Quotes from "A Brief History of Disbelief"
A number of interesting quotes from historical figures pass by during Jonathan Miller's "Brief History of Disbelief" (google video). I wanted to review some of the more interesting one's and I ended up collecting most of them. When I had compiled most of these I found that another partial list had already been completed (link)
In most cases I've tried to find the original sources for these quotes so you may find that these are slightly different or expanded from those shown in the series. Probably the most interesting fact is that most of the early presidents of the US wouldn't be elected in this day and age if they expressed their beliefs in public.
All your Western theologies, the whole mythology of them, are based on
the concept of God as a senile delinquent and, by God, I will not and
cannot continue to conduct services in praise and worship of this,
this... this... yeah, this angry, petulant old man.
-- Tennessee Williams
I do not believe in any revealed religion. I will have nothing to do
with your immortality; we are miserable enough in this life, without
the absurdity of speculating upon another.
-- Lord Byron
By simple common sense I don't believe in God, in none.
-- Charlie Chaplin
No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor
should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God
-- George Bush (Sr.)
God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy
is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.
-- John Adams
The clergy...believe that any portion of power confided to me [as
President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they
believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal
hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this
is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion
-- Thomas Jefferson
I have seldom met an intelligent person whose views were not narrowed
and distorted by religion.
-- James Buchanan
My earlier views at the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of
salvation and the 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
-- Abraham Lincoln
The whole religious complexion of the modern world is due to the
absence from Jerusalem of a lunatic asylum.
-- Havelock Ellis
Surely you don’t believe in the gods. What’s your argument? Where’s
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?
Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am
not. Why should I fear that which can only exist when I do not?
Long time men lay oppressed with slavish fear, religion's tyranny did
domineer. At length a mighty one of Greece began to assert the liberty
Fear is the mother of all gods.
Nature does all things spontaneously, by herself, without the meddling
of the gods.
A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to
religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a
ruler who they consider god fearing and pious. On the other hand, they
less easily move against him, believing he has the gods on his side.
In this subject of the nature of the gods the first question is: do
the gods exist or do they not? It is difficult, you will 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.
I don't see any god up here.
-- Yuri Gagarin
There is in every village a torch: The School teacher.
And an extinguisher: The Priest.
-- Victor Hugo
In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the
humble reasoning of a single individual.
To command the professors of astronomy to confute their own
observations is to enjoin an impossibility, for it is to command them
not to see what they do see, and not to understand what they do
understand, and to find what they do not discover.
With our contentions their irreligious humour is much strengthened
- nothing pleaseth them better than these manifold oppositions upon
the matter of religion
- Richard Hooker
Christ 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 heaven.
-- Matthew Hammond
a person who does not believe the existence of a Deity. Many people,
both ancient and modern, have pretended to atheism, or have been
reckoned atheists by the world; but it is justly questioned whether
any man seriously adopted such a principle. These pretensions,
therefore, must be founded on pride or affectation.
-- Encyclopedia Britannica
Tis 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 senses
-- Thomas Curteis
An atheist is I think impossible, most who would be thought atheists
are so out of indolence, because they will not give themselves time to
-- The London Magazine
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
-- Puerre Charron
Religion is a Common Notion; no period or nation is without
religion. We have, then, to search for what is by universal consent
acknowledged in religion and compare these universal principles with
each other; and what is universally acclaimed as religious truth must
be recognised as Common Notions. Such a proceeding may be deemed
laborious, but there is no other way by which the truths of Common
Notions can be ascertained. I value them, however, so highly that I
think it is only in them that the inner counsels of divine wisdom can
-- Lord Herbert of Cherbury
There is a supreme being. This sovereign power is to be worshipped.
Common consent ordains this though men differ as to the means, and
this has always been believed that all vices and crimes should be
expiated and effaced by repentance.
-- Lord Herbert of Cherbury
The 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.
-- Thomas Hobbes
Not one English infidel in a hundred is any other than a Hobbist,
which I know to be rank atheism.
-- Richard Bentley
Civilization will not attain perfection until the last stone from the
last church falls on the last priest.
-- Emile Zola
Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night
God said: "Let Newton be!" and all was light.
-- Alexander Pope
It is therefore the third sort of atheists only (namely those who in
the way of speculative reasoning, and upon the principles of
philosophy, pretend that the arguments brought against the being or
attributes of God, do, upon the strictest and fullest examination,
appear to them to be more strong and conclusive, than those by which
these great truths are attempted to be proved;) these, I say, are the
only atheistical persons to whom my present discourse can be supposed
to be directed, or indeed who are capable of being reasoned with at
-- Samuel Clarke
what would he have said, if he had known the
late discoveries in anatomy and physic, the circulation of the blood,
the exact structure of the heart and brain, the uses of numberless
glands and valves for the secretion and motion of the juices in the
body, besides several veins and other vessels and receptacles not at
all known, or so much as imagined to have any existence in his days;
but which now are discovered to serve the wisest and most exquisite
-- Samuel Clarke
So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in
praise of intelligence.
-- Bertrand Russell
Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and
since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly
wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will
-- Adam Smith
Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in
philosophy only ridiculous.
-- David Hume
His power we allow infinite: Whatever he wills is executed: But
neither man nor any other animal are happy: Therefore he does not will
their happiness. His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in
choosing the means to any end: But the course of nature tends not to
human or animal felicity: Therefore it is not established for that
purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no
inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect,
then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy
Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent
evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing?
then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is
-- David Hume
No-one I am confident will ever mistake my intentions. No-one has a
deeper sense of religion or pays more profound admiration to the
-- David Hume
If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear
created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or
disfigured 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 its own interests.
If the ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, the knowledge of nature
is calculated to destroy them.
-- Baron d'Holbach
Religion has ever filled the mind of man with darkness, and kept him
in ignorance of his real duties and true interest. It is only by
dispelling the clouds and phantoms of Religion, that we shall discover
Truth, Reason, and Morality. Religion diverts us from the causes of
evils, and from the remedies which nature prescribes; far from curing,
it only aggravates, multiplies, and perpetuates them. Let us observe
with the celebrated Lord Bolingbroke, that 'theology is the box of
Pandora; and if it is impossible to shut it, it is at least useful to
inform men that this fatal box is open.
-- Baron d'Holbach
Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but religious tyranny attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.
-- Tom Paine
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear
to me to be no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind,
and monopolize power and profit.
-- Thomas Paine
Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistant that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
-- Thomas Paine
The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most destructive to the peace of man since man began to exist. Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses, who gave an order to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and then rape the daughters. One of the most horrible atrocities found in the literature of any nation. I would not dishonor my Creator's name by attaching it to this filthy book.
-- Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine needs no monument made by hands. He has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty.
-- Andrew Jackson
Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.
-- Napoleon Bonaparte
If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses? If grace does everything for them, what reason would he have for recompensing them? If he is all-powerful, how offend him, how resist him? If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him? IF HE HAS SPOKEN, WHY IS THE UNIVERSE NOT CONVINCED? If the knowledge of a God is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
-- Charles Darwin
Was it through his grandmother or his grandfather that he was descended from a monkey?
-- Samuel Wilberforce
...Tis is the crown and glory of organic science that it does through final cause, link material and moral... You have ignored this link; and, if I do not mistake your meaning, you have done your best in one or two pregnant cases to break it. Were it possible (which, thank God, it is not) to break it, humanity, in my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalize it, and sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history... Passages in your book, like that to which I have alluded (and there are others almost as bad), greatly shocked my moral taste...
-- Adam Sedgwick
The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one .
-- George Bernard Shaw
The psychoanalysis of individual human beings, however, teaches us with quite special insistence that the god of each of them is formed in the likeness of his father, that his personal relation to God depends on his relation to his father in the flesh and oscillates and changes along with that relation, and that at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father.
-- Sigmund Freud
Our knowledge of the historical worth of certain religious doctrines increases our respect for them, but does not invalidate our proposal that they should cease to be put forward as the reasons for the precepts of civilization. On the contrary! Those historical residues have helped us to view religious teachings, as it were, as neurotic relics, and we may now argue that the time has probably come, as it does in an analytic treatment, for replacing the effects of repression by the results of the rational operation of the intellect.
-- Sigmund Freud
Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
-- Karl Marx
I'm a good husband, I work hard, and I love my kids...why should I spend half my Sunday hearing that I'm just going to hell anyway?
-- Homer Simpson