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Critiquing the Argument from Desire

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One argument that has come up a few times in my discussions with theists is the argument from desire. While I don’t think it works, I think many atheists are too dismissive of it. The argument from desire basically says that God exists because we have a natural desire for God (or the transcendent) and for each of our natural desires, something exists that can satisfies it. One objection is that this doesn’t prove that God exists. That is true, but given that nothing is provable with absolute certainty, this is an unreasonable demand.


We should be careful not to instinctively reject arguments merely because we disagree with their conclusion. For example, many atheists argue that since almost all things in our universe have turned out to have natural explanations, everything probably has a natural explanation. But this is similar to the argument from desire which says that because almost all our natural desires have something that can fulfill them, all our desires probably have something that can fulfill them. So I think the argument from desire deserves a closer examination.

Peter Kreeft formulates the argument from desire as follows:
  1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
  2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
  3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.
  4. This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."

He argues that there are two types of desires: those that are innate, and those that are externally conditioned. While we have innate desires for food, sleep, and sex, we also have desires that are not innate, like “flying through the air like Superman, the land of Oz and a Red Sox world championship.” While other desires vary, the natural desires exist in each of us, according to Kreeft. He goes on to say that “no one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object.” Kreeft believes that if we are honest, we will acknowledge that the second premise is true and that we do desire something more.

Kreeft observes that someone could just say they don’t think they have a desire for God or for something beyond this world. Someone could say that they’d be perfectly happy “if only [they] had ten million dollars, a Lear jet, and a new mistress every day." Kreeft says that even if someone won the whole world, this would not be enough. I agree with Kreeft that all the wealth in the world would not bring us complete happiness.

Another objection Kreeft addresses is that we don’t know whether all our natural desires can be satisfied because we don’t know whether our desire for the transcendent can be satisfied. While true, Kreeft rightly points out that this criticism could be made against pretty much all logical arguments. Such a criticism could also be launched against the argument that since I am a man and all men are mortal, I am mortal. We can neither verify nor falsify the claim that all men are mortal, yet we take it to be true since everyone seems to die well before turning 200.

But Victor Reppert, the author of C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea and a proponent of the argument, sees this response as somewhat inadequate. Kreeft is basically saying “We just know.” Reppert asks “why shouldn’t natural unsatisfiable desires arise?” He mentions John Beversluis’ criticism that C.S. Lewis, in his version of the argument, justifies premise 1 by saying that nature does nothing in vain but does not justify his claim that nature does nothing in vain. If Lewis is merely presupposing a theological view of the world, then his argument seems to be begging the question. But, as Reppert observes, the principle that nature does nothing in vain is pretty reasonable. It would be very strange if there was a creature that desired to have sex, but that had “no way of having sex, and which reproduced asexually.” He goes on to say that “we would not need creationism; even evolutionary biologists would have to agree.”

While Reppert thinks it’s possible that a desire for God could evolve even if God doesn’t exist, he thinks it’s unlikely. He thinks that evolution should cause us to desire things that promote survival, instead of things that do not. While I would nitpick and substitute “reproduction” for “survival”, his claim seems pretty reasonable. So a natural desire for God looks a little bit more probable under theism than atheism. Reppert says that even if you are very conservative and say that the chances of having such a desire if God exists is .9 and the chances of having it if you don’t know whether or not God exists is .7, then based on this evidence, someone who previously thought there was a 50% chance that theism was true will now think the chances of it being true are 64.3% (This is calculated through a simple application of Bayes’ theorem. See Reppert’s article for more detail.). This is a substantial improvement, and less conservative estimates could yield an even greater improvement. While this is far short of proof for the existence of God, Reppert’s argument, if sound, would provide evidence for the existence of God.

Before getting to my criticisms of the argument, I would like to briefly analyze how another atheist has responded to the argument from desire. Austin Cline criticized C.S. Lewis’ version of the argument, but I do not think his criticisms undermine Reppert’s version of the argument. Cline points out that someone could desire something in vain, but Reppert acknowledges this possibility. Cline also argues that Lewis does not explain the difference between a natural desire and an unnatural desire. Reppert’s argument is an extension of Kreeft’s, and Kreeft defines a natural desire as a desire that we all have and that was not conditioned by society. Another of Cline’s criticisms is that Lewis’s argument does not prove that God exists. But Reppert recognizes this and only argues that this provides evidence for the existence of God.

However, I still think there are quite a lot of problems with the argument from desire. First, I have a small issue with the distinction between natural and unnatural desires. Defining natural desires as those that everyone has would be too strict. Under that definition, even sex would be unnatural, for there are people who are asexual and have no sexual desire at all. I can’t think of any desires that are completely universal, but if there are some, this set would surely be way too small to generalize from. So we should instead say natural desires are those that the large majority of people possess and which were not conditioned by society.

I agree with premise 2 that we do have desires that nothing on earth can fulfill. However, I do not think it is a single desire for the transcendent. Instead, I think that there are a number of different things associated with religion that people desire. I think the overwhelming majority of people fear death and desire to keep on living. I also think the large majority of people desire to know the answers to life’s big questions. I think we also desire to be free of pain and to attain total happiness. And finally, I think that almost everyone who has ever lost a loved one wishes they could talk to them just once more. These are all desires that the Christian God, if he exists, could fulfill.

But it looks like we actually have two sets of desires: those that can be fulfilled in the natural world as we know it and those that cannot. We can satisfy our hunger, thirst, and sexual desire here on earth, but it seems that only a supernatural being could give us immortality, the answers to everything, absolute happiness, and the ability to talk with the dead. So this is not at all like the restaurant metaphor Kreeft describes where we try 49 of the 50 meat dishes that a restaurant serves and they all have the same gravy, therefore we infer that the 50th will as well. It is more like trying every meat dish at a given restaurant, seeing that all of them are steak, and inferring that all the meat dishes at another restaurant must be steak as well. I do not think we can generalize about all desires based only on those that have earthly fulfillment.

Unlike Reppert, I think that unfulfillable desires are perfectly reasonable under evolution. Even though we cannot live forever, our desire to live may help ensure that we stay alive long enough to raise our children. Our desire to know answers to the hard questions drove us to learn about the world and how to succeed in it. And while we can never be totally free of pain and attain total pleasure here on earth, our aversion to pain helps protect us, and our desire for pleasure ensures we do things that help our species survive. Our deep love for our family helps our family survive, but it also leads to us wishing desperately that we could be with them once more after they die. So even if a desire cannot be fulfilled, the pursuit of it may have evolutionary benefits. It’s also possible that a non-beneficial desire could result from a beneficial one (as appears to be the case with our desire to reconnect with dead loved ones).

But we may have a shared desire to connect with something greater than ourselves. While I have a strong desire to connect with people in this world, I do not have the desire to connect with something beyond this world. Of course, it may be that the overwhelming majority of people do. Even nonbelievers like Carl Sagan seemed to have this desire. He was in awe of the wonders of our universe and felt a deep connection to it. He didn’t look like someone searching for something he could not find; he looked like someone in a passionate love affair with the universe. The desire to connect with something greater can be fulfilled regardless of whether God exists. And even if it did require a God in order to be fulfilled, I see no reason to assume that such a desire could not arise by natural means. There are a number of seemingly plausible reasons it could have come about through evolution. One possibility that comes to mind is that maybe the desire to connect with something greater than ourselves could help drive our exploration of the world and this knowledge would make us better suited to deal with its challenges. Quite a lot has been written on why religion came about, but not being an expert on this area, I will not attempt to make a complete explanation of why we might have developed a desire for something beyond ourselves.

Just because the evolutionary reason for a desire isn’t immediately obvious doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. For example, Reppert thought it would be absurd for there to be an asexual creature that desires to have sex, but cannot. Yet such a creature exists! Cnemidophorus uniparens is an asexual species made up solely of females who still desire to have sex. They alternate between trying to mount, and be mounted by others. They keep trying to have sex, despite it being anatomically impossible. You could say that their desire is still being fulfilled by the attempt regardless of whether there is actual sex, but you could also argue that believers are having a desire fulfilled when they pray, regardless of whether there is someone listening. Evolution is simple, and yet it can be incredibly complex. Even if a behavior does not seem to have an evolutionary benefit, it may have once had one, or it may have arisen as a result of other behaviors or desires that do.

In the end, I just don’t see any reason to think that our ability to fulfill some of our desires means that all of them can be fulfilled. And I don’t think that Reppert’s use of Bayes’ theorem helps him any. He takes theism and atheism as the two possibilities. Either there is some supernatural entity or there isn’t. While I share Reppert’s concern that it is difficult to come up with objective antecedent probabilities, it seems pretty reasonable, absent any evidence, to start with theism and atheism being equally likely. If the existence of something supernatural merely means that there is something aside from the natural world of matter and energy, this seems perfectly plausible. I have no idea what is outside the known universe, and there could be something far different than what I’ve experienced. However, if such a supernatural thing existed, we have no idea what it would be like. I don’t think there’s any reason to say that the existence of something supernatural would make us more likely to yearn for the transcendent.

Of course you could instead set things up as a decision between belief and disbelief in a God like that of the major monotheistic religions. Such a God desires to have a relationship with us, so it seems very likely that he would give us a desire to have a relationship with him. At first this looks like it might increase the probability that God exists. However, regardless of whether God exists we would expect that popular concepts of God would be those that closely match the actual world. People are more likely to believe in a God that would want to create a universe than one that would not. People are more likely to believe in a God that would want to create people than one that would not. So if we do have a desire to communicate with something greater than ourselves, it makes sense that the religions we develop would think that God wanted us to establish a relationship with him.

In many conceptions of God, everything that has happened is in accordance with God’s plan. Since the probability that every single event throughout history happening exactly as it did by chance is infinitesimal, you could take this as unbelievably strong evidence that God exists (since otherwise things would almost certainly have been different). The reason this doesn’t work is that we don’t have an a prior sense of what a supernatural being’s plan would be which we could then compare our world to. No matter how our world happened to be, we could always conceive of a God that wanted it to be just that way. Similarly, if we desire a relationship with something greater, we can always conceive of a God that wanted a relationship with us. But this doesn’t mean we have any evidence that he exists.

While the argument from desire is an interesting one, I think it fails on a lot of levels. I am unsure whether we have a natural, non-conditioned desire that only a God could fulfill, I don’t think there’s a reason to expect that all our desires can be fulfilled, and even if both of these criticisms were invalid, I don’t think it would provide evidence for theism over atheism (at least without some further assumptions). Of course I do make mistakes, so please leave comments about whether you think my argument works.

33 comments:
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AIGBusted said...
November 15, 2009 at 7:55 PM  

"It would be very strange if there was a creature that desired to have sex, but that had 'no way of having sex, and which reproduced asexually.'"

Check out #3 here:
http://www.livescience.com/animals/top10_vestigial_organs-1.html

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Mike said...
November 15, 2009 at 9:49 PM  

Thanks for the link. I actually came across that same article and mentioned that species later in my post. I was trying to first explain the arguments that apologists make and then give my critique. I agree with Reppert that it's strange, but plenty of strange things exist.

It’s great to know that if God somehow does exist, he’s comfortable enough with homosexuality to create a whole species of lesbian lizards.

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Anonymous said...
November 19, 2009 at 9:32 PM  

VI: The Argument from Desire (from Chapter 4 of Adam Barkman's book "C. S. Lewis and Philosophy as a Way of Life")Post 1



While Lewis made use of the Argument from Desire on more than one occasion, Kreeft actually does a better job of stating Lewis’s argument in a clear syllogism. Kreeft sets it up like this: (1) Every natural and innate desire in us bespeaks a corresponding real object that can satisfy the desire (note: this is based on Lewis’s Aristotelian belief that “nature does nothing in vain,” and on his Platonic belief that every desire has an object); (2) There exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature, can satisfy; (3) Therefore, there exists something outside of time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.
Yet let me try to clarify what Kreeft and Lewis mean when they say that every natural desire has a corresponding real object. First, we must be cautious of the fallacy of affirming the consequent: just because a real object exists, it does not follow that the desire for that object was natural. For many desires can be satisfied by real objects, for instance the desire to steal that book, the desire to beat up that guy, the desire to sexually assault that man or woman. But the Argument from Desire does not allow one to conclude from this that these desires are therefore natural. The argument licenses the inference to the existence of the desired object only from a premise that states a natural desire. So when is a desire natural? Broadly speaking a desire is natural when it is a desire that arises in a properly functioning human being, in a human being that functions a he ought to function. How exactly a human being ought to function, and so which desires are natural, is not something that can very easily be stated. But the distinction has some sort of intuitive appeal. And the force of the argument from desire depends on that appeal. This is not to say that this intuition cannot be further elaborated. But for now I will have to leave it at this. A second point is this: while some desires are unnatural while their objects do exist, some other desires are unnatural while their objects do not exist. For instance, I might desire to be Barak Obama. This desire, I take it, is unnatural because a properly functioning human being does not want to be another person. And the object of desire – the state of affairs consisting in my being Barak Obama does not exist (and cannot possibly exist). Of course, one could think it is natural to desire some of Obama’s attributes (e.g. rhetorical skills, power, elegance etc.), but that is something altogether different, for attributes allow for multiple instantiation. A final point is this: one’s natural desire for X, so the Argument from Desire goes, allows one to conclude that X exists. But it does not entail that X will be achieved, or enjoyed. The Argument from Desire endeavors to show that such an object exists, not that all who have a desire for that object will taste it: all might desire Heaven, and so Heaven’s existence might become more likely, but only few will actually taste Heaven since desiring is not the same as achieving.

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Mike said...
November 20, 2009 at 8:49 AM  

@Anonymous

Thanks for posting that passage.

I'm sure there will be some disagreement about what desires are natural, what desires we should have. But I don't think my criticisms rely on any special definition of natural desires. All the natural desires I mentioned seem like desires that pretty much everyone would agree are natural.

Is there one of my criticisms that you think this passage addresses?

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Ron said...
November 21, 2009 at 1:31 AM  

Hello. It is good that you are thinking about this topic seriously. I admire any person who can charitably engage with a viewpoint they disagree with.

I wonder, would evolutionary explanations really defeat this argument? It is common in American culture to think that evolution and Christian religion are incompatible but that doesn't necessarily have to be the case. Perhaps it is better to think of evolution and the conclusion of this argument as answering two different questions, the first being the 'how' question and the second being the 'why' question.

On atheism, there is no real answer to the 'why' question when we speak about things in the universe or fundamental desires within ourselves. The universe just is and our desires are just the results of the chain of cause-and-effect within this universe. But is this all there is? Is there a teleological answer to our basic desire for ultimate meaning, ultimate truth and goodness? That gets us right back to the question of God’s existence which this argument attempts answer in the affirmative. I agree with you that this argument taken by alone doesn’t get us all the way to God existing. It just pokes a strong question at us, ‘In a universe in which beings exist who can conceptualize the world mentally with language and can wonder about the reason why anything at all exists, why they are here, why of all the animals they alone must be moral, etc., would it be too far of a stretch for them to believe that their very selves are an image of an ultimate Person?’

Anyway, just something to ponder. I’ll be following the blog. :)

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Jesse said...
November 21, 2009 at 10:06 AM  

Hello Mike. You write:

::However, I still think there are quite a lot of problems with the argument from desire. First, I have a small issue with the distinction between natural and unnatural desires. Defining natural desires as those that everyone has would be too strict. Under that definition, even sex would be unnatural, for there are people who are asexual and have no sexual desire at all. I can’t think of any desires that are completely universal, but if there are some, this set would surely be way too small to generalize from. So we should instead say natural desires are those that the large majority of people possess and which were not conditioned by society.

This assumes that natural desires are always conscious desires. This is not so. For instance, the fact that a person may not consciously desire properly to nourish himself does not mean that his nature does not desire proper nourishment; it means he has a disorder. I think Natural desires, scholastically understood, would be those desires without which humanity not only could not exist, which is a means, but could not exist for an end-in-itself (for which a means is a means).

Furthermore, though our general desire for nourishment is innate, our particular desires for nourishment are acquired by particular objects: a ham sub at subway has determined my desire for more ham subs. Acquired desires, therefore, can belong to innate desires, that is, needs, but they can also not belong, in which case they are wants, which, to further distinguish, can be innocuous or positively contrary to legitimate needs, i.e., unnatural. It is at the point of acquired desires where it all gets interesting.

Innate desires can be inferred to exist as part of our nature, but acquired desires, whether needs or wants, are always the result of something -- acquired. Kreeft, for example, can infer the innate desire for God by the negative fact that nothing else serves as an end-in-itself; but Lewis sometimes goes beyond that, to the positive experience of an acquired desire which is the experience of Joy (as understood in specifically Lewisian terms); it is here that an inadequate epistemology, ultimately solipsistic, will fail to convince the hearer.

For it’s not only “if nature makes nothing in vain” then our desire for God is real, but the fact that people have the positive experience of longing for an object, which requires “attending to” that object. In other words, Lewis’ argument really makes the most impact, at least to me, when understood in light of his exposition of the threefold division of mental activity. “Instead of the twofold division of Conscious and Unconscious”, he says, “we need a threefold division: the Unconscious, the Enjoyed, and the Contemplated.” This division is really nothing other than the epistemology of St. Thomas Aquinas, which is the only one that leaves us free to say we actually know objects outside our own minds, not merely the ideas of our own minds. Lewis called it an “indispensable tool of thought”, and it is, indeed, what allows him to conclude, about the conscious desire he called Joy, that “there is… a commerce with something which, by refusing to identify itself with any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined, or any state of our own minds, proclaims itself sheerly objective. Far more objective than bodies, for it is not, like them, clothed in our senses; the naked Other, imageless (though our imagination salutes it with a hundred images), unknown, undefined, desired.”

Without resorting to an untenable solipsism, I believe his point is unassailable.

Jesse

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Anonymous said...
November 23, 2009 at 3:52 AM  

More from the same book:

Now as with any philosophical argument, the Argument from Desire has had its share of defenders, critics and counter-critics; consequently, for the sake of demonstrating the importance of, and controversy surrounding, Lewis’s most notable contribution to natural theology, I have tried to distill all that has been said about this argument into six points of contention.
The first point of contention simply denies the existence of heavenly desire. Kreeft voices this possible objection, but then he turns around and says that people who deny the existence of heavenly desire are guilty of playing the “stupidest wager in the world” and their words verge “on culpable dishonesty.” Lewis himself was generally more tolerant than Kreeft; indeed, instead of calling a man like John Stuart Mill “one of the shallowest minds in the history of human thought,” as Kreeft does, Lewis called Mill, as we recall from chapter two, “an honest skeptic.” Nevertheless, Lewis thought the Argument from Desire is logically valid and sound (and thus agrees with Kreeft) because – in addition to everything else – he thought all people have heavenly desire whether they are aware of it or not; in other words, he thought the argument is logically valid and sound even if some people, psychologically speaking, fail to realize their own heavenly desire.

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Anonymous said...
November 23, 2009 at 3:53 AM  

Again:

The second point of contention is from Beversluis and Erik Wielenberg. Beversluis’s assertion is that Lewis confused grammar with, and so read grammar back into, reality: “All desires must have grammatical objects but they need not have real ones.” Although Kreeft exaggerates when he calls this “a typical Logical Positivist objection,” he makes a good point when he argues thus: “Lewis’ argument does not begin with a purely grammatical observation but with a metaphysical observation: that real desires really do have real objects. But he does not say that all desires do, only that all natural, innate, instinctive desires do. Desires for imaginary things, like Oz, are not innate. Desire for God is.” While Wielenberg disagrees with Kreeft that all natural and innate desires can be satisfied, I think that the truth of Kreeft’s statement is apparent if we see that we have a natural desire, such as heavenly desire, for a supernatural object, such as God.

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Anonymous said...
November 23, 2009 at 3:54 AM  

Again:

The third point of contention comes from Beversluis (again), who asks, “How could Lewis have known that every natural desire has a real object before knowing that Joy has one?” Beversluis’s challenge is directed against (1), for he maintains that (1) can only be established by a posteriori knowledge and enumerative induction (i.e. knowing every example of a given category, including the example given in the conclusion). Of course, what we should immediately recognize is that Beversluis’ objection is not aimed at the truth of (1); rather, it is merely stating that the knowledge of the object of a natural desire must be attained through experience and interaction with the world and that we should not make absolute statements about matters that warrant probability at best. Consequently, Berversluis’ objection, though interesting, is not really an objection to the argument as such and hence does not need to be resolved here. However, for interest’s sake, let me say that on a few occasions Lewis could be interpreted as saying that some knowledge of God is innate in the soul and that such knowledge could act as the initial stimulus for heavenly desire; thus, he wrote things like, “The form of the desired is in the desire.” Nevertheless, in one unpublished manuscript, Lewis actually declared himself “an empirical Theist,” saying with his usual rhetorical flair, “I have arrived at God by induction.”

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Anonymous said...
November 23, 2009 at 3:55 AM  

Again:

The fourth point of contention is, yet again, from Beversluis, who again attacks (1) by simply denying that a natural desire proves that there is a natural object to satisfy it:
The phenomenon of hunger simply does not prove that man inhabits a world in which food exists. One might just as well claim that the fear that grips us when we walk through a dark graveyard proves that we have something to be afraid of. What proves that we inhabit a world in which food exists is the discovery that certain things are in fact ‘eatable’ and that they nourish and repair our bodies. The discovery of the existence of food comes not by way of an inference based on the inner state of hunger; it is, rather, an empirical discovery. . . . The desire in and of itself proves nothing, points to nothing.
Of all Beversluis’s objections to the Argument from Desire, this one is the most popular these days. Yet as with Beversluis’s previous objections, there is nothing that can force a person to accept, or reject, his claim. Thus, whereas Hugo Meynell gives “very little weight to the principle that ‘nature does nothing in vain,’” Kreeft thinks that to deny this principle is not only to reject the lessons of Nature, but also the authority of the Bible itself: “Only words are signs, things are not, to the Empiricist. In other words, the world is not full of the grandeur of God, and Paul must have been philosophically wrong . . . in saying, in effect, that the world is a sign and that we should be able to read it, that ‘the invisible things of God are known through the things that are made.’” Admittedly a person can problematize the idea that “nature does nothing in vain” by pointing out examples of defects and mutations; however, I am inclined to agree with Kreeft (and Lewis, and Aristotle et al.) not simply that “nature does nothing in vain” but also that all defects are rightly called thus since a defect always presupposes a standard and set nature which dictate the proper function of the natural thing in question. Of course, many nowadays would bite the bullet and counter by saying that there are no such things as defects and mutations since there is no such thing as a set or fixed nature; thus, while I think a reductio ad absurdum can be used to show the preference for things having fixed natures as opposed to an open natures, on this mark, there is nothing that can absolutely move the argument in one way or the other.

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Anonymous said...
November 23, 2009 at 3:56 AM  

Again:

The fifth point of contention centers around an apparent inconsistency, not in the Argument from Desire as such, but in the apparent contradictory way Lewis spoke about his own conversion to theism. That is, Beversluis thinks Lewis’s “dialectic of desire” is flawed because Lewis at once spoke of being attracted to God via heavenly desire and yet shrinking away from Him when he, “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England,” actually encountered Him; Beversluis writes, “Either God is the ultimate Object of desire or he is not. If he is, then it makes no sense to talk about shrinking from him the moment he is found. If he is not, then we will not find our heart’s desire by following Joy any more than mice will find theirs by pursuing the cat.” The obvious fallacy in this argument is not, as Beversluis tries to anticipate, that people lose interest in the thing they were pursuing once they obtain it; rather, the fallacy is that people can at once desire something for one reason and in one way, and yet also feel frightened of it for another reason and in another way. Hence, a young girl may be excited to see her daddy after he has been away for awhile, and yet she may also feel shy when she actually sees him; or a young man may be excited about seeing his new wife on his wedding night, and yet he may feel terrified of what she will think of him.

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Anonymous said...
November 23, 2009 at 3:58 AM  

Again:

The sixth and final point of contention is one that sees Beversluis and Douglas Hyatt arguing that an unfallen heavenly desire is incompatible with man’s sinful nature, on the one hand, and Kreeft and Meynall arguing against this, on the other.
The problem Beversluis and Hyatt see is that the Bible seems to speak of man’s desires as totally fallen; thus, they argue that heavenly desire – as a natural desire – can neither perfectly point us to, nor reliably lead us toward, God (Ephesians 2:3, Romans 1:24-32 and Galatians 5:17). Moreover, Hyatt uses both Augustine and Pascal to draw attention to the alleged hamartiological weakness of Lewis’s dialectic of desire, and Beversluis believes that heavenly desire (and thus the dialectic of desire) has its origin in Greek philosophy and not Christianity, and so it should be rejected in the context of this argument; hence, he says Lewis’s theory of attraction to, and fear of, God is “a philosophical hybrid, a conceptual mongrel that lacks the authentic pedigree of either parent.” Ultimately, their conclusion – though only Beversluis has the courage to say it – is that Lewis was either lying or mistaken about the precise workings of his philosophical journey, for the Oxford don was convinced that heavenly desire played an important part in his own conversion.
Kreeft and Meynell reply to these charges in more or less the same way. They both assume that Platonism (at least) can be made compatible with Christianity: Kreeft, for instance, says, “Plato is eminently convertible, Christianizeable;” and Meynell insists, “The conviction that Platonism is in many respects closely allied to Christianity, for all its opposition to the tenets of classical Protestantism, has so much prevailed, among the enemies as well as the friends of Christianity, that it cannot easily be dismissed.” However, more importantly, both men believe that there is evidence in Scripture to support the idea of an unfallen heavenly desire: Kreeft quotes approvingly from Ecclesiastes 3:11 (“You have made everything fitting for its time, but you have also put eternity into man’s heart”), and Meynell argues, “If the idea of God as ultimate satisfaction of human longing were alleged all the same to be unscriptural, one might allude to several references in the Psalms to God’s beauty or desirableness; or for that matter to St. Paul’s remark that ‘our troubles are light and short-lived; and their outcome an eternal glory which outweighs them far.’”

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Anonymous said...
November 23, 2009 at 3:59 AM  

Concluding...

While I agree with Kreeft and Meynell that heavenly desire is compatible with the fallen nature of man, I think they should have tried to explain why Lewis thought heavenly desire is compatible with a belief in man’s fallen state. They should have pointed out that Lewis understood heavenly desire to be something like the rational desire in the will, whose task is similar to Aquinas’s will qua “intellectual appetite” in that it is necessarily inclined toward the good and happiness as a general end; indeed, Kreeft and Meynell should have explained that Lewis thought that while reason and the will qua heavenly desire are incomplete, the non-rational desires (i.e. those mentioned by Paul) and the will qua the inclination to a particular way of accomplishing the general end are fallen. Of course, one could still object to all of this by saying that it is impossible to say for certain if an impulse is directed toward the good or if it is not already subject to the effects of the Fall. Although no argument can absolutely demolish such an objection, once again, I think a reductio ad absurdum can be used to show the general unacceptability of such a claim – namely, that no one can consistently live according to such a belief.
Now, while I do not want to go into this in more detail here, it is important to concede to Lewis’s critics that the Oxford don did not always speak clearly about these matters. Furthermore, it should be noted that Lewis was not, as some might fear, a triumphant Pelagian, for he was aware of both the seriousness of sin and the corruption of our particular inclinations toward goodness. On top of this, the Oxford don did not neglect God’s role in man coming to the point of confession, for he believed that God is constantly active in the world and aids man’s heavenly desire and reason in many ways.

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Mike said...
November 23, 2009 at 10:50 AM  

@ Ron

Sorry for the delay in responding to your comment, but I was traveling for the past couple days and didn’t have the chance to get online.

I think that evolution does undermine the argument from desire. If evolution can explain why some desires can be fulfilled here on earth while others cannot and Christianity can do the same, those desires wouldn’t give evidence for one view over the other.

But I agree with you that evolution itself does not undermine Christianity. It seems like evolution can be accepted without contradicting the core doctrines of Christianity.

I agree with you that there are some things that atheists will probably never be able to explain. While scientists can explain how the universe works, I don’t think there’s any good answer to why there is something rather than nothing. But similar questions can be asked of Christianity. Why do God and the universe exist instead of no God and no Christianity? Why does God’s nature favor some things, like generosity, and not favor other things, like greed? My belief is that regardless of whether or not God exists, there will probably be some ultimate ‘why’ questions that we will simply never know the answer to.

I don’t claim to know whether this is all there is. There may be something out there that is very different than the world we live in. But I don’t see any reasons to think that there must be a certain kind of something. And even if there is a person-like being out there, I don’t think we can rule out the possibility that he/she could be quite different than the traditional monotheistic God. For example, such a being could very easily be evil or morally indifferent. While there are arguments that God, if he exists, must necessarily be omnibenevolent, I have never found them persuasive. I agree with Stephen Law when he argues that an evil God is just as compatible with the amount of good and evil we experience in this world (http://lawpapers.blogspot.com/2009/06/evil-god-challenge-forthcoming-in.html).

Anyway, thanks for your comment, and I hope to hear from you again in the future. :)

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Mike said...
November 23, 2009 at 12:27 PM  

Jesse,

It seems to me like you’re trying to redefine the word desire. Merriam-Webster defines ‘desire’ as:
1: to long or hope for: exhibit or feel desire for
2a: to express a wish for
2b: to express a wish to
So based on how ‘desire’ is normally defined, I don’t think it makes sense to say that someone still desires food if they do not want it and even have an aversion to it. I still think it’s fair to say that humans naturally desire food, but there are individuals who do not. You say that natural desires are those without which humanity could not exist. I’m okay with this definition, but this seems like it would make the argument from desire question begging. By assuming that the desire for the transcendent/God is a natural desire, you would be assuming that humans could not exist without God. If you start by simply assuming that humans cannot exist without God, then you don’t even need to consider desires. You could instead say that since humans cannot exist without God and humans exist, God must exist. But of course atheists would dispute your assumption.

I agree with your point that a desire for a ham sandwich is not a natural desire even though our desire for food is. But I think that the desire that some people feel for the Christian God is similarly conditioned. If there is a natural desire for something beyond this world, people who grow up in different environments see the object of their desire differently. While some may seek fulfillment through a relationship with the Hindu gods, others may seek a relationship with the Christian god. And still others may seek fulfillment in the natural wonders of the universe. In order to establish that there is a natural desire for something like the traditional monotheistic God, you would have to show that not only do we have a vague desire to connect with something greater than ourselves, but that this desire is naturally targeted at that type of God. If instead, it is society that causes us to desire that kind of God, then even if the rest of the argument worked, this would only show that there is some sort of thing beyond ourselves and we wouldn’t even whether this thing is supernatural.

I was a little unclear on why you say that the desire for God is an end-in-itself and why you think this gives evidence that he exists. I am also unclear on how you think Aquinas’ threefold division supports the argument from desire. Would you mind expanding upon those points? Before I respond to them I want to make sure I have a good understanding of the argument you’re making.

-Mike

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Mike said...
November 23, 2009 at 5:10 PM  

@Anonymous

Thanks for bringing that book to my attention. I read the section you quoted in your posts, as well as the rest of the chapter, but I don’t think it answers my criticisms of the argument from desire. I’ll try to explain my position on the various “points of contention.”

On the first point, a lot hangs on exactly how this desire for the transcendent is defined. It seems very plausible that there is a natural desire for joy or a desire to connect with something beyond ourselves. But if you instead describe this as a desire for something very specific, such as the God of Christianity, I think it is far less evident that the desire is natural rather than from society. While one might want to go to heaven after hearing about it, that doesn’t mean it’s natural. Borrowing Kreeft’s example, even if everyone wanted to go to Oz after watching The Wizard of Oz, the desire for Oz would be externally conditioned rather than natural. So I definitely don’t think we have reason to think there is a natural desire for heaven, but it’s plausible that everyone has the desire to connect with something beyond themselves. However in that case, even if the argument was valid, it would not provide evidence for God.

On the other five points of contention, I agree that they are not convincing counterarguments to the argument from desire (at least in its Bayesian formulation). But I do have some thoughts on the fourth point of contention. I don’t think it is well established that “nature does nothing in vain.” For one thing, this phrase seems to imply some sort of purpose. I do not believe that nature is some entity which purposely brings certain things about. If the phrase was interpreted to mean only that there was a reason why everything happened in the way that it did, I would generally agree (if you allow pure randomness to be the ‘reason’ why certain quantum events take place). Yet what is most important to this argument is whether there is a reason why humans have the desires that they do. In general, our desires cause us to do things that increase the likelihood that our genes get passed on. However, it is possible that a desire could arise due to genetic drift. But let’s assume that all desires have arisen because they are evolutionarily beneficial. Even with my example of the lizards, there are some benefits to the attempted sex act. Still, you wouldn’t know whether the desire for the transcendent arose because there was something transcendent or merely because the desire for it was beneficial.

-Mike

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Jesse said...
November 26, 2009 at 8:22 AM  

Hi Mike.

You write:
::It seems to me like you’re trying to redefine the word desire. Merriam-Webster defines ‘desire’ as:
1: to long or hope for: exhibit or feel desire for
2a: to express a wish for
2b: to express a wish to

So, just to be clear, you would say that if I were dying of starvation, was craving something to eat so bad I was aching all over, and was given some anesthetics to take away these feelings, that my body would still not be desiring food simply because I could not feel the need? I think it would still be "exhibiting" a desire for food in many ways. But I did mention the distinction between needs and wants, so I have no problem referring to natural needs vs. artificial desires, or wants, and seeing natural desires as a conscious awareness of natural needs, that is, as a subset of natural needs. As long as we're agreed on what the terms mean then that's cool with me.

::So based on how ‘desire’ is normally defined, I don’t think it makes sense to say that someone still desires food if they do not want it and even have an aversion to it.

Yet they still need it, correct?

::I still think it’s fair to say that humans naturally desire food, but there are individuals who do not.

But that's a general statement, as if to say, most humans desire food, though conceding that some do not. A universal statement, on the other hand, would include all particulars, without exception, and that's what I would mean if I were to say, which I do, humans naturally need proper nourishment.

::You say that natural desires are those without which humanity could not exist. I’m okay with this definition, but this seems like it would make the argument from desire question begging. By assuming that the desire for the transcendent/God is a natural desire, you would be assuming that humans could not exist without God. If you start by simply assuming that humans cannot exist without God, then you don’t even need to consider desires. You could instead say that since humans cannot exist without God and humans exist, God must exist. But of course atheists would dispute your assumption.

But that's not what I said, I said they "would be those desires without which humanity not only could not exist, which is a means, but could not exist for an end-in-itself (for which a means is a means)". In other words, existence itself is not the goal of our nature -- a good existence is the goal of our nature.

::I agree with your point that a desire for a ham sandwich is not a natural desire even though our desire for food is.

But I think it is a natural desire in so far as it corresponds with a natural need. I only meant to show that the specific desire was acquired by a specific object, not that if acquired it wasn't natural.

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Jesse said...
November 26, 2009 at 8:24 AM  

(continued)

::But I think that the desire that some people feel for the Christian God is similarly conditioned. If there is a natural desire for something beyond this world, people who grow up in different environments see the object of their desire differently.

A couple points. Desire specifically for the Christian God is necessarily conditioned, it's conditioned by history. Without the existence of Jesus Christ, and without hearing about him, one does not have a specific understanding (images and concepts) of him. But what we're talking about with C.S. Lewis' argument is something that transcends images and concepts; it's something in light of which he subsequently interpreted the images and concepts of Christianity. That's granted.

::While some may seek fulfillment through a relationship with the Hindu gods, others may seek a relationship with the Christian god. And still others may seek fulfillment in the natural wonders of the universe. In order to establish that there is a natural desire for something like the traditional monotheistic God, you would have to show that not only do we have a vague desire to connect with something greater than ourselves, but that this desire is naturally targeted at that type of God. If instead, it is society that causes us to desire that kind of God, then even if the rest of the argument worked, this would only show that there is some sort of thing beyond ourselves and we wouldn’t even whether this thing is supernatural.

I agree with everything except the last part. This "mysterious x", as Kreeft called it, would be, following Lewis' argument, something beyond the spatio-temporal universe; that in turn, I think, would be, by definition, supernatural.

::I was a little unclear on why you say that the desire for God is an end-in-itself and why you think this gives evidence that he exists. I am also unclear on how you think Aquinas’ threefold division supports the argument from desire. Would you mind expanding upon those points? Before I respond to them I want to make sure I have a good understanding of the argument you’re making.

Let me get to this when I have some more time... thanks.

Sincerely,

Jesse

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Mike said...
November 27, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

Jesse,

You write:
:: So, just to be clear, you would say that if I were dying of starvation, was craving something to eat so bad I was aching all over, and was given some anesthetics to take away these feelings, that my body would still not be desiring food simply because I could not feel the need? I think it would still be "exhibiting" a desire for food in many ways.

If you were craving food then you would also desire food just by definition (crave being defined as “to ask for earnestly”, “to want greatly”, or “to have a strong or inward desire”). So let’s say that your body desperately needs food to survive, but you have no direct craving, desire, or want for food. However, assuming you still wanted to live, your desire to live and your belief that eating food is necessary in order to continue living would cause you to desire food. Similarly, someone’s desire to live forever and their belief that a certain potion would cause them to live forever would lead to them desiring the potion. If you merely assume that the desire to connect with God is of the first type, then it seems like you’re just begging the question.

::Yet they still need it, correct?

Yes, they would need it in order to live.

::But that's a general statement, as if to say, most humans desire food, though conceding that some do not. A universal statement, on the other hand, would include all particulars, without exception, and that's what I would mean if I were to say, which I do, humans naturally need proper nourishment.

But if we’re talking about needs rather than desires, I don’t see how you establish that we have a need for God. We can figure out whether humans have a desire for something, but without assuming that God exists (in which case you’re assuming what you’re trying to prove), how do you establish that humans have a need for God? Even if everyone on earth thought they had a need for God, that wouldn’t mean that they actually do.

:: But that's not what I said, I said they "would be those desires without which humanity not only could not exist, which is a means, but could not exist for an end-in-itself (for which a means is a means)". In other words, existence itself is not the goal of our nature -- a good existence is the goal of our nature.

So are you saying that in order for the argument from desire to work, you have to assume that our nature has a goal and that goal is “a good existence”? If this is the case, and you don’t have support for this assumption, then it seems like you’re just using one unsupported assumption as evidence for another.

::But I think it is a natural desire in so far as it corresponds with a natural need. I only meant to show that the specific desire was acquired by a specific object, not that if acquired it wasn't natural.

Fair enough.

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Mike said...
November 27, 2009 at 11:19 AM  

(continued)

::A couple points. Desire specifically for the Christian God is necessarily conditioned, it's conditioned by history. Without the existence of Jesus Christ, and without hearing about him, one does not have a specific understanding (images and concepts) of him. But what we're talking about with C.S. Lewis' argument is something that transcends images and concepts; it's something in light of which he subsequently interpreted the images and concepts of Christianity. That's granted.

Okay, that makes sense. What I don’t understand is how we know exactly how specific this natural desire is. If it is merely a desire to connect with something beyond ourselves and our everyday world, then an object of this desire could exist even if materialism is true. But I don’t know how you establish that this desire must be supernatural in the sense of transcending matter and energy. How do you know that an unimaginably powerful being that created the known universe could not fulfill this desire? How do you know that the wonders of the universe itself could not fulfill this desire? While most people may end up desiring something resembling the traditional monotheistic God, you would still have to show that the reason for this is a natural desire and not societal influences.

::I agree with everything except the last part. This "mysterious x", as Kreeft called it, would be, following Lewis' argument, something beyond the spatio-temporal universe; that in turn, I think, would be, by definition, supernatural.

That seems like a reasonable definition of supernatural, as long as we use the term “universe” broadly so that it includes all spatio-temporal universes. I suppose someone could call the multiverse, if it exists, God, but this seems radically different than how God is traditionally conceived. It seems like a stretch to say that not only do we have a natural desire for something beyond our everyday life, but to say that we know that this desire can only be fulfilled by something outside of time and space. When ancient people wanted to connect with something greater than themselves, they did not assume that this thing must be outside of time and space. The Greek gods lived in a specific place and were inside of time.

:: Let me get to this when I have some more time... thanks.

No problem, please take your time. :)

-Mike

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Jesse said...
November 28, 2009 at 9:03 AM  

Hi Mike,

You reply:
::If you were craving food then you would also desire food just by definition (crave being defined as "to ask for earnestly", "to want greatly", or "to have a strong or inward desire"). So let's say that your body desperately needs food to survive, but you have no direct craving, desire, or want for food. However, assuming you still wanted to live, your desire to live and your belief that eating food is necessary in order to continue living would cause you to desire food. Similarly, someone's desire to live forever and their belief that a certain potion would cause them to live forever would lead to them desiring the potion. If you merely assume that the desire to connect with God is of the first type, then it seems like you're just begging the question.

Sorry, I don't mean to needlessly complicate the issue, I just wanted to make a parting defense of the idea that we commonly, though perhaps loosely, use the word desire in place of need or strive, even though I've conceded abandoning it in that way for sake of discussion. So, no more of that :-)

The point about not desiring food but wanting to live causing a desire is an interesting point, I would only quarrel slightly with it. I would say "your desire to live and your belief that eating food is necessary in order to continue living would cause you not to desire food (which would mean to feel hungry) but to *choose* (to eat) food as part of your desire to live."

But that brings us to what I think is another interesting point. Normally, does one have a conscious desire to live? I would say no. Yet, normally, if one were to consider the question honestly one would affirm that he desires to live. In so considering, one becomes conscious, you could say, that his nature strives to live and he is thus affirming this tendency. But what else is he affirming, what else is implied? Indeed, we are forced to ask, what is the full tendency which serves as the context for his affirmation? Why are we forced to ask this? For the simple fact that a conscious affirmation to the question "do I want to live" involves more than living just for the sake of being alive. As Sam Harris put it, "This question (of more), I think, lies at the periphery of everyone's consciousness." For instance, if you're to ask, would you want to go on living even if you were going to do so in a coma with no chance of coming out, then doesn't the question evince that we want more than just to live? Living, therefore, is a means. What we want is a quality of life: what we want is happiness, which is the only end which we can consciously consider as an end in itself, and which is the driving force of our will.

As Aristotle put it:

"[W]e call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else...
Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself."

The context of our striving, therefore, is a striving after happiness, which, considered as attained, is a good life. Our nature, therefore, has a need (a striving, or tendency) for a good life.

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Jesse said...
November 28, 2009 at 9:04 AM  

(cont.)

::::Yet they still need it, correct?

::Yes, they would need it in order to live.

So this need is a need defined in the context of living, and living, as I've argued, is a need defined in the context of living a good life. Now, as a being capable of knowing about this tendency normally lying "at the peripehery of consciousness", and, furthermore, this tendency being a self-evident principle of our consciousness -- being a proposition the opposite of which we cannot affirm -- then we cannot deny that a rational being (one capable of self reflection), which we are, can not have this tendency. In other words, it's invloved in the very notion of a rational being. This, then, is a universal truth, applicable to human beings (rational animals).

::::But that's a general statement, as if to say, most humans desire food, though conceding that some do not. A universal statement, on the other hand, would include all particulars, without exception, and that's what I would mean if I were to say, which I do, humans naturally need proper nourishment.

::But if we're talking about needs rather than desires, I don't see how you establish that we have a need for God. We can figure out whether humans have a desire for something, but without assuming that God exists (in which case you're assuming what you're trying to prove), how do you establish that humans have a need for God? Even if everyone on earth thought they had a need for God, that wouldn't mean that they actually do.

I understand what you're saying here. You're saying something like, We have life now, and we have what we need (at least to this point) to give us life, but someday we're going to die, and, conceivably, that will be the end of us; someday we will lack these things. All you, Jesse, seem to be saying is that God must exist because only he can restore these things (and others, like justice) to us. In other words, all you, Jesse, are doing is abstracting from what is and projecting that to what will be. Thus you, Jesse, are begging the question. Indeed, and I would be if that were in fact what I was doing. I'd argue that I'm not however :-) I'm saying that by proces of elimination, eliminating everything that cannot serve as an end in itself, from the fact that our will is inclined to the ultimate end of happiness, we can thereby infer an object to which our will is inclined -- not that we'll ever attain that object, but that it does, in principle, exist. I'm then saying that at moments we, or certain people, actually have a positive, conscious desire of this natural need, and that by examining the nature of it we can further verify that it is not for anything existing within time and space, thus only for supernatural x.

:::: But that's not what I said, I said they "would be those desires without which humanity not only could not exist, which is a means, but could not exist for an end-in-itself (for which a means is a means)". In other words, existence itself is not the goal of our nature -- a good existence is the goal of our nature.

::So are you saying that in order for the argument from desire to work, you have to assume that our nature has a goal and that goal is "a good existence"? If this is the case, and you don't have support for this assumption, then it seems like you're just using one unsupported assumption as evidence for another.

I'm hopeful that I've provided sufficient support? :-)

Some points left for me to address are: 1.) Why is this desire for something beyond time and space; 2.) how does the "threefold division" support the argument from desire? Any others?

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Mike said...
December 4, 2009 at 12:27 AM  

Jesse,

You write:
::Sorry, I don't mean to needlessly complicate the issue, I just wanted to make a parting defense of the idea that we commonly, though perhaps loosely, use the word desire in place of need or strive, even though I've conceded abandoning it in that way for sake of discussion. So, no more of that :-)

::The point about not desiring food but wanting to live causing a desire is an interesting point, I would only quarrel slightly with it. I would say "your desire to live and your belief that eating food is necessary in order to continue living would cause you not to desire food (which would mean to feel hungry) but to *choose* (to eat) food as part of your desire to live."

I disagree. I think it is possible to desire food without feeling hungry. There are times when people want to eat more food even after their hunger is sated. For example, I think most people who go out to eat desire to keep eating for a variety of reasons even after they are no longer hungry. And there are also extreme cases where someone is going through a rough period in their life and gorges on food.

::But that brings us to what I think is another interesting point. Normally, does one have a conscious desire to live? I would say no. Yet, normally, if one were to consider the question honestly one would affirm that he desires to live. In so considering, one becomes conscious, you could say, that his nature strives to live and he is thus affirming this tendency. But what else is he affirming, what else is implied? Indeed, we are forced to ask, what is the full tendency which serves as the context for his affirmation? Why are we forced to ask this? For the simple fact that a conscious affirmation to the question "do I want to live" involves more than living just for the sake of being alive. As Sam Harris put it, "This question (of more), I think, lies at the periphery of everyone's consciousness." For instance, if you're to ask, would you want to go on living even if you were going to do so in a coma with no chance of coming out, then doesn't the question evince that we want more than just to live? Living, therefore, is a means. What we want is a quality of life: what we want is happiness, which is the only end which we can consciously consider as an end in itself, and which is the driving force of our will.

Well I certainly don’t think we have a conscious desire to live in the sense that we’re constantly thinking of it at every moment. But I do think we have a conscious desire in the sense that we would say that we desire to live if we were asked about it.

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Mike said...
December 4, 2009 at 12:30 AM  

(continued)

::As Aristotle put it:

::"[W]e call that which is in itself worthy of pursuit more final than that which is worthy of pursuit for the sake of something else, and that which is never desirable for the sake of something else more final than the things that are desirable both in themselves and for the sake of that other thing, and therefore we call final without qualification that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else...
Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself."

::The context of our striving, therefore, is a striving after happiness, which, considered as attained, is a good life. Our nature, therefore, has a need (a striving, or tendency) for a good life.

I agree that we all strive for the good life (not only for ourselves but for those we love). Happiness is a crucial element of that, but I think you might be slightly overrating its importance. There are many other things we value, and without them, happiness itself would have little value. If my brain could be hooked up to a machine which would constantly chemically trigger the emotion of happiness but which would divorce me from the outside world for the rest of my life, I would consider that a very bad life. Maybe your definition of happiness is more all-encompassing and would include the satisfaction of all desires, but in that case I think it would be more appropriate to say ‘the satisfaction of all desires’ rather than call that happiness.

::So this need is a need defined in the context of living, and living, as I've argued, is a need defined in the context of living a good life. Now, as a being capable of knowing about this tendency normally lying "at the peripehery of consciousness", and, furthermore, this tendency being a self-evident principle of our consciousness -- being a proposition the opposite of which we cannot affirm -- then we cannot deny that a rational being (one capable of self reflection), which we are, can not have this tendency. In other words, it's invloved in the very notion of a rational being. This, then, is a universal truth, applicable to human beings (rational animals).

We generally do need to eat food in order to live (setting aside the issue of feeding tubes). If we still desire to live, then rationally we should also desire to eat food. But what about cases where “the good life” is no longer attainable, due to debilitating injury or some other reason?

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Mike said...
December 4, 2009 at 12:31 AM  

(continued)

::I understand what you're saying here. You're saying something like, We have life now, and we have what we need (at least to this point) to give us life, but someday we're going to die, and, conceivably, that will be the end of us; someday we will lack these things. All you, Jesse, seem to be saying is that God must exist because only he can restore these things (and others, like justice) to us. In other words, all you, Jesse, are doing is abstracting from what is and projecting that to what will be. Thus you, Jesse, are begging the question. Indeed, and I would be if that were in fact what I was doing. I'd argue that I'm not however :-) I'm saying that by proces of elimination, eliminating everything that cannot serve as an end in itself, from the fact that our will is inclined to the ultimate end of happiness, we can thereby infer an object to which our will is inclined -- not that we'll ever attain that object, but that it does, in principle, exist. I'm then saying that at moments we, or certain people, actually have a positive, conscious desire of this natural need, and that by examining the nature of it we can further verify that it is not for anything existing within time and space, thus only for supernatural x.

You’re losing me a little bit here. Let’s say that everyone does perceive a need for some god-like thing in order to be happy. How does that show that there is (or probably is) some god-like thing? I may perceive a need to communicate with dead loved ones in order to achieve complete happiness, but I don’t think that proves that such communication is possible.

Finally, I still don’t see why you assume that this desire is for something outside of space and time. If there is such a natural desire, I doubt it’s that specific. Due to society, we may come to see it as a desire for the non-spatial and non-temporal, but I don’t see any reason to think that this is natural, especially given the many societies that have conceived of gods that were within both time and space.

::Some points left for me to address are: 1.) Why is this desire for something beyond time and space; 2.) how does the "threefold division" support the argument from desire? Any others?

No, I think those are the big ones.

-Mike

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Jesse said...
December 26, 2009 at 3:14 AM  

Mike, sorry for the long delay. Let me begin by addressing what I think are some misunderstandings that need clarification.

1.) The approach I take, the angle at which proponents of the AfD see the issue, is not to say, just because I can imagine something and desire it (speaking with deceased loved ones, for example) means that desire can be fulfilled; it is, rather, to note that desires have a cause (loved ones that were once alive). Yes, I can imagine speaking with loved ones again, and though that might be impossible, it is explainable - it has a cause in an object, which caused it. Likewise, with any desire you can name: To see a flying unicorn? Horses, horns and flight exist. To live forever? Life and time exist. To see the Indians win the World Series? The Indians and the World Series exist. In this sense, therefore, all desire is a type of knowledge.

2.) Desires are natural desires if they correspond to the needs of human nature (which everyone has), not according to whether or not everyone has them (as felt desires) - as I pointed out with the fact that human nature needs nourishment; that doesn't mean everyone desires to nourish themselves properly. The implication here is that one doesn't need to be aware of a felt desire in order for a need actually to exist within his nature as a desire in potency - I'm certain that Kreeft would agree with me here.

Now, you and others, basically, argue that the desire for God is a projection of things like wanting to live forever, seeing our loved ones again, and looking to some form of Cosmic Justice. Though I believe this all may point to other arguments, I agree that if this is all it is then the AfD doesn't have the impact its proponents think it does. However, I think the beauty of Lewis' particular illustrations of this argument is that they show there's some "mysterious x" that we cannot account for in our spatio-temporal experience as we can for everlasting life, justice, etc. But before I get to some of his illustrations, I'd like to re-visit one more thing, which actually splits into two related arguments.

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Jesse said...
December 26, 2009 at 3:36 AM  

(Continued)

A.) Just as we can point out that a person who feels no desire to eat still has a need to eat, and such a person can know that negatively (since he doesn't have a positive desire), so can we have the negative knowledge of the AfD by formulating, as Aristotle did, a fact of our inner, first person experience: We desire something purely as an end in itself, and that something we call happiness, or supreme contentment. We can then go through and examine all the things within our experience and see that, by their very nature they cannot be that thing we desire, which will give us supreme contentment, a.k.a., happiness we need, and which we desire in every desire (we know we desire it in every desire because every other desire, though an end, is also a means). This thing, by its very nature, would have to transcend time, and be worthy of fulfilling us for eternity, otherwise it could not be an end in itself.

B.) Moreover, since this happiness principle is a concrete principle of our conscious existence, a principle which we cannot deny; since, as Ralph Cudworth put it, "this love and desire of good, as good in general, and of happiness, traversing the soul continually, and actuating and provoking it continually, is not a mere passion…but a settled resolved principle, and the very source, and fountain, and center of life", then to deny its root in an eternal reality is to contradict a self-evident principle. In other words, to affirm a position which denies an eternal (transcending time) existence in which this desire is rooted is to say this principle, which we cannot deny, is deniable. Such a position - like atheism - is therefore untenable.

But back to the AfD itself. Here are some observations from Lewis, which I'll follow up with those of other well known men:

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Jesse said...
December 26, 2009 at 3:51 AM  

(Continued)

"The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject which excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy." -CS Lewis

"Other grand ideas-homecoming, reunion with a beloved-similarly elude our grasp. Suppose there is no disappointment; even so-well, you are here. But now, something must happen, and after that something else. All that happens may be delightful: but can any such series quite embody the sheer state of being which was what we wanted?" --Lewis

"You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words . . . Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction . . . - something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat's side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires . . . you are looking for, watching for, listening for?" --Lewis

"In speaking of this desire…which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you -- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot tell because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience." --Lewis

"...for I thus understood that in deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self, a commerce with something which, by refusing to identify itself with any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined, or any states of our own minds, proclaims itself sheerly objective. Far more objective than bodies, for it is not, like them, clothed in our senses; the naked Other, imageless (though our imagination salutes it with a hundred images), unknown, undefined, desired." -Lewis

“...the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given--nay, cannot even be imagined as given--in our present mode of spatiotemporal experience.” -Lewis

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Jesse said...
December 26, 2009 at 3:53 AM  

(Continued)

“The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain-a curious wild pain-a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite-the beatific vision-God.” -Bertrand Russell (was an atheist and philosopher)

“The origin of poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder beauty than earth supplies.” --Edgar Allan Poe

“…certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy Earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at it's best and least corrupted, it's gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile'.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

“We are exiled from our homeland - but it's memories haunt us.” --St. Augustine

Here then we have a longing, a desire, for something for which our experience cannot account. Like I said before, any other desire or longing you can account for – in your example your loved ones whom you wish to speak to again have caused your longing. But here no finite thing will suffice, so that the only other route besides affirming the AfD is to say it’s a desire for nothing. That, however, is to say we desire nothing, which, logically, is to say we have no desire! This is completely different than an imaginary desire, for though Santa doesn’t exist the things of which he’s composed do, thus it is a desire for certain things in a certain relation – not for nothing, which is the absence of something.

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Jesse said...
December 26, 2009 at 3:55 AM  

(Continued)

::Finally, I still don’t see why you assume that this desire is for something outside of space and time. If there is such a natural desire, I doubt it’s that specific. Due to society, we may come to see it as a desire for the non-spatial and non-temporal, but I don’t see any reason to think that this is natural, especially given the many societies that have conceived of gods that were within both time and space.

Of course the Christian response is that’s precisely why they were idols! And precisely why images were not to be associated with God.

Again, you’re understanding the word “natural” here in a way it’s not intended to be used. I mean, it is natural for man to seek to know about the universe, isn’t it? But simply because he’s been wrong most of the time doesn’t mean everything we’ve learned, will learn, or can learn is wrong – nor does it mean science is not natural. It’s quite reasonable to expect that just as Democritus was wrong with his particular theory of atoms so others were and are wrong in their particular ideas of God. Or should we not believe in atoms :-) ?

Lastly, concerning why this desire is for something outside space and time, Lewis writes, “All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. And that object, quite clearly, was no state of my own mind or body at all. In a way, I had proved this by elimination. I had tried everything in my own mind and body; as it were, asking myself, ‘Is it this you want? Is it this?’ Last of all I had asked if Joy itself is what I wanted; and, labeling it ‘aesthetic experience,’ had pretended I could answer Yes. But that answer too had broken down. Inexorably Joy proclaimed, ‘You want—I myself am your want of—something other, outside, not you nor any state of you.’”

Thanks,

Jesse

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Victor Reppert said...
January 5, 2010 at 5:18 PM  

I am wondering what your response is to the Bayesian calculation that I gave would be.

H1) Humans are constructed by God is such a way that they can be fulfilled only in relationship to God.

H2) It is not the case that humans are constructed by God in such a way that they can be fulfilled only in relationship to God. This can be true if atheism is true, or if God doesn't care,

D= the existence of "heavenly" desires

Now, notice I don't need the claim that these desires couldn't arise through evolution. In fact, as I did the calcuations, it's 70% likely that these desire would arise through evolution, and the calculation still works!

Now doesn't it seem to you that D is more likely given

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Tom Freeman said...
January 18, 2010 at 2:32 AM  

I think there’s a difference worth noting between apparent desire satisfaction and actual desire satisfaction. A desire to be in communion with a transcendent god could very well feel to the individual as if it were satisfied even though that being didn’t exist. In this case, the thing causing the (very real) sense of satisfaction or fulfilment is the earthly religion of which the individual is a member.

A desire whose apparent satisfaction can be caused by something earthly seems likelier to arise naturally.

But isn’t it maladaptive to have desires whose satisfaction conditions aren’t reliably detectable? In most cases, yes: if because of some hormonal imbalance I feel that I’ve eaten enough when in fact I haven’t, the result will be malnutrition and illness. In some cases, perhaps not: if someone is blissfully unaware that their spouse had a brief affair a while back, then their marriage will stay intact and their children will be raised more happily – even though their desire to have a faithful spouse is no longer actually fulfilled.

The consequences of mistakenly feeling satisfied that one has found god are far from obvious, as the actual satisfaction conditions of the desire have no earthly impact. From here, things could go into a discussion about the relative advantages and disadvantages of being religious, but I’ll just note that there’s a significant view, including among many atheists, that being part of a religious community can have benefits in terms of social cohesion within that group.

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kadir karabaƟ said...
February 22, 2013 at 10:10 PM  
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