…well, mostly gods.
Fantasy novels shouldn’t be polemics. Using a book to bang on about your personal bugbears is never a good thing, which is why the idea of religion is still pretty central to Stormwatcher. I did toy with the idea of ditching religion entirely(it would have made me much happier), and I still have the desire to create a fantasy world in which the concept of religion doesn’t exist, but I have pretty much come to terms with the gods of this story.
Why should it bother me so much? I guess that as a considered atheist, who has come to this point after much thinking, observation and careful reading, I am still a little uncomfortable with producing anything that seems to affirm the religious viewpoint. Having had yet more of the same-old same-old today, I once again realised how little most people know about the underpinnings of science and how it differs from religion. I clearly can’t rely on my readers to discern the difference, and I’m certainly not going to plunk the explanation (see below for a brief version) into any sort of fiction until I can work out a graceful way of doing it. There are hints, of course; Caedun’s discussion with Merrel about whether dragons are myth or reality is one, because it centres on the idea of evidence. Much later, Keron and Tiel, trying to help Merrell in the infirmary, come up with what is essentially a randomised controlled trial, and the scientific concept of blinding.
Perhaps this is really the only way it can be done – not with the actual proofs, not with debunking the vagaries of human perception that result in concepts like the numinous and transcendent (which, incidentally, can now be reproduced scientifically) or in neurological and evolutionary explanations that take time and a basic scientific understanding. If people grasp why the truths of science have a concreteness about them that is utterly different from that of belief, then maybe they can at least start along the path to understanding the scientific view.
And gods are going to be with us for a long time yet. Even if the world turned atheist overnight, they are there in our myths, our paintings and our architecture, and that’s just the obvious places. However the fact that so much beauty has come from religion is not an argument in its favour; you have to remember that until recently, religion was the only game in town, or at least the only paying one, and it was also the one that could kill you with impunity if you didn’t fall into line.
There are a lot of people out there who would like to take us back to that.
Explanation: people claim that scientists are ‘believed’ in the same way the tenets of a religion are believed, and it’s true that in this complex world a lot of science has to be taken on trust. But for any aspect of science, absolutely, one hundred percent any part of it, if you took the time to study it and learn its techniques, you could prove those scientific truths yourself. ‘Belief’ in science is simply an admission that I don’t have time to run around training in astrophysics and cellular biology and pure mathematics. But I know that if I wished to, all the explanations and proofs are there for me.
I may not be able to demonstrate right now that the moon is a rocky sphere that you can land on, but (if I were younger and fitter) I could apply to NASA for astronaut training and prove to my satisfaction that it was.
Nothing about faith can be proved in this way, and that is how belief and science differ.