Image: NASA

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not Omnipotent.
Is he able but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is God both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
— Epicurus

I wasn’t sure the video here would remain online when I first encountered it last year, but there is a version on YouTube. It’s from a BBC series and the section below is part one from Jonathan Miller’s Brief History of Disbelief.

This part is titled “Shadows of Doubt.” The series is about atheism but what caught me in this section was that Miller visited the site of the absent Twin Towers in NYC to consider the religious implications of 9/11.

I don’t label myself as an atheist. I would consider myself a deist. That’s more of a topic in itself, but it is defined as s the belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God, but that is accompanied with the rejection of revelation and authority as a source of religious knowledge. There is a God who chooses not to be involved in our lives.

Jonathan Miller 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.”

In “Shadows of Doubt”, we find Miller in the Reading Room at the British Museum describing the purpose of the series. Then he moves to New York City and states that the attacks on 9/11 were “inconceivable without religion”.

There follows a brief montage of people explaining their atheism: Sir Geoffrey Lloyd, Polly Toynbee, Gore Vidal, Steven Weinberg and Colin McGinn. McGinn says that the word “belief” covers diverse things – from I believe there is a computer in front of me, to I believe in democracy. Questions of belief come up only when one is faced with a question which is debatable. Religion and politics are examples. Miller points out that politics differs from religion in being about what ought to be, while religion primarily deals with what is the case.

The series goes back to the evidence of the first “unbelievers” in Ancient Greece and brings it up to modern theories around why some people have always tended to doubt and also why some believe in mythology and magic.

The series includes extracts from interviews with various academic luminaries including Richard Dawkins, Steve Weinberg, Denys Turner, Pascal Boyer and Daniel Dennett. The series also includes many quotations from the works of atheists, agnostics and deists,

The person who uploaded it says they did so because “this needs to be available as a shining light of the historicity of reason midst the depths and oceans of media absurdity and religious propaganda. So few representatives of atheism provide a compelling and earnest account for unbelief, let alone with the lucidity and intellectual vigor of Jonathan Miller. He is sincere and moving in this attempt to explain and understand the origins of the truth of disbelief of religious superstition and faith.”

In the United States, the series was shown as A Brief History of Disbelief in 2007 in three 60 minute sections: “Shadows of Doubt”, “Noughts and Crosses” and “The Final Hour.” There was also a series of supplementary programs made from material that did not fit into the program as “The Atheism Tapes.” (I’m not sure these ran in the U.S.)

I have been a fan of Jonathan Miller since I saw the TV version of his book The Body in Question where he is more in his medical doctor role. he is interested in so many topics and makes all of them understandable.  I enjoyed his Darwin for Beginners which he co-authored. He also has a beautiful art book, On Reflection, about how painters represent the effects of light on various reflective surfaces.