The evolution of desire


I remember sitting in my seventh grade science class learning about Lucy, the famous extinct hominid (Australopithecus afarensis),scientists believed lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago. Though the specifics are still debated today, this raised an interesting question in my young mind – what makes someone human?

Years later, while teaching in Dallas, a young lady who was finishing up her education in anthropology began to engage in my classes. This was a time for me where I began to again ask the question that plagued me as a child, but this time, from more of a scientific perspective, rather than a philosophical one.

Even in the last few months, while watching yet another Discovery Channel special, I realized every culture seems to have some form of spirituality. They (cultures) all long for something greater than themselves. So I tracked down my anthropologist friend to ask this question: Has there ever been any tribe, nation or group that had absolutely no awareness or desire for spiritual things?She wrote back and said, “No, none whatsoever.” She also said, “As a matter of fact, anthropologists use ‘ceremonial/ritual behavior’ as one of the identifiers of human behavior and cognition in the archaeological record.”


So, let’s take a meta-narrative view of life from an evolutionary perspective. Every desire we have has developed to meet a real tangible need. Hunger draws us to food, sensual desires lead us to procreate and fear develops to protect us from harm; even loneliness moves us to gather together in social groups for our greater well-being. So why does every tribe, tongue and nation worship something divine? How cruel of evolution to develop a longing in us that doesn’t exist? In fact, how did this happen? The brilliant scholar C.S. Lewis has an interesting answer:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is we were made for another world.”

It is built into us to long for meaning beyond what this world can offer. It’s a desire every group has dealt with. Even if we do discover some remote tribe that has absolutely no ceremonial or ritualistic behavior, why was this written into the hearts of the billions who have lived over the centuries, and still is today?

“…not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”  (2 Corinthians 3:3b English Standard Version)

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