Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

On Geekery…

Maybe it’s time we just came out and talked about it.    Ask an Atheist is a pretty geeky show– we wouldn’t be very good at hiding it, even if we tried.    Which, frankly, we’re not.  That doesn’t mean that the geekery is front and center, there are many other, better places to get that sort of thing, but it is a thing we do.

Mike’s comic book fandom is legendary.   I accidentally turned Becky into a Doctor Who fanatic.  I seem to make a hobby out of collecting hobbies.   We’ve probably logged a thousand hours talking about the Dune series of novels by Frank Herbert.    Mike’s geekery could not be contained within Ask an Atheist, or even within a single podcast: witness Mike and Pól, and Radio vs. the Martians.

So, it’s no surprise to me that we got this email:

I’ve been enjoying your podcast for some time now and have even gone so far as to kick in some cash to help out. You’ve asked a few times for some suggestions about how the show could be improved. I’ve been tempted to send this suggestion in for some time but haven’t done so to avoid offending you. After the last couple of episodes, though, I figured I should speak up.

I think it would be wise to minimize your references to comic books, super heroes, and video games. I understand that these are things you enjoy but I feel that it takes away from both the credibility of the show and of the hosts when you make frequent references to these topics.

It’s your show and you are obviously entitled to do as you wish. I just thought I’d offer this up as I want very much for you to be successful and I honestly think that those references hurt your cause.

Keep up the (otherwise) good work!
Mark on Vancouver Island

Mark, let me say right of the bat that your assistance in keeping the lights on is appreciated, and I’m taking this email in the spirit in which it was given.  Thanks for your help!   Doing some back-of-the-SQL-database calculations, emails on this subject lean more geek positive than negative.   But I do see value to your argument, so I’d like to talk about it publicly.

There are a few themes we discuss internally that inform our decision to

Some geek interests don't translate well to radio, even if  they do help show production.

Some geek interests don’t translate well to radio, even if they do help show production.

include occasional references to geek culture in the show.

One of the more obvious ones is that atheists are people and atheism is a community.  That’s pretty obvious from inside, but you’d be surprised at how often I am challenged on that outside of the show and atheism.  Their arguments make sense: not believing in god doesn’t come with a free shared activity in the way that religions do.

So what do we talk about when atheists get together?  Well, when I started hanging out with the community in 2006, I found out.   Sure, we spoke of evolution, the intelligent design debate, and stuff recently said by Christopher Hitchens, but that was only about half of it.   What was the other half?  Comic books.   Movies and TV shows.  Baseball.  Knitting.  Motorcycles.  Video games.   Music.   Homebrewing.  Both flavors of football.   And a heck of a lot of sci fi.

I think talking about a little bit of the geekery is a fair representation of the community as we see it.   Overdoing it would be too much: the show should be about atheism, skepticism, and the separation of church and state.   But an occasional mention of our other interests paints us as human beings, which is part of our goal.

Which, I have to admit, makes me a little baffled by the credibility argument.  A lot of the shows that I listened to in the years before I started doing Ask an Athest were run either by people with decades in activism, a string of degrees, or both.  We wanted our position to be people “in the trenches,” and still very much exploring our place in the atheism visibility movement, bringing in guests to act as our experts.  I don’t know how well we’ve communicated that in the show, and I don’t know if we can keep that up as we continue on this path and learning so much from the community, but that’s what we’ve aimed for.

Also, thanks to the Internet, being into comic books, video games, and other frippery isn’t the social handicap it once was.   Is it still a handicap in a context of a radio show about atheism?   I honestly can’t say:  I don’t think it’s hurt us, but how would I know?

So, I ask you, The Rest of the World: Does Ask an Atheist get too geeky?   Should we lay off?   Or is it as much fun as we think it is?


About the Author: Sam Mulvey

Sam Mulvey is a producer and the technical brain behind Ask an Atheist. He is a collector of vinegar varieties, vintage computers, antique radios, and propaganda.

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I, for one, thoroughly enjoy the geekiness of Ask an Atheist. In part it’s because the nerdiness adds flavor and helps distinguish your show from others. In part, it’s because I’m a pretty big nerd (among mundanes I might describe myself as “a huge nerd”, but here I’m talking to people much nerdier than I), and the nerdiness gives me “these are my people” warm fuzzies. Having said that, it’s possible to go too far, by which I mean have too many references that I don’t get. Yeah, that’s pretty hard for you to gauge, but broadly speaking, I get… Read more »

Nick Jones

I stopped listening to Ask An Atheist after Mike wasted a big chunk of one episode talking about Aquaman. Even if there hadn’t been that one overwhelmingly obnoxious breaking point, the constant geek references would have eventually driven me away anyhow.


Meh, once in a while it might be a bit excessive. It’s one of those things that distinguishes your show from others, but perhaps toning it down a bit could be a good thing.


Keep it as is, I have the same humour and is one of the reasons I find this my favourite show. Good fun in some serious subjects.

Robert Parham

It depends on what your goals are in terms of who you want to reach. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You can’t be all things to all people all the time, but you can be some things to some people some of the time.” There is a clear (in my opinion and experience as a guest)leaning toward things of a “geeky” nature that some will appreciate and others will not. The challenge of any show such as yours is to find a balance that is inviting to as many people as possible. But that is only if that is… Read more »


I consider myself a geek too, so I may be a bit biased, but if that’s the flavor of the show, so be it. If there are 4 lights, just say there are 4 lights. :p When considering grim topics like slowly encroaching blasphemy laws, why atheists & elevators don’t mix, what rights I have today that I might not have tomorrow, an Aquaman or Dalek joke is priceless and more than welcome.


I would say less aquaman more Dr Who, but now that Mike has his own podcast where he can talk about aquaman until he is blue in the face, hopefully he can keep the mentions completely off AaA. That’s the only geekery that has ever annoyed me on AaA, the excessive aquaman ranting. Aside from that, there are several atheist podcasts that make no mention of geek culture at all, and I find the occasional mention of some sci-fi nerdery to be quite fun. I just there was as much a place for video games as there is for comic… Read more »

Mike Gillis

I’m admittedly a bit biased, but I don’t have a problem with mixing my geek talk with my rationalist activism. This is how I talk, and when I reach for analogies to illustrate points or to make a joke, geeky stuff is where my brain goes. I’m a geek, and it will frequently bleed into other parts of my life, because it’s who I am. I don’t pretend to be a scientist or a philosopher or any brand of expert, so what can I contribute to the discourse on religion, politics, the culture wars and the like? Well, my own… Read more »

Alan Leipzig

It’s the personality that keeps me listening. You could homogenize yourself to try to draw in audience, or you can keep attracting new members the audience who smile at the mention of Zardoz.


Well, you know what they say: you can’t be all things to all people, but the gun is good and the penis is evil.
Oh, they don’t say that? Well, maybe they should.


I love the geeky stuff! It’s one of the best things about you guys, and the very early episodes about atheists in media/ literature remains my all-time favorite episodes of this show. To take it out would kill the unique tone that sets you guys apart from other shows.


The number 2 reason I listen to you guys is the geeky tangents. No other atheist podcast I listen to will go off on Babylon 5 or Dune references, and I LOVE IT!
Keep up the Dune, B5, STOS, STTNG, STDS9, DCU, Marvel, SG1, Dr. Who, and Cthulhu references and I’ll keep wanting to have a beer with and play a TTRPG with you guys.



Everything everyone has said and more. The geeky stuff is what makes you guys unique and sets you apart in a good way. Of course if the geeky references can relate to atheism (like the Dr Doom vs Jahweh, which was EPIC) or just a brief reference otherwise (like the Benny Hinn thing) it would probably be more consistent with the show, but there’s a segment of the atheist community that adores this show in part because you seem to represent the geeky side of things. Might be a bit biased here because while most would give me zero geek… Read more »


I am going to respectfully disagree with Mark on Vancouver Island for a number of reasons. First, of course, Rich Lyons was dead-on when he mentioned on the show that you should be yourselves. For the Ask An Atheist hosts to step back from their geekery at this point would deprive the show of something that helps to give it heart, humor, and personality. Second, to tone down the geek-culture references would (in my opinion) be something of an insult to the geek cohort which is disproportionally represented within atheist/freethought/skeptic culture generally. In other words, geeks have helped (and are… Read more »


For me it is too ‘geeky’ at times. Geek culture references just serve as a barrier to attracting a more mainstream following. Maybe that’s never going to happen anyway, or that isn’t a goal of the show, I don’t know. I don’t understand a lot of it, and it turns me off.

Maybe Mark doesn’t expect this level of geekiness because he is from British Columbia, and non-belief is a much more mainstream position here.


I’m posting this from Penguicon, so my perspective should be obvious enough: Geeking is part of the demographic, and a substantial one. I met most of my atheist friends through my geek circles, and while ‘Adam’ is no objective sample set, it seems that inevitably a whole mess of geeks will produce a disproportionately large number of at least secular people, and vice versa.

Put simply, keep it, call it your schtick, and let haters hate — ’cause they’re gonna.


Count me as another vote for keeping the geekiness on the show! That being said, I’ll also tell you that I’ve never watched Dr. Who, nor most of the series mentioned, I haven’t played any MMORPGs, and my interest in superheroes is relegated to figuring out whether to see the next superhero film coming out. The reason I like the geeky conversation is it adds personality to the show. And I have other things I geek out over, from crossword puzzles to quilting designs to theatre (especially musicals). If I’m listening to a podcast and someone makes a Will Shortz… Read more »

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