The Atheism Tapes Presents Lengthy Interviews with Arthur Miller, Daniel Dennett & Richard Dawkins About Religion and Unbelief

The history of religion(s) is a fascinating subject, one that should be covered, in my humble opinion, as an integral part of every liberal arts education. But the history of atheism—of disbelief—is a subject that only emerges piecemeal, in oppositional contexts, especially in the wake of recent fundamentalist uprisings in the past decade or so. We covered one such history recently, the 2004 BBC series Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief, made by director Jonathan Miller and featuring such high-profile thinkers as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Arthur Miller, and physicist Steven Weinberg.

Miller’s series originally included much more material than he could air, and so the BBC agreed to let him produce the outtake interviews as a separate program called The Atheism Tapes. It’s a series in six parts, featuring interviews with English philosopher Colin McGinn, Weinberg, Miller, Dawkins, Dennett, and British theologian Denys Turner. At the top, watch Miller’s intro to The Atheism Tapes and his interview with Colin McGinn. It’s an interesting angle—Miller gets to quiz McGinn on “what it means to be a skeptical English philosopher in such a seemingly religious country as the United States.” Many readers may sympathize with McGinn’s difficulty in communicating his unbelief to those who find the concept totally alien.

Directly above, watch Daniel Dennett (after the intro) discuss the relationship between atheism and Darwin’s revolutionary theory. Miller is a wonderful interviewer—sympathetic, probing, informed, humorous, humanist. He is the perfect person to bring all these figures together and get their various takes on modern unbelief, because despite his own professions, Miller really cares about these big metaphysical questions, and his passion and curiosity are shared by all of his interviewees. In the introduction to his interview with playwright Arthur Miller (below), Jonathan Miller makes the provocative claim that Christianity believes “there’s something peculiar about the Jews that makes them peculiarly susceptible to profane disbelief.” Watch Arthur Miller’s response below.

One would hope that all manner of people—believers, atheists, and the non-committal—would come away from The Atheism Tapes with at least a healthy respect for the integrity of philosophical and scientific inquiry and doubt. See the full series on YouTube here. Or purchase your copy on Amazon here.

Related Content:

Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief, with Jonathan Miller

Richard Dawkins Makes the Case for Evolution in the 1987 Documentary, The Blind Watchmaker

Philosopher Daniel Dennett Presents Seven Tools For Critical Thinking

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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  1. Bart says . . . | July 23, 2013 / 8:19 am

    Religion, it seems to me, is only interesting, because it is embedded in modern culture and, because it seems to interfere with a lot of peoples ability to reason about certain topics. So the cultural and the psychological aspects of it.

    Next year I’ll be studying philosophy and as far as I know the history of religion won’t be covered during my whole three year bachelor. Josh, why do you think that it ought to be apart from the fact that it’s fascinating to some?

  2. Josh Jones says . . . | July 23, 2013 / 10:46 am

    I think so, Bart, for the reasons you cite. It is an inescapable part of modern culture. Dennett also makes a case for comparative religion classes, although I’m not nearly as optimistic as he is that they could be consistently taught without harmful bias. But I agree with his reasoning: people who are informed about a variety of religions are more likely to be tolerant of other faiths, to be skeptical of the religion they’re raised in, and to think critically about religion in general.

  3. Dave Tuttle says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 5:59 am

    I think you will find that to be Jonathan Miller doing the interviewing, I don’t know who Arthur Miller is.

  4. Dave Tuttle says . . . | July 24, 2013 / 6:04 am

    Sorry, obviously don’t know what I am talking about.

  5. Peter Page says . . . | November 26, 2013 / 9:49 am

    As an Atheist I believe in empiricism. When I wish to observe belief in God, the only place I can do so is in other people’s beliefs. I then look for patterns. What I find is anthropomorphism. Early religions give a human personality to nearly every object or area of existence. With increased observation of the nature and its material nature this anthropomorphism has been constantly retreating till it only exists as a vague, abstract human personality to the entire universe. Atheists take the final step and totally eliminate anthropomorphism from our understanding. The next question is to understand why humans have a psychological tendency to indulge in anthropomorphism. I have been unable to use empiricism to develop understanding of this question and have had to rely on a less reliable, possible rational explanation. When our consciousness comes into existence, we are being cared for by mature humans, usually our parents. From the beginning of our consciousness we are conditioned to believe there is a human personality, or personalities, taking care of us. Part of developing our intellect is to overcome our impulse to indulge in conditioned, anthropomorphic reasoning as we become increasingly aware of the material nature of the universe.

  6. inspired says . . . | December 15, 2013 / 6:56 pm

    I admired my professors belief in empiricism; neat, tidy, predictable. But empiricism is often devoid of the very substance of humanity; our heart. And it is only at the heart level that God can be experienced. Intellectual acuity is irrelevant without the capacity to embrace this truth.

  7. inspired says . . . | December 15, 2013 / 6:56 pm

    I admired my professors belief in empiricism; neat, tidy, predictable. But empiricism is often devoid of the very substance of humanity; our heart. And it is only at the heart level that God can be experienced. Intellectual acuity is irrelevant without the capacity to embrace this truth.

  8. inspired says . . . | December 15, 2013 / 6:56 pm

    I admired my professors belief in empiricism; neat, tidy, predictable. But empiricism is often devoid of the very substance of humanity; our heart. And it is only at the heart level that God can be experienced. Intellectual acuity is irrelevant without the capacity to embrace this truth.

  9. Peter Page says . . . | December 16, 2013 / 3:57 am

    Even though I am an Atheist, I admire the teachings of Christ since I find a strong pattern of empiricism in his teachings. Most idealists like to project onto the world how they think things should be. We would all like to see every child offered the opportunity for a good education. If the ideal isn’t reflected in outcomes, the idealist gets angry and shakes his fist at the world. If students don’t value the education they are offered and abuse those providing them, idealists unfairly bash teachers. Jesus said “Give not that which is holy unto dogs, nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them, and turn on you, and rend you.” Jesus must have been an empiricist who observed human behaviour and was willing to abandon ideals when observation showed them to be invalid. There are numerous examples where you can find evidence of empiricism in the bible. I disagree with your belief empiricism is devoid of heart. Jesus took pity on those offering pearls and being abused by swine. His pity was deeper since he would not sacrifice virtuous people in the name of invalid ideals. Dear inspired, look for caring, deep empiricism in the bible. My love of empiricism originated in the bible, not in university.

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