The argument from desire is one of my favorite proofs for the existence of God because it doesn’t require a lot of philosophy, metaphysics or other mental gymnastics like other proofs do; it’s also very relatable to our everyday life.
For instance…one night, many years ago, when I was in my late teens, a friend of mine showed up unexpectedly at our house in a very happy mood. Turned out he was a bit drunk. At one point he became rather solemn and introspective and asked me, “Why can’t I feel this way all the time?” I had no answer back then, but it was first time I ever contemplated the desire for “lasting happiness”.
How can “desire” lead to God? One truth accepted by most everyone is that people desire happiness or fulfillment, and not just temporarily, but unending. Many ask, “Why is there so much unhappiness”, “Why do I feel unfulfilled?”, “When I feel happy, why can’t it last? The innate desire for eternal happiness or fulfillment implies the existence of such a thing, which suggests a transcendent reality, which relates to what theology calls God or life with God forever (The Beatific Vision).
How so? The existence of one reality can prove, or at least strongly imply, the existence of another:
- Windmills prove wind
- Radios prove radio signals
- Eyes prove light
- The exception proves the rule
- Even counterfeit money would prove the existence of real money
It’s the same for our innate desires and needs:
- Hunger proves food must exist
- Thirst proves water
- Drowsiness proves sleep
- Loneliness proves companionship
But our desires are not only physical, which is a rather odd fact if you think we are only physical beings with no spiritual soul. It’s part of the human condition to desire “The Good”, “The Beautiful” and “The True” and an ultimate meaning to our existence. These are the things that make us truly happy.
Now, for some obvious rebuttals…if I desire a unicorn to exist, does that make it exist? If I desire to fly like a bird by flapping my arms, then I must have some ability to do so?
If one said they truly desire a unicorn, is that really what they are after? What if the unicorn was obtained and turned out to be really smelly and mean and it bit you? Would you still desire the unicorn? I would suggest that wanting a fantasy creature to be real is actually a way to manifest the underlying desire for an irreducible thing of beauty or just “Beauty” itself. How about the ability to flap your arms and fly? I would suggest the desire for true freedom is the irreducible “Good” in this case.
C.S. Lewis gives an interesting take on this type of thing in terms of “meaning”. He contemplates a universe with no light in his book Mere Christianity1. If light never came into existence, nothing would ever need eyes. If we had no eyes, the term “darkness” would have no meaning for us. It is the existence of light (and eyes) that allows us to understand the meaning of darkness. In a similar way, it is the meaning behind our existence (and our intellect) that allows us to understand what a lack of meaning would be.
In other words, if there in fact was no ultimate meaning to our existence, we would never even contemplate the question. I think the same can be said for what my friend and I were pondering many years ago…lasting happiness.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), p. 39.