Does reading science fiction predispose people to atheism?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

In my investigations of atheists, I have found that the science fiction that people read when they are younger causes them to believe that the religion is anti-science and that the progress of science always disproves religion. The stories they read colors their views of science and religion for life, before they ever get to assessing evidence. And that’s why when we produce evidence for them in debates, they will believe in speculations rather than go where the evidence leads.

So, I’ve seen atheists in formal debates claiming that maybe unobservable aliens caused the origin of life, and that maybe the untestable multiverse theory explains the fine-tuning of cosmological constants, and that maybe this universe has existed eternally despite the well-supported Big Bang theory which shows that the universe began to exist. Maybe, maybe, maybe. They seem to think that untestable speculations are “good enough” to refute observational evidence – and maybe it’s because of all the science fiction that they’ve read.

Here’s an article in the American Spectator that talks a bit about it.

Excerpt:

A magazine I frequently write for (not this one) recently published a review of a book of essays advocating atheism. The reviewer pointed out with some enthusiasm that a large number of the contributors were science-fiction writers.

This left me somewhat nonplussed. I publish a good deal of science fiction myself, I have also read quite a lot of it, and I am quite unable to see why writing it should be held to particularly qualify anyone to answer the question of whether or not there is a God.

[…]Historically the contribution of the Catholic Church to astronomy was massive and unequalled. Without it astronomy might very well never have grown out of astrology at all. Cathedrals in Bologna, Florence, Paris, Rome and elsewhere were designed in the 17th and 18th centuries to function as solar observatories. Kepler was assisted by a number of Jesuit astronomers, including Father Paul Guldin and Father Zucchi, and by Giovanni Cassini, who had studied under Jesuits. Cassini and Jesuit colleagues were eventually able to confirm Kepler’s theory on the Earth having an elliptical orbit. J.L. Heilbron of the University of California has written:

The Roman Catholic Church gave more financial aid and social support to the study of astronomy over six centuries, from the recovery of ancient learning during the late Middle Ages into the Enlightenment, than any other, and, probably, all other, institutions.

Science fiction is, by definition, fiction, that is, it deals with things which are the product of a writer’s imagination and are not literally true. In any event, what is and what is not science fiction is hard to define. Simply to say it is about science is meaningless, and while some science-fiction writers are qualified scientists, many are not. Probably even fewer are trained theologians.

Science fiction makes the mysteries of the universe seem easy to an atheist. Everything can be easily explained with fictional future discoveries. Their speculations about aliens, global warming and eternal universes are believed without evidence because atheists want and need to believe in those speculations. In the world of science fiction, the fictional characters can be “moral” and “intelligent” without having to bring God or the evidence for God into the picture. That’s very attractive to an atheist who wants the feeling of being intelligent and moral without having to weight actual scientific evidence or ground their moral values and behavior rationally. The science fiction myths are what atheists want to believe. It’s a placebo at the worldview level. They don’t want cosmic microwave background radiation – they want warp drives. They don’t want WMAP satellite confirmation of nucleosynthesis – they want holodecks.

Why do people become atheists?

My theory is mainly that atheists adopt atheism because they want pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, without any restraints or guilt. They want to believe that sex without commitment has no consequences, especially a consequence like God judging them for it. Another contributing factor may be that atheists want to be thought of as smart by “the right people” – to sort of blindly accept whatever the “smart people” accept without really searching out reasons or dissenting views. They do this so that they are able to look down at some other group of people so they can feel better about themselves and be part of the right group – without actually having to weigh the evidence on both sides. And lastly, atheism may also be caused by weak fathers or abandoning fathers. But I think that ECM’s science fiction theory has merit, as well. I think that all four of these factors help to explain why atheists believe in a discredited worldview in the teeth of scientific progress.

I wonder if my readers would take some time out to investigate whether their atheist friends have been influenced by reading science fiction and whether they still read it.

22 thoughts on “Does reading science fiction predispose people to atheism?”

  1. Interesting points. I was never attracted by the genre, either in books or movies, just as I find superhero movies boring. I’m all for science, and if people like sci-fi as an escape, that’s up to them. But all the space travel and new planets seem boring and sterile to me.

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  2. Yes, this was definitely true for me growing up. We were inundated with science fiction TV shows in the 1960’s – Star Trek (TOS), Lost in Space, The Twilight Zone, and many others. Some were a combination of science fiction and horror – like Night Gallery – and even Lost in Space to a large degree. The Space Race was going on then too, and so it all just got mixed up one into another. It was very effective brainwashing.

    One positive bit of science fiction that I read were the Tom Swift, Jr novels, and that definitely had an effect on me becoming an engineer. One nice thing about that series was that there were always objective moral values and duties in those books – good guys and bad guys. Science (fiction) often won the day, but a few good punches, Western style, didn’t hurt either.

    But, who would have guessed that my atheist “bible” – the seven major works of Carl Sagan that I absorbed in the 70’s and 80’s – would turn out to be science fiction too?!? :-) In fact, much of what is passed off as “science” in the West today is truly science fiction. Just look at the CDC on “vaccines” and also the transgender “science” as two examples among many. I also have a lot of people tell me that being pro-abortion is being pro-science. They are usually shocked to find out that all of my degrees in engineering and math trump theirs in Femynyst Studies.

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  3. I remember during one of Frank Turek’s Q&A sessions, a young gentleman stepped up to the mic and asked an inflammatory question. Frank then asked him, “are you sleeping with your girlfriend?” All the blood drained out of the skeptic’s face and became pale and silent. Now I’m not saying that Frank should dodge legit questions with personal attacks or anything like that. I believe that at that moment, the Holy Spirit led him to ask that question to get to the “real issue” with this man’s skepticism.

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    1. Whenever I’m out witnessing for the unborn, there’s often one or two women (different each time) that violently flip me off and drop f-bombs on me.

      As soon as their hysteria subsides I always ask “how many did you kill?” They seem surprised to realize that I know that they’ve murdered some of their children. That example is a little bit easier than Turek’s was though.

      It’s absolutely legitimate to respond this way. Look at how Jesus brought up the “husband” of the woman at the well out of the blue. Of course, His knowledge is perfect.

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  4. I find that a lot of science fiction is based upon biblical content. Quite a few of the science fiction books I have read, and movies I have seen, are loosely based upon an event in the Bible, or quite often is loosely based upon the book of Revelation. Childhood’s End is one example that comes to mind where I see a great deal of similarity with the book of Revelation.

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  5. I have been an avid fan of sci-fi since my early teens (I turn 60 this month). I have never embraced atheism, despite that one of my favorite authors was Robert A. Heinlein, an atheist of no small weight. So my answer to your premise is ‘no.’

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  6. You may as well ask:
    Not just science fiction, Hollywood predispose ppl to atheism…

    At least the majority of the current catalogue of available options. God, religion etc are almost completely absent an inert in their stories. The reason so much of science fiction and Hollywood productions influence ppl towards atheism is bc atheist’s are writing them and have that as one of their intended goals. In other words propaganda works to create surface level converts.

    The most obvious counter example in the science fiction genre would be C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, but his book other like it are the exceptions.

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  7. This is a ridiculous premise. Very much a correlation equals causation analysis. Anecdotally, I know a number of Christians who grew up reading science fiction and it didn’t hurt their faith. In fact, it installed a wonder of the universe the creator made. Additionally, look at the science fiction of CS Lewis. Clearly, he wasn’t an atheist author.

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  8. I don’t think science fiction per se predisposes people to atheism but the types of stories science fiction is often used to tell might. Some of the most “legendary” science fiction writers used science fiction to celebrate questionable morality and denigrate traditional values (like Robert Heinlein writing about a futuristic society using a form of group marriage in the Moon’s a Harsh Mistress). Science fiction is also an easy way to posit a purely rationalistic universe where progress is everything and humanity can triumph over any obstacle by its own intellect, as in the original star trek tv series.

    However, any form of literature can be used to convey these messages. Game of Thrones for instance used fantasy to explore a nihilistic, thoroughly godless world. Likewise, writers can use a science fiction setting to discuss traditional notions of absolute good and evil as in Lewis’ space trilogy or even the Lucas’ Star Wars.

    I’d argue it all depends on the message rather than the genre. It’s unfortunate however that three “greats” of science fiction literature (Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke) were all fairly anti-religious and anti-traditional morality. Although I liked some of their work when I was younger, I have no desire to read their books now and would not recommend them to others either.

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    1. To your last point, Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek TOS fame hated religion, but he often smuggled God and objective moral values into his shows – without knowing it, I am sure. For instance, after blowing a Klingon or Romulan ship out of the sky, nobody held a candlelight vigil for the “execution of the innocents” or said “perhaps we should try to understand the Klingons and Romulans better?” It was always assumed that killing Klingons or Romulans in self-defense was an objectively good thing.

      In “City on the Edge of Forever,” the Guardian is clearly a god-like figure with no beginning and amazing powers. Of course, the episode ends with Kirk displaying disgust toward it, but the Guardian’s powers were based on a B-theory of time anyway, LOL.

      I’m not suggesting that these shows be used to grow Christians or anything. As I said, I do see the point that WK is making and am in general agreement with it. I’m merely pointing out that even the most committed atheist can’t avoid stealing from God in his science fiction works.

      There are still examples of Christian authors attempting to write Christian science fiction, BTW. Austin Boyd of the Mars Trilogy is one. http://www.austinboyd.com/series/mars-hill-classified-trilogy/

      I do, however, think that most science fiction is both humanistic and evolutionistic. Exceptions like CS Lewis don’t really destroy the general premise if that assertion is true.

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        1. Roddenberry was a believer in a “god” of his own making, certainly not the Christian God. That’s clear in his self-identfication.

          Technically all atheists believe in a “god” of their own making and it is usually themselves.

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          1. According to the UK Humanist, 14% of atheists believe in God. A higher percentage believe in an afterlife.
            Science, only 11% of scientists are atheists. Another 11% claim to be but are spiritualists. Christians take almost 70% of the Nobel Prize in Science.
            Roddenberry became a humanist, not atheist, during WWII. A lot of soldiers did. Most outgrew it, but he never did. But, he was raised Southern Baptist and always respected that. He used Christian themes in a lot of his work. He was a conservative, as was Heinlein, ex-LDS atheist, and others in SF.
            We are in a cultural war with militant atheists, many of them wealthy politicians. Covid is a blessing in disguise because it forced parents to see what they’re children are taught by government schools. while it is illegal to teach atheism (legally a religion in the US), teachers often still mocked Christian students. Teachers retaliated against a wave of protests from parents but that only generated lawsuits against schools. It also generated the removal of entire school boards and PTA members, replacing them with normal people.

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        2. That may be, but from what we’ve read, he was greatly into drugs, and that creates new questions. While we enjoy some of his “outside the box” thinking, seeing things coming, we also see some concepts that are very new ageish and odd.

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        1. We don’t have any scientific evidence that the universe is eternal.

          We deduce an eternal God as the best explanation for explaining how the universe came into being, why it’s designed (fine-tuning), etc.

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        2. Actually, if you think about it rationally, you need either a God Who has always existed or a universe that has always existed in order to explain our existence.

          That’s a related issue to the Leibniz Contingency Argument that was partly, but significantly, instrumental in my own conversion from atheism.

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  9. While it is true that there are SOME sci fi writers who were atheists, anti-theists or agnostic (e.g., Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, etc.),

    There are a lot of sci-fi/fantasy authors who were Christians (e.g., C. S. Lewis especially Space Trilogy, Madeleine L’Engle) who were exploring Christian themes.

    I was explaining to my almost 10 year old why my wife and I both really enjoy science fiction as a genre in books and in movies.

    Sure, some of it is an escape or entertainment, but some of it is also that science fiction can be a thought exercise or metaphor for life or maybe even a STEM-oriented utopic future.

    I was explaining for instance, that it was a faux pas in Japan to discuss Japan’s aggression in World War 2 or about why America dropped atomic bombs. Godzilla became a bit of a metaphor to discuss how bad actions resulted in a nuclear monster and also began to ask the morality of using nuclear weapons.

    It’s a bit difficult to talk about racial tensions — but then you can analogize (i.e., It’s a PARABLE!) with tensions between aliens on different planets.

    And it’s not uncommon to think about the implications of science in science fiction and ask bigger questions, like purpose or morality or things like that — things that science cannot answer. Even addressing issues that were beginning to be raised.

    I was in my later teens and about to head off to college when Star Trek: The Next Generation came out. The entire arc of Data’s character (a cyborg desperately trying to be human) was asking the question “What does it mean to be human? What is a human?”

    In S1E26 “The Neutral Zone,” three individuals of the 20th century were put in cryostasis due to various incurable diseases and were “woken” up in the 24th century. (“In real life,” we were thinking we were getting close(r) to cryostasis.) Surprisingly, they teased out a few interesting questions.

    “What if everyone you knew had passed on and you had no family or friends?”
    “How do you find purpose?”
    “How do you connect now?”
    and so on.

    I forget the exact series (it wasn’t a notable author or well-known book) but one sci-fi author explored the idea of “shipping various groups of people to various planets.”

    Like people who loved GOVERNMENT/bureaucracy/policies went to one planet.
    People in the military or were pro-order (like police) went to Jupiter.
    A bunch of scientist and engineer types were assigned another planet.

    What would each planet look like if it had a chance to develop? (Sure, there’s lots of stereotypes of tropes.)

    But it was an intriguing thought exercise. I think the author made the point how we can’t just be among our own “people” and how we do need other groups. Well, maybe minus bureaucrats (the author definitely had a thing against bureaucracy) ;)

    (I actually make it a habit in watching Christian movies to think about this topic, so let me offer–)

    In my humble opinion, apart from didactic presentations, Christians would do well to learn from (at least) three genres:

    1/ History – you’ve hit on these WK, like war movies and so on
    2/ Biographies -> Biopics

    While mostly factual, Luther (2003, Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther) wasn’t a bad movie.

    I liked Amazing Grace (2006) (William Wilberforce).

    I enjoyed I Can Only Imagine (2018) (Bart Millard) (not overly apologetic, but was a poignant story about forgiveness and whether a person could truly change)

    The Case for Christ (2017) (Lee Strobel), I know was poorly reviewed by secular media, but it wasn’t as bad as the critical reviews.

    There are many interesting stories — like PLEASE MAKE A BIOPIC about the late Stephen Lungu! Or maybe Thomas and Jutte Gerendas. Or maybe our buddy J. Warner Wallace will allow his story to become a biopic.

    3/ I’ve thought that it would be an interesting way to explore issues in apologetics and other (e.g., existential, etc.) issues through science fiction and good story telling.

    It’s kind of a fresh way to think about either new or old questions or even re-envision various things.

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