Life in the Aquarium: Why I am Agnostic

Peter is a good friend and a former business colleague. Having lived in Honolulu Hawaii for 2 decades, he has acquired a license to wear the floral print shirt in this photo.

This week, Peter posted this missive to his Facebook page:

Peter Kay-a


Taking the atheist position that there is no God because there is no evidence is like being a fish in an aquarium. You state there is no such thing as an aquarium builder because you, as the fish, cannot find evidence of the builder. You, as the fish, insist that the aquarium just popped into existence on its own for no reason whatsoever. Yes, it’s ridiculous; being an atheist, that is.


My response to Peter:

The aquarium analogy is good, Peter. Point made…

I suspect that most atheists—or at least a significant fraction, like me—are more accurately agnostic. That is, we don’t deny that there is design, creativity or purpose to the universe (and to our existence), but we acknowledge that it is beyond our senses—and quite probably our comprehension—to fathom it from within our fish bowl. More importantly, atheists and agnostics vehemently reject scripture and institutional doctrine. These are human concoctions to explain the unexplainable—They are each self-anointing, pompous and righteous.

religious-symbols-squeezeAtheists and agnostics don’t buy into a 6,000 year old universe, a 6 day creation, the idea that man is created in the image of God, and especially, that a conscious god wishes for us to worship him and save others. Finally, we attribute much of the horror on earth to religion: Throughout recorded history, the very worst acts of mankind have been prosecuted in the name of God. Individuals of faith are the least likely to be tolerant and inclusive.

Further, we see that religion has been the enemy of science, technology and democracy and personal liberty. In my opinion, of all the acts committed in ‘His’ name, only music, art and architecture have beauty. Clearly, whatever is the purpose of our design and creation, man has completely screwed up the interpretation and fulfillment of his religious obligation.

That said, I practice the religion of my parents, and I employ it to mark life’s events. It connects me to a people and a community. I even strive to study its codes of conduct. There is no contradiction in doing so. I recognize that the wisdom of eons can be a greater force for good than my limited experience. But I do so through the lens of scientific reasoning, an agnostic psyche, and a willingness to edit sections that undermine domestic tranquility.


13 thoughts on “Life in the Aquarium: Why I am Agnostic

  1. Now and then, someone will ask me “What religion are you?” Unless I am standing in the immigration queue at Dharan International, I invariably answer “I am an atheist.” There is almost nothing more irritating than the resposnse i invariably get: “No you’re not! You’re agnostic, aren’t you?”

    Sorry, but I’m an atheist. I believe in verifiable truth. The scientific method. Pictures, or it didn’t happen. Show me some evidence of a god, any god, and not only will I give you my piano, (and one of my legs, and my wife), I’ll be a believer. Until then, I believe in the truth. It might not be your truth, but unless you try to indoctrinate me (or put me in a fishtank) I’ll probably leave you be. Speaking of which….

    The fishtank argument is specious- it solves the problem of ‘where did the fishtank come from’, but we’re left with the great uncle of the same question: “where did the fishtank maker come from?” The answer to that spiral inquisition may never be known, no matter what we call ourselves. In the meantime, please don’t call me agnostic. I’m an atheist, and proud of it, man!

  2. Did you read my Heartwings Love Notes for this week? It is called The God Connection. There is a version of it on WordPress under that title. I would be interested in your comment.. Wishing you a gladsome spring and bunnies abounding!

  3. I have now, Pujakins. Thank you for pointing to it…

    I admire your writing and personal spirit—especially your admirable disambiguation between God and man’s vain attempt to mold him into a conscious being of validation and wish fulfillment.

  4. Thanks Ellery for posting this. Would be great to have a layman’s debate on the topic. First, you cannot be an agnostic and then take a position, as by definition you “don’t know”. If you don’t know, then you essentially are out of the debate 🙂

    Second, your arguments are against religion. I am not making an argument in favor of religion. I’m arguing for God, the uncaused first cause. Here’s a good argument:

    • Hey! You are the ‘Peter’ that wrote the Blog that I quoted. Cool! [ed: Source verified]

      The linked video presents an argument for the existence of God. But let’s face it, Peter, this reasoning is quite a stretch! Tracing our universe back from the present, the video follows this logic, trying very hard to make it seem that this is a scientific exploration…

      • Based on observed evidence (the red shift), the universe is expanding
      • Therefore, it must have had a beginning at some time in the past
      • If there was a beginning, then there must have been a creation (an unreliable assumption!)
      • If there was a creation, then there must have been a creator

      I am a poor person with whom to debate the existence of God, because I don’t deny the possibility. (Hence, I labeled myself Agnostic rather than Atheist). But if the purpose of this video is to prove the existence of a God, then it fails miserably. It resorts to the same self-reinforcing logic that is the foundation of faith and scripture. I acknowledge that you are debating God and not religion, but this video barely rises above the statement “It is written, therefore it is true”.

      On the other hand, I recognize the above average production quality of this video. The producer used compelling graphics, a good script and a great speaker. I especially liked the chicken and the egg!

  5. The Kalam argument is pretty basic:

    1. The Universe had a beginning (aka Big Bang).
    2. Everything that has a beginning has a cause.
    3. The Universe has a cause.

    What’s refutable here?

  6. Oy! I feel that I am debating a point that needs no debate!

    1. There is no evidence that the universe had a beginning. The evidence that suggests there is expansion from a singularity does not further suggest that the “bang” was the beginning of everything. It may simply the be the beginning of the latest iteration—Or it may be the beginning in this multiverse node and not all multiverse nodes. No one knows if the universe had a beginning.

    2. Your second rule says “Everything that has a beginning has a cause”. This reads like an axiom. I see no reason for such rule. It is nonsense.

    More to the point, I have repeatedly explained that I do not refute or deny any of these things. There may be a God and the universe may have a beginning. I will even acknowledge that these things are slightly more probable than the existence of unicorns and Santa Claus…

    The effort to answer such questions are a fool’s errand. If we were designed or crafted by an intelligent being, she/he certainly doesn’t expect us to be aware of those facts. They are so far beyond our time, our realm and our senses—that every comment on the issue is sheer speculation in the absence of any data.

    On the other hand, studying religions themselves is not foolish: roots, philosophies, moral codes, rituals, political influence, campaigns to proselytize, etc). Learning from the wisdom and horrors of human endeavors is valid science. Hopefully, it helps us to avoid making the mistakes of our ancestors.

    Incidentally, there is another possibility: (A cause, but not an intelligent design):

    Some science fiction writers and TV shows have speculated that our species–or even the whole universe–are the waste, byproduct, or diorama of another culture (far from us or external to our universe).

    I realize that this would raise the question of that other culture’s origin. But then, theists must dodge the same question when they point to God as the creator of all things, but fail to explain the creation of God.

  7. There is a huge body of science that at time=0 of the big bang was the point when the universe had a beginning. It is nearly by definition to be the case. The wild speculation with no supporting evidence are the theories floated around about what happened before time began. But there is little doubt the universe had a beginning.

    Theists do not have to explain the creation of God because God is not defined as having a beginning. Asking what created God is like asking how many sides does a circle have. There is also no evidence that God had a beginning, unlike the Universe.

  8. I respect your opinion, Peter.

    • If I limited my friendships or association to those who agree with me on all issues, I would have no friends.
    • If I expected everyone to at least reason like me, I would be frustrated. The expectation is wholly unrealistic.

    The only expectation I have of my friends is that they be tolerant of other interests, opinions and habits. That is, intolerance is the one thing of which I am intolerant.

    You, Peter, are a dear friend. Thank God for you!

  9. Interesting discussion you’ve begun, Ellery.

    I wanted to point out, though, that I know liberal Christians who believe all of the things you say atheists and agnostics believe (“Atheists and agnostics don’t buy into a 6,000 year old universe, a 6 day creation, the idea that man is created in the image of God, and especially, that a conscious god wishes for us to worship him and save others. Finally, we attribute much of the horror on earth to religion: Throughout recorded history, the very worst acts of mankind have been prosecuted in the name of God. Individuals of faith are the least likely to be tolerant and inclusive.”).

    I would also like to point out that you’re ignoring the incredibly positive role that religion played in movements of social change, like the Civil Rights movement in the American South. Members of religious traditions are humans, and as such, they do both very good things and very bad things. This does not necessarily mean that religion itself is at fault.

    I don’t get into arguments about whether there is a creator/God because I don’t see the point. For one, what definition of “God” are we using? There are many more definitions of God than the “guy in the sky” definition. Check out Process Theology if you’d like to see an example of a completely non-anthropomorphic, non-interventionst, non-conscious “god.” Even if we could agree on a definition of “God”, we can’t know for sure if that God exists (or maybe it’s just that I don’t know for sure and I’m projecting). We can draw lines in the sand or we can try to meet one another where we are with understanding and compassion for the evolving world view that shapes each of our lives.

  10. Excellent points, Charity! I resisted getting into god-definitions and Process Theology, but since you brought it up, I know of one divinity scholar who describes it in a way that evokes a lucid analogy to the “The Force” in Star Wars.

    While comparing God to science fiction may seem a blasphemy, the way George Lucas envisioned it fits with many Jewish and Buddhist theologians. It is something more than natural law (e.g. Mother Nature). Some have described God as a universal consciousness, a keel or a balance and an order; a reckoning that facilitates good and reacts to bad.

    That said, I don’t pretend to believe what I have attempted to describe. Neither do I disbelieve it. As I implied above, I admit/acknowledge these things about the existence of God:

    • I don’t know
    • I cannot be expected to know
    • No one else knows. They don’t even have an educated guess
    • I don’t lose sleep over the issue (i.e. I don’t really care)
    • It is an ‘argument of the beard’. An enormous amount of time and effort has been wasted on the issue throughout the ages. With our limited senses and fishbowl perspective, we simply don’t have the tools to answer such a question.

    And finally, this…

    If there is a god, he certainly doesn’t care if we recognize or acknowledge his existence. This is the only thing of which I am certain. After all, it would be vain, pointless and cruel.

  11. One more thing, Charity…

    You are generous in stating that religion has been at the root of good as well as bad. Count me as jaded, but I just don’t see it beyond the limited personal comfort that it gives to individuals in times of celebration or crisis.

    I don’t believe that religion has played a positive role in the civil rights movement or other watershed events. These were secular/political events. Some of the leaders were clergy, but for the most part, I doubt that acts of foresight or compassion were borne of their spiritual training, education or institutional cloak. Rather, I suspect that they exceeded their training by having the strength to cast off the hate, self-righteousness, and fortress mentality that is baked into most religions.

    • The lineage of nonviolent resistance travels from Martin Luther King, Jr, back to Gandhi, Tolstoy (who authored The Kingdom of God is Within You about nonviolent nonresistance), and eventually to Rev. Adin Ballou, a New England Universalist minister and abolitionist (who preached and wrote widely about Christian nonresistance; I’ve not been able to trace Ballou’s influences beyond the bible). You can argue that these men were the exception rather than the rule, that it was their individual moral conscience rather than their faith that compelled them to fight for social justice, but I suspect that most, if not all, would disagree with you (and I also don’t think it’s possible to pinpoint where faith ends and moral conscience begins, or vice versa).

      Certainly the social movements in the South and in India weren’t religious movements, but their leaders were deeply influenced by their own religious beliefs. Would they have led the movements had they lacked the religious beliefs? It’s impossible to say. That would be a whole different history, but in the history that exists, the concept of nonviolent resistance clearly sprung from religious teachings (which—lest we forget—are human institutions, although I recognize that this view would be sacrilegious to some).

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