I find the arguments advanced by Aquinas to be quite convincing, but then, I would wouldn't I? The irritating thing about atheists is that they really believe that they have blown a huge hole in the Church's side. They believe that they have found a convincing argument against God when in fact it is still a matter of faith, honed by reason and reason inspired by faith. I found Pope Benedict XVI's quote interesting recently, that only the purification of believers will enable others to believe.
The arguments advanced by atheists are not particularly reasonable. They are often soaked in bitterness, calumny and mockery. I've been having a debate on a blogpost below, though none of the 'opponent's' comments are published because he or she insisted on remaining anonymous and I've promised not to publish anonymous comments. It cuts down on flak. You get into it at first, you think of things you think are clever to say but ultimately arguments get flung across the internet room like muck at a blasphemous french play.
The message of the Apostles was quite simple - almost 'evangelical' really - declaring that Christ had died because of our sins, but God rose Him up and by Faith in Him, we can be His disciples, and through Him, know the Father. By dying with Him, in Him, to our sins, we will reign with Him in the world to come. For this proclamation, newcomers to the Christian Faith could expect no worldly gain, but a high likelihood of martyrdom, as it turned out, for about 400 years.
That said, the Apostles must have known when they were wasting their time with people. Our Lord encouraged them not to stay in a house in which their message was rejected, but instead to 'shake the dust off your feet' and move on. Yet, for the Apostles, their argument had fertile soil, surely, since the Jews were not disbelievers or atheists. Some will have been hard of heart, but they believed in one God. For St Paul and those who went to the Greeks and the Romans to take the message of the Gospel, this, too, was fertile territory because those cultures believed in gods or many gods. Belief was already there, the message of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was alive to them because they already believed in the divine in some way.
Historically, not many cultures have rejected entirely the very idea of God. Historically, most cultures would laugh at the idea of atheism. In simpler days, people looked up and the moon and stars and thought, somehow, of the Creator. The intellectual or philosophical battle against atheism is a relatively modern reality, it is new, set in a new era which is post-enlightenment. Just thinking on a personal level, of my 'first move' towards God in adulthood, looking back, He must have been the 'first cause' and 'prime mover' in what is for us Catholics a lifelong conversion process which is still incomplete after death (only Purgatory, for all but a few, brings total conversion).
That 'first spark' really was a pang of Conscience. There was someone who I loved very much, but my love for her was self-centred. I couldn't love her without her being with me after the break-up. I inwardly hated her for not being with me, yet I loved her more than words could say and in a way she was my darling Beatrice (H/T Dante). I found myself in the middle of a battle over which love would win, or even whether true love would win against, well, me, frankly. Losing her left me with a broken heart. I had mistreated her but still she meant the world to me. I still dream of her occasionally.
Ultimately, the saga led me to what can only be described as a 'spiritual encounter' upon my realisation that my love for her was imperfect and that there must necessarily be a love that goes beyond myself, a love that was outside of myself, greater than myself and yet reachable or findable, that could be found or entreated or asked for, or yes, prayed for. It was a question of loving someone but failing miserably to love. There must, I realised, be a love that is greater than what I have, for the paucity, poverty of my own love was suddenly so apparent to me.
My love for her was intense, yet so weak, objectively, in the light of what I increasingly sensed was the love that "we call God". I considered my own love which now felt so small, helpless and utterly incapable of wishing her good without my presence in her life and realised that the love that I was looking for is "what we call God". You could call it the realisation of my own 'selfish gene'. It was then that I cried out for God and, as St Augustine said of Him: 'You shattered my blindness'. Ultimately, God is Love, gentle, tender and consoling. Somehow, as Dante said, God is the 'love that moves the earth, the moon and the stars'. Even St Thomas Aquinas asked for all of his works, as he approached death, to be burned, declaring instead that "God is Love".
For those who sadly do not believe, or for those who refuse to, arguments, even ones grounded in Thomistic philosophy, do not really work. We know that God can be discerned or arrived at through Reason, but really it is a very personal thing. Certain events in our lives take us away from our entrenched viewpoints or lifestyles. We can live our lives everyday, when things are going well for us, and never question anything about what we believe. Some come to the Catholic Faith very gently, having enquired of it, each has his or her own reasons, but for some, an awareness of God's presence in their lives occurs because of some violent dispossession or through some damage in life or personal awakening or from a tormented conscience. Some arrive at Love because of love. Yet, in the drama of the World, every person is in what Michael Voris touchingly called a 'theatre of redemption' and redemption is, and always be, a very, intensely personal thing.
Atheists insistently ask for proof. "Where is your proof?" they ask, angrily. Personally, I don't have any "proof" for God's existence, I can only tell you that He is and that He is Love. No amount of 'proof', or recounting of personal stories of faith would ever be enough. It is something we all have to learn in our own time and in God's time. "Ah, but you believe in God because you are weak" an atheist would say and the atheist would actually be right, but then the Man pictured above did not come for the strong, but for the weak, the contrite and to bind up broken hearts. He came to save those who want to be saved, to heal those who want to be healed, to forgive those who want to be forgiven. As to those who do not think they need to be saved or who do not want to be saved, we entrust them to His great mercy as we do ourselves. I wonder if there was a single atheist in Jerusalem at the time of Our Lord who wanted Our Lord to prove that God exists. Ah yes, now I think of it, there was...what was his name again...ah, yes, Herod! "Prove it! Work a miracle for me!" Yet, Our Blessed Lord, before Herod remained totally and utterly mute. There I will end this post, but I find the following paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church quite beautiful, this idea that the chief redemptive moments in the world, similarly, are achieved 'in God's silence.'
'People are sometimes troubled by the silence of St. Mark's Gospel and the New Testament Epistles about Jesus' virginal conception. Some might wonder if we were merely dealing with legends or theological constructs not claiming to be history. To this we must respond: Faith in the virginal conception of Jesus met with the lively opposition, mockery or incomprehension of non-believers, Jews and pagans alike;151 so it could hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology or by some adaptation to the ideas of the age. The meaning of this event is accessible only to faith, which understands in it the "connection of these mysteries with one another"152 in the totality of Christ's mysteries, from his Incarnation to his Passover. St. Ignatius of Antioch already bears witness to this connection: "Mary's virginity and giving birth, and even the Lord's death escaped the notice of the prince of this world: these three mysteries worthy of proclamation were accomplished in God's silence."153'
The Saints rarely set out to 'prove' God's existence, neither did Our Lord seem to be preoccupied with 'proving' God's existence to those who did not believe. In the Gospels, He responds to those who reach out to Him in faith. Similarly the Saints were rather more obsessed with loving God and with being His instruments of love and messengers of His redemption of the World, than with proving Him. So, I can sympathise with the atheist because I have been an atheist, but looking back, I really do think the greatest folly of atheism is not to demand 'evidence' of God's existence, when His existence is to be seen in the rising and setting of the sun. No, the greatest folly of atheism is for a human being to imagine, even momentarily, that there is nothing, no power, no mover, no love, no good, no cause, no virtue, no force, no being which is greater than himself. That is the unsurpassable arrogance of atheism. That is why, within it, are the seeds of human destruction.