Brief History of Disbelief (2004)

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A mini-series which follows the history of atheism.

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Series cast summary:
 Himself - Readings (3 episodes, 2004)
Jonathan Miller ...
 Himself - Presenter (3 episodes, 2004)
Richard Dawkins ...
 Himself - Biologist (2 episodes, 2004)
Colin McGinn ...
 Himself - Philosopher (2 episodes, 2004)
Simon Schaffer ...
 Himself - Historian (2 episodes, 2004)


A mini-series which follows the history of atheism.

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Release Date:

11 October 2004 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Ateísmo - A Breve História da Descrença  »

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Followed by The Atheism Tapes (2004) See more »

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User Reviews

'Brief' history of evangelical atheism
14 October 2007 | by (Aotearoa) – See all my reviews

One of the questions arising after watching 'Brief History of Disbelief' is the choice of its title. It is deeply ironic in the sense that the movie is neither 'brief' nor even historical. Instead the documentary is a long 3 hour opinionated ramble with no historical time-line and little educational value.

The movie starts with an attempt to show that theistic beliefs are inferior to other forms of beliefs including what the narrator insists on calling 'knowledge'. The presentation fails on both counts of clarity and accuracy. It is not clear since it uses jargon borrowed from Philosophy of Mind which can be both misleading and incomprehensible for the general audience. It lacks accuracy, since the narrator displays blatant ignorance of the subject and contradicts general consensus achieved in Epistemology, i.e. that it is almost impossible to demarcate between rational and irrational not only in our daily lives and folk beliefs, but even when it comes to scientific methods. For anyone interested in the subject, an introductory course in Philosophy (specifically in Metaphysics, Epistemology, or Philosophy of Science) can present a coherent contemporary view on the topic.

The rest of the movie marks some change from dogmatic philosophizing in its first hour. However, it is equally disappointing and it fails to deliver on the promised "history of disbelief" as it neither provides a satisfactory theory about the origins of atheism nor does it give a coherent hypothesis of why it became so dominant. Instead, the narrator picks up a famous historical figure, examines origins of her personal anti-Christian convictions, and then moves on to another random famous person. As a result it is not surprising there is hardly any structure to this presentation.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the movie is continuous interjection by the second narrator with an anti-religious witty joke or poignant remark made by some historical figure. Clearly these jokes are not picked up for their intellectual qualities, but rather for their emotive appeal. They are as vaguely offensive to theists suggesting their weak-mindness as they are vaguely self-congratulatory to atheists on the similar ground. However, since theism (a belief that there is god) and atheism (a belief that there is no god) are both mere beliefs, there is really no rational basis for these self-righteous overtones. Once this is sorted a funny analogy appears. It's an analogy between the ATHEISTIC rant of the narrator in "Brief History of Disbelief" and the THEISTIC rant of, say, Pat Patterson on Christian Broadcasting Network. Both are religious crusades which are offensive to the other camp and congratulatory to yourself.

Finally, it must be mentioned that the lack of any cinematic account on the history and nature of non-theism (and specifically atheism) makes the failure of this documentary particularly disappointing. It could have been the first attempt to explore this philosophically, historically, and sociologically fascinating subject. Unfortunately, it is not. It is just a misdirected effort by a layman director with little education on the subject and strong anti-Christian convictions.

2/10 for a couple of interesting references, otherwise 1/10.

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