A Response to the Atheistic Argument that the Church Should Remain Silent in Regards to Societal Issues like Marriage and the Family

The family is the central element of society.  This is a view supported not only by the Christian ethos, but also by most philosophers of any repute.  Aristotle, an Athenian who would have had no contact with Christianity given he died in 322 BC and very limited if any contact with Judaism given the geographical limitations between the two cultures, stated in his work Politics “Every state is [primarily] composed of households.”[1]

As one can see with little effort, his view is very much in accord with the view of the Catholic Church who teaches “the family is the original cell of social life.”[2]  And, unlike the popular myth, Aristotle’s philosophy and works, almost as a whole, were not embraced warmly upon their rediscovery around the 13th century.  In fact, due to the Muslim translation and commentaries, Aristotle’s works came close to being out rightly rejected by Christendom as incompatible with the faith.[3]  Due in no small part to Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, it was shown that Aristotle’s philosophy was not in conflict with the Catholic faith, but Aristotle’s philosophical conclusions in fact supported Her theological ones.

While this all might seem a bit tangential, these points are relevant as they demonstrate that Aristotle’s conclusions were not in any way influenced by the Christian religion and are instead grounded in the natural law and those truths attainable by man’s reason.  When one comes to the necessary conclusion that the family is the core unit of society, one must also acknowledge that the family only exists from the fruit of marriage.  This is the very conclusion of Aristotle when he stated, “Husband and wife are alike essential parts of the family”[4]and “those which are incapable of existing without each other must be united as a pair.  For example, the union of male and female is essential for reproduction.”[5]

What marriage essentially is cannot be separated from its unitive, procreative, and permanent aspects which can be deduced from natural law.  For a more full examination of marriage, it is recommended to the read What is Marriage? which was written by scholars who relied solely upon natural law to explain their position and whose conclusions are, even still, in complete accord with the Catholic Church’s view on marriage.  This book has been subjected to a rigorous peer review process and its authors have soundly defended its premises.

Though brief, the following is pulled from What is Marriage? to demonstrate its primary argument in a succinct fashion. “Marriage is a comprehensive union of persons…First, it unites two people in their most basic dimensions, in their minds and bodies; second, it unites them with respect to procreation, family life, and its broad domestic sharing; and third, it unites them permanently and exclusively.”[6]

If the Church’s position on marriage and the family can be vindicated by reason alone, what of her faith in God?  As has been acknowledged by Aristotle and other non-Christian philosophers, one can arrive at the necessary acknowledgement that God indeed does exist through our reason.  Proving the existence of God is a completely reasonable conclusion that does not require the gift of faith.  Aristotle himself proved God’s existence and Thomas Aquinas further elucidated these principles in his five proofs.  This paper will briefly explore just one of these proofs and it will serve as the base for God’s existence and subsequent revelation.  The reader is encouraged to examine all five proofs on his own.

In The God Delusion, Mr. Richard Dawkins states, “the five ‘proofs’ asserted by Thomas Aquinas don’t prove anything, and are easily – though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence – exposed as vacuous…all three [arguments involving infinite regress] rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it.  They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to regress.”[7]  This is clearly a poor representation of Thomas Aquinas and begs the question, “Did Mr. Dawkins even read that which he sought to disprove?”  For one to triumph in a logical debate, one must not only prove their argument, but also thoroughly refute their opponents; Mr. Dawkin’s hasty generalization of Thomas Aquinas’s proofs achieved neither.  Take, for example, this small excerpt from Tomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica.

“The second [proof of God] is from the nature of the efficient cause…There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible.  Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate cause is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or one only.  Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect.  Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause…Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.”[8]

Mr. Dawkins conclusion was “even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need on, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God.”[9]  Without digressing much further from the topic at hand, it should be pointed out that Mr. Dawkins never addressed the core issue: infinite regress is not possible and there must be an a prime cause, the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle.  Further, nowhere in this proof did Thomas Aquinas give any powers to God; he merely proved God’s existence.  It does not seem that Mr. Dawkins read very much at all of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa because had he done so, he would at least have known that Thomas Aquinas addressed the powers of God separate from proving God’s existence.

All of this emphasis on natural law points to the existences of truths that are attainable to reason alone and require no divine revelation nor adherence to faith in Jesus Christ.  Further, it should be noted that all of the Church’s theological propositions do not contradict those that come from man’s reason, but fulfill them.  As such, these are areas that any competent person or group of persons can rightly discuss especially in the context of what is best for society.  What is best for society – henceforth referred to as the common good – pertains to that which is best for all members of the human society because they address that which will be best for each individual in common.  This is not to be confused with utilitarianism which promotes the greatest good for the greatest number and denies the dignity of each individual.  In contrast to utilitarianism, the common good is to be understood as “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.”[10]

In all those areas, it is right that the Church expresses her opinion, but should she invoke revelation to defend her view?  This essay proposes a strongly resounding yes because through reason alone one arrives at the necessary acknowledgement that God indeed does exist and since  He does exist, it is a reasonable assumption that He has revealed Himself to us (which is the definition of Divine revelation).  Further, Divine Revelation does not contradict reason, but fulfills it.  As such, God’s revelation of His Person to mankind answers the questions that our reason cannot attain for ourselves.  An example of this would again be Aristotle.

Aristotle knew the body must die, but the soul was eternal.  As such, he could not understand how man, who is both body and soul, could continue to exist in this disjointed state.  The missing piece for his understanding is found in the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body which God revealed to man in the Person of Jesus Christ.  The catch for Aristotle was, he “did not know that the man he knew by his ordinary experiences was not man as he should be, but fall man.  He did not know about Scriptures.”[11]

As this essay has shown, the Church has a great deal to teach the world about matters that can be attained through reason alone.  Though a non-Catholic does not accept the authority of the Church, each should look closely at her reasoning and only reject her teachings if the reasoning is faulty not merely because she professes faith in God, His Revelation, and Jesus Christ.  Yet, even though she has much to offer in regards to knowing and understanding things of this world, her real gift to the world is God’s revealed truth.  As noted, Aristotle was unable to completely understand man due to his lack of Divine Revelation.  The Church’s breadth and knowledge of the world is no accident and is due to the gift she had been given by God in Divine Revelation.  Through His revelation, the imperfect knowledge of man is illuminated by Divine Reason and gives light to that which man could not possible know of his own abilities.  As such, it would be very prudent to listen closely to what the His Bride, the Church, has to say.


[1] Aristotle. The Politics. (Penguin Press: England, 1962) 62

[2] The Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Vatican City, 1997) 533

[3] Ralph McInerny. St. Thomas Aquinas. (University of Notre Dame Press: Indiana, 1982) 31

[4] Robert Reilly. Making Gay Okay. (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2014) 26

[5] Aristotle. The Politics. 56

[6] Girgis, Anderson, & George. What is Marriage?  (Encounter Books: New York, 2012) 23

[7] Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion. (Bantam Press: Great Britain, 2006) 100-101

[8] St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I Q2, A.3

[9] Dawkins. The God Delusion. 101

[10] Gaudium et Spes. 26

[11] Fr. Brian Mullady. Man’s Desire for God. (Bloomington, 2003) 18

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