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Neurology and C.S. Lewis’ Argument from Desire

C.S. Lewis

One of the most popular arguments for God comes from C.S. Lewis' argument from desire. Peter Kreeft explains it very well here, and structures the argument in a Thomistic fashion like so:

  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."

Here's how Lewis originally presented it:

"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." (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, "Hope")

There are a few important caveats that must be made to this:

  1. The desire should be understood in the broadest of terms. That is, a man might desire sex with a woman who doesn't exist, or you might have a dream about eating a non-existent food: but women, sex, and food are all real, and these imaginary deviations relate to an existent core. Applying this to God, we have desires which are satisfied in God, but that certainly doesn't mean that whatever we imagine (or desire) God to be, He is.
  2. The fact that some individuals aren't aware of the desire doesn't serve as a negation. After all, there are plenty of people who consider themselves asexual. Any number of causes might explain this lack of desire - a lack of self-awareness, psychological causes (be it trauma, suppression, or fear of the desire itself). But the fact that I'm not hungry right now doesn't disprove the existence of food.

Atheists who criticize the argument here seem to misunderstand those two caveats (and come to the mystifying conclusion that C.S. Lewis was desperately trying to convince himself that God existed).

Let's plug Lewis' argument from desire into modern neuroscience. Neurologists tell us two things:

  1. There is a unique neurological reaction to religion which doesn't relate to the other known neurological reactions. (Critics of religions interpret this to mean that God is "all in your mind" because we're pre-programmed for religion).
  2. People in affluent societies tend to be less religious. (Critics of religions interpret this to mean that God is, in fact, not all in your mind, and that we're not pre-programmed from religion; instead, religion is but a delusion clung to by the ignorant and suffering).

In other words, given the question, "Is belief in God an innate neurological phenomenon?" we have two contradictory answers. Some critics say, "Yes, and this disproves God, because it means we're imagining Him." Others say,"No, and this disproves God, because it means He's a social construct." In other words, both Darwinism and Social Darwinism are responsible for the problem of God.

Lewis' argument, in contrast, explains things in a much more convincing manner:

  1. There is a unique neurological reaction because God is a unique desire not satisfied through the satiation of other desires (sex, money, fame, food, drink, comfort). Thus, through prayer and meditation, we can observe people getting this unique spiritual hunger fed.
  2. People who perpetually indulge in sex, money, fame, food, drink, comfort, often misidentify the spiritual hunger as a carnal hunger. We see this in other contexts, like when a person sometimes thinks he's hungry when he's sleepy. We often mask a hunger through the satiation of other desires - it's the reason that people rebounding from a rough breakup often turn to drugs, drink, and meaningless sex, or throw themselves into another relationship. In indulging generally, they mask the specific hunger they're trying to ignore.

So far as I can tell, this explains both the phenomenons we see quite aptly, without having to create an impossible-to-win, double-bind against the existence of God. Whereas the critics' argument presume the lack of existence of God (because it's unprovable), and sets out to explain why we miss Someone who we can't prove scientifically exists, Lewis' argument is supported by observable phenomenon, like the neurological data. Additionally, we know that people indulging in everything but God aren't getting this neurological stimulus. Whether they would like to admit it or not, the science now shows that believers are getting something which non-believers aren't. No matter how critics try to spin it, this is an argument for God, and a pretty good proof for the argument from desire.
 
 
Originally posted at Shameless Popery. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Ken Wytsma)

Joe Heschmeyer

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Until May 2012, Joe Heschmeyer was an attorney in Washington, D.C., specializing in litigation. These days, he is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and can use all the prayers he can get. Follow Joe through his blog, Shameless Popery or contact him at joseph.heschmeyer@gmail.com.

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  • Loreen Lee

    I did not have the 'desire' to read all of the article. (Hopefully, after I 'settle down' a bit, and read a few of the comments, I'll return.) Reading the first paragraphs, or about half the essay, I must 'confess' that I came to the conclusion that Catholicism, and its principles/doctrine are 'full of contradictions". Didn't we just finish with an article, for instance, that spoke of the 'stoic' necessity of coming to grips with both the pain found in adversity, and the pleasure found through gratification of self'

    A true philosophy/psychology such as Buddhism, (yes,I am not calling it a religion) has as a fundamental precept the need to overcome 'desire' (even as contrasted with the will. Surely such a perspective is far more consistent than is what is presented in this post. Indeed, it is recognized that the Buddha achieved the ultimate enlightenment, only, paradoxically, after he overcame the desire to become a Buddha.

    But what of Christianity. Jean Paul Sartre, yes the existentialist atheist philosopher, I believe made a very important observation, in that a desire to become God over-rides the 'intent' to become 'like' God. I would distinguish these two as the difference between the desire to become 'Great as in God is Great) and the 'effort' nor 'desire' to live by such principles as put forward in Buddhist philosophy, without the 'desire' for some kind of recognition.

    There, I've had my say. Maybe I can go back now and finish the article. And maybe there will actually be some benefit found in the exercise, because I must admit that at the moment, I certainly am, with regard to reading the article, lacking in 'desire'.

    • NicholasBeriah Cotta

      I don't really understand your criticism here. I think the "desire" we have for God is one of purpose - what is my purpose here? Why do we have a desire for purpose beyond basic animal things like procreating, surviving, etc.? Everyone must answer it - some answer with a question mark, but modern knowledge has allowed them to be satisfied with the explanation that the question itself is just a fiction imposed on us by our own genetics/culture.

      • Loreen Lee

        Give me a little while. I'm hoping to read more comments before, (or even if), I say more. (With respect to Kant's third critique, the Power of Judgment, he includes teleology together with beauty and the appreciation of the sublime, as 'defining homo-sapient'.) But this article is talking about desire, and I think (as Susan mentioned) that the concept might be used a priori and if so there is the possibility that the definition does not prove to be consistent over different applications. Enough said. I want to wait and see what happens, and wait until I feel I'm more objective than I possibly am at present.

      • David Nickol

        but modern knowledge has allowed them to be satisfied with the explanation that the question itself is just a fiction imposed on us by our own genetics/culture.

        If evolution resulted in modern humans having a desire to know the answer "What is my purpose here?" then the question is not a fiction. It is as real as any other human question or desire.

        Actually, I am not quite sure how a question can be a fiction, but I think I understand your point. I assume you think the idea of having a purpose is meaningless without God, or that everything is meaningless without God. But since in Christianity human beings are persons, like God, I don't see why removing God from the picture removes the concept of purpose or meaning as well.

        • NicholasBeriah Cotta

          Well, "evolution" is just the "science of the gaps" isn't it? We start with simple axioms like "food helps survival so organisms like food" but with human beings we desire meaning - which unless you can really describe what went on, as in, explain how A follows B other than saying "evolution" did it, it is the same as saying "God did it." It's not a scientific argument, it's a guess based on a philosophical presumption.

    • "I did not have the 'desire' to read all of the article. (Hopefully, after I 'settle down' a bit, and read a few of the comments, I'll return.)"

      Thanks for the comment, Loreen! In the future, please read the entire article before critiquing it. This was a relatively short piece. It shouldn't have taken more than 5-10 minutes to complete.

      "Reading the first paragraphs, or about half the essay, I must 'confess' that I came to the conclusion that Catholicism, and its principles/doctrine are 'full of contradictions"."

      It wasn't clear from the rest of your comment what these contradictions are. Can you share one?

      • Loreen Lee

        Brandon, I feel like you have symbolically placed me back in the Garden of Eden, and I am being offered the fruit to eat. Indeed, (in attempting to keep consistent with the text) I find that it looks very pleasurable, etc. etc. and so I 'eat of the forbidden fruit'. I have the desire. Indeed, the demon within has suggested that with what might be merely a 'carnal knowledge', I shall know that which is known only to God. I have discovered a 'desire' within me. It is the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
        Please note that I am purposely avoiding such terms as "I shall be God' or 'be like God'. Indeed when I studied the Kaballah, they had written the motivation of the 'desire' depicted in the Adam and Eve Story, with a desire to be able to 'give' according to the all giving nature of God. (They they designed a covenant between them which excluded those who were not explicitly part of the contract to give without expecting in return. Just another contradiction). May I add here, that we can understand indeed, that part of the salvatory grace of Jesus was his ability indeed to give, which could even define what constitutes atonement. But that's another 'issue'. Back to the 'desire' problematic.

        So in what way do I 'desire' God. Do I indeed desire to be God, equal to him even according to the power of giving love? But no. I have been told that even were I to get to heaven, I could not be, see, or understand God 'completely'. It would be foolish, and yes even perhaps Satanic to 'desire to be God'.
        Can I desire to be 'like God'. This is very promising. Except for the fact that did not Jesus say that to follow him would require the giving up of 'self' - (pardon my lack of direct reference), - or in other words rather than desiring, what would be needed would be the 'giving up of "self" or "ego' call it what you may. (Like the Buddha giving up his desire to be a Buddha. I believe Jesus gives similar advice). I don't believe under these conditions desire could be compared in any way with having a positive desire towards something which could be distinctly known, or objectively demarcated, in the sense in which we can 'desire' an 'ice cream cone' for instance.

        We could be thought of as having desires to 'overcome' our limitations, be these considered as 'sin', or pragmatic insufficiencies. .But in this respect are we not told, (even in the process of developing Buddhist awareness) that what we 'desire' is not generally known to us, and indeed is this not the reason why we conceive the idea of receiving 'gifts' of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, I do not believe that we are encouraged to have 'positive' desires, but instead are encouraged to 'wait' (with patience) for the 'promptings of the Holy Spirit'. We are taught to do 'God's Will, which most often can indeed go against mundane personal desires. This idea, is consistent, for instance with Hegel's definition of 'freedom is the recognition of necessity'. To 'give up the quest for desire', puts our consciousness within a state in which we attempt to respond 'objectively to whatever presents to us, moment to moment. (I think even the New Age people have some sense of this). Desires, that are not 'in the moment' and I distinguish this from the necessity to pragmatically make plans, often, as they say come to nothing, because, indeed they are 'of nothing'.
        I've probably said more than enough. Needless to say, after yesterday's argument which helped to convince me of the dangers of following our 'desire', I feel I have followed up a little more thoroughly at least, (quite coincidentally) on the possibility that the original sin had something, most definitely to do with desire. (carnal, or intellectual, Eve or Adam perhaps: hypothesis here.).
        Please respond with your objections. I am open to your criticism of course, and merely hope that I can learn from my attempts to understand how/why I find such inconsistencies between yesterday's and today's posts. Thank you.

      • Loreen Lee

        My apologies, Brandon. I did not acknowledge that this was a proof of God's existence. Still, is it possible that if the method that is entailed by the -proof, i.e. the pursuit of one's desires', could lead to difficulties, that the proof itself is 'suspicious'? We've had the aesthetic proof, (Kant's moral proof which I believe he later rejected) and now the proof by desire. Possibly the concept of desire is different with respect to each of these categories. However, I do not see how a 'desire for God' could fit into either his criteria of natural or artificial desires. Surely, In each of the three cases considered, it would have to be a 'transcendent desire' beyond even my individual ego or eccentric 'self', which I would prefer to refer to as an awareness of purpose or possibility. . .

        You are making a thorough study of the saints. Is there 'evidence' that any of the saints who experienced an 'ecstatic' moment of being say - in the presence of God, achieved such a state of ecstasy on the basis of a desire to have such an experience? Or alternatively, perhaps the 'experience' just 'came to them', unexpectedly. I would anticipate that the latter is the case, thus keeping to my original premise. No need to answer. Just so you know that I am attempting to remain 'open'. to possibilities, and am actually reading and rereading the article. (It can take me awhile to 'get it'.) Thus, (to add further to my argument!!) even though I might have the desire, this does not mean that my understanding will be increased!!!!! My 'desire' might necessarily be merely tied up with my 'ego' in some way, as Buddha and Jesus, I believe, both teach and thus I cannot see 'beyond my self'!!! grin grin..

    • David Nickol

      I did not have the 'desire' to read all of the article.

      Here is a trick I recently invented. When I see a piece here, especially a long one, and I think to myself, "I can never force myself to read that," I cut and paste it into Microsoft Word. If you have a Mac, you can highlight the text and press Option-ESC, and the highlighted text will be read aloud quite remarkably well. (Text-to-speech technology has come a long way.) Usually I read along while I listen, and this prevents me from skimming or skipping over whole paragraphs. But it really is possible to just listen, which comes in handy if you have a hard time reading because you have an irresistible urge to roll your eyes again and again at the arguments. :P

      • Loreen Lee

        You understand completely where I am 'coming from'. Thanks. Now after reading Brandon's reply, I really am going to make an effort. Thanks.

  • David Nickol

    How many people are actually born with a desire for the God of Christianity or the God of philosophy? Many who offer these "proofs" of the existence of God simply posit that God as they conceive of him exists, and that any hint that there may be something "spiritual" is proof that God as Christians have conceived of him (or Christian philosophers have defined him) exists. It is ignored that people of other cultures and religions also had longings for "gods" that bear no resemblance to the Christian God.

    Before the emergence of Christianity, nobody (or few, in any case) longed for a human who was God incarnate and would suffer and die to save the world. Not a few Catholics, in my opinion, venerate Mary the Mother of Jesus as if she were a goddess, and certainly they were not born with those feelings. The kinds of longing and desire that C. S. Lewis is alluding to are learned. There may be some part of human nature or the brain that gives the stories of Christianity great appeal, but people long for the gods they were raised to believe in.

    In addition, it seems to me there are many things people have desired (the fountain of youth, the ability to turn lead into gold) that have no basis in reality.

    • Jacob V

      Hi David - just a couple thoughts.
      1) Regarding Mary, "venerate" as a word specifically does not mean nearly the same thing as does "worship." The Church has actually been so specific about this for so long as to appropriate old Greek words for various degrees of veneration: dulia, hyperdulia, and latria. Only latria is equivalent to worship, and it is directed only towards the Trinity.
      2) Desires for the fountain of youth or alchemical processes, as referenced, likely could be thought of as desires for wealth or power. Or, the desire for youth may be a desire for immortality, which, as no living thing seems to be immortal in the material universe, is again a desire for something outside of time and space.
      3) I agree that even if one accepted the premises and methods of this proof, one is not necessarily led to the rest of Christian revelation. I think it is an ice-breaker, so to speak.

  • Why would I agree that there is a real thing to satiate every desire? This is in no way established. Why should we confine premise 1 to "natural" or "innate" desires, but not premise 2? Why should we accept these caveats?

    Why should we label this timeless thing a god?

    • Loreen Lee

      Kant had three 'ideas' - Freedom, (the metaphysic of space?), Immortality, (the metaphysic of time), and God, - the metaphysic of the cosmos?????? He suggested that such 'ideas' are derived through the intellect.on the basis of an intuition, (possibly therefore an aspect of judgment, i.e. of particulars) Would that mean they had a neurological basis? But our neurons develop after birth do they not?
      I don't believe he related any of these ideas to desire. I can't recall him even mentioning 'desire'. Maybe it's one of his categories of beauty!!!! The will is something altogether different, and would be 'produced?' through the power of judgment together with the discretion? found in the intellect, I believe.. The sense of the 'timeless' (even g/God) possibly is what he related to an intuition of that which is greater than our mere 'egos?' which he calls the 'sublime'.

      Quote: Why should we label this timeless thing a god?

      I forget which author related the sublime to the ridiculous!!!!!

    • Michael Murray

      This is not really an argument.

      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.

      The statement 2, if true, just means that 1 is wrong. By asserting (without any evidence) that 1 is actually true you are just setting up 3 to be true. You might as well just state that you believe 3 to be true and stop there.

  • mriehm

    This is a silly argument. Just because people believe in something, and fervently desire it to be true, does not make it so. Not in this world, and not any hypothetical "next" world, which so many people cherish so dearly despite the lack of objective evidence for it.

    Consider UFOs and aliens. Many people believe strongly that earth is visited by aliens, and they desire this to be true. There is no evidence for it - it's an illusion - and yet they desire, and they believe.

    Aliens and UFOs are the modern version of the angels and demons which so many witnessed in the middle ages (and still do now). People wanted these beings to be true, to the point of delusion.

    Hindus believe in a pantheon of gods, and fervently want them to exist, too. But I doubt that anyone in this forum would support that they do.

    There is no objective evidence for the existence of Ganesh, angels, devils, or alien visitors. They don't exist, despite the so much collective desire that they do.

    Edit: HTML markup

    • TomD123

      I do not think the argument succeeds but I think your comment makes some errors.
      1) The argument does not say something is true because people desire it to be so. It makes a claim about the nature of desire.

      2) "lack of objective evidence for it." well there are good arguments for the immaterial nature of the mind which would support life after death. Also, the robust nature of the belief throughout cultures is evidence. And third, I take the teachings of Christianity to count as evidence since I have independent reason to believe Christianity to be true.

      3) Aliens are not a modern version of angels. They are totally different.

      4) I think that you miss the point of the argument from desire. It is more broad than specifics about angels or demons or aliens. It is about innate desires to us as human beings. The desire is part of human nature not based on contingent circumstances. And it is more fundamental than a desire for aliens which is essentially a desire bc it would be "cool" not a desire for something fundamental.

      • Max Driffill

        "well there are good arguments for the immaterial nature of the mind which would support life after death."

        Even if there were (there aren't), there is no sound evidence for the immaterial nature of the mind, in fact, the evidence of neuroscience is in exactly the opposite direction.

        • Alypius

          there is no sound evidence for the immaterial nature of the mind

          Not necessarily, though one must be careful in defining terms. There's certainly no sound evidence for the proposition that the mind is an immaterial thing. And neuroscience, though it can't evaluate the idea directly, has definitely been doing its part to help render it implausible.

          However, the proposition that thought has an immaterial aspect to it (while being dependent upon brain function) is a whole different ball of wax. Neuroscience can't directly evaluate this proposition either. The difference, though, is that this proposition gives full credit to both A) the human ability to recognize abstract concepts, and B) all the complexities of brain biology, without forcing it into an either/or proposition.

        • TomD123

          An argument is evidence. It is not experimental evidence, but an argument is just as much (if not more) conclusive evidence for something as anything else.

          Could you cite a finding in neuroscience which provides evidence against either (1) a premise in a standard argument for the immateriality of the mind (e.g. based on intentionality, rationality, qualia, free-will etc.) or (2) In some way falsifies or shows that the immaterial nature of some component of man's mind is probably false.

  • GCBill

    You shouldn't lump all "critics of religion" together and then claim victory after refuting the irrational aggregate of their views. It's already frustrating enough when atheists do this to religious folk, taking issue with "religion" as a whole instead of specific religious practices. These somewhat symmetrical errors are more particular instances of a more general one: namely, the assumption that View X is irrational because people provide separate but incompatible justifications for it. Rather than doing this, we all need to accept that people can reach the same destination in logic-space through premises that, if combined, conflict with each other. This is only a problem if it's the same people attempting to use both incompatible justifications. If you can cite specific examples of religious critics trying to have it both ways, then we can discuss those. But until you do so, I don't think you've characterized the competing theory fairly.

    Now, with regards to your alternative explanation, I strongly doubt that you can predict "innateness" from the uniqueness of an activity's neural correlates. It's possible for learned skill to engage the brain in ways that other non-similar skills don't. In fact, the unique co-ordinations of different brain circuits that the activity uniquely requires is part of what you're learning. On the other hand, many human universals share neural correlates with each other (which is actually a huge confound in the interpretations of many brain imaging studies). For instance, music and language are two cultural universals that recruit similar brain regions for syntactic processing. This shouldn't be surprising, as "brain modules" are conceptually problematic given our current neuroscientific knowledge. Taken together, I think this evidence provides strong reason to reject the assumption Begley cites (i.e., "if some trait or behavior is wired into the brain, it is unchangeable, inevitable."). With this in mind, realize that you have provided insufficient evidence to support Premise 2.

  • Max Driffill

    I desire the perfect cheeseburger. Therefore the perfect cheeseburger must exist. Or not, opinions vary.

    • Michael Murray

      Have you tried the ontological argument for cheeseburgers? It works for pints of Guinness

      http://www.jesusandmo.net/tag/guinness/

      • Tim Dacey

        Of course cheeseburgers and Guinness are contingent entities...delicious ones in fact : ) whereas God is not a contingent entity

  • The desire should be understood in the broadest of terms. That is, a man might desire sex with a woman who doesn't exist, or you might have a dream about eating a non-existent food: but women, sex, and food are all real, and these imaginary deviations relate to an existent core. Applying this to God, we have desires which are satisfied in God, but that certainly doesn't mean that whatever we imagine (or desire) God to be, He is.

    Maybe God in the broadest of terms is not a person. Maybe God, in the broadest terms, is existence itself.

    Then when we say that we want to know God, what we really want is to know more about the universe.

    • TomD123

      God is existence itself in the sense that He is the fullness of being or the very act of existence. I think that the fullness of existence is also fully intelligible which entails that it is an infinite act of understanding

      • Max Driffill

        TomD123,Please don't take this the wrong way, but, does this post actually mean anything? This seems like a series of catch phrases strung together, but I cannot discern any real content.

        "God is existence itself in the sense that He is the fullness of being or the very act of existence. I think that the fullness of existence is also fully intelligible which entails that it is an infinite act of understanding."

        How does the fullness of being or the very act of existence establish that your god is existence itself. Why should the "fact" that the the fullness of existence is fully intelligible mean that it infinite acts of understanding are involved? Also, how do you know all this flowery language is referring to anything real? How would you test any of the vague ideas you put forward in that post? How could you tell they are referencing a real being, and not one imagined by theologians? I hate to have to say this, but it seems to me like this is all very much like playing tennis without a net. By all means though, disabuse me of that idea with more detailed explanations. if you could.

        • TomD123

          If you are familiar with scholastic philosophy and theology, then yes, these phrases mean things.

          "How does the fullness of being etc. establish that your God is existence itself?"

          -When a classical theist refers to God as existence itself, he means that God is not a composition of essence and existence, rather God's nature is to exist. To simply be existence would be to have existence by necessity and not limited by any nature (as a Thomist would say, without any admixture of potency). Hence it would be the fullness of being in the sense that it has no limits and that its existence is necessary rather than contingent.

          "why should the "fact" that the the fullness of existence is fully intelligible mean that it infinite acts of understanding are involved?"

          -Well, of course this is just a combox, not a book so I can't give a long answer. The short answer is this though: Something is intelligible in the sense that it contains rational answers about reality. But things of our experience are limited in their intelligibility because they are particular types of things. In order for something to be infinitely intelligible (have the rational grounds for all of reality) it could not be a particular thing in a class or an instance of a kind. It could not be limited to one region of space or time, and it would have to contain the intelligible content of many things without being those things or being dependent on any deeper level of reality. Hence, it would be an act of understanding. For more, see Bernard Lonergan's Insight or Fr. Spitzer's New Proofs for the Existence of God.

          "Also, how do you know all this flowery language is referring to anything real? How would you test any of the vague ideas you put forward in that post? How could you tell they are referencing a real being, and not one imagined by theologians?"

          -There are arguments for these things. But the point is that this is how God is understood by many theologians. The point wasn't to argue that they are right.

          I hate to have to say this, but it seems like you are jumping the gun. You are assuming that every statement made has to be proven rigorously in a blog combox. The point isn't to do that. That's why people write books and academic articles and even blog posts themselves. The point in a combox is just to point out some minor things. So to go ahead and ask why it is the case I haven't demonstrated everything you wane me too as true is just plain confusing

      • Maybe it is. But maybe it isn't. This argument from desire doesn't seem to tell us.

        As Joe points out:

        We have desires which are satisfied in God, but that certainly doesn't mean that whatever we imagine (or desire) God to be, He is.

        Maybe you imagine that God/reality is an "infinite act of understanding". That doesn't mean that God/reality actually is this way.

        • TomD123

          I agree that imagining God one way doesn't make it so. I was just pointing out that maybe the greatest object of our desire is the very act of existence, but according to classical theism, this is God.

          That said, I don't even know if the argument from desire works or tells us much at all.

          • I agree it's possible. And not just logically possible, but within the realm of probability, as far as I can tell. That's why I'm an agnostic.

            What do you think the flaw in this argument is?

          • TomD123

            I am doubtful of the first premise. Maybe its true, but I haven't seen good arguments for it.

            I think that the existence of a benevolent God is the really the only reason I have to actually believe the first premise. But obviously, I couldn't use this as support for P1 without begging the question.

            So as an argument for the existence of God then, I think it is very weak because I have yet to see a good defense of P1.

      • Michael Murray

        Is that a countably infinite act of understanding or an uncountably infinite understanding ? If the latter what cardinality is it ?

        • TomD123

          I do not know. When I say infinite I mean that anything that is in itself coherent is understood by God. I do not know how many things can be coherently understood. Probably infinite, from there, I do not know. It is meant as a statement about the nature of God not about the nature of the things understood...or the number of them

    • Peter

      God cannot be synonymous with the universe a la Spinoza because the evidence points to the universe having a beginning which would separate it from an eternal God. Furthermore, a universe with a beginning out of nothing, even if it occurred through naturalistic means, would still require a precise blueprint for it to turn out the way it does which is highly preconfigured for life. The recent discovery that planets can have stable orbits around stars in binary systems has effectively doubled the likelihood of life in the galaxy. The signs are that we have a universe uniquely preconfigured for life, yet a universe with a definite beginning. The evidence as it stands leads to creation being separate from its Creator.

      • Universe started itself. A prior blueprint, if there is one, is unknown to us. There's no reason presently to think that the universe requires a universe-causer. Even if the universe requires a prior universe-causer, that universe-causer can be part of nature.

        2 x 0 = 0. Doubling an unknown probability is pretty meaningless.

        • Peter

          Even if the universe causes itself naturally, being its own causer so that no prior causer is required, it still requires a blueprint to explain its unique configuration. If the universe were a purposeless place with life being a unique freak occurrence within the indifferent vastness, one could argue that the universe has no meaning and just is.

          However, recent findings increasingly reveal a universe which is exquisitely blueprinted for life, leading potentially to widespread consciousness and self awareness across the cosmos in the aeons to come. This denotes that the universe has a purpose and is therefore designed.

  • Max Driffill

    "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists."
    In what sense are our desires actually satisfied?

    I miss my grandma dearly. I would love to chat her up again, tell her about the great-grand-daughter she only held once the very day she died. What can we make of this desire that will never be fulfilled? Lewis would have us draw wild conclusions from this. This seems like asking too much, while at the same time missing the point. I spent 25 years getting to know, love and treasure my grandma. I miss her. that is all my desire is evidence of. It certainly isn't an argument for the idea that we are made for another world. It is evidence though, that this world, and its relationships matter and affect us profoundly.

    "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 [women also have this desire by the way] ; 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."

    I must return to my original question. In what way are these desires satisfied? Hunger, sex, the desire to swim, hunt, etc can only be satisfied temporarily. Being restless and uneasy isn't evidence of another world, its just part of the human condition.

    • Roman

      You've given a good example of an innate desire which we could describe as the desire to form close relationships with other people. SInce this is an innate desire, we can expect that we will find people around us whom we can form close relationships with...and that in fact is the case.

      . I spent 25 years getting to know, love and treasure my grandma. I miss her. that is all my desire is evidence of. It certainly isn't an argument for the idea that we are made for another world.

      I think you're missing the point of the argument for the proof of God's existence from desire. It isn't that the particular innate desire you mentioned ( or any other innate desire) somehow proves God exists. These innate desires we have are proof for the premise that for every innate (or natural) desire, there exists a corresponding thing that satisfies that desire. The second premise of the argument is that none of us is ever totally satisfied with what we have on this earth. Another way of stating this is that we have an innate desire for something outside of this world. If we accept the first premise and the second premise, the obvious conclusion is that we desire something outside of this world which can provide us unlimited satisfaction. It is reasonable to call that God because a reasonable concept of God is a being that can provide us with unlimited satisfaction or happiness as a result of his nature, e.g., omnipotent, goodness, etc..

      • Michael Murray

        These innate desires we have are proof for the premise that for every innate (or natural) desire, there exists a corresponding thing that satisfies that desire.

        Why are they evidence that for every innate or natural desire there there is a corresponding thing that satisfies that desire. Surely they are evidence for most . How are you going to jump to the every ?

        • Roman

          Why are they evidence that for every innate or natural desire there there is a corresponding thing that satisfies that desire. Surely they are evidence for most .

          If you are sure that most, but not all, innate desires have a corresponding real object that satisfies the corresponding desire, perhaps you can list just one desire that does not? I'm not aware of any.

          • Michael Murray

            Surely you believe in this one ?

            But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

      • Max Driffill

        Why would we accept the first premise?

        Indeed we may not be satisfied by any earthly pleasure for very long, (then again there are people who are satisfied with what they have) it does not follow that there is some thing immaterial that will satisfy us permanently and forever. Perhaps long term satisfaction just isn't in human nature, in the same way that mice ever cease being curious about nooks, crannies and crevices. There may be some adaptive advantage (at least in our evolutionary history) conferred by not being completely satisfied or sated. In any event there is certainly no need to leap to the baseless conclusion that there is something immaterial that will satisfy some people's continuous restlessness.

        • Roman

          Why would we accept the first premise?

          Because we know this to be true from human experience. If you disagree, can you identify at least one innate desire human beings have that does not have a corresponding real object that satisfies that desire?

          it does not follow that there is some thing immaterial that will satisfy us permanently and forever

          If the two premises are true, then the conclusion follows that there must be something outside of this world that satisfies this desire for more. You're welcome to speculate as to other possible causes of this desire but speculation is not a proof. To show that the proof is invalid, you need to demonstrate that either one of the premises is wrong, or that the logic for the conclusion is false. You haven't done either

          • Michael Murray

            Desire for justice. It's a common trait amongst primates that they recognise inequality, other primates that don't share equally etc. Most of us have an urge for that. But it's pretty lacking in everyday life in my experience. Many's a time one has to just "grin and bear it.

          • Max Driffill

            "Because we know this to be true from human experience."
            No we don't know this. That is just mere assertion on your part. And what is this business of innate desire? Desires are products of brain systems and combinations of innate and learned behaviors.

            "If you disagree, can you identify at least one innate desire human beings have that does not have a corresponding real object that satisfies that desire?"
            I don't have to. You have to demonstrate that your understanding of desire matches up with the neurobiology.

  • More questions. What is this desire for something that nothing in time, on earth, and no creature can satisfy? I'm not aware that I have it. I cannot conceive of anything timeless, even my conceptions of heaven all involve time and space. They would also prefer to be on earth.

    Is this desire not natural and innate? If it is not, would I not remember receiving it?

    • Roman

      All good questions you raise. Here is how I would answer them...

      I think that most of us are unaware of this desire for something beyond this world because we are not (I assume) among the rich who already have everything they can possibly want. It isn't until you get to this point in life that you may start thinking "is this it?" Hence the relatively high suicide rates and drug use among the wealthy, Why does a wealthy person need to escape from reality via drug use if they are satisfied with all that they have? If you think about it, there are many periods when we are not aware of our other natural or innate desires, like hunger or sex drive, so its not surprising to me that we would not necessarily be aware of this particular desire until we feel that we've got it all or done it all. I think this is one reason why pornography has become so popular. Its a way of living out the fantasy of almost unlimited sexual adventure and variety. Even with pornography, studies have shown that people regularly reach limits of satisfaction and have to frequently change content, often moving on to progressively more deviant sexual activities. Again another indication that we just cannot be satisfied with the finite.

      • Thanks Roman, but this doesn't answer my question. I personally don't have this abstract desire for something beyond this world. I have a very strong desire not to die and for no one else to die and to stay on this planet.

        Sure we have pleasure seeking desires which are sometimes satisfied sometimes not by food, sex, and so on. I have engaged in all of these things to certain degrees and have found them very satisfying and not escapist. And certainly excess and addictions can arise with all of these things for a minority of people.

        So I guess you are saying that I do have this desire, but I'm just not aware of it?

        The questions remain, you may not have seen my first comment about why the existence of the desire entails there exists a way for it to be satisfied. This just doesn't follow. And why the caveats? You can't just add caveats to an argument simply to defeat criticisms.

        • Roman

          I personally don't have this abstract desire for something beyond this world. I have a very strong desire not to die and for no one else to die and to stay on this planet.

          Your desire not to die could also be stated in the affirmative as a desire for eternal life - something that could only conceivably exist in another world or state of being, if at all. I think that this is a common desire human beings have except perhaps those who are mentally ill (e.g., the depressed). This is obviously a specific desire but as you pointed out above, the proof of God from desire does not hinge on any one particular innate desire.

          ...why the existence of the desire entails there exists a way for it to be satisfied. This just doesn't follow. And why the caveats? You can't just add caveats to an argument simply to defeat criticisms

          To fully appreciate this argument its important to draw a distinction between an innate or natural desire versus an artificial one. An innate desire is one that all human beings have because it is an inherent part of our human nature. You've already listed a number of these such as hunger or sexual desire. The first premise of the argument is based on innate desires, i.e., for every innate desire in us, there is a real corresponding object that can satisfy that desire. Artificial desires are desires that we don't necessarily share and also don't necessarily have a corresponding object that can satisfy that desire. I may desire a World Cup for the US soccer team this year but that obviously is not going to happen. You may not have this desire but you may have other desires such as the desire to own your own business. These are examples of artificial desires. Regarding the so-called "caveats", I think that Joe made a poor word choice here. What he is presenting in his two bulleted items are not caveats but some additional explanation regarding the word desire as used in this proof...that's all.

          • Sure, I desire eternal life, but by no means is this possible only through another world, especially if a god exists.

            You've laid out a distinction between natural and artificial desires, but not explained why this distinction is important.

            But the biggest problem still stands, even if we could agree that there are artificial desires to live on another world, why does this entail that such a world exists? Just because you have a rule for natural desires, why does this also apply for artificial desires?

  • Loreen Lee

    On prayer and meditation: as touched upon in the article as being supported by the evidence of a neurological state in believers.
    I do not understand how or why prayer and meditation would be directly related to desire. It is true that many people 'pray' for guidance, for 'favors' - what not. "Ask and thou shalt receive". But is there any necessary correlation between what is asked for and what is received. Very often, is it not true, we are 'given' not what we ask for but what we 'need'. If these prayers are forms of desire, then it is at least obvious that our desires do not always reflect our needs.

    I thus prefer the terminology wherein it is recognized that the human consciousness can develop over time, (even with respect to the so called proof of the neurological connections. Hard wired or not, changes within the connections of the neurons are (also?) dependent on experiential factors, are they not?). Not everyone has neurological connections that account for various kinds of mental illness. I thus reject the neurological evidence as the basis for a proof that we 'desire God, whatever. But I do believe in the Buddhist idea of the need, not desire, to develop self-awareness, and that this overcoming of the estranged ego represents the search for some kind of 'wholeness/holiness', call it what you will. There is such a phenomena as secular Buddhist meditation arising out of therapeutic needs in cases of psychological trauma, etc. But this article I believe 'misses the point' on all of these 'issues'..

  • Loreen Lee

    The point is, (to clarify that Lewis has missed the point) that the essential difference is between 'giving' and 'taking'. I merely put 'desire' in the latter category, and a need to develop 'awareness' as a necessity in which Buddhism and Christianity each recognize the need for change, (often called repentance, except in Buddhism the emphasis is not on punishment but in moving towards enlightenment).
    About that comment that there must be more than what is found in a Beethoven sonata or in Shakespeare - my how easily some people can become bored. If some level of fulfillment cannot be found by these people within such human creations, what do they see when reflecting on the form of an insect or the fragrance of a rose. Indeed, is it possible (and I'm being ironic here) that such people could not find fulfillment even within the possibility of 'heaven', as a metaphysical concept or the idea of heaven on earth. Proof based on desire, hopefully, is 'proved' to be based on an 'egocentric' notion, (wrapped up in what is for the self even when it comes to God serving this 'purpose' of self.) The so called 'proof from desire', therefore should not be confused with the proof from aesthetics, as purpose there is related to a teleology, for instance, which conceives of the inner life as being directed towards 'something' 'beyond the 'self'!!!!! A purpose I am not convinced is shared by this 'proof' of 'desire'. I do not like this argument. Hope that I am learning how to make one. Thank you.

  • Loreen Lee

    Still attempting to 'tie pieces together. I am still perturbed for instance about the reference and context needed for an adequate understanding of a 'desire' for God, as this could have a positive spiritual interpretation. I read up on the legends of Faust in this regard, and found in some renditions on this theme that Faust is 'saved'.

    Also read Dr. Pope's blog on New Advent, about the spirit is willing but the flesh is week. In a video at the end of the post, (sorry I couldn't connect the link), a priest says that the flesh is really: "the preservation of the self, the gratification of the self, the aggrandizement of the self." It is not, according to his interpretation, flesh in a literal sense. This interpretation fits in with the relation of desire to the Adam and Eve Story, that was a constant reference within the last post.. Indeed, Monsignor Pope explicitly relates a scripture of Paul to his own interpretation of Adam and Eve.which is consistent with my observations and conclusions. Hopefully, if you are interested, you will Google New Advent for yourself. I regret that I'm not a 'techie, and could not copy for some reason the link.

    I have purposely been keeping my comments within the context of Catholic belief but trust that the similarities I have outlined between Buddhism and Christianity demonstrate that there is a consensus on what is thought to be desire in contrast to will. However, I may have suggested that ALL desire is what? 'evil? which I did not intend to do. I have merely examined 'desire' within the context of placing the self i.e. the ego as the primary object/subject, possibly before both neighbor and God.. This, I now acknowledge, may not have been the 'intention' of the proof offered in this blog. I remain of the opinion however, that the aesthetic proof is what deals with beauty, the sublime and purpose, or teleology. Because of this I see no 'need' for a proof based on 'desire'. (Be careful of what you ask for!!!!! grin grin)

    • Jimi Burden

      A little word of advice - way too long. I'd be interested in what you had to say but am not going to read 1000 words. Concision is your friend, esp. in com boxes.

      • Loreen Lee

        That's OK.! I write for the main purpose of clarifying and increasing my understanding.

    • Loreen Lee

      Quote: (Sins of the flesh, i.e. original sin would be equated with) "the preservation of the self, the gratification of the self, the aggrandizement of the self"

      In reference to the discussion in the last post about virtue being a response to either adversity or attraction, (as in Buddhism also) l. courage could be a virtuous means of achieving a preservation of the self; 2. self-control, i.e. control of the self could be a virtuous response to the desires for excess in pleasure, and 3. aggrandizement could describe in general the vices that spring from 'Desire'. Original sin in this context could be compared to being immersed, in the Buddhist terminology, within the wheels of suffering, samsara, . In Buddhism Karma is the result of a 'cosmic?' law whereas in Christianity we are directly responsible for such limitation. Interesting.

      N.B. I googled sin, esp. original sin. It's not as simple as I had thought nor is the idea held universally..

  • severalspeciesof

    (and come to the mystifying conclusion that C.S. Lewis was desperately trying to convince himself that God existed).

    I believe this to be true. Yes, he did agonize profusely about the problem of suffering and its contradictory stance with the idea of a benevolent god, but when ever I see his 'Lunatic, Liar or Lord' this confirms it, as he obviously disregards a forth option: 'Words were placed onto Jesus', therefore I can come to the conclusion that he desperately wanted to believe.

    (If he didn't disregard it because he didn't think of it, he wasn't that good of a thinker...)

    Glen

    • Loreen Lee

      In attempting to understand his 'purpose' in the article I did some research. Philosophers such as Anscombe, the female philosopher who was a friend of Wittgenstein, is known, among others to have defeated his arguments. But your quote does explain the reason for the 'proof from desire' which confirms my belief that it is 'self/ego?' based; but perhaps more of a need than a desire.. Of the categories I mention above possibly there is an identity between his conception of God and a need for some kind of 'self-preservation'. perhaps. My research has thus made clear to me that my motives are very, very often based on similar desires, as well as needs, I don't understand your 'Words were placed onto Jesus', unless he disregarded what scripture, as understood within the historical/critical? tradition'says about Jesus. I have found it a demanding exercise to come to some sort of coherent understanding of the why and the what of his proof.. Thanks for the reminder that although an 'apologist' he also found it difficult to overcome his 'skepticism' with 'belief'.

  • Granted that the object of every desire must exist, this does not identify an essence, which deserves the appellation, God. This argument, like so many others, initially assumes a definition for the word, God. In this case God is defined as the object of unlimited desire. A valid argument for the existence of God initially discovers both the definition and the existence of God in its concluding judgment, namely there must exist a being whose essence and existence are identical. It is from thence that one can argue that God is the object of unlimited desire.

    • Loreen Lee

      Thank you. You have just explained to me why/when there is justification for the priority of theology in such reasoning. Such would then not be an 'ego-centric' desire.

    • Roman

      I don't think this is a good objection. There are many examples in science where something is first defined or proposed and then proven. Suppose that God's existence and nature is the hypothesis, and we look to prove the hypothesis. Then the various proofs for God's existence prove both his existence as well as different aspects of God's nature. That being said, the proof from desire does not depend on a preconceived notion of God. As Peter Kreeft explains "The proof from desire proves an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more beauty, more desirability, more joy, etc.......But the "more" is infinitely more, for we are not satisfied with the finite and partial..." Evidence of the latter can be seen from the unexpectedly high suicide rates among the richest people on this planet who we can safely say have everything they can possibly want and yet its not enough. How many wealthy people strive to be even wealthier? It is reasonable to conclude that this unknown X which can provide an infinite amount of satisfaction is a reasonable concept of God.

      • Michael Murray

        There are many examples in science where something is first defined or proposed and then proven.

        Not usually pulled out of thin air though. Usually there is a some phenomena that needs explaining or some theory that inadequately explains a phenomena which needs improving. Science is about evidence. Not just making stuff up because life seems depressing without it.

      • In the pursuit of knowledge we cannot start with the knowledge of a conclusion and work backwards. We must start with what we know. Nothing within our experience is unlimited. Unlimited desire for ice cream is merely fanciful. Initially how can I know that unlimited desire for knowledge is other than fanciful? In logic infinity is merely the negation of the quantitatively limited. There is a difference between the definition of logical entities, of which we are the master, and the essences of existing things, which we can only perceive through experience and incompletely. We can invent a logical being such as a unicorn, but it cannot designate the essence of anything in reality. We deceive ourselves if we mistake any cut and paste logical definition as the conceivable essence of a real entity. We also deceive ourselves if we cannot distinguish science, which is the determination of the mathematical relationships inherent among the measurable properties of things, from philosophy. Philosophy is the determination of the principles, which must underlie reality, in order for reality to be explicable and for science to be possible. To initiate a strictly philosophical inquiry with a concept of God is to start with a logical concept devoid of any ontological value.

        • Loreen Lee

          I had accepted the priority you mentioned of theology as the basis of 'desire' for 'God?'. I did this on the basis of Kant placing the epistemological structure of knowledge, at least, on the a priori categories, which themselves are derived from Aristotle's logic. I thus 'reasoned', that if there was an a priori (i.e. reason) as the basis of any desire for God, that it would no longer be based on an ego-eccentricity. For one thing, (Kant again) it would have to conform to such notions as universality and necessity, as does his deontological proof.
          Anyway that's the basis of my difficulty in accepting a proof which seems to be based merely on a desire which excludes reason. The neurological basis would then just be adding another experiential element to the proposed evidence of a 'natural' desire within humanity.
          The latest post explores humanity in relation to angels and 'beasts'. That argument seems to be part of the continuity I have found in the previous post as well as this one. In that regard I am not prepared to equate my 'understanding' with either. P.S. I appreciate your helpfulness in this regard, as I recognize your superior judgment and ability. Thanks.

          • Please don’t say superior judgment and ability. That
            would indicate my failure to communicate my view. Rather than Kant’s categories, through which reality must be filtered, I would recognize (in accord with what I perceive to be the perennial philosophy of Aristotle) just two self-evident
            principles. Through these our power to think conforms to reality, not vice versa, which is my interpretation of Kant’s view. By a self-evident principle I mean one which, if denied, eliminates the possibility of all knowledge and communication. These are: (1) Things exist and (2) Everything makes sense. (It is the inherent intelligibility of material entities, which is the most profound principle of the perennial philosophy.) Our knowledge starts with our
            immediate experience of things by which we know their intelligible natures. We can only ask if a being exists, if we already know its nature from prior experience of its existence or the existence of an entity of the same nature. We are merely asking if one of that nature exists now. At the initiation of a philosophical inquiry, we cannot ask, “Does God exist?” because nothing within our experience, i.e. no entity whose nature we know through experience, is ‘God’. Any definition that we could initiate as that of a natural entity would in fact be merely a logical construct within the confines of our experience, often just a cut and paste image. In other words we cannot originate an a priori definition of any entity.

          • Loreen Lee

            First of all, please understand that my recognition of what I called your superior understanding, 'obviously' springs from some kind of lack of confidence. I was brought up for being condescending because of the same failing. I shall do better, hopefully, in the future, and trust that no apology on my part is necessary, because I should rather trust that the criticism/critique of others will make clear any lack in my argument.

            With respect to the a priori, I am still attempting to understand he difference of how this is treated in Thomistic philosophy in contrast to the philosophies of modernism. I understand, for one thing, that theological ideas of God are made on the basis of analogy. (and revelation?!!!). I also understand that the deductive logic of Aristotle is used, but in an example I met with, I found that the definition given was somewhat tautological, and thus possibly empty. So what is meant by a priori in this regard is still somewhat vague to my understanding.

            As mentioned, I 'know' that Kant based his categories on Aristotelean logic and that these serve for parameters for the 'understanding'. By a priori he simply means that the conceptual basis is primary in the cases of attaining empirical evidence, (in science, etc.) He thus places reason 'a priori' to 'experience'.

            I also understand that there can be some difficulty when a priori judgments are made without reference to experience, and I am not talking here about allusions to God. There is just a tendency in analysis of concepts to go from one to another, through substitution and other techniques, and that this tendency, (inherent in language I believe) has to be made conscious. It is one of the reasons, however, which accounts for the fact that no two philosophers seem to agree, but which also may be the basis for the 'development' of ideas.

            No need to respond. I do understand some of the implications of Kant's 'Copernican revolution'. I also think that it is responsible for the development of proposition logic. I will make no apologies, but please know that one of the reasons I am on this site, is to explore the difference in these worldviews because I 'really' do not understand the implications. .I do know that Bertrand Russel criticized Thomistic logic for being too 'top down'. So it seems that the modern world relies more on induction, (propositional logic?) and not the deductive a priori basis identified with Aristotle. . I wonder also whether there is a possibility of reconciliation, by an analysis of where each method is most fruitful and/or necessary. With respect to the world I believe Aristotle's viewpoint is considered to be a 'naive realism'. I also don't believe there is any other way of doing theology except through analogy, which is difficult for me to square with the basis of the a priori. .

  • David Nickol

    If there really is a God, I think many "theists" may be doing him a disservice by claiming they can declare what he has done and explain why he has done it with such certainty that they give the impression that people who disagree with them are either dunderheads or willfully obtuse. Too often the God we see here has no mystery about him. He can be explained in terms anyone can understand, and anyone who claims not to understand is the enemy. And of course enemies can be banned from the site.

    So it seems to me that those who arrogate to themselves the task of "explaining" God ought to be a little less sure of themselves and a bit more tentative. If your explanations are incomplete (as they almost certainly have to be), unless you acknowledge that fact, you have given the impression that God is much smaller than he is. If your explanations are wrong—and who here is infallible?—you may drive people who are seeking the truth away from the real God. I find in my day-to-day life I don't think of God as a moral monster when a tragedy occurs, because I think the problem of evil must be largely a mystery. But when I come here and find people saying, "Of course our world must have the rack, thumbscrews, and the Iron Maiden, otherwise how could anyone heroically prove he could hold up under torture?" I begin to think maybe God is not so good after all. Mysteries I can accept. Bad explanation are another thing entirely.

    • severalspeciesof

      Mysteries I can accept.

      I too can accept mysteries but only if they aren't served up as an answer to venerate an idea...

      Glen

    • Phil

      Hey David,

      If there really is a God, I think many "theists" may be doing him a disservice by claiming they can declare what he has done and explain why he has done it with such certainty that they give the impression that people who disagree with them are either dunderheads or willfully obtuse.

      When one who believes in the God "of the philosophers", Judaism, and Christianity talks about what God has done, it is only done insofar as we can see the after-effects and have good reason to see God's direct working through these effects. It isn't so much as being prideful when one talks about what God has done, but rather humbly acknowledging His direct work in salvation history, which still continues this very moment.

      Too often the God we see here has no mystery about him. He can be
      explained in terms anyone can understand, and anyone who claims not to
      understand is the enemy.

      It only seems that way--to talk about God in the via negativa still leaves an infinite mystery that only can begin to be experienced and realized through prayer and God's working in that contemplation of the divine. We simply are saying what God is not because he cannot be "a being". Human reason is capable of knowing a decent bit about God and His work in history, but it counts as next to nothing next to His infinite majesty.

      Just think of Thomas Aquinas--after all he has written about God he was shown a great vision and had a deep encounter with God in prayer and he then stated that all he had written was straw compared to what he had been shown. He never wrote anymore until the day he died. This doesn't mean to show that we should give up on the power of human reason, but rather that we should never proclaim that we fully "understand God". When we do use our reason well, that is itself prayer and praise to our Creator since he is the source of our capability to reason itself.

      (On the banning of persons--I'm gonna bet that has more to do with a bit too many "snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments".)

      • Michael Murray

        On the banning of persons--I'm gonna bet that has more to do with a bit too many "snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments".)

        Well you could go over to

        http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com.au

        and ask them what they think.

        • Max Driffill

          I still notice snark and insult on the part of believers on this site, equal to or even greater than those of the unbelievers who have been banned without the ban-hammer dropping. Tools like irony, and humor, sometime crucial for framing a point, or making a comparison seem to be tools unbelievers here must remove from their toolbox.

  • Tim Dacey

    I agree that the argument may be a bit strong but I think it can be restructured in such a way that (i) it is continuos with our best scientific evidence and (ii) it utilizes a familiar lexicon for both Theists and Atheists (in other words, the jargon is such that both sides take the other more seriously).

    Consider:

    If it seems to S that p as a result of X, and X is a reliable process, then S has (at least some degree) of justification to believe that p.

    Now the skeptic (pace Hume) will want to focus on X, i.e., how do we know X is a reliable process if at all?** Those familiar with Hume will know that he thinks that the (X) process by which we form religious beliefs is unreliable (e.g., He thinks religious beliefs are the result of some kind of cognitive delusion), and therefore we are epistemically unjustified to believe that God exists. It is important to remember that he is giving an *epistemological* challenge, not a *metaphysical* one. So on Hume's view it could very well be that God exists but we are not *epistemically* justified to believe so (or at least to believe in one worthy of worship).

    That being said, a newer challenge (using the same Humean strategy) focuses on how religious beliefs are the result of evolution by natural selection. The literature is very interesting here and many scientists (e.g., Justin Barrett, Pascal Boyer, Scot Aiken, Stewart Guthrie, and several others) have argued for that the tendency to form religious belief(s) are "hardwired" so to speak in the brain.

    Consider this familiar 'debunking' strategy pace Guy Kahane:

    P1. S's belief that p (where p is a religious belief) is the result of X (whereby X is the process of evolution by natural selection).
    P2. X is is an 'off-track' process (i.e., it is not sensitive to the truth that p)
    C. Therefore, S's belief that p is unjustified

    I grant P1 but my main interest is in P2. It certainly can be the case that religion (and the beliefs derived) are track fitness, but do they track truth? Philosophers Paul Griffiths and John Wilkins have distinguished between fitness tracking and truth tracking whereby the latter is dependent on the former but not vice versa. Therefore, even if religious beliefs enhance fitness, they do not track truth.

    I'm interested in how anyone feels about this argument. I think CS Lewis is right but I certainly sympathize with those critical of it because he may not be very good a providing a lexicon to bridge the language of the theist and atheist. The argument I have discussed above, I think does provide such a lexicon. So my position, if not at all clear yet, is that I think religious beliefs are both fitness enhancing and truth tracking (at least to some degree).

    I'd like to hear how the atheists disagree with this(?) My apologies for any ambiguity in my post.

    **I am not advocating for reliablism

    • Tim Dacey

      I blame the Harpoon IPA for my grammatical mistakes : )

  • Jimi Burden

    This is argument is such a mess, I don't even know where to begin. "There is a unique neurological reaction to religion which doesn't relate to the other known neurological reactions." Is that true? Our knowledge of the brain is so limited, I think this whole argument strikes me as a "God of the gaps". Neurology is in its infancy. I wouldn't want to even go to neurology to try to provide an argument of God's existence.

    As for Kreeft's reformulation. It's bad in so many ways. What is this desire? How do we know it exists independently of other desires? What is this one desire is merely a series of mini or micro desires, much like consciousness is the constant firing of neurons. I don't find it persuasive that there is some desire that can only be met by something outside of this world.

    Furthermore, the Buddhists tackled this quite well, IMO. This desire is met by understanding it and seeing it for what it is and how it continually manufactures itself as opposed to requiring some undefined object which will eventually satisfy it.

  • Loreen Lee

    Hopefully I'm getting 'a handle' on this 'thing'!
    My stomach growls. That is evidence that I 'may?' have a desire for food. It does not prove that food exists.
    A neurological scan is taken of my brain. Is science so advanced that this could determine whether or not I have a desire for God? (I do understand that scans are given to determine evidence for mental illness, but diagnosis based on brain patterns is supplemented by examination of thought/speech patterns and behavior: i.e. external evidence.). Without other evidence, can a brain scan determine that my desire constitutes a thought or behavior pattern in conformity with a desire for God, let alone constitute a proof of God's existence? (There is also a discrepancy in the relationship he makes in equating desire to 'religious thought' generally)

    Proofs are determined through logical reasoning. The 'proof is in the pudding' hypothesis, i.e. neurological empirical evidence of desire alone, I feel is not sufficient in this case because there is also 'no 'external' evidence' of what the object of my desire might be. God could turn out to be the devil for all we know!!!! This argument therefore, is without a 'rational' basis of sound argument or reasoning: i.e. it is without the "Logic" required of a proof.
    (Please correct "my'' logic,etc. if I am in error. I am attempting to learn the rules and method of debate. Thanks guys).

    .

  • Doug Shaver

    "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.' "

    Maybe I'm missing something, but doesn't premise 1 assume the conclusion? The real argument seems to be that (1) there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy; (2) every other natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire; (3) we have no reason to make an exception in the case of (1); (4) therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures, which can satisfy this desire; and so (5) this something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."

    I don't actually agree with premise 2 of the revised argument (premise 1 in the original), but I can stipulate it for the sake of discussion and still dispute premise 3. I think there is good reason to believe there can be at least one exception to the rule that for all our natural, innate desires, there exist real things that can satisfy them.

    • Michael Murray

      Your revised version is the correct argument. The original argument just assumes the conclusion.