Updated: Aug 4
Why should I believe in God? This was THE question I wrestled with through my teens. And as much as I hoped to get an answer in Sunday school or youth group, this question was seemingly never even asked. It was always just assumed that everyone believed in God undoubtedly, and there seemed to be no interest in any kind of rational argument for the existence of God. I was taught a lot about the faith and about the Bible, but this sometimes felt like putting the cart before the horse. Before I could fully embrace divine revelation and all the teachings of the Church, I needed a good reason to believe in God in the first place. And in all my years of catechesis, I was never given a convincing reason.
As I observed that everyone seemed to be avoiding this question of God’s existence, it led me to believe that this it was somehow wrong to ask, that it didn’t have any good answers, or that I just needed a miraculous event in my life to become totally convinced of the Catholic faith. As I aged into my teens, I began to seriously doubt the existence of God, and my faith was in grave danger. If only I had known then that Catholics and pagans alike have been asking this question for millennia and have formulated convincing proofs for the existence of God. Not until my college years would I learn that there is a whole field of study in the Church’s intellectual tradition known as natural theology, which is the study of God by means of human experience and reason, unaided by divine revelation. And as natural theology demonstrates, we can know for a fact that God exists, without need for preexisting faith in revelation.
But don’t take my word for it, how about we take the word of Pope Saint Pius X in the oath against modernism:
“And first of all, I profess that God, the origin and end of all things, can be known with certainty by the natural light of reason from the created world (Rom. 1:19), that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause from its effects, and that, therefore, his existence can also be demonstrated”
And also the Catechism of St. Pius X:
“Q. How do we know that there is a God? A. We know that there is a God because reason proves it and faith confirms it.”
Or the new Catechism, which expands on the same idea:
"Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason. Without this capacity, man would not be able to welcome God's revelation.”
And the first Vatican council says it perhaps more definitively than anywhere else:
“If anyone says that the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty from the things that have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema”
But I would be remiss not to mention the man who the Church has relied on most to teach natural theology, the greatest mind to ever write on the topic of God’s existence, and the Saint whose arguments for the existence of God finally answered this most important question of mine and saved my faith at the age of 18: The Doctor Angelicus Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Protector of the University of Cusco
If you are not familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas, his Summa, or his Five Ways to prove God’s existence, there are very many easy to find books, articles, and videos about Aquinas and his teachings. His proofs for God are undeniable, and I couldn’t possibly recommend them any more strongly to anyone who wishes to strengthen their own faith, or to pass down the faith.
One might object “Do we really need good reason to believe in God? Isn’t that what faith is for? After all, if the supernatural gift of divine faith is freely given to us by God, why would we need reason at all?” Well, according to the Catechism, faith is indeed “a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him,” but it is also a “free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” And the reason we believe in the articles of faith is "because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." So, since divine faith is the act of believing on the authority of God, one must believe in God in the first place in order to assent to the faith. Therefore, it is not possible for someone to come to believe in God through divine faith. So, in order to have faith, one must first believe in God, and for one to believe in God, they need good reason. This is why reasonable arguments for God’s existence are so crucially important.
But these arguments aren’t only effective in bringing nonbelievers to the faith, they are also essential even for those who already have the faith. A child can come to believe in God without any rational proof, but this usually comes through human faith – a trust in what their parents tell them. As a child ages and begins to question this faith that they have been given, they look for reason to believe in God, and if we fail to give this child sufficient reason, then they might just abandon the faith altogether. We see this happening all around us as an increasing number of young people renounce belief in God and adopt agnosticism or atheism. And if it weren’t for St. Thomas, this very well could have happened to me.
My introduction to Aquinas and to natural theology never came at any point during my catechesis, but rather from the most unlikely of sources - an atheist professor at a public university. This is a crying shame. We must do a better job of catechizing our children, especially our boys, by appealing to the eminent reasonability of the Catholic faith. And we must take the advice of Pope Leo XIII when he says “WE exhort you, venerable brethren, in all earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it far and wide for the defense and beauty of the Catholic faith.”
The Apotheosis of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1631) by Francisco de Zurbarán