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Does God Exist – A Philosophical look

This is a response to an article entitled “On Being an Atheist” written by H.J. McCloskey. In his article he proposed some philosophical conclusions pointing toward God not existing. This is my response. If you have friends or loved ones who are struggling with this idea maybe some of the conclusions I came to would be able to help you minister to them. God Bless.

There are many who have struggled to accept the existence of God and in the past philosophers and theologians have looked at nature and the universe to determine if the existence of a God is possible. Some of these theories and deductions have come to be known as proofs for the existence of God. This is a misconception of what these people were stating. To prove something has a lot more to do with your philosophy of the world and what you believe to be true. To make the claim to prove the existence of the physical world would suggest a belief that the physical world exists. Plato made the claim that it is possible that in the physical world every experience is not truly real. He hypothesized that humans could be simply seeing the reflection or shadow of the real universe[1]. This to say it is possible to prove anything is simply left up to the person’s beliefs. A man could say he has ten fingers and ten toes, but if he attempts to show proof of this to someone who views everything as a shadow of reality. The other person will have some difficulty accepting the proofs put forth by the man claiming to have ten fingers and ten toes.

To believe the “proofs” McCloskey presents for the existence of God are not proofs, but are explanations of what those people believed about the world they saw around them[2]. Their reasoning is not a proof of God’s existence, however the claim to God’s existence is the best explanation of what they saw around them.[3] The order, creativity, and intelligence in the universe when followed to the end of they’re reasoning; led them to a designer. This designer must have been outside of universal order to create it. As with many things seen in everyday life; such as the MacBook this is being typed upon. It had order, creativity, and appears to be intelligent; but it was not simply formed it was designed by an intelligent creator. The reasons McCloskey presents as insufficient evidences of proof for God’s existence are not so much proofs as they are the best explanation to what has been found to be true in the universe.

One of the arguments McCloskey has against the Cosmological argument is his understanding that the universe simply existing is not evidence enough to support a God. The claim is that because it exists there must have been something or someone who started it or a cause often referred to as “first-cause argument”. McCloskey writes this off as a misconception and that the universe’s existence does not directly prompt the notion that there is a God. The problem with his argument is that in order to state the argument of first cause is invalid he must subscribe to one of the two main understandings that oppose this argument. One of these arguments is the argument of no cause; wherein the understanding is that things just began without a cause[4]. This understanding is that it simply has existed and that it is a “brute fact”[5]. This is an unrealistic view of the universe; in every area that has been studied it has been determined that everything has a cause and is a contingent of a first cause.[6]

The next argument opposing first cause is called “infinite-series-of-causes”[7]. This argument explores the idea that there is an infinite number of possible causes for how the universe began that it is impossible to determine what the cause could have been; but as Evans points out, when this argument is followed to the logical end it becomes the same as the argument of no cause.[8] The belief that there is no way of knowing what caused the universe to begin is essentially restating that there is no true cause for its beginning. The argument for the universe not having a cause is a fallacy, because as stated before everything in nature has a natural cause that it can be determined from.[9]

The cosmological argument seems to conclude in a logical manner that there must be a necessary being who was the cause of the universe.[10] However, the cosmological argument alone leaves some of the aspects of God out of the equation. McCloskey concludes that even if the cosmological argument establishes a foundation for God it does not mean the necessary God is all-powerful or all perfect. This is supported through the understanding of first cause.[11] It does not take an all-powerful or all-perfect cause to start the universe and this is where the cosmological argument leaves a little more to be desired.

The next main argument McCloskey uses is the teleological argument. This is an argument from design and purpose in the universe.[12] He states that when looking at the way the world is, it is impossible to establish a distinct purpose to everything. Concluding that even if one wanted to believe there is evidence for a designer or planner it would not support the idea of purpose in the universe.[13] One example of design is the order and value that things have in the world.[14] In nature, things have a consistent way of acting; they are predictable and orderly.[15] The second part is the value that things have to continue toward a beneficial end.[16] As discussed before the idea that when looking at the end product it is fairly easy to see the design something has, such as the MacBook this is being used to write this response. This conclusion is the best explanation to design for the universe. The indisputability of this claim is not to say it can never be disproven, but that the evidence seen in other areas of nature seems to support the conclusion that an intelligent designer must have designed nature.

Evolution is the process in which nature changed forms into what it is today. Assuming evolution to be true, it still does not sufficiently disprove the argument for a designer. Evolution as with any process must have a design to function properly. Evans makes the statement, “the evolutionary process, even if it is a mechanical process, is simply the means whereby God, the intelligent designer, realizes his purpose.”[17] Like with the cosmological argument, evolution does not disprove the existence of God. It on the other hand supports the idea that there is a designer who was the first cause to everything.

The presence of evil in the world causes some problems when it comes to the conclusion that God is a personal, loving and all-powerful God. McCloskey believes that evil stands to discredit the existence of God, but the cosmological and teleological arguments does not assume to provide evidence of a loving all-powerful God, but one who exists.[18] McCloskey makes the claim that the world is broken because of the evil, but to make this claim also implies that the world was once not broken or perfect.[19] This claim being made by McCloskey is supporting the conclusion that the God who caused the universe must have been all perfect in the original creation, if it is now broken.

McCloskey continues to struggle with the problem of evil existing in the world if there is truly a loving, all powerful God in existence. C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity attempts to address this concern for God’s existence,

“My argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But How had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”[20]

This addresses the problem of evil through the moral argument of God. This argument states that if something is understood to be moral or just then there must be something binding that moral obligation, God.[21] Lewis concluded that it is impossible to believe something is unjust or immoral unless there is something for it to be measured against. In other words, there are binding moral obligations for all people, these moral obligations are fairly consistent through all cultures, which implies there most likely is an all powerful being who placed this concept of right and wrong, just or unjust, and moral or immoral into the minds of people.[22]

One of the claims against this best explanation of God for morality is that the concept of just and unjust can differ for culture to culture.[23] However this may be true to some extent it is not always true. There are many moral obligations that are consistent through all cultures or most. This argument then becomes more about the people’s belief in other things. For example if one culture believes killing people is wrong, but killing and eating cows is acceptable. Another culture may believe people are reincarnated after they die as a cow, thus killing the cow is similar to killing people.[24] This is how the idea of morality becomes different, yet the same. It is consistent through both cultures that killing people is immoral, but one culture believes something else about people that causes killing cows to also become immoral. This again leads back to the understanding that there are some moral obligations that may appear different, but stem from the same obligation.

Another disclaimer to the argument that moral obligations promote the existence of God is through people’s belief in evolution, it is stated that because people have evolved they have evolved a basic understanding of just and unjust simply for personal and collective gain. However, to follow this argument is a little hard to hold too, because it causes mortality to become a brute force and only gives people the desire to act morally while others are watching.[25]

If God is loving, all-powerful, and good then what He commands would also be good.[26] There is evil in the world, but the simple fact that humans understanding some things to be evil gives an indication that there must be a standard of morality. Evans points out that if God was not loving and just then He could make people believe killing babies is moral and just, because it would simply be the standard everyone understands as moral.[27] With this in mind, it is clear that if God exists and has established morality then He must in turn be moral.[28]

Free will is something that has been used to explain the existence of God, McCloskey makes the claim that if God is real and He is loving why could He not give people free will and a desire or bias toward moral and just actions.[29] This is an interesting point, but invalid to the argument. If God caused people to have a free will, but to always choose moral action, there this must be immoral action. Without the understanding that something is immoral no one would know something was moral.

“Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.”[30]

It is only through the freedom to choose right or wrong can people understand there is a wrong and choose to create the wrong in the world.

McCloskey ends his article with the a claim that he finds atheism more comfortable than believing there is a God.[31] There is an understanding that if there is a God then life and events must have a purpose. With the existence of a God also gives way to immortality or an afterlife. Purpose and afterlife can be difficult to accept for many reasons and one is a way to believe it is more comforting to believe there is not any purpose. One is the concept that if there is a purpose for everything each person must justify what they have done and try and find a purpose in the decisions and action in life. This is difficult to face for many people or it could leave people with the feeling of failure in life or missing the purpose God had for them.

The struggle with this atheism is that it simply is another way to fill the emptiness with a belief in a naturalistic god or often times oneself as the god. For some people this is easier to accept then an all-powerful loving God. In the end atheism is impossible and belief in God’s existence seems to give more comfort to people when found to be the best explanation of the universe.[32]

McCloskey explains his view on the existence of God and how he came to those conclusions in a very adequate and systematic way. His makes many strong points against the existence of God, but this paper has attempted to give reasons to support the existence of God in opposition to his conclusions.

[1] James W Braley, Jack Layman and Ray White, Foundations Of Christian School Education (Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications, 2003).

[2] H.J. McCloskey, “On Being an Atheist,” Question 1 (February 1968)

[3] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press, 1985).

[4] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press, 1985).

[5] Ibid (Location 720).

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid (Location 723).

[8] Ibid.

[9] David Bergman and Glen Collins, “The Law Of Cause And Effect Dominant Principle Of Classical Physics”, Commonsensescience.Org, last modified 2004.

[10] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press, 1985).

[11] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press, 1985).

[12] H.J. McCloskey, “On Being an Atheist,” Question 1 (February 1968), p. 64.

[13] Ibid (64).

[14] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press, 1985).

[15] Ibid (Location 777).

[16] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: InterVarsity Press, 1985).

[17] Ibid (83).

[18] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion.

[19] Ibid.

[20] C. S Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) pg. 38.

[21] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion.

[22] Ibid. (Location 902)

[23] Ibid (Location 904).

[24] Ibid (Location 910).

[25] C. Stephen Evans, Philosophy Of Religion. Location 958.

[26] Ibid (Location 972).

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid (Location 992).

[29] H.J. McCloskey, “On Being an Atheist,” Question 1 (February 1968), p. 53.

[30] C. S Lewis, The Case For Christianity (New York: Macmillan Co., 1943).

[31] H.J. McCloskey, “On Being an Atheist,” Question 1 (February 1968).

[32] William Lane Craig and William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1994).

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