Yearning for more

An argument sometimes raised in support of religious belief is that all of us yearn for a deeper, more profound meaning in our lives, a meaning that we cannot see but which we feel must exist. Some people even go on to argue that the very existence of this yearning requires it to have a supernatural fulfillment, because 1) all other human yearnings can be fulfilled, and 2) a yearning so profound cannot be satisfied by mundane natural phenomena.

I think there are many things wrong with this argument, but I’ll mention just a few.

First, not everyone has such a yearning for deeper meaning (personally, I have never felt such a longing). So how many people must experience such a yearning for the apologist’s argument to be compelling? Does it take only one?

Second, I strongly object to the idea that we only experience longings that can, in principle, be fulfilled. A quick example serves to shatter this claim: many people have felt, at one time or another, a yearning to fly. As a child, I often wished that I could simply spread my arms and soar above the trees. But that was never going to happen, and it never will. Should I assume, then, as the apologist does, that there must be some sort of supernatural flying experience awaiting me after death, to ensure that my longing can be fulfilled? This seems to be nothing more than a thinly disguised exercise in wishful thinking.

Thirdly, how do Christian apologists know that their yearning for deeper meaning will be fulfilled by the Christian god? Indeed, how do they know it will be fulfilled by any supernatural being at all? Isn’t it possible that their longing might be fulfilled by some supernatural extension of their own emotions or intellect that allows them to appreciate deeper meaning without the aid of a deity? A simple yearning for something deeper carries in it absolutely no information about how that yearning might be fulfilled.

Yearning for something greater is related to another phenomenon, namely the sense that something greater and more profound is out there: that the world around us is not the whole picture. Therefore, Jesus. The weaknesses of this argument are very similar to those of the yearning argument: not everyone has this feeling; it does not actually require a plausible fulfillment; and it certainly doesn’t point directly to a deity, let alone the Christian one.

On a final note, those who promote supernatural causes for their yearnings and other feelings are ignoring the rich offerings of the rapidly growing field of neuroscience. It is not difficult for our brains to generate feelings of desire or yearning. Brains are quite good at that kind of thing. I suspect that most people who champion the yearning-for-more argument are afraid that by looking at how the brain works (and how easily it is influenced by chemicals), they will jeopardize their romantic view of the world as a place wreathed in spiritual mystery and enigma.

I’d rather wake up and smell the coffee.

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