In previous posts, I dialogued with a skeptic regarding what to make of the existence of innate desires? I took the position that such desires are reflective of the existence of God, as the only sufficient explanation. But the skeptic tried to turn this on its head, saying:
And yes, it’s natural to want to go on enjoying life forever. But how is that proof for God’s existence? I would say that it’s almost the opposite: it demonstrates that people will want to believe in Heaven, and also in justice, after we die. Have you ever stopped to think that perhaps your belief in God is not entirely unbiased, but is driven by a desire to not die forever? If you ask me, the desire to live forever should make one suspicious of belief in God, because it shows how powerful a motivation it provides to believe.
This challenge misses the point of my post: If innate desires correspond to real things, such as food or drink for our basic desires to nourish ourselves, then the innate desire for perfection must also correspond to a real “thing.” But this “thing,” in order to qualify as perfect, must look, well, pretty much like God does. The challenge to this view has some surface appeal, but the thinking behind it is a bit sloppy: the “opposite” the skeptic refers to would be proof, using the argument from innate desires, that God actually does not exist. But the argument provides no such proof at all. It is, indeed, an example of the genetic fallacy at work, as it tries to “explain” why theists are wrong – they are looking for comfort – before actually proving that they are mistaken (about the existence of an eternal, personal being). The fact that we may be engaging in “wishful thinking” is not proof of anything in the universe; it simply says something about, well, the way we are thinking. It may indeed be correct – we may simply be imagining all this – but it doesn’t add anything to our knowledge about whether God is out there somewhere or not.
But let’s take an even closer look at what is being said. In short, the challenge is that because life is finite and brief, people “naturally” wish for it to be eternal. Being unable, or at least unwilling, to countenance the idea of oblivion, we latch onto whatever theory will give us comfort. But why, exactly, should this be so? If it fact the “natural order” of things was to live briefly and die, why not just resign ourselves to it? After all, we’ve had countless millennia of “evolution” to get used to it. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that we in fact do this (accept the inevitability of change) in many other arenas of our lives. For example, while my teen years were fun and exciting (at least at times), I never harbored the desire to have them last forever. So too my preschool or grammar school years, or the years in which my children were young. I savored those times, and the memories, precisely because I knew that they were fleeting. As we grow older, and face the twilight years with their inevitable mental and physical decline, we don’t seek to “hold on” at all costs.
Indeed, as we reflect on this, it seems built in to us to want to experience that next stage, but to also value the continuity of identity that is part of the movement of time. We still want to be “us,” but we want that experience to actually improve as time moves on, in ways that we often could not envision or imagine while younger. And we want to be able to put to use in that next stage all the knowledge and wisdom we have already accumulated. In short, we want things to keep getting better and better, despite knowing that what awaits us in this physical world is more like a cliff or a brick wall, while we play the role of a train hurtling towards it.
No, the reality is that most of us – whether Christian or not – have this sense that our lives, and our choices, have actual meaning. We memorialize so much in photos and videos because we think it matters in some lasting way, and even through this we seek to cement for the future just how precious the continued – and continuing – present is to us. We have within us a desire we just can’t seem to shake that is calling us “home” to something that is lasting and wonderful and good.
Standing alone, this isn’t one of the most powerful “proofs” that God is there. But as part of an overall worldview, it makes up part of the cumulative case for which “God is” provides the most explanatory power. It is a beacon within us, beckoning us to examine more closely what is tugging at us from inside.
Posted by Al Serrato