Argument from Desire

December 27, 2012

I. The Weight of the Argument

There are many arguments for God, but perhaps the most useful one in our society today may be the argument from desire.  This argument may particularly resonate with the growing “nones.”  Some of the “nones” have found themselves in their position after floating through ambivalence of spiritual matters and by the continually increasing distractions of our materialistic society.  And maybe the endless consumption of fleeting status updates and tweets have deadened their hearts from the pull, the weight of the argument.  But the gravity of the argument can be fully appreciated if we could just stop refreshing the website and checking for a text message.  Why did we go out in the desert?  What were we hoping to see?  We were all along looking for beauty and grief.  We were looking for something that will break our hearts all along.

II. Misapprehension of the Argument

Perhaps C.S. Lewis expressed the argument most clearly in his book Mere Christianity, when he wrote “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical conclusion I can make is that I was made for another world.”  This desire was a common theme for many of his writings; he wrote of the fleeting fragrance of forgotten countryside, the half-remembered melody of a lullaby.

Note that this argument is distinct from the wish-fulfillment, which says that “God exists because I want him to exist.”  This wish-fulfillment argument is rightly criticized, and some claim that it actually disproves God’s existences.  I can’t agree with either line of reasoning.  If I want God to exist, how does that in any way prove or disprove God’s existence?  My desires for a God doesn’t prove or disprove His existence.  But if a personal God did exist and wanted to know me, then I would suspect I would very much have something like a desire for God.

III. Formulation of the Argument

But that isn’t the argument at all; it does not proceed by saying “You want a God. therefore there is a God.”  Rather, it goes on saying “You have this unsatisfiable desire, namely one for some unknown beauty and pain and love and joy.  Based on what you know of other desires, namely that they can be satisfied, this yet-unsatisfiable desire must have something that can satisfy it.  Yet nothing in this world as of yet has satisfied it.  Therefore, there must be literally something out-of-this world that must satisfy this desire.  And this something-out-of-this-world should be consistent with the characteristics of the desire itself, namely that it must be beautiful, lovely, joyful, to the point of pain and truth, and quite figuratively out-of-this-world.”

IV. Experience of the Desire

But the argument from desire is more broader, more human than that.  The argument appeals to what brings us to tears when we hear a beautiful melody, or the awe we feel looking at a great artwork.  Such moments of awe and beauty and grief inevitably fades as time goes on.  Such moments do not ultimately fulfill us nor explain our human condition.  But God does.

So if you have experienced this moments, this hankering, this yet-unsatsified desire for the “other,” then maybe this God, this Jesus as described in the Christian tradition, fits that description of such desire.  Your desire was sometimes temporarily satisfied by others; the Christian God lives in unity within the trinity.  Your desire was sometimes temporarily satisfied by beauty; the Christian God is supremely beautiful.  Sometimes your desire rested on truth; this also can be found in the Fountainhead.  The best explanation for the cause of your human desire is found there.  So if you’ve drifted to where you are, perhaps it is time to look upstream.

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