The Argument from Desire
The argument from desire is a version of the teleological argument associated with CS Lewis. It begins with the thoughts that for every natural desire there is something that fulfils that desire, and that each of us has a natural desire for communion with God. Communion with God, of course, can only occur if God exists. God, therefore, must exist.
The claim that for every natural desire there is something that fulfils that desire needs some explanation. There are two types of desire: natural and artificial. Artificial desires are those that we are conditioned to have by our environment and our society. My desire to own a DVD-recorder, for instance, is not a natural desire. I only want a DVD-recorder because of the culture to which I‘ve been exposed. Of course, different people are exposed to different environments and societies consequently have different artificial desires. Artificial desires vary from person to person.
Natural desires, unlike artificial desires, have nothing to do with conditioning. Natural desires result not from exposure to a certain kind of society, but from human nature. The desire for food, for example, is not something that we are taught; it is innate. Because natural desires do not result from exposure to a particular culture, but simply from human nature, they do not vary from person to person. Natural desires are common to all humanity.
For every natural desire there is something that fulfils that desire. We all desire food; there is food. We all desire drink; there is drink. We all desire society; there is society. The theistic explanation of this is divine providence: God created us a certain way and provided for our needs. The atheistic explanation is evolution: instincts increase our chances of surviving and reproducing only if they lead us to something that benefits us. Either way, then, it makes sense we only have natural desires for things that are real.
Of course, the fact that we have a natural desire for a thing does not guarantee that we will get it. Our natural desire for food might go unsatisfied; we might starve. Nevertheless, food exists; there is the possibility of fulfilment. We would not have the instinct unless there were the possibility of fulfilment; on this, both sides agree.
The next step of the argument is the claim that we have a natural desire for communion with God. This claim is likely to be strongly resisted by atheists. Advocates of the argument from desire point to the longing for the transcendent that has been expressed by both theists and atheists alike in support of it. St Augustine wrote, “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” Bertrand Russell wrote, “The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain – a curious wild pain – a searching for something beyond what the world contains.” Advocates of the argument from desire take the common, perhaps even universal, desire for something more than this life can provide, and interpret it as a longing for God. Those who have this longing, they concede, may not know what or who it is a longing for, but they have it nevertheless.