Why I Believe: Revisiting Desire as An Argument For The Existence Of God

“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. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)

This argument from desire has long become a trope in the world of skeptics, who have dismissed the argument as fodder.

There are many reasons for why I came back to belief in God. At the risk of this devolving into a prooftext (not my intent), I will say that, for me, this idea (of reasoning from desire) remains compelling for me.

I would flesh it out though on a couple different fronts

  1. Dismissals of the argument often come on two fronts, it is cited as wish fulfillment (see Ludwig Feuerbach), and/or it is accused of appealing to something subjective in order to make an objective statement about God. The common response to this is to note that there are differnt kinds of desires. A desire that is inherent to our nature, such as hunger, does indeed point to something inherently true outside of itself. While it’s more difficult to apply this reasoning universally regarding a desire for God (although it can be done), this at the very least makes sense for many who do hold belief in God.

I would add this though. I think the tendency is to jump ahead when it comes to dismissal of the argument from desire to try and locate the desire in, for example, not the hunger but an endless feast. Thus the wish fulfillment accusation. This misplaces what the desire points us towards and assumes that it is the desire for a feast that drives the invention of God. Feast in this sense comes to mean something self serving and frivolous rather than an actual present God. It also reduces legitimate appeals to experiences of this God connected to desire to superficial literalism or dogma (as in, the desire is only made legitimate when expressed as dogma).

  1. It is sometimes pointed out that if the presence of desire was a legitimate argument for God, then what do we do with the fact that not everyone appears to desire God. This confuses though two claims- the argument for desire and the argument for propositional truth. If one assumes that the desire is propositional, then the argument will be reduced to propositional claims, which of course excludes many. If we locate desire though in inherent universal human concerns, it changes the framework for how we speak of desire for God. It shifts it towards questions relating to where and how inherent desires point us beyond mere survival.
  2. The other dynamic of desire that is important is the way it emphasizes the place of language. All expressions of desire depend on langauge. Unfortunately what often happens is skeptics see language as evidence of something being invented to serve wish fulfillment. That langauge removes us somehow from our ability to attend for reality. And yet our experience of reality can only be expressed through language. And those experiences can only be shaped by desire

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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