Sunday, April 8, 2012

Not many atheist superheroes

Tyler Cowen shared a link to a vast list of the religious beliefs of various characters in superhero comic books. I don't know which is more surprising: The low number of atheists in comic books, or why the number isn't zero.

There are sub-categories for agnostics, communists and general secular people like Tony "Ironman" Stark, but the comprehensive list only lists three DC characters as atheists. Villains Sabertooth and Mystique are among the Marvel universe's eight atheists. Additionally, Wolverine is listed as occasionally depicted as an atheist. The rest of the characters are somewhat obscure.

There's a few possible explanations for this. The list could be incomplete or atheism may not come up as often between super-powered punches. Some characters may not have an opportunity to demonstrate their secularhood.

But there's one bigger explanation. These comic book characters don't exist in our world. Marvel has gods like Thor walking around and interacting with people. There's real evidence there. The DC universe has visible gods too. Maybe not enough characters are foolish enough to be atheists in world where people regularly come back from the dead or fly and giant space beings eat planets.

That's very different from our world where people's religious convictions are based on internal beliefs and invisible cause-and-effect scenarios. In our world, women don't engage in acrobatic combat while wearing skimpy outfits. The lack of "wardrobe malfunctions" in comic books seems to be the biggest case for a supernatural presence in those worlds.


  1. Even stranger are the atheists in fantasy worlds such as the various Dungeon and Dragons universes. The idea that Gromph Baenre can flirt with atheism when Lolth physically manifests in Menzoberranzan is absurd on its face.

    (Although there is another problem in these universes: How to distinguish between an archmage - or superhero - and a deity. Any sufficiently advanced wizard is indistinguishable from a god, Shermer might say.)

  2. All I have to say is, "ftw, Michael. ftw."