Jonathan Miller's "Atheism Tapes" consists of six 30-minute interviews with various scholars regarding religion and atheism. The interviews were to provide material for Miller's BBC documentary "Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief," which is regrettably not available for sale in the US.
Before offering my thoughts on this DVD set, here is a brief descriptioni of the interviews.
**Richard Dawkins (Cambridge zoologist and atheist): MIller and Dawkins talk about what led Dawkins to disavow belief in God in light of the theory of evolution and why he thinks religion is a dangerous mindset.
** Daniel Dennett (American philosopher and ahtiest): Dennett ruminates on why religion should be studied as a naturalistic phenomenon, like any other belief and why the theory of evolution is simulteneously elegant and threatening.
** Colin McGinn (British philosopher and atheist): Miller and McGinn discuss why reasons for believing in God are unsatisfying and why it may be best not to believe. In this, they discuss whether morality can be rooted in natural principles.
** Denys Turner (Cambridge theologian and Christian): Miller and Turner argue over whether there is evidence for God's existence, whether anything can be said about God (if it does exist), and whether atheists are simply "dodging the quesiton" of explaining how something can come from nothing.
**Steven Weinberg (American Cosmologist and atheist): Weinberg talks about whether physics/cosmology gives good reasons for believing in God, why physcists don't seem to care much about the quesiton, and why Weinberg - a physicist - does.
**Arthur Miller (American playwright and atheist): I confess not to fully understand what the point of Miller's interview being included here was. He talks about a wide variety of things, most having to do with his impressions of America's recent resurgence of religious thought coupled with patriotism. He also talks about being an atheistic jew and what (if anything) that means.
I delighted in these interviews (with the exception of Arthur Miller's whose inclusion I see as not adding much to the discussion). In contrast to videos like "The four Horsemen," where four prominent atheists sit in a disucssion and agree with themselves, these mano-a-mano interviews were very informative, polite, and never redundant. All the innterviewees talk about different things and all add something quite different to the mix.
I will say that the novice or anyone unschooled in at least elementary philoophy will probably not take to this film one bit. Excepting Arthur Miller, all the interviewees are academics and speak like academics. (The easiest to understand may be McGinn, who seems the most laid-back of the bunch, followed by Dennett.) And since these are 30 minute interviews, the watcher without a keen interest in the subject will proabbly find themselves somewhat bored. (More directly, the film is slow-moving.)
For those with some interest in atheism (atheist and believer alike) this is a worthwhile set to see or own. Miller is a good interviewer, both steering the conversation and letting the interviewee free to expound. The interviewees are all articulate (with the possible exception of very "postmodern" theologian Denys Turner) and quite the opposite of the "angry atheist" caricature. Anyone who pays attention to the interviews will come out more knowledgeable than before they sat down.
All in all, I reccomend this DVD set to anyone curious about atheism and the reasons disbelievers have for their disbelief. Next step: Hopefully Miller's similarly masterful "Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief" will be released on DVD