I had an epiphany in an unexpected place the other day. I was sitting on a Kawasaki Mule by a lake holding a sleeping toddler and watching the other kids play on kayaks. It was late in the day and I was sipping a Yuengling Lager while reading St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa contra Gentiles on a Kindle reader. I haven’t read the whole thing, not even close, but the work is an excellent apologetics instruction manual, so I study parts of it when I can.
To believers and non-believers alike, St. Thomas thought it was important to first demonstrate certain compelling arguments for the existence of God, the things that can be known by reason alone, because this prepares the way to assent to the revealed truths of Christian faith. His formula is something like this: 1) We know God exists, 2) Christ is God become man, 3) therefore, what Christ revealed is true, but these truths of faith (Incarnation, Trinity, Sacraments) are above reason so we needed the revelation for the sake of our salvation. The apologist’s task is to show that the truths of faith are not un-reasonable.
In the beginning, St. Thomas explains exhaustively why and how man searches for truth, and it struck me while basking in the glory of nature enjoying man-made marvels of technology, that anyone who searches for truth – atheist, agnostic, doubter, or believer – is searching for God because God is Truth Itself.
Our knowledge is ordered, and a genuine search for truth demands that we respect what is beyond us. As St. Thomas put it, “Just as, therefore, it would he the height of folly for a simple person to assert that what a philosopher proposes is false on the ground that he himself cannot understand it, so (and even more so) it is the acme of stupidity for a man to suspect as false what is divinely revealed through the ministry of the angels simply because it cannot be investigated by reason.”
Atheists generally revere scientific and technological achievement, and would balk if some unlearned person tossed aside the truths learned from Modern Science just so he can write a New Science according to his own worldview. Yet they willingly remain ignorant about the highest science, the science whose object is God, Catholic doctrine. Someone who refuses to experience faith has no empirical evidence of his own to judge its veracity. That leads me to wonder: Are atheists searching for truth, or something else?
The whole work is translated here alongside the Latin.