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Just finished the game, so this'll contain endgame spoilers.  I want to discuss the differing approaches to philosophy/religion as the game progresses.

 

Initially, philosophical/religious questions in the game seemed very interesting, e.g. why souls cycle, why some remember, whether guilt is carried from life to life, nature of Waidwen/Eothas, etc.  The questions seemed too big for it to be realistic that the player would find completely comprehensive, solid answers (which is why I appreciate Edér not getting answers in his own quest), but it was still interesting to ask them, to hope that we might find some meaningful scraps that could help us paint a slightly bigger picture.

 

Then we get to the endgame and I feel like the approach up to this point was turned upside down.  Mystery was taken away and we were straight-out told that the gods generally worshipped aren't "real" in the sense of not being creators, and, furthermore (if I understood Iovara correctly) that the world definitely, absolutely wasn't created by a god or gods.  This was quite a jolt, to my mind, from the nuanced portrayal of philosophy/religion up to this point, which was full of maybes.  The very idea of being able to prove that the universe certainly wasn't created by a divine being (which I believe Iovara claimed the Engwithans did, and she replicated) is absurd, as it requires encapsulation of a system that contains the person making the reasoning (in a manner somewhat similar to Gödel's incompleteness theorems).  One can easily argue that it's just as absurd to be able to prove that the universe was created by a divine being, or that the onus of proof lies on those making positive claims, and that's all very fair, but no characters in the game actually seemed to be claiming that they could prove creation by gods (e.g. Thaos didn't rely on scientific/logical proof but on charisma/popularity and intimidation/fear).  And at once it seemed like the PC just had to accept what Iovara said, and the party did too - ironically, on faith!

 

I found this change especially odd because I was playing a priest of Eothas, a god that might very well not exist anymore.  My character had been dealing with this for years and managed quite well, as evidenced by some of the conversation options that she had early in the game (which, unfortunately, seemed to dry up as it progressed).  Edér seemed to cope well also, continuing to find some solace and inspiration in the positive qualities of Eothas even in a situation where Eothas seems to have been totally annihilated.  Maybe it was lost in a branch of the conversation tree that I didn't reach, but I saw no option to make comments in this vein to Iovara or Thaos, comments that reflected the mystery, the "don't know, but hope and believe" aspect of faith in a god that might be dead.  At the endgame, it seemed to come down to a dichotomy of "people should be free and bravely face the truth that gods don't exist" or "people need to be controlled/manipulated, so inventing gods was right."  There was no "maybe gods created the world, maybe they didn't, but I'm going to believe in good wherever I see it, in people or 'gods'."  No choice to say "maybe my god wasn't just blown up, maybe he was actually never a god, but I still believe in what he represents."  Also no option to logically challenge a "proof" (by Iovara/Engwithans) that I think can't be logically consistent (not that I *really* want to get into logical one-upmanship with a brave woman who has suffered for a long time; I just don't like having to mindlessly accept her views).  To me, it seemed like an impoverishment.

 

What are people's views on this?

Edited by Estelindis
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She wasn't saying that gods didn't create the world.

 

She was saying that if there were gods out there, the Engwithans didn't have the means to detect them nor were the Gods blatantly communicating with people. The Engwithans created Gods because they couldn't handle functioning on faith.

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"Generation after generation, they prodded and worked the stitching of the world and unlocked its secrets. One day they found an answer - except the answer was no answer at all. There were no gods to be found. Or if there ever were, they were gone"

 

Emphasis added.

 

Iovara isn't making any statements about the creation of the universe or the existence of actual gods. She is stating that the "beings" commonly accepted as gods are actually not gods at all, and that the people acting as missionaries know this. 

 

The question then becomes, is it better to know the truth or believe a lie?

 

Thaos is willing to kill millions of people because he believes that we are basically animals, and that forcing others to believe the lie saves millions more.

Iovara is willing to sacrifice herself because she believe that people are basically good and capable of living moral lives without being hoodwinked.

 

Both may be right and both may be wrong. The game is asking you which one of those propositions you believe.

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"Art and song are creations but so are weapons and lies"

"Our worst enemies are inventions of the mind. Pleasure. Fear. When we see them for what they are, we become unstoppable."

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As Achilles says - this is one of those answers that just raises more questions.

 

And crucially, for your priest, it raises this one: "Do we follow the gods out of indebtedness, or out of admiration?"

If I'm typing in red, it means I'm being sarcastic. But not this time.

Dark green, on the other hand, is for jokes and irony in general.

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What's funny about this to me is that standard fantasy gods are usually not all that different than the gods of Eora in the sense that they usually are not the creators of the world but were created by a greater and more distant god (or in some cases are nothing but ascended mortals).  So in essence they are just more powerful beings who have no true divinity in the sense that we might conceive of it from a real world religious perspective.  Which ultimately just brings up the question of what exactly defines a god.  To me the gods of Eora are pretty much just as much gods as the gods of most other fantasy settings, only with a more peculiar origin.  Which is to say they really aren't gods, but simply very powerful beings who manipulate and control those weaker themselves due to exaggerated ideals and concepts that are integral to their "divine" identities.

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The main conflict in the end is precisely that:

Do you trust people enough that they will continue to hold up your ideals (e.g. what Eothas represented) because they (ideals as well as people) are inherently good and will do so out of general decency?

Or don't you and think that the Engwithan god-machines are necessary to force Eothas' ideals on people?

 

That the gods did not create the world is quite a common trope both in Fantasy and real life (in many stories, Zeus did not create the world). Being the creator is not necessary to be divine.

What PoE does is this:

We have a people (the Engwithans) who devoted their culture to finding "scientific" proof of god(s). They didn't. (You could argue that it mirrors our own world in that respect. I am Christian, but I believe that it is fundamentally impossible to prove God scientifically.) Iovara's words don't say anything whether a god actually exists. They just state that the Engwithans didn't find one and concluded that either there was none, or that they had departed. And considering the basic problems in proving the non-existence of something, that does not really inspire trust in their methods.

But as they thought gods (or better, personifications of principles with the task of a moral police) to be necessary for the well-being of kith, they built some.

 

So we don't know whether there are gods in Eora. We can be fairly sure that they can't be proven to exist. And we are sure that whoever created this world, it was not the gods of Engwithan religion.

Edited by Varana
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Therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium. -W.B. Yeats

 

Χριστός ἀνέστη!

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Thanks to all for replying!

 

Iovara isn't making any statements about the creation of the universe or the existence of actual gods. She is stating that the "beings" commonly accepted as gods are actually not gods at all, and that the people acting as missionaries know this. 

 

She wasn't saying that gods didn't create the world.  She was saying that if there were gods out there, the Engwithans didn't have the means to detect them nor were the Gods blatantly communicating with people. The Engwithans created Gods because they couldn't handle functioning on faith.

Thanks for the clarifications.  Subsequent to her saying this, so many dialogue options seem to run along the lines of gods not existing or being lies that I thought she was saying she could prove there were no creators (because she seemed to associate being a genuine god with being an uncreated creator).  

 

What's funny about this to me is that standard fantasy gods are usually not all that different than the gods of Eora in the sense that they usually are not the creators of the world but were created by a greater and more distant god (or in some cases are nothing but ascended mortals).  So in essence they are just more powerful beings who have no true divinity in the sense that we might conceive of it from a real world religious perspective.  Which ultimately just brings up the question of what exactly defines a god.  To me the gods of Eora are pretty much just as much gods as the gods of most other fantasy settings, only with a more peculiar origin.  Which is to say they really aren't gods, but simply very powerful beings who manipulate and control those weaker themselves due to exaggerated ideals and concepts that are integral to their "divine" identities.

Pretty much this.  Part of why I find it so weird here is that, in many fantasy settings, gods like this are accepted as being perfectly unproblematic.  (Certain other things, like the Wall of the Faithless, less so.  Was I the only one who saw a similarity between the PoE plot and Mask of the Betrayer, btw?  On that note, why didn't Wizards let us destroy that Wall in MotB when they got rid of it on the sly, with no mention how, in 4e FR?  But I digress.)  Also, Iovara's statements don't seem to lead the characters to question what a god is and why them being created should necessarily matter.  You can be outraged at inventing gods or you can support oppressing people via god-creation but, unless I missed it, you can't say that how or why the gods were created matters less than what they are now.

 

For myself, as an outsider looking in, I've always had problems with pantheons of the type you see in, for instance, Forgotten Realms.  However, I'm less sure that people living in such universes would necessarily have the same problems.  If you're never presented with the option of believing in an uncreated creator, would you feel the lack keenly?  If you would, why might that be?  Is it saying something fundamental about divinity that, for us, it has to be associated with being an uncreated creator?

 

The main conflict in the end is precisely that:
Do you trust people enough that they will continue to hold up your ideals (e.g. what Eothas represented) because they (ideals as well as people) are inherently good and will do so out of general decency?
Or don't you and think that the Engwithan god-machines are necessary to force Eothas' ideals on people?

The thing is, that's dealing with a past that my character can't undo.  If we're talking about the future: had she been given the option to make a new "Eothas" from the souls in the machine at the end, she would have absolutely refused.  Whatever Eothas was, she doesn't believe he would have wanted that.  So, whatever about the past, going forward she's relying on the ideals of Eothas being inherently good and trying to appeal to and help others via those ideals.

 

We have a people (the Engwithans) who devoted their culture to finding "scientific" proof of god(s). They didn't. (You could argue that it mirrors our own world in that respect. I am Christian, but I believe that it is fundamentally impossible to prove God scientifically.) Iovara's words don't say anything whether a god actually exists. They just state that the Engwithans didn't find one and concluded that either there was none, or that they had departed. And considering the basic problems in proving the non-existence of something, that does not really inspire trust in their methods.
But as they thought gods (or better, personifications of principles with the task of a moral police) to be necessary for the well-being of kith, they built some.

So we don't know whether there are gods in Eora. We can be fairly sure that they can't be proven to exist. And we are sure that whoever created this world, it was not the gods of Engwithan religion.

This all seems very fair to me.  As you say, I feel like their methods don't inspire much trust.  Iovara seemed to represent their probing of existence as being in some kind of lab-like setting, but for me a more interesting approach would be seeking signs of inconsistency via methods of historical analysis.  It would be less certain but perhaps more persuasive (since, for me at least, over-reaching claims don't inspire confidence).

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over-reaching claims don't inspire confidence

Which claim is this being applied to? More importantly, which claim isn't this being applied to?

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"Art and song are creations but so are weapons and lies"

"Our worst enemies are inventions of the mind. Pleasure. Fear. When we see them for what they are, we become unstoppable."

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Which claim is this being applied to? More importantly, which claim isn't this being applied to?

If we had time to verify the findings of the Engwithans/Iovara ourselves, maybe it wouldn't be an overreaching claim, but to me it seems like it is.  The kind of thing I'd find more interesting/compelling would be foundational texts or artefacts for these gods' faiths being shown to be much newer than people thought they were, e.g. through the presence of loan-words or crafting methods that can be clearly shown to be relatively recent.  There could be many ways to show a total lack of any historical evidence related to these gods from before the time of the Engwithans who created them.  

 

I'm not sure why it even makes sense that Iovara would be able to replicate the research of the Engwithans that led them to believe that there were no "true" gods (for whatever reason, whether they didn't exist or simply couldn't be found).  I mean, I only played the endgame once, so I may have failed to pick up on something she said, but if the Engwithans wanted people to believe in the gods they made, why would they have left evidence of their research behind?

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Is Thaos' claim that gods are real not an overreaching claim? If no, then why not?

 

Re: Iovara - she doesn't make any claims to having replicated their research. She did say that she overheard a conversation amongst the "inner circle" (my term, not hers) and made efforts to confirm the veracity of what she overheard. This may or may not have been scientific in nature; it may have required nothing more than a little reading.

 

Re: your last question - this is absolutely the last thing the Engwithans want. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that their research cannot be replicated. The modern Glanfathans are the decendants of tribes who swore to Engwithan missionaries that they would prevent anyone from stepping foot inside their ruins. Why? Because forbidden knowledge lays within.

 

This brings us back to my first post: Thaos (and by extension, the Engwithans) believe that we are animals. They were absolutely certain in their conviction that common people must never be allowed to know what they knew. Everytime a culture starts down the path they themselves took, Thaos steps in and sends them back to the dark ages.

 

So at the end of the day, you're essentially left with two claims that you're more or less asked to accept on faith: the gods, as you know them, are real or the gods, as you know them, are not. Both claimants have demonstrated an exceptional amount of strength in their convictions. Ultimately, the only thing you're left with is one question: Do you believe that people are basically animals, or do you believe that they are basically good?

"Art and song are creations but so are weapons and lies"

"Our worst enemies are inventions of the mind. Pleasure. Fear. When we see them for what they are, we become unstoppable."

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In order for people to make rational decisions, they have to have access to information. Iovara died because she tried to spread what Thaos tried to keep hidden. Thaos is categorically denying them the ability to, as you put it, "decide for themselves".

"Art and song are creations but so are weapons and lies"

"Our worst enemies are inventions of the mind. Pleasure. Fear. When we see them for what they are, we become unstoppable."

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I went through the dialogue files, and found some interesting quotes. First, the funny one:

 

Iovara: "That the gods aren't real."
Player: [background: Nihilist] "I KNEW IT!"

 

^I'm now tempted to play again with a new character, just to pick that one line :p

 

 

 

 

Some more on-topic lines from Iovara:

 

"I often wonder that myself. If things had gone differently, if the world had taken my faith instead of the Engwithans' faith, would it truly be what I had envisioned?"

 

"I never thought of it as a faith, but I think you are right to call it that.

"Let the world see. Let them decide what to do. That was my faith."
 
"I could tell you what I believe, but again, it would be no proof. I have only what I have seen, and what others have told me about it. There is only one man who can tell you now, who knows it to a certainty, and you shall face him soon enough.
"I will leave you to see it for yourself, make your own judgments. Better for your soul that way, I think."
 
"I had been assigned to join a few of them at a temple. I found the door to their chambers closed, but the room was stone and the door thin. Their voices carried. I heard... enough. I investigated the things they spoke of, and everything was there, just as they said it'd be."
 
(for that last one, I'm guessing there were either some secret records or it was about all the machines used to create gods)
 
 
 
 
Lines which can be said by your companions, depending on various things:
 
"Even so, faith in the gods has shaped lives and civilizations for ages. Does that not make the gods real in their own way?"
 
"Just think of this whole conversation we're having... whether or not the gods are real, simply asking the question forces us to look closely at what we know. Even if we can't answer with certainty if they are real or not, the exploration is what makes us grow."
 
"All that has come since... If the gods were not real then, perhaps they are now. Real enough to inspire."
 
 
 
And one line from Thaos:
 
"I lied to no one. Not to you. Not to anyone. The gods are real. They are everything we need them to be, and the world is better for it."
 
 
 
So yeah, that POV can show up in the ending. You can kind-of voice it by siding with the gods, and agreeing that the secret of their origin needs to stay hidden. I guess it's something which will be explored more in the sequel, here the ending was more about finding the truth and your first reaction to it.
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Something this thread made me wonder: Do you think that Thaos was right? He claims that before the Engwithan gods were made, the world was a vicious place where atrocity and depravity reigned. The presence of the gods stabilizes things and suppresses the worst of humanity.

 

Thaos admits to performing hideous crimes to protect this secret. Genocide, destroying nations and more. What I would've liked to see is some actual evidence as to whether or not he was justified. Graphs, numbers, statistics about lives lost vs. lives saved. How damaging were the atrocities that the Engwithan people sacrificed themselves to stop? Are there more people living because of Thao's machinations? Are those numbers sufficient justification, or is killing a thousand to save a million still wrong? Is protecting the secret of the gods worth the brutal inquisitions he launched against people who's only crime was curiosity?

 

We only have his testimony about the nature of the world before the gods, but considering that an entire advanced civilization sacrificed themselves for this, I'm inclined to believe that the pre-god world was a pretty cruddy place. But is global peace worth atrocity on a smaller level? If our only metric is number of lives saved, do we ignore issues that might be more important? Are there any issues that are more important?

 

What sort of solution might you have come up with to deal with the pre-god situation?

 

I hope these sorts of questions come up in the sequel, since the character now knows the truth.

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Something not discussed here, but I hope will be in a future chapter is how the Engwithans themselves dealt with their discovery. I have a feeling that not everyone felt as Thaos did and that his faction proceeded to do what they did because they were the ones to survive whatever fallout occurred.

 

Within social psychology there is something called Terror Managment Theory (TMT). At a very high level, TMT states that humans, being aware of the mortality, construct elaborate means to repress their death anxiety and promote "immortality" via social standing within their in-group. We commonly refer to this as "culture". When stressed or otherwise reminded of their mortality, people who are especially fearful of death become much more hostile to people who are different from them.

 

I think Thaos was freaked the **** out by the news. I think he, and all the others who completely lost their ****, devised a means to invent gods and then utilize their technology to ensure that they would always come back exactly as they were in order to keep their culture at the apex.

 

Obviously, expansions and sequels may cast new light on this, but I think it's a very intersting possibility.

"Art and song are creations but so are weapons and lies"

"Our worst enemies are inventions of the mind. Pleasure. Fear. When we see them for what they are, we become unstoppable."

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I was thinking about this myself, but I'm not sure that your character is necessarily interested in the true nature of the gods or whatever in the endgame. Your character wants to know whether Thaos truly believed what he was preaching, because if it was all a lie then everything you did back then was for nothing.

 

There's no answer to the questions asked by philosophy and religion. What is a god, what role should religion play in people's lives, what is the nature of the universe, etc., these are questions that don't have factual, objective answers. It's not about some absolute universal truth. It's not intended to take away anything from the setting or demystify the world. It's not even really about the world of Pillars. It's just about you and Thaos.

 

I still don't really understand the point the game seems to be trying to make about the gods being "fake." It actually reminds me of Planescape, though Planescape handled the same sort of notion a lot better. But I think the main reason why it feels philosophically unsatisfying is because it's not concerned with the universal issues, it's just the personal conflict between you and Thaos. In that case, it's unsatisfying because Thaos and Woedicca are not compelling villains.

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Funny, I thought I was making a pretty strong case for the argument that it was exactly about universal truths.

"Art and song are creations but so are weapons and lies"

"Our worst enemies are inventions of the mind. Pleasure. Fear. When we see them for what they are, we become unstoppable."

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Something this thread made me wonder: Do you think that Thaos was right? He claims that before the Engwithan gods were made, the world was a vicious place where atrocity and depravity reigned. The presence of the gods stabilizes things and suppresses the worst of humanity.

 

Thaos admits to performing hideous crimes to protect this secret. Genocide, destroying nations and more. What I would've liked to see is some actual evidence as to whether or not he was justified. Graphs, numbers, statistics about lives lost vs. lives saved. How damaging were the atrocities that the Engwithan people sacrificed themselves to stop? Are there more people living because of Thao's machinations? Are those numbers sufficient justification, or is killing a thousand to save a million still wrong? Is protecting the secret of the gods worth the brutal inquisitions he launched against people who's only crime was curiosity?

 

Issues related to Thaos might be more interesting if it turned out that, overall, more lives were saved via his methods than were lost.  However, I don't know how one could ever know such a thing.  It's fun to speculate about alternate history, but because of the impact that events have on each other, it's very difficult to know just how much would be different if a single thing changed.  Regardless, I personally don't believe that the ends justify the means.  People are ends, and must never be treated like means.  It's not okay to hurt and kill them for some supposed greater good.  As such, I know in advance how I'd answer this question about Thaos, even if he was right about folk needing gods to prevent great injustices.

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well the thing is, they are out right saying it, 'We created these 'Gods' so there is no 'what if' in this world - thats probably the most black and white idea in this game.

And he (Thaos)  really starts hitting the nail on the head, when he shows the nature of humanity - all the violence and lawlessness. It was the fear of their actions in the next life that controlled man. This is what man needs to keep himself in check, a higher authority, to stop him from murdering his neighbor. Seems true both in the game and real world ha

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