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Revisiting the Argument from Desire


One of the classical demonstrations of God’s existence is the so-called argument from desire. It can be stated in a very succinct manner as follows. Every innate or natural desire corresponds to some objective state of affairs that fulfills it. Now we all have an innate or natural desire for ultimate fulfillment, ultimate joy, which nothing in this world can possibly satisfy. Therefore there must exist objectively a supernatural condition that grounds perfect fulfillment and happiness, which people generally refer to as “God.”

I have found in my work as an apologist and evangelist that this demonstration, even more than the cosmological arguments, tends to be dismissed out of hand by skeptics. They observe, mockingly, that wishing something doesn’t make it so, and they are eager to specify that remark with examples: I may want to have a billion dollars, but the wish doesn’t make the money appear; I wish I could fly, but my desire doesn’t prove that I have wings, etc. This rather cavalier rejection of a venerable demonstration is a consequence, I believe, of the pervasive influence of Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud, both of whom opined that religion amounts to a pathetic project of wish-fulfillment. Since we want perfect justice and wisdom so badly, and since the world cannot possibly provide those goods, we invent a fantasy world in which they obtain. Both Feuerbach and Freud accordingly felt that it was high time that the human race shake off these infantile illusions and come to grips with reality as it is. In Feuerbach’s famous phrase: “The no to God is the yes to man.” The same idea is contained implicitly in the aphorism of Feuerbach’s best-known disciple, Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

In the wake of this criticism, can the argument from desire still stand? I think it can, but we have to probe a bit behind its deceptively simple surface if we are to grasp its cogency. The first premise of the demonstration hinges on a distinction between natural or innate desires and desires of a more artificial or contrived variety. Examples of the first type include the desire for food, for sex, for companionship, for beauty, and for knowledge; while examples of second type include the longing for a fashionable suit of clothes, for a fast car, for Shangri-La, or to fly through the air like a bird. Precisely because desires of the second category are externally motivated or psychologically contrived, they don’t prove anything regarding the objective existence of their objects: some of them exist and some of them don’t. But desires of the first type do indeed correspond to, and infallibly indicate, the existence of the states of affairs that will fulfill them: hunger points to the objective existence of food, thirst to the objective existence of drink, sexual longing to the objective existence of the sexual act, etc. And this is much more than a set of correspondences that simply happen to be the case; the correlation is born of the real participation of the desire in its object. The phenomenon of hunger is unthinkable apart from food, since the stomach is “built” for food; the phenomenon of sexual desire is unthinkable apart from the reality of sex, since the dynamics of that desire are ordered toward the sexual act. By its very structure, the mind already participates in truth.

So what kind of desire is the desire for perfect fulfillment? Since it cannot be met by any value within the world, it must be a longing for truth, goodness, beauty, and being in their properly unconditioned form. But the unconditioned, by definition, must transcend any limit that we might set to it. It cannot, therefore, be merely subjective, for such a characterization would render it not truly unconditioned. And this gives the lie to any attempt—Feuerbachian, Freudian, Marxist or otherwise—to write off the object of this desire as a wish-fulfilling fantasy, as a projection of subjectivity. In a word, the longing for God participates in God, much as hunger participates in food. And thus, precisely in the measure that the desire under consideration is an innate and natural desire, it does indeed prove the existence of its proper object.

One of the best proponents of this argument in the last century was C.S. Lewis. In point of fact, Lewis made it the cornerstone of his religious philosophy and the still-point around which much of his fiction turned. What particularly intrigued Lewis was the sweetly awful quality of this desire for something that can never find its fulfillment in any worldly reality, a desire that, at the same time, frustrates and fascinates us. This unique ache of the soul he called “joy.” In the Narnia stories, Aslan the lion stands for the object of this desire for the unconditioned. When the good mare Hwin confronts the lion for the first time, she says, “Please, you are so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I would sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.” To understand the meaning of that utterance is to grasp the point of the argument from desire.
(Image credit: Jay Mantri)

Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Fr.Sean

    I often wonder if there's a way to take the passion for God many skeptics seem to have and transfer that same passion to the faithful. The God question linked with desire does indeed appear to be something innate to humanity.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Hi Fr. Sean. I upvoted, but I would tweak that a bit.

      At the risk of great generalization, if I were to make one criticism of "the faithful", it is not that we lack passion, but rather that we lack faith. In Jesus's death and resurrection, we see that if we have true faith, we would be able to let go of all of our preconceptions of God, to the point of feeling completely abandoned by God. We have to have faith that God will resurrect us even if we let go of our all of our preconceptions of God. Many skeptics, to their great credit, have faith that if they let go of their preconceptions of truth, everything is still going to be OK. That is a sort of implicit faith in the resurrection, in my view. That is the sort of faith that I think needs to be encouraged within the Church.

      • Fr.Sean

        Hi Jim,
        I see what your saying, and i didn't mean to imply that the faithful lack passion, but just that many skeptics have a great deal of passion for the God question. i often wonder if the passion for truth is perhaps an indirect "faith" in "God", or that (assuming God exists) is rooted in the desire that Fr.Barron spoke of. in my own experience if i don't commit time to prayer my passion can fade a bit, but if i don't adhere to my conscience in one way or another my lack of peace will become like a constant source of restlessness to set things right.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          i often wonder if the passion for truth is perhaps an indirect "faith" in "God"

          Nothing indirect about it! "Passion for truth" and "desire for God" are two ways of saying the same thing. The two phrases evoke differently textured thoughts, but it is the same underlying reality.

          • Doug Shaver

            "Passion for truth" and "desire for God" are two ways of saying the same thing.

            Can you demonstrate that without presupposing God's existence?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think I could demonstrate it in the sense of establishing a clear correspondence. I wouldn't need to presuppose God's existence, but I would need to presuppose that "passion for truth" is a meaningful phrase. What does "the truth" mean to you, when used in the context of the phrase "passion for truth"?

          • Doug Shaver

            I regard truth as semantically primitive: it cannot be noncircularly defined. But to say it cannot be defined is not to say that we don't know what it means. The axioms of logic encode what most of us intuit it to mean, and what is usually called the correspondence theory of truth gets the idea across as well. We can talk about it on the assumption that we all mean the same thing, until we reach a point in the conversation where it becomes apparent that the assumption is not holding. At that point, we can only try to figure out the basis of our disagreement.

            If "passion for truth" means anything, it refers to a commitment to subordinate all other of one's interests to the discovery of truth. It is not an expression I have ever used myself. A passion is a strong emotion, and in my experience, emotions tend to degrade one's ability to discern truth from falsehood. But leaving that aside, the greater problem is: How do we know when someone has such a commitment? I believe that I care a great deal about the truth, but many apologists assure me that if I really cared, I would not be so skeptical about Christianity's teachings. There is a human tendency, no less common among unbelievers than among believers, to suppose that a sincere passion for truth endows one with a kind of intuition, an ability to recognize the truth just by hearing it. This tendency leads to the notion that those who care about the truth don't need arguments, and those who don't care are immune to arguments. And I am not picking on religion when I make this observation. I have seen the notion manifested on plenty of atheist websites.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I agree with most of your comments, but I balk at the connection that I think you are making between truth and logical axioms. We have various axiomatic systems that we can use to express logical truth. But, as far as I know, no logician has ever come up with a completely satisfactory axiomatic system that corresponds with what we know empirically about reality. It is almost as if there is a true Logic that we can approximate in our encoded logical systems, but that will forever elude our human-encoded systems. In that sense, I want to say that we follow Logic, as a thing alive. Would you regard that as being in any way a sensible thing to say?

            I'm not trying to be coy, and I imagine you can see that I ultimately want to connect logic to the Logos in the first verse of The Gospel of John (just as I want to create a correspondence between "truth" and "God" in that same verse, along the lines of: "In the beginning there is logic, and logic is with truth, and logic is truth"). But I would like to hold off on any Biblical connections until we have more in common in terms of our extra-Biblical understanding of the world. So, back to the nature of logic: is it something that can be completely encoded, or is it forever knowable-yet-elusive ?

          • Loreen Lee

            My understanding (what I learned a school) is that logic tells us 'how' we think merely. Not what we think. Is there validity in this distinction?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            God forbid that I should decide which distinctions are valid ... but I will just say it in a way that makes sense to me:

            I would say that logic is the structure of truth. Logic is begotten of truth. The truth reveals itself through logic. I don't think that logic is merely "how we think". I think that logic exists external to us. I would say though, echoing what Doug said, that we cannot know truth except through logic. Jesus (the Logos) said, "No one comes to the Father [truth] except through me [the 'enfleshed' logic revealed through our material world]". Therefore I think that one can distinguish between truth on the one hand, and the relationship that humans are meant to have with truth on the other hand, a relationship that even non-Biblical people refer to as "logic".

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Jim. I just wonder if or how we have the assurance regarding how much logic there is within our day to day 'desires'. I am at least speaking for myself. grin grin. In any case, I believe that 'proofs' imply the use of logic, if the distinction holds between logic/reason and what I commonly understand to be meant by 'desire'.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I think one would have to distinguish again between apparent desire and true desire.

            For most of us, the apparent desires that we pursue in our day-to-day lives are surely not entirely logical or rational. Our desires are misdirected toward that which we don't really want. We cut corners at work, we lie to people we care about, we eat junk food, etc, all because we are deceived by apparent desires that aren't aligned with what we truly want.

            In my view there is a logic to what we truly want. To the extent that we can understand that logic and to the extent that we can redirect our superficial desires to conform to that logic, I think we can satisfy our true underlying desires.

          • Loreen Lee

            I don't want to be understood as denying in any way that we all have a desire for a 'better life', whether in this world or in an eternal context. I do run into problems however, in thinking that the desire assures us of the capacity to depict just what constitutes such ideas as happiness, and even beauty, goodness and truth. In the latter case, I have experienced a growing understanding of what these ideas might mean. And indeed, when it comes to beauty, I have even found that what at some point I thought was 'ugly', is in truth not as I characterized it at all. God, in Genesis sees goodness in all things, (natural I understand). I have not this capacity!!!! And indeed that Word of God was uttered before the fall, in which as the Kaballah interprets places knowledge (of good and evil) within some sort of individuated context. (Forgive my vagueness).

            There is a predominant association of concupiscence with sexual desire, though on Googling this subject 'desire' is indeed identified with a desire for the Good. This for me is illustrated in the Story of Adam and Eve, and is the main reason why I associate concupiscence with 'original sin', and not merely in a sexual context..

            The essential thing is that I have learned (been taught) through reading the philosophers, (Aristotle for instance) is that happiness, for instance, is not achieved by 'seeking it'. I identify this 'truth' with some sort of desire for happiness which 'hides' the realities which, if understood within a rational context, would indeed provide the happiness we seek, but do not find because we are seeking to much!!!!. I believe it is good to learn to be satisfied with what one has. I think this is called gratitude, which may be the basis of all 'happiness'. The ideas of even truth beauty and goodness, would be another way to describe a complete fulfillment as it is argued in this post. But to think that this psychology is the basis of a proof is I believe entirely mistaken. If anything it seems to me that this proof assumes some sort of philosophy of the elect. If I think it, if I desire it I will have it because my desire proves their existence. Sorry. What about the proof is in the pudding!!!! Sure, there is some confusion between the desire and the existence in this position I am taking. But with the desire is there not the assumption that indeed I am 'of the elect', since I can desire the 'existence' of God, happiness, truth beauty goodness, etc. etc.

            I do believe it is a good 'practice' to keep one's wishes/desires within the domain of empirical reality, despite the propensity, as even Kant maintained, for human reason to speculate about the metaphysical . But the desire does not constitute for me 'proof'. Not of heaven, not of hell, not of how I might be judged, nor what occurs at the point of death. I must accept that despite all the ideas on these four final things, (forget name) I cannot know or assume that my 'desires' conform in any way, or are proof, in themselves of such Realities: regarding my death, judgment, and whether I go to heaven or hell. And even God. My desire cannot 'create' God. Indeed, it was God's desire, (Will) that created me. so perhaps this proof has things a little backwards!!!!!

            But what of 'existence'? What of the existence of God. A higher Platonic reality of the Good. Yes I can speculate on their existence. I can make rational proofs of their existence. But I still am hesitant to commit to the idea that my desires per se are the basis of either their possibility, actuality or necessity. I don't understand why I 'feel' this way. It would certainly be some kind of empowering condition to find oneself in. There may still be some confusion in my thought. But I just can't help thinking that my thinking/desire, what have you does not entail that 'it is so'.

            . I think this argument really does confuse faith which I believe is an aspect of reason, with 'desire', and that this psychological proof may be related more to emotional and sensual aspects of consciousness and are characterized by personal preference rather than the golden rule. I desire that there is a God. ??? But do I really 'know' what I am desiring? Can these desires define the existence of God. Or to they define what I want existence to be/mean for me?.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thanks Jim. I just wonder if or how we have the assurance regarding how much logic there is within our day to day 'desires'. I am at least speaking for myself. grin grin. In any case, I believe that 'proofs' imply the use of logic, if the distinction holds between logic/reason and what I commonly understand to be meant by 'desire'.

          • Loreen Lee

            Just thought this over again. I don't believe that Logos is directly related to logic, per se, but rather to Truth and The Law. In any case, I believe that there are many logics: Aristotelian syllogisms, modern proposition logic, and yes I read a book once on Buddhist logic which really surprised me. In any case, Wittgenstein said that language was a life-form, so that would imply (for me) that yes, logic is some kind of 'living thing'. Wish I understood philosophy better than I do. It isn't always 'alive' for me. grin grin..

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I’m not the best person to present biblical scholarship for
            this position, but I think there is general agreement that the author of the Gospel of John was very deliberately trying to work with associations that Philo had made between the Word of God (expressed biblically as The Law) and Greek concepts of logic / form, and trying to associate both of those things with Jesus.

            To me, it makes perfect sense that John should try to do
            that. The Law itself is basically a codification of “axioms”, or first principles, of moral logic. And just as the logic of physics can only be approximately and incompletely codified, so the logic of moral truth can only ever be approximately and incompletely codified. That is what Jesus so cleverly points out when he reveals the bankruptcy of pharisaical interpretations of The Law in Matthew 22. He then follows up by explaining that everything that is true in The Law flows from the two fundamental commandments. That is, the true Law flows from a living, dynamic, interpersonal relationship between God and man, and between man and man.

          • Loreen Lee

            Wow. What a great clarification. Yes, that puts it back to the Golden Rule, (pagan name?) and also some insight into what Wittgenstein means by living language (living law?) I really appreciate any help that contributes to my growth in knowledge of how Catholicism developed out of both the Old Testament and the 'pagan' philosophers of ancient Greece.
            Your comment also elaborates upon what I mentioned with reference to Socrates that we do not 'know' what is entailed by Justice, The Good, etc. etc. etc. I now understand this with respect to what cannot be codified. Does it also not bring into context the relevance of 'revelation'? which I am now interpretating as what develops within a 'living context'. (i.e. the empirical world).
            So with respect to what we 'desire', I feel more assured that it is within this empirical context that we learn to distinguish between the good and evil, (if you will) and learn more about 'Revelation' even with respect to God. So in this sense, perhaps I have to backtrack and allow the possibility that our desires, that is what is learned through experience, (not merely as what is given innately) can bring us better understanding. not only of the pagan universals found within language, but of Ultimate Truth, or God revealed as 'Logos'!!!!!. Desire, (when governed by Reason?) is therefore indeed 'Good'. Thank you.

          • Loreen Lee

            Could such a passion also not describe some of the pursuits that are commonly identified with psychosis!? Just a thought.

          • Doug Shaver

            I suppose some psychoses can be seen as examples of passions run amok.

      • Indigent

        Many skeptics, to their great credit, have faith that if they let go of
        their preconceptions of truth, everything is still going to be OK.

        Can you give us a few examples of the "many skeptics" that you quote that think everything is going to be OK.....and also what your interpretation of OK is?

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          That was meant as a compliment. Perhaps instead of saying, "everything will be OK", I should have said that they have faith, "that it will be better in the end to know the truth, whatever it is".

    • Jim Dailey

      I take it that you are commenting on the phenomenon that the skeptics visit this site (and others) and provide commentary and search great philosophical texts to provide support for their view, while it does not look like "the faithful" can be bothered to read all the way to the bottom of a blog?

      • Fr.Sean

        Hi Jim,
        I would say that isn't exactly it. I used to think most atheists didn't really care about the God question, they didn't think he existed and simply lived their life free of the need to ponder God's existence. Skeptics, at least here seem very passionate about the God question, while most believers seem less passionate about proving his existence.

        • Jim Dailey

          Hi Fr. Sean -

          "To one who has faith,no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible". - Aquinas

          Maybe all the believers simply view the idea of proving God's existence to non-believers as a waste of time? I mean, I have had God personally involved in my life. Trying to describe the experience is like trying to describe color to someone who has been blind from birth. I suppose I could, on some level explain the scientific rationale for color (sorry I forget my physics - light wavicles bouncing off atoms in a certain way or some such thing), but there is really no way to explain the import of color to one's existence (driving through red lights is bad) without sounding nuts.

          • Indigent

            To one who has faith,no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. Aquinas

            Same old same old guilt trip that the church likes to throw at the heathen.

          • Jim Dailey

            "Guilt trip"?

          • Indigent

            Does not the church and the faithful not heap guilt upon those who have fallen away because the church dogma and doctrines no longer make sense to them?

          • Jim Dailey

            Why would you thing the faithful view people with doubts as "deficient in character"?
            I went to Catholic school and learned that if I was failing to adequately express the joy and peace I found in my faith sufficient to impart it to another person, that the "deficient" person was me, and I should ask both other faithful and God for help in expressing myself.
            I am pretty sure Thomas Aquinas would frown on making fun of blind people.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Jim, I think it's because very often you hear from the pulpit, and from believers, that the primary reason a person leaves the faith is because that person wants to indulge some pet sin. It is this sin, they believe, that causes the eyes to scale over so that the sinner cannot see the clear Truth/love of Jesus and the Catholic faith. For the believer, it can't be merely that the "sinner" has come to not believe on the merits of the arguments, it MUST be because they are deficient morally and God has allowed them to indulge their sinful appetite and delude themselves, otherwise they would clearly see how right Aquinas' Five Ways are and submit to the Truth of Catholicism.

            This is pretty manipulative stuff.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            For the believer, it can't be merely that the "sinner" has come to not believe on the merits of the arguments, it MUST be because they are deficient morally and God has allowed them to indulge their sinful appetite and delude themselves

            Most of the believers that I know don't think that way.

            I don't doubt that you have been exposed to many believers who do think that way, but there is an easy comeback to this. It suffices to point out that their confidence in their belief may itself stem from a sinful pride that has led to self-delusion. There is simply no way they can prove otherwise without denying that they themselves have been affected by original sin.

          • Chad Eberhart

            I agree with you that it is pride which causes people to say such things, but when you have versus like Hebrews 3:12 (NIV) which state "See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God." which seems to say that unbelief and an evil heart are synonymous, it's easy to see where many believers get this kind of thinking.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Agreed! That's why it sure it would be nice to get more fearless, subtle and well-informed thinkers back inside the institutional Church. People, for example, who would be willing to challenge their fellow believers to understand that Hebrews passage in its proper historical context, and who understood how the meaning of that passage had been elaborated by 2000 years of subsequent theology.

          • Chad Eberhart

            It would be nice wouldn't? Unfortunately, I think the more subtle and well-informed thinkers, no matter what organization they belong to, always tend to have a hard time getting people to go along with their nuanced language because it's hard to hang your hat on.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Well, sure. Sophisticated thinking and nuanced language never accomplished all that much on their own, and rightly so.

            Most people, quite rightly, ignore both the dissenting intellectuals and the orthodox officials with the funny hats. Most people look to the role models in their lives, the people that they perceive to be "saints". That's where most people learn their Catholicism (or atheism) from. Saint Paul saw that from the very beginning. That's why he was happy to speak like a fool, so that the glory of Christ could shine through in the way that he lived his life, rather than through any slick metaphysical logic or nuanced scriptural interpretation.

            If you've got a certain type of temperament, you can't help but get into these conversations that we all have, with their subtle distinctions and the like. All of this has its place, but it's a fool who thinks that fancy thoughts alone are enough to change the world. If you are a dissenting intellectual and you want to make a difference, become a saint. I predict that if you do, people will listen. Can't say I've tried it myself, but that is my prediction.

          • Louise Hunt

            First mention of admitting to having Original Sin. Good. Jesus is Truth. He is our Divine Master. Through Jesus we learn the Way to Live and have Life.
            I have read this far and the childhood song came to mind, "All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chase the weazle....."
            Hope you don't mind having an old, cradle Catholic chime in..Love to you all. Keep praying..

          • Jim Dailey

            I dunno, never heard this before, either from the pulpit, other faithful, or from any theology course I took in 14 years of Catholic schooling.
            I have heard, repeatedly, that I better watch my own sinful nature, and I better wrestle with it, and I better ask for help in overcoming it, and for forgiveness when I fail. I have followed this advice as best I could and found it to be profoundly good advice.
            I have also been told, repeatedly, that I had better not look down my nose at anyone. I also found this to be profoundly good advice.
            So, sorry if you had some other experience with Catholics, but really, like I said, Aquinas frowns on making fun of blind people.

          • Chad Eberhart

            Isn't it strange? My experience in the Catholic Church includes what you describe is well. It all depends on where you go and whose vision of he Church you subscribe to.

          • Mary Beth Miranda

            No one can "make" another feel guilty. Feelings of guilt can only come from within, not without. If guilt is what you feel, it will be up to you to examine it.

          • Doug Shaver

            When I was a believer, my church made me feel guilty about lots of things. Fortunately, I was able to get over it, but the notion that some people can't make other people feel certain things is, in my considered judgment, a load of New Age claptrap.

        • Indigent

          I would say . I used to think most atheists didn't
          really care about the God question, they didn't think he existed and simply lived their life free of the need to ponder God's existence.

          How naive and how wrong could you have been right?

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    I think The Argument from Desire a great argument. I can't think of anything that I am more certain of than my desires. I am even more sure of my desires than I am sure of the physical reality that I perceive around me.

    There is particular form of this argument that one might call The Argument from Perpetual Doubt. Most of us (hopefully) doubt that we understand things perfectly. We want to understand more, but we doubt that we ever will understand it all. We have the intuition (inescapable, I think) that our understanding of the truth, even in principle, must always be incomplete. That intuition, to the extent that we trust it, only makes sense if there is such a thing as complete truth.

    • Loreen Lee

      I have recently found the pre-Socratic-Roman 'gods' of A-letheia and Veritas. Reminds me of Christian revelation in that aletheia means not-hidden. But the entire Truth seems impossible to know, even for the ancient materialistic/naturalistic (atheist?) perspectives that produced these ancient gods. When one thing is revealed, another becomes 'hidden' as when we concentrate on seeing the atoms of the universe we loose sight of our day to day empirical reality.

  • Loreen Lee

    OK. I have a 'doubt' about this proof, (which could be expressed as a desire to know, I grant you) which is based on my inability to distinguish the parameters of concupiscence from desire per se. Even in the story of Adam and Eve, (my understanding) is there not a 'desire' to be like God, which is stated as possibly a part of the temptation to eat of the fruit. In Buddhism, the seeker is advised to overcome all desire, also, and indeed the story is told the Buddha only achieved enlightenment after he gave up the 'desire' to be so. Distinction are made between desire and will, that I would appreciate being put into a more explicit context also. But the main question is: How does one define concupiscence in relation to 'desire'.

    • "Even in the story of Adam and Eve, (my understanding) is there not a 'desire' to be like God, which is stated as possibly a part of the temptation to eat of the fruit."

      Remember, though, that Adam and Eve's desire was not an innate, natural desire. It was conditioned by an outside influence. Thus it is more like the unnatural desires Fr. Barron listed than natural desires for food, sex, truth, beauty, etc.

      Catholic theology uses this very language when discussing our concupiscent desires, describing them as "unnatural." They are not innate to human nature, and thus not natural, but conditioned by Original Sin.

      • Loreen Lee

        But is there not expressed (I may be in error) in the story the desire to 'be like God', or something to that effect. You would be saying then, (my understanding) that this is a natural desire. Sorry. But I can't help but 'feel' that there is some contradiction in both the Catholic (I just reread the difference between Protestant and Catholic view through Google) and Protestant viewpoints with respect to the 'object?' of 'desire' in this case? What does it mean to be like rather than to be God? Is there some confusion with respect to a distinction here? I personally do not feel competent to 'know' even what it would be like to be like God? I can't help but feel it would be presumptuous on my part to think that I had some such kind of 'divine knowledge'. (This with respect to what constitutes original sin within the context of the 'story' of Adam and Eve).

        • "But is there not expressed (I may be in error) in the story the desire to 'be like God', or something to that effect."

          Genesis 3:4-5 - "But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil."

          As I said before, this desire was implanted in the original human minds by an outside source. The desire is thus conditioned.

          "You would be saying then, (my understanding) that this is a natural desire."

          No, just the opposite. Please read my comment again: "Adam and Eve's desire was not an innate, natural desire."

          • David Nickol

            No, just the opposite. Please read my comment again: "Adam and Eve's desire was not an innate, natural desire."

            Adam and Eve were seeking knowledge. Is it your contention that the human desire for knowledge is not innate? In the story of Adam and Eve, eating the forbidden fruit "worked." The eyes of Adam and Eve were opened, and they did gain the knowledge of good and evil.

            Having said that, I don't see much point in analyzing the story of Adam and Eve as if they were two individual, real human beings. Even the Catechism acknowledges that the story is in figurative terms. It is often argued here that Catholics are not fundamentalists. But it seems to me that belief in Adam and Eve as the first two human beings and parents of the entire human race is about as fundamentalist a belief as it is possible to imagine.

          • Loreen Lee

            I appreciate your comment. However, I feel that the proof from desire is very well illustrated through the ICONOGRAPHY of the story of Adam and Eve. (The universal represented within the particular). But when it comes to desire, although this story reveals many facets of same, we all know how it ends as far as 'spirituality' is understood. My original question as to how desire can be distinguished from concupiscence has still not been answered. But I think that Jim Hillclimber in bringing in the concept of love, (and giving) points to some distinction that has not been put forward in the original argument.

          • Loreen Lee

            Nope. I'm still confused. Is there the possibility between natural desires (like Natural Law) and the desire to be as your comment even expressed 'like God', which to my humble understanding implies a knowledge, or experience that goes beyond the 'natural' in that it suggests to me some sort of knowledge/understanding that approaches, -the divine.
            By being introduced externally, I interpret your comment as referring to the snake. More room for interpretation here. But even my 'own' thoughts I would not consider as being innate within my being, entirely. My senses for one thing are dependent on 'external reality', for instance, and I am being influenced all the time by what is said in these com boxes, your remarks in this case being no exception. I hesitate to extend this influence however beyond the human, even if only to devils and angels. But, yes, here to, we speak of overcoming the 'devils' within our own psychology, or negative past experience. So thoughts, words and deeds certainly are 'natural', but this proof seems to take this natural basis as the evidence/experience that leads one to the super-natural. If this is interpreted as a need to overcome the inadequacies, psychological and experiential of our less than perfect existence, on the assumption that a more 'perfect' existence is possible, that the 'truth' can be known, I would agree that this is the best proof there is for the existence of a better 'world' based on a desire that there be one. . But then is this 'better world' natural or super-natural? Within the natural conditions of my life, alone, I have learned through experience that I cannot always trust the efficacy of my 'desires', even those that are merely 'natural'.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Hi Brandon,

        Not sure if you will agree, but I'd like to propose a clarification here:

        Thus it is more like the unnatural desires Fr. Barron listed than natural desires for food, sex, truth, beauty, etc.

        This suggests (as does the OP) that it is the object of desire that makes a desire natural or not. Surely, it is possible to have excessive / unnatural /undisciplined / sinful desire for food, sex, beauty, and even truth. Any time we desire to "own" these things, to take as much as we want rather than graciously accepting these things as gifts that are forever owned by God, we engage in unnatural desire. It therefore seems to me that it is the way we desire, rather than what we desire, that forms the crucial basis for the distinction.

        Similarly with God: if we desire God as an object, a thing to be owned and understood and controlled, that sort of "desire for God" is unnatural and unhealthy (and per the logic of the Argument from Desire, we should conclude that that sort of God does not exist). It is only when we desire God as a living person that we engage in "natural desire" for God.

      • What outside influence is that?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Wow, Loreen! 100 upvotes for this. I think this might be the most penetrating and engaging question I've ever seen on these pages.

      I would love to hear Father Barron's response.

      My own would be: I think that all healthy desire is at some level desire for personal (non-owning) relationship, and all unhealthy desire is at some level desire of objective ownership.

      When it gets to matters of erotic attraction, there is such a razor thin line between desiring a human being as a person and desiring them as an object. Eroticism is so powerful that one maintains that balance only with great difficulty. I think this is precisely why we have the sexual dimension of the story of the Fall in Genesis, and I think this is why Christianity (for the first 1965 years at least) erred on the side of saying safely away from the erotic. It is only with JPII and BXVI (and now with Nikki Minaj, in her own way) that we are beginning to see that eroticism can perhaps be disentangled from objectification.

      • Loreen Lee

        When I studied the Kaballah, I found they had the distinction that to be 'like?' God was to be totally 'giving. (It is difficult to find text on Judaism itself). However, on further study I found that within what I understood to be the pragmatic context of their communal religiosity, there was a contract that protected the giver according to an agreement of mutual concordance. I put this within the context of the ability of Jesus to give without re/payment of the gift. In my own life, though I find it is most difficult to 'give' without some assumption that there will be some repayment of like or kind. It is indeed most difficult to be 'objective'.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Benedict XVI had some awesome stuff to say about that:


          See especially Part I, The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you Jim. Just read Part I. Am going to save this. Glad you brought the concepts of love and the distinctions between eros and agape, and that between love of God and love of our fellow man, into the discussion. Also mention of the difficulty in discerning language distinctions. For me, it places the distinction between natural desire and love of the 'divine' into a completely different context. Thank you.

    • Quanah

      Loreen, concerning concupiscence in relation to desire, I would say that concupiscence is the distortion of a proper desire. Without desire (which is very good) there could not be concupiscence. Regarding the desire to be like God, I very much disagree with the idea that that particular desire is not innate (if I understood Brandon correctly). It is very much innate to the human person; as the blessed Augustine says, "Our hearts our restless, O Lord, until they rest in you." What was not innate to Adam and Eve was the temptation to attain the satisfaction of that desire in a disordered manner (a manner not proper to their being). I would put concupiscence in the same category as temptation. It is something exterior to our being that distorts what is interior. The desire for food is natural; gluttony is not. Our desire for security is natural; greed is not. I hope this is helpful. God bless you.

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks so much for your effort to get me out of this quandary. I am having difficulty with the distinction between innate and 'artificial or contrived' desires as it is put in the text. Perhaps in the 'story' of Adam and Eve that goodness of desire could be thought to be innate, and thus the 'original' sin. But in this state of constant temptation that 'we live in', I find it most difficult to determine in specific instances the required distinction between the two. Indeed I have difficult with the concept of 'natural' as it pertains to spiritual values, specifically when goodness itself is in many contexts within Catholic literature, (and metaphysics) identified with a reason that is somehow transcendent to the natural. You will not be surprised therefore that I have difficulty understanding the 'reasoning' behind Natural Law, with respect to sorting out just 'what is natural'.

        I have felt like going on a big rant with respect to this whole thesis of proof by desire. I have considered that this is indeed, (as expressed in a com box on Estranged Notions) a psychological rather than a logical proof. And in this process I feel I have 'finally understood' what the fuss was all about with those philosophers who kept insisting in my study of the subject that philosophy has no business being psychological.
        I have felt in this regard that this whole proof is 'like' a reenactment of the temptation within the garden of Eden. I do not (instinctively and intuitively) LIKE THIS 'PROOF'. When I get caught up in it I feel there is a kind of arrogance in the 'proposal', a kind of 'if I think God', I can be or be like God. I can know what the divine 'is'.
        This goes against two precepts that I will now put forward that I understand the Church to hold. The first with respect to faith and good works, I have recently read, distinguishing doing good works from one's own impetus to do go, from the good works we do, whenever this might happen!! as being a result of being in a state of grace. Indeed this analysis was made partly to offset the arguments between Catholic and Protestant interpretations with respect to what constitutes 'good works', and it also found similarity in recognizing the priority of faith. In the context of this argument, may I suggest then, that the desire seems to preclude or be set before 'faith'. Another reason why I feel the argument/proof weighs in on the side of concupiscence.

        The other dictate that I believe the Catholic church holds is that we should act always on the prompting of the Holy Ghost. In other words, this would indicate to me, faith again in a higher power than can be defined by any egotistic or individually motivated desire.
        There may indeed be food as a real object, but then there are many, many, many, who cannot find the foot to eat. On the other side of the natural, there indeed could be a conflation with that is contrived with what is thought to be within the jurisdiction of the imagination. Yet I would hold that works of art, and the imagination that is needed in works of even science can also be considered 'natural'. Indeed there are many 'good' things that come from exterior sources that under any circumstances we would not consider innate, even if this word simply described what is received through out DNA. I am familiar with the arguments of innate vs. Locke's blank slate, and feel that perhaps this proof neglects or undervalues what we 'learn' through experience, the senses, and indeed from 'exterior sources'. I feel therefore the argument is based on a 'false dichotomy'.

        There is in this post reference to the acts of giving and love, brought up by Jim Hillclimber, that are not even mentioned in this proof. I would simply place my priority in the desire to develop these, even that before the 'assumption' into heaven that would seem to be 'promised' by this 'proof'. Sorry I'm not buying. St. Augustine, or no Saint Augustine. In any case, I would want to know the context in which he said these words. It is hard enough for me to develop my capacity to give onto others, without the presumption that I am always doing the 'right thing'.
        For the love of God, is the purpose of the tenet to love your neighbor as yourself. I can 'believe' there is a higher purpose, but this does not mean I 'know' what it is, or that my psychologically based deed guarantee that I shall have access to a better life, as though it were a logical necessity. And this is what is implied by a 'proof' to my understanding, when what is needed is possible a little 'faith'. Thank you. (I did do my rant after all) grin grin.

        • Quanah

          Thank you for your reply. It is at times like this that the inadequacy of internet threads is so glaring. I second what Jim said about your question perhaps being the most penetrating and engaging. It has been a great benefit to me. I am not able to give a reply right now (work), but will tomorrow if comments are still open.

        • Quanah

          I’m not quite sure how to reply to the whole of your response so I’m going to comment on particular things and hopefully it will be adequate enough to give you more to ruminate. Or I may just end up rambling. Either way I hope it will not be a waste of your time.

          Our prayer at school this morning came from Thomas Merton and it immediately reminded me of your comment.

          “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I
          think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything
          apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

          Your comments like this prayer drive home to me the mystery of being human. I think that far too often we do not allow ourselves (those more scientifically minded and those more religiously minded) to rest in the mystery. While there certainly are many who are arrogant, I do not find arrogance in the proposal that if I can think God then I can be or be like God. I think wonder is at the root of this proposal. I think it is the same wonder that made man want to fly and though it took millennia we eventually achieved it.
          I think it is the same wonder that inspires our imagination to express itself through the various art forms and the sciences. I think this wonder is the meeting point between what is innate to us and what we experience as being
          outside of us. While we need to distinguish between what is innate and what we learn through experience, I believe that we can never separate the two and, therefore, would agree that drawing a dichotomy between the two is false. For
          me the argument does not draw a false dichotomy between these two (at least as I understand the argument). It is through my experiences that I come to better know those desires which are innate.

          This brings me to a disagreement that I have with Fr.
          Barron. I do not hold to a distinction between innate desires and desires which are “artificial” or “contrived”. Rather, I hold to a distinction between desires which have the potential to be fulfilled and those which do not have
          the potential to be fulfilled. For instance, Fr. Barron lists the desire for a fast car as artificial. I disagree. It has the potential to be fulfilled (regardless of the likelihood or whether it is fulfilled or not) and, therefore, is a real desire. The desire goes much deeper than just the car. For
          me I want a Porsche, Corvette, or Aston Martin because they are beautiful in their form and there is just something immensely satisfying to me of feeling the speed, power, and handling. (Oh, to actually be able to own one and live
          somewhere with roads to do them justice)! Even in regards to desires that cannot be fulfilled such as wanting a unicorn with all its magical properties the desire points to something deeper within us that can be. The other
          distinction I make is between those desires which can be satiated and those which cannot. I can satiate my hunger. But if someone raped my wife no amount of justice would satiate that desire for it. (This is one of the things that
          make horrors such as the clerical sex abuse scandal so awful. On the part of the priest who committed such horrible atrocities as well, for their desire for
          forgiveness will never be satiated). I call desires which are not able to be satiated, infinite desires. The logic of the argument is that if these desires are infinite and they are real (and I most certainly believe that justice is no unicorn) then there must be something infinite that can satiate these desires.

          Enough of the rambling though. I do think there is a logic
          to the argument, but it is not purely logical which is actually why it is probably my favorite argument. Philosophy seeks to know the whole of reality, to understand all. Therefore, it cannot be reduced simply to logic. Philosophers are human beings with psyches. Psychology is necessarily a part of
          any philosophy, that of the one doing it! A true philosophy is one that embraces the whole and uses the whole to investigate.

          Concerning faith and good works I will only say that I
          disagree with the idea that there are good works that we do from our own impetus versus good works which we do by being in the state of grace. I believe that all good works regardless of one’s religion (or lack thereof) are the fruit of free will in cooperation with grace. This, of course, touches on the great mystery of the relationship between grace and free will. I am not sure exactly how this ties in with your thinking the argument (I do not like the word proof) weighs in on the side of concupiscence. I think the answer to that
          though may lie in the argument being an expression of wonder rather than arrogance.

          Finally, I too am not comfortable with natural law. I think
          some of what Christians say comes under the heading of natural law is not immediately evident (due to our being fallen) and is only held with real certainty in the light of faith. Polygamy would be an example of this. I could
          give reasons from a secular perspective why I think monogamy is better and polygamy can even be potential harmful to women, however, in light of human history, diversity of cultures, and present day examples even if I could reasonably hold to monogamy being better, I am not convinced it is possible to show outside of faith that humans must be held to that standard and polygamy be
          rejected as wrong and harmful to society. But I think this brings us back to the great mystery of being human. A mystery in which, again, I think we need to allow
          ourselves to rest. This is why when it comes to the argument from desire I seek evidence not just within myself, but the evidence presented by humanity. I see
          in humanity as a whole a desire for contentment, peace, forgiveness, justice, and love. I see these universally expressed throughout human history as well as what I call the religious sense (which is no mere superstition). It is the
          evidence of these desires commonly held by man throughout human history that leads me to believe that the desire for the infinite is real and, being rooted deeply in our being, achievable.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you Quanah for your thoughtful reply. I find it most helpful to develop greater understanding of these blog posts through the opportunity to work things out in the com boxes. Your distinction between a desire based on wonder and that which derives from some kind of arrogance therefore was particularly helpful. I have indeed in my discussion with Jim Hillclimber expanded my appreciation of what is involved in 'desire'; and agree that yes, desire can indeed be a good thing.

            I am in agreement with you with respect to the inability to make definite distinctions between innate desires, and what I may refer to as desires developed within experience. The old nature nurture argument. I also agree with you with respect to Natural law, again because of the empirical context of what is considered good, etc. In other words principle is placed against practice, or life experience. And sometimes the life experience 'unavoidable?' goes against the principle. At least with respect to how the principle is understood, and (see remarks of Jim Hillclimber) not (yet?) capable of full codification.

            I do however, 'believe' in the possibility of forgiveness even for the most 'grievous sins'. So this possibility especially may drive home the argument for the wonder we find in life. For if we 'desire' forgiveness, I can at least hope, or have faith that the possibility is something that exists not only as an idea, but as a reality.
            Thank you for giving my thoughts the consideration that you have. I too "see in humanity as a whole a desire for contentment, peace, forgiveness, justice, and love. I also believe that ideas in themselves are 'real', and that because of this they are achievable.

            Thanks again, Quanah. Hope to talk to you soon.

  • Christopher Kanas

    From what I've discovered is that a walk with God, daily re-centering, reading the Bible, letting the Spirit lead, has led to a wish, realized.

    People will either accept or deny a God-shaped hole within all of them. Those that accept it, then go further on the fill it with the only thing that will both fit it and fill it, go on with life of peace, shining outward as one who has found what they are looking for.

  • Mike O’Leary

    One of the innate desires listed (to separate from the artificial desires) is that of knowledge. We know from experience that a quest for knowledge can sometimes be misapplied. We also know that searching for knowledge can force us to face ill-concieved notions we possess.

    For example when primitive man tried to understand certain events, they may have been searching for knowledge: " Why are the god(s) angry with us by sending us lightning?" "Why were we blessed with a good crop this season?" In our innate need to find understanding sometimes we aren't asking the right questions. Just because we suppose that there is an angry god in our midst doesn't make it so.

    When we ask about god(s), the underlying reason is really a search for knowledge: "Why did God create the universe?" "What is my greater purpose?" But just like primitive man in our search to know more we may not be asking the right questions, or presupposing that which may or may not be correct. For those who don't believe or those who are uncertain, the questions might be: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" "Do I have a greater purpose?" These questions try to quench our innate need to make sense of our surroundings and our very existence but do not add elements which we then assume must be true simply because they are part of our questions.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    The desire for food and sex is better explained by evolution than a God like being, who cares about who we have sex with and why. Food is necessary for the survival of the organism and sex is necessary for human reproduction, which is how an organism passes on its genetic code.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I agree that desire can be explained in terms of matter (as you are proposing), but I also think that matter can be explained in terms of desire (I desire to understand reality conceptually, and "matter" is just a useful concept in a cognitive model that helps me satisfy that desire).

      Do you think there is any reason that I should privilege my primary experience of matter over and above my primary experience of desire? Why would I treat one as more real than the other? Why is either one a more valid starting place for an argument?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Do you think that the desire for God might likewise be explained by evolution? One imagines, for example, a hungry dog climbing over a hill in search of food, perhaps with no prior data to suggest that any food is actually on the other side. Perhaps even in spite of mounting data that there will be no food to be found, the dog has been "tricked" by his DNA to keep seeking, seeking, seeking. Do you think that perpetual seeking could be described as an adaptive response to reality?

      What is the difference between a human belief that is a properly adaptive response to all human-inhabited environments, and a human belief that corresponds to truth? (Is there any difference?)

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Jim, sorry for the late response. Been really busy lately. If you are still interested here is my response.

        Do you think there is any reason that I should privilege my primary
        experience of matter over and above my primary experience of desire? Why would I treat one as more real than the other? Why is either one a more valid starting place for an argument?

        I'm not sure exactly what you are getting at here, but I will give you my thinking on the matter to see if that answers your questions. If we look at all the desires that we have, we can ask the question "why do we have this or that desire" and look for sufficient explanations.

        For instance, we desire food, so we do not starve and die. We desire sex, so our species can continue. We sexually reproduce, because it gives us certain advantages over asexual reproduction.

        The next question I would ask, is are there consequences of our desires that suggest that they came from an undirected process rather than design. I would say that the answer to this is yes. For instance, it would be nice to be able to reproduce without all of the angst that accompanies the teenage years. Also, what about the sexual desires of pedophiles. I would think a designer God would have designed the human race without this defect.

        Some humans have a strong desire to commit unspeakable acts of violence. I can understand this desire in an evolutionary context, for instance, "in the state of nature" a violent predisposition could cause a great deal of evolutionary success. However, why would a designer God include such possible excesses in our nature?

        I'm not sure we can say that humans have a desire for God. We have a desire for happiness ( chemical balance in the brain), safety, longevity, etc. I don't think anybody innately desires God - we are just taught that various good things come with worshiping him and obeying his commandments, while various bad things come about if we do not. Religious belief plays on our desires, and uses the proverbial carrot and stick to keep us believing.

        If the desire for God is innate, why do different civilizations have vastly different conceptions, based upon their experiences?

        What is the difference between a human belief that is a properly
        adaptive response to all human-inhabited environments, and a human
        belief that corresponds to truth? (Is there any difference?)

        I would say that the former makes the most sense in terms of adaptation, while the latter beliefs stem from proper methods,like science and deductive logic.

      • Doug Shaver

        Perhaps even in spite of mounting data that there will be no food to be found, the dog has been "tricked" by his DNA to keep seeking, seeking, seeking.

        The only trick a dog's DNA needs to perform is to make the dog look for food when it's hungry, and if food is not found in one place, look in another place, and if the food isn't there, either, look in yet another place, and repeat the process until one of two things happens: (1) the dog finds food, or (2) the dog collapses from exhaustion and dies of starvation.

  • GCBill

    "Now we all have an innate or natural desire for ultimate fulfillment,
    ultimate joy, which nothing in this world can possibly satisfy."

    If by "ultimate fulfillment" you mean mutual fulfillment of all other desires, then yes, I agree. But there's a very good reason that's impossible - the real world involves tradeoffs.

    If by "ultimate fulfillment" you mean freedom from the repetitive onset of the pull of desire, then this is an interesting argument for Buddhism.

    If by "ultimate fulfillment" you mean some other kind of fulfillment that is neither freedom from desire, nor the perfect fulfillment of all other desires, I confess that I don't know what you mean.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I think one would have to distinguish between desire, rightly understood, and apparent desire. If I am hungry, then my desire, rightly understood, is to eat some reasonable amount of healthy food. Because of original sin, I am deceived into thinking that what I really want is a full size bag of Doritos (which in fact will make me feel like crap).

      What is on offer with Christianity is not the ability to negate desire, but rather a sort of "trick" to re-orient desire towards its true telos. The "trick" lies in realizing that even if you f' it up and eat the bag of Doritos, this sin (after the fact) can be transformed into an avenue toward true fulfillment: the transformation occurs when one realizes that our finite failings are precisely the things that unite us to each other, and therefore to God. To use Paul's imagery, sin and death break us open like a seed, so that new growth is possible. Thus, even our broken-ness is a path to salvation.

      This is the sense in which sin is conquered. It's not that the desire for bad things has been negated (as would perhaps happen on a Buddhist path). It's that the desire for bad things can be completely re-oriented towards true fulfillment. Freedom lies in the ability to regularly and consciously engage in this re-orientation.

  • David Nickol

    Precisely because desires of the second category are externally motivated or psychologically contrived, they don’t prove anything regarding the objective existence of their objects . . .

    It seems to me the fatal weakness of any argument from desire is that if you favor it, you can argue that the desired object or state is in the "first category," and if you reject it, you can argue that the desired object or state is in the "second category."

    In any case, it seems to me that the unsatisfied desire that adults may have is not for something that lies in their future, but a recollection of something from their past—their utter dependence as very small children on their parents. I just read something recently (I'll try to track it down) about very young children perceiving their parents as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. It certainly does not seem impossible or even particularly implausible to propose that "religious" longings are desires for a state of infancy when one or two powerful people (mother, or mother and father) were "gods."

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Regarding your first paragraph, I don't think that's a weakness of the argument, unless you think that every desire is in the "second category". In some cases, it is undoubtedly difficult to discern which category a particular desire belongs to, but that's really a separate issue.

      Regarding you second paragraph, I mostly agree in the sense that I think we are all trying to retrieve that sense of belonging that most of us had in our childhood, and all of us presumably had in the womb. The reason we talk about God as Father and Church as Mother is ... that's the best way to think about it! My only disagreement is that if we go only with the child metaphor, we miss the active and conscious participation that we are invited to in John 15:15.

      • David Nickol

        I don't think that's a weakness of the argument, unless you think that every desire is in the "second category".

        First, I think that an argument could be made that every desire is in the second category. It depends on whether (or to what extent) you believe human beings are conceived or born as "blank slates." Exactly what is innate in a human child and what is learned?

        But I'll make a small concession and acknowledge that there are a few desires that really are in the first category. It seems to me, though, that the reason we can argue that they are in the first category is precisely because we know for a fact that the objects that fulfill them exist. Sure, we can argue persuasively that the desire for food is in the first category, but that is because we know food exists. So the argument from desire puts the cart before the horse. It says "religious" desire is a first-category desire, and therefore we know there must be an object of that desire. But it seems to me that to conclusively demonstrate that something is a first-category desire, you first have to demonstrate that there exists something that fulfills it.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Fair point. In my view the argument as articulated in the OP needs a bit of re-statement in order to address that challenge.

          I think talk about whether desires are "innate" or not is a bit of a distraction. I think it makes more sense to think in terms of desires that we are "meant to have". This of course assumes there there are some desires that are universally recognized as being appropriate to humans, but I don't think that is too much of a stretch.

          Also, I think the argument needs to be re-stated so that it works consistently in one direction. It is not that the existence of food validates our hunger as a desire that we are "meant to have". It is the opposite: the recognition that our hunger is "meant" to be sated in itself implies a belief in the existence of food. Likewise, to the extent that one believes that we are always "meant" to want more than we can find in this life, that belief implies that there is something more.

          Now we could argue about whether we are "meant" to want more than we can find in this life. At the very least, I think the appropriateness of this "desire for the infinite" is more universally recognized than is the appropriateness of desiring a magic pony. FWIW, from an evolutionary perspective (which is only relevant if one is willing to take evolutionary advantage as an indicator of appropriateness of thought patterns, as I think I am), I believe one could somewhat confidently posit a survival advantage. For my part, even in the absence of evolutionary arguments, I would accept it as a fundamental and inescapable intuition that we are alway meant to strive for more than what can be attained.

    • Mary Beth Miranda

      how would you then explain this desire from a child who had delinquent parents

      • David Nickol

        What test can be applied to determine if a child (or an adult) has a "desire for God"? Are you assuming that all children and all adults have this desire? Do atheist children of atheist parents have a desire for God? How do you know? Do adult atheists have a desire for God? If they say they don't, are they mistaken? Or are they lying?

        It seems to me that to make the argument from desire it is necessary to maintain that all people—regardless of their upbringing, their circumstances, and their stated beliefs—have a desire for God that is innate and was not in any way learned. But how in the world would you prove this?

        • Mary Beth Miranda

          David, It stands to reason that this longing cannot always come from god-like caretakers as perhaps there never was one. The argument we are making is presupposing that all people have this innate longing. Can we prove it, no. Nothing can be proven except for problems in mathematics, but we can ask questions, do surveys, make observations, etc. But we really shouldn't have to do that. Obviously, not everyone calls God "God". In place of the word God, we are discussing a longing or desire for ultimate fulfillment, joy, justice, peace, belonging, care, oneness, or happiness. Just fill in the blanks. I don't think anyone can deny that they've never had a longing for any one of the above, even if you can't specifically name it.

          • David Nickol

            It stands to reason that this longing cannot always come from god-like caretakers as perhaps there never was one.

            No one has given a clear definition of what "this longing" is, nor has it been demonstrated that "this longing" is innate or universal.

            To an infant, all but the most abusive or neglectful parents would be godlike, since infants are totally and completely dependent on adults to take care of them. Also, by the time any human being is old enough to exhibit anything resembling a longing for God, he or she has had ample opportunity to learn from sources other than parents.

            The argument we are making is presupposing that all people have this innate longing. Can we prove it, no.

            Proof may not be possible, but surely it is possible to define terms and present evidence. I have known people whom I would say did not exhibit any signs of a longing for God. That would seem to indicate that not "all people have this innate longing."

          • Mary Beth Miranda


            "No one has given a clear definition of what "this longing" is"

            For argument's sake, why don't we use Fr. Barron's definition?

            "Now we all have an innate or natural desire for ultimate fulfillment, ultimate joy, which nothing in this world can possibly satisfy. Therefore there must exist objectively a supernatural condition that grounds perfect fulfillment and happiness, which people generally refer to as “God.”"

            Your reply filled in with Fr. Barron's definition of God: " I have known people whom I would say did not exhibit any signs of longing for fulfillment and happiness."

            Is that really true?

            If it is, that person is probably already joyful, happy and fulfilled and doesn't even know it! God bless him/her!

  • Even the desire for what is false can point to what is true. A false belief system points to the existence of true belief system; consider how the existence of counterfeit money suggests the existence of real money, even if one had never seen real money.

    • Maybe then the desire for God is a counterfeit desire. Maybe the desire for God is motivated by a deeper reality or a different set of facts. Our desire for God may be in part a misdirected desire to bargain with the seemingly cruel forces of nature.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I think that is true, when stated in that careful way. Our desire for God may be in part a misdirected desire to bargain with the seemingly cruel forces of nature. It may also be in part (and perhaps even in large part, as I believe) a completely correct response the seemingly cruel forces of nature.

      • To this I would say keep seeking the "deeper reality" and never give-up on it.

        • I wonder, though, if this deeper reality should be sought in theology or in evolutionary psychology.

          • To understand ALL reality (as best we can) we should look at ALL the data. Science, theology, metaphysics, philosophy, you get the idea.

          • It may be that the best explanation of our desire for God is psychology. No actual God, or theology, necessary.

          • Let us say that perhaps that is true Paul, but wouldn't it be a waste to avoid other data sources, such as theology in favour of one or two approaches because they have been deemed 'suitable' by materialists? Perhaps you don't tread down this road, but I see it being taken by many of my secular friends. At times it has a snobbish regard to it... It reminds me of a passage from an article written by C.S Lewis called 'The Seeing Eye'. In it he wrote:

            “How, then, it may be asked, can we either reach or avoid Him? ... In our own time and place, it [avoiding God] is extremely easy... If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers.."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Assigning it to psychology solves or dismisses nothing, Paul. I think our need for God arises from our awareness of our human interdependence and vulnerability but nothing in material creation can fill that need--but God can if he exists.

          • David Nickol

            Assigning it to psychology solves or dismisses nothing . . . .

            A desire for God is presumably a psychological phenomenon (depending on how "desire for God" is defined, I suppose). I take you to be saying to PBR that we can't throw up our hands, say, "It's just psychology!" and be done with it. But It seems to me it is up to the discipline of psychology to try to determine whether desires are innate. It is by no means clear to me that there is an innate desire for God, but it seems to me that whether there is or whether there is not is an empirical question. The argument from desire can't possibly be a convincing argument if the desire for God isn't truly innate. So the first steps in making a convincing argument from desire are (1) to clearly define what a "desire for God" is and (2) demonstrate that this desire is innate rather than learned.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The desire for God, I would say, is really the desire for the perfect possession of goodness, truth, and beauty forever--which also means eternal life.

            Speaking only for myself, I am certain it is innate to me and I was not taught it. I just experienced from my youngest recollection that while I thought many things would make me happy, everything fell short. Yet the desire remains. And the experience of goodness, beauty, and truth makes the desire even stronger, sometimes even painful (in the case of beauty).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            If I take Stephen Pinker's "The Blank Slate" as my guide, I believe that modern psychology has weighed in with the opinion that "nature versus nurture" was the wrong question to ask all along. We are genetically programmed to respond to, and to provide, nurture. In that sense, nature and nurture cannot be wholly separated. Thus, if one thinks of an "innate" property as one that would arise in the absence of particular forms of nurture, there are perhaps no human properties that would satisfy this definition of "innate". Even the desire for food and warmth is arguably not "automatic", as babies seem to require some sense of human affection in order to maintain their hunger and their will to live.

            It seems to me that the term "innate" can only be salvaged in a meaningful way if we think in terms of teleology: an "innate" property is a property that one was meant to have, from the very beginning.

          • Psychological evidence could defeat this particular argument. If psychology can explain our desire for God, maybe it's a desire for something else, then we have found the object of our desire, it's not God, and we can move on to better arguments.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            No, because my desire is for eternal life and the perfect possession of goodness, truth, and beauty.

          • David Nickol

            When you say "eternal" life, do you mean that if someone 100 billion years from now asks you how things are going, you will say, "The last 100 billion years have been grand! I am looking forward to the next 100 trillion!"

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I got a feeling time will be a lot different in eternity. Like there is just now.

          • David Nickol

            Isn't that the way time already works? Try as I might to get out of it, I am stuck in "now."

            Do you mean there will be no past and future? Do you mean that people won't be able to change—for example, learn something new? Do you mean that if I meet my grandmother in the next life, I will not be able to say, "There's something I always meant to ask you, but never had the chance. Can you tell me . . . . ?"

            Are you saying that the afterlife (if there is one) will be radically different from our existence now? What about the resurrection of the dead and glorified bodies? Doesn't that strongly imply that "life on earth" is basically what human existence is all about? What is the point of having a physical body if you don't do anything physical?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I see you are channeling your 4th grade David Nickol self.

          • David Nickol

            How smug and condescending.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sorry, David, I just meant you are a million questions. All good ones.

          • stevegbrown

            Louis Borges explores this in his novel "The Immortals" whereby it's not enough to desire immortality but also totality i. e. complete fullness otherwise there is only boredom.

          • It may be that there are more basic psychological desires that manifest as what we believe to be the desire for eternal life. The desire for goodness, truth and beauty would seem by this sort of argument to indicate at most that goodness, truth and beauty exist, not necessarily that God exists.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you believe that these things really do exist, then that is a way into Aquinas' fourth "way."

          • The fourth way is an interesting argument.

          • Mary Beth Miranda

            Have you ever had a desire for something, and when that desire is seemingly fulfilled, you begin to desire for something else, and so on and so on and so on? Do you honestly think there could ever, in your lifetime with all your wits about you, be a day when All your desires are met, all of your longings fulfilled? And I mean All, completely, nothing else left, nada. Oh, you can? But what will the next day be like, or the next week or the next year? Will that feeling of complete fulfillment of whatever that desire was last 'til your last breath?

          • I ain't the Buddha.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Why not seek it in both ways?

    • Mike O’Leary

      consider how the existence of counterfeit money suggests the existence of real money

      The problem there is that often there are representations of things which are not real. My niece has a stuffed dragon toy, yet there are no such things as dragons.

      • Mary Beth Miranda

        There is no problem with his counterfeit money analogy. The stuffed dragon toy represents a fantasy world which suggests the existence of a Real non-fantastical world.

        • Mike O’Leary

          The analogy is far too malleable to be of any use whatsoever. Ben wrote it as counterfeit money suggests that there is real money. A represents B, therefore B exists. I plugged in my niece's toy dragon into the equation and the analogy fell part.Breaking down your explanation a toy dragon suggests the existence of the concept of dragons which suggests a fantasy world in which that dragon exists which suggests there is another world (reality) apart from the world which contains the dragon. In short A represents B, therefore C exists which contains B, therefore not C exists.You're saying this analogy of the counterfeit money covers both examples. So if we plug one of the possible gods into the equation, do we go with the first equation which shows this god exists; or do we go with the second equation which says the world in which or proposed god exists isn't real and differs from reality?

  • Michael Sevcik

    "It is a serious thing," says Lewis, "to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whome we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."

    --C. S. Lewis, From The Weight of Glory.

  • Michael Sevcik

    Of course, the CS Lewis quote below and this article and the existence of God is foolishness to the unbeliever as the Apostle Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth....but to those who are in Christ, this message is the power of God. 1Cor 1:18

  • The argument from desire proposes that man, who is naturally mutable, desires immutable happiness and that the good, that is the object of such desire, namely an immutable entity, must therefore exist. It is possible to prove that an immutable entity must exist because man and every other entity within our experience which exists, is mutable. In contrast, the Catholic faith claims that the immutable happiness of knowing God is not natural, but supernatural to man. In my judgment the argument from desire is false on the basis of philosophy because it cannot be proven that natural, mutable man could desire immutable happiness. That would be a self-contradiction. It is also false on the basis of the revelation that immutable happiness is not natural to man, but is a supernatural gift.

  • I don't know what perfect happiness and fulfilment is, so I can't tell you if I have a desire for it. I have felt completely fulfilled and happy quite often on earth, that is what I desire among many other things.

    It seems we are talking about categories of desires here. All the categories of desire I have are capable of being fulfilled here on earth.

    I also don't think that the existence of these desires entails a possibility of a fulfilment. Unless you mean that all desires evolved and they must have evolved for a reason. This makes sense and all desires can be accounted for by evolutionary pressures, in my view.

  • BrianKillian

    This argument works best for someone who already believes in God, I think. The problem is that once you move past concrete physical desires, the corresponding object of those desires is much harder to pinpoint.

    For example, it's pretty evident that food corresponds to hunger, water to thirst, sex to reproduction, etc. But now move to the mental. Okay, what primary mental desires are there? Well, we all desire to know and understand, but there is no exact one to one corresponding object for that desire.

    Now, move even deeper into more spiritual desires, the more inward you go the more nebulous it is to try to pinpoint some definite object, and it's hard to do with the same confidence as discovering the object of a bodily desire.

    We all have an innate desire for happiness. But how do you demonstrate that what fulfills that desire must be something unconditional? Couldn't it be a series of conditioned realities, or a successions of conditioned realities?

    It's not evident at all that the object which corresponds to our deepest innate desires is something unconditioned, infinite, and is 'what everyone means by God'.

    How does one know that there is nothing on this Earth, or nothing in all the possible human experiences, that can satisfy us? Hows can one be sure that it's not just a matter of finding the right combination of experiences?

    That is the weak point of this argument IMO, the premise that the desire for perfect fulfillment cannot be met by any value within the world. That needs to be better established.

    Probably, it's only the light of faith that makes that premise so evident, not the light of reason alone.

  • Michael Sevcik

    Fr. Sean, I don't think so. Here's why: as a race, we love sin, we love evil and we are depraved. I know the Catholic church teaches we are only kind of "a little bit" depraved but I'm more and more of the opinion -- totally depraved. Left on our own, we always choose sin and evil. It's simply how our sinful nature (physically, mentally and spiritually) is wired. Consider how almost everything humanity touchs apart from God turns out evil. EVERYTHING. This is why the passage in John 15:16 makes so much sense, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." In arrogance many think they have choosen God, Jesus and their faith. Dreamers! The only thing we choose in a fallen state apart from the Lord, Jesus Christ, is sin, depravity and evil. Perhaps there is a way for God to take the passion of many skeptics and turn it into a passion for Christianity. With God, all things are possible. Without God....eternal horror, evil and sin....

  • Michael Sevcik

    Hmmm, you all see Pope Francis news release today about sin. Me thinks that my post about sin is precisely how we are wired. I also think it pleases God when we come to him honestly as we are-- sinners.