Book Review

Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World

March 24, 2016

Would America be better off without religion? David Silverman thinks so. Convinced religion is a moral evil and that all religious persons are either liars or victims, Silverman, president of American Atheists, has committed his life to the task of extinguishing the “Lie of God” and liberating the victims of religion (3). In Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, he issues a call to arms to his co-belligerents in the atheist movement and pleads for closeted non-believers to join the struggle against religion.

The book is marked by the author’s passion and aggression. He relentlessly attacks religion and insists that it breeds bigotry and inequality. At the outset Silverman argues “religion is not just incorrect, it is malevolent” and wholly underserving of the respect conferred upon it (4). And since religion produces evil, the author insists that atheists fight against the immorality and intolerance of religion with truth, because atheists have “a monopoly on truth” (3). Armed with science, reason, and biting sarcasm, the author writes to “take religion down” for the common good (4).

The Battle Plan

Across eleven chapters, Silverman essentially accomplishes five tasks. He begins by imploring fellow non-believers to eschew ambiguous labels such as humanists or secularists and to unite under the banner of atheism (18). Silverman believes unifying as “atheists” sends a powerful message about the movement’s strength to America’s bigoted religious establishment and empowers others to join the effort. Second, the author calls for atheists to take up their true mantle—as the “good guys”—in the fight for equality and the separation of religion and government. Silverman laments the many ways that religion intrudes upon individual liberty and argues that instead of respect for their beliefs, what religious persons actually need and deserve is conflict. “They need to hear that their religion is not equal to atheism, it is far beneath it” (25).

Third, Silverman challenges the legitimacy of all religions. “The sum total of all scientifically valid proof supporting the existence of all the world’s gods, combined, is zero” (46). For Silverman, that millions of Americans continue to embrace religion absent any evidence reinforces his belief that they are victims of brainwashing. Fourth, he puts forward an apologetic for his effective and offensive “firebrand atheism.” According to Silverman, the end game of the movement is “atheist normalcy” and “the elimination of bigotry” against atheists (136). He explains that the shock and awe tactics he employs—putting up incendiary billboards, employing hostile rhetoric, and mocking religious figures and beliefs—account for one piece of a broader strategy to accomplish his ultimate goals. Finally, Silverman dedicates the concluding chapters of the book to chronicling past achievements, including legal victories and the historic Reason Rally in 2012, and casting vision for the movement’s future. He believes that truth is winning and its triumph will ultimately lead toward greater freedom and equality for all.

Missing Pieces

As an evangelical Christian, it was difficult to read a book so critical of my beliefs, but I did my best to read Silverman’s words objectively and to take his criticisms seriously. The author claims that he is writing to combat bigotry and promote equality. After reading Fighting God, I am appreciably more sensitive to the fact that non-religious persons may feel marginalized in American society and I believe Christians, as much as anyone, should promote a culture of openness and acceptance. Still, I found much of Silverman’s words to be disconcerting and overblown.

Though there are many, I will mention only two critiques. First, this book perpetuates the problem it seeks to solve. David Silverman is an atheist, and in defense of his atheism he makes stark claims and draws hard lines about truth and the nature of reality, but in his goal to combat bigotry (intolerance) he fails in spectacular fashion. Repeatedly, he assails religion as abhorrent, false, evil, unworthy of respect, meriting ridicule, and deserving of defeat. He derides proponents of religion as liars, victims, and brainwashed objects of pity. How someone may claim to be an enlightened or even thoughtful person and write a book protesting bigotry while demonstrating such intolerance and disrespect is mystifying.

Secondly, because Silverman dedicates ample time to discussing Christianity, it is regrettable that his words betray such an inaccurate view of the gospel. Doubtless, it would have been more respectable if Silverman were to engage with the actual beliefs of serious Christians. While any dullard will carry the day against the straw man, the Christian gospel is quite compelling and difficult to dismiss out of hand. The work of Christ certainly merits more than a casual dismissal of apologetic arguments, and I would dare say, adherents of other religions would likely share similar concerns.

Application for the Church

Multiple times, the author make reference to the words of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists:

An atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a God. An atheist thinks that heaven is something we should work for now—here on earth—for all men to enjoy together. An atheist knows that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist knows that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. (1)

Those words represent a stunning indictment upon the church. As I read them, I found myself welling up with rebuttals and clarifications. But the truth is, even though Christian theology is actually robust and redemptive—it truly values life and creation—that isn’t what the broader culture sees. Christianity rejects the dualisms and false dilemmas in O’Hair’s statement. Christianity recognizes that those things aren’t mutually exclusive but instead fit together in the arc of God’s work of redemption. Yet, the culture sees a church that is unconcerned with community, poverty, and justice. The culture sees a church that worships money and loves power. So despite the fact that I take issue with the lion’s share of Silverman’s criticism, I find here a needed rebuke of the shallow, gnostic Christianity often reflected in our worship and practice.

Finally, Silverman and I do share a common goal: we both want Christians to read the Bible. He is convinced that doing so will lead adherents to abandon the faith. I am convinced that under the Spirit’s guidance, Christians, and the church more broadly, will “grow up into Christ” and faithfully display the compelling truth of the gospel to the world. May God grant us that grace. The world is watching.

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24