The Trouble With Atheism

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The Trouble with Atheism is an hour-long documentary on atheism, presented by Rod Liddle. It aired on Channel 4 in December 2006. The documentary focuses on criticizing atheism, as well as science, for its perceived similarities to religion, as well as arrogance and intolerance. The programme includes interviews with a number of prominent scientists, including atheists Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne. It also includes an interview with Ellen Johnson, the president of American Atheists.

Liddle begins the documentary by surveying common criticisms of religion, and particularly antireligious arguments based on the prevalence of religious violence. He argues that the “very stupid human craving for certainty and justification”, not religion, is to blame for this violence, and that atheism is becoming just as dogmatic as religion.

In order to support his thesis, Liddle presents numerous examples of actions and words by atheists which he argues are direct parallels of religious attitudes. He characterizes Atkins and Dawkins as “fundamentalist atheists” and “evangelists”.

In response to atheistic appeals to science as a superior method for understanding the world than religion, Liddle argues that science itself is akin to religion: “the problem for atheists is that science may not be as far away from religion as you might imagine”.

He describes Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory focused on particle physics, as a “temple to science”, and characterizes Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species as a “sacred text” for atheists.

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  • dan

    This documentary is breathtakingly sloppy in it’s characterization of the issue. It presents atheism in a very simplistic view and constantly makes incorrect assertions. For example, in saying that atheism pretty much started with Darwinism, overlooks the fact that buddhism and hinduism don’t believe in a god that created the universe, so they are both more “atheistic” positions ultimately.

  • dan

    To find one scientist who casts doubt on the validity of the darwin theory, is to ignore the absolute vast majority of scientists, for whom the many strands of independent evidence continual to validate and strengthen the darwin theory.

  • Mich

    this is looking at a specific type of Atheist (one who grasps on to Atheism as if it were a religion)….although I’ve never personally met any non-believers who act this way. If I were to make a documentary about the problem with religion and only looked at religious extremists, it would also make religion look bad. Dawkins gives fair answers to everything as usual. I like his humble approach, as he is ready to admit that science doesn’t yet explain everything, and probably never will as it’s always up for revision, but it’s an honest, logical and humble approach to trying to find out the truth.

    I agree with the bit about human nature at the end. Whether or not society would be better or worse without religion is irrelevant, though, to whether god exists or not. I think many members of society will always ‘need’ some kind of belief system to help them through life, whether they throw themselves into religion or use atheism as some kind of religion. Let’s not forget that in it’s true sense, atheism is not a ‘thing’, it’s just NOT BELIEVING in a god or gods. To me this seems like the default position, the neutral, and if a religion or god somehow presents itself to you in a way that you can’t deny, then fair enough, start believing in something. Personally, though I’m not sure if some kind of supernatural-seeming experience would lead me to believe in god. could be wrong, but I feel that there could be many simpler explanations before concluding that there is a god who created everything.

  • john

    yes religion is stupid …. i even don’t understand why there is need to keep demonstrating the idiocy of religion over and over and over again.

  • john

    i don’t want to vote unlike, because i like the fact that here we have one more example of a failed attempt to show that religion has some sense, and another failed attempt to show that science cannot know everything.
    the power of science is that science operates with reason, knowledge, research, verification, review, recognizes its limitations and provides the best explanations that a human must use in order to make any judgemet.
    any attempt to “demonstrate” the veridicality of religion is shallow, hopless and simply guaranteed to fail.

    • PJ

      u r insane and ur mind is cover by false knowledge

      • Potato

        I don’t know what this “false knowledge” is, exactly, but let me take a guess. Is “false knowledge” defined as anything that doesn’t come out of Christianity’s main scripture?

        Would this mean that “false knowledge” is therefore responsible for entertainment, health, education, irrigation, farming, transport, sanitation and everything we’ve come to associate with our modern comfortable lives? Are you further suggesting that anyone who embraces these things is insane, and therefore should be shunned?

        This leads to my follow-up questions and resulting conclusions:
        Are you actually Amish? It’s the only way my assumption can be correct and not turn you into a raging hypocrite.

        If you are Amish, why are you on the internet?

  • Tom Caram

    I made it to 06:00 . Worst documentary ever. This guy is really misinformed

    • nick

      I got to 5.12…

    • bobb

      i got to 9:10 because we all know what happens at 9:11

  • Anon

    The biggest question raised by this documentary is whether or not atheism is a “belief” just like religion or an “absence of belief” on a higher order than religion. Liddle argues the former – that atheism is on par with theism by simply asserting the opposite. However, this “either or” perspective (either god exists or he doesn’t) hinges on the cultural legitimacy of believing in god. Liddle’s argument is made weaker by thinking “either Santa claus exists or he doesn’t. Either fairies exist or they don’t. Either magic particles of good and bad luck float around in the air or they don’t.” Supernatural entities such as these are generally rejected by our culture, and those who don’t believe in them are not challenged to defend their “claim” of nonbelief. (Just realized I think this is Russel’s teapot argument)

  • Vadim Korolov

    Great movie … love it !!!

  • tom19r

    Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were all atheists!!

    • Pwndecaf

      Everyone has some good points. They may have kept a nice lawn, too.

    • Marj

      Hitler, however, was never an atheist.

      Hitler was born and baptized as a Roman Catholic

    • stick

      it doesn’t mean it’s an atheistic regime, that’s just a sad way to form an argument.

      I’ll try to explain it this way; Catholics are almost just as atheistic as atheists are.. they don’t believe in any gods what so ever except their one God.. if you would lose your belief where would that put you?
      In comparison, by not doing sports you’re not doing a sport. not sporting isn’t a sport in itself.

      I hope I’ve clarified the matter a bit. it’s sad to see people hold on to such an untruth as their first most argument.

  • Curtis

    “Even has some of it’s own sacred texts.”

    *Shows a picture of origin of species*…


    Please explain to me how a book written by a scientist, about a piece of science which is widely considered to be scientific fact, is a sacred text…

    • Calvin

      I imagine he’s saying its immutable/unquestionable/highly revered

      • http://yolol Adam

        Which is a nonsensical statement because ‘On the Origin of Species’ is not unfalsifiable so by definition it cannot be a sacred, undeniable text.

      • Potato

        People question it all the time. It’s because it -was- questioned thoroughly that it became accepted as fact. If the available evidence didn’t support it, it would be thrown out just as easily as Superstring Theory was.

        • jockmcdock

          In fact, it’s now regarded as being somewhat outdated. For example, Darwin knew nothing about DNA (how could he?). So, it’s a well respected text but by no means a sacred text. Richard Dawkins was once asked for the full title of the book and couldn’t come up with it (it was first published under the title “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”).

  • Nicola

    really interesting second look at atheism once you get into it. i found the scientific understandings about the origins of life and how they are changing especially interesting

  • Vanesa

    Rod Liddle, you’re a bit of a moron.

  • Matthew Theriot

    Mythology is a waste of time. But an individual’s religious beliefs only potentially influences their empathy towards others negatively or positively. You have people with the same set of religious beliefs who are both monsters, and good people. Similarly, atheism does not predictably influence someone to be a good person or a bad one. Religious beliefs, or lack there-of are only one variable to a person, and it is incorrect to assume that any one group of people who share philosophical or religious beliefs will behave in a certain predictable way. That being said, religion is a waste of time. Moral lessons taught through it could simply be taught on their own without it, and every religious group has it’s extremists who can commit terrible crimes in the name of their religion. The most harmful aspect of religion is when there is a rejection of science, or a view that causes violence/lack of empathy. Science is important not only to our survival, improvement as a species, understanding of the world, and quality of life, but science promotes and fosters empathy among people. The study of life, promotes the appreciation of it, and when religion serves as a substitute or a hindrance to scientific thinking, that is when intellectual harm is being done.

    • Potato

      The problem is that most religious people believe that science is unassailable; that the world with continue to have plasma televisions, and scientific progress and new and better toys whether they attack it or not. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Teaching children to distrust science and ensuring they continue with that distrust is a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later, that distrust in science will spread, stifling research and scientific progress and leading the way to a second dark age.

      It seems like an extreme prediction, but a lot of ignorance is exponentially more harmful than a little knowledge. Unfortunately, so many Americans are intent on spreading ignorance as far as humanly possible.

  • Alex

    Excellent documentary, doesn’t bash any involved party (though expresses an obvious distaste for ideals forwarded by certain people without specifying the non-universal expression of those ideals amongst the community from with those people originate). I feel like the presenter did well at not being biased in religion’s favour despite me being left with the impression he’s most likely religious. Almost seems like support for an agnostic and unobtrusive standpoint. Live and let live to all parties involved.

    • Potato

      It’s just a pity that he’s so misinformed about his subject matter.

  • bodey

    768 comments, most defending atheism, further proof atheism and fundamental religion are two sides of the same coin. this documentary was a breath of fresh air, thank, dare I say it, god. just because the cartoonish superhero version of god that the religious heads cling to is ludicrous, doesn’t logically follow that there isn’t something more to this life. agnosticism is a far more reasonable approach, and is more in line with scientific thinking, in my opinion,

    • Potato

      So disagreeing publicly with something is merely proof that the point you’re disagreeing with is true?

  • PJ

    @Mark Sharp Well said mate. Awesome documentary as it raises a lot of logical points. I think a lot of people wants to be or are atheists as it makes their life easier. I believe in science but cannot deny the fact that we would not have perfect conditions to develop life on planet earth without a supreme power.

    • Potato

      Atheism makes life easier?

      To quote a paragraph: “The parents of Katelyn Campbell, 19, from West Virginia, have been very supportive of her stance as an atheist. Her problem has been other members of the community. “In high school, when I walked down the hallway it would be completely silent, or I would be spat on,” Katelyn says.”

      Does that sound like an easy life?

  • Ib

    I think gods were created to explain the inexplicable.
    And Today, most of the inexplicable are explained with science.
    But humankind has too much history to stop believing in a higher power.

    • Potato

      ‘Humankind has too much history to stop believing in a higher power’? Why? If you swap some words out:

      ‘Toddlers have too much history to stop using the plastic potty’
      ‘Dictators have too much history to stop ruling their countries’
      ‘Governments have too much history to stop telling lies to their voters’

      It becomes an argument against change. Why are you so afraid?

  • lawmanbutchino

    Why do people even make these doco’s, sure atheism can be a bit dis-tasteful in it open manner of criticizing of religion. But can you not see it’s an argument, of LACK OF EVIDENCE and EMPIRICAL DATA, if you want atheist to stop criticizing your ignorance stop claiming things to exist without evidence, go get one. . . just one piece of empirical evidence, proving higher powers may exist, if there is no empirical evidence, then either we do not have the ability to measure or detected it yet, or it does not interact with the universe, basically at this point in time you may as well be arguing the existence of the ether. (which like theology is a complete waste of human brain power) Dont criticize people because they believe in evidence, just because your to scared to admit, that its the only logical way to eliminate all other hypothesis. and yes that’s right you ignoramus’s, in case you didn’t know (which i find a lot pro theist don’t) science doesn’t prove anything, it eliminates the measurable possibilities of opposing idea’s, evidence is used to dis-prove. So go on go dis-prove that higher powers don’t interact with our universe. . if you can find any evidence that they might. Which i doubt you will. Have a good day in this universe that scares and confuses you so very much.

    • lawmanbutchino

      Also if you think that, religion influences you into doing moral right actions, your morally skewed, i don’t ever wanna meet the guy, who only has morals and values based on the fact, that some higher power we have no evidence for may send them to hell, I’d rather associate with ‘non-cop-outs’ who do things with a moral code, because they genuinely think they are right, opposed to doing them for their own ‘percieved’ personal gain.

      • Bon Bon

        You missed a very strong point of this video. In fact, your words and intent – should you ever act on them – exemplifies this point.

        • Potato

          Please be kind enough to illuminate the rest of us on what this ‘very strong point’ was.

          • Bon Bon

            Obviously, you’re not intelligent enough to understand.

          • Potato

            I asked you for information, and you reply with an insult to my intelligence. Have you not learned the difference between ignorance and stupidity yet?

            I’ll ask you again to share what you thought the strong point was, please. If there isn’t one that hasn’t already been addressed, please say so and move on. Insulting people merely makes you look childish.

          • Bon Bon

            “you reply with an insult to my intelligence.” “insulting people makes you look childish.” -like every one of your negative, insulting, condescending and argumentative posts within this entire thread.

          • Potato

            I’ve given you ample opportunity to share the strong point you said was within the documentary, and so far you’ve used it to do nothing more than attack me personally. I’m forced to conclude that there is no strong point that hasn’t already been discussed, and that you lied about it either to make yourself feel important, or to provide misinformation.

            Which was it?

          • Bon Bon


  • Bon Bon

    I find it curious that the majority of people commenting on this video are displaying the very behaviors this video brings to light. The comments actually prove the point.

    • JSL

      Was thinking the very same thing….

      • cinesimon

        Can’t have been thinking very hard. ‘Some people are laughing at the documentary’ – therefore, science has been proven to be a religion! Fantastic logic. Door dishonest people not interested in objective reality, maybe.

    • Potato

      Religion doesn’t question its texts, and believes them wholeheartedly.
      Science questions everything, and doesn’t believe anything at face value.

      Yup, definitely the same.

      • Bon Bon

        Human behavior isn’t always depending upon one’s belief system. So, I’m not understanding your point. I’m not defending either. I think many are confused because, really, not too many care about the study of humanities for which this video is based. It’s not really an argument for or against atheism. It’s a portrayal of human behavior with religion and atheism in the mix.

        The point is: Humans always find a way to demean other groups based upon stupidity – whether that be religion or the normal causation of established mores. Not point a finger at you, but to minimize this documentation into a petty argument of atheism versus religion diminishes its point.

        • Potato

          I understand the underpinnings of this trap. Allow me to counter:

          “Human behavior isn’t always depending upon one’s belief system.”
          Only atheists believe this.

          “So, I’m not understanding your point.”
          Religion and atheism are not the same. It’s not hard.

          “I’m not defending either.”
          Then why are you replying to me?

          “I think many are confused because, really, not too many care about the study of humanities for which this video is based.”
          I won’t go into what this video studies, but you are wrong about why people are confused; mostly it’s because people lie so often or encourage others to lie.

          “It’s not really an argument for or against atheism. It’s a portrayal of human behavior with religion and atheism in the mix.”
          The Trouble with Atheism. Reading comprehension translation: ‘Why atheism is a flawed argument’.

          “The point is: Humans always find a way to demean other groups based upon stupidity – whether that be religion or the normal causation of established mores.”
          Not so. People demean other groups because they have a different label for them, itself categorised as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It doesn’t matter whether they volunteer to go to dangerous places, or set up Christmas hampers for orphans, or are really kind to animals. If they’re labelled “black” or “muslim” or, most dangerous of all, “atheist”, that’s all that matters.

          “Not point a finger at you, but to minimize this documentation into a petty argument of atheism versus religion diminishes its point.”

          Anyone who watches it sceptically and researches what the presenter offers as proof would immediately come to the conclusion that it -is- yet another petty argument of religion versus atheism. The only people who wouldn’t see it like that are the ones who want to believe all of its points and accept them uncritically.
          Source: the video itself.

          • Bon Bon

            1) I fail to see the trap in exposing “human nature”. I think you’re only being argumentative.
            2) I understand this. I am not an atheist.
            3) Religion and science are not the same. That’s true, but the engineers behind both are always human and subject to human nature. Why is it we tend to think our ideologies – religious or otherwise – are bigger than the man itself? We invented these, ourselves.
            4) I state I’m not defending either because most people don’t usually care about someone’s thoughts unless they are being dramatic. Your statement “Then why are you responding?” is a perfect example. Must everything be about you? Can it not just “be”.
            5) I agree that people lie. In fact, it’s up to me to hold myself accountable and not lie to myself so I can garner the truth of the matters and look at something objectively. I really is possible.
            5) People label people out of being mental loafers, being self-serving and ego. Whatever serves mankind’s interest, absolves them of fear or acquires the gain they desire is usually the motive behind any psychological dysfunction. In a way your statement confirms comment in this regard.
            6) Your statement about who watches them are massive generalizations. In essence, it stops short of labeling people. This might make sense for the world that involves your mind, but there’s always a different viewpoint. There really are more people who are honest, open with their thoughts and those who don’t need to draw final conclusions from a single stupid documentary.

            It’s not unlike your sources. I never conclude with just one source to back up a claim or make an objective decision to the validity of anything – including ideas. A general consensus should come into play. It takes time. It’s the stuff that theses are born of. And, then, they’re only theses – not confirmed as true one way or another. It always amazes me how those who claim to support science over “anything” don’t take into consideration the righteous process of scientific examination. And they’re always leaving out the “theses or hypothetical” for everything.

            I spend a great deal of time studying these scriptural texts from an archaeological standpoint to their validity. Essentially, I attempt to use a rational approach instead of blind “faith”. I simply toss out inconsistencies, things for which that are not historically sound, e.g. And that’s alot. But what’s interesting: Atheists who would report that non-Atheists lack rational ability would have the same throw the entire works out based on a relatively few indicators of falsehoods. Its a a hypocrisy, of sorts.

            Since I love the study of humanities I’d be remiss if I did not add state that most people who claim to be atheists but are not at peace with the “believing” section of society are not really atheists. They’re agnostics with a chip on their shoulder while sitting on the fence. There are a lot of those in this forum. I wish all of them peace because some of the coolest people I know are atheists, but only of the kind that are real atheists. Some things take time, though.


          • Potato

            I’m going to reply to one thing out of your entire argument:

            “1) I fail to see the trap in exposing “human nature”. I think you’re only being argumentative.”

            Yes. It’s a worthwhile hobby that has led to me applying critical thinking to everything, including the news. Sometimes I overthink.

            Now don’t get me wrong: I’ve read your entire reply, as I’ve read all of them. I’d like to thank you for a few entertaining evenings, and I hope you didn’t take everything too seriously.

          • Bon Bon

            Absolutely fine. I was think I appreciated the conversation. Difficult to find willing participants for deeper thinking, but when I do it is mostly from atheists!

    • cinesimon

      Of course, you say that without bothering to bring up, let alone critique, any of the actual comments you claim proves the point of the docu-drama. How about some honesty? And do you actually think that some cherry picked comments means that your fantasy of science being a religion is therefore true? That’s seriously how reality works for you?

  • wur

    The guy hosting this is such a fucking idiot. Suggesting that Atheism has fundamentalists and Holy texts is utterly ridiculous.

    • Potato

      Why is it ridiculous? From a religious standpoint, it’s possible that people can really believe that ‘Origin of Species’ is the equivalent of a religious text.

      Of course, this is ignoring the fact that scientists tried to disprove it for -decades- before accepting it as the best theory that fits all the available facts. It’s also ignoring the fact that it’ll be discarded in favour of a theory that fits the facts even more closely, or if other indisputable facts come along to discredit it.

      • cinesimon

        It’s ridiculous, because you’d have to be either very ignorant, or very dishonest, to seriously suggest such nonsense.

  • Jamie Holmes

    Ohhh man.. This guy is a joke. He accuses every one of being over judgmental when he himself is no better. He needs peeing on.

  • Jamie Holmes


  • Syed Kamal

    He/she who swears loses the argument. The End.

    • cinesimon

      Water is fucking wet.
      Therefore water is dry.
      Great logic!

  • JS

    When I meditate, self identification with this body dissolves, and I become everything. This is not a feeling, its what literally happens. Can’t prove it, but to me it’s authentic from the raw data experienced to the subjective meditator. I believe in this experience that you can have, not some abstract interpretation…of a translation…of a book. Too many dualisms in language to place someone on a pedestal as an official interpreter. It’s better to go directly to the source and find out for yourself. After you experience it, you don’t feel a need to cosign to a belief system…because none of them do it justice.

    • Potato

      Subjective data is usually biased.
      Objective data is usually unbiased.

      What you feel when you meditate might be your brain’s interpretation of specific sensations you experienced while you were performing your version of meditation. There is no way to prove that what I say is correct, just as there is no way to prove your version, until you stop relying on a subjective interpretation. The fact that you haven’t disintegrated into a whiff of energetic cosmic gas is merely circumstantial evidence supporting my claim over yours. It takes experimentation and careful observation to find out what really happens.

      But that’s what science does: it provides objective methods to find out what really happens.

  • Potato

    Ah. The ‘There’s a china teapot orbiting the sun. Since you can’t detect it to prove or disprove my claim, it must be the correct one’ argument.

  • Potato

    Did you know that you’re an atheist? You don’t believe in the Olympian, Egyptian, Babylonian or Norse pantheons. Clearly, the belief in this negative is just like the people who used to go around believing in them, therefore you’re all as bad as the evangelists of all of those religions put together…

    Exactly how does my argument hold water? It’s obviously an insane rationalisation dreamed up by someone who wants to pull the wool over your eyes. Now listen to this video up to 7:00 and compare his argument to mine. Obviously, it must be different because he’s talking about Christianity, right..?

    Please be intelligent.

  • fjpos

    I never knew not accepting people’s non-evidential claims for their god(s) could bother people so much. Apart from a good dose of self examination, I, an atheist in doing my best to consider what I do and why I do it without religion fail to see any intrinsic justification for comparing atheism to that of a religion. Clearly an atheist can have rituals and beliefs and be spiritual but that is not a result of atheism. A very lazy investigation of people who do not believe in fairies.

  • Jethro

    There are two big problems with this documentary.

    First, the host lacks the nuance to go beyond atheism and religion and identify the real problem: dogma. The big problems caused by societies have consistently come from a dogmatic approach, both atheist and religious. The Jacobins, Stalinists, and eugenicists each replaced a form of religious dogma with a dogma of their own. Forcibly insisting on an ideology without any ethical or logical reason to do so can lead to problems.

    Second, in the host’s effort to discredit “secular” societies, he badly misses the true meaning of secular. Secular means to be disconnected with religion. The societies the host talks about all forcibly removed religion from the state. Many other harmful societies used religion in conjunction with the state. Each can be equally oppressive. The less oppressive societies tend to allow for certain freedoms among citizens in terms of ideologies and religion.

    Finally, if atheists as a collective leave it as “there may or may not be a god, and we just don’t know,” then only the voices of the religious will be heard. That is the host’s true reason for trying to cut off the debate.

  • cinesimon

    Not a surprise that ‘the problem with atheism’ is defined by a person who’s either not interested in, or incapable of presenting an honest argument. I wonder if that’s because he realizes from the outset that the only those who already know and agree with his ‘arguments’, will accept them. Those interested in an actual, substantive debate have heard all this tired, overt dishonesty before. He doesn’t even explain what atheism is, for goodness sake! He wants it to be a religion, fine. That doesn’t mean much of anything, except that he apparently believes that because he wants something to be true, that automatically makes it so.

  • valentin

    the war on religion ?! NO!NO!NO! is only a war on stupidity and ignorance.

  • Potato

    So that’s four atheists who caused mass murder.
    Now name all of the religious people who caused mass murder throughout history, and are -still- causing it. “Ethnic Cleansing”, otherwise known as genocide, counts.

    Does it reach the double or triple digits now? I kind of lost count.

    The point is, this reflects badly on the person doing it -not the beliefs that person holds-. Judging the entire group in this manner results in the worst kind of hypocrisy.

  • Haris Segetalo

    The host wants so hard the atheists to be as dellusinal as the religious, that its ridiculous.

    There is not one valid argument throughout 47 minutes and 17 seconds that I wasted.

    And this is a mockumentary in second place in top 100.


  • Dhruv

    Not surprised that this documentary exist. Just surprised this was #2 on top 100 list.