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A Response Paper to H.J McCloskey’s “On Being an Atheist” Essay

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Updated: Jan 13th, 2020


The article ‘On Being an Atheist’ is a thoughtful piece that discredits the arguments poised by theists as being inadequate. Written by a great philosopher, McCloskey engages the reader with his intellectual critic approach of theists over atheists. He argues that most people who believe in God either do so blindly or lack adequate information.

He believes that God’s existence have never and will never be proved and therefore refers to the arguments as mere proofs.1 He demands for genuine examples to ascertain the truth and he argues that with the absence of such examples, he is convinced that God does not exist.

Though McCloskey seems to make a solid argument to prove his claims, they are lacking in nature. Providing absolute proof can be challenging in most instances. This is evident from the PointeCast presentation (Lesson 18) argument which states that it is impossible to proof existence of certain things such as the magnetic field.

No human being has proof that magnetic field exists and the scientists themselves do not have experimental data to proof the same. The presentation further argues that the existence of the universe is hard to ascertain and other factors such as naturalism and evolution have been used to argue its existence.

McCloskey argument on ‘proof’ is not convincing to any rational person because the general standard of proof has been set very high for anyone to proof a certain claim. His argument that God does not existence for lack of proof is therefore not justified.

The Cosmological Argument

McCloskey base his focus on the cosmological argument where he argues that the universe as the human beings view it is not any proof that God or any other superior being exists.2 He further argues that humans err in believing God’s existence based on cosmological argument.

His claim has been refuted by Evans in his book ‘Philosophy of Religion’ who argues that the universe ought to have had a beginning.3 Cosmological argument seeks to provide answers to human beings about the universe and its existence. The argument implies that the superior being is as a result of the existence of the cosmos.

What this mean in a nut shell is that all what is entailed in the universe came to being as a result of something and the universe itself is also as a result of something that is based externally. The argument forms a basis that nature is dependent on God’s existence and it is this power that makes God the First Cause.

God’s powers are more powerful than nature itself hence triggering the concept of creation from nature itself. McCloskey claims that the cosmological argument does not proof that God is behind the creation of the universe.

He however seems to support the idea that there is a powerful cause behind the creation but he argues that the particular cause remains unknown. Evans seems to concur that there is an unknown cause based on the cosmological argument. It triggers one’s imagination to seek further knowledge about God.

He concludes his argument by stating that the superior cause behind the universe creation is not perfect as the universe itself is imperfect. This rebuts the claims that an ‘omnipotent all-perfect being’ was involved in the creation process. It is not clear how McCloskey came up with the conclusion that the world is not perfect.

He fails to justify his claim and base his argument on his own personal views with an assumption that everybody understands his point of view. It can be argued by a rational man that the universe appears to be both perfect and imperfect in its creation.

How else can concepts such as night and day, man and woman or even monsoons and droughts be explained? Though this concept of opposites does not form a strong basis of the argument, it does deserve recognition to make support such a claim.

The Teleological Argument

The teleological argument is also attacked by McCloskey basing his argument on design and purpose.4 The argument is based on the belief that everything in the universe was designed and that everything designed ought to have a purpose. The argument is an attempt to prove God’s existence.

It is argued that if indeed everything seems to have an existence, then it is justifiably correct to claim that the existence has been designed and is meant to serve a particular purpose. In general, teleological argument holds the belief that anything that is designed ought to have been designed by somebody or something else.

McCloskey argues that this argument does not form any basis as the design is not backed by unquestionable examples. He relies on the concept of evolution as his main judgment to support his argument.

Evans, in response interestingly makes an intelligent claim that even though evolution is a mechanical process, it ought to have a designer who is God and in achieving that goal, he ultimately realizes his purpose.

This argument helps to trigger one’s mind on the kind of design visible on everything. It creates a never ending cycle in the minds of those seeking to know if indeed there is anything that can be seen or if it is just an illusion.

Nevertheless, if indeed it is an illusion, who designed that illusion? It therefore becomes human logic to conclude that everything was designed and created for it to come into existence.5

The Problem Of Evil

Based on this reasoning, it is evident that most people tend to ignore this part of the argument. Whilst theists base their belief on a good God, atheists try to come up with numerous justifications implicating God’s imperfections.

This creates the problem of evil. McCloskey relies on the problems of evil to justify his claims. One such claim is the idea of a perfect God and yet evil exist. He argues that if indeed God is all-powerful and all-perfect, he does not understand why he would let such a problem exist amongst his people.

Though he makes a strong and significant assessment regarding the problem of evil, Evans critics his approach by arguing that there is no evidence that theism is conflicting due to the presence of evil.

He argues that no one knows the reason behind the problem of evil or even why God allows it but he claims that it is probably better if the situation stays as it is. He argues that a God’s believer has the knowledge that their final resting place is heaven and not earth and there is a reason why God allowed evil to dominate over the earth.

The earth is filled with imperfections while heaven is perfect. He justifies his argument by stating that God gave everybody a free will to choose the kind of life they want to live in.

McCloskey argues that God did not give man a free will to choose what is right. He claims that God, by creating man and choosing what is right for him cannot justify the claim that man has a free will. He further argues that if God designed everything, then he designed it right for man.

McCloskey triggers the question, ‘what is right’? Only God, the creator has the ultimate answer to that particular question. It therefore becomes difficult to uphold the problem of evil to object theism. It is evident that the problem of evil poses a challenge to atheists as opposed to theists.

The problem of evil has not drawn responses from Evans but also from other philosophers like Mackie and Plantinga.6 Plantinga’s argument refutes the problem of evil. He argues that the problem of evil contradicts the belief of the existence of an omniscient and all powerful God.

He argues that it is a possibility that God created a world that is characterized with evil to create a free will. This argument has however been criticized by Mackie who supports McCloskey in his argument.

Mackie argues that theism’s argument on the existence of God and evil is not consistent. He criticizes Plantinga’s premise that if indeed God is ‘omnipotent and wholly’, it contradicts the problem of evil.

However, it can be argued logically that these two grounds are not contradictory as Mackie and McCloskey claims. While God has been defined as an ‘omnipotent’, there is no limit to his actions. Besides, a good and evil deed is opposed to each other as a good deed always out-smarts an evil deed. It is up to human beings to freely choose whether to engage in the evil or the good deed.

This ability makes him an important being in the whole creation process. By exercising his free will on earth, he therefore serves his purpose as God intended him to when he was creating everything in the universe, including man himself.

The Comfort Of Atheism

McCloskey finally attempts to argue the simplicity of being an atheist. He states that atheism offers a comfort zone without having to seek any answers to justify his belief. He interestingly argues that atheism do not provide a confused avenue of why a superior being would bring one to the world and end up subjecting him to sufferings in the name of love.

Atheism, he argues, offers a source of comfort to victims who seem not to find any answers to their questions and states that they will find comfort in caring friends. This is indeed a disturbing argument. He seems to put his moral obligations upon his fellow human beings whom he argues are unselfish in their acts.7

His argument is refuted by William Craig who argues that failure to involve God in one’s life, a human being become useless and is doomed.8 He continues to argue that if God is deemed inexistence, then the universe cease to exist and so does man. Craig’s argument seems to be more logical than McCloskey’s.


However, it can be concluded that God’s existence is basically based on what one believes in. Faith is the utmost stepping stone to such belief. Faith should be from within and not merely by reading philosophical arguments or science fiction.

To get answers to certain questions such as ‘Who created the universe?’, or ‘Does God exist?’ may be impossible and both Evans and McCloskey fails to have specific answers. It all comes back to personal faith and which philosophical side seems more logical than the other. Only then can man allow God to reveal himself.


Craig, William Lane, “The Absurdity of Life without God,” Reasonable faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. Wheaton: Crossway Books Publishers, 2008.

Evans, Stephen and Zachary, Manis. Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about faith. Atlanta: IVP Academic, 1985.

Feinberg, John. The many faces of evil: theological systems and the problem of evil. Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.

Hasker,William. Metaphysics: Constructing a World View. Dourners Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1983.

Holmes, Arthur Frank. Ethics, approaching moral decisions. Dourners Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1984.

McCloskey, John. “On Being an Atheist.” Question, Issue 1 (1968): 62-69.


1 John McCloskey, “On Being an Atheist.” Question, Issue 1 (1968): 62.

2 John McCloskey, 63.

3 Stephen Evans and Manis Zachary, Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about faith (Atlanta: IVP Academic, 1985), 10.

4 John McCloskey, 64.

5 William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Dourners Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1983), 105.

6 John Feinberg, The many faces of evil: theological systems and the problem of evil (Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), 203.

7 Arthur Frank Holmes, Ethics, approaching moral decisions. (Dourners Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1984), 123.

8 William Craig Lane, “The Absurdity of Life without God,” Reasonable faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Books Publishers, 2008), 70.

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