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 (18)
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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!

  • ali says:

    Request for sci­en­tif­ic and cul­tur­al coop­er­a­tion: dance from the per­spec­tive of Abra­ham­ic reli­gions. Iran, Qom

    Inter­na­tion­al dance con­fer­ence from the per­spec­tive of Abra­ham­ic and non-Abra­ham­ic reli­gions

    Hel­lo dear
    I am Ali Reza­ei from Qom, Iran. The sub­ject of my PhD the­sis was “Dance based on Shia Jafari jurispru­dence”. This the­sis was pre­sent­ed in the sem­i­nary of Qom. In this the­sis, which became a book, impor­tant top­ics are dis­cussed: the his­to­ry of dance in Islam. Tra­di­tions of pro­hi­bi­tion and per­mis­sion of danc­ing in Shia and Sun­ni. Pro­hi­bi­tion and per­mis­sion of danc­ing in Shia and Sun­ni jurispru­dence. Exam­in­ing new dances from the point of view of Shia jurispru­dence; Such as artis­tic dances, school dances, ther­a­peu­tic dances, sports dances and reli­gious dances such as Sama dance. This research, with its scope, still needs addi­tion­al research and dis­cus­sion with experts.
    Some top­ics that need more research and dis­cus­sion with uni­ver­si­ty and dance experts are: indi­vid­ual free­dom and reli­gious restric­tions with a dance approach, the his­to­ry of deal­ing with the phe­nom­e­non of dance in Abra­ham­ic reli­gions (Islam, Judaism, Chris­tian­i­ty), the nature. Dance and its func­tions in non-Abra­ham­ic reli­gions (Hin­duism, Bud­dhism, Shin­to, Tao, Con­fu­cian­ism, etc.), fem­i­nin­i­ty of dance: from the per­spec­tive of his­to­ry and cul­ture, the nature of sports dances and its types, the nature of ther­a­peu­tic dance and its func­tion, the role of dance in the sys­tem Ele­men­tary edu­ca­tion with the approach of sports dances, the cul­tur­al or polit­i­cal nature of dance and the taboo nature of dance in reli­gious soci­eties, inves­ti­gat­ing the ten­den­cy to dance in non-Abra­ham­ic reli­gions.
    I hope that with your coop­er­a­tion I can com­plete this research and pub­lish it inter­na­tion­al­ly. This research is not sup­port­ed sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly in Iran due to the hatred of dance. I look for­ward to your help and I hope that with your coop­er­a­tion, we will estab­lish a sci­en­tif­ic-reli­gious coop­er­a­tion.

    1. The pub­li­ca­tion and trans­la­tion of books on the top­ic of dance is allowed under copy­right.
    2. This book and the plan of the inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence “Dance from the per­spec­tive of Abra­ham­ic and non-Abra­ham­ic reli­gions” have been sent to uni­ver­si­ties, dance com­pa­nies and the UNESCO orga­ni­za­tion, and you are not alone in sup­port­ing this plan and con­fer­ence.
    3. The book report and the result of this research will be pre­sent­ed at the inter­na­tion­al dance con­fer­ence, and if need­ed, it will be taught in a short course at your uni­ver­si­ty or insti­tute.
    4. The fem­i­nin­i­ty of dance and women is an impor­tant issue in the dis­cus­sion of dance from the point of view of Islam­ic reli­gion and Islam­ic his­to­ry. Now extreme Mus­lims (Shia and Sun­ni) have a prob­lem with female dancers and pun­ish them for danc­ing. Islam­ic tra­di­tions are also dif­fer­ent about wom­en’s dance. This issue is the most impor­tant chal­lenge of Islam and Abra­ham­ic reli­gions in research and social issues relat­ed to dance.
    5. Inter­na­tion­al Dance Con­fer­ence:
    A) This con­fer­ence is in col­lab­o­ra­tion with UNESCO (rep­re­sent­ing the world com­mu­ni­ty), the Vat­i­can (rep­re­sent­ing Chris­tian­i­ty), Azhar Uni­ver­si­ty in Egypt (rep­re­sent­ing Sun­nis), Najaf Ashraf Sem­i­nary (rep­re­sent­ing Jafari Shi­ites) and the Union of Rab­bis of Islam­ic Coun­tries. will be held. held by the Jews).
    b) This con­fer­ence is held every two years in one of the five con­ti­nents. Its per­ma­nent sec­re­tari­at is at the World Dance Orga­ni­za­tion in Paris.
    c) The pur­pose of hold­ing this con­fer­ence is to clear the con­fu­sion of art, music and dance from the point of view of schol­ars of Abra­ham­ic and non-Abra­ham­ic reli­gions.
    d) This con­fer­ence will be held with the pres­ence of schol­ars and uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sors and dance the­o­rists.
    e) This con­fer­ence will have four main com­mis­sions: reli­gion and dance, women and dance, his­to­ry and dance, soci­ety (cul­ture) and dance.
    f) The expens­es of the con­fer­ence are pro­vid­ed by char­i­ties and uni­ver­si­ties and it has no gov­ern­ment or reli­gious affil­i­a­tion.
    g) In addi­tion to this sci­en­tif­ic con­fer­ence, tele­vi­sion pro­grams and doc­u­men­taries with the pres­ence of experts will be pro­duced and broad­cast about the var­i­ous aspects of dance from the per­spec­tive of Abra­ham­ic reli­gions and in the his­to­ry and today of Islam­ic soci­eties (Shia and Sun­ni).
    h) This meet­ing will be a mod­el for oth­er chal­leng­ing cul­tur­al and artis­tic issues in Abra­ham­ic and non-Abra­ham­ic reli­gions. Top­ics such as: Wom­en’s iden­ti­ty in Abra­ham­ic lit­er­a­ture. Music in Abra­ham­ic reli­gions, cloth­ing and cloth­ing in Abra­ham­ic reli­gions, paint­ing and sculp­ture in Abra­ham­ic reli­gions. Games and enter­tain­ment in Abra­ham­ic reli­gions. Hap­pi­ness in Abra­ham­ic reli­gions
    j) This meet­ing will bring the con­ver­gence of reli­gions and reli­gions in chal­leng­ing cul­tur­al-artis­tic issues and will turn your insti­tu­tion into a cen­ter for the dis­cus­sion of civ­i­liza­tions and reli­gions and the cen­ter of dis­course of reli­gions and reli­gions. This inter­na­tion­al event will be your hon­or and I will be hap­py to share in this hon­or. I hope for your wise deci­sion and the cen­ter. A deci­sion that will have strong media cov­er­age and will affect sev­er­al bil­lions of fol­low­ers of dif­fer­ent reli­gions and inform all of them about the par­tic­i­pants of the con­fer­ence and this con­fer­ence.
    Ali Reza­ei
    Iran. Qom

    Resume sum­ma­ry

    Year of birth: 1971
    Place of birth: Najaf Ashraf, Iraq
    Iran­ian nation­al­i­ty
    Occu­pa­tion: researcher and writer: screen­writer, expert in Islam­ic his­to­ry and Shi­ite jurispru­dence.
    Degree: Ph.D. from the sem­i­nary of Qom (with the title of dance from the point of view of the Jafari sect)
    Mas­ter’s degree: Fac­ul­ty of Broad­cast­ing, Qom branch
    Reli­gious sci­ences: par­tic­i­pa­tion in the advanced cours­es of Aya­tol­lah Vahid Kho­rasani, the late Aya­tol­lah Javad Tabrizi, Seyyed Ahmed Madi Mousavi (jurispru­dence and prin­ci­ples).
    Address: Iran. Qom. Rouhani St
    Kausar4. Num­ber 326.

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