Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Argument from Desire

This is Peter Kreeft's defense of the Argument from Desire. This post received a belated comment from Steve Lovell, so I am redating it for people to react to.

11 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

I just read in a new philosophy journal an article titled, "The Argument from Empathy," in which a philosopher tries to prove or discern God's existence based on the fact as he sees it that empathy can only be explained supernaturally.

I also saw a new thesis someone had written titled, "The Argument from Beauty" in which much of the same is argued, that the existence and appreciation of "the beautiful" can only be explained by invoking a supernatural component.

I expect to see more of this as time goes on, and that reminds me, in the book, Three Views on Creation, Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute argues that the human ability to read words on a page is yet something else that can only be explained via invoking the supernatural. Let's call that "The Argument from Literacy."

There's no telling what other "arguments" will arise once I.D. is taught in school. We'll be back to the Medieval Ages before ya know it, building enormous super cathedrals. (Oh wait, we already have mega-toriums where Christians meet, with escalators to reach the high seats, and Schuller has his prized crystal cathedral, and several multi-million dollar theme parks are going us soon in the U.S. and Britain that feature models of Noah's Ark and Adam and Eve riding dinosaurs. They are all built firmly on "The Argument from Having More Money and Time Than Some Christians Know What To Do With."

Victor Reppert said...

Does this explain what's wrong with this argument?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Peter Kreeft wrote: "Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire."

How does this prove anything supernatural? One might just as easily argue that it's natural for most people (even most animals in so far as they have desires that are either instinctual or conscious or a bit of both) to desire a life that doesn't involve pain, suffering, or dying.

Koko the gorilla who has learned how to speak sign language (with her hands of course) was once asked where gorillas went after they died, and she supposedly signed, "comfortable hole, bye." However, at least one Christian apologists has argued that apes have souls and hence will spend eternity with us, praising God in sign language I suppose. Surely some of those old extinct species of apes with the larger than present-day ape brains will be able to do a bit of singing and verbal praising too?

"According to the book of Revelation, Heaven is an eternal praise service; a service of compliment or flattery. God sits on his throne, attended by twenty-four harp-playing elders (Rev. 5:8) and some other dignitaries pertaining to his court, and looks out over his miles and miles of tempestuous worshippers, and smiles, and purrs, and nods his satisfaction northward, eastward, southwards; as quaint and naive a spectacle as has yet been imagined in this universe, I take it. It is easy to see that the inventor of this image of heaven did not originate the idea, but copied it from the show-ceremonies of some sorry little sovereign state up in the back settlements of the Middle East somewhere." [Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth]

As for desiring "God and heaven," I bet people desire different varieties of gods and heavens, no? And it all seems pretty nebulous, what with white tunnels and beings of light floating about you, per some people's descriptions. By the way, Buddhists have different NDEs, like the fellow in Thailand who was dead on the operating table and woke up talking about how he spoke with a giant turtle god. One gay fellow emailed me about an NDE that involved meeting gay friends in the afterlife. While the longest running Marian visions in Catholic history are those at Medjugore, where the children are now adults, but at least one of them continues to see the virgin and communicate her new teachings on a DAILY basis, and that's been going on for decades, including visions of heaven, hell and the obligatory Catholic purgatorio. The Catholic visions during the Medieval ages of the saints included some particularly gruesome tales of seeing hell, even sometimes children in hell, as well as tales of seeing Jesus, Mary, heaven and purgatory. But ten the early Chrisitians also were well immersed in the apocalyptic ideas and speech of some of the Jewish sects that directly preceeded them, and the early Christians continued to write about alleged visions of Paul and Peter concerning hellish hells, something that apparently helped Christianity spread since the other sects weren't so hellish on hell back then.

American natives experience "vision quests" that involve animal totems. Lots of weird visions out there. Lots of different gods and heavens, even alien encounters.

I bet living in America we don't hear half of the visionary stories that get told by members of other religions round the world since we don't speak Arabic or Hindi. Though I have read about stories of visions of angels and the glowing bodies of martyrs that devout Muslims claim to have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was even a world famous Hindu mathematician who stunned the entire world of mathematics at a young age with his knowledge and originality--and with his devotion to a particular Hindu goddess.

Go figure.

I like to keep an optimistic spirit, but also be open to the weird and amazing breadth of the spectrum of religious experience, and well, non-experience as well. Belief may move mountains and even take out skyscrapers, but doubt seems to be what gets a person an education.

Mike D said...

1)Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.


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


3)Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.


4) This something is what people call "God" and "life with God forever."

I want it to be true but I see a couple of weaknesses. He fails to show that the desire for life with God forever is a) natural, b)innate, or c)corresponds to some real object. I suspect he begs the question in his definitions. There is no way to differentiate between desires that prove the existence of the desired thing and those that are based on imagination or wishing for something that does not exist.

Mike D said...

I think I found where he begged the question in his definitions:

"But more importantly, the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction."

A natural desire is based on fact. An artificial desire is based on fiction. A desire for God is a natural desire. Therefore God is a fact.

Too bad it is not this easy. His reasoning blazes past criticisms of religion that claim it is wish fulfillment or a tool to contol the masses.

But on a personal, non-rational level the argument can be convincing. When I have a desire for a relationship with God, the best explanation for it may be my ability to sense his existence and quiet yet persistent effort to bring me to my senses.

Victor Reppert said...

While the Kreeft piece is a nice general summary of the argument, I am not sure that it faces off the objections as strongly as some other defense of the same argument have done. I'll try to do more with this later.

Steve Lovell said...

The argument from desire is a difficult one to formulate well. I've had a try in my PhD thesis, Philosophical Themes from C.S. Lewis , the basis of my website.

I agree with others that the key term in the argument is "natural desire".

In trying to define the term it is crucial first of all to see that traits are natural (or not) to certain kinds of creature rather than to individual creatures. It is also important to then admit that while desires are natural to kinds of creatures, not all creatures in that kind need possess the desire. This goes for natural traits in general. A dog naturally has four legs, but not all dogs have three legs. Birth defects and amputations stop this being true. A natural trait might be defined as a trait which a certain kind of creature will possess "other things being equal". Which is to say, it is a trait whose absence needs explanation, but whose presence does not.

Lewis, Kreeft and others offer what seem to me pursuasive arguments that we possess (in this sense) natural desires which cannot be satisfied my any natural object.

There are two conclusions we may draw from this:

(1) Nature has set us up to have desires that cannot be satisfied, and that therefore life is absurd.

(2) Since life is not absurd, the world (including anything supernatural) must be such that these desires can be satisfied. Since that satisfaction cannot be found in nature, something beyond nature must exist.

I can't see how to refute (1), and Lewis in Mere Christianity does seem to admit that this is a possible conclusion. But it's not one we should accept lightly.

Don Jr. said...

Edward M. Cook has what I think is a good article, "Does Joy Lead to God: Lewis, Beversluis, and the Argument from Desire," in which he discusses the argument from desire.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, I didn't make the two posts on this topic on January 28th of this year, but sometime last year. I wonder how they could have shown up here unless you are coallating together past posts under this topic?

To add to what I wrote previously, I find Lewis' "argument from desire for heaven" to be of little philosophical interest. It's neither a proof of the existence of God, nor a proof of the existence of any particular afterlife, but basically an appeal to self interest.

We agree that human beings--as well as the vast majority of living organisms--do not desire their own deaths (according of course to each of their limited levels and abilities to desire things). Instead the desire is to continue living.

But as human beings we hardly envision exactly the same "heavens." Just compare the "heavens" believed in by Christians living in different eras (Lewis's heaven compared with Dante's compared with the "visions" of heaven and hell in intertestamental works and Christian apocrypha; or even examine the early Hebrew view that literally everyone but Enoch and Elijah went to the same afterlife destination, "Sheol").

Or compare differing ideas of the afterlife held by Christians with differing theological views (the Christian Gnostic heaven for instance).

Or compare the afterlives envisioned by members of non-Christian religions, from Islamic heavenly desires to Hindu reincarnation to joining with God.

Also if one were to measure the reality of a particular idea of heaven by the criteria of whichever one seemed less influenced merely by personal wish fulfillment, then I guess the atheist vision of the afterlife wins hands down, since practically nobody wants to go back to being dissolved elements after they die.

Maybe reincarnation comes in second since you lose your memories of your previous life, and have to undergo potty training and zits all over again and again.

As for other cases of negative desires, I certainly don't desire spending eternity living next to Pat Robertson; nor do I suspect that the Robertsons, Falwells, Luthers, Calvins, Catholic Popes, Orthodox Patriarchs and saints, are necessarily going to be as big in heaven as they perhaps imagine they might.

There's also the old joke about St. Peter giving tours of heaven to new comers and being asked about a particular cloud they passed that had lots of people on it with paper bags covering their heads. St. Peter said, "Be very quiet as we pass that cloud. Those are the born again Christians, they think they're the only ones up here."

Rasmus Møller said...

To Ed:

I hope the enormous super-cathedrals will at least be aesthetic (like La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona), though my hopes are not high.

About self-interest, a short quote from CSL "the weight of glory" (highly recommended):

"We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair.
There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connexion with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things.
Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it."

As for your wish not to spend an eternity with certain "dubious" people: According to CSL , hell is the same thing - it is the consummation of selfishness. If we are to live eternally, we will either make it hell (after a few million years of bickering, there won't be much difference between us and our favorite aversion) or allow him to change us into a being, for whom eternity is joyful.

As for different varieties of heaven, CSL sees goodness becoming more and more different, whereas selfishness becomes more and more alike - I forgot the precise context.

Please excuse my lack of precision, english is mot my mother tongue.

HV said...

Perhaps different religious doctrines of heaven have a common origin in experiences of something heaven-like. Then it would be silly to be arguing about it without having had that kind of experience. It would be a bit like blind men arguing about color.