Honest Doubt BBC iPlayer


Faith, doubt and the meaning of life.” That’s the subject of Radio BBC 4’s recent series “Honest Doubt: The History of an Epic Struggle” by Richard Holloway. Nothing too ambitious then?

But the 15 minute segments (available on BBC iPlayer) deliver one of the most superlative treatments I have come across in a long time. The balanced perspective of Chet Raymo explored with the multi-domain versatility of Richard Hofstadter using readings, interviews and historical recordings from art, poetry, history, philosophy and religion. His piece ‘Godless Morality’ (#15) is one of the most effective responses to one of the most powerful assertions of theists that without a God, you can’t have a moral core (which is an area where I find most Skeptic response thin and lacking).

Below are a few choice excerpts especially touching on the embrace of failure…

  • Negative capability, that is when man is capable living in uncertainties, mysteries, doubt, without any inevitable reaching after fact and reasons…Art shouldn’t be pushing a point of view at you.”
  • “Too much loyalty to the past blinds us to the future. So that it is the ones without doubt who imperil the very institutions they cherish by their inability to adapt them to the new reality that has come upon them. The paradox is that it is doubters and the disloyal who inoculate institutions including religion against death and decay by bringing the virus of the new idea into their blood stream. Artists seem to understand this better than theologians.”
  • Disloyalty is a privilege…Doubt and even denial must be given their chance for self expression.” – Graham Greene
  • “That is what keeps many of us on what Robert Browning called the ‘dangerous edge of things’ neither able to buy completely the transcendence religion offers us nor the confident explanations of some scientists.”
  • “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious” – Albert Einstein

BBC iPlayer perversely only keeps programmes up on iPlayer for a few days unfortunately so you will need to check out the most recent episodes promptly. Otherwise, you can read more about Holloway’s perspective with prolific writing and speaking.

And to wrap, I finish with the poem he shared which is like a skeptic’s anthem, an ode to embracing the failure of certainty…

  • This World is Not a Conclusion by Emily Dickinson

    This World is not Conclusion.
    A Species stands beyond —
    Invisible, as Music —
    But positive, as Sound —
    It beckons, and it baffles —
    Philosophy — don’t know —
    And through a Riddle, at the last —
    Sagacity, must go —
    To guess it, puzzles scholars —
    To gain it, Men have borne
    Contempt of Generations
    And Crucifixion, shown —
    Faith slips — and laughs, and rallies —
    Blushes, if any see —
    Plucks at a twig of Evidence —
    And asks a Vane, the way —
    Much Gesture, from the Pulpit —
    Strong Hallelujahs roll —
    Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
    That nibbles at the soul –