Isaac Asimov once said that most Science Fiction is written by atheists. There are a number of notable exceptions,note and it might not be literally true, but Sci-Fi probably has more atheist authors than other genres do. A lot of these writers insert this personal outlook into the story. Sometimes they just portray atheists as good and rationally thinking people. Sometimes they go further.
For instance, say we have a Crystal Dragon Jesus cult which has something material as the object of worship. Let it be the Church of the Moon Goddess. Then we invent spaceships, fly to the moon and see that it's just a piece of lifeless rock and the goddess is absent. Or we have a Goddess of Harvest living in the mountain and then find out that it's just a semi-sentient weather control machine.
That's the trope: setting up a proof that atheism is right. May lead to Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions, No Such Thing as Space Jesus, etc. Religious characters will react to it either negatively ("My entire faith is a liiie!" perhaps, or "I Reject Your Reality and substitute my own,") or unnaturally positively ("Oh, God's not real? Welp, that's thirty years of time wasted. Do atheists have cookouts?"), leading us to Belief Makes You Stupid and even, confusingly, some instances of Hollywood Atheist.
Notice that most examples come up with some kind of masquerade around a fictional religion, rather than talking about a real-world religion. That's because of the complicated, baroque cease fire negotiated between (some) atheists and religious scholars called Non-overlapping magisteria. Briefly, this claims that modern religions are non-falsifiable: they can't be proven wrong, but, in turn, they can't make any claims that can be proven wrong. Also, because it would offend a lot of people.
Compare Scam Religion, Unwanted False Faith, and The Presents Were Never from Santa. Contrast Religion Is Right. For a musical version, this trope is also a goldmine of Religion Rant Song material. For an emotional, rather than scientific, denunciation, see Evil Stole My Faith.
- This seems to be the case in the Death Note universe. At the beginning of the series, the shinigami Ryuk tells Light Yagami that anyone who uses the titular notebook can "neither go to heaven or hell", but at the very end, just as he's about to die from Ryuk writing his name in his own notebook after having been finally defeated we see a flashback were Light deduces that this simply means that there is no afterlife at all. Also, Word of God has apparently stated at least once that there are no gods in the manga's universe, aside from the shinigami. This is at least the case in the manga; the anime series is much more ambiguous on the question of God and the afterlife.
- The Invention of Lying features religion as the first lie.
- This is the main point of Sausage Party. The foods at the supermarket have a religion centered around the belief that when they are bought by the "gods" (that is, people) they will be taken to the "Great Beyond" (i.e. heaven). The plot of the movie revolves around what happens when the protagonist, a sausage named Frank, discovers that this isn't actually true. However, it's not trying to say that religion is all wrong, but that zealotry and willful ignorance are.
- In Childhood's End the Overlords give humanity a device to see events in the past, which causes the collapse of all religions (except a very intellectual form of Buddhism).
- Philip K. Dick loved to explore this topic, too. Religion is either mocked, played with or downright condemned in many of his novels. However, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? this is partially subverted. When an expose says that the central miracle of "Mercerism" was staged, the "chickenhead" character suggests that this will not make any real difference. Not to mention the other "appearances" of Mercer to characters, leaving it uncertain just how much of a "fake" he is. Dick also wrote some stories in which a religion is explicitly true (and obviously so). His personal views seem to have been sort of religious, though not traditionally so.
- The Doctor Who book Night of the Humans plays out this trope in a truly bizarre fashion. The Doctor responds to a crash-landed alien race on a massive pile of space-junk that is threatening a nearby planet. This interesting premise is quickly overshadowed by an incredibly unsubtle Straw Man Political message that turns the entire book into one long and extremely dubious aesop about how all religion is completely eeeeeevil. The chosen 'god' of the crashed humans turns out to be a creepy, creepy, clown called Gobo used as a (very) heavy-handed metaphor for all religion. A specific example includes the fact that all followers of Gobo are forbidden from learning to read and write with the exception of one person who is only taught to write by his predecessor. Basically, knowledge is bad, Gobo is good.
- In His Dark Materials, God exists (and is killed), but the Holy Church is wrong and corrupt, they must die, their churches must be destroyed and characters will team up with anything, be it good or evil, to fulfill it. Priests are depicted as being nothing but Card Carrying Villains. Word of God was that The Dust is God, the Church's god (really an angel) just stole credit for it in his attempt to grab power.
- This literally happens in Clive Barker's play The History of the Devil.
- H. P. Lovecraft was an atheist, and this made its way into his stories. He imagined a universe where humanity and religion are essentially just annoyances to gigantic monsters from outer space who we foolishly perceive as gods. Interestingly, he mixes it with a heavy dose of Science Is Bad and/or Science Is Wrong at the same time, so it's more like Any Human Attempt To Understand The Universe Is Wrong. And liable to get you eaten.
- In The Light of Other Days, the technology is invented to open windows to any point in space and time and watch events as they happened. Among other things, Moses never existed, being a composite of various historical figures, and Jesus did exist but never performed any miracles. Although the darkening of the sun at his crucifixion was explained as being the result of too many people opening windows to see what happened.
- The Neanderthal Parallax reveals that religion (and mystical beliefs generally) is simply the result of some magnetic rays affecting people's brains. After the magnetic field around earth reverses polarity, these beliefs at first flare up, and then disappear, causing improvements like peace in the Middle East.
- Quintaglio Ascension: Afsan proves the object called the Face of God is really the planet which the Quintaglio's world (a moon) orbits. Toroca later also shows that the idea of Quintaglios being directly created by God is wrong too, as he discovers evolution.
- Bob Shaw's The Ragged Astronauts features twin planets and the cult claiming that all people reincarnate cycle between these two planets eternally. Then the characters make an expedition to the second planet. You can guess whether they find people there or not. Then the cult is reborn in The Wooden Spaceships, but with a distant planet of the same solar system. What happens then? You got the idea.
- In The Space Odyssey Series by Arthur C. Clarke, the idea of God apparently comes from the Monolith, specifically the version that uplifted hominids into humanity. In 3001, humanity has finally discovered this Monolith (dubbed TMA-0), and traditional religion comes to an end. Curiously, though, many people are still either deists (believing in not less than one god) or theists (believing in not more than one).
- Babylon 5:
- The series provides an interesting subversion, especially since its creator, J. Michael Straczynski, is an outspoken atheist himself. Religions and religious persons of various faiths, both human and alien, real life and fictitious, play important and positive roles. While no actual answer is provided as to whether religions are themselves right or wrong, religious faiths of various characters are certainly very real and sincere and provide important plot elements.
- A few episodes imply certain religious are correct or at least not all superstitions. The episode "Day of the Dead" had an alien religious festival where the dead could communicate with the living. Many of the characters received visitations from the departed and the station personnel were unable to cross into zones designated for the festival. Attempts were made to rationalize it at the end, but none made much sense or were dismissed. The Minbari's belief in souls is shown to be correct, including that they reincarnate. The souls could even be seen by some, and even collected. A direct DVD release episode featured a being claiming to be the demon Asmodeus which said God had trapped his kind on Earth. In the end, the only known way to remove him was a spiritual exorcism while on Earth to trap him again. The priest sent to study the case commented on how the lack of finding God among the stars and scientific advancements had made religion almost irrelevant.
- In the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles says "The Earth is older than any of you know, and contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise". That said, while God's existence is left unknown, they show that Heaven exists, along with Hell and myriad demons, which fits into many religion's beliefs.
- The Chosen: The Pool of Bethsheda, which is believed to heal infirmities when the water is stirred up, gets this treatment. On the way to it, Jesus and three apostles talk about it and agree that it's just a natural spring with no supernatural qualities. In a separate conversation, Simon the Zealot insists to his brother Jessie that the pool is pagan nonsense, and that God would never be so cruel as to pit disabled people against each other.
- Doctor Who has often gone here.
- One notable example is "The Face of Evil", where the Doctor knows first hand that the religion the people of the planet he's visiting is wrong because he's the one who's inadvertently responsible for it; a spaceship AI he thought he'd fixed has gone a bit mad and set itself up as a God and presented the Doctor as 'the Evil One' in response.
- Zigzagged other times in both the TV series and expanded universe. The Eternals are completely immortal, warp reality, travel through space and time at will, and have masqueraded as gods on different worlds. A few are said to represent cosmic principles such as Time or Pain. The Olympian gods have been portrayed as real and godlike in the Expanded Universe. The episode "The Satan Pit" featured a creature who claimed to have existed before the universe and been the inspiration for many of the demonic figures in religions across the universe, including Satan. The Doctor at one point referred to it as "The Devil."
- It's mentioned in the Pilot Episode of The Good Place that all major religions are only about five percent accurate in their conception of the afterlife. The closest person to the truth was a stoner named Doug Forcett who got really high on mushrooms and made a guess that was ninety-three percent accurate.
- The Orville: Every time a religion makes verifiable claims thus far in the series, it's proven they're wrong.
- Red Dwarf:
- A news report reveals that archaeologists have discovered the long lost first page of The Bible - "For my darling Candy. The characters and events depicted in this novel are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental." Apparently the page "has been universally condemned by church leaders."
- Not only did the Cat people worship Lister (or "Lord Cloister"), they turned his dream of moving to Fiji and opening a donut and sausage stand into an afterlife, fought a holy war over what color the employee hats would be (both sides got it wrong), and interpreted his laundry list as directions to "Fuchsia".
- Cat is so self-centered that if he even considers the idea of God worth bothering with, he's convinced that he is God. Lister both dislikes the idea that he was deified, is perfectly aware of the fact he is not even remotely divine, and has personal habits that would make any faithful religious person disown the very thought he could actually be their god.
- Subverted in Stargate SG-1. Our heroes constantly prove to societies that they are serving false gods and that their religious artifacts are actually advanced technology, but various members of the SGC retain a belief in God that no one ever tries to dispute. In fact, Daniel Jackson half-accepts that The Ori are God-esque, but he measures them as unworthy, believing that any 'God' that would request genocide SHOULD NOT be worshiped. This actually seems to reflect the way he judged himself and The Others when he was ascended. As far as he is concerned The Ori are, higher plane or not, evil. Therefore the moral concept put forth seems to be, whether they are real or not doesn't matter, don't let 'Gods' force you away from healthy human morals.
- Star Trek: Voyager: Neelix starts questioning his faith after dying and being resuscitated, which showed him that there is nothing after death, instead of the Talaxian afterlife he expected. This, and the visions he saw of his sister telling him that what he believed was all a lie, prompts him to decide he'll kill himself until Chakotay, the Native American believer in spirits in the afterlife, persuades Neelix that he still has things to live for despite what he saw when he was dead, and that he needs to have a stronger faith. This was written after lead writer Bryan Fuller had a nervous break over his Catholic faith and the fact he finally realized that he was a gay man.
- The One Star Faith in BattleTech asserted that General Kerensky and the Exodus Fleet were guarding a "One Star" system that held their promised world ready for their arrival. Their membership diminished drastically after Kerensky's techno-barbarian descendants invaded the Inner Sphere.
- Warhammer 40,000: The Emperor of Mankind held this belief regarding the Chaos gods, and sought to completely destroy religion in an effort to deny them faith, pulling down every church on Earth. Unfortunately, this was flawed from the beginning as the Chaos gods are made of emotion and not belief, the only way to kill them off is to destroy all life in the galaxy (and was in fact the Necrons' remarkably simple plan when they first woke up). In the end, his blanket ban on religion (including those centered around himself) led him to publicly rebuke the primarch Lorgar (who was wasting time building cathedrals to his father rather than conquering planets), sending Lorgar into the welcoming arms of the Chaos gods, the betrayal of half the Space Marines, and the Emperor being put on life-support for the next millennia and powerless to stop the new religion promoting him to God-Emperor of Mankind (although in this case, faith is a good weapon against Chaos).
- The central aspect of the Assassin's Creed metaplot concerns advanced technology that was used to perform the miracles in various religions. The ending of the sequel reveals that all world religions are based on misinterpreted accounts of a technologically advanced race of Precursors who created humans in their image. If you're willing believe Ancient Conspiracy - which is exactly what they want you to think.
- Baldur's Gate III:
- Token Evil Teammate Lae'zel is a member of the race of Scary Dogmatic Aliens known as the githyanki, and a fanatic supporter of their God Empress. Eventually she learns that said empress is a fraud, but she's so deep in denial that she sees her attempt on her life as a test of faith and initially there's nothing the Player Character can say to talk sense into her.
- Other Token Evil Teammate Shadowheart is a Cleric for the God of Darkness Shar, seeing her as The Sacred Darkness due to being raised as a Tyke Bomb by Viconia DeVir. This is absolutely not the case as Shar is the goddess of loss, misery, bitterness, and spite and Shadowheart's entire storyline revolves around her learning this the hard way.
- Deus Ex:
- In the first game, Morpheus (an A.I. prototype of a global surveillance system developed by a surviving Knights Templar) claims that God is not only man-made but made out of a desire to be observed. Morpheus believes humans feel pleasure when they're watched, so he concludes religion was invented to give this pleasure. JC Denton, however, disagrees and argues with Morpheus on the matter ("Electronic surveillance hardly inspires reverence. Perhaps fear and obedience, but not reverence"). While Morpheus is never proven "right" or "wrong" about religion, he does foreshadow plot details with the conversation. Later on, JC Denton is given the option to reject Helios' desire to play God.
- Deus Ex: Invisible War makes this one of its major themes in a glaring change from its predecessor, Deus Ex. In Deus Ex, religion and spirituality were themes that ran parallel to the setting and plot, but never outright stated to be either "right" or "wrong." In Invisible War, however, all religion is subsumed into The Order, and The Order is merely a system of control for the Illuminati. The player is given the chance to break the news to an Order member, with predictable results.
This change can be seen easiest with The Knights Templar in both games. In Deus Ex, they were the surviving descendants of the original Knights, who had remained as religious bankersnote . In Invisible War, they're one of the only truly "black" factions who will plunge the world into an extremist, theocratic dark age if they win.
- Dragon Age: Origins is either an aversion or a subversion.
- The Chantry says that prayers aren't answered because of mankind's hubris. While a priest refused to bless a group of knights it was because what they were asking for wasn't a simple blessing, but a guarantee of divine protection, something she couldn't provide. The Templars are a lot more morally grey than their name implies, and overall, the game leaves the existence or nonexistence of The Maker ambiguous. Word Of God is that they intend for it to stay that way.
- Things get more complicated as there are four other major religions in the setting. The Qun, the main ideology of the Qunari has metaphysical aspects but nothing directly supernatural and is a combination of laws, legislative measures and philosophy with no mention of a superhuman controlling agent (existent or otherwise), which is the core component of a religion. The Dwarfs worship their ancestors and the Stone around them, but the Titans who are heavily implied to be their original gods (and possibly the creators of their race) have been forgotten for millennia, apparently deliberately erased from their history. The Old Gods, ancient Dragon gods said to be trapped under the world, are very real; on the other hand the religion around them has faded to nothing, and we also see cults worshiping normal dragons that aren't even sentient. Played straighter by elf religion; the mythology has been corrupted by time and their pantheon were always false gods. At least, that's what the one you meet tells you, him being 'merely' an insanely powerful immortal mage personally responsible for fundamentally changing the nature of reality by dividing the physical world from the fade. You meet another, but she is more ambiguous about the subject
- Invoked but subverted in Fallout 3:
- The cult formed around Harold, a ghoul who has turned into a large tree. The cult in the Oasis worship him as a god and blithely ignore and over-interpret his protests to the contrary. If the player character finishes the relevant quest by killing Harold (which is what he wants) the cult more-or-less thank you for freeing them from their religion, and are suddenly able to see that Harold wasn't a god after all. However if you choose to spare Harold the cult tones down their religion and Harold finds reason to want to live again.
- This trope is also in play with the church of Atom in the town of Megaton, who worship an atomic bomb as a potential creator of billions of universes. Confessor Cromwell, who is effectively a preacher for the religion, stands all day in a pool of irradiated water and it's implied that this has driven him mad, or at least less sane.
- Which is based on an idea that scientists have thought about in that in every atom is a universe. So there is some theoretical credit to it.
- They also made sure that a less moral (or simply more nosy) character can find out he's a hypocrite. Despite his insistence that Children of the Atom be sober pacifists, in his desk are a bottle of whiskey and a gun. This is never directly stated in dialogue or holotapes, but the physical evidence is telling.
- There is a benevolent Christian church in Rivet City, which the player can choose to attend, and the game's Arc Words are a Bible verse which the player's father states was a favorite of their mother. Averted with the other Fallout games, namely the Followers of the Apocalypse and the Mormons, now called New Caananites.
- Activating the Halo Array will not ascend the Covenant to godhood but wipe out all life in the Galaxy.
- By the time of Halo 3, the Prophet of Truth seems to be fully aware of this, and yet still believes that the rings will grant apotheosis. The same game takes it even further with the revelation that the Benevolent Precursors they worshipped actually saw humanity as their successors, and that their entire belief system was a great big lie. To prevent the truth from being uncovered as well as satisfy their jealous rage, they instigated a genocidal war against humanity.
- Horizon Zero Dawn: The 'gods' of this setting are just highly advanced AI that were tasked with helping humanity After the End, but something went horribly wrong and they've been separated from contact with humans for centuries. Nora religion prays to the All-Mother, who is actually their fragmented memory of the caretakers of the bunker their ancestors were born in, seeing as how androids don't exactly age for a few centuries the colonist children assumed they were immortal. Carja just prays to the sun, but their religion is based on a scientific cosmology book, meaning they've developed a religion based on science and don't realize it. It gets disturbingly jarring when you find out that the local human sacrifice altar is a NASA launch pad built for sending colonists to another planet in wake of the plague, meaning that the Carja have sacrificed thousands of people in a ruin that was once dedicated to preserving human life, not butchering it with gladiatorial combat.
- In Mass Effect 3 the players find themselves at the temple of the Asari goddess, Athame. Although most Asari are pantheists anyway, most probably think it was simple superstition. However if the player brings the teammember of the Prothean race along with them, he deconstructs all their myths: it was them every time. Goddess protected you when "the heavens grew angry?" Prothean-deflected meteor strike. Drove away "jealous gods?" Invasive species. Abundance from on-high? Averted famine, and so on. It is somewhat questionable how true the details are; the Protheans were definitely involved in some way, but Javik also has a habit of lying and trolling for his own amusement.
- The Tales Series tends to play around with this one.
- Tales of the Abyss: The entire world follows The Score, a collection of prophecies that outline different outcomes based on what the present chooses. It turns out that the prophet had a true epiphany about humanity's power to Screw Destiny and tried to teach the world by being a Trickster Mentor... but his followers refused to listen and came up with their own self-serving scripture.
- Tales of Eternia features the Seyfert religion suppressing information about the appearance of Dark Matter leading to The End of the World as We Know It, claiming it to be a sign of their god's second coming instead. While they're not given the most sympathetic representation in the game, this is somewhat Metaphorically True because Seyfert himself is real and, because of the threat the Dark Matter heralds the arrival of, he has his messengers provide The Hero Reid with the divine Fibrill powers that he needs to save the word. Seyfert himself never actually physically manifests, but the game ends on the message that he's watching over the two worlds of Inferia and Celestia.
- Tales of Symphonia appears to play this straight, given the Corrupt Church / Path of Inspiration that is the Church of Martel... but then Martel's spirit actually manifests as a powerful entity within the world, becoming something akin to an actual goddess after pulling a Fusion Dance with countless other souls.
- Exterminatus Now: Not entirely, but the Justice God Tyrus does rip apart his own holy book due to mistranslations, bad context, someone putting in stuff he never approved, or simply because he was in a weird mood when he wrote some of the passages. And when he tried to get the thing edited, he's somewhat surprised to hear how his prophets were executed as heretics. It does fit his prior characterization as a pedant.
- Futurama parodies this trope when Leela finally finds out the truth about the origins of the universe and the meaning of life (which we the audience do not get to hear). The only thing she says is "So every religion is wrong!" However, this could alternatively mean that every EXISTING religion is wrong, not the actual concept of religion. Contrast the example of Religion Is Right where Bender meets God. Or what could be part of God after being hit by a satellite. Or a satellite that collided with God. Said God also makes a point of noting that if a God's doing the job properly, no one will even be aware it's being done at all. This implies, though, that in keeping with the previous example, no revealed religion is right, as God keeps things ambiguous by design. It doesn't communicate with us, judging by this.
- In one episode of Rick and Morty, Morty becomes king of the Sun, which is populated with Human Aliens who are Stern Sun Worshippers. After he gets tired of them he decides to prove to them that there's nothing mystic about the sun, and as a result they end up abandoning their Warrior Monk order and becoming hedonistic junkies while the rest of the solar system goes to war with each other without their influence keeping them in check.
- Generally speaking, The Simpsons tends to parody the concept of organized religion. For example, in one episode, Homer proves that God does not exist mathematically. Flanders destroys the evidence. However, it's much vaguer in most cases as Homer actually gets to meet the Big Man Upstairs on a few occasions, though it's usually in a Dream Sequence.