The Argument from Desire

Here is an interesting argument that I read in Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli's Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics.

1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

2. But there exists in us an innate desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures that can satisfy this desire.

4. This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."1

They go on to explain:

The first premise implies a distinction of desires into two kinds: innate and externally conditioned, or natural and artificial.  We naturally desire things like food, drink, sex, sleep, knowledge, friendship, and beauty; and we naturally shun things like starvation, loneliness, ignorance and ugliness.  We also desire (but not innately or naturally) things like sports cars, political office, flying through the air like Superman, the land of Oz and a Red Sox world championship.

Now there are differences between these two kinds of desires.  For example, we do not, for the most part, recognize corresponding states of deprivation for the second, the artificial, desires as we do for the first.  There is no word like Ozlessness parallel to sleeplessness.  But more important, the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction.  This second difference is the reason for a third difference: the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.

The existence of the artificial desires does not necessarily mean that the desired objects exist.  Some do; some don't.  Sports cards do; Oz does not.  But the existence of natural desires does, in every discoverable case, mean that the objects desired exist.  No one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object.

The second premise requires only honest introspection.  If someone denies it and says, "I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, of power," we can only ask, "Are you, really?"  But we can only appeal, we cannot compel.  And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature.  Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that "there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, 'is that all there is?'"

C.S. Lewis, who uses this argument in a number of places, summarizes it succinctly:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists.  A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food.  A duckling want sot swim; well, there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, bk. 3, chap. 10)2

What do you think of the argument?  Please share in the comments!

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 26.
2. Ibid., p. 26-27

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