H. J. McCloskey’s “On Being an Atheist”: A Critical Review

H. J. McCloskey’s “On Being an Atheist”: A Critical Review

H. J. McCloskey’s article entitled “On Being an Atheist” has served the purpose of presenting the beliefs held by the author as an atheist. He clearly outlines his purpose in the opening sentences by saying that he intends to show that there is insufficiency with the arguments of the believers of theism, disprove the existence of a God and give reasons why readers should believe his argument, and contest the fact that it is uncomfortable to have no idea of a God.1 The objectives made y the author has been addressed through the use of different approaches that sought to disprove whatever belief that the theists may have. Consequently, the author is able to show that his efforts also deem to show that there is really no God and that theists are wrong in their manner of thinking.

The faith and belief in God is said to have come along way in the history of religion and mankind. From a tribal form of living, back in the days where the tribes solely practice their faith and praise in the presence of nature as their way of worship, the presence of God has emerged as the new and main fountain of praise and religious faith. As the world continuous to relentlessly develop in both industrial and financial aspects, the presence of God and his religious faith has accordingly evolved and conquered the world, and influenced the lives and religious inclination of many people. It is really of great understanding that the presence of God has been through difficult times and challenges before it officially instigate the word “religion” in human way of life.

However, though faith and belief in God is founded by religious postulates, there is still one aspect that is left to be ambiguous about God. This is regarding the true existence which for a long period of time, has served as the host to millions of debates and discussions among the atheist and theist, or between the believers and non-believers of God. Given that there is a significant number of people who believe in God, there are still groups and sects that oppose to this notion, more especially in the ideal that there is really a God. To talk more about Him and atheism, this paper would primarily focus on the objective of making credible responses against that the article of H. J. McCloskey entitled “On Being an Atheist. This reaction essay would continue to analyze and balance the weak and strong sides of McCloskey’s arguments with regard to God and Atheism.

Based on H.J. McCloskey’s explanation, he believes that God does not have that divine power which many of the atheists often believe and contest about the significance and existence of God. According to him, given that God is composed of this distinct kind of sacred power, he should have done a big difference in instilling a superb sense of morality among the people, so that the aspect of wrong doings, driven by evil, will not be present in the world.

However, this is also one of the many misunderstood beliefs among atheist, driven by neglect and extreme disapproval of God’s divine existence. From a theist’s point of view, God, as a savior and creator of human race, renders all the people with their own freewill and freedom to decide for themselves. Thus, though God has that divine power to lead people to righteousness, it is as simple as saying that God and religion renders details in providing freedom among humans, which is characterized as divine right for every being that breaths in this earth.

The formation of the earth or the design of the world where we, the humans are living is included in McCloskey’s arguments that directly point the real intention and being of God, given that he has really built this world and gave life to all living being in earth. Citing various phenomena and many of the devastating events in this world that let most of the humans and animals suffer, McCloskey criticizes the main intention of God, as a creator and source of life, in building a world like the earth, wherein there are many threats and hazards towards life. He criticizes God if he is really the creator who has good intentions for all forms of life, or an evil leader whose intent among existing beings varies between good and bad, by seeing life suffer from different types of difficulties.

In terms of writing, the author successfully achieved his purpose in writing the article. He has used a stream of logic that showed his way of thinking towards a particular idea, which in this case is the relationship and presence of God with the world. The ideas that he showed were coherent and clear. The flow of his thoughts has transcended from one idea to the other because his ideas came related and were based on a single pattern. He has used strong words that showed his perspectives and his certainty of the ideas he presented. More so, he has laid out these arguments in a practical, yet convincing, manner.

Using the cosomological argument, McCloskey argued that it is illogical to relate the existence of the world to God and treat the latter as the cause to the former. For him, the world is what we know it is today and is not a result of a necessarily existing being. However, as can be seen, there is the necessity of a necessity being, which serves as the ultimate cause of the contingency beings’ existence.2 One can not say that there could be no necessarily existing being as the matter of the universe, its very cause, should not only be eternal but should exist. By putting the world “should,” then it means that this cause should exist no matter what, which translates to it being necessarily existing. Without its existence, then the world would not be able to exist as it is the cause. Thus, there is the existence of a necessarily existin being, which in this case is God. For those who would say that God should also have a cause, it is suffice to say that the premise of everything having a cause is not listed with the arguments that is why it is not considered.3 More so, God is not considered as a contingent being for it to have a cause, too.

In using the teological argument, the author claims that there is a need for genuine design and purpose in order to proceed with the proof given for a certain argument. However, according to the author, the theists do not hold any genuine proof in order to show that there is a God and arguments can only be limited to saying that there is “a powerful, malevolent, or imperfect planner or designer.”4 The indisputability which McCloskey calls for in order to believe the existence of God is related to the cosmological argument. If McCloskey works towards demanding for a genuine indisputable genuine design and purpose for God, then it somehow asks for the cause of God. However, as stated earlier, there is no such thing because God is not a contingent being in order for it to have a purpose and design. If there is always the need for a standard of indisputability, then it poses the danger of being absolute which puts his arguments at stake, too.

Furthermore, evolution has also been used by McCloskey as among the things that disprove the existence of a planner and creator. However, it is accepted that change is something that remains constant in the world. The process of evolution is actually taken to become the means through which God achieves his purpose.5 In addition to this, the existence of evil in the world has also been argued by McCloskey to show that the planner and creator should have not left anything such as evil if there was a plan. However, this can be debunked by the fact that he, himself, has said that the limitations of a finite being can result to the “disastrous consequences.”6 In stating the concept of evil, then there should also be a genuine disputable design and purpose for such that McCloskey should have presented if it does exist. If it does exist, in one way, or another, then one should accept the fact that God has planned for it to have a purpose in the world. Thus, it then redounds to the existence of a careful plan with evil being a part of it.

On the problem of evil, McCloskey has also stated that if there is a perfect being who created this world, then it would sound illogical to create sufferings and pain in the world. However, it is the argument of Mackie which shows that it is contradictory to admit the existence of God who is good and then later on show that evil exists.7 To this extent, McCloskey is wrong such that he has mentioned and accepted that God did exist to later on question that evil does exist. Indeed, there is a need for the existence of evil which can be later on covered for removing the evil totally would remove the goodness, which outweigh the effect of the evil.

Lastly, it would be absurd to give people the free will to always choose what is right because this is not free will at all. Always choosing what is right would not allow people to go through the plans and evil and evolution is among the means through which people could achieve the purpose of God and the goodness attached to the evil. As opposed to H.J. McCloskey’s argument, Dr. William Lane Craig, a theist and devoted Christian believer, said that human race or life could be meaningless without God. He argues that God, as a savior and creator of all forms of life in this world, is that fountain and source of morality. Through the teachings and religious beliefs from God, Dr. Craig argues that people are guided through the light and righteousness that God wants for all the exiting being living in this world. More so, in the article of Dr. Craig entitled “The Absurdity of Life without God,” the existence and significance of God on earth is considered as a necessity, wherein he believes that all the forms of life and earth are doomed without the presence of God. He justifies this thought through the connection of God with immortality and death, which he draws God’s existence as the creator and savior of life after immortality.


McCloskey, H.J. “On Being an Atheist.” Question 1 (February 1968): 51-54.

Evans, C. Stephen. Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1982.

1 H. J.McCloskey, “On Being an Atheist,” Question 1 (February 1968): 51-54.

2 Evans, 52.

3 Ibid, 53.

4 McCloskey, 52.

5 Evans, 66.

6 McCloskey, 52.

7 Evans, 133.

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