They S.H.O.O.T. atheists, don't they?

By Phil Plait | May 18, 2010 10:19 am

I hear a lot about militant atheists, but the problem I see is that they’re not militant. No violence, no (or very little) gun-totin’, door-bang-downing, or even rootin’ tootin’.

Then there are these guys:


S.H.O.O.T is Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Taskforce, a Dark Horse comic about real atheist militants: they attack demons and ghosts and paranormal things they don’t believe in, but appear to exist anyway. I have to admit I’m intrigued, and I think I’ll have to take a look when the comic comes out. The article about the comic brings up a point I’ve always wondered about: why are the worlds depicted in comics so much like the real one, even when the paranormal is real? If ghosts and demons and such actually existed, society would be a lot different than it is today.

Think about it: if vampires existed, do you think it would’ve been a human who discovered blood transfusion? Why invent doors when you can discover how ghosts travel through walls? Why on Earth would you need microscopes if you could shrink yourself down to the size of The Amazing Atom? Wouldn’t the history of slavery across the world be a little different if there were real live (um…) zombies?

Sheesh. People need to think this stuff through. I can’t keep doing all this for them!

Tip o’ the to Fark.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Humor, Religion, Skepticism

Comments (44)

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  1. News From Around The Blogosphere 5.18.10 « Skepacabra | May 19, 2010
  1. IBY

    Yeah, sometimes that annoys me. Some writers take a certain world changing premise, but when the world building happens, it looks the same.

    Also, all one would have to do to be an atheist is to not believe in god, and if demons don’t count as god, then… I don’t know. Although it would have been funny if they were a skeptics organization.

  2. Richard Wolford

    I own a comic book store and I’ll say that the use of paranormal elements (specifically zombies) has greatly increased over the years. Not sure why, but it’s a neat blend. The reason that the world isn’t so overrun by these supernatural elements is because our (generally) good guys keep the monsters at bay, the whole good vs. evil conflict.

  3. brian j. parker

    I think The Watchmen was one of the most high-profile attempts to show how history might have actually changed were there actual superheroes.

    For the sake of fiction, artists usually want a world that is familiar to the reader, but you’re right; at best, most paranormal fiction has some explanation as to why supernatural creatures are keeping themselves secret.

  4. KFR

    Ever since I heard Dawkins claim nobody has started a war because they’re atheist (but surely for other ideologies, like protecting key markets); I’ve wanted to start an atheist crusade. I don’t think I could really get an army going though, due to apathy.

  5. Brian

    They also appear to be a poorly trained force – Every single one of them has their fingers on the trigger in this entry. They’re just asking to shoot their friend in the back.

  6. peptron

    From the look on their faces, I think that part of the story must have them being able to see paranormal entities only if they are stoned out of their mind.

  7. Door-bang-downing is a big step. We don’t even do polite house calls. After some Jehovah’s Witnesses caught me in the outdoor shower the other day I started wondering how they would like it if I started going to their house at inconvenient times with my CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics saying, “I’m here to talk to you about science.”

  8. If you remove the reader too much from their frame of reference they will not read your story. So most writers try to keep some basic recognized platforms that a reader can stand on while enjoying the weird and different ideas that are introduced.

    However, I agree too many writers are a little too lazy in building their worlds.

  9. tudza

    Why should vampires invent blood transfusion methods? Why would they care about a method for moving it from one body to another, it’s a one way street for vampires and they have a method built into them for extracting blood from a body.

    How many vampires are there? If there are few, then it makes sense that a non-vampire would most likely invent such a process, especially since it mainly benefits non-vampires. If there are many vampires, well it’s not an issue, because we’d be cattle.

    Why invent planes when we could learn how birds fly? Because we aren’t birds.

    What’s the difference between a live slave and an animated dead one? Wouldn’t you get the bodies for your zombie servants the same way? The only difference would be that after you conquered your enemies to enslave them you’d then immediately kill them. Why not use your own dead? Well, your dad died of old age, so is his corpse good zombie material? Do you want your children killed and made into zombies?

    I do see that there would be few or no slave uprisings, so nix on the Spartacus movies, underground railroads, etc. You would probably still get some sort of abolitionist movements.

    Another thing to look at is how many people are aware of these paranormal things? I think if you examine most of the books that have ghosts and such, you find that their existence is a guarded secret. It’s the whole Men in Black scenario most of the time.

  10. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Um, where is the button that ematheistify the picture? Clicking it will take you to a 1-1 copy.

    Or is that a pun on “ematheistifying”: a WYSIWYG interface to the world?

    they are stoned out of their mind.

    So, apparently, where the writers.

  11. jrpowell

    There are things Man was not meant to know. Our job is to hunt them down and kill them.

  12. Zucchi

    In a lot of comics, there are a superheroes, and supervillains, and they basically cancel each other out, without either side transforming society. Of course, you’d think just the knowledge that such creatures and powers exist would be enough.

  13. My, that’s a silly premise. I’m an atheist because I don’t see any evidence for gods, ghosts, or ghouls. If there was any evidence, I wouldn’t be atheist. If I insisted on being atheist even when confronted with evidence, then I’m more deluded than a theist who ignores the lack of evidence.

    Either someone doesn’t know their definitions or hasn’t thought this through, or this is really a swipe at atheists for being so strident.

  14. China Mieville writes books that have recognizable human (and other) races that take place on a world utilizing one one might term “paranormal” technologies: “thaumaturgic energy”, hydraulic and penumatic AI, shape shifting, astral travel, golems, and so on. And yes, in these books those technologies have a dramatic effect in shaping how the world works and its societies developed. Incredibly imaginative. See “Perdido Street Station”, “The Scar”, and “Iron Council”.

  15. amphiox

    re #13

    They’re not atheists, they’re secular humanists. So long as the occult as a secular explanation, it’s all good.

  16. Matt T

    why are the worlds depicted in comics so much like the real one, even when the paranormal is real? If ghosts and demons and such actually existed, society would be a lot different than it is today.
    OK, so they’re not comics, but I’m surprised nobody’s yet mentioned Terry Pratchett. One reason the discworld novels are so good is because they’re strangely internally consistent.

  17. @tudza,

    I’d also ask how well zombies, vampies and ghosts would be integrated into mainstream society. Given vampires’ thirst for blood and zombies’ hunger for brains, you probably wouldn’t get many of them contributing to mainstream society. Zombies would likely make poor slaves because they would be likely to chomp on your slave-masters, turning them into zombies.

    Ghosts might be able to be part of mainstream society, but up until recently people would have probably just freaked out if one of them appeared and ran away. (Many people would still do this.)

    Assuming that their numbers stayed relatively small (i.e. no Zombie Apocolypse), society might have continued along a very similar path as ours with the major difference being that zombies, vampires, ghosts, etc would be considered “natural phenomenon.” There would be scientific theories explaining how they came to be and they would be tested in some manner.

    To give an example from fiction, on The Batman vs. Dracula, Batman realizes that vampirism is basically a disease carried by blood and works to find a scientific cure. He finds one and cures all of the vampires except for Dracula who claims to be supernatural in origin and thus immune to the cure. Of course, we don’t get the chance to test the claim that Dracula can’t be cured via another means as Batman winds up using a solar energy machine (convenient that Wayne Tech was working on it, huh) to turn Dracula to dust.

  18. ggremlin

    Does anyone else think this is Scooby-Doo and the Gang on same very bad stuff?

  19. MattF

    The whole “good guys keep the evil at bay so that people don’t learn about it” argument pretends that secrets on this scale can be kept. The whole thing smacks of conspiracy theories to me. Where are the ones who treasure truth more than tranquility? You have to have a few brave people in there, it seems to me.

    OTOH, there are a few webcomics who try to show how their singular conceit transforms society in general. I’m pretty fond of “Girl Genius”, which takes an occasional human quirk (the “Spark”) and shows its ripple effects through — well, everything.

  20. @9. tudza

    Maybe some denture wearing vampires are just sick of wearing denture fangs. Maybe this would inspire the science behind blood transfusion.

    @l13. HJ Hornbeck,

    My, that’s a silly premise.

    Yes, it does seem that way. I does not exactly encourage a willing suspension of disbelief, but maybe it is written in a way that avoids these problems. Maybe.

  21. Lots of comic books have dealt with issues that could have world-changing ramifications by relying on the fact that the “technology” is unknown to outsiders and the insiders end up dead.

    So, Spider-Man makes his own web serum; he keeps it a secret. Iron Man makes his own suit but sells weapons. The X-Men are mutants; sometimes their mutant ability is scientifically reproduced artificially, but usually not in a way that is easily replicated.

    Many of the scientific discoveries tend to be one-off cases; Captain America’s shield was supposedly created by an accident nobody could ever figure out or reproduce.

    It’s a cheap plot device but it saves the writer from having to re-invent the entire world. This means that it is possible for a team of writers to work together on a shared universe with relatively few constraints about what kinds of magic are permitted.

  22. jcm

    Wait until PZ Myers gets a hold of this.

  23. Meg

    “…they attack demons and ghosts and paranormal things they don’t believe in, but appear to exist anyway.”

    I’m having difficulty wrapping my head around this sentence. If you don’t believe in them, how can you hunt them? If they appear to exist, why don’t you believe in them? The suspension of disbelief is making my head hurt…

  24. TheMark

    This is one of those comics story concepts that seems to make even less sense than the usual world designs. Reminds me of that one website with the gallery/collection of weird and oddball comics title pages and “what were they thinking” story panels… :S

  25. Dennnis

    This is a big problem about right- vs. left-wingers in general, especially in the US. The right wing religious nuts are almost always armed and more often willing to kill (what 10 amendments?)

  26. Allen

    @17 TechyDad

    No, people wouldn’t freak out when seeing a ghost. That’d only happen if you created them in our Universe, where they don’t exist. If they existed in the other Universe, and have since the beginning of history, then everyone would know about them.

    On the vampire and zombie issue: vampires could be productive members of society. Most vampire fiction has it so that vampires can survive off of pig blood, and in recent years, with the advent of IV, they could survive off of donated blood, or even artificially created blood.

    Zombies would be another matter. They don’t have any high brain functions, so they’d probably only be good as an alarm or beasts of burden doing simple tasks. But there’s a huge ethical dilemma associated with using zombie labor.

    Anyway, on-topic. Personally, I’m offended by this and I think that if this became really popular, it could hurt our movement. What kind of skeptic or atheist would cling to their beliefs in the face of evidence, which they’re hunting down and destroying? That doesn’t even make sense.

  27. @26

    Nonsense. Zombies are great at chasing things. We could use them as retrievers instead of dogs. In fact they could be a great source of cheap energy. Just put them on a hamster wheel connected to a dynamo and let ’em go!

  28. wildride

    The more fantastical the premise, the more familiar the surrounding mundane universe needs to be, or you risk rendering the work inaccessible. That’s why people rag on people not recognizing Clark Kent=Superman, but aren’t as concerned that a difference coloured sun gives someone so many powers that he can’t remember them all.

    If the thrust of your work is to examine how something like vampires would alter history, then that’s one thing. But otherwise it’s just distracting.

  29. I am outraged. How dare you advocate the enslavement of zombies? Next you’ll be saying we should only count them as 3/5 of a person when doing the census.
    I had hoped our society had progressed beyond the point of such stereotyping.

  30. mike burkhart

    Look everyone knows vampires,werewolfs,zombies and other don’t exist . Just because people read and watch movies with these creatures doses not mean thoes people beleve in them.Horor is ment to be scary and these creatures are scary .The fact is some horor dose revolve around humans as the monsters but human monster can only do so munch .Were as the supernatureal monsters can do anything and when you think about it a creature that can defy the law of phycis would be scary.

  31. Carl

    More interesting than the physical science of superpowers is the psychology: how would the rest of us behave if some small percentage of people were so powerful that they were effectively beyond the reach of the law or government or the disapproval of society? This dimension usually gets treated very simplistically (heroes are loved, villains are hated, occasionally a comic will do something “edgy” like have a hero be mistaken for a villain or — gasp! — be taken for granted until he’s gone.)

    The “Powers” series is the exception to the rule. It takes its premise seriously and actually deals with what a society with superpowers would be like: superheroes have to register their powers and costumes. There are groupies and fanzines and websites about the heroes that mimic our own celebrity culture (“Capes: in or out for this summer?”). There are anti-powers anarchists who want them all eliminated, good or bad. The police force needs special “jammers” to suppress superpowers; etc.

    Also worth a look is the one-off “Kingdom Come”. Apart from being beautifully executed, it takes a serious look at the psychological and sociological impact on ordinary people of having superheroes dispensing justice as they see fit and supervillains who appear to be above the law and all of them acting with complete disregard for the petty lives of normal people.

  32. Dean R Koontz, long before he became a famous horror genre writer, wrote a little SF novel, “This Haunted Earth” which explores the topic “what if our supernatural/paranormal were real?” (the premise being that aliens came to earth and showed us how to interact with all the ghosts, demons, etc that are on the planet). I remember enjoying this novel immensely as a young adult.

  33. Calli Arcale

    The article about the comic brings up a point I’ve always wondered about: why are the worlds depicted in comics so much like the real one, even when the paranormal is real?

    Easy: because these are stories, not thought experiments. Even the most fantastic story is about *us*, the real us, in the real world. How different the world is with aliens/ghosts/superheros/dragons/whatever is not really important. It’s interesting, but not as important as this: it has to be about people, how they relate to one another, and how they deal with the things that come up in their lives.

    In a world exactly like our own except there are these monsters that we’ve managed to not notice……a team of elite warriors fights secretly to defend us all and preserve our innocence. I haven’t read the comic book myself, but I’ve read others with a similar premise, and certainly that premise has shown up in books and TV series and movies repeatedly. Partly, it’s easier for the storyteller; the world is ours, so he/she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time familiarizing the reader with the fictional world. Partly, it’s more compelling; audiences will more easily suspend disbelief for a small, inconspicuous change than for a big, all-encompassing one. But mostly, I think, it’s that it’s *fun*. If this story exists in a world almost exactly like ours, it is much easier to fantasize that it IS our world, and that these things might be real, and there’s a certain excitement in that. Most comic books deal in that sort of excitement, in fact.

    So do fairy tales, and I think most comic books (like my favorite TV show, Doctor Who) could probably be classed as fairy tales. In a fairy tale, the storyteller is generally expected to put the pieces back at the end, or at least provide some sort of explanation for how this could be our very own world even though we of course know it’s fiction, it isn’t real. And there isn’t anything really wrong with that. G. K. Chesterson said that fairy tales don’t exist to tell us that dragons are real. They exist to tell us that dragons can be beaten. So the dragons don’t have to be biologically plausible, but putting them into a world so very much like ours, they teach us lessons about our world: that the unexpected may crop up, and that there is hope when it does. Everyone encounters dragons in their lives; they don’t have scales and breathe fire, of course, but they still need to be beaten.

    Carl: have you ever read “Watchmen” by Alan Moore? The movie was a reasonably faithful adaptation, but it by necessity had to leave stuff out. There’s a whole subplot about a comic book artist woven in with a story he’d written that was in turn woven in as a mirror on the main plot of “Watchmen”, and that’s completely omitted from the movie. The graphic novel explores that very psychology: how would society treat superheros, and for that matter, how would the superheros themselves respond? It’s definitely a story about people; the main theme is man’s inhumanity to man, that most ancient archetype.

    “Dark Knight Returns” is a Batman comic that gets into something similar — masked heros have been obliged to retire (even Batman), with the exception of Superman, who now works for the US government, reporting directly to the President. Batman comes out of retirement, breaking the law, and in the end, the government sends Superman to take him down. Now *there* is a battle royale! Mostly, though, the book explores the world *after* superheros have come, done their thing, and been banished for it.

  34. Comics have a long history of hack writing that depends heavily on misogynistic principles and stupefying, often racist, stereotypes. Very little progress on that front has ever been made, even when you’re dealing with vampires and zombies.

    And I’m saying this as someone who loves, and still collects, comics.

  35. Ken (a different Ken)

    @32 Carl: Also check out Jeffery R. DeRego series of short stories, “Union Dues”.

  36. The difficulty lies in remaking the world, one way or another. You have to do quite a bit of dancing around to ensure that history remains the same in appearance, or, go back and construct a historically plausible alternate timeline.

    The dancing around required to make the appearance of normality plausible imposes a burden of complexity in the storytelling, required to handwave all the different possibilities. This gives rise to suspicious conveniences, which can wear on plausibility, even if only subconsciously.

    On the other hand, you have the problem of departure if you create an alternative historical timeline. You’re not God, but your reader’s not stupid, either. How then does history work things out?

    Fortunately enough, though, people’s brains are better built to fill in blanks than they are to pick out discrepancies. Still, it’s a task to give such scenarios effective life.

  37. mike burkhart

    Actulay I have found Aliens to be frightnen because they don’t come from Earth who knows what there capeable of ,what are there strenghs ,weekness, they may not even think like we do. Also tecnologacl monsters like the termator are frightnen , because as Kyle Ress say”It dosent feel pain or pity it can’t be resoned with or barganed with and it will not stop untill you are dead or its destoryed”. Maybe the one thing that all horror, and scifi stories have in comon is the fear of the unknown . This has been with humans since they frist set foot on this planet . And will likely be with us always.

  38. Sili

    Am I the only one to think that the geezer on the bottom left looks like a reänimated Bertrand Russell?

  39. Allen

    @32 Carl

    Even though the movie could’ve been better, I think Hancock had an interesting premise in that they had a superhero who dispensed justice, but the city didn’t like it because of the damages he caused.

    @27 @26

    We could get back to the Moon on Zombie Power!

  40. “Wouldn’t the history of slavery across the world be a little different if there were real live (um…) zombies?”

    Interesting you should mention the concept of zombies as slaves. Have you seen the movie “Fido”? My wife and I stumbled across it one night on cable and really enjoyed it.

  41. Buzz Parsec

    Zombies make horrible servants. The smell bad and they keep breaking the glassware.

    No one’s mentioned Harry Potter yet. Seems to me the same issues, just substituting magic for superpowers, which are pretty much the same thing.

    There was a non-Disk-World Disk World book called Strata, where a
    planet engineer (same occupation as Slartibartfast) from an advanced
    science & technology-based culture comes across Disk World, which functions entirely by advanced tech (no magic), but none of the inhabitants can see the mechanisms. They, for example, don’t know about and willfully blind themselves to the giant pumps that recycle the water falling off the edge, or the huge glass dome that keeps the air in… Sort of like the Muggles ignoring the existence of magic, the Disk Worldians ignore the existence of technology.

    (I actually didn’t much like the story, but that was for other reasons. Though the basic concept was well done, I found most of the main characters nasty and unlikeable. Usually Pratchett’s characters, even the most insane ones, have some endearing traits.)

  42. Robert Carnegie

    “Why are the worlds depicted in comics so much like the real one, even when the paranormal is real?”

    I think often the premise is that the paranormal IS real in “the real world”, only it’s… shy.

    Think of it like Einstein’s Cosmological Constant; he devised a provisionally satisfactory theory of the universe that allows it to always exist and always have existed. (And to be about the size of Done galaxy). But scientists now believe in a universe with at least a beginning, I think the end is an anticlimax… both points of view are, up to a point, intellectually respectable, you just use a different equation forshow you think the universe works.

    So, for example, to summarise early episodes of the abortively-published superhero team comic AUTHORITY: THE LOST YEAR, The Authority visits an alternate-universe planet Earth where there are no superheroes… sound familiar? They decide it’s a “low energy universe” where superhuman abilities just don’t get started, and then they discover why – Chthulhu is feeding on human life force in that universe. They decide to leave.

    Or the assertion in “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that if you don’t recognise that the planet Earth is a gigantic computing machine designed by aliens to find out what’s wrong with the universe, philosophically speaking, then it’s quite a confusing place.

    The materialist not only doesn’t mention the elephant in the room, he doesn’t even notice it, because it’s in the middle and he’s measuring around the walls…

    But there have always been plenty of other people to believe in it. (Although I like the definition of “reality” as that which is still there when you don’t believe in it.)

    “Hitch Hiker” also supplies an example of a culture, Krikkit (sp?), whose worldview doesn’t include something which they therefore decide to destroy when it turns out to exist after all.

  43. paranormal activities, ghosts and super natural creatures in a comic book, well i think a lot of people will patronize this one. but as for me why not create something that is realistic in our time and society. a social awareness that the young generation will benefit on it 😉


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