Jonathan Miller’s 'A Short History of Disbelief'
Quotations used in his three programmes - laboriously compiled If you
any typos or errors please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
he is not Omnipotent.
he able but not willing?
he is malevolent.
God both able and willing?
whence cometh evil?
he neither able nor willing?
the Nature of Things
- “Nature does all things spontaneously by herself without
their meddling “
– “A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon
devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal
treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the
other hand they do less easily move against him believing that he has
the gods on his side.”
the subject of the nature of the gods, the first question is ‘Do the
gods exist or do the not?’ It is difficult you may say to deny that
they exist. I would agree if we were arguing the matter in a public
assembly, but in a private discussion of this kind, it is perfectly easy
to do so.”
"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.”
Surely you don’t believe in the gods. What is your argument? Where’s your proof?
should I fear death?
I am, then death is not.
Death is, then I aA
time men lay oppressed with slavish fear.
tyranny did domineer.
length the mighty one of Greece
“There is a sense in which the road to atheism is paved, not with science,
with religious intentions” (such
Miller on David Hume:-
“Although he never admitted to being an atheist as such, he was clearly and
the most vividly elegant skeptic of them all.” (Renaissance
Smith (1723-90) on Hume
“I have always considered David Hume as approaching as nearly the idea of a perfectly
and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty will allow”
speaking, errors in religion are dangerous, those in philosophy are only
“God’s power is infinite. Whatever he wills is executed but neither man nor other animals
happy. Therefore he does not will their happiness. Epicurus's questions
are yet unanswered”
“No-one, I am confident will mistake my intentions. No-one has a deeper sense of religion or
more profound admiration to the supreme being”
George Bush Snr.
don’t know that atheists should be considered patriots, nor should
they be considered citizens”.
“God is an essence we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of there will
be any liberal science in the world”
“The clergy believe that any power confided in me will be used in opposition to their s
And they believe rightly”
have seldom met an intelligent person whose views were not narrowed and
distorted by religion”
William Henry Harrison
"We admit of no government by divine right....The only legitimate
express grant of power from the governed"
“Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained
without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national
morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle”
government of the United States is in no sense founded on the
Thomas Jefferson –"I do not find in Christianity one
President Abraham Lincoln -"The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my religion."
earlier views on the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation
and human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with
advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change
"My earlier views on the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them" - in Lincoln's original letter to J. S. Wakefield
James Madison - "A
just government has no need for the clergy or the church."
Zola – “Civilisation will not attain perfection until the last
stone, from the last church, falls on the last priest”
and nature’s laws lay hid in night
God said “let there be Newton" and all was light
far as I can remember there’s not one word in the gospels in praise of
Miller- “While the deists were busy reconstructing Christianity, at
the same time being careful to avoid the accusation of atheism, the
world of science had been steadily progressing”
the Blasphemy Law 1697 –“originally had no mention of Atheism, but
would have caught any denial of Christianity etc. - the punishment for
which was death without pardon or reprieve”
Charron – Catholic Theologian 1541-1603 on wisdom:-
“All Religions have this in common, that they are an outrage
to common sense for they are pieced together out of a variety of
elements, some of which seem so unworthy, sordid and at odds with man’s
reason, that any strong and vigorous intelligence laughs at them”
Reformation – an Internal Reconstruction
& 18th century Deists – upper class critics of religion
with limited tolerance – class and status.
Hobbes –1588-1679 --
Materialist & ‘monist’
universe, the whole mass of things that are, is corporeal, that is to
say, body, and hath the dimensions of magnitude, length, breadth and
depth. Every part of the universe is ‘body’ and that which is not
‘body’ is no part of the universe, and because the universe is all,
that which is no part of it is nothing, and consequently nowhere.”
scholar Richard Bently 1662-1742 said of Hobbes “Not one English
infidel in 100 is any other than a Hobbist, which I know to be rank
very questionable there ever was such a monster in nature as a serious
atheist who lived and died so, in the clear exercise of his reason and
Thomas Curteis 1725 Dissertation on Atheism
d’Holbach - Frenchman and first avowed atheist.
we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear
created the gods that fancy enthusiasm or deceit adorned 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 their own interests.”
the ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, the knowledge of
nature is calculated to destroy them”
is only by dispelling the clouds and phantoms of religion that we shall
discover truth, reason and morality.”
from:- ‘The System of Nature’ – The Atheists Bible
Hooker priest 1554-1600
“With our contentions their irreligious humour is much strengthened –
pleaseth them better than these manifold oppositions upon the matter of
Hammond Unitarian burned at the stake by the Bishop of Norwich.
is not God, not the saviour of the world, but a mere man, a sinful man
and an abominable idol. All who worship him are abominable idolaters and
Christ did not rise again from death to life nor did he ascend into
Britanica on Atheism 1771
people have pretended to atheism or have been recorded atheist by the
world. But it is justly questioned whether any man seriously adopted
such a principle”
Curteis 1725 Dissertation on Atheism
very questionable there ever was such a monster in nature as a serious
atheist who lived and died so in the clear exercise of his reason and
atheist is I think impossible, most who would be thought atheists are so
out of indolence, because they will not give themselves time to reason”
Gagarin speaking from
orbit – “I don’t see any God up here”
Hugo – “There is in every village a torch- the schoolteacher,
and an extinguisher: the priest.”
Galileo Galilei 1564 – 1647
questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the
reasoning of a single individual”
To command their professors of astronomy to refute their own
observations is to command them not to see what they do see and not to
understand what they do understand.”
Williams – “All the religions are based on the concept of God as
a senile delinquent.”
Byron – “I do not believe in any religion, I will have nothing
to do with immortality. We are miserable enough in this life without
speculating upon another.”
Chaplain – “By simple common sense I do not believe in God”
Toynbee – Journalist – “ludicrous, absurd, weird”
Vidal – Author – “ugly”
Weinberg – physicist – “corrosive”
McGinn – philosopher – “Rubbish, untrue, dangerous”