An Agnostics Perspective
A lesson in logic
Tags: Religion, Eragon, Books
There’s a specific dialog that goes on in Eldest
, the second book of the Inheritance Cycle
(Eragon), about religion that I thought worded my general beliefs on the subject, though in a fantasy setting, quite well. I have included this verbatim below, which basically describes how agnostics reason. I particularly like the last paragraph, which basically says how non god-fairing people can be, from a certain perspective, in a way, on a higher moral ground due to basing their actions on what is right because they want to help others, as opposed to fearing divine retribution. FYI
, this doesn’t really contain any spoilers for the books. The following text is copyrighted by the author, Christopher Paolini
Nine days later, Eragon presented himself to Oromis1 and said, “Master, it struck me last night that neither you nor the hundreds of elven scrolls I’ve read have mentioned your religion. What do elves believe?”
A long sigh was Oromis’s first answer. Then: “We believe that the world behaves according to certain inviolable rules and that, by persistent effort, we can discover those rules and use them to predict events when circumstances repeat.”
Eragon blinked. That did not tell him what he wanted to know. “But who, or what, do you worship?”
“You worship the concept of nothing?”
“No, Eragon. We do not worship at all.”
The thought was so alien, it took Eragon several moments to grasp what Oromis meant. The villagers of Carvahall2 lacked a single overriding doctrine, but they did share a collection of superstitions and rituals, most of which concerned warding off bad luck. During the course of his training, it had dawned upon Eragon that many of the phenomena that the villagers attributed to supernatural sources were in fact natural processes, such as when he learned in his meditations that maggots hatched from fly eggs instead of spontaneously arising from the dirt, as he had thought before. Nor did it make sense for him to put out an offering of food to keep sprites from turning the milk sour when he knew that sour milk was actually caused by a proliferation of tiny organisms in the liquid. Still, Eragon remained convinced that otherworldly forces influenced the world in mysterious ways, a belief that his exposure to the dwarves’ religion3 had bolstered. He said, “Where do you think the world came from, then, if it wasn’t created by the gods?”
“Which gods, Eragon?”
“Your gods, the dwarf gods, our gods... someone must have created it.”
Oromis raised an eyebrow. “I would not necessarily agree with you. But be as that may, I cannot prove that gods do not exist. Nor can I prove that the world and everything in it was not created by an entity or entities in the distant past. But I can tell you that in the millennia we elves have studied nature, we have never witnessed an instance where the rules that govern the world have been broken. That is, we have never seen a miracle. Many events have defied our ability to explain, but we are convinced that we failed because we are still woefully ignorant about the universe and not because a deity altered the workings of nature.”
“A god wouldn’t have to alter nature to accomplish his will,” asserted Eragon. “He could do it within the system that already exists.... He could use magic to affect events.”
Oromis smiled. “Very true. But ask yourself this, Eragon: If gods exist, have they been good custodians of Alagaësia2? Death, sickness, poverty, tyranny, and countless other miseries stalk the land. If this is the handiwork of divine beings, then they are to be rebelled against and overthrown, not given obeisance, obedience, and reverence.”
“The dwarves believe3—”
“Exactly! The dwarves believe. When it comes to certain matters, they rely upon faith rather than reason. They have even been known to ignore proven facts that contradict their dogma.”
“Like what?” demanded Eragon.
“Dwarf priests use coral as proof that stone is alive and can grow, which also corroborates their story that Helzvog3 formed the race of dwarves out of granite. But we elves discovered that coral is actually an exoskeleton secreted by minuscule animals that live inside the coral. Any magician can sense the animals if he opens his mind. We explained this to the dwarves, but they refused to listen, saying that the life we felt resides in every kind of stone, although their priests are the only ones who are supposed to be able to detect the life in landlocked stones.”
For a long time, Eragon stared out the window, turning Oromis’s words over in his mind. “You don’t believe in an afterlife, then.”
“From what Glaedr said, you already knew that.”
“And you don’t put stock in gods.”
“We give credence only to that which we can prove exists. Since we cannot find evidence that gods, miracles, and other supernatural things are real, we do not trouble ourselves about them. If that were to change, if Helzvog were to reveal himself to us, then we would accept the new information and revise our position.”
“It seems a cold world without something... more.”
“On the contrary,” said Oromis, “it is a better world. A place where we are responsible for our own actions, where we can be kind to one another because we want to and because it is the right thing to do instead of being frightened into behaving by the threat of divine punishment. I won’t tell you what to believe, Eragon. It is far better to be taught to think critically and then be allowed to make your own decisions than to have someone else’s notions thrust upon you. You asked after our religion, and I have answered you true. Make of it what you will.”
: Eragon is the protagonist of the book who is currently being tutored in magic by Oromis, an elf. The elves are an enlightened species that view the world as scientists.
: Carvahall is the farming village Eragon grew up in, in the world of Alagaësia.
: The dwarves have a typical polytheistic religion. In their case, they believe that they were created from stone by their god, Helzvog, and that coral, by growing, is proof that stone is alive.