Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief

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Brief History of Disbelief - Jonathan Miller - BBC: In this first ever television history of disbelief, Jonathan Miller goes on a journey exploring the origins of his own lack of belief and uncovering the hidden story of atheism.

The bulk of the presentation is a historical review of atheism in the West with asides to the author's personal experience. Miller notes, as is implicit in the titles how late frank Atheism was in emerging in the modern West, with none willing to state flat rejection of God until Baron d'Holbach. He examines why d'Hobach is not better known, celebrated.

The first episode, "Shadows of Doubt", starts with Miller in the Reading Room at the British Museum describing the purpose of the series, and gives a brief montage of the interviewees. Miller starts his journey in New York City and states that the attacks of September 11 were "inconceivable without religion". Miller goes on to describe how he is conducting the series to explore the history of atheism, but he says he is rather "reluctant" to call himself an atheist because "it hardly seems worthwhile having a name for something which scarcely enters my thoughts at all". There follows a brief montage of people explaining their atheism: Sir Geoffrey Lloyd, Polly Toynbee, Gore Vidal, Steven Weinberg and Colin McGinn. Miller then describes his Jewish upbringing sitting in the pews of the New London Synagogue in St John's Wood.
In order to explore the philosophy of what it is people are talking about when they discuss beliefs, Miller talks to Colin McGinn, who notes that the word belief covers things as diverse as ("I believe there is a table in front of me" to "I believe in democracy") and also argues that beliefs are dispositional or implicit rather than occurrent. McGinn goes on to explain that the question of beliefs only comes up when one is faced with a question which is debatable, and gives religion and politics as examples. Miller then states that politics differs from religion in being about what ought to be, while religion primarily deals with what is the case.
Miller then asks whether it is possible to bring about belief voluntarily (an issue philosophers refer to as doxastic voluntarism).


The series consists of three 60-minute episodes:
"Shadows of Doubt"
"Noughts and Crosses"
"The Final Hour"





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