The argument from desire is as follows:
- Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
- Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
- Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
This argument is not necessarily meant to prove god’s existence, but it is wrongly used as such. C.S. Lewis said, “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.” However, there are a few ways to address both Lewis’ assumption and the argument itself.
Do we all share this desire?
The answer is a definitive no. I can speak for myself; I find in myself no such transcendent desire. I don’t possess a desire that cannot be satisfied by my experiences in this natural world. I don’t possess a desire that can only be satisfied by abstracting a god. I say this with certainty: there are others who share the absence of Lewis’ desire.
As always, this particular argument is used mostly by Christians. It is commonly used in Catholic circles. With that in my mind, I bring us to the next rebuttal.
If one has this desire, does it follow that the Judeo-Christian god is the only god capable of satisfying the desire?
That would be a most ridiculous assertion. It seems to me that Allah does quite well in quenching such thirst. It seems to me that the deities of bhakti Hindus do a great job as well. Before Christ, Yahweh, the holy spirit, or the Trinity — whomever it is that such a believer regards — there were many other gods fully capable of fulfilling that desire. Therefore, it doesn’t follow that the Judeo-Christian god is the only god capable of satisfying such a desire.
A Need is not a Desire
Lewis also says, “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists.” He follows by talking about hunger and thirst. These are fundamental physiological needs. However, there are needs that go far beyond the physiological. Take a glance at Maslow’s hierarchy and you’ll soon notice that there are safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs. Nevertheless, there is a glaring issue with Lewis’ assessment. He is confusing need for desire. If I need to eat, it is because I’ve expended a good amount of energy. I will receive signals from within my body that let me know that there’s a need. However, the need to eat should never be confused with the desire to eat. As a matter of fact, a desire to eat can lead to obesity and other complications. A desire to eat is perhaps more accurately known as a craving. If I crave ice cream, that does not mean that I need it. Cravings are often desires resulting from greed, depression, pregnancy, and/or good Marketing. It doesn’t follow that such an object has an ontological place in the physical world simply because it is capable of satisfying one’s craving. Therefore, god isn’t a need. God is a desire or more precisely, a craving.
God: The Human Craving
Sigmund Freud said, “religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.” This is undoubtedly a fact. One of those instinctual desires is the desire for control. There are circumstances which are well beyond our control. For instance, death is the definitive end. Beyond that point, we know nothing. Why not desire a god who is capable of providing not only life after death, but eternal life after death? We have the instinctual desire to survive. However, we are well aware of the fact that our survival is temporary. Therefore, some of us have conceptualized the existence of beings capable of granting us the ability to conquer death. Some are believed to have conquered death themselves. It is no mystery; the gods are derivatives of human limitations.
Sigmund Freud also said:
The psychoanalysis of individual human beings, however, teaches us with quite special insistence that the god of each of them is formed in the likeness of his father, that his personal relation to God depends on his relation to his father in the flesh and oscillates and changes along with that relation, and that at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father.
Perhaps there are people who desire such a relic from their childhood. However, one will have to prove that this sentiment is shared by others outside of their religious circle. Moreover, it leads back to my second point. Allah can also represent a father figure. Other gods can do likewise. Nonetheless, the desire for a transcendent father or a god who can provide control of the uncontrollable is a juvenile craving that arises in the minds of individuals who are in denial of reality. Death is inevitable. I would agree that the fact is absolutely daunting, but it is no less true. There is that which we cannot control. That is extremely unsettling, but it is no less true. The illusory nature of gods are personal simulations. That is made evident by desires that go unanswered. Where is any god when a child dies of cancer? Where is any god when a child dies of starvation? Where is any god when a parent loses all of his/her children in a horrible accident? It may seem that a believer’s desires are satisfied by a transcendent being, but the same cannot be said of many who desire much less. That leads us to my last point.
What about desires that go unanswered?
C.S. Lewis says:
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 wants to 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.
There’s an immediate issue with this line of reasoning. Does the existence of desire warrant satisfaction of that desire? In other words, does the fact that I thirst warrant quenching of my thirst? No. Simply put, not all desires are satisfied. Therefore, a transcendent desire doesn’t lead to a transcendent object capable of satisfying said desire. Gods do not exist because some people desire for them to exist. I strongly desire the existence of certain cryptids. However, it doesn’t logically follow that my desire leads to or implies that they exist. Ultimately, I agree with Freud. Gods are illusory abstractions concocted to meet perhaps insatiable desires.
Let us recap. Why does the argument from desire fail?
- Some of us don’t share the desire.
- The Judeo-Christian god is assumed to be the only god capable of satisfying the desire.
- The argument is supported by outlining various needs; however, needs aren’t desires.
- Gods are invented solutions rather than ontological objects capable of satisfying the desire.
- There is the issue of insatiable desires and thus, not all desires warrant satisfaction.