Pharyngula

I saw the new Will Smith movie, I Am Legend, last night. In short, it was far worse than I expected, with a drawn out and rather boring beginning (Smith is lonely, everyone is dead except for his dog. Got it), and the ending felt like a stapled-on feel-good absurdity that didn’t follow from the premise—and is only a happy ending if your dream of paradise is an armed camp of Christians. The only virtue I’d heard about the story is that the hero is openly atheist … but that was a disappointment, too, because I discovered he was the wrong kind of atheist.

Atheists in the movies aren’t that common. Most seem to be cast as amoral opportunists — the villains. They are rarely cast as the hero, and when they are there is only one atheist stereotype allowed in that role, and Will Smith filled it perfectly.

The acceptable atheist is the one who has faced so much tragedy, whose life has been damaged by cruel fate to such a degree that his declaration that there is no god is understandable. He is a failed Job; he’s portrayed not as an actual contented atheist, but as someone who has broken under the burden a god has placed on him, and is therefore a sympathetic figure, and also is implicitly endorsing the audience’s beliefs about god. Job without god, after all, is just a deluded loser.

That’s the standard trope: the atheist is a broken man, a nihilist, a cynic, someone who has come to his disbelief as a consequence of a devastating emotional experience. This is the kind of atheist theists are comfortable with — but it’s not the kind of atheists the New Atheistswann are, and especially not the scientific branch. We don’t fit into their unthinking convention, which is probably why they stuck us with the label “new”.

There are atheists who look on a tragedy and cry, “There is no god,” in despair. But we are atheists who look on beauty and complexity and awesome immensity and shout out, “There is no god!” and we are glad.

That’s the distinction we’ve got to get across. We are fulfilled, happy atheists who rejoice in the superfluity of the old myths. We generally don’t have a tragic backstory — quite the contrary, we’ve come to our conclusions because we have found natural explanations satisfying and promising.

wann: who are not “new”.

Comments

  1. #1 Gordon S
    January 6, 2008

    ****SMALL SPOILER ALERT****

    You missed the part where he converted to belief in the end. You know, “I’m listening”.

    Anyways, I did find it pretty funny that right after he converted, he suicide-bombed with the grenade.

  2. #2 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    Atheism in movies is like beards — if the main character has one in the beginning of the movie, you can be sure he won’t have it by the end.

    I guess I have to see it (and it’s post-apocolyptic — my favorite!), but the problem of evil is a big motivating factor for my disbelief in the Christian God. And the bad stuff doesn’t have to happen to me, it just has to happen, and I factor it in to my equation. I have all the wonder stuff, too, but the wonder isn’t what makes me an atheist. The wonder is what makes me a happy atheist.

  3. #3 andyo
    January 6, 2008

    See, this is why I object about calling us atheists. Although I also see your point (that you’ve made elsewhere, if I recall correctly) that we will be called that anyway, and we should just be proud of it. It’s just that I see it better to state right at the start that “atheism” doesn’t really mean anything substantial. I always point out when people ask or say I’m an atheist that “I’m also an unastrologer, and an a-numerologist, so?”

  4. #4 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    Andyo — I think the reason most people want to call us “atheists” and pretend it means something significant is because being an atheist is considered being just darned rude. Whereas numerology and astrology and professional wrestling are widely accepted to be silly, religion is supposed to be serious, and you’re supposed to play along with it. Some atheists are fortunate enough to be able to be so without being aware of crossing a big bright social line. There are others, like me, who realized after several years that the bright social line was all that was keeping me from being an atheist. I crossed it in celebration of reason and sense, and now I make a point to piss off the enforcers of conformity and mushy thinking. And it’s probably because of people like me, combative, snarky, and 100% unapologetic, that atheism has a name of its very own and that people think it must mean that you’re bitter or some such.

  5. #5 Duane Tiemann
    January 6, 2008

    Recall the movie “Contact”. The heroine’s atheism was favorably portrayed.

  6. #6 Mark S.
    January 6, 2008

    I don’t have much to add, except this link to movies tagged with the “atheist” keyword on IMDB:

    http://www.imdb.com/keyword/atheist/

  7. #7 Sigmund
    January 6, 2008

    Wasn’t there an atheist as the main character in the movie ‘The Reaping’?
    On a more serious note this topic was discussed on either ‘The Atheist Experience’ or ‘Non Prophets’ podcasts a couple of weeks ago where they had difficulty coming up with a single movie that portrayed scientific skepticism in a good light when faced with supernaturalism.

  8. #8 Armchair Dissident
    January 6, 2008

    Funnily enough, I just finished reading the book last night. From what I’ve heard about the film, the film has absolutely nothing in common with the book, to the extent I’m wondering why they bothered giving it the same name. I’d been thinking about seeing the film, but now I’m wondering if I’m just going to end up walking out half-way through.

  9. #9 Chris
    January 6, 2008

    I liked some parts of the movie, and disliked some part of the movie. I’d watch it again even though they strayed from the vampire theme in the book, and they made it a feel good movie. I liked the ending in the book but thought the book needed some adjustments and thought the movies adjustments were pretty good. I agree on the atheist part, that is the atheist cliche, and you will even notice this cliche in those supposed paranormal stories on discovery and a&e. Some parts in the movie left me confused like the maniquen (sp?) part where he gets caught in the trap. I guess the evolutionistic type and atheistic views in the book are too controversial to use.

  10. #10 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    Contact?

    I haven’t read the book, but the movie was an annoyance-fest for me.

    “Do you think your father loved you? Prove it!” Oh, snap!, take that, atheism! The blow was only slightly softened by the fact that Matthew Mcconaughey is totally hot.

  11. #11 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    Does Han Solo count as an atheist?

  12. #12 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    January 6, 2008

    I am scratching my head trying to come up with an explicitly atheist character in a movie who is portrayed in a realistic light. I didn’t see “Sunshine,” but Cillian Murphy’s character was purported to be an atheist (as is the actor.) I can’t speak to how realistically he portrayed atheism.

    I think the most realistic portrayals of atheism in movies are the ones in which religion plays absolutely no part. Ones in which the “A” word is never used, whilst the appeals to religion are also left on the cutting room floor.

  13. #13 Alonzo Fyfe
    January 6, 2008

    This movie, and the censorship imposed on “The Golden Compass” in virtue of the fact that the author is an atheist, is exactly why I am working on a project to set up a short-story competition, where I will pay cash money for short stories in which (1) the hero is (the right type) of atheist, and (2) the story contains an explicit denial that there is a God, and (3) the resolution depends on understanding and applying knowledge of the real world rather than ‘magical’ solutions and coincidences engineered by the author.

    Also, the stories will have to be written so as to be accessable to your average Jr. High School age reader. There is nothing wrong with stories that present atheism to young readers in a positive light.

    I will be putting up $1000 of my own money to offer as prizes.

  14. #14 Bart
    January 6, 2008

    I agree with this sentiment. It doesn’t mean that these can’t be interesting characters. One of my favorite characters on TV is Dr Gregory House from “House”. And he is often portrayed as being this kind of atheist. However, there are enough times on the show were he just is portrayed as just ‘complicated’ that it makes up for it. Oh, and the fact that people tend to THINK he’s unhappy, when he always denies this. Of course, they don’t believe him. I tend to believe him. I also wonder if this is what is happening with even the ‘New’ Atheists from the perspective of the religious.. Do they THINK we are unhappy, so we appear to be so in thier eyes? If so, how do we convince them we are indeed happy? I think this might be a perception problem.

  15. #15 Sigmund
    January 6, 2008

    Mike Haubrich said
    “I think the most realistic portrayals of atheism in movies are the ones in which religion plays absolutely no part. Ones in which the “A” word is never used, whilst the appeals to religion are also left on the cutting room floor.”
    You mean any science fiction movie set in a futuristic context. Removing currently recognized religion is the first thing you do to make a movie like the various Star Treks, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘AI’ or ‘Minority Report’ seem believable. I think even your average christian moviegoer would feel that shoehorning christianity into a futuristic setting would just feel fake (a bit like those space movies from the fifties where women were portrayed for the most part simply as housewives who wore silver foil dresses and had robots to help with the household chores).

  16. #16 Don
    January 6, 2008
  17. #17 Wes
    January 6, 2008

    A big part of the problem is that big budget movies are intended to appeal to large audiences, and atheists are a minority. And not just any minority, but a despised and distrusted minority. Studios looking to invest to the tune of $200 million in a movie might be dissuaded if they fear that the movie will only appeal to 10% of the population, and that upwards of 50% will refuse to see it because it denies the existence of their invisible Sky Father.

    I would bet that a successful campaign to raise the public profile of unbelievers in general (atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc) would make such an investment more enticing in the future.

  18. #18 MH
    January 6, 2008

    I like the TV show Scrubs, but it does irritate me that the only openly atheist character is Dr Cox, who is exactly what you describe: a broken man, a nihilist, a cynic.

    Every few episodes I find myself thinking “this is so American”, by which I mean biased to the Judeo-Christian world-view.

  19. #19 Robert Maynard
    January 6, 2008

    I remember being happily surprised when Simon Pegg’s lead character in the cop-film parody Hot Fuzz made a short, simple statement of non-belief/skepticism, and a commitment to evidence, after getting to know his new neighbours. All it did was flesh out his character as a professional policeman/detective and get him some good-natured ribbing from the old-fashioned townspeople.
    The plain way it was stated (again, it’s set in Britain) felt natural and non-preachy, and that’s basically how I think it’s best handled: by simply confirming that characters distinguished by their incisiveness and skepticism, characters you’d immediately suspect were written as (and/or by) atheists, in fact are.

    I really like the way House is written too, even though he naturally gets to be more aggressive about his atheism. The writers routinely try to separate his general grumpiness from his atheism by stressing the view that religious outlooks are impoverished compared to the beauties of science.

  20. #20 Efrique
    January 6, 2008

    #16. It almost sounds like you’re asking for an episode of MacGyver where he comes out as an atheist.

  21. #21 craig
    January 6, 2008

    Yes, K.N. Singh, atheists have been hated and despised and executed and oppressed and have had laws against them passed for all of human history because people knew that in the first years of the 21st century about 1 in a billion people would become famous, outspoken atheists and one of them would have a blog.

    Dumbass.

  22. #22 craig
    January 6, 2008

    Oh, and I share the disappointment in the movie, but I knew early on that it was stupid considering the fact that in the first scenes it shows a Manhattan overgrown with plants coming up through the pavement, herds of deer, etc., because the city has been empty of humans for… three years.

  23. #23 Hank
    January 6, 2008

    K.N. Singh: So I take it you are a part of the poor persecuted majority?

  24. #24 Peter
    January 6, 2008

    Agreed on atheists in movies. They are always the personal tragedy types. But I think that is reflective of our cultural milieu in some ways.
    The “failed Job” phenomena is there in real life. My family has friends who lost their faiths after having to deal with a severely hydrocephallic son who had basically nothing but a brain stem. It was awful. He lived to be 15. They were understandably bitter at the potential that had been stolen from them and were mad at God only to decide that he must not exist.
    If you peruse some online forums, some of the most vociferous atheists on them can also be loudly displaying metalheads who come across as more anti-theistic for rebellious reasons than for reasons of logic. I have no problem with metal (I’m 31 and in a metal band) or anti-theism per se but I find that those kids easily get lots of attention from adults and can become a kind angry focal point for their peers and thus their parents too thus creating Atheism = Satan. (Note: Peter Gilmore, head of the Church of Satan, is an atheist.)
    I’m not saying that the failed Jobs are representative, that metalheads (horns raised) are, or us “New Atheists” are either. We are subsets of non-belief with really different interests. Someone looking for “the atheist” can find an example that isn’t representative. In a way, we don’t have a representative because people disbelieve for quite divergent reasons. Like all groups, we are nuanced and some have thought it out at least as much as we have felt it out.

    The book Contact is excellent. It did more as a work of literature to solidify to me that there’s good art in scientific realism. It single-handedly rejects the senseless claims of theists that their holy ideas are the seed of art. Blah.
    The movie on the other hand made it into a diluted piece of attempted feel-good fluffery with the weighty issues of personal, interpersonal, intercultural, and scientific discourse bleached out of it. The direction and acting spoon-fed the standard easily digestible emotional fair, making it Budweiser when it should have been a carefully brewed IPA by insert your favorite local microbrew here.

  25. #25 craig
    January 6, 2008

    I knew a woman who said she’s an atheist because her grandmother died. Personally I don’t think people who say they are atheists because they’re mad at god are really atheists.

  26. #26 David Harmon
    January 6, 2008

    Brian Sanderson’s fantasy novel Elantris may qualify — the fallen gods were magically empowered (and now magically afflicted) humans, and dealing with the disaster involves understanding the principles behind that magic.

  27. #27 alipkin@gmail.com
    January 6, 2008

    Sadly, Mal Reynolds (of Firefly fame) is also the wrong kind of atheist (albeit a great character). Even though his creator, Joss Whedon, is an atheist himself.

    Incidentally, I’m not so sure that this is the “wrong” kind of atheist as it is “one of many” kinds of atheist. I’d be fine with the characters who are atheists as a result of tragedy (sometimes it takes a big event to open one’s eyes) if they were shown alongside folks who simply came to atheist along a less emotional/more intellectual path.

  28. #28 andyo
    January 6, 2008

    Yeah, misfortune is such a bad reason for being an atheist. I haven’t had much misfortune, just a bit higher than usual people close to me dying when I was younger. But that if anything just made me ask more questions, and for a while I did want to get religious. Although I was for about 2 or 3 years hanging out with religious catholics, brothers and laypeople alike, and most of them were very nice, I never brought myself to speak to others with confidence about “god” himself.

    My atheism came later, but only because I found scientific explanations are indeed much better, much clearer, evidenced countless of times, and very much available for almost everything. Religious “explanations” are just so… trite, unimaginative, mundane (yes, this is what religious say about materialism, but what do they know about nature anyway) in comparison. Not to say that science is “imaginative” in the sense that it is imagined, but that it can and will exceed our imaginations, because it is just not bound to them.

  29. #29 F.Jardim
    January 6, 2008

    I feel compelled to add Edward elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. (yeah, geek-meter is beeping, alright). While he is a bitter, cynical person, he is also a scientist, an eminently intelligent person, the main character, and has stated more than once that he does not believe in any god, going as far as to disparage the faithful openly.

  30. #30 jpf
    January 6, 2008

    K. N. Singh’s bitter hatred of atheists is undoubtedly due to some traumatic incidence in his past. It has driven him to sad, pseudonymous railings against his personal demons, whom he has personified as various famous atheists. He’s a sympathetically broken character who will overcome his anti-atheism in the end.

  31. #31 Ric
    January 6, 2008

    K. N. Singh at 23: It sort of sucks when the people you’ve kept in oppression for all those ages start to talk back, doesn’t it? It was much nicer when those atheists stayed at the back of the bus, wasn’t it?

  32. #32 Hypatia
    January 6, 2008

    A minor character but a good showing was the librarian in The Day After Tomorrow. When he saves the Gutenburg bible during the evacuation someone says “For an atheist you’re holding onto that bible awfully hard.” He responds by explaining it’s cultural importance as one of the first printed books, the response comes across as honest and perfectly well adapted in its atheism.

  33. #33 Marcus Ranum
    January 6, 2008

    The dog was an atheist. All dogs are. And they’re almost always portrayed favorably.

  34. #34 Xopher
    January 6, 2008

    I just watched “Empire of the Sun” last night. This is a 1987 Steven Spielberg movie about a British boy in Shanghai at that beginning of WWII, who ends up in a Japanese prison camp.

    Anyway, I was surprised to note toward the beginning of the movie that “Jamie” declares that he’s decided to become an atheist.

    I can’t quite decide what this means in the movie. On the one hand he makes this announcement while he’s being established as a very spoiled, privileged, sort of shallow twit.

    But later in the movie he’s revealed as having much more depth, which really shines in adversity.

    So, is his atheism a foreshadowing of his potential, which is realized later in the movie? Or is it meant to symbolize his privileged beginnings? (As in the classic, having too much money means that you can waste your time waxing philosophical and decide that there’s no God – but honest working folk don’t dabble in such ridiculous speculation.)

    I’m going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and opt for the former interpretation. (I really enjoyed it – so I’m going to be intentionally biased. So there!)

    So, here may be a different portrayal than any of those mentioned so far. (Even if it’s not a very big factor in the movie.)

    Chris

  35. #35 Dehan
    January 6, 2008

    #23 “Yes, atheists are despised and distrusted.

    Perhaps because some of the most famous atheists con(s)tantly say that Christians are delusional, child abusers, belong in zoos, etc.”

    Nope, don’t think that’s it. You see, some of the most famous christians constantly say some of the most appalling things you could think of, things that make one shudder at their cruelty and ignorance, and yet christians aren’t despised and distrusted the way atheists are. Try thinking along another set of lines, like how most theists can’t deal with anyone messing with their delusions and therefore fear and hate atheists.

  36. #36 djt
    January 6, 2008

    Ralph Fiennes plays an atheist in The English Patient. His character utters this line:

    Almásy: There is no God… but I hope someone looks after you.

  37. #37 DBEllis
    January 6, 2008

    Marcus @37: Please! I am God incarnate to my dog. Cats aren’t even atheists: they are their own gods.

  38. #38 Bob
    January 6, 2008

    Yeah, misfortune is such a bad reason for being an atheist. I haven’t had much misfortune, just a bit higher than usual people close to me dying when I was younger. But that if anything just made me ask more questions, and for a while I did want to get religious.

    Well, I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a bad reason. The Problem of Evil is actually a pretty interesting and important part of the canon in Philosophy. It’s a clear and scathing criticism of religious belief, which is where (unfortunately) many of us atheists start in our lives due to upbringing and indoctrination attempts.

    (And the only way out of it and still be religious is to embrace nihilism, as Job clearly did.)

    But I’d say it’s an important part of the process.

  39. #39 MLE
    January 6, 2008

    Xopher @38: A common interpretation of the end of the movie (search for “heaven”), however, is that he sees the light from the atomic bomb and interprets it as his friends soul departing for heaven. In the end, as has been noted is typical, he comes back into belief.

  40. #40 Wes
    January 6, 2008

    #11
    Christians are delusional child abusers!

    Posted by: Dawkins Disciple | January 6, 2008 7:56 AM
    #12

    Religions should be preserved!

    In Zoos! (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Dennet.)

    Posted by: Dennet Fan | January 6, 2008 7:58 AM
    #13

    “Elimination of the weak and defective, the first principle of our philosophy! And we should help them to do it. What is more harmful than ANY vice? Christianity.”

    (The AntiChrist, sec. 2)

    Posted by: Nietzschean Superman | January 6, 2008 8:00 AM

    #23
    Yes, atheists are despised and distrusted.

    Perhaps because some of the most famous atheists contantly say that Christians are delusional, child abusers, belong in zoos, etc.

    Perhaps because an anti religion in general blog poses as a science blog.

    Perhaps for other reasons, liking spewing bigotry about all Christians being delusional child abusers.

    Who knows?

    Posted by: K. N. Singh | January 6, 2008 8:35 AM

    I’m calling “K. N. Singh” out for sock-puppetry.

  41. #41 Blake Stacey
    January 6, 2008

    I think Mal Reynolds evolves — no pun intended — into the “right” kind of atheist by the end of Serenity.

    On the general topic of the thread:

    Their refusal to buy the book was based not on my treatment of the theme but on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers are concerned. The two others are a Negro-White marriage which is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children and grandchildren, and the total atheist who lives a happy and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106.

    — Vladimir Nabokov, “On a Book Entitled Lolita

  42. #42 Ryan
    January 6, 2008

    One of the most notable atheist characters is Hugh Laurie’s House. He is certainly the broken type and fits perfectly into the “bitter and cynical” mold.

  43. #43 Dahan
    January 6, 2008

    K. N. Singh, you’re repeating yourself after only two posts. How pathetic is that? Want a discussion? Respond to my post at #39. Want to blab on like an idiot? Go somewhere else.

  44. #44 Kris Verburgh
    January 6, 2008

    “We are fulfilled, happy atheists who rejoice in the superfluity of the old myths. We generally don’t have a tragic backstory — quite the contrary, we’ve come to our conclusions because we have found natural explanations satisfying and promising.”

    Very nice post! I completely agree. Being an atheist doesn’t mean you consider life and the universe as meaningless. All is full of meaning thanks to yourself, the people around you and the marvels of science and nature.

  45. #45 Dahan
    January 6, 2008

    djt “Ralph Fiennes plays an atheist in The English Patient. His character utters this line:

    Almásy: There is no God… but I hope someone looks after you.”

    Most boring movie, ever. Painful.

  46. #46 MAJeff
    January 6, 2008

    A big part of the problem is that big budget movies are intended to appeal to large audiences, and atheists are a minority. And not just any minority, but a despised and distrusted minority. Studios looking to invest to the tune of $200 million in a movie might be dissuaded if they fear that the movie will only appeal to 10% of the population, and that upwards of 50% will refuse to see it because it denies the existence of their invisible Sky Father.

    I would bet that a successful campaign to raise the public profile of unbelievers in general (atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc) would make such an investment more enticing in the future.

    Exactly right. Media texts come into being through a very complex process, and profitability is at the center of it. There’s an excellent book out now, Gay TV and Straight America that looks at changing representations of gay folks on television in the 1990s, and places the change in appeals to certain types of straight audiences due to their desirability as a market. Acceptance of gay people played a role, but primarily in the audience sense, not in the production sense. In other words, political action to change opinion had a secondary effect in changing the texts. It wasn’t action about the texts, but action that shifted opinion in economically desirable segments of the population that created the space for more gay-positive images.

    Same thing here. Atheists aren’t going to be portrayed very well, particularly as atheists until it’s profitable for us to be portrayed that way.

  47. #47 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    Bladerunner is an atheist movie, even if it doesn’t include any explicit atheists. The core question of the movie is, “What does it mean to be alive?” And the answer is complex, and (doves aside) does not include “a soul.”

  48. #48 Mike Fox
    January 6, 2008

    I thought that Nevile was supposed to have lost his faith in mankind, not god. His belief, err, Belief has nothing to do with what is shown in the movie except, perhaps, that he is a scientist. I think the god thing, if present, was a crutch for the religiously touched.

  49. #49 craig
    January 6, 2008

    “But I’d say it’s an important part of the process.”

    See, this I just don’t get. If the universe and life were the creation of an intelligence with supernatural powers, why would that rule out the possibility that that intelligence might seem like a prick from our standpoint?

    Just because you can build an ant farm doesn’t mean you wouldn’t get bored with it and leave the ants to starve or take a magnifying glass to them.

  50. #50 Dahan
    January 6, 2008

    Wes, good call on the sock-puppetry.

  51. #51 Xopher
    January 6, 2008

    MLE @ #43

    Good point. But even with that I think that one could interpret things a bit more generously. Jim sees an extraordinary phenomenon (the A-bomb explosion) that occurs simultaneously to Mrs. Victor’s death. So, we can forgive him if he misunderstands what’s going on and thinks that he’s seeing something “supernatural”.

    But when later he hears a radio broadcast that gives the real explanation for what he sees, he quickly drops his earlier interpretation.

    True, this doesn’t show that he is re-rejecting theism. But it also doesn’t show that he isn’t. So, maybe he was a “foxhole convert” who later regained his senses?

    I’m probably making way too much of it. I don’t think his religious outlook is an integral part of the movie.

    Still…

    Chris

  52. #52 PZ Myers
    January 6, 2008

    Singh et al. aren’t just sockpuppets — that’s the Kansas troll(s). They must be on Xmas break, and bored.

  53. #53 Peter McGrath
    January 6, 2008

    As PG Wodehouse said, cats have never got over the fact that they were worshipped as Gods in ancient Egypt.

    I don’t know whether my late dog was an atheist but every time the parish priest came to visit, Sherpa would give his leg a tremendous humping. No one else, just the preist. Sacerdophilia. Oh let’s not get started on that…

  54. #54 WayBeyondSoccerMom
    January 6, 2008

    The main character on the TV show, “Bones”, is an atheist, Temperance Brennan. About every other episode, she talks about it with her partner, Booth, who is Catholic.

  55. #55 Wes
    January 6, 2008

    I should add to my earlier comment about atheists being a political minority, that in addition there’s probably also a more mundane explanation at work: Stereotypes are easier to write. The “I’m mad at God” atheist is easy to write, and comes with built-in motives that you don’t have to flesh out. So another part of the problem, in addition to the distrusted minority status of atheists making them unappealing from an investment point of view, might just be a lack of creativity and effort on the part of screenwriters. Why bother exploring atheism seriously when you’ve got stock atheism which you can throw in with little effort?

    The same would apply to homosexuals, too. Lot’s of writers employ the stereotypical flaming drag queen as a comic foil because it comes with built in cheap gags that don’t require any effort of making you think (on the part of the writer or the audience).

  56. #56 dieselrain
    January 6, 2008

    Re comment #22: A section of the book, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, discusses Manhattan without humans. Manhattan covered in plants in three years with no humans inhabiting Manhattan? Yes. Plants all over Manhattan. In the streets and sidewalks, growing out the windows. Rooftop gardens growing exuberantly and distributing their seeds. Every neighborhood park’s plants doing the same. The book made me appreciate what we humans do everyday to maintain our habitats.

  57. #57 djt
    January 6, 2008

    No. 45 Dahan wrote “Most boring movie, ever. Painful.”

    Dahan:

    I just watched this for the first time last week as I was highly influenced by Elaine Benes of Seinfeld when she said she’d rather watch “Sack Lunch”. I finally had the opportunity to watch the movie last week – I did enjoy the story. I can see though why some would find it boring and painful – it was a tad too long (as Elaine said…”just die already!”) ;-)

    Anyway – it was an example of a movie that had an atheist character.

  58. #58 kamenin
    January 6, 2008

    Not only are atheist all too often portrayed as ‘failed Jobs’. It’s also a 100 percent projection. In real life I have heard the story ‘Never believed, couldn’t be bothered – but then tragedy/crisis hit and I found God’ much more often than the other way around.

  59. #59 dieselrain
    January 6, 2008

    Re comment #22: A section of the book, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, discusses Manhattan without humans. Manhattan covered in plants in three years with no humans inhabiting Manhattan? Yes. Plants all over Manhattan. In the streets and sidewalks, growing out the windows. Rooftop gardens growing exuberantly and distributing their seeds. Every neighborhood park’s plants doing the same. The book made me appreciate what we humans do everyday to maintain our habitats.

  60. #60 Kurt
    January 6, 2008

    What about Homer in The Simpsons Movie? His character is a bit **ahem** two-dimensional and too broadly written, but really he is the perfect “every man” and apparently a non-believer even if he isn’t outspoken about it.

  61. #61 CalGeorge
    January 6, 2008

    For me, someone saying “God exists” is the true cause for despair.

    It means that human beings are all too willing to delude themselves about the nature of reality.

    That’s fucking depressing.

  62. #62 Bad
    January 6, 2008

    My favorite insulting portrayal of a fictional atheist is Mr. Terrific, a DC superhero. The man is an atheist despite the fact that he lives in a universe where people regularly come back from the dead, ghosts haunt people regularly, several of his teammates have powers granted by the gods, who occasionally check in with them, many of his former teammates spent years battling gods in Limbo, the Spirit of (Gods) Vengeance is a regular character as are mystical personifications of Dreams, Destiny, etc., Satan has attacked their team and stolen people’s souls, and so on an so on.

    Putting a character that is a resolute atheist in such a situation honestly seems sincere on the part of the writers to introduce an atheist character, but it couldn’t be more silly. Mr. Terrific is supposed to be one of the smartest people in the DC universe, but his atheism is simply unbelievable in his situation.

  63. #63 Carlie
    January 6, 2008

    I thought the movie of Contact was much too equivocal at the end. She waffled entirely under the heavy questioning, and left it open, and it turned into a stupid “spiritual” ending. Contact would be a positive portrayal of an atheist if you skip the last 10 minutes of the movie.

  64. #64 katie
    January 6, 2008

    What about those of us who are bitter and cynical atheists because we were raised in a fundamentalist household? It really bothers me when people dismiss my arguments against religion because I’m “bitter because that’s how I was raised”.

    Don’t you think people like me would know better than anybody just how stifling religion is?

  65. #65 Rick T.
    January 6, 2008

    “(Note: Peter Gilmore, head of the Church of Satan, is an atheist.)”

    How can you be an atheist and be the head of the Church of Satan?
    Wouldn’t Satan be your god?
    That’s like saying you don’t believe in Charlie Brown but you do believe in Lucy. Still part of the same comic strip.
    Last I heard Satan was a card carrying member of several religions so why chose to believe just a portion of those religions and not discard the whole shit pile?

  66. #66 Ipecac
    January 6, 2008

    If you’ve come to atheism because of personal hardship, you don’t really qualify as an atheist. You can’t be mad at God while disbelieving in him.

    I’ve always found the “failed Job” Atheist a really lame stereotype. So, you were aware of the Holocaust but still believed in God, but when your spouse died, that was what convinced you there was no God? Doofus.

  67. #67 Ipecac
    January 6, 2008

    Katie,

    Yours is a valid story. I presume you’re bitter about how you were treated by human beings, not that your angry at god. Your cynicism and bitterness were hard-earned and no one should dismiss your atheism because of that.

  68. #68 BaldApe
    January 6, 2008

    OK, so here’s the book:

    Ordinary, but fairly bright kid gets interested in all kind of mysticism. (normal for the age) Discovers that meditation and hypnosis are just self-delusion, mysticism in general is a crock and a network of wishful thinking. He examines all of the mystical claims he can get his hands on- shroud of Turin, Lourdes, whatever popular “miracles” you want- and finds that there is no reliable evidence. Fortune tellers are liars, etc.

    Weave that into an interesting coming-of-age story and get a good Bright manifesto. Inexplicably, it becomes a popular book. Hollywood makes a movie.

    Now the bad part. In the movie version, every time the protagonist demolishes some popular myth, there is the hint that he’s just ignoring “spiritual evidence” whatever that is. The movie ends with the “There is no God” statement, followed by the implied “Or is there?”

    And speaking of Contact, I was disappointed by the circle-in-pi image at the end. Sagan seemed to be saying that he doesn’t believe there is a personal god, but that maybe he’s wrong. He points out, correctly, that it is possible for some experience to be true, but for there to be no evidence. But he asks the very reasonable question, if there is a creator who wants us to know about her, why isn’t there some incontrovertible evidence? Then he provides it. Boo!

  69. #69 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    I’ve never heard of “Mr. Terrific” but it would be possible to be an atheist in a polytheistic universe. That is, you could believe in superbeing, just not in a supreme being.

    Also, anyone remember Rorschach from “The Watchmen”? Yeah, it’s not a movie, either, but he’s got some good atheist lines. Also, he’s crazy. And likes beans. And sugar cubes. And brave men like his father.

    I’m also remembering that Futurama episode where Bender drifts in space only to have a small inhabited asteroid collide with his body. He gets to play god. Everything goes horribly. He eventually meets god, but god speaks in binary, to which Bender hypothesizes, “It’s like you were God that collided with a deep space probe.” To which god replies, “Quite possibly.” The show ends with a lame god works in myserious ways thing… but Bender’s difficulty playing god is definitely one of my favorite commentaries on theism. [Commandment I: God needs beer.]

  70. #70 Grand Fromage
    January 6, 2008

    While not a movie, Battlestar Galactica has a good portrayal of atheists. There’s no judgment, they’re just people, including the heroes like William Adama. Only one atheist turns religious, and it’s coupled with him becoming increasingly delusional/insane, rather than being some great reform.

    And it’s just generally great.

  71. #71 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008

    “We don’t fit into their unthinking convention, which is probably why they stuck us with the label “new”.”

    Red herring. Whether you agree with the arguments or not (and I am talking here about the principle of the thing, not how good they are or not), there are arguments put out by philosophical theologians about necessary and contingent existence, anthropic coincidences, implications of modal realist arguments, etc., which support the idea of an uncaused being responsible for the existence of this universe. Well, why *does* this possible world exist and not others or even all the others? (Above all, don’t throw out empty, play-groung utterances like “why not” which have no substantive value whatsoever.) Unless you have a better handle on that, you have no basis for complacency about atheism (and i didn’t imply that such arguments should give “complacency” to philosophical theists, they’re just something to mull over like any anti- argument. We don’t have a real handle on it one way or the other.)

    Those of us, who (like Paul Davies) use philosophical arguments to make an argument for a first cause and a contingent universe are tired of being fallaciously lumped in with “religious believers” who proceed from tradition/revelatory messages. That is a matter of principle, even if such arguments don’t hold up well as such. It’s like talking politics and pretending that libertarians don’t exist, only Democrats and Republicans.

  72. #72 Colugo
    January 6, 2008

    Contact was a religious movie all the way through. Mysterious revelations from above; a totally benevolent and wise heavenly host; “resurrecting” the dead; magical passage to heaven. Contact is formulating a religious/prophetic experience in (very strained) “scientific” terms.

    As Arthur C. Clark wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

    The super-science of a speculative alien species provides a loophole for the existence of “real” magic for rationalist atheists. Which makes me wonder what psychological yearnings are really underlying the SETI project.

    I’m an atheist, and I don’t dream of angelic aliens heralding a millennial transformation of the world through magical super-science.

  73. #73 Token
    January 6, 2008

    Satanism != worship of / belief in Satan.

  74. #74 Marcus Ranum
    January 6, 2008

    Dbellis writes:
    Marcus @37: Please! I am God incarnate to my dog.

    Mine follow me around mostly going, “What the heck is he gonna do next? This is so fun! Daddy is such a tard…” Maybe yours just looks like he’s worshipping you — you know, like 80% of those people in churches thinking “when this is over I gotta mow the lawn…”

  75. #75 Woof
    January 6, 2008

    It can be difficult to comment on House’s atheism out in The World.

    I once answered a forum post on Television Without Pity with House isn’t an asshole because he’s an atheist; he’s an asshole because he’s House.

    I followed up with I prefer my doctors to be members of the reality-based community.

    That got me a nastygram from one of the moderators accusing me of insulting the faithful. Pfft.

  76. #76 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    BSG represents atheism and kooky theists pretty well; alas that there really do seem to be gods who provide prophecy.

    And I might just be a bastard, but I was happy when the priestess died. She was annoying. And why do black people have to be spiritual? The priestess was black, and so was the conspiring-with-Roslyn religious prison guard. Talk about stereotypes.

    Neil B. — I’m not sure what you’re reacting to, but here’s my thoughts: I’m not a philosopher, and will admit to a certain intellectual laziness when it comes to the Big Unanswerables. Since we have no idea what started the Universe, if it can be said to have started, I see no reason to spend a lot of mental effort on postulating what could have started it. We just have no idea. If you want to believe in something, go right ahead, but it has as much validity, no matter how hard you think about it, as anything anyone else could say about the beginning of the universe. We just don’t know.

    Secondly, I think you’re getting angry at the wrong audience. I’m quite happy to leave you in whatever quasi-Deistic cloud of probability you want to wander in. It is the theist who take your abstract arguments and conclude, “Therefore MY God exists.” In fact, I hear more of (what I assume) are your type of arguments from Catholic theologians, who, due to their being Catholic, seem to imply that their “proof” of this Deistic God is concomittantly proof of Jesus, ressurection, Virgin Birth, etc.

    Your comparison to Republcans / Democrats / Libertarians, I think, is brilliant, because libertarians, strictly speaking, don’t matter politically, and when you hear libertarian arguments, they’re s most likely coming from a Republican who wants to build a massive standing army on a deficit and make sure the government protects the power of coprorate monopolies. You are a small minority, and your arguments are most popular in their misapplication.

  77. #77 sciencemc
    January 6, 2008

    I’m calling “K. N. Singh” out for sock-puppetry.

    KHAAAAAANNNNNN!!!!!!!!

  78. #78 inkadu
    January 6, 2008

    I’m an atheist, and I don’t dream of angelic aliens heralding a millennial transformation of the world through magical super-science.

    Exactly. There’s a Futurama quote for every occassion, apparently. Dr. Zoidberg, an alien of the crustaceous kind, gets stranded in 1947 America. The airforce interrogates him with questions like, “What are you doing on Earth?” And Dr. Zoidberg responds with his classic Yiddish deadpan, “Like I haven’t asked myself the very same question.”

    If aliens ever do get to Earth, I imagine that psychology is more likely. (“Why didn’t I get a towing rider with my saucer insurance…”)

  79. #79 craig
    January 6, 2008

    #56, I dunno about that.

    One of my hobbies has been urban exploration, and I’ve been through buildings and paved lots that have been abandoned for many years, and there aren’t loads of plants. A few here and there, yes, but not like this movie showed.

    There’s an abandoned bit of road not far from here that I take whenever I go fossil hunting. It runs through a wooded area (lots of plants). It has been abandoned for at least 40 years.

    Crumbling at the shoulders, sure, but no plants growing up through the middle. Not a little one, let alone big swaths. Wall Street starting to look like the beginnings of a prairie after three years? I don’t buy it.

  80. #80 raven
    January 6, 2008

    How can you be an atheist and be the head of the Church of Satan?
    Wouldn’t Satan be your god?

    The official Church of Satan of Anton LaVey has as its core belief, that the supernatural doesn’t exist. They don’t worship Satan because their belief is that the devil is as real as the god(s), not at all.

    FWIW, it looks like LaVey wrote the Satanic bible and founded his organization more for some extra money and something to do. Whenever you hear fundies railing about the Church of Satan, you can be sure you are dealing with someone who is ignorant. It’s all in wikipedia.

  81. #81 craig
    January 6, 2008

    (when I say take, I mean “walk on”
    Cars can’t get through, its railed off.

  82. #82 craig
    January 6, 2008

    “Don’t you think people like me would know better than anybody just how stifling religion is?”

    Katie, to me that seems like you got an answer to a different question. One question is “Is there a supernatural creator?” and the other question being “Does religion suck?”

    You got an answer to #2, but that doesn’t necessarily rule out a yes answer to #1… but it can lead there if you then come to think of the religious as being the only evidence for the religion.

  83. #83 Bob
    January 6, 2008

    See, this I just don’t get. If the universe and life were the creation of an intelligence with supernatural powers, why would that rule out the possibility that that intelligence might seem like a prick from our standpoint?

    Well, in one sense, it clearly doesn’t. When it comes to mere possibility, anything goes, and you can posit just about any supernatural being you like.

    The Problem of Evil comes about when you’re talking about mainstream religious belief. The claims of religious belief are the focus, not some “ruling out all possibilities” for any supernatural beings.

    The type of being that most people believe in — that’s important to most people, and that most people take time out of their lives to actually worship — isn’t the Supernatural Dick you describe. It’s the loving god, the god who will provide an afterlife, the god with the plan, blah-blah-blah.

    And the existence of that being is out of the question.

    If, after that, you want to go somewhere else, and go with some other characterization of “God,” that’s fine. Nothing from the Problem of Evil will say anything about that. (But then you’re going to have the additional burden of providing an explanation as to why anyone would, or should, call that being “God.”)

  84. #84 Pablo
    January 6, 2008

    The best movie atheist of all time is clearly Woody, from Toy Story.

    He was not only content in his atheism, but convinced the believer that only by accepting the reality that there is no god could he finally become whole.

  85. #85 Peter Ashby
    January 6, 2008

    There is the bit towards the end of Empire of the Sun where Jim witnesses the light from one of the atom bomb drops on Japan, he initially thinks it was the soul of Mrs somebody going up to heaven. Then his American gangster buddies put him right. It was a nice example of a supernatural explanations being punctured by reality.

  86. #86 Bob
    January 6, 2008

    If you’ve come to atheism because of personal hardship, you don’t really qualify as an atheist. You can’t be mad at God while disbelieving in him.

    Ummm, for the record, the disbelief part kinda disqualifies the “mad at God” part.

  87. #87 Kseniya
    January 6, 2008

    I dunno. Seems to me that the point of Contact (or, one of the points) was that when someone has a natural experience that cannot be readily explained in natural terms or for which they lack concrete evidence, the tendency for most people is to resort to a supernatural explaination. Ellie’s experience can serve as an analog for the spiritual experience, and although I do believe Sagan intended to acknowledge the ubiquity (and the ambiguities) of the spiritual interpretation, I don’t think that’s all Sagan wanted us to take away from the story.

    Incidentally, nobody was raised from the dead in Contact, except in the most figurative sense. I was satisfied by the, um, technical explanation of her father’s “reappearance.”

  88. #88 raven
    January 6, 2008

    The converse of atheists in movies and fiction is religion in movies and fiction. From time to time I read a lot of current light fiction including sci-fi, having shot the TV a few decades ago.

    In the last few years, religion has been often portrayed as the bad guys, the villains who are terrorists or ignorant idiots or just plain evil cultists. Mostly it is subtle, quite often their opponents are also religious but are good rather than bad.

    I take this as part of a backlash against the theocratic fundies who are endlessly annoying on a good day and downright scary on a bad day. We all know what happened at Jonestown, Guyana, Heaven’s Gaters, the World Trade center, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Some horrifying recent events can be traced directly to cult religious ideaologies causing havoc.

  89. #89 Bad
    January 6, 2008

    Mr. Terrific doesn’t just live in a polytheistic universe though: he lives in one where there is a very real and obvious afterlife, souls, etc. His explanations of these things are just lame: he dismisses them as resonant mental energy frequencies or something: basically an atheist spouting Chopra-woo.

    And the “Presence” (aka God) has taken action several times in DC history. The Spectre takes orders from it for goodness sakes.

    Maybe Mr. Terrific can get off on technicalities, but the point is, he’s portrayed as an atheist in the sense that we all are atheists here in our universe, despite the fact that he lives in a profoundly different universe that’s simply crawling with the supernatural, souls, and gods.

  90. #90 Drew Habits
    January 6, 2008

    As someone who started questioning their faith because of a bad situation, I am not a fan of saying someone is the “wrong” type of atheist. I resent the implication that I did not come by it honestly, so to speak. Not everyone has the same experiences in life. Someone who is only claiming to be an atheist to get back at their imaginary friend is one thing, but if it takes a trauma to get someone to question their beliefs, does that make their conclusions less valid?

    I could be reading more disdain into the “wrong” label than is there, I admit, but it raises my hackles is all.

  91. #91 Crosius
    January 6, 2008

    RE: Post #54

    Temperance Brennan on “Bones” is also arguably the “wrong” kind of atheist. Her mother were killed when she was a child, her father is a murderer and in prison, her brother is also in jail (the Job-like personal history of hardship) and at least half her reactions to displays of religious community come across as sad displays of quiet envy.

    Sometimes, the writers will let her say something insightful, but then they always make sure to have one of the other characters pull the argument’s teeth, somehow.

  92. #92 Bad
    January 6, 2008

    Myself, I never had any major tragedy or even any bad experiences with religion. I still haven’t.

  93. #93 Adrienne
    January 6, 2008

    Re: #80: An Internet friend of mine (an atheist Buddhist who is also an ex-Catholic priest) once described Anton LaVey as follows: “A male Ayn Rand with a bad haircut”. I thought that was dead-on.

  94. #94 Jonathan Robinson
    January 6, 2008

    I think the best example of an atheist in a movie has got to be Joan Allen in “The Contender.” Not only is it a great movie, it blasts a huge hole in assertion that atheists don’t have convictions. If you haven’t seen it, rent it.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0208874/

  95. #95 Steve_C
    January 6, 2008

    Wasn’t Quincy an atheist? Must investigate.

    Isn’t the head of CSI atheist?

    Hmmm. I could be wrong.

  96. #96 Colugo
    January 6, 2008

    Two movies about damaged characters who lose their faith and regain it at the end of the movie due to supernatural events:

    The Ninth Configuration (1980): An astronaut has a loss of faith and a nervous breakdown; the mysterious reappearance of a medallion causes him to regain his faith.

    Signs (2000): A minister loses his faith after his wife dies in an accident; coincidences during a space alien invasion cause him to regain his faith.

  97. #97 horrobin
    January 6, 2008

    You’re correct about ‘Bones’: I do enjoy that there is a character on primetime television who will talk about the ‘Christ myth’, but they are also careful to portray her as detached and ‘overly intelligent’, like she’s some kind of alien plopped down among regular humans. You half-expect her to say “What is this ‘love’, you speak of?”.

  98. #98 Sigmund
    January 6, 2008

    I think Dexter is an atheist.

  99. #99 PirateHooker
    January 6, 2008

    Tru dat. I felt disappointed with the ending. But the rest of the movie kicked ass. I definitely agree, atheist who just think religion is plain stupid voodoo are never featured, and it’s precisely because they make theist squirm in seats.

  100. #100 Chris R.
    January 6, 2008

    Nick Angel in Hot Fuzz?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06la94s2uoA

    I love you.

  101. #101 Janine
    January 6, 2008

    I think Dexter is an atheist.

    Posted by: Sigmund

    But he is the wrong kind of human. And he knows it.

  102. #102 Todd
    January 6, 2008

    I think this is a really interesting disucssion so I looked through my DVD Sci Fi collection to see if I could find any atheist character or atheist friendly movies.

    Here’s my short list:

    Blade Runner – Religion isn’t a big theme of the movie but I find it interesting that the replicants (androids) in the film don’t mention a belief in an afterlife. They simply don’t want to die.

    Contact – The book was much better. I like this film but agree that the last ten minutes are horrible – poor Ellie, the protagonist, must rely on “faith” at last because there is no proof of her journey; it all could have been faked, you see! – let’s just ignore the beginning of the movie where it is explained why the signal was real. It’s obvious Zemeckis downplayed the faith issues set forth in the book so as not to offend and hurt sales. Oh, and BaldApe (#68) what “circle-in-pi image” are you talking about? If you are refering to the relection of the sand particles in Ellie’s hand at the end of the movie? If so, that is just a symbolic radio telescope dish that’s used in other places in the movie. Next time you watch also look for it when young Ellie looks down from the top of the stairs and sees the spilled pop-corn on the ground when her dad has his heart attack. The same radio dish symbol can be seen made from popcorn.

    The Chronicles of Riddick – An okay film but it does take on the subject of religion and it’s fairly evident that Riddick, when talking with the imam, doesn’t think much of faith. Unfortunately they portray him more as the stereotypical angry atheist although on the plus side his beliefs don’t change (nor are they really addressed further).

    The Fountain – While atheism is not directly addressed it has, I think, pro-atheist themes. One a side note, there is one theme of the movie that I’ve noticed has made it’s way into the apologist’s argument bag (or at least drawn my attention to it). In the movie Rachel Weisz’s character talks about planting a tree over her grave when she’s dead so that she becomes part of the tree. This is a major theme of the movie and important for the sequences that take place in the future. Lately I heard a “joke” meant to mock atheists about a rude atheist who believed he became a tree when he died and was told by the civil Christian that if so he hoped the atheist would be made into a bible. I was also listening to Austin-based “The Atheist Experience” podcast of their weekly TV show and someone called in asking if we atheists think we become trees after we die. I just thought that was interesting.

    Serenity – already hit on by others as a good example of an angry atheist main character.

    Solaris – Stanislaw Lem was an atheist and his philosphy is reflected well in the movie. The lastest re-make with George Clooney is pretty good but there is no mention of any of the character’s (that I recall) religious beliefs although Solaris itself could be equated as having god-like powers.

    Star Trek – Except for a few exceptions (Star Trek V being a good example of bad) most of the ST movies were pro-humanist but not necessarily pro-atheist

    V For Vendetta – This is one of the best pro-atheist movies out there. I don’t recall if the character V’s beliefs are mentioned although the whole premise of the movie was his war against the theocratic government.

    Zardoz – Okay, not exactly one of the best John Boorman films nor a good career move by Sean Connery but it does address the topic of false gods.

  103. #103 Colugo
    January 6, 2008

    Skeptical, science-minded, or openly atheistic characters are often portrayed as being nerds or even having traits suggestive of mild autism. Bones is one example, except the character is too socially skilled for a true Asperger’s. An episode of House played with the idea of his being Asperger’s but he doesn’t show the signs except for rudeness. The main mathematician character on Numb3rs is skeptical and a bit awkward, but not Asperger’s, while the more ASD-like mathematician seems more “spiritual.” Lisa Simpson, a skeptic more than anything (SJ Gould episode), while generally a likable character, is sometimes socially clueless and has a tendency to be a sanctimonious scold.

  104. #104 noodlesoup
    January 6, 2008

    RELIGION: “I live in an imaginary wold of pretend and make believe, If I close my eyes and tap my heels together three times while wishing really hard it comes true.”
    ATHEISM: “You are a child.”
    RELIGION: “I hate you!”

    It’s as simple as that.

  105. #105 anonymousat11:55
    January 6, 2008

    I think we are in danger of being a Real Athiest(TM) space if we deny that people do come to athiesm because they have been disappointed by the claims of faith that turn out not to be true.

    Personally I have struggled with religion all of my life. I read the Bible, memorized it, was referred to it when I was in trouble, etc….

    I grew up in the church, went to private religious school, and learned all about Creationism.

    I was deeply embarassed as an adult who had been an apologetic, when I sat there in an office and heard a person make the claim that you could heal yourself with your mind- and did you know that your spiritual life must be be in order for this to be happen- it being one slice of the holistic pie.

    The person that they were speaking to was irreligious and had been their entire life. They had acquired a disability after an operation, and somehow their unbelief rather than the fact that their body did not heal properly was at fault to those who were making decisions regarding their financial future.

    Was that an improper time for me to lose my faith? Or was it that I finally was able to see that the Emperor Had No Clothes and realize how mad it was that people with PhD’s and all sorts of letters after their names were diseminating information that blamed faith (a lack of it) instead of biology, because it cost them less to look after this person if they could somehow- any how- make it their fault. (This is the same organization that told me that it was ONLY SCIENCE when I went to them with an explanation as to why this particular situation was happening.)

    Disappointed -yes. Nihlistic? I will have to look up my Neitzche to be sure, but I am pretty sure I celebrate the wonders of science every time I look up stuff on the internet and in books that have to do with this situation, or out of sheer curiosity. I love biology. LOVE IT!!! What I know would fit on the head of a pin I am sure, but I have had to educate myself as a mid thirty year old because my science education as a child sucked. That is why I come to blogs like this.

    So- please do not be denominational about this- we seriously sound like Huckabee and Romney determining if Mormonism is a real Christian faith.

    And why should athiesm be exempt from having people who are followers? Or lazy thinkers?

  106. #106 Norman Doering
    January 6, 2008

    Alonzo Fyfe,

    I’m very interested in your short story contest. I think it’s a great idea and I’d like to enter.

    If you have any more to add, write me:
    norm_doering (at) hotmail (dot) com

    I will give you a blog post here:
    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/

  107. #107 Amanda
    January 6, 2008

    I completely agree with your view that people are not comfortable with athiesm expressed in media. People who rely on the hope that a god is watching over them and keeping them safe always are not looking for the truth and don’t want to see it. They reject any option that there isn’t life after death and whatnot, refusing to believe science. Religon falls into their comfort zone and they do not want it to be fractured.

  108. #108 Christianjb
    January 6, 2008

    I’m an atheist who is also bitter and broken. Does that make me a walking cliche?

    I agree though. Whilst there are many lead characters in movies who could be atheists, it’s hard to think of any who come right out and say it without turning into anti-heroes at the very least.

    Will we ever see a clean-cut chisel-jawed openly atheist hero in a Disney or Pixar movie?

  109. #109 Meg
    January 6, 2008

    I can’t believe no one has yet mentioned Joan Allen’s wonderful atheist character in The Contender. Her atheism gets brought up during the confirmation hearings, and she gives a great answer about how she may not believe in a deity, but democracy is her religion.

    Of course, the atheism makes the movie completely implausible, because we all know Americans wouldn’t stand for even considering an atheist a heartbeat away from the presidency.

  110. #110 Blake Stacey
    January 6, 2008

    Todd (#102):

    Oh, and BaldApe (#68) what “circle-in-pi image” are you talking about?

    It’s only in the book — and, actually, it doesn’t make much sense either.

  111. #111 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 6, 2008

    What about Homer in The Simpsons Movie? His character is a bit **ahem** two-dimensional and too broadly written, but really he is the perfect “every man” and apparently a non-believer even if he isn’t outspoken about it.

    “This book doesn’t contain any answers!!!”

    But he asks the very reasonable question, if there is a creator who wants us to know about her, why isn’t there some incontrovertible evidence? Then he provides it. Boo!

    I haven’t seen the movie or even read the book, but AFAIK he merely explains what incontrovertible evidence would be — something very, very different from anything anyone claims to have found so far (well, except maybe the TimeCube guy).

  112. #112 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 6, 2008

    What about Homer in The Simpsons Movie? His character is a bit **ahem** two-dimensional and too broadly written, but really he is the perfect “every man” and apparently a non-believer even if he isn’t outspoken about it.

    “This book doesn’t contain any answers!!!”

    But he asks the very reasonable question, if there is a creator who wants us to know about her, why isn’t there some incontrovertible evidence? Then he provides it. Boo!

    I haven’t seen the movie or even read the book, but AFAIK he merely explains what incontrovertible evidence would be — something very, very different from anything anyone claims to have found so far (well, except maybe the TimeCube guy).

  113. #113 danley
    January 6, 2008

    I know, it’s such a dismissive stereotype. I hate that shit.

  114. #114 Kimpatsu
    January 6, 2008

    Inkadu @#69:
    The movie ofthe Watchmen is being filmed right now for release in 2009 by Warner Bros.

  115. #115 Uber
    January 6, 2008

    which support the idea of an uncaused being responsible for the existence of this universe

    You may not like being lumped but positing somethingasan uncaused anything minus any evidence doesn’t make your argument strong or particuarlly meaningful. In fact it may be correctly lumped with just about every other unproven ascertion.

  116. The best atheist movie character I know is Hanna Imhof from the 2006 film REQUIEM. She is a friend of main character Michaela Klingler, who suffers from schizophrenia and thinks she is possessed by demons. Her very devout catholic family agrees and they try an excorcism. Hanna tries to stop her and get her admitted in a clinic. She says (I paraphrase): “There’s only you in you. What happens when they exorcise that?” Really, by far the best atheist movie I know.

    Anyway, this is an excellent film (it won 14 awards), but it is also German and Euro-style arthouse drama at its most depressing, so I doubt it will make much of an impact in the American cultural fabric.

  117. #117 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008

    Inkadu, I admit you make some good points. What I was reacting to: the pretense by atheists that there is only one alternative to themselves, which is faith/tradition/revelation based belief. No, there is also the alternative philosophical tradition of theistic argumentation of the sort one might hear (and can) from an ancient Greek philosopher or etc. Yes, the Catholic theologians make those sort of arguments and often do a “good” job relatively speaking (in terms of keeping it abstract and technically competent to the degree such arguments can be) at that level, and then go on to further sectarian elaborations (which do not follow from those arguments even to whatever extent they are valid, nor does their using them invalidate them as very abstract non-sectarian arguments per se.) However, I think it is a shame that more people don’t reflect on the “why” of the universe in the manner that Plato and Aristotle and any independent thinker would, who wasn’t trending inherently to an atheistic perspective. The Mind of God by Davies, making those kinds of points, was rather popular and well-received by critics IIRC. Like libertarians about their political philosophy, I have a wistful yearning that more people would be interested, but like them, I go ahead and talk to those who seem to appreciate it and don’t let it bug me that the majorities are comfortable in their respective ruts. Finally, more people now seem to want something other than the same old same old, as evidenced by the appeal of Ron Paul, Barack, Huckabee – “The Establishments are losing” people say (albeit with some exaggeration), and maybe they will in philosophy and popular intellectual culture some day as well.

  118. #118 Charles Soto
    January 6, 2008

    My favorite portrayal of a genuinely atheist society is that of the Bene Gesserit order in the Dune books. Their use of religion to control populations is quite plainly described. There is no pretension of deity or even spirituality. Their “religion” serves a useful purpose. Even their “God Emperor” has no delusion of supernatural origin. The books do a good job of portraying both atheism and anti-religion, by pointing out very genuine roots of both deism and religion.

  119. #119 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008

    PS: Uber, I was just listing the sorts of arguments that get made. Many thinkers have elaborated on why we should believe in such a thing, and I have as well elsewhere and on these threads. Of course the whole point about any “unproven assertion” is to look for particular arguments (if literal evidence is lacking) pro and con, and make a judgment on how they hash out. There is no point in talk of “lumping” such assertions together, it all depends on how the arguments go.

    And may I ask, what is your (or let anyone else try) wonderful explanation of why there is an existing universe with the properties that it has, why one “possible world” exists and not others, etc? Is there a fundamental theory which explains what should or should not exist, and how “gotten off the ground”? (I am not very impressed with gripes about my own approach to ultimate questions if the critics have nothing much to offer.)

  120. #120 Robert
    January 6, 2008

    Was Becker an atheist?

  121. #121 HP
    January 6, 2008

    Christianjb — I’m an atheist who’s not particularly happy, either. In my experience, hardship is far more likely to drive people toward religion than away from it. I’m not angry at God, though, but I am a bit pissed off at the leprechauns. Fucking leprechauns — why should they get all the gold? Precious, precious gold.

    My favorite atheist movie character is probably Coffin Joe. I’ve only seen the first film and read one of the comics (in translation), so I don’t know if he remains an atheist after he goes to Hell. Sure, he’s a villain, but his villainy is so ridiculous and over the top, he’s hilarious. He’s every bad stereotype about atheists, multiplied by a factor of 10. In the opening scene of the first film, he sends his wife out for meat — on Good Friday! This is how you know he’s eeeeevil.

    I’ve said this here before, but the best atheist movie I’ve ever seen is Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death. Forget all the Razzies/MST3K crap you’ve been told about Corman. Masque isn’t a so-bad-it’s-good film, it’s a just plain good film. Beautifully filmed (cinematography by Nic Roeg) and gleefully acted. It’s been featured at MoMA, fer crying out loud. It’s only loosely based on Poe’s story. Charles Beaumont’s screenplay is a fable about belief. Ostensibly a good-vs-evil story with a Satanist villain and a Christian heroine, it’s really about how reality has a way of trumping theology in the end.

  122. #122 Chris Hallquist
    January 6, 2008

    I thought the Will Smith character was done perfectly. Bascially, a catastrophe hit the Earth, and he kept fighting to save it even when everyone else was only trying to save their own necks. His plan seemed like a long shot, but it was probably the most reasonable one he could have adopted in the circumstances. He doesn’t deal with the stress perfectly, but he deals with it pretty well given how horrible the situation is. Then, crazy people show up on his doorstep, with a plan based on assumption obviously at odds with reality, and he points this out to them. They screw up, put his life in danger, and he has to trust them basically as a last-ditch thing rather than a recognition that they’re right. It just happens to all work out in the end.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to be annoyed by the movie’s implication that the crazy people were actually right. But I don’t see any issue with how the non-crazy person was portrayed.

  123. #123 Clare
    January 6, 2008

    I think that American media is more likely to foreground a professed atheist as some kind of weirdo; other national media, not so much. Thinking about British media, I have to say that I can imagine many characters as potential atheists, but there would be no compelling reason for the program’s writers to make an issue of it because there is no particular (recent) tradition of associating virtue with religiosity. But that’s just a hunch ….

  124. #124 Heterocronie
    January 6, 2008

    I doubt most Pharyngula readers will be excited about this one, but a movie version of Atlas Shrugged starring Angelina Jolie is currently in production. Assuming they are true to the book, the main characters will be “clean-cut” “chisel-jawed”, and pouty-lipped atheists.

  125. #125 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008


    The type of being that most people believe in — that’s important to most people, and that most people take time out of their lives to actually worship — isn’t the Supernatural Dick you describe. It’s the loving god, the god who will provide an afterlife, the god with the plan, blah-blah-blah.

    And the existence of that being is out of the question.

    If, after that, you want to go somewhere else, and go with some other characterization of “God,” that’s fine. Nothing from the Problem of Evil will say anything about that. (But then you’re going to have the additional burden of providing an explanation as to why anyone would, or should, call that being “God.”)

    Posted by: Bob | January 6, 2008 12:50 PM

    The problem of definition you posit is not really that bad. Thinkers do not have to adhere to popular uses of words or even their apparent logical definition. For example, “universe” was supposed to mean (“uni”, right?) the one and only package of what there was (at least, of this sort, maybe allowing for God or other cause for the former.) But then physicists and others began thinking there might be more than one contiguous space filled with stuff as it were. Instead of changing to a new word, it was just easier to stretch the meaning of “universe” to encompass such entities – the important thing was to keep the term for ours, even if the *logical* implications changed. You don’t see either many people griping about that newer usage, nor poor confused souls saying “but there can’t be multiple ‘universes’ because the word ‘universe’ means there’s only one…”

    A similar issue applies to “God” (and apart from whether It “exists,” whatever than means …) So what if many thinkers or the populace (I don’t think they even get such advanced ideas anyway except as sloppy “can do anything” bromides) thought that whatever created the universe or was the original uncaused being etc. was “omnipotent” (and could He create a stone so heavy even he couldn’t lift it etc. anyway.) It does not follow logically that the uncaused First Cause or creative agent etc, would have to *be* omnipotent if it existed, and that’s what really matters. You use the concepts you want to use, and cover them with convenient terms because that’s easier and informed readers are supposed to get it. Remember that our categories and definitions are highly artificial and misleading. Don’t get the wrong idea about things in general from the crisp (?) way life has speciated.

  126. #126 barkdog
    January 6, 2008

    Why does Neil B think that this big Why? is a meaningful question, or that the human mind can supply an answer? My impression from Plato, Aristotle, and the rest is that a lot of breath has been wasted and a lot of ink spilled in an entirely pointless debate. Whence the arrogant assumption that the universe must make sense to humans and is obliged supply answers to all the questions we can compose? Read “Faust.”

  127. #127 AlanWCan
    January 6, 2008

    Well, I would have thought that after the vicious butchering of Asimov’s I Robot, you wouldn’t want to watch anything with Will Smith in it ever again (shame, I thought he did a nice job of proving he can actually act in the Ali movie…). The despairing atheist thing is also a projection – how many times have you heard the xtian conversion story that involves booze/drug addiction, trauma, tragic loss, or some other horrible catastrophe to escape from which the deludee grabs onto a skyfairy? Funny thing, I just stumbled upon an interview with the guitar player Frank Marino the other day (hey, I’m in Canada, give me a break). I had no idea he was an xtian, but I found the bit where he describes finding god while being treated for LSD addiction at the age of 13 kinda tragi-funny.

  128. #128 Tulse
    January 6, 2008

    a movie version of Atlas Shrugged starring Angelina Jolie is currently in production. Assuming they are true to the book, the main characters will be “clean-cut” “chisel-jawed”, and pouty-lipped atheists.

    And selfish pompous assholes. Count me out.

    I think the original Trek would count as pretty atheistic — the gang encountered plenty of powerful beings who claimed to be gods (including Apollo) but were shown to be natural creatures. And there were plenty of cautionary tales about how nasty and capricious such powerful beings could be. There are one or two references to Christianity, but it really feels out of place in the show, as if they were gratuitously added. (And Todd, I’d even out ST V as fairly atheistic, as it has that great line: “What does God need with a starship?”)

  129. #129 HP
    January 6, 2008

    Would it be out of line to remind everyone that Richard Matheson’s wonderful novel is still in print, and most likely cheaper than a night at the movies?

    The novel, by the way, was incredibly influential. Without I Am Legend, there would have been no Stephen King, no Clive Barker, no Buffy, no Blade, no George Romero. Prior to I Am Legend, horror was all antiquated gothics and purple-prosed weird tales. (I happen to prefer antiquated gothics and weird tales, but credit where it’s due.)

    Also, The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, is widely available on DVD and dirt cheap to boot.

    There’s simply no good reason to see the Will Smith movie.

  130. #130 uncle frogy
    January 6, 2008

    been reading the blog “religiously” for some time and have not felt I could add anything to the thread most of the time.
    When I was younger if we wanted to see a movie that was challenging or serious truly moving we would never go to see a Hollywood movie we would go to a foreign movie.
    except for some “independent movies” and rare exceptions when has Hollywood done anything else I mean where did the expression Hollywood ending come from?
    part of this discussion reminds me of all the criticism leveled a Hollywood for its portrayal of (you supply the “minority” here) Hollywood makes money/product not art. When it has made “art/truth” it has done so only by subterfuge or clout of the parties involved or dumb luck.
    I have not seen “I am Legend” yet nor read the book I did see “the Omega man” a previous version of the book I think. It to was pretensions and over done and absurd in parts indeed hard to believe but a fun movie all the same. One thing Hollywood almost always gets wrong is time, from the descriptions and the preview/trailers looks more like 30 years not 3. I want to see it just to see New York gone deserted and over grown I will not be to surprised by the “Hollywood” ending. Few are the movies that end without some hope things returning to normal, Hollywood is not very big on irreversible change though nature and history seem to not posses the same bias.

    One of my favorite parts of “Star Trek” were the encounters with gods and “super aliens” They were always seen as beings that were different and maybe more powerful in some way but just that a being of some kind subject to the “laws of nature”, scientific understanding as anything else.

    I will cast a vote for Sherlock Holmes for the “atheist” character most who most often solves the crime/problem with reason and analysis and never faith or mysticism

  131. #131 uncle frogy
    January 6, 2008

    been reading the blog “religiously” for some time and have not felt I could add anything to the thread most of the time.
    When I was younger if we wanted to see a movie that was challenging or serious truly moving we would never go to see a Hollywood movie we would go to a foreign movie.
    except for some “independent movies” and rare exceptions when has Hollywood done anything else I mean where did the expression Hollywood ending come from?
    part of this discussion reminds me of all the criticism leveled a Hollywood for its portrayal of (you supply the “minority” here) Hollywood makes money/product not art. When it has made “art/truth” it has done so only by subterfuge or clout of the parties involved or dumb luck.
    I have not seen “I am Legend” yet nor read the book I did see “the Omega man” a previous version of the book I think. It to was pretensions and over done and absurd in parts indeed hard to believe but a fun movie all the same. One thing Hollywood almost always gets wrong is time, from the descriptions and the preview/trailers looks more like 30 years not 3. I want to see it just to see New York gone deserted and over grown I will not be to surprised by the “Hollywood” ending. Few are the movies that end without some hope things returning to normal, Hollywood is not very big on irreversible change though nature and history seem to not posses the same bias.

    One of my favorite parts of “Star Trek” were the encounters with gods and “super aliens” They were always seen as beings that were different and maybe more powerful in some way but just that a being of some kind subject to the “laws of nature”, scientific understanding as anything else.

    I will cast a vote for Sherlock Holmes for the “atheist” character most who most often solves the crime/problem with reason and analysis and never faith or mysticism

  132. #132 SEF
    January 6, 2008

    What about an atheist as US president – in films or in reality?! Just how entrenched is US anti-atheism? Or are the polls, where people said they wouldn’t vote for an atheist, unrepresentative? Is Pete(r) Stark still on target to run and win his seat again after admitting his atheism/non-theism last year?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Stark

  133. #133 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008

    “Whence the arrogant assumption that the universe must make sense to humans and is obliged supply answers to all the questions we can compose?”

    Posted by: barkdog

    Barkdog, you have a point. It is not necessarily true that “the universe must make sense to humans and is obliged supply answers to all the questions we can compose.” However, scientists seem to be trying, and I don’t see anything wrong with “philosophers” trying either. Sure, we can’t do experiments on “God” but we can’t very well on “other universes” and other conceits that scientists indulge in either. I do agree we should all be humble about such questions. Are the atheists posting and commenting here sufficiently humble?

    PS: I think it’s funny, how so many religious people say that “liberal Hollywood” makes them look silly.

  134. #134 Phoenician in a time of Romans
    January 6, 2008

    and is only a happy ending if your dream of paradise is an armed camp of Christians.

    Minor correction – one character was “told by God” that the colony existed. This does not mean it was “an armed camp full of Christians”.

    Oh, and I share the disappointment in the movie, but I knew early on that it was stupid considering the fact that in the first scenes it shows a Manhattan overgrown with plants coming up through the pavement, herds of deer, etc., because the city has been empty of humans for… three years.

    STRONGLY recommend this book.

  135. #135 BaldApe
    January 6, 2008

    Todd, (#102)

    In the book, the aliens had found a stretch of digits in pi that, although non-repeating, consisted entirely of ones and zeros. They wondered if it “meant” something, but hadn’t been able to make anything of it. When she gets back, Ellie runs it through the pattern recognition software she had used to detect the original signal. The zeros and ones, when set up in a certain number of rows and columns, made a circle.

    Cheesy, I thought.

  136. #136 atheists who care
    January 6, 2008

    This may be a tad off course. But… I am tired of atheists being portrayed as amoral, selfish, nihilistic beings. I volunteer a lot in my community and it is rather annoying that I have to listen to a bunch of Jesus crap to be involved. Why should the ‘nutters’ have the monopoly on charity? We need some atheist charities. Atheists love humans and care about suffering just as much as any other person. If anyone has any idea of how a charity could be started, give me some clues.

  137. #137 Kseniya
    January 6, 2008

    I think we are in danger of being a Real Athiest(TM) space if we deny that people do come to athiesm because they have been disappointed by the claims of faith that turn out not to be true.

    I agree, if only because I think it’s fair to say that many, if not most, atheists (“real” or otherwise) fit that description.

  138. #138 markp
    January 6, 2008

    I think PZ’s description of a Christian camp is fair… when the gates open the first building we see is a church right in the middle of town (and maybe some bells are ringing?)

    Personally I have to problem with Atheists like House and Dr Cox being represented as bitter or grumpy. They aren’t angry at god, they’re angry at all the idiotic humans.

    Will Smith’s character was certainly no atheist, and the tacked on ending reminded me very much of M Night Shyamalan’s ending to the execrable Signs, where God helps defeat the aliens in the most incredibly stupid way possible… “Swing away!” (Mel Gibson’s daughter has an OCD and his wife is crushed to death in an accident, just so it will later occur to him to splash some water on the alien invaders– way to go, supreme being!)

    Apart from the stupid faith element I really liked I am Legend… I could watch an abandoned London or New York for hours, and I liked the way he totally flipped out when he finally had to talk to someone again.

  139. #139 Nobody
    January 6, 2008

    “Happy” atheists.. . .

    Because ignorance IS bliss.

  140. #140 Steve_C
    January 6, 2008

    Oh the irony of nobody.

  141. #141 Norman Doering
    January 6, 2008

    barkdog wrote:

    Whence the arrogant assumption that the universe must make sense to humans and is obliged supply answers to all the questions we can compose?

    The arrogant assumption seems to come from religion which tries to supply those answers. Which is more arrogant, to think you might get the answers, or that you’ve already got them?

  142. #142 barkdog
    January 6, 2008

    Neal, scientific proposals, even seemingly outlandish ones like multiverses, are expected to ultimately result in testable claims. Those that cannot are as useless as any metaphysical speculation. Some of the more interesting ones, like string theory, seem to be in an intermediate state awaiting testing, but not in principle untestable. Barring an epiphany (and today would be the right day for it) all statments about divinity are untestable and in my opinion mere word play.

  143. #143 Saveau
    January 6, 2008

    An example of an arguably atheist television series is the brilliant “Stargate SG-1″ which last year finished its ten-year run. For a decade the SG-1 team tore down powerful beings worshiped as gods by the people they enslaved… without ever offering those people any notion of what would consitute a “true” god. The consistent subtext of the show was “All gods are false gods.” The last two seasons were blatantly about modern Fundamentalist Christianity and the dangerous evil it represents.

  144. #144 pixelfish
    January 6, 2008

    I think it’s possible to wrap round through both states, specially if you start off religious. (One of the things I’m kind of looking forward to in raising my own future spawnlings with an agnostic/atheist upbringing is that they won’t start off with the baggage that I had. I have a little envy for the folks that started off in humanist households.) Losing your religion CAN be a devastating experience….but then you come out the other side, and life starts to get wonderful and immense and amazing again.

    I personally wish a lot of folks in the religion I left would have more sympathy or compassion for the people in transition though. They look at the New Atheists and assume that it’s blatant rebellion or flouting of convention, and that all atheists are inherently rebellious. I get a lot of crap from old friends and family about how arrogant and smug atheists are….and almost no sympathy for the fact that it was pretty f-ing scary to let go of the beliefs I was raised in and try to find out The Truth, whatever that happened to be. Scary to stop staring at the shadows on the wall and start finding my way out of Plato’s cavern. Some respect for those steps in the dark would not go amiss. But that would mean acknowledging that atheists are brave.

  145. #145 AlanWCan
    January 6, 2008

    atheists who care #134, go look here. RD’s already run through your frustration and used his clout to do something about it (how un-nihilistic of him).
    Oh, and has anyone else noticed the nasty infestation of creationists typosquatting at richarddawkins.org Foolish of whoever is taking care of his web presence to not have snagged the different TLDs.

  146. #146 beth
    January 6, 2008

    I know! I know! The movie Chocolat! Juliette Binoche’s character is a “good kind” of atheist. (I don’t think anyone’s mentioned that one yet – it is a great movie.)

  147. #147 jdb
    January 6, 2008

    I think Wes (#55) hit it on the head.

    If a piece of fiction is going to go to the trouble of mentioning a character’s atheism, it’s because the author is going to “do something” with it. It’s like Chekov’s rule about how the gun that’s shown in Act One must be used by Act Three, and vice versa.

    For all we know, Rick in “Casablanca” could have been an atheist; it just didn’t come up. (Haven’t watched it in a while, so I could be wrong I guess.)

    For the same reason, overtly religious characters in fiction tend to fall into one of three groups: (1) the intolerant, fundamentalist adversary; (2) the kindly and wise advisor; or (3) the protagonist undergoing a crisis of faith. Of course, unlike the Movie Atheist, one of these three categories is unambiguously positive, and the “crisis of faith” almost always ends up being resolved in favor of faith.

    Also, while Gregory House may be a grouchy, unhappy atheist, the Cameron character on that show is also an atheist, and she’s kind and compassionate almost to a fault.

  148. #148 David
    January 6, 2008

    @ uncle frogy
    I would support Sherlock Holmes as a good atheist character, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a supernaturalist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottingley_Fairies). Not having read the stories, I don’t know if this kind of thinking leaked through; would anyone more knowledgeable about such things care to comment?

  149. #149 SEF
    January 6, 2008

    Doctor Who is somewhat necessarily atheistic, despite all the super-powered demon-type aliens. Though, as a timelord, he does have the being “royalty” (in a species sense) issue and writer Russell T Davies got even stranger than usual in the latest xmas episode (killer robot-angels).

  150. #150 Glen Davidson
    January 6, 2008

    [Most or all of the following points have likely been made, but I don't know because I don't have the time to read
    all 144 comments]

    All unbelief tends to be disparaged in the movies, which, of course, deal in fantasy.

    The cynic who doesn’t believe in magic turns out to be wrong, the scientist who thinks Sasquatch or UFOs aren’t lurking around visiting the unbalanced are shown up, and those who don’t believe in religion lose their disbelief.

    That’s just the movies, though. Dreams are not made of atheism, so movies don’t portray atheism as conforming to the dream of the particular movie.

    Indeed, is there any better example that “atheism” or “Darwinism” are not religions, than the fact that they rarely are favored in movies, which invariably prefer magic,
    religion, and successful cranks? Not that there was any doubt among thinkers, but perhaps this is a good example to those who don’t think very well.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  151. #151 Sigmund
    January 6, 2008

    Did anyone watch the movie ‘The Mist’ recently? It had a very non Hollywood ending and actually took an interesting line on the religious characters that was none too flattering (yet the audience I saw it with definitely seemed to approve it).

  152. #152 Stogoe
    January 6, 2008

    There’s simply no good reason to see the Will Smith movie.

    It was in the theaters instead of moldering away in a forgotten corner somewhere, and I enjoyed it. That’s a good enough reason for me.

    Sometimes I really pity people who latch on to stories and then bitch and moan and wail to shake the rafters of the universe when these stories are marginally changed to fit the new medium. I mean honestly, people. What is wrong with you?

  153. #153 Bob
    January 6, 2008

    So what if many thinkers or the populace…thought that whatever created the universe or was the original uncaused being etc. was “omnipotent.” It does not follow logically that the uncaused First Cause or creative agent etc, would have to *be* omnipotent if it existed, and that’s what really matters. You use the concepts you want to use, and cover them with convenient terms because that’s easier and informed readers are supposed to get it. Remember that our categories and definitions are highly artificial and misleading. Don’t get the wrong idea about things in general from the crisp (?) way life has speciated.

    I don’t really disagree with any of this (although maybe there’s some play with the “what really matters” stuff). I was never a fan of “definitions” in the first place, so what you say here makes sense. And I didn’t mean to suggest that I was defining “God” to be such and such. My point was only to suggest that a (rough) game based on the (rough) assumptions of the claims will always result in the demise of that kind of being.

    Anything else will result in cheating or nihilism.

  154. #154 mikmik
    January 6, 2008

    If there was a god, there would be no arguments.
    If there is a god, he is a sick fucker. Get the fuck off me, I say, goddamit. I have sense of majesty and wonder. I am curious and I want to grow. To learn, because I don’t where that leads, but I know it is honest. It is pure.

    God? What a child.

  155. #155 RW
    January 6, 2008

    Why do you care what ‘they’ think of atheists happiness levels? If you are a bitter atheist… so what? That doesn’t make your position on life right or wrong.

    Similarly, if you are a dogmatic control freak disciple of a religion…. that doesn’t make your belief valid or invalid. Only the evidence can make a difference for this.

    Of course, I have chosen two extremes – for whom the world view is extremely clear, and who love to be vocal (a point which they have in common).

    In my experience (subjective), I haven’t noticed any difference in the happiness of believers vs. non-believers.

  156. #156 jack*
    January 6, 2008

    Regarding interesting portraits of religion in science fiction I’m surprised no one has mentioned Babylon 5. One character transforms from a stereotypical villain to being more thoughtful and nuanced, writes memoirs in prison and spawns a new religion. Another entire major species has a religion that has mouldered on unchanged for centuries in order to fulfill prophesies that come from actual, factual time travel. I may have gotten some details wrong — it’s been a number of years — but except for some nonsense about souls and an overarching theme that some guiding force was responsible for life in the universe, I recall the treatment was interesting and balanced.

    At one point the commander of the station has to make a demonstration of the dominant faith on Earth, but instead he decides to demonstrate pluralism instead. He lines up a bunch of humans and names them and their faiths starting with an atheist. The writer assured that the atheist was first and most nattily dressed.

  157. #157 chuko
    January 6, 2008

    atheists who care: the Richard Dawkins Foundation, http://richarddawkinsfoundation.org/ , is a new atheist charity set up both to promote reason, freethought, and “charitable giving by secularists to humanitarian good causes”. That’s probably one place to start. It’s been talked about on Pharyngula before.

    I think the later Star Trek series are all pretty good about showing healthy atheism. The characters are seen as humanitarians and heroes. Religion is something that some backward alien cultures practice – and this is almost always portrayed as being a sham of some kind. They don’t state their disbelief in god, but that’s because the culture that they’re in assumes humans are atheists for the most part. Braga, who took over trek after Roddenberry died, said, “On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist. And that world is the better for it.” It’s an optimistic view, but I hope that this eventually happens in the real world.

  158. #158 Phoenician in a time of Romans
    January 6, 2008

    People have overlooked the epitome of the angry atheist in movies – The Mole from the Southpark movie:

    (From IMDB)
    The Mole: Hold me.
    [coughs]
    The Mole: There is no hope now, you must get out of here.
    Kyle: We can’t leave without you!
    The Mole: It’s okay, I’m done for.
    Kyle: No! We can’t leave without you! We don’t know where the hell we are!
    The Mole: Were is your God when you need him, huh? Where is your beautiful, merciful faggot now?
    [coughs]
    The Mole: Here I come, God. Here I come, you fucking rat.
    [coughs]
    The Mole: Now the light, she fades… and darkness settles in… but I will find strength…
    Kyle: No, Mole, hang on…
    The Mole: I will find pride within…
    Kyle: We’ll get you home…
    The Mole: Because although I die…
    Kyle: I can’t face my mother…
    The Mole: My freedom will be wrong…
    Kyle: Not alone!
    The Mole: Though I die… La Resistance lives… on… BLECHHHHH>
    [dies, dramatic music starts]
    Kyle: SHIT!

  159. #159 Santiago
    January 6, 2008

    I liked that movie, if only cause it made me think how I’d react and live if I was the last human on earth. The purpose of art, after all, is to make you think, so I thought this movie did that rather nicely.

    The rest, i.e. the end, I didn’t tremendously enjoy, for obvious reasons, but I just ignored it. What I did enjoy is how, even on a blatantly religious movie, the most powerful miracle the writers were comfortable that god do is making a woman listen to the radio one day. I mean, true that science supposedly got us in that mess, but it was science, not god, that also got us out of it.

    The message one could read is that science, and reason, are invincible, and can get us through the most adverse of circumstances, while a god doesn’t give a rat’s ass if 5.4 billion people die, as Smith makes abundantly clear.

  160. #160 Keith
    January 6, 2008

    Oh, and I share the disappointment in the movie, but I knew early on that it was stupid considering the fact that in the first scenes it shows a Manhattan overgrown with plants coming up through the pavement, herds of deer, etc., because the city has been empty of humans for… three years.

    Take a read at the book The World Without Us. The author examines what would happen if we were just to up and go away (but leave the infrastructure intact) for whatever reason.

    New York City is surprisingly fragile. Without constant maintenance, the city falls apart rather quickly. The subway system would fill with water within days and start undermining the streets and foundations. Grass on the streets in three years? Maybe a bit fast, but not much.

  161. #161 Sastra, OM
    January 6, 2008

    Many years ago, Disney made a children’s movie where one of the main characters was an atheist. Thomasina — it’s about a little Scottish girl and her cat. I loved that movie.

    But of course, the atheism was introduced so there could be a conversion and happy ending later on. The little girl’s father was cold and bitter over his wife’s death, and thus couldn’t believe in God anymore — but he gains his faith again when he meets another woman (a “witch” who is not really a witch) and realizes that there is love still left in the world. Or something like that.

    I suspect it probably colored my youthful understanding of atheists. They were sad people who just need love in order to find God (hope) again. I was raised freethinker, but self-identified as an agnostic for a long time, influenced by hazy ideas that atheism entailed hard-core depression, so I couldn’t be one of those.

    I suspect many theists think atheism is only skin deep and emotional because they don’t want to think God’s existence is an intellectual matter. I note that in discussions they often try to shift the issue to the personal, as if they feel they’re on solid ground there.

    As for “intellectual arguments” for God such as those put forth by Davies and other Templeton winners, they mostly seem to be efforts to see if one can still hold on to a dying hypothesis. Draw a circle around a target and declare it really, really special — do some calculations on the many, many ways it might not have happened — and then conclude that the target must have been selected for in advance. Which, of course, it was…

  162. #162 Caveat
    January 6, 2008

    I dunno, I assume most characters in most movies are Atheists Like Me unless identified otherwise.

    Only the religious people seem to be portrayed as hands-over-the-ears-while-humming-with-eyes-tightly-shut crackpots or vice-ridden hypocrites who create nothing but problems for the other characters.

    Please don’t tell me I’ve been looking through the wrong end of the glass all these years, that would be such a shame.

  163. #163 Don
    January 6, 2008

    David #146

    Not read Holmes? I envy you, you have a pleasure awaiting.

  164. #164 Paul W.
    January 6, 2008

    They’re mostly not movies, but all of Joss Whedon’s stuff is pretty atheistic/humanist, despite being set in universes where weird stuff actually happens.

    For example, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, there are supernatural things going on all the time, but the good guys respond to them as real atheists would rather than denying the obvious evidence.

    When confronted by an angry goddess demanding to be worshipped, Buffy just says “we don’t bow down to gods anymore,” and proceeds to fight her as though she was just some superhero. The “religious” humans in that universe are mostly morally weak. (Or dupes who just don’t get that being supernatural doesn’t make you special in the requisite way to inspire worship.)

    They’ve got gods, but no God, and you get the feeling that if God came along, he’d have a lot to answer for.

  165. #165 miller
    January 6, 2008

    Maybe the source of this stereotype is that a disproportionate number of former atheists were of the nihilist sort.

  166. #166 Blake Stacey
    January 6, 2008

    barkdog (#140):

    Neal, scientific proposals, even seemingly outlandish ones like multiverses, are expected to ultimately result in testable claims. Those that cannot are as useless as any metaphysical speculation. Some of the more interesting ones, like string theory, seem to be in an intermediate state awaiting testing, but not in principle untestable.

    Exactly right.

    As for the central topic of the thread, somebody should mention the Preacher comic books, still the top Google hit for the word “preacher” (sometimes I love my culture). The heroes are not atheists, for the simple reason that they’ve met God and know He exists — and that He’s a total bastard who deserves to get the justice that’s coming to Him, Texas-style.

  167. #167 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008


    This may be a tad off course. But… I am tired of atheists being portrayed as amoral, selfish, nihilistic beings. I volunteer a lot in my community and it is rather annoying that I have to listen to a bunch of Jesus crap to be involved. …

    Posted by: atheists who care

    I think the bad rap for atheists came mostly from Objectivists and other egoist type atheistic philosophies, and ironically also from Communism (despite the originalist concern for the working man, became very heartless in practice. Also, some atheistic thinkers (not the best of actual philosophers) falsely presumed that without God there couldn’t *be* morality, which is an ironic concession to the other side. I fully agree that a person can be moral because they care about people and the natural world for intrinsic worldly reasons – that’s what the best humanism is supposed to be all about (Leo Buscaglia, etc.)

    BTW, I sympathize just a little with those who brush off untestable philosophy as “word play”, but I consider it a valid and compelling intellectual excercise. To me, it’s ultimately a matter of “taste” anyway, since neither the points themselves, or even whether doing it is “meaningful” etc, is testable or logically provable. If it gets you off as a shivering big idea, go for it, if not, leave it be but don’t run around blowing it off as if you knew it should be.
    Ironically: whether something of our consciousness survives bodily death is technically testable anyway, since if you are able to realize you made it, it must be true. (Don’t forget, as I noted here before, that a computer program can survive the loss of the computer it originally ran on (pacesome really out of it self-proclaimed experts here.) Hence your mind can perhaps survive in principle, in some platonic supercomputer etc. A good stoned philosophy notion.

  168. #168 David
    January 6, 2008

    @Don
    I hope to… one day… [hopeful music plays]
    I’ve actually been occupied with reading Neil Gaiman and Chuck Palahniuk, among other modern writers.

  169. #169 Sastra, OM
    January 6, 2008

    On a similar topic, several of the skeptic groups have looked at how secular humanist-type skeptics are portrayed in movies and tv, and, of course, they seldom come off well. I think Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazines have both done articles recently.

    What’s particularly grating is that the “skeptic” character in paranormal movies is routinely depicted as maintaining his skepticism in situations in which only an idiot would no longer believe. Blood is dripping down the walls, furniture is flying through the air, pets are shape-shifting into other animals, and the cold-hearted materialist atheist scientist is standing in the middle saying in a snotty voice “now, I’m sure there is a rational explanation for everything, it’s all just a trick of the light or a branch tapping against the window or aaAAAEEEEOOOWWWWWWW!!!!” And he’s snatched up by the invisible Force and decapitated or something.

    The idea seems to be that yeah, even if the evidence was incontrovertible, these skeptic guys are like that ‘cuz you have to want to believe in order to see this stuff, so there’s no difference between marginal results/anecdotes and what’s plain in front of your face …

  170. #170 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008

    BTW just a reminder, the idea that philosophical speculation is “useless” or etc. if untestable as “metaphysical speculation” is itself a questionable philosophical concept, a “school” position and not a syllogistically proven logical truth. It always tickles me how you can’t even fight metaphysics without using metaphysics. As I just said, it’s ultimately a matter of taste. You decide whether it “matters” to you, and that’s about the best we can say.

  171. #171 akari_house
    January 6, 2008

    I’m surprised no one mentioned “Frida”…the famous artist heroine of this biographical film is an outspoken atheist who is portrayed dying at the end with a satisfied smile on her face.

    The problem with a lot of “Hollywood” atheists named is that they aren’t true atheists, they are maltheists. That is to say they don’t really disbelieve in their god, they are just mad at or upset with him and are ignoring him out of spite. They are actually usually firm in their belief that there IS a god, but they have been abandoned by him, so they are turning against him by denying him in spite. The classic model maltheist is Salieri in the aptly-named Amadeus. The result is many religious types equate atheism with maltheism because they can’t imagine any other reason someone wouldn’t believe in the same fairy tale they do.

    Someone mentioned the anime Full Metal Alchemist. Actually Elric was more a maltheist type, who denies his god in a very supernatural world setting out of spite for what happened to his family. However, as anime is made in one of the least religious countries in the world, there are a number of good shows and films with positive atheistic themes, with a frequent theme (on a couple of occasions even used in opening theme songs, no less!) that there is no god to create miracles, so people have to make them themselves. I’ve even seen shows that ridiculed main characters as being dumbasses for praying to a god (some of these shows meant for younger viewers even)!

    I’ve also noticed that in fact the Japanese word equivalent to “miracle” is “kiseki”, which doesn’t have a strong religious connotation in itself and is more often than not applied to clearly man-made wonders. The original late 80′s SF/satire Gunbuster show (not sure about its recent sequel) not only embraced the man-made miracle theme at its climax, but seemed to take relish in demonstrating to Man earlier on that not only is there no God, but the greater universe is also quite darwinian and ready with hungry chopsticks for us to come to its dinner plate if we don’t take truly tremendous precautions first.

  172. #172 Marcus Ranum
    January 6, 2008

    Come ON, PEOPLE best movie atheist: Peter O’Toole as Jack Tancred Earl of Guernsey in “The Ruling Class”

  173. #173 Tulse
    January 6, 2008

    Paul W.:

    all of Joss Whedon’s stuff is pretty atheistic/humanist, despite being set in universes where weird stuff actually happens

    Then again, Buffy did literally go to Heaven.

    David, Sherlock Holmes explicitly rejects the supernatural in such cases as “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (among others). And I would heartily echo Don that they are a treat.

  174. #174 Blake Stacey
    January 6, 2008

    Speaking of anime, the Ghost in the Shell movies and TV shows have been pretty consistently post-theistic. Religion appears, now and then, as a cultural hangover which prevents people from adopting cybernetic technology; consciousness and self-awareness (“ghosts”) can arise in robots of the proper type. The second season of the TV show even gives a shout-out to Richard Dawkins, with a Tachikoma robot reading The Selfish Gene. (And any Tachikoma can tell you that “Metaphysical statements are bunk” is, per Russell’s hierarchy of types, a statement of second order which asserts the bunkdom of first-order sentences, and therefore contains no inherent contradiction.)

    I have a marvelous thesis on the Dawkinsian influence upon the first two Ghost in the Shell movies and the Stand Alone Complex animated series, a thesis which would surely win me a doctorate from any film or Comparative Media Studies department, but this text box is too narrow to contain it.

  175. #175 Greco
    January 6, 2008

    Isn’t the head of CSI atheist?

    If you mean Grissom, no he definitely isn’t. See the fifth season episode “Harvest”.

  176. #176 Ian H Spedding FCD
    January 6, 2008

    Saveau wrote:

    An example of an arguably atheist television series is the brilliant “Stargate SG-1″ which last year finished its ten-year run. For a decade the SG-1 team tore down powerful beings worshiped as gods by the people they enslaved… without ever offering those people any notion of what would consitute a “true” god. The consistent subtext of the show was “All gods are false gods.” The last two seasons were blatantly about modern Fundamentalist Christianity and the dangerous evil it represents.

    I agree, Stargate SG-1 was consistently excellent in this respect. Even the “ancients” or “Ori”, who could have been represented as some sort of god-like beings, are explained as the sort of beings that we could ultimately evolve into, given enough time. The underlying message was that there is no evidence for gods, those that posed as such were frauds or deluded.

    Babylon 5 took a slightly more nuanced view in that it suggested that religions were man – or alien – made creations but allowed that faiths could help to hold societies togather over time and in the face of great trials.

    “Gregory House” is more openly atheist than any character in previous TV shows that I can remember, but it may be significant that the series has coincided with an upsurge in the open advocacy of atheism by the likes of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and Harris. And “House” gets away with it, to some extent, because he is a colorful and eccentric middle-aged curmudgeon.

    Much as I enjoy House I think a better example is CSI‘s “Gil Grissom”. He’s a much quieter, more understated character – which maybe makes him less appealing as a personality, although maybe that much more realistic – but with his emphasis on “follow the evidence” he’s a much better example of what an atheist/agnostic can be.

  177. #177 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008


    (And any Tachikoma can tell you that “Metaphysical statements are bunk” is, per Russell’s hierarchy of types, a statement of second order which asserts the bunkdom of first-order sentences, and therefore contains no inherent contradiction.)

    Inherent contradiction isn’t the real problem, it’s supporting the point. You could say (properly phrased here): “Metaphysical statements of first order are bunk” and there wouldn’t be a contradiction in the statement itself. The problem is, why should I believe that metaphysical statements of first order or bunk, but that such statements about them are not? Can you prove or support it without doing the same sorts of things that people do, when they are doing “first order” metaphysics? It’s the definition of metaphysics that is the real issue, which is arguing about issues concerning what is non-empirically given, first or second order or whatever as the case may be.

    Here’s an intuition pump to get some thinking going about all that: What if you saw a drop-dead convincing theoretical argument about something that we could likely never prove in principle (like, what would be found if we could go through a wormhole, but anything entering would be destroyed completely – something like this might actually be argued.) Would you let the argument convince you, and shrug off the trouble ever proving it? Or would you resist accepting the terrific theoretical argument because of some insistence that it just has to be testable to be “meaningful” etc?

  178. #178 aqua_crystal
    January 6, 2008

    I have to second jdb on House. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should. I haven’t seen the last season because I am waiting for the DVD but from the previous season, of the 6 main characters, other than Cuddy and Wilson that I do not recall saying what their beliefs are, we have:
    - House, obviously the number one asshole, atheist
    - Cameron, the one with the highest moral standard, also an atheist
    - Foreman, the second most bitter person, one of the main storylines is about him becoming more like House, a Christian, you can say he is the “wrong” kind of Christian just as House is the “wrong” kind of atheist, but he is still a Christian
    - Chase, the person who is just trying to save his own ass most of the times, he admits to losing his faith but he makes it sounds like he is comparing himself to a failed Job

    I think that’s pretty diverse for one show.

    Two other atheists in my mind: Zack Addy from Bones, he has not had any major hardships in his life, although he is even more socially challenged that Bones. Another is Sarah Sidle from CSI. I think she has stated that she is an atheist more so than Gil Grissom’s implied statement. “Unfortunately” she grew up in foster home, hence hardship makes atheist.

    Btw, I don’t care how people get to atheism, as long as it has been thought through and not just an anger phase to God anymore. So what if it’s started with a major even in life? Oh, after the whole thinking through, if she/he wants to be angry at unlightened actions by others, that’s fine, too, after all, an atheist can’t get angry at God, so who can he/she get angry at if not at stupid people around?

  179. #179 Steven Alleyn
    January 6, 2008

    It’s entirely possible that the character was a happy and satisfied atheist before the events of the movie took place, but I would probably be saying much the same thing if everyone around me was dead or a zombie.

    As much as I didn’t like the religious overtones of the movie, I’d say it was a good movie if only for Will Smith’s performance, which was some special kind of exceptional.

  180. #180 Andrew
    January 6, 2008

    The best Woody Allen movies get a good look at a variety of atheists, from the nonreligious people who’ve never really made up their minds, to the outright misanthropes (a category to which I proudly belong).

    I think Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and Her Sisters give the best consideration of the varieties of non-theism. And the conclusion of Woody’s character’s search for meaning in the latter film always makes a great retort to anyone who asserts that life without God isn’t worth living.

    The clip, in which he confronts the real possibility of there being no God, is here.

  181. #181 Janine
    January 6, 2008
    Paul W.:

    all of Joss Whedon’s stuff is pretty atheistic/humanist, despite being set in universes where weird stuff actually happens

    Then again, Buffy did literally go to Heaven.

    Posted by: Tulse

    Buffy sings that she thought she was in heaven in the episode “Once More With Feeling”. But in both Buffy and Angel, it is established that there are various dimensions that could be concidered paradices and hells.

    In “Conversations With Dead People” there is this exchange:
    Webs: Oh, my God!
    Buffy: Oh, your God, what?
    Webs: Oh, well, you know, not my God, because I defy him and all of his works. Does he exist? Is there word on that, by the way?
    Buffy: Nothing solid.

  182. #182 Neil B.
    January 6, 2008

    You guys will get a kick out of the below, from http://arxiv.org/abs/0801.0246
    BTW, just how does “we have found natural explanations satisfying and promising.” apply to the universe itself? I can understand explaining phenomena using the laws of nature already given, but where are you going to get the metalaws that explain them? “Just wondering.”

    Does God So Love the Multiverse?
    Authors: Don N. Page
    (Submitted on 2 Jan 2008)

    Abstract: Monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity affirm that God loves all humans and created them in His image. However, we have learned from Darwin that we were not created separately from other life on earth. Some Christians opposed Darwinian evolution because it undercut certain design arguments for the existence of God. Today there is the growing idea that the fine-tuned constants of physics might be explained by a multiverse with very many different sets of constants of physics. Some Christians oppose the multiverse for similarly undercutting other design arguments for the existence of God. However, undercutting one argument does not disprove its conclusion. Here I argue that multiverse ideas, though not automatically a solution to the problems of physics, deserve serious consideration and are not in conflict with Christian theology as I see it.
    Although this paper as a whole is addressed primarily to Christian cosmologists and others interested in the relation between the multiverse and theism, it should be of interest to a wider audience. Proper subsets of this paper are addressed to other cosmologists, to other Christians, to other scientists, to other theists, and to others interested in the multiverse and theism.

    Comments: 26 pages, LaTeX, to be published in Melville Y. Stewart, ed., Science and Religion in Dialogue (Blackwell Publishing Inc., Oxford), from a series of lectures sponsored by the Templeton Foundation and given at Shandong University in Jinan, China, autumn 2007; see also arXiv:0801.0245 and arXiv:0801.0247
    Subjects: General Physics (physics.gen-ph); High Energy Physics – Theory (hep-th)
    Report number: Alberta-Thy-20-07
    Cite as: arXiv:0801.0246v1 [physics.gen-ph]
    Submission history
    From: Don N. Page [view email]
    [v1] Wed, 2 Jan 2008 20:24:48 GMT (23kb)

  183. #183 Wry Mouth
    January 6, 2008

    Funny bit about BSG, above, being atheistic, when you recall the original was Mormonly-based (!)…

    Superficially, I’ll mention Babylon 5 here as a pretty underrated and explicitly athiestically-based sci-fi series, but one that doesn’t immediately treat all faiths (at least, the made-up alien ones!) as idiocies. I think the creator of Babylon 5 is himself an atheist.

    With regard to the initial post, I think the best way atheists can get their fill of movie role models is outlined in #12 (I think?), above. Many, many movies are pervasively atheistic, so that the subject of the Is or Isn’tness of God never comes up. This is true particularly in most sci-fi. Much to my theological chagrin. But — one can’t have everything one’s own way. What a philosophically dull cosmos that would be!

    P.S. to a sidethread developed here: If the “Problem of Pain/Evil” is, in fact, an important line of Philosophical reasoning, are we supposed to believe that only atheists and agnostics are capable of grappling with the problem, and formulating a reasonable comprehension/understanding of it? I would think if that is the case, then the Problem of Pain/Evil would not be so fruitful or important. Further, any religious viewpoint would never have got off the ground, since I figure that in times past there was lots more Pain then there is these days.

  184. #184 Gene
    January 6, 2008

    Anyone here remember Northern Exposure? I seem to remember that that show had two main characters who were the very model of happy, fulfilled atheists: Holling and Ruth-Anne. Granted, they each had their own personal foibles and difficulties, but those were never tied into their nonbelief as either cause or consequence.

  185. #185 Mark S.
    January 6, 2008

    I submit that atheists are portrayed as they are in movies because:

    1. Atheists that came to atheism through personal tragedy or some other *emotional* reason are much more likely to revert.

    2. All that most Christians know of atheism is what they learned from these lapsed atheists.

  186. #186 Samwise
    January 6, 2008

    #34 – you watched “Empire of the Sun”?

    What, did you lose a bet?

    (that movie sat on my head for two hours)

  187. #187 Todd
    January 6, 2008

    BaldApe,

    Thanks for clarification. I did read the book but it was a long time ago and I’d forgotten that part. Yep, I agree that the circle was a bit cheesey.

  188. #188 Mena
    January 6, 2008

    Way back in comment 46 MAJeff pointed out how gays are treated in movies. I don’t think that it was so much as being treated badly. The stereotype of the average American who should not be offended under any circumstance is a white heterosexual christian family person. He or she must not be told that gay people really do exist and atheists are even worse. We won’t even mention gay atheists! Anyway, I think that that’s why at the end of movies about gays and now atheists the person either dies or converts to heterosexuality/religion. That’s their idea of a happy ending.

  189. #189 UmmoSirius
    January 6, 2008

    We had a similar discussion in the message board for Inland Empire Atheists (http://atheists.meetup.com/499/). I’ll quote myself here:

    “We need more godless characters in fiction, film and television. Standup types like Spader’s character in Boston Legal, or Dr. House (as much of a jerk as he tends to be, he’s got some admirable qualities). People with excellent morals, dealing with life without the hocus pocus of tribal father figures & ancient superstitions.

    “I think Bill Gates would serve as an excellent model for such a character – a confessed atheist with gobs of money who, through his charity, has bettered & probably saved the lives of tens of thousands of victims of disease. Or Richard Dawkins, who has no patience for metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, but has contributed to education as a whole, as well as the progression of scientific knowledge. Hell, throw in the ghost of Carl Sagan if it gets us a network greenlight.”

  190. #190 QueenoftheHarpies
    January 6, 2008

    If he was so broken why was he still looking for a cure? He was unhappy, yes. He was very close to losing his mind, but he was still trying to complete his mission to develop a vaccine. Don’t get me wrong, I was disappointed with the end, completely destroyed the message of the book. He was seeing a butterfly, not an angel, though I admit the god talk was a bit heavy.

  191. #191 SteveM
    January 6, 2008

    Just saw last half of Bridge to Taribithea on one of the movie channels. The 2 lead characters are 8th grade misfits who construct the fantasy world Taribithea. The girl is clearly being raised in an atheist family because when the boy invites her to come with his family to church one Sunday she asks (essentially) “What is church?” Then, on the way back home from church, the boy’s little sister talks about how church is scary, that the bible says if you don’t believe in it you will go to Hell. The older girl replies that she can’t believe that, that if God did exist he wouldn’t send anybody to Hell, that he would be to busy “running all of this”.

  192. #192 Mez
    January 6, 2008

    Well, it’s from JG Ballard’s autobiography (first volume). It’s a good book. He remains in his writing & life, as far as I know, non-theistic. Perhaps it’s just there because it was part of the original story. Twenty-one years ago the current “religion wars’ weren’t quite at the pitch they’ve racked up to now.

  193. #193 Tulse
    January 7, 2008

    Janine:

    in both Buffy and Angel, it is established that there are various dimensions that could be concidered paradices and hells.

    “Is is established” being shorthand for “Joss doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about keeping his ‘verses consistent, and just makes up shit whenever it makes a good story, continuity implications be damned.” I doubt that Joss thought one way or another about the implications of saying Buffy went to “Heaven” until much later. In other words, I don’t think he was making a point one way or another about theism.

    As for B5, I don’t think it can be cited as an atheistic show. Unlike almost any other TV science fiction, many characters on the show are explicitly religious, and not of just made-up sci-fi religions, but real human religions (Ivanova is Jewish, for example, and one episode revolves around her sitting shiva after her father dies). B5 always took religion quite seriously, as something worthy of consideration and respect. That distinguished it from Trek, where in the old show no main characters were religious, and religion was something that, if it was seen at all, was part of an alien culture, and the god worshipped usually turned out to be a supercomputer or powerful alien, undercutting the whole notion of the supernatural.

  194. #194 Janine
    January 7, 2008

    Tulse, er, whatever. As all the writers on both those show kept pointing out, it was much easier to make shit up as opposed to doing any research in the occult for their shows. But usually when something was introduced it became a law in the Buffyverse. I can say this, Joss is an atheist. And there was not a supreme deity in the shows. Remember, the monsters were allegories. Hell, the creation myth for the show was the demons lived on the Earth and were forced by the coming of humans. Hardly a christian view.

    So, yes, the story came above all. Who would have watch if the story was unwatchable?

  195. #195 Mez
    January 7, 2008

    Sorry, in my comment at #190, I forgot to say the film I was commenting about was Empire of the Sun, from JB Ballard’s autobiographical book of the same name.

    After Man A Zoology of the Future, by Dougal Dixon is also a good read for how things might develop in the future without humans.

    And speaking of Babylon 5, a war develops between what could at first be seen as stereotypically evil Shadows and the other side represented by Vorlons, who can appear angelic, but as the story continues, the situation of what is Good & what Evil becomes a lot more ambiguous, and the conclusion … (I’m trying not to spoiler the whole thing) well, I guess you could say it’s not a Hollywood low-grade cliche, tho’ the theme has appeared a fair bit in SF stories. And quite a few of the issues and themes Straczynski addressed there are quite lively ones today. B5 doesn’t, however, rule out the usefulness of what I suppose could loosely be called spirituality. ISTM that things which could be seen as supernatural throughout B5 are all based in advanced natural phenomena, without treating different species’ beliefs as being useless; they can sometimes be harmful, others help with the characters’ lives.

  196. #196 Bob
    January 7, 2008

    1. Atheists that came to atheism through personal tragedy or some other *emotional* reason are much more likely to revert.

    2. All that most Christians know of atheism is what they learned from these lapsed atheists.

    I’ll maybe grant (2), but I’m not so sure about (1). I mean, does it happen? I’m sure it probably does. But “more likely?” — I have no idea. Evidence?

    And “*emotional* reason” seems too vague. What if someone pointed out the amount and disribution of pain and suffering in the world, and how that makes no sense when juxtaposed with any traditional god? Would that be an “emotional reason,” or something else?

  197. #197 JakePT
    January 7, 2008

    The Biggest problem with I Am Legend with regards to the religious themes, is that they don’t show up until the end when the chick shows up (the movie goes downhill from there). It just seemed so out of place and unnecessary, at least Signs had the religious theme throughout the movie.

    However, right up until the woman and kid shows up I think the film is AMAZING, really really great, they just should have done the ending different.

    And regardless of the themes or story it was very well made and Will Smith’s performance was really really good, in my opinion.

    Also I have NO problem in a character believing in God, or regaining their faith, in a movie where there actually is a God. It’s situations in movies like this that bug me, religion has nothing to do with anything until the end where it becomes a religious movie and the existence of God still isn’t obvious so the characters just look dumb instead of actually realizing something that’s obviously there.

  198. #198 Charles Tysoe
    January 7, 2008

    re: tragedy, and “happy, fulfilled atheists”

    A friendly but serious plea; atheists have contributed a lot to science, but please consider that many great scientists in the pasts were Christian theists; Kepler, Copernicus, Newton, and many others. Their theism encouraged rather than hindered their investigations. All that aside, science atheistic or not cannot overcome the train wreck of humanity and our vile undertakings. The knowledge of God is the first and highest form of knowledge; “let the man who boasts boast in the fact that he knows and understands me”, he told the Israelite prophet Jeremiah. God provided much valid and reproducible evidence for his existence and power to Israel and her neighboring nations and to the Christian apostles. Jesus Christ did rise from the dead; all the administrative might and philosophical acumen of the Graeco Roman world could not set aside that fact. And Christ will return. The greatest of God’s commandments is that man must “love the LORD your God with all your MIND and soul and heart and strength; and your neighbour as yourself”. None of us has achieved that infallible standard, and atheism openly defies it. So we must give account. Friends, throw yourselves on the mercy of God and plead for the blood of Christ to remove the stain of defiance. It is not God and Christ who will yield; it is us.

    Thank you for your time. Live long, and prosper.

  199. #199 HP
    January 7, 2008

    #150: It was in the theaters instead of moldering away in a forgotten corner somewhere, and I enjoyed it. That’s a good enough reason for me.

    Hey Stogoe, you know how movie zombies are a metaphor? They’re a metaphor for you.

  200. #200 Eric Paulsen
    January 7, 2008

    …The Chronicles of Riddick – An okay film but it does take on the subject of religion and it’s fairly evident that Riddick, when talking with the imam, doesn’t think much of faith.

    True, but in Pitch Black he says:

    Imam: Because you do not believe in God does not mean God does not believe in you.

    Riddick: You think someone could spend half their life in a slam with a horse bit in their mouth and not believe? Think he could start out in some liquor store trash bin with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and not believe? You got it all wrong, holy man. I absolutely believe in God… And I absolutely hate the fucker.

    I believe that would make him an anti-theist as opposed to an atheist.

    As for the whole “new atheist” thing going around, it’s all a bunch of crap. The only thing NEW about todays atheism is it’s decision to stand up and be counted instead of quietly allowing itself to be slandered and marginalized. I have been an atheist for 3/4 of my life having first been indoctrinated into the faith of my mother. The only thing new about my atheism is that I refuse to be marginalized by people who, without even any desire of proof in their invisible masters, seek to call ME crazy. I mean all I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me…

  201. #201 tim gueguen
    January 7, 2008

    I have no idea about the X Men movies, but in the past Wolverine has been portrayed as an atheist, although like the DC Universe the Marvel Universe would make it kind of hard to hold such a position with all the supernatural beings and cosmic powers running around. He’s even seen direct examples of spiritual power, such as the effect a crucifix in the hands of a believer(fellow X Man Nightcrawler, a Catholic) has on Dracula, who was a character in the Marvel Universe in the ’70s and ’80s.

    The Space:1999 episode “New Adam, New Eve” had an interesting take on God. In the episode the crew of Moonbase Alpha encounter Magus, who claims to be the God who created humanity and was worshpped by them. They’re highly skeptical of Magus’s claims, and of course he eventually turns out to be just some power hungry alien with advanced tech. As this is going on Maya, the base’s resident alien in year 2, notes that the people of her planet actually met the God who apparently created our Universe, only to find out he believed in a God who had created an even bigger creation that the Universe was a part of. She also wonders if we knew how what was considered divine power worked would we consider it divine anymore.

  202. #202 Sideways
    January 7, 2008

    Re: Sherlock Holmes’s atheism, from “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty:”

    “What a lovely thing a rose is!”… He [Holmes] walked past the couch to the open window, and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.
    “There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

    On the one hand, Holmes seems pretty convinced that “Providence” is at work in the world. And on the other, I doubt that a religion “built up as an exact science by the reasoner” would bear any resemblance to, say, Christianity as practiced in Victorian England. Or, for that matter, anywhere at any time.

  203. #203 It's Alive!
    January 7, 2008

    Wrong kind of Atheist, but I like him anyway… Dr. Frankenstein!

  204. #204 Eduardo Vila
    January 7, 2008

    Rick Gervais’ character in Extras is openly atheist (the good kind, much like Gervais himself)

    And how about Jack Black’s sidekick here http://www.jumpcut.com/view?id=98F13420643F11DBB40F5A856F9CC894

  205. #205 Leigh
    January 7, 2008

    Wow, I can’t believe that it took 69 posts before someone mentioned Battlestar Galactica. The whole underlying premise of the new version is a battle between theists (the Cylons) and atheists (the majority of humanity). Yes, some of the humans are nominally polytheists, but the backstory of their religion seems to be rooted in historical reality, and the major characters aren’t religious. Monotheism, as practiced by the Cylons, is genocidally murderous — for all their pious talk about God, they’re intent on murdering the tiny remnant of their victims which remains.

  206. #206 Kevin
    January 7, 2008

    Even the awesome Dr. House falls into the stereotype, and strangely, as brilliant as he is, seems dumbfounded by some of weak comebacks by a Christian college during discussions on religion.

  207. #207 Kevin
    January 7, 2008

    Gods damn it,I meant “colleague”.

  208. #208 Steve P.
    January 7, 2008

    @202, you beat me to it Re: Extras & Gervais. It was great to see that in a TV show.

  209. #209 Steve P.
    January 7, 2008

    Kevin,

    Yes, but, having watched the show with my Christian friend, I can tell you a lot of times the Christians on the show have no comeback for something pretty weak from House as well. I don’t think it’s bias by the writers, I think they’re just resource-limited.

  210. #210 Magda
    January 7, 2008

    Some more info on the hollywood atheist trope :
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodAtheist
    But prepare yourself to loose a valuable time. TV tropes wiki random navigation is almost as addictive as wikipedia links…

  211. #211 clinteas
    January 7, 2008

    “djt “Ralph Fiennes plays an atheist in The English Patient. His character utters this line:

    Almásy: There is no God… but I hope someone looks after you.”

    Most boring movie, ever. Painful.”

    Wrong,best atheist role for a main actor,best movie EVAH !

    Chris

  212. #212 Tulse
    January 7, 2008

    Janine, I didn’t mean to come off as if I was slagging Joss — I think Buffy and Angel are both brilliant, and Firefly is beyond brilliant. But he’s not a world-builder and mythos-creator like some other writers, as that doesn’t seem to be his interest. That’s cool, but I think it means one can’t read too much into the apparent structure of said ‘verse, since it’s created ad hoc.

  213. #213 Mena
    January 7, 2008

    The new B5 movie, The Lost Tales – Voices in the Dark has a Heaven/Hell episode, complete with a demon. I *do* hope that this is either an alien or telepath story, fingers crossed…

  214. #214 David Marjanovi?
    January 7, 2008

    When confronted by an angry goddess demanding to be worshipped, Buffy just says “we don’t bow down to gods anymore,” and proceeds to fight her as though she was just some superhero. The “religious” humans in that universe are mostly morally weak. (Or dupes who just don’t get that being supernatural doesn’t make you special in the requisite way to inspire worship.)

    Three words: Conan the Destroyer.

    (Sure, Conan is not an atheist, but he’s way off in the deist direction.)

    Here’s an intuition pump to get some thinking going about all that: What if you saw a drop-dead convincing theoretical argument about something that we could likely never prove in principle (like, what would be found if we could go through a wormhole, but anything entering would be destroyed completely – something like this might actually be argued.) Would you let the argument convince you, and shrug off the trouble ever proving it? Or would you resist accepting the terrific theoretical argument because of some insistence that it just has to be testable to be “meaningful” etc?

    I don’t understand. And I think you don’t understand that science cannot prove anything anyway — it can only disprove.

    The knowledge of God

    Why do you say “knowledge” when you mean “belief”?

    atheism openly defies it.

    For the 120th time: atheists don’t defy, they deny. They really believe that God does not exist. Is that so hard to understand?

    I believe that would make him an anti-theist as opposed to an atheist.

    Dystheist.

  215. #215 David Marjanovi?
    January 7, 2008

    When confronted by an angry goddess demanding to be worshipped, Buffy just says “we don’t bow down to gods anymore,” and proceeds to fight her as though she was just some superhero. The “religious” humans in that universe are mostly morally weak. (Or dupes who just don’t get that being supernatural doesn’t make you special in the requisite way to inspire worship.)

    Three words: Conan the Destroyer.

    (Sure, Conan is not an atheist, but he’s way off in the deist direction.)

    Here’s an intuition pump to get some thinking going about all that: What if you saw a drop-dead convincing theoretical argument about something that we could likely never prove in principle (like, what would be found if we could go through a wormhole, but anything entering would be destroyed completely – something like this might actually be argued.) Would you let the argument convince you, and shrug off the trouble ever proving it? Or would you resist accepting the terrific theoretical argument because of some insistence that it just has to be testable to be “meaningful” etc?

    I don’t understand. And I think you don’t understand that science cannot prove anything anyway — it can only disprove.

    The knowledge of God

    Why do you say “knowledge” when you mean “belief”?

    atheism openly defies it.

    For the 120th time: atheists don’t defy, they deny. They really believe that God does not exist. Is that so hard to understand?

    I believe that would make him an anti-theist as opposed to an atheist.

    Dystheist.

  216. #216 Owlmirror
    January 7, 2008

    The new B5 movie, The Lost Tales – Voices in the Dark has a Heaven/Hell episode, complete with a demon. I *do* hope that this is either an alien or telepath story, fingers crossed…

    Now that you’ve reminded me, I have heard that it’s not an alien or whatever. The demon really is a demon; the B5 universe is (in this film) implicitly asserted to be a genuinely Christian universe.

    This was mentioned as a negative in the context of referring back to the earlier ecumenical/skeptical/nontheistic aspects of B5 shown in the TV episodes themselves, some of which are mentioned above.

    I have not yet seen the film myself, so take that with however much salt you want. But I think the source is reliable, and I now have little interest in watching the thing myself.

    Sorry.

    Out of curiosity, I went digging a little more. This page implies that the question is simply left open. For whatever that’s worth…

  217. #217 John Farrell
    January 7, 2008

    There are atheists who look on a tragedy and cry, “There is no god,” in despair. But we are atheists who look on beauty and complexity and awesome immensity and shout out, “There is no god!” and we are glad.

    The problem, PZ, is that as far as the standard Hollywood 101 screenwriting program goes, the new atheist just doesn’t provide a dramatic enough backstory. Too cerebral. For all we know, there may have been scripts that started out that way, and because some conservative Hollywood exec said ‘not enough backstory’ it got re-written to death.

    Backstory–in my opinion one of the most overrated crutches of the modern cinema– is a big part of the problem.

  218. #218 Tulse
    January 7, 2008

    Owlmirror, a friend of mine saw that B5 movie, and also assumed that the entity was, in fact, a “real” demon, and not just a powerful alien. I think B5 is great (or did until the new BSG came along to show us how it could be done), but B5 is also really very accommodating to religious belief.

  219. #219 windy
    January 7, 2008

    P.S. to a sidethread developed here: If the “Problem of Pain/Evil” is, in fact, an important line of Philosophical reasoning, are we supposed to believe that only atheists and agnostics are capable of grappling with the problem, and formulating a reasonable comprehension/understanding of it? I would think if that is the case, then the Problem of Pain/Evil would not be so fruitful or important.

    On the contrary, it’s trivially easy to reconcile theism with the problem of evil. But most theists seem reluctant to go that way.

    Further, any religious viewpoint would never have got off the ground, since I figure that in times past there was lots more Pain then there is these days.

    I do sometimes wonder how something so vanilla as a single crucifixion managed to impress antique peoples so much. But considering that there are a lot more people around now, I wouldn’t be so sure that there’s less pain in the world. Depends how you count.

  220. #220 Tulse
    January 7, 2008

    I do sometimes wonder how something so vanilla as a single crucifixion managed to impress antique peoples so much.

    Especially when it was temporary, and the immortal being knew it would be. It’s like declaring that getting a root canal is some sort of great sacrifice for humanity.

  221. #221 Janine
    January 7, 2008

    Tulse, in his commentaries on both shows, Joss admits to that. I think what makes the one partial season of ‘Firefly’ better then the first season of ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ is that he and Tim Minear put time in setting up the world that Serenity was in.

    I do think some of the old atheist attitude does come through. In ‘Angel’ when Jasmine enchants everybody, the main characters acting in such an infantile manner (Hurting when Jasmine is not there.) and the open mike where people are either crying out “Jasmine” or cursing her enemies. I thought it was a fair representation of heaven.

  222. #222 Neil B.
    January 7, 2008

    Getting back to Contact IIRC, Dr. Ellie Arroway was and remained a non-believer, and wasn’t “penalized” as such for that – remained a heroic figure who accepted accommodating and respecting the religious character with the religious character without having to give in. And remember that conservatives are always complaining that religious people aren’t treated right by Hollywood – you don’t want to be whiners like them, do you?

  223. #223 Tulse
    January 7, 2008

    in his commentaries on both shows, Joss admits to that

    I’m sure he does, and again, I am not at all slagging him for it — Buffy was a truly awesome show. My only (very minor) point was that because the Jossverse isn’t carefully constructed at the beginning, we probably can’t draw too many conclusions about what its individual properties say about it overall. In any case, I think we can both agree that there is at least one deity in the ‘verse, and that’s Whedon.

  224. #224 Janine
    January 7, 2008

    Please. I do not buy into any deity.
    snicker

  225. #225 tyaddow
    January 7, 2008

    Yeesh, I guess I’m a little late to the party…

    Isn’t it interesting that Will Smith wanted so much to help these ‘monsters’ become human again when he was an ‘atheist’, but almost immediately upon converting(if that’s what really happened) he took to violent murder-suicide? If atheists weren’t portrayed well, at least the escalated version of theism also made an appearance. Either way, the scene when they entered the new city safe-haven thing in the end with the church bell ringing and the steeple front and center almost made me retch and verbally protest in a full theater. Had that happened earlier on I may have just left in disgust. What tripe.

    Anyway, the greater disappointment to me was the us-against-them sort of mentality. The once-human creatures retained very little in the way of human characteristics even though they were obviously organized and social creatures. In the end they were simply something to be cured or destroyed. Blech.

    That said, my wife was sad to hear of my man-crush on Will Smith and his zero-body fat, lonely, and broken character. He made the character believable. Too bad he couldn’t fix the screenplay.

  226. #226 Gaurav
    January 7, 2008

    Horace Rumpole in “Rumpole of the Bailey” was definitely an atheist. And a happy one at that.

  227. #227 Clavis
    January 7, 2008

    One of the things that pisses me off so much about atheists or skeptics in films is that, inevitably, the skeptic/atheist is given PROOF — real, unquestionable evidence — for the existence of whatever entity they’ve been skeptical about.

    This provides viewers with a bogus reinforcement that skepticism and disbelief are always the wrong way to go, because, sooner or later, the magic forces or God or aliens WILL appear and confirm that the True Believers were Right All Along!

    If that happened EVER in real life, they might have something. But it’s emotionally manipulative and dishonest to set up this pattern, where whatever is skeptically viewed will turn out to be real, and don’t you feel stupid for doubting?

  228. #228 Kulkuri
    January 7, 2008

    For years I have called myself a born-again agnostic.

  229. #229 SEF
    January 7, 2008

    there are arguments put out by philosophical theologians

    Only bad ones – and that is relevant, despite your dishonest attempt to exclude it from consideration. State the one you believe to be the best.

    Those of us … are tired of being fallaciously lumped in with “religious believers”

    You’re lumped in because you’re actually no better at it than they are – just more pretentious. No fallacy in that. You do form a set for your incorrect end-point, regardless of your alleged path there.

    It’s like talking politics and pretending that libertarians don’t exist

    No it isn’t because your bad arguments can and have been refuted too. Your approach hasn’t been ignored, as you pretend, but dismissed on your particular errors just as others are on theirs. There’s more than one variety of pond scum and consequently more than one clean-up method.

  230. #230 SEF
    January 7, 2008

    there is also the alternative philosophical tradition of theistic argumentation of the sort one might hear (and can) from an ancient Greek philosopher

    … and apparently it hasn’t really improved since! It was wrong then and it’s even more obviously wrong now.

    technically competent

    Only if you selectively ignore the glaring errors. Perhaps they’ve carefully trained themselves to do so. They certainly hope any audience will be oblivious to them.

  231. #231 grendelkhan
    January 7, 2008

    It’s a tad disturbing that Rorschach is cited as an example of a positive atheist role model. Not only is he an abject nihilist, he’s also a raving psychopath, the sort of creep who, if he hadn’t taken up superheroics, would have probably taken up serial killing. Yecch. Nick Angel from Hot Fuzz, on the other hand, is an excellent example.

    What about positive scientist role models in the movies? Scientists tend to be portrayed as hard-charging, fist-swinging heroes or as mad mustache-twirlers; the best counterexample I can think of was in Snakes on a Plane–which doesn’t exactly speak highly for the portrayal of the scientific professions in film.

  232. #232 grendelkhan
    January 7, 2008

    As for Ed Elric, he’s not a maltheist; he’s not portrayed as ever having been religious in the first place. Sure, there’s signs and wonders going on, but they conform to very well-defined rules, which differ importantly from the rules we’re used to. (Energy isn’t conserved, for instance.) Ed spends the pilot episode debunking a pious fraud, Scooby-Doo style. “And I, Father Cornello, would have gotten away with it, too, if not for you meddling alchemists!”

    Well, he would have said that, if Gluttony hadn’t eaten him first.

  233. #233 SEF
    January 7, 2008

    some atheistic thinkers (not the best of actual philosophers) falsely presumed that without God there couldn’t *be* morality

    I doubt that. Are you claiming they believed themselves and everyone else to be immoral (in which case the concept would hardly exist!)? Or is it that they thought certain types of people wouldn’t be moral – much like the patronising views the upper classes have often had of the lower, wherever they happen to place the rather arbitrary division. Meanwhile, it actually is true that some people don’t have morality, ie psychopaths / sociopaths. But then the imaginary god hasn’t given them any either(!) and even a false belief in god doesn’t necessarily work, nor work better than the real possibility of earthly retribution (or any other secular alternative to the supposedly indispensible belief in god).

    But how about you name one of these hypothetical people, so we can check your assertions about them. And for good measure name a theistic philosopher you believe to be superior to all atheistic ones, if that possible reading of your text was one you genuinely intended.

  234. #234 zets
    January 7, 2008

    Atheists have been hated and despised and executed and oppressed and have had laws against them passed for all of human history because people knew that in the first years of the 21st century about 1 in a billion people would become famous.

  235. #235 grendelkhan
    January 7, 2008

    SteveM: Just saw last half of Bridge to Taribithea on one of the movie channels. [...] The girl is clearly being raised in an atheist family because when the boy invites her to come with his family to church one Sunday she asks (essentially) “What is church?”

    I can’t believe I forgot this. Indeed, according to Christian doctrine, that character is pretty definitely hellbound, despite being an excellent human being. (The surviving friend’s father opts to be a decent parent rather than cleaving to his faith, as when his son brings him his crisis of belief, he responds “I don’t know everything about God, but I do know he’s not going to send that little girl to Hell.”)

    Also, there’s a nice bit there about how she can relate to the Bible as a work of literature rather than a work of authority: “You have to believe it, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.”

  236. #236 Carlie
    January 7, 2008

    Sure, the girl in Bridge to Taribithea is an atheist, but look what happened to her… it comes off more as a warning against atheism.

  237. #237 Bob
    January 7, 2008

    If the “Problem of Pain/Evil” is, in fact, an important line of Philosophical reasoning, are we supposed to believe that only atheists and agnostics are capable of grappling with the problem, and formulating a reasonable comprehension/understanding of it?

    No, I’d suspect that everyone could easily grapple with the problem. (There are lots of problems in Philosophy where many types of people grapple with many different types of things.)

    It’s just that, after the grappling, the view of atheism is the only one that makes sense.

  238. #238 Owlmirror
    January 7, 2008

    Sure, the girl in Bridge to Taribithea is an atheist, but look what happened to her… it comes off more as a warning against atheism.

    Terabithia, for whatever it’s worth (I did have to double check myself).

    I didn’t see it as a warning against atheism; there was no sense that she had been punished for anything.

    Except, perhaps, for not checking the evidence (the rope being frayed).

    I did get the sense that she was a bit too in love with her own imagination. But hey, a lot of us were, at that age. And in the film (and possibly in the book as well), that being totally committed to one’s own imagination certainly appears to be portrayed as being a good thing.

    Which bugs me a bit even now, I suppose. Imagination + evidence checking is good. Total commitment to imagination is bad, and can only lead to Trouble. Or so says grumpy me, anyway.

    What is religion, anyway, if not total commitment to an imaginary mythology?

  239. #239 Nurse Ingrid
    January 7, 2008

    Dude, Han Solo TOTALLY counts. I just saw the first Star Wars movie on TV again, and he has that great speech when Obi-Wan and Luke are getting all pious about the Force, and then Luke says, “You don’t believe in the Force, do you?” and Han Solo has this great response along the lines of, “I don’t need some hokey old religion, and I know that there isn’t some all-encompassing ‘force’ that controls MY destiny.”

    Not sure if he ever “converted” in the later movies, but that was a great moment.

    And for my least favorite “skeptical” movie characters, I vote for the college dean and the EPA inspector in “Ghostbusters.” Sure, it’s fun to hate them and root for the ‘busters, but who among us wouldn’t react the way they did initially?? “You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman.” Well…yeah.

  240. #240 Chet
    January 7, 2008

    Cheesy, I thought.

    Cheesy yes, but also true; it’s a fact that pi does contain a sequence that is nothing but ones and zeroes that, when run through the translation algorithm of your choice, does evaluate to a true circle.

    I can’t, unfortunately, tell you at what position this sequence begins; but without a doubt I can tell you that it’s in there. Also, your birthdate to the exact microsecond, your social security number, your current address (as expressed in ASCII), and both your public and private RSA keys.

  241. #241 pablo
    January 7, 2008

    The X-Files used to piss me off because Scully was the skeptic but she was also a practicing Catholic. She managed believe in her deity without evidence, yet every week managed to maintain her skepticism about ET’s despite evidence.

  242. #242 Tulse
    January 7, 2008

    it’s a fact that pi does contain a sequence that is nothing but ones and zeroes that, when run through the translation algorithm of your choice, does evaluate to a true circle.

    Whoa, dude…you’re like so blowing my mind!

    Also, your birthdate to the exact microsecond, your social security number, your current address (as expressed in ASCII), and both your public and private RSA keys

    Holy crap, what a frickin’ security risk! Now I’ll have to find new keys that aren’t in pi.

    I’d better start looking, as it might take a while…

  243. #243 Kseniya
    January 7, 2008

    Now I’ll have to find new keys that aren’t in pi.

    That should be a piece of cake.

  244. #244 Ken Cope
    January 7, 2008

    That should be a piece of cake.

    The cake is a lie!

  245. #245 Kseniya
    January 8, 2008

    OMG! I love that!

    However, there is an opposing viewpoint.

  246. #246 Ichthyic
    January 8, 2008

    The X-Files used to piss me off because Scully was the skeptic but she was also a practicing Catholic. She managed believe in her deity without evidence, yet every week managed to maintain her skepticism about ET’s despite evidence.

    ever consider that might have been intentional?

    It is a rather obvious plot device, after all.

  247. #247 Ken Cope
    January 8, 2008

    How can there be cake, when Weighted Companion Cube has been euthanized?

  248. #248 Owlmirror
    January 8, 2008

    How can there be cake, when Weighted Companion Cube has been euthanized?

    All Aperture technologies remain safely operational up to 4000 degrees Kelvin.

  249. #249 Kseniya
    January 8, 2008

    The WCC is functioning as a metaphor for my religious experience.

  250. #250 Ken Cope
    January 8, 2008

    Thank you for participating in this Aperture Science computer-aided enrichment activity.

  251. #251 PatsyM
    January 8, 2008

    In “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Frederick (Max von Sydow) is talking to his alienated wife, Lee (Barbara Hershey) in this terrific non-believers’ monologue:

    “The reason why they could never answer the question ‘How could it [the Holocaust] possibly happen?’ is that it’s the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is ‘Why doesn’t it happen more often?’ Of course it does, in subtler forms. [snip] You see the whole culture…Nazis, deodorant salesman, wrestlers…beauty contests, the talk show… Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling? Hmm? But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers…third-rate con men, telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak for Jesus…and to please send in money. Money, money, money! If Jesus came back, and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

    Hah!

    I, too, was disappointed with the initial scene in “I Am Legend” where Manhattan is depicted as being overgrown with vegetation after only three years. It looked like around 10+ years to me. And a herd of maybe 60 deer galloping among the abandoned cars? Just did not seem plausible, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi works best when it’s plausible. Imperfect CGI animation is partially to blame.

    Yeah, I’m an atheist. Nasty early Catholic church experiences certainly assisted in enhancing my bullshit detection skills, but more important, I found myself too fascinated by the reality in front of me to become disabled by the frontal lobotomy of credulous belief.

  252. #252 uriel
    January 8, 2008

    As for Ed Elric, he’s not a maltheist; he’s not portrayed as ever having been religious in the first place.

    Yes, of course. But that’s what makes him such a good example of what an honest atheist should be. Not a anti-theist, but just someone who approaches apparent wonders in a clinical, consistent and objective manner.

    As for Rorschach, I think you have to cut him some slack… After all, he is the “wrong” type of atheist writ enormously large, with a Job dilemma that makes mos (including the original) look insanely trivial. Point is that he directed it into a morally positive (if extreme) outlet. Clearly, in terms of the narrative, he’s the closest thing to a suragete the reader has.

    Sure he’s nuts as all get out- but serial killer material? That seems to be reaching a bit.

    Besides, he has he bes quotes in the book.

  253. #253 eyelessgame
    January 8, 2008

    I don’t think Temperance Brennan’s lack of belief stems from her personal tragedy (meaning that I don’t see any groundwork in the writing for it being what shaped her).

    Her atheism stems from her immense focus on science and demonstrable fact, and specifically her study of anthropology. The idea that one of those weird social rituals could actually be *true* is so ludicrous as never to cross her mind, pretty much. She sees Booth’s Catholicism completely in this light.

    That said, Brennan is also classic Asperger’s, which is good from the point of view of sympathetic presentations of that syndrome, and bad from the point of view of showing a normal atheist.

  254. #254 Agouti-Rex
    January 8, 2008

    What about the three priests in “Father Ted?” Both Father Jack and Father Dougal have admitted to not believing in god, and it’s strongly implied that Father Ted is a non-believer as well.

  255. #255 Cephus
    January 8, 2008

    My biggest problem with using Temperance Brennan as a good example of an atheist is that they spend a good deal of time making her look “broken” and anti-social. No one can argue against her atheism, but they certainly can point to her lack of social skills as a negative.

    I’d much rather see a normal, moral, ethical atheist on screen whose atheism isn’t an afterthought or an attempt to “make them interesting”. That kind of thing is far too rare IMO.

  256. #256 Neil B.
    January 9, 2008

    SEF, for the record (since the thread is rather passed over) I bungled my phrase
    “some atheistic thinkers (not the best of actual philosophers) falsely presumed that without God there couldn’t *be* morality”
    What I meant was, some of the atheistic thinkers thought that, and the better ones *of them* (likely even a majority) did not. Those that thought there couldn’t be were mostly hard positivists who didn’t consider moral statements provable since they weren’t genuine empirical claims. C.L. Stevenson for example said there literally was no factual content to moral statements, but of course he was not a psychopathic monster and surely ethical in practice; just an “anal-retentive” adherent to an austere logical discipline.
    My mistake, sorry.

  257. #257 grendelkhan
    January 9, 2008

    Ah, and though it was TV and not a movie, I should mention Michael Garibaldi from Babylon 5. Raised a Catholic, but definitely an agnostic or atheist. I’m thinking here of the line “Barring an act of God–and since I don’t believe in God, that kind of narrows the odds a bit…” from “Darkness Ascending”.

  258. #258 Todd
    January 10, 2008

    I know this post is so far down the list that it will probably go unnoticed but I just had to add a movie I just watched to the list of good atheist movies: Jerome Bixby’s Man From Earth.

    The main character, while not stating he is an atheist, quotes Pascale, “I have no need for that hypothesis.” It’s made very clear that he doesn’t have any belief – but he did study with Buddha. Which brings me to the premise of the movie – a group of friends who meet at a cabin to say goodbye to a professor who tells them he is really 14,000 years old. This is a thinking person’s science fiction; no special effects, just good dialogue (a great deal concerning religion) and a great story. It’s a low budget film so sometimes the picture is a bit grainy but it doesn’t take away from the story. It was written by Jerome Bixby on his death bed. In case the name sounds familiar it should – he was a science fiction writer who wrote the story “It’s a Good Life” and the wrote the episode “Mirror, Mirror” for Star Trek:TOS.

    Anyway, if you get a chance to see this film please do.

  259. #259 nojojojo
    January 11, 2008

    As I walk the streets of Hollywood Boulevard
    Thinin’ how hard it was to those that starred
    In the movies portrayin’ the roles
    Of butlers and maids slaves and hoes
    Many intelligent Black men seemed to look uncivilized
    When on the screen
    Like a guess I figure you to play some jigaboo
    On the plantation, what else can a nigger do
    And Black women in this profession
    As for playin’ a lawyer, out of the question
    For what they play Aunt Jemima is the perfect term
    Even if now she got a perm
    So let’s make our own movies like Spike Lee
    Cause the roles being offered don’t strike me

    There’s nothing that the Black man could use to earn
    Burn Hollywood burn

  260. #260 Keith Douglas
    January 13, 2008

    Kurt: I don’t know about the movie (having not seen it yet) but in the series Homer is often presented as a theist, but non-religious. See the episode where he stops going to church.

    Charles Tysoe: Kepler and Newton were out-and-out heretics, at least privately. Try again.

    [**** spoiler warning for B5:TLT ****]

    Owlmirror: It is in a way a matter of definition. Is the Apollo encountered by the original Star Trek crew “really” Apollo in the context of that universe? That said I was rather disappointed that they didn’t rule out telepathy – we’ve seen that telepaths working together or one at the strength of Lyta alone could have produced all of the stuff …

    [**** end spoiler warning for B5:TLT ****]

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