Argument from Desire and Abductive Reasoning

by Kenneth Samples

One way human beings clearly differ from the animals is in their inner existential longings. Many people describe experiencing an innermost yearning for a deeper meaning and purpose to life, and sometimes even a secret desire for God and eternal life. But why do people experience such longings? And do such existential yearnings reflect something more than mere human subjectivity?

C. S. Lewis is one in a long line of Christian thinkers who think that such longings point to an external reality beyond this world. Here is Lewis describing what has come to be known as the “argument from desire” for God’s existence and life eternal:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.1

Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft here restates Lewis’s argument in logical form (in an argument, the premises provide support and the conclusion is the point to be accepted or rejected):

  • Premise 1: Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.
  • Premise 2: But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.
  • Conclusion: Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.2

The argument from desire as a whole is really an attempt to explain an aspect of the human condition. Virtually all human beings at one time or another experience a profound sense of wanting life to be deeply meaningful and satisfactory. Yet reflective people often recognize that meaning and purpose in life are often elusive and that finite reality doesn’t seem to offer the fulfillment that they are looking for.

So how is this common human existential condition best explained?…

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Argument from Desire and Abductive Reasoning | Reflections