Our Desire for Five Transcendentals Shows that God Exists
The presence of our enhanced human consciousness not only differentiates humans from animals, it also aids in making the case for the existence of God. That’s because through our consciousness we yearn for five transcendental experiences, none of which are necessary for survival. These five transcendentals are our desire for: (1) perfect knowledge/truth, (2) perfect love, (3) perfect justice/goodness, (4) perfect beauty, and (5) perfect home/being. Most interestingly, any earthly satisfaction of these five inner desires leaves us feeling frustrated and wanting more. That’s because what we desire is a perfect experience of each of these five transcendentals, but which is not attainable here on earth.
Of all living creatures, only we humans have an innate and conscious desire for perfection. But, since perfect knowledge/truth, perfect love, perfect justice/goodness, perfect beauty, and perfect home/being don’t exist here on earth, why do we seek them? It makes no sense for us to seek that which is unattainable. We only seek that which is attainable, if not here then in the hereafter.
What we seek is something transcendental, something beyond our world and beyond our earthly experience. What we seek is God, who is Perfect Knowledge/Truth, Perfect Love, Perfect Justice/Goodness, Perfect Beauty, and Perfect Home/Being. For as St. Augustine of Hippo wrote nearly 1,600 years ago, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
Priest, philosopher, and theologian Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., has written several books (notably New Proofs for the Existence of God) about how our ultimately unfulfilled yearning for these five transcendental experiences provides evidence of the existence of God. Let’s take a closer look at each of these five transcendental desires found within the human condition.
(1) Desire for Perfect Knowledge/Truth
Even in young children, we find a desire for perfect knowledge when they ask “Why is that?” and when given an answer they then ask the next question, “Well, why is that?” It seems this questioning would go on forever, at least until an adult brings it to an end! This process reveals that children (indeed, all of us) recognize the inadequacy of a partial answer, and that true satisfaction will occur only when a complete and perfect understanding has been achieved.
Humans do not seek just practical knowledge (e.g., “How do I get the food I need to survive?”). Rather, we want to know just for the sake of knowing, and we have an innate desire for a complete and perfect explanation. This is evident in the ongoing work of science in seeking a more complete understanding of our world. We know we have not yet reached a perfect understanding of our world so we research and seek more knowledge, more truth.
Interestingly, we know our knowledge is not complete. If we did not know it was incomplete, we would not keep asking additional questions. It is our awareness that there is more to be known at the very moment when something is known which drives us to additional questioning. We have an awareness of the more.
The issue then arises: Why do we continue asking questions every time something is understood, as if we intuitively know that our current knowledge is limited and does not meet our desire to know all that is to be known? How can we be aware of something beyond everything we currently understand? Why do we have an awareness that what we now know is only a partially complete answer?
This intuitive awareness that there is more to be known than what we now know seems to defy a naturalistic explanation. All our knowledge is incomplete and we know it. But, why are we aware that there is more to be known beyond what we currently know?
It seems the best explanation is that our conscious desire for perfect knowledge and complete truth has been written in our human nature by God, who is the Perfect Knowledge and Perfect Truth that we seek. This awareness of the more reveals the presence of God to human consciousness and grounds the belief in human transcendentality (the presence of our soul).
(2) Desire for Perfect Love
We humans also have a desire for perfect and unconditional love. However, this desire can mislead us into expecting perfect love from another human being. When the relationship does not fulfill our desire for perfect love, this expectation leads to frustration and quite possibly to a decline in the relationship. For example, as the imperfections in the love of our beloved manifest themselves (e.g., our spouse is not perfectly understanding, kind, forgiving, self-giving, and concerned for me and all my interests), we at first become irritated. This irritation often leads to frustration, which in turn becomes dashed expectations. These dashed expectations may become either quiet hurt or overt demands, both aimed at extracting a more perfect love from our beloved. When this perfect love does not happen, thoughts of terminating the relationship may arise.
Why do we fall prey to such an obvious error? Because our desire is for love to be perfect and unconditional, but the reality is otherwise. We humans just cannot satisfy each other’s desire for perfect and unconditional love, no matter how hard we try. Thus, our dissatisfaction and frustration arise out of a conscious desire for a perfect love, a love that cannot be experienced in our relationships with others.
But, what is the origin of our deep desire and yearning for perfect love? Why would we have this desire for perfect love, especially as it just leaves us feeling dissatisfied and frustrated when we cannot find it with another person? Why do we have an awareness of and desire for a type of love that we have neither known nor will experience from another human being?
It seems we are searching for perfect love in all the wrong places. Our desire for perfect and unconditional love can only be met by the Perfect Love (God). Again, we find that God has implanted in each of us a conscious desire for a perfect love that only God can fulfill.
(3) Desire for Perfect Justice/Goodness
In addition, we have a conscious desire for perfect justice and goodness. For example, even in young children an imperfect expression of justice from their parents will elicit the immediate response, “That’s not fair!” Adults do the same thing. We feel the same outrage toward groups, social structures, and even God when we perceive that we have not been treated fairly. We truly expect that perfect justice ought to happen, and when it doesn’t we feel a profound and deep outrage. We seem to expect more justice and goodness than our finite world can deliver, and this causes outrage and cynicism when it does not come to pass.
Once more, what could be the source of our desire for perfect justice and goodness, especially when it seems to be well beyond the actual justice and goodness that we can possibly experience? Given that our desire for perfect justice/goodness cannot be found in an imperfect world, it seems that its’ origin is from perfect Justice/Goodness itself. For this reason, philosophers have associated this notion of perfect Justice/Goodness with the presence of God to human consciousness.
(4) Desire for Perfect Beauty
Once in a great while, we think we have found perfect beauty. This might occur while looking at a scene of wonderful natural beauty: a magnificent red sunset over the water or majestic snowcapped mountains against a horizon of blue sky. Yet, even then, we get bored and strive for an even more perfect manifestation of natural beauty―a little better sunset, another vantage point of the mountains that’s a little more perfect.
As with the other transcendentals, we seem to have an innate awareness of what is most beautiful. This incites us to desire a perfectly beautiful ideal, which leads to both positive and negative results. The positive result is the continuous human striving for artistic, musical, and literary perfection. This striving has left a magnificent cultural legacy of architecture, art, music, drama, etc. However, the negative effect is that we grow bored or frustrated with any imperfect manifestation of beauty. For example, a flowering garden can achieve a certain degree of beauty. But, our continued desire to improve it only makes us feel dissatisfied when we cannot perfect it indefinitely.
As with the other transcendentals, we are innately aware of and attracted to perfect beauty itself. But, where does our conscious sense of perfect beauty (which does not even exist in our world) come from? Since it seems that the notion of perfect Beauty cannot be obtained from a world of imperfect beauty, we are led to the realization that its’ origin arises out of perfect Beauty itself. For this reason, philosophers have associated this notion of perfect beauty with the presence of perfect Beauty (i.e., God) to human consciousness.
(5) Desire for Perfect Home/Being
The fifth transcendental is our desire to be at perfect harmony and peace in our being and in our world. When our desire for perfect home is even partially fulfilled, theologians, saints, and mystics throughout the ages have referred to this as joy, love, awe, unity, holiness, and/or peace. Again, we need to ask what gives rise to our desire for perfect harmony and our yearning to feel comfortably at home in our world? Once more, the origin of this awareness seems to be traceable to the perfect Home itself. For this reason, philosophers and theologians have associated our desire for a perfect home with the presence of God to human consciousness.
In summary, we find evidence of God’s existence in our desire for these five transcendental experiences. Our yearning for “more” leave us with an emptiness that only God can fill. For as C.S. Lewis stated in Mere Christianity, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food… 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.”
God is perfect and wants us to be one with Him. Thus, our inner craving for perfection must come from and is directed towards God alone. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#27) states, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.”