Pease: A fish story for my atheist friends

The following is a story, written several years ago by a high school student where I live. His “Fish Story” is perhaps the most profound piece on the subject of the existence of God. As we look for ways to improve our lives the coming new year, improving our connection to a loving creator should top the list.

In one room, which was in one house, there was an aquarium. This aquarium was large, with strong glass walls. This aquarium was filled with clear, beautiful water, and had many fish. These were not ordinary fish—they were very advanced. In fact, they were so advanced that they formed a school. At the head of this school was Jim, the smartest of all the fishes. He was very respected by the fishes, and did his best to teach them well.

Dr. Harold Pease with Gary Pollock

Dr. Harold Pease with Gary Pollock

“Now,” he said, finishing up his lecture for the day, “we know there are many aquariums. We do not know if all these aquariums have fish, or even have water. We know that the aquariums built themselves long ago. Once they had done this, they filled themselves with water, and then fish spawned themselves in that water.”

Most of Jim’s students were very bright, and on their way to knowing as much as their very intelligent teacher. That is, except for one fish named Bill who just couldn’t grasp some of the concepts Jim taught. Because of his lack of knowledge, the other fish would tease him.

One night, Bill was swimming near the wall of the aquarium. Then, he saw it: a giant eye against the wall of the aquarium. Bill was afraid at first, but his fears were allayed as he stared at this eye. He felt a unique calm come over him. Then he saw another eye pressed up against the wall of the aquarium, and then what appeared to be a smiling face. This face spoke to Bill, who listened attentively to every word. When the face had gone, Bill quickly swam back to the other fish of the school.

“You won’t believe this.” Bill shouted to the other fish, who were now wondering why Bill had so frantically come to them. “I saw a being outside the aquarium. This being told me it was a human. It was much larger than us, even larger than the whole aquarium.”

That’s ridicules!” Snapped Jim, interrupting Bill. “We all know that nothing can live outside of an aquarium. There is no water outside. If this human exists, as you wish us believe, then how could its gill work where there is no water?”

“Well,” thought Bill, “maybe the human is different from us, able to exist where we cannot.” The other fish laughed, but Bill continued. “The human told me it built the aquarium itself, and filled it with water, and then placed us in the aquarium”

Once again, Jim interrupted Bill. “Listen to what you’re saying. Bill! We all know the aquarium created itself, and filled itself with water. Then we spawned in the aquarium, and that is how we came to be here. There is no such thing as a human and none of the fish in my school should pay any more attention to these foolish ideas, for they get in the way of the pursuit of intelligence. Ridiculous stories like this are why you are the lowest student in my school.”

Bill was heartbroken, and swam away as the other fish made fun of him. He began to doubt what he had seen. How could it be so if everyone else says that it wasn’t?

Some time later, Bill was again swimming near the wall of the aquarium, once again sad that he could not learn Jim’s teachings. Then, he saw the human again. This time he saw a smiling face with two appendages dropping food on the surface of the water of the aquarium. With this new discovery, he swam back to tell the other fish.

“I have seen the human again,” said Bill. “I saw the human drop food on the top of the water, and that is how our food comes.”

“This is foolish,” Jim once again snapped. “We all know food grows on its own at the surface of the water, and that is how our food comes. Bill, you invent these crazy ideas about a human because your feeble mind can’t understand the things I teach at my school.” The fish all laughed at Bill.

“No,” Bill pleaded, “the human exists, I saw it.”

“If this human is so intelligent,” Jim asked, “why does it show itself only to the lowest and least intelligent of all us fish? If this human is so smart as to live outside of the water, and even to build this aquarium, certainly it would be smart enough to know that I am the greatest of the fish. So why does this human choose to show itself and the great work it can supposedly perform only to you, the least intelligent?”

“Maybe because I looked for the human,” Bill replied. “The human perhaps came to me because I have accepted that there are some things I do not know. Rather than trying to dictate how my surroundings behave, I listen to the possibility that I am wrong. I believe this human will show itself to any fish, so long as they go to the wall of the aquarium and look for the human.”

Now Jim became angry. “That’s ludicrous! I have become sick of your preaching of the existence of this human. If we are ever to benefit as a school, and become truly intelligent, we cannot waste time making up things like humans. In fact, I’m going to make a law that no fish can ever talk about a human in my school. If we are to truly gain intelligence, there must be a separation of human and school!”

Bill had become saddened by this. But nothing Jim, or any fish could say would change what he saw. No teaching in a fish school could change whether the human truly existed or not.

Dr. Harold Pease is an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 25 years at Taft College.

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