have some knowledge of God. Evans backs this case by pointing out that religion is a significant element of human life and history despite the regular declarations by atheists that humankind has come of age and does not need God anymore.
The concept of existence of evil is widely referred to by McCloskey in search of a justification of heinous acts. According to McCloskey, there is physical and moral evil. Existence of evil is taken as a proof that God does not exist, and if he does, he is a malevolent, imperfect and destructtive spirit. McCloskey concludes that having faith in an all-powerful, all-perfect God in the face of the entire evil taking place around the world is plain irrational and foolish. Theists are accused of coming up with ingenious reasons explaining the evil. For instance, physical pain during illness has been explained as surreal or punishment for our sins. In the case of moral evil, most theists claim that in conferring free will, God could not guarantee that we will use it wisely and abstain from evil. Protestants have accepted some of the evident faults of an uncaused cause. They accept that God is a finite being who is holy, all-good and righteous though not all-powerful.
The twin principles of credulity and testimony duly answer the question of evil in the world. The principle of credulity asserts that unless there is special and concrete reason for doubt, one should accept things the way they are. This principle could be used as a source of comfort for both atheists and theists in times of physical or moral pain. The principle of testimony urges us to accept the experiences of others as reported unless we have a special reason not to believe.
Finding comfort in religion during times of need is severely criticized by McCloskey. The events especially criticized are ‘Acts of God’, which are considered beyond the ability of man. Such harmful events cannot be changed by man. Examples include loss of loved ones due to natural disasters and disease. McCloskey asserts that God should be held ultimately responsible for loss of lives stemming from such accidents. Existence of evil in the world serves to diminish the claims that there is an all-powerful and all-perfect Supreme Being. McCloskey brings up an instance where an infant contracts a life-threatening disease. He then asks whether it is possible to take comfort by accusing the child of being so evil as to attract grave consequences for their evildoing. McCloskey asserts that no one would be comforted in the though that God had intentionally brought suffering upon their child as part of a greater mission. Atheism, on the other hand, does not blame anyone when fate occurs. Instead, it creates a spirit of self-reliance and self-respect that allows people to support each other in times of disaster.
These thoughts are countered by William Lane Craig in ‘The Absurdity of Life without God’. Craig acknowledges that people who do not believe in a purpose in life or try to live happily by creating their own purposes are delusional and dishonest to themselves. For instance, psychologists explain that both atheists and theists only face death by sub-consciously believing in the concept of immortality or life after death. Inconsistencies usually come up between atheists and their beliefs when they begin to attach value and purpose to their actions instead of merely falling through life. Without God, life is considered meaningless. Staunch atheists should, therefore, not attempt to create any meaning or purpose for their lives because this is indirectly accepting God’s existence.