This Christian argument looks at innate human desires and sees a hint of God. We feel hunger so therefore there must be food, we desire companionship and therefore there are other people, and we yearn for the supernatural, so therefore there must be a god.
This reasoning is easy to understand and has an intuitive appeal, but it fails under closer inspection. If our feelings are a reliable instinctual pointer to the supernatural, why then do we fear death? If we instinctively know there is a god and an eternal place for our soul after life on earth, humans should differ from other animals in having an ambivalence about death or even a longing for it. We don’t.
This argument imagines that hunger points to the existence of food, but it’s the other way around. It’s as backward as the thinking of Douglas Adams’ puddle, which marveled at how well-crafted its hole was. We don’t notice hunger and then conclude that food must exist; rather, animals need food to survive, and evolution selects those that successfully strive to get it.
This argument lists fundamental, innate, physical needs and drives like food, water, sex, safety, and sleep. It could also add higher-level desires for beauty, justice, knowledge, friendship, love, or companionship. The Christian may want to avoid the skeptic adding Aladdin’s lamp or superpowers to the list and so reject anything that doesn’t obviously exist. But if we’re to keep food and drink (which we know exist) and reject magic lamps and superpowers (which we don’t know exist), we must be consistent and discard God. And note that if the desires for food, water, sex, and other basics are never fulfilled, the human race dies out. By contrast, hunger for the supernatural has nothing to do with survival. The hazy desire for a god to make everything right doesn’t logically fit in with mandatory drives. Calling the desire for God innate is hard to justify when we share basic drives for food, water, and so on with other social animals but not a desire for the supernatural.
C. S. Lewis said, “It would be very odd if the phenomenon called ‘falling in love’ occurred in a sexless world.” But is it odd? People believe you can talk to the dead or that the motion of the planets affects your life, and yet these beliefs are false. It’s not at all odd that humans desire things that don’t exist.
We can imagine perfect justice, world peace, or a loving god, but that doesn’t make them reality. As with the Ontological Argument in chapter 8, thinking of it doesn’t make it so.
Wishful thinking in religion is like wishful thinking in a store’s health and beauty aisle, or in diets, or in end-of-life care. It’d be great to look younger or live longer, and it’d be great to have an all-powerful Friend looking out for you. That doesn’t make it so. As with claims for cosmetics and cure-alls, we must be skeptical.
Continue to chapter 7.
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