The TV serial Sherlock presents Sherlock and Mycroft as rather snarky atheists.

From The Sign of Three:

SHERLOCK: ... and contrast is, after all, God’s own plan to enhance the beauty of his creation ... or it would be if God were not a ludicrous fantasy designed to provide a career opportunity for the family idiot.

From The Final Problem:

MYCROFT: Heaven may be a fantasy for the credulous and the afraid. But I can give you a map reference for hell.

By contrast Conan Doyle's Holmes rarely comments on religious matters, and when he does he seems to express a kind of reverent agnosticism.

From The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:

SHERLOCK: Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.

And from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes:

SHERLOCK: But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.

Why then this development in Sherlock?

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    To suggest that religion, according to Sherlock, is only for illogical people, who need a fantasy to guide their lives. Logical intellectuals like the Holmes don't need and see no logic in it.
    – BlueMoon93
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 15:59
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    Probably because the principal writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are atheists...searching for a reference.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 15:59
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    Holmes' atheism is a fairly prominent characteristic in the original books.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 11:25
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    I don't think so @Chenmunka - can you give an example to support Conan Doyle's Holmes being an atheist? Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 11:31
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    @M Quite - but I think you miss the aspect that Sherlock Holmes as conceived by Conan Doyle was not an atheist - so the choice of the creators represents a deliberate and novel development of the character. Commented Jul 21, 2018 at 15:34

4 Answers 4


It is pivotal to understand that the Sherlock TV series is an adaptation of A.C. Doyle's work. It is the makers', directors' and script writers' call as to how they interpret the characters and project them on-screen.

Regarding your question, I can think of 2 reasons why they chose this development for the characters:

1) Give a darker shade to their personas

Sherlock is projected as a sociopath with least regard for others' feelings in the series. All Sherlock is concerned with his work and that's what matters to him. He is not a benevolent super hero rather a coherent detective and same is true for Mycroft.


SHERLOCK: Don’t make people into heroes, John. Heroes don’t exist, and if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.


JIM: Naah. You talk big. Naah. You’re ordinary. You’re ordinary – you’re on the side of the angels.

SHERLOCK: Oh, I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that I am one of them.


SHERLOCK: I’m not a hero... I’m a high-functioning sociopath.

2) Comic Relief

It's funny at times when Sherlock and Mycroft use expressions like Oh Lord despite the fact that they don't even have an ounce of faith on religion. Also, their attitudes are quite bemusing at religious ceremonies (Eg. Christening of Rosy), where everyone else seems to be engrossed and they are least concerned.


SHERLOCK: Even at the eleventh hour it’s not too late, you know.

MYCROFT (sighing): Oh, Lord.


MYCROFT: Oh, dear God, it’s only two o’clock. It’s been Christmas Day for at least a week now. How can it only be two o’clock? I’m in agony.


SHERLOCK: God is a ludicrous fiction dreamt up by inadequates who abnegate all responsibility to an invisible magic friend.

JOHN: Yeah, but there’ll be cake. Will you do it?

SHERLOCK: I’ll get back to you.


VICAR ... are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duties as Christian parents?

(Molly looks across to Sherlock and elbows him. Behind his back, a male SIRI voice speaks from his phone.)

SIRI: Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Please repeat the question. (Stella and Ted make disapproving noises. John closes his eyes and Mary narrows her eyes at Sherlock.)

Source: http://arianedevere.livejournal.com

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    Thanks @Rippy, you've engaged well with my question about the intent of the creators in this development. Still hoping for somebody to reference some relevant commentary from the creators themselves, but it's possible that there's none to find of course. Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 9:21
  • I appreciate your comments. Well I'm also digging the web for some relevant reference commentaries. I'll update my answer if I find some.
    – Rippy
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 14:15
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    I suppose another source could be commentaries on the DVDs @Rippy? Just a thought :-) Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 17:27
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    Awarded the bounty and the green tick of approval as this addresses the intent of my question best. Would still be very interested in any discourse from Gatiss et al on the subject of Sherlock and religion. Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 14:48

For an in-Universe answer, both Sherlock and Mycroft are "super-geniuses" who put their faith not in faith, but in reason and logic.

Both are highly educated so it must be assumed they are fully aware of all the major arguments for the existence of god (twenty of which are listed here) and have rejected them.

(As to the snarky part, I suspect that comes out of the ingrained idea both brothers share of their own intellectual superiority versus just about everyone else. On the show they have demonstrated a pattern of dismissive attitudes and behavior toward those they consider their inferiors, which again, is just about everyone;)

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    Interestingly, the British logician Bertrand Russell wrote a book whose title is "Why I am not Christian". On the side, Godel, another famous logician, was known to be Christian (he wrote a "logic proof" of the existence of God)
    – Taladris
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 0:27
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    @Taladris The "logical proof" is not an actual argument supporting any kind of religious views. Do you have any actual evidence of your claim regarding Goedel's views? Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 10:39
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    In response to your first sentence - Conan Doyle's Holmes brothers, though brilliant, do not manifest outright atheism. So Conan Doyle apparently saw no such dichotomy between faith and reason. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 19:56
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    @EleventhDoctor great point re: the books vs. the show! (My understanding is that the otherwise logical Sir Arthur embraced Spiritualism later in life.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 19:58

This overlaps a bit with Dark Grey's answer, but....

It might make sense for someone who is considered a pure rationalist to be irritated and vexed by those who make decisions based on faith. One views facts and evidence as the ONLY thing that should be considered, while faith is belief in the face of an absence of concrete evidence, by definition.

The snark would be directed more at this incomprehensibility (from the uber-rationalists viewpoint) and the perceived foolishness of the adherents of the religions, more than a hostility to the very concept of a being or force, though the rationalist might also be dismissive of that, because of the very nature of faith vs. evidence. A rationalist, though, might also take the viewpoint of "I can't say there's evidence against, but the burden of proof lies in showing evidence of, not proving the negative." - a more agnostic than atheist, or perhaps atheist leaving open the possibility of agnosticism.

Why do this when the books don't? Because it's an entirely different media, and the creators of TV shows and movies are not just transcriptions of books, but are creative artists in their own right. Due to a myriad of these artistic and other more mundane considerations (time, budget, commercial considerations), there are really almost no shows or movies out there that are truly "pure" to their source material, if the sources are novels. When you consider that part of the beauty of reading is that each reader interprets and envisions the story in their own way, any one person's interpretation of purity to source is going to conflict with pretty much everyone else's mental vision, as well.

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    Peter Jackson has a funny story about making the LoTR movies. New Line cinemas was the studio, run mainly by the now-infamouse Weinstein brothers. At one point whichever brother was involved with that project came into Jackson's office and said "We need to kill a Hobbit." - pretty much just to mix things up a bit. Jackson just kind of nodded his head and ignored that. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 15:42
  • This is a thoughtful answer, @PoloHoleSet. I take your general point in the last paragraph that Sherlock is a modern reinterpretation of Conan Doyle. The snarky atheism is an innovation for the characters though, and I was wondering what prompted its introduction. Creative decisions have reasons... Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 21:07
  • @EleventhDoctor - they do have reasons, but sometimes they are more trivial/mundane/arbitrary than we'd like. Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 21:25

It makes far more sense for characters like these to be atheist due to a passion for natural rationality as opposed assumptive superstition.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – Vishwa
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 3:57
  • @Vishwa - disagree. This answers, exactly, "why" they might be written that way. Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 15:33
  • So Conan Doyle was wrong to make Holmes a reverent agnostic? Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 19:52
  • Agnostic is not a standlaone term since it says nothing of belief or unbelief. It merely means incomplete knowledge. A person who lacks belief but does not complete is agnostic atheist. So if you are referring to anyone who lacks belief in that way, they're not simply " agnostic" but an agnostic atheist. In other words a type of atheist.
    – Dark Grey
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 4:28
  • @Dark Can you demonstrate that Conan Doyle's Holmes was an atheist - for example, with quotations from Conan Doyle's works? Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 11:35

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