What Innate Desires Can Tell Us About God

imagesMy past few posts have discussed proofs for the existence of God from morality and from our awareness of timeless truths. Both such proofs require simply that one make use of the innate reason of their minds to draw conclusions from a consideration of the evidence they see around them. When one realizes that timeless truths and morality exist, and that such permanent things need explaining, the logical conclusion to reach is that an eternal, uncaused Creator provides the best – indeed the only- adequate explanation.

Another such proof derives from the existence of innate desires.  Consider for a moment the basic needs of a human being, things such as food, drink, shelter and companionship.  Such needs are basic to us; they are not a matter of choice. I did not create these desires, and they are non-negotiable.  There are, of course, other desires which I may have at any given time, many of which are not “innate.”  For example, I may desire material things such as nice clothes or a fast car. But I can do without these things, however much I may desire them. They are not basic to me.  

Now, consider further: for each of these innate desires, there is a corresponding reality. My desire to eat is satisfied by the existence of food; the desire for drink by water and other liquids; the desire for shelter and companionship by the existence of suitable building materials, for the former, and people and animals for the latter. The more one reflects on this topic, the more one will come to realize that there has never been discovered an innate desire for which there is no corresponding reality. 

Another innate desire that each of us has is the desire for something more perfect and lasting.  Even committed atheists have this feeling. They want the good in life to get better, and to persist forever, and they want the bad to be eliminated.  No matter how committed a materialist, the skeptic, contemplating the beauty of a snow capped mountain or the excellence of a work of Beethoven or Shakespeare, will have the feeling, is this all there is?  Is there nothing more?  Despite the spectacular beauty inherent in so much of the life on this planet, it remains at best a cage. We know that we will live a relatively short span of time, and then die – having to leave behind the grandeur of the world and the intimacy of those cherished friends and family that have accompanied us on this journey.

The skeptic, of course, will refuse to acknowledge that what they desire in this regard is a perfect and eternal being known as God. Nonetheless, even they would, on reflection, have to admit that they are longing for something greater, better, more perfect.  One might be ready to argue that such desires certainly kick in when much is lacking; for example, when a person is mired in poverty. But, oddly, such stirrings of dissatisfaction and emptiness also trouble us at the height of the “good times.” How many of the rich or famous or powerful have escaped into a bottle, or worse, ended their lives at their own hand? The desire for a greater good that lasts is innate to all of us, regardless of our present material condition.

The question then becomes: does it really seem likely that this innate desire for “something more” would be the only innate desire for which there is no corresponding reality? All other innate desires are, after all, lesser desires. Despite being sated for the moment, we know we will soon get hungry and thirsty again. But a lasting infinite good – one that never ends – is the ultimate good. If these lesser desires are like appetizers, the desire for eternal happiness is the main course.  Appetizers, however, are not the main course, and any host who served appetizers but served nothing for the main meal would be guilty of a dirty trick.  But dirty tricks are not accidents; they are instead intentional.  So, what sense would it make for these lesser desires to exist but have no ultimate fulfillment? If such were the case, it would not disprove the existence of an afterlife, or of God, but instead tell us something about God’s nature, showing him to be sinister or evil.

This, I suspect, is what many skeptics and atheists actually do believe – that followers of Jesus Christ worship a cruel or indifferent God that they instead choose to reject. But there is nothing inherently cruel for a Creator to discard, or separate himself from, that which he creates, if it does not please him.  And since God provides both the knowledge that we displease him, and the remedy for it, while his punishment may seem cruel to the atheist, it retains its essential justice, as the guilty party is given both notice and a chance for relief from his sentence.  If he chooses not to accept salvation, it can hardly be expected that the Creator should bend to the wishes of the created.

Like the other proofs, this one standing alone may not satisfy the skeptic. But considering the cumulative case for God, it is apparent that this argument is a subtle but elegant piece of the puzzle. 

Posted by Al Serrato

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  1. zilch says:

    Hey al. Yes, we have innate desires. So do bacteria. Strangely enough, our innate desires seem to mostly be connected to surviving and reproducing, exactly what evolution would lead us to expect. Sure, we humans also have more complex desires, but these can be seen as extensions of our basic desires and elaborations upon them, even if we don’t understand them perfectly.

    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.

    cheers from warm Vienna, zilch

  2. Al says:

    Zilch, bacteria do not have desires, as desires are mental conceptions. And evolution operates only on biological systems. Minds have to emerge first, and evolution can’t explain the existence of the mind, and thought, let alone how desires are formed. As for your second paragraph, you’re missing my point. If innate desires correspond to real things, then the innate desire for perfection must also correspond to a real “thing” – perfect being. Like I said, standing alone it doesn’t seem like much, but the case of God is cumulatively quite compelling….even if I never have any success in persuading you.

  3. zilch says:

    Al- I admit, “desire” seems normally to refer to somewhere closer to the mental end of the continuum from chemical reactions to wedding plans. But it is a continuum. A bacterium following a nutrient gradient upstream is one step along the way to a man deciding how to pop the question. If you claim there’s a hard and fast line somewhere in between, show your work.

    And a desire for perfection is simply a useful tool to improve oneself- it doesn’t mean that some “perfect being” must exist, any more than a desire to to fly means that humans can fly, or a desire to get high means that there’s a perfect high.

    Sorry, al, I remain unpersuaded. But I appreciate your taking the trouble to express yourself politely and accurately.

    cheers from cloudy Vienna, zilch

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