Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief, with Jonathan Miller

With the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the emotional whiplash that followed, the monotheistic religions of the West took a more stridently political turn. It was in this context that Jonathan Miller, the British theatre and opera director, felt compelled to create a three-part documentary tracing the history of religious skepticism and disbelief.

Broadcast by the BBC in 2004 under the title, Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief, the series wasn’t broadcast by PBS in America until 2007, and only after “Atheism” had been removed from the title and the word “rough” changed to “brief.”


“I’m rather reluctant to call myself an atheist,” Miller says at the outset. “It’s only in the light of such current controversies with regard to belief that I’ve found myself willing to explicitly articulate my disbelief.”

Miller goes on to guide the viewer through the historic evolution of religious doubt, from the skepticism of Greek and Roman philosophers to the Deism of Enlightenment intellectuals and the emergence of explicit atheism in the writings of the 18th century French aristocrat Paul-Henri Thiry, the Baron d’Holbach, who wrote in his Système de la Nature:

If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them; and that custom, respect and tyranny support them in order to make the blindness of men serve its own interests.

Miller also talks with a number of well-known contemporary atheists, including playwright Arthur Miller, physicist Steven Weinberg and philosopher Colin McGinn. Episode One: Shadows of Doubt appears above, in its entirety, with the other two episodes: “Noughts and Crosses” and “The Final Hour.”

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Related Content:

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

Steve Martin Writes Song for Hymn-Deprived Atheists

Atheist Stanford Biologist Robert Sapolsky Explains How Religious Beliefs Reduce Stress

Ayn Rand Argues That Believing in God Is an Insult to Reason on The Phil Donahue Show (Circa 1979)

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Comments (17)
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  • C9419 (Carbon Unit 9419) says:

    This series was very good.
    I don’t believe he understood the difference between being an Atheist or an Agnostic.
    For my part, I am an Agnostic. I live a more christian type of life then most christens. When I die, I will be dead, the end.

  • David says:

    C9419, you make it clear that it’s YOU who does not understand the distinction. One is about belief, the other knowledge. Many atheists are also agnostic. Agnosticism isn’t some “middle-ground”. Educate yourself before you try to educate others.

  • mark says:

    It’s a bit rubbish that Miller gets cut off right at the end!

    • guest says:

      here is a better upload of part 3 – doesn’t cut off the last moments. nn

  • llyi says:

    link doesn’t work :(

  • Dustbowl says:

    Why do producers of such intelligent programs insist on inserting nsound effects, noises, so-called music which “dumb down” . It’s like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

  • Walter Haas says:

    The Question Of The Existence of God:

    Logically as the result of suffering in the world there is no appropriate explanation that could jutify a carring,or existing God.

    Mind is Everything,and Without Mind there is Nothing seems correct.

    The problem is for those who have had intervention of entities unknown by way of voices,etc,there is a question which cannot be answered other than to say the mind is playing tricks.This is not suitable for many.

    My position is some sort of conscious force exist that for a select group for whatever reasons are communicated with,

    Justice does not rule with this force.I have done nothing special,yet I have been contacted when having life thretening experiences,and on other occasions.

    It has been implied that some are more receptive than others,and that is why all are not conscious of the force.

    I call it God Force,but it can be called what you please.

    The Force has ask me what I want to do,or that I would be okay.It never has told me what to do,or talked about bad things I have done.

    My connection with the force is rare.I do not pray to it.I only think of it on occasion.

    Since I have been ask by the force if I wanted to live,or die on several occasions,and I am not dead when I should have been I believe in the force,but no not why,or what it is.It never stated to me who,or what it was.

    I don’t believe,but do believe in the God Force as it seemed to be able to give me a choice.

    If it is all in the mind,so be it.

    Walter Haas—God Bless America

  • Aeneas O'Donnell says:

    As a recovering catholic and old fart. First rate information. Thank you. : )

  • Michael Cooley says:

    Does anyone know how to buy the DVD?

  • Albert Rogers says:

    As a Presbyterian so extreme as to have become an atheist, this gave me a new appreciation of the comic Series “Calvin and Hobbes”.

  • Jon Doe says:

    Does anyone know how to purchase the DVD or series in any format? I’m trying to find it anywhere either to purchase the streaming or any form of media dvd/bluray etc. Any ideas?


  • Nick Belcher says:

    But … who is Jesus?

  • Chris Parsonson says:

    It seems that the third part has disappeared. That is unfortunate.

  • David Robbins says:

    Hi Walter
    I too have received messages from your so-called God Force.
    I am a self described Pantheist in the broader sense of the definition.
    I believe old souls are not mortals, but spiritual energy forces that inhabit our physical bodies throughout life and get seperated from their host body at death and transcend to another dimension in a parallel universe. String theory may have some explanation for this.
    In that light, there are no epiphanies, no good or bad luck, only messages sent from old souls and received by a chosen few.
    I am not atheist or agnostic. I believe a being or entity exists that created life as we know it.
    I think religions serves most people as a way to define their existence and purpose. A simple way of explaining where we come from and where we are going. Living in a box. They need hope and dread the lack of intellectual ability and effort to doubt such a simple explanation.
    That’s my take on the matter.
    David Robbins

  • Stephen Snow says:

    Do you inherit your soul from you mothers or fathers side? And when and where does this spirit come from?

  • Joanne says:

    Either link it says Video 3 is Private, I cannot access it al all!

  • Joanne S OWENS says:

    Please, How can we access Video 3. I shared with my Freethought group and we are all trying to watch all 3 before next meeting, Now everybody is asking me! {Help!

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