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« Jesus' Knowledge (Video) | Main | Is God Immoral? »

November 22, 2011


Thank you for this. As always, this argument is existentially powerful and misses no human experience. May God mercifully reach down and satisfy those whom he has called according to his riches in grace.

The argument is not even logically valid. Premise two does not assert that the relevant desire is innate and natural, which it needs to do if premise (1) is going to be of any use to getting to the conclusion. It should be re-written as follows:

(1) Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
(2) There exists in us an innate, natural desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, and no creature can satisfy.
(3) Therefore, there is some object capable of satisfying these innate, natural desires, and this object is not a creature, is not temporal, and is not terrestrial.

Why think premise (2) is true? Kreeft writes,

The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, "I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, or power," we can only ask, "Are you, really?" But we can only appeal, we cannot compel. And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature. Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that "there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, 'Is that all there is?'"

Notice here that Kreeft fails to argue for the innate and natural character of the desire, and instead only argues for the presence of the desire. Honest introspection, after all, will not necessarily reveal the causal history of a desire, but only the presence or absence of that desire.

Kreeft refers to the universal testimony of humanity, so maybe he’s hinting at an argument here (he’s certainly not giving the argument). But what exactly is it that the universal testimony of humanity reports? Do the Stoics, for instance, betray a strong desire for a relationship with a personal God? What about the Buddhists or Epicureans? Do Socrates or Aristotle betray any sense of emotional crisis at the thought that they will be annihilated at death? Does Spinoza betray any such anxieties or longings for a personal God? In none of these cases can history detect a desire for a relationship with a personal God. In the case of Aristotle and Spinoza, actually, they denied that such a relationship with God is even possible. Perhaps one can detect in these cases a desire for a transcendent reality. Plato, for instance, would be a good person to look to for that. But that is a far cry from a universal consensus of humanity testifying to an innate desire for God, that is, the God of classical theism.

"Artificial" or "non-innate" desires can be satisfied by human action (such as the Red Sox winning another World Series). Therefore, Kreft's second premise: "there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy." requires the reader to understand that the desires to which he is referring MUST BE natural or innate. There does not appear to be any other way to read this statement. So no need exists for any of us to rewrite Dr. Kreft's premises.

Second, Kreft does not state a premise or make an argument that the desire is for the God of classical theism. He simply makes draws the conclusion from his premises that there must exist a transcendent real object of our innate desires. The fact that some have denied the existence of these desires does not refute the equally long history of those who have admitted to those desires.

Ahh, so those with eyes to see can tell that original second premise secretly does contain a clause asserting that the relevant desire is innate and natural? It would seem that greater lights than myself will detect in Kreeft’s argument a hidden premise to the effect that whatever desire fails to be innate and natural can be satisfied by humans. And do these discriminating eyes also see an elaborate defense of this premise in Kreeft’s article? If so, I only ask the following: is the desire had by some to interact with unicorns artificial? Then by the secret premise detected by the discerning, it follows that humans can satisfy it. Is the desire to interact with unicorns natural? Then by Kreeft’s premise it follows that God or some creature can satisfy it. And at last we have, with the help of the premises our subtle eyes have detected in his prose, transformed Kreeft’s argument into an argument that there exists a real object capable of satisfying the desire for unicorns. In fact, since all our desires are either artificial or natural, it follows, with our hidden premise, that all of our desires correspond to a real object capable of satisfying them; by our secret premise, we know the artificial desires are all capable of being satisfied by humans, and by Kreeft’s premise we know that the natural desires are all capable of being satisfied by God or some other creature.

Perhaps things have at this point gone awry, and we have been led down the wrong path by our desire to defend not only Christian dogmas, but also the apologists who defend those dogmas.

I love these arguments and found them first in Lewis' quest for Joy, as Kreeft acknowledges.
Every layer resonates with my heart and mind. That intense, overwhelming desire to capture a sunset or other beautiful scene, to freeze it, possess it, or share it, has no fulfillment in this plane. The nostalgia that floods the past but only shows that those events are lost to us points in the same direction. The joy that invades into our lives so infrequently, and so unpredictably. The desire to love appropriately, and to be loved unconditionally. The longing to hold someone in pain and to just absorb and wash away their pain. The nagging sense of guilt hiding deep within, waiting to come out unbidden at any time, and the desire to be rid of it.
I don't presume that these things are evidences for the unbeliever, yet I do expect you all to scoff as though I've presented them as such. What I do find, having been found of God, is an explanation and a context for them. The desires do point to reality. They are meant to be fulfilled. The pains are real indicators- like hunger - of a true lack and of something that can and will eradicate them. Once you know God you start to see that He is the fulfillment of these longings, and that He has given you glimpses to draw you toward Him, and moments of Joy as foretastes of Heaven.
Taste and see that God is good.

On the Theory of Evolution we have an innate desire to satisfy urges that serve to successfully propagate our species. Not necessarily individually, but as a species. Because we strive for that goal we may have illusions of permanency. We may contrive gods and eternity in our minds. These provide social cohesion that serves to further propagate our species successfully. I don't see that this necessarily means that these useful illusions that we've concocted are in fact real and not illusory.

Nonsense, Jon.

The species is not sentient. A species cannot feel or think anything, and cannot have an innate desire. Only individuals can.

The evolution "just so" story that chance mutations took life from single cells to us doesn't hold up well to scrutiny.

It does, however, provide a creation myth for the atheistic world view. Beats the world resting on the back of giant turtle, I guess.

I dunno, Cog. The giant turtle theory might have more explanatory and predictive power, so it could even be preferable.

I think Mal has a point. Why think premise two is true? Unfortunately I don't think that any sufficiently compelling objective evidence exists to satisfy the atheist mind set with respect to premise two. At the same time, the subjective realities that we, as Christian believers, experience in our lives compel us to confirm the validity of premise two. This is a dilemma of sorts. The atheist wants objectivity that extends beyond the merely subjective, while the believer takes their subjective desire as an objective fact. To resolve this dilemma, Mal, with some justification, accuses us of needing a secret premise. Ouch.

Still, I find myself drawn to Daron's comments. Sometimes life surprises us wonderfully as we catch a glimpse of something that seems to transcend us; something that hints at so much more. I think that people all over the world, and throughout history, often relate to the "spiritual" within the context of these surprises. And perhaps we find these surprises precisely because we have a natural desire to look for, and find a beauty, hope, grace, joy and love that transcends the too often fallible and mundane forms we see day to day. If the search for these glimpses past the horizon, and the wonder we find there in, are natural desires felt by the vast majority of all people, maybe Kreeft does make a cogent and convincing point, imperfect as it may be. Maybe our heart (or innate desire) does call out to something more, something beyond merely "us" and the biggest surprise is that sometimes we hear the whisper of an answer.

I didn't say the species is sentient, Cog, so I don't see the point of that.

Evolution doesn't hold up to scrutiny? I guess that depends on what you mean by scrutiny. It's held up to thousands of peer reviewed studies and the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community. Virtual unanimity. Doesn't hold up to Ken Hamm's analysis. Does hold up to Michael Behe's analysis. He knows that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor for instance. Even William Lane Craig tells us that natural selection can produce things like an eye. That is, chance mutations and natural selection can go a long way.


The graveyard of discarded scientific theories is littered with examples that were "the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community".

And precisely how would one know that "humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor"? Time machine?

Malebranche, all the thinkers you mention--and the deep questions they sought to answer--make Kreeft's point. Each attempted to--in a variety of different ways--try to answer the question of ultimate meaning, a question that was apparently important to each one. Given the scope and depth of their inquiries, it is certainly not on the level of speculating about unicorns. in fact, entire civilizations, shaped by the answers of these thinkers, have risen and fallen. In fact, the development of Christian doctrine would have been incomprehensible if not for the role that Plato and Aristotle played in its formation.

Suppose you discovered someone who sought to eat plastic. Would that meant that he no longer had a desire for food and nutrition? No. It would actually count as evidence of that desire, despite the mistaken object. In the same way, the Buddhist who desires to eliminate all desires is seeking that which satisfies his deepest spiritual longings. That is what Kreeft is talking about.

Dr. Beckwith,

Thanks for the thoughts.

In my original comment I intended to make two points: first, Kreeft’s argument is logically invalid as stated, although the fix is fairly obvious; second, Kreeft does not adequately support his claim that the desire he has in mind is natural and innate. He appeals to introspection, but all that shows is that the relevant desire is present, not that it is natural or innate. He gestures toward the universal testimony of humanity, but doesn’t elaborate much. He doesn’t even bother to tell us exactly what the desire he has in mind is a desire for. He simply says that we have some desire or other that only a transcendent reality can satisfy. Furthermore, he doesn’t even attempt to survey various cultures and schools of thought, present us with the data, and argue that his divine-desire-nativism hypothesis is the best explanation. I brought up the folks and traditions I did merely to highlight how incredibly superficial Kreeft’s article is.

When I brought up the case of the unicorn, I did not do so in order to draw analogies between unicorns and the great philosophical systems of the Western tradition. I brought it up because it was suggested that Kreeft’s argument actually is not invalid, since we are to understand that Kreeft thinks all artificial desires can be satisfied by humans. The unicorn is simply a counterexample to that claim.

I notice that you haven’t disputed that Kreeft’s argument is not even logically valid, nor have you disputed the claim that he does not adequately support his claim that the relevant desire is innate and natural. Am I right to assume that you don’t dispute these claims because you think these claims are true?

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

All you have to do is spend 5 minutes on the chubby-chaser blogs or the anime blogs, and you can see that this isn't true.

Millions of men (all over the world) would genuinely desire to have relations with women of proportions that would not be anatomically possible.

I actually don't hear apologists giving this argument much, and I suspect that's because they also think it's not one of the more persuasive arguments for theism.

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