The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction

For those of us who pay close attention in Sunday school, a troubling dissimilarity may begin to appear between what we are told of God’s personality and what we learn of it from His actions. For example, we are told that God is merciful, just, compassionate, and the very definition of love and forgiveness. However, the Bible lays out God’s primary qualities very differently: he is jealous, petty, unforgiving, bloodthirsty, vindictive, and worse! Originally conceived as a joint presentation between influential thinker and bestselling author Richard Dawkins and former evangelical preacher Dan Barker, the book we will be talking about today, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction (Sterling, 2016) provides an investigation into this rather serious discrepancy. Barker combs through both the Old and New Testament (as well as thirteen different Bible editions), presenting powerful evidence for why the Scripture shouldn’t govern our everyday lives.

Dan Barker is a former evangelical minister and current atheist. He is the co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, cohost of Freethought Radio, and cofounder and board member of the Clergy Project. A widely sought-after lecturer, debater, and performer, he regularly discusses atheism and lifes meaning and purpose in the national media, with past appearances on OprahThe Daily ShowThe O’Reilly FactorGood Morning America, and many others. He is here with me today to talk about this witty, well-researched book and explain to us how the evidence in it suggests that we should move past the Bible and clear a path to a kinder and more thoughtful world.

The Rise of Extremism with the Decline of Religion

What do you mean my church can’t raise my kids for me?? Family ministry expert Rob Rienow joins Phil and Skye to talk about the importance of discipling kids at home, and gives practical advice for doing just that. Plus, what do Richard Dawkins and The Bible Answer Man have in common? They’ve been DE-PLATFORMED! And a new theory suggests our increasing political extremism may be caused – at least partly – by the decline of mainline Protestantism?? Crazy!!


De-platforming Richard Dawkins

The places where religion is decline have supported Trump and liberal extremism


Episode 256: Dancing with Atheists w/Justin Brierley

People who feel dis-empowered spread Fake News because they want to participate, to do their part

We’ve lost faith in the expert class.  We’re turning to a different set of elites who make money off of us.

Discusses whether there are Absolute Moral Laws with Richard Dawkins: whether prohibition on rape is as arbitrary as 5-fingers


Andrew Briggs recommends the best books on Nature of Reality

It specifically tested the following statement of reality, which involves the conjunction of two postulates. One is that if you have a system that can be in one of two states, that at any given time it’s in one of those states. So either you’re in Oxford or you’re in Cambridge, but not both at the same time. The other is that you can find out which it is without affecting the subsequent history of the state, or in fact the previous history of the state. That’s called a non-invasive measurement. And the experiment we did showed that both of those could not, at the same time, be true.

.. So what these experiments are beginning to do is to take some of these candidate interpretations of reality, within the context of quantum theory, and make some progress in which of them you can and cannot believe.

.. So, for example, some of the experiments we’re doing now may lead to information communication technologies that use much less electricity than current technologies do. At the moment, information and communication technology uses about 5% of the world’s electricity. It’s only 5% but it’s 5% of a very big number. The carbon emissions are similar to those produced by the whole world airline industry.

.. We already know, for example, that part of photosynthesis involves quantum interference, and there’s good evidence that the avian compass—bird navigation—may sometimes use quantum processes.

.. The amazing thing about that is that unlike Deep Blue, which 20 years or so ago was programmed to play chess, AlphaGo was programmed to learn how to play Go.

.. I still am, at heart, a critical realist, but I now understand better what the problems are in thinking through that. I still think that, in practice, I do my science as if there is an objective reality to describe, but I do it with an awareness that the nature of that reality may be more subtle, and perhaps more interesting, than I’d at first thought.

.. My own motivation for the book was that as someone with a passion for science and a firm faith in God, I wanted to understand better how the science fits into the relationship. How does science fit into knowing God?

.. looking through the books you’ve chosen, the theme seems to be that the polarization of science and religion is not very helpful.

Indeed. Particularly when we get to what’s probably the most explicitly scholarly of all the books—The Territories of Science and Religion—we will see just how a very distinguished historian, Peter Harrison, has taken that to pieces.

.. ‘Suppose that nobody could have any children anymore. How then would we live? What would we live for? And what would our purpose be?’ She explores how different people would respond, and how different people would live in that situation.

.. There were very good reasons, in quantum theory, for not being able to do error correction in the way you can in a classical computer — namely that you can’t copy quantum information, you can’t have a quantum photocopier in the way you can for ordinary information. Andrew thought of a whole new way of overcoming that, which changed the field and made it feasible to have error correction.

.. Aren’t most scientists atheist? The data on American scientists seems to show that.

The scene in America is very different from the scene in Britain. There’s a very different history. In Britain we’ve got a very rich heritage of distinguished scientists who are people of strong Christian faith

.. the best surveys that have been done seem to indicate that a majority of elite scientists would describe themselves as spiritual persons. In science, there is a genuine pleasure from getting an experiment to work or developing a new technology, or solving a theoretical problem. That can be experienced by people whether or not they have a relationship with God. But I think what Andrew would say, and what I would say, is that that pleasure is hugely enriched when it’s in the context of a relationship with the Creator, whose work you’re studying.

.. Peter Harrison starts with (another) striking thought experiment, if you like. He says if a historian were to contend that he or she had discovered evidence of a hitherto unknown war that had broken out in the year 1600 between Israel and Egypt, what would your response be?

.. the 1600s, those territories didn’t exist with those designations. Of course the bits of land, the hills, the mountains existed, the topography existed, but not with those labels. What he is showing, in an immensely scholarly way, is that these labels of science and religion—although nowadays we think we know what they mean—are rather recent and no more applicable to most of intellectual and cultural history than the labels of Israel and Egypt would have been to those territories in 1600. And therefore a lot of misunderstandings arise because people are applying incorrect categories.

.. The idea of religion as a distinct body of knowledge is a surprisingly recent one,

.. In the 17th century, Rene Descartes defines scientia as the skill to solve every problem.


Religio, in the Middle Ages, was a virtue. It referred to internal acts of devotion and prayer. This interior dimension is more important than any outward expression—that’s according to Aquinas, in the 13th century. There is no sense in which religio refers to systems of proposition of beliefs, and no sense of different religions. They’re inner virtues.

.. And he wants to replace the ‘and’ with ‘of.’ He wants to talk about a theology of science.

.. the Book of Job. The book is worth it for that chapter alone. Job would have been a fantastic scientist. He didn’t have the mathematics that we have, he didn’t have the

God asks him well over 100 different questions about the material world—mainly the animal world, but not only. They’re all fabulous questions. In the context of these big ultimate questions Job is a very rich book.

.. He disagrees with probably the majority of commentators, who would say that what God says to Job out of the whirlwind does not answer Job’s questions. Tom McLeish faces that square on, he even disagrees with one of the leading scholars in the field, David Clines. But it’s not a one sentence, knockdown answer. And I don’t think these ultimate questions lend themselves to that. If you’re asking for an answer to the question, ‘Why do innocent people suffer?’ if someone said, ‘I can give you a one sentence, complete answer to that question,’ I would treat it with great scepticism. I don’t think it’s the sort of question that lends itself to a simple, formulaic answer.

.. the desire of science to maximise the benefit from the slipstream of ultimate questions, the temptation to get too close can be very strong. If the wheels do touch—by which I mean trying to make science answer religious questions or vice versa—then you can get a chute in which everyone falls over.

.. Although he was put on trial, he was never sent to jail. The issue was more about whether or not Galileo was allowed to teach these things.

.. It’s another thought experiment: What would happen if incontrovertible evidence was found of the human remains of Jesus in Jerusalem? i.e. a skeleton was found that could undoubtedly be identified as the Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified?

.. he does is to look at the responses of different individuals and different groups of people to the discovery that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

.. Deism, in this context, means a belief in a God who was responsible for the creation of the world, but has no further involvement in it. Theologians would say no revelation. The demise of deism was inherent in it, because you can’t relate to such a do-nothing god. It makes no sense to pray to him or anything like that.

.. His research career ended fairly soon after his doctorate. You won’t find many scholarly papers by him in peer reviewed international journals. But the public engagement of science is a hugely important activity and he started out his career absolutely brilliant at it.

.. If you’re going to engage in an argument with people that you disagree with—which is a healthy activity, at least at Oxford—you need to engage with the best and the strongest of their arguments and not the weakest of their arguments and still more not with a caricature of them.

.. Many people feel that his books have, as time has gone by, shouted louder and louder with weaker and weaker arguments. I don’t know of any scholar who takes the arguments in his more recent books at all seriously, except, perhaps, in one or two cases to counter them.

.. Actually my favourite answer to Richard Dawkins is by John Cornwell, who has written a lovely book entitled Darwin’s Angel: An Angelic Riposte to ‘The God Delusion.’ , in which the angel gives advice to Dawkins about how to think more clearly.