Argument from desire

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The Argument from Desire is an argument for the existence of God, or rather some desired object. The Christian philosopher and apologist Thomas Aquinas, although using the argument, thought that on its own it was an insufficient argument for the existence of god. A version was popularized by C. S. Lewis.

The argument is criticized by both theists and atheists alike. Sigmund Freud considered God to be nothing more than a psychological illusion to fulfill innate human desires rather than an actual entity that exists.

The argument is similar to the argument from divine sense.


CS Lewis version[edit]

The argument was promoted by C. S. Lewis and reportedly playing a part in his conversion to Christianity.

In The Weight of Glory:

"A man’s physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist."
"In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world."

In Mere Christianity:

"Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. [...] 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 keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death"

Wikipedia version[edit]

p1. Humans have innate desires.
a. By "innate" we mean those desires that are universal.
b.The desire for food, the desire for companionship, the desire to enjoy beauty are innate desires in this sense
c. The desires to have a grand house or a PhD are not.
P2. All innate human desires have objects that exist.
a. We feel hunger; there is such a thing as eating. We feel sexual desire; there is such a thing as sex.
b. It would be unlikely for a race of individuals to exist who reported feeling hungry yet but did not possess food, mouths nor stomachs.
c. For every such innate desire in human experience (save one) we can identify the object.
p3. There is a desire for "we know not what" whose object cannot be identified.
a. We are never truly satisfied. For even while we satisfy our hunger, our need for companionship, love, beauty, achievement, etc.
b. The second premise aims to articulate and appeal to the concept of "longing" as expressed by the German term Sehnsucht.
c3. If the object of this desire does not exist in this world, it must exist in another.

Simplified version[edit]

p1. Humans have innate desires.
p2. All innate human desires have objects that exist.
p3. There is an innate human desire for God.
C1. Therefore, God exists.

Counter arguments[edit]

False premise: Reification[edit]

The first problem with the argument is in the second premise (simplified version). In itself, this premise is a fallacy of reification. Having a desire to fly doesn't mean you can actually flap your arms and take off. Obviously flying isn't an innate desire in humans but it demonstrates the fallacy.

Perhaps the better example of this would be survival. Both the theist and the atheist would agree that survival is an innate desire. But there is no evidence, or any reason at all, to believe that because you don't want to die, there must be somebody out there that cannot die and will live forever. Put like this, it does seem silly, because it is.

Innate or not, desires don't prove the existence of the object of that desire.

False Premise: Unfounded assertion[edit]

The second problem with the argument is in the third premise (simplified version). There is no innate desire for God. The existence of certain sorts of antitheists (i.e. Christopher Hitchens) more or less proves this point. It cannot be the case that "all people have a desire for God" if it is the case that "some person does not have a desire for God" or "some person has a desire for there not to be a God." If it is the case that one can live quite comfortably and be completely content without the a belief or desire for a god, then the premise is false.

Theists may simply dispute the truth of the proposition, but arguments from analogy are sufficient to act as a counterpoint to the universal claim.

Argument from ignorance[edit]

In the Wikipedia or CS Lewis version, a problem of logical validity also arises. Jumping from “what we do not know” and “an object that cannot be identified” to “God exists” is an argument from ignorance. It does not logically follow.

The only way this makes sense is if you are only renaming what we do not know 'God', in a similar manner to calling an unknown variable in algebra 'x'. However simply equating god to unknown variable 'x' is not the intelligent, self-aware, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-loving creator that theists mean when they say God exists.

No specific religion[edit]

Main Article: Which God?

There is no consistent and specific desires which we would expect if one religion were true. Desire is better explained by cognitive biases which lead to a general and unfocused predisposed to believe in gods.

See Also[edit]


v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes