Brief History of Disbelief (TV Mini-Series 2004– ) Poster

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8/10
Lucid, human, a pleasure to watch
Kronocide3 March 2007
Jonathan Miller is my new idol. He is knowledgeable enough to have real conversations with the philosophers and historians he talks to, and he is empathic enough and cares enough, about the subject matter and about the human condition in general, to make you want to pay attention to what he is saying.

The program may not convince anyone, but it's not propaganda, it's a documentary on the much neglected history of an idea: that there is no God. Or maybe the history of the absence of the notion that there is one? In either case, it's educational and entertaining.

If there should be any complaints, it's that there isn't enough of it. So make sure to not miss The Atheism Tapes, the 6-part follow-up to this series, which includes the full interviews with some of the prominent thinkers that appear here.

The program is of usual BBC quality, so expect a first-class TV production.
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8/10
Very good, overall
obscuranta12 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This was well-done, and very well-put overall. I felt the last episode did a disservice to the Russian Revolution and Soviet Union by conflating communism with the horrors of Stalinism (there is so much more to the history than Stalin), though I certainly agree that under Stalin, too many people died. However, the atheism of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with it- consider that under Stalin a lot of the Churches were re-built, for instance.

In any event, the use of quotes from the Greek Philosophers all the way through and beyond Thomas Paine and Freud were masterfully done by the actor voicing them. I think that this is a valuable, though not perfect, series on the subject. It is not recriminatory, it is informative, and it is both personal and universal in its scope. Jonathan Miller interweaves his own atheism and the history thereof into the history of the world's very well, indeed.

This is a calmly presented and very interesting document. It also will expand your reading list quite a bit.
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9/10
If you don't wish your beliefs to be challenged then don't watch this kind of show.
ignazia12 December 2007
Dr. Jonathan Miller has been a long-time favourite of mine since his "Fringe" days and his breadth of academic knowledge and plain life experience continues to astound me. He has qualifications not only in medicine but also in the arts - for a full bio I suggest a visit to his entry in Wikipedia. Quite an exceptional person.

In this 3-part program Dr. Miller presents a logical and eminently interesting train of thought about basic beliefs and how people in positions of power have used the general populace's need for mental direction as a method of control. This is most obvious with regard to most religious practices. To those of us who have long questioned the established modes of religion this comes as a breath of fresh air. To be sure Dr. Miller's relaxed manner and soporific vocal tones can cause one to drift into a dream-like state but the facts are presented calmly and without confrontation for us to ponder.

I can't help but notice that this show has been twice broadcast during the tiny hours of the morning - hidden away unless you look for it. I am currently watching a repeat showing on PBS/KCTS (Wednesday 1.30 PST). Catch it if you wish to peek out of your paradigm..
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10/10
I'm a rationalist, and although we have no need to preach or sell anything, I am glad to see a program that I do so agree with.
ghnoland28 January 2009
Absolute Truth? What a proclamation! – to suggest that you or anybody is in possession of all possible knowledge or absolute truth.

Even if you could approach that possibly, it implies a finite cosmos – and where the infinite is extremely difficult to comprehend, a finite universe is impossible to conceive.

At best religion is simply a way to create a finite understandable existence – a way to use our common conscience experience to illustrate the thing.

I don't find any logic in the necessity of a 'creator' just because we perceive our material existence – in fact that again implies the finite 'who created the creator' – or if you describe God as the infinite, then I don't understand how or why the infinite has any interest in our corporal affairs – what monumental conceit!

Most commonly, religion is used to acquire and maintain power and authority to force social order through the threat of supernatural retribution.

Most often this social order has been for the good, but often it has been politically motivated, extreme, socially repressive, and sometimes down right evil – just look around today.
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9/10
A documentary that respects the audience's intelligence.
paul-doeman-aff26 September 2010
I've watched this documentary several times over the past few years, which is a testament to it's quality. Miller's respect for both the subject and the intelligence of his audience creates a refreshing documentary.

A rough history of disbelief does not use visual gimmickry to keep your attention, instead the series tells the story of the history of atheism from the time of the Greeks to the present today and explains concepts of theism (belief in a god/s), atheism and anti-theism (objection to theism) in a thorough way through the writings of historical figures and the evolution of ideas.

Whether you are a theist, atheist or apatheist, I strongly recommend this documentary as a way of accurately understanding what atheism is, what has caused it, attitudes towards it and how it has manifested over time.
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7/10
Part 1 - Shadows of Doubt
xenia_29525 June 2012
Part one of Jonathan Miller's documentary, A Rough History of Disbelief, aims to expose atheism's past and explore the reasoning behind it with help from Greek philosophers such as Epicurus to Sigmund Freud. Even though Miller's voice is droning at times, I still managed to remain focused because of the interesting content and although the subject matter could potentially be quite controversial, Miller narrates the documentary without putting any religion on the spot. Theism, anti-theism, and atheism are all discussed and are used as stepping- stones to guide the audience through how atheism first came about as a tool used by those in positions of power to what it is today.

I liked that although this documentary discusses religion along side atheism, it does not go out and attempt to change peoples' beliefs. Instead, it's obvious that Miller's goal was to introduce a fresh new way of looking at atheism by walking the audience through his own beliefs while interweaving it with concepts thought of by past and current philosophers along with concepts taught by the five major religions. Ultimately, I thought that Jonathan Miller successfully presents a rational and respectful story of what atheism is and I learned a lot about how it came about and how it has changed over time.
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Reasoned and Rational
pottypat16 August 2011
A first class polemic not without humour by the erudite now Sir Jonathan Miller. This does not seek to demolish religion but rather to point out the obvious, that anything based on a given, or belief is possibly by its very nature false. Belief is that one unconditionally accepts things as true regardless of if there is no supporting evidence and today we are surrounded even more by the violent and catastrophic results of this. Miller's informative documentary, with Bernard Hill adding the odd historical quote, was pleasure to watch as he examines centuries of intelligent thought and unintelligent stupidity. 'Which God do you want to believe in, the one that made you or the one that you made?' 'Your ability to think is God's gift to you. What you think about is your gift to yourself' Prem Rawat
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7/10
Could have been a lot better
siderite28 January 2007
This is a documentary about a very interesting subject, but, in my opinion, badly made. It's not that it's a bad documentary, because it delivers what it says it does: it's a brief history of disbelief; but Johnatan Miller is the complete wrong person to narrate it.

Imagine a Jewish man in his sixties, with a perfect British accent, a pompous intellectual attitude and now living in the US. He is explaining why God doesn't exist, religion is stupid and so on and so on. It's not that he is not right, it's the way he talks! He gets together with his other pompous atheist friends and asks them about their opinion, which is obvious, considering they are his friends. This guy has a weird way of talking and when he needs to give simple examples, he uses references from college education.

In other words, a college educated atheist (who is the probable average watcher of such a program) gets information that is interesting, but doesn't really bring anything new. A religious redneck with 5 children running around him shouting will not get the references, will get offended by the narrator's way of speaking and generally will gain nothing, since he already knew pompous intellectuals were full of it. (no offense intended towards religious people, I just gave an example)

Therefore, I submit this is a failed science program. It doesn't really have a point. The information as well leaves to be desired, but it's a short mini and there is a lot to say about the subject.

Conclusion: it is worth watching (For example, I learned about Epicurus and Democritus from this show and I intend to dig into it.) but don't expect believers to change views because of it.
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2/10
'Brief' history of evangelical atheism
howToDie14 October 2007
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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1/10
Where is the evidence?
faroutofsight30 August 2008
Truth is absolute. It is not based on what someone thinks or feels about something which is what these people are doing. They do not have any facts that can validate their personal atheistic beliefs. They are simply choosing to not believe there is a God, or Creator as you could call Him, despite the infinite amount of evidence that proves there is a Creator. Whatever claims these people have in an attempt to validate their atheism is completely invalidated when compared to the truth of everything. I have listened to both view points and have seen the evidence that there is a creator and the so-called evidence that there is not a creator. If anything, science (which word means knowledge) can only prove there has to be a creator of mankind. If one were a true scientist, one that studies facts honestly and purely, then they would have to come to the point that there is too much evidence to prove there is a creator. That is why I believe that these people are not true scientists because they believe whatever they want to believe rather than believing the truth. At some point they made a decision to not let themselves accept the evidence for what it really is and instead just keep lying to themselves. Apart from my own personal experiences with God, I have seen plenty of scientific resources that can easily invalidate any of these claims that attempt to validate atheism in any way. One of these resources, for example, is a film called The Case For A Creator by Lee Strobel. He is a former atheist that came to a believe in God after honestly studying the scientific evidence for the existence of a creator. I myself am a former agnostic that eventually came to a belief in God and later I became a Christian. But, my point in writing this is that I want people to know that there is substantial evidence for a creator and if you take the time to look at the evidence, if you are looking for some scientific evidence that is, then there are resources out there. You must remember that just because someone claims something and just because they say they have some evidence and they try to explain it, that does not mean that they are correct. Anyone can come up with evidence to justify their claims, but it does not mean that their evidence is actually really evidence when you actually look at it truthfully without an agenda.

The fool says in his heart there is no God. (Psalm 14.1) There is a way which seems right to a man, but eventually it ends in death. (Proverbs 14.12) Have you met a person who thinks he is wise? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26.12)
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