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September 10, 2003

Are You Bright?

Are you bright?  Do you know what the question is asking? 

A Bright is a person who has a naturalistic worldview

These days "bright" is like "gay", an ordinary adjective pressed into service to paper over an earlier, less-flattering term.  Being gay sounds better than being homosexual, more normal, less scientific, more acceptable.  And being bright sounds better than being atheist or agnostic for the same reasons.  A significant number of people are coming "out of the closet" and admitting they are bright.

Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are bright.  They just happen to be two of my very favorite authors, philosophers, avowed Darwinists, and opposed to mysticism in any form.

Dawkins: "Brights constitute 60% of American scientists, and a stunning 93% of those scientists good enough to be elected to the elite National Academy of Sciences (equivalent to Fellows of the Royal Society) are brights.  Look on the bright side: though at present they can't admit it and get elected, the US Congress must be full of closet brights.  As with gays, the more brights come out, the easier it will be for yet more brights to do so. People reluctant to use the word atheist might be happy to come out as a bright."

Dennett: "If you're a bright, what can you do?  First, we can be a powerful force in American political life if we simply identify ourselves.  (The founding brights maintain a Web site on which you can stand up and be counted.)  I appreciate, however, that while coming out of the closet was easy for an academic like me - or for my colleague Richard Dawkins, who has issued a similar call in England - in some parts of the country admitting you're a bright could lead to social calamity.  So please: no 'outing'."

Yeah, I'm bright.  I believe in a naturalistic world view.  I believe everything can be explained rationally, logically, and scientifically, without resort to "magic".  (Arthur C. Clarke famously noted "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".  I would add, "any sufficiently complex scientific process is indistinguishable from magic".)  I am excited by science, the relentless pursuit of truth, piling fact upon fact, testing hypothesis, gradually revealing underlying simplicity, building understanding.

So, I'm bright.  Does this mean I don't believe in God?  The quick answer is no, it doesn't mean that.  The slow answer is a question; "what do you mean by God"?  If you mean a Judeo-Christian God, no, I don't believe in that God.  If you mean a Muslim Allah, or the concept of Buddha, no, sorry, not for me.  Those Gods are concepts invented by people thousands of years ago to explain the unexplainable.  My world view doesn't require a God to explain anything.  But my world view does have room for spirituality, for feelings, for emotion.  For beauty.  For symmetry.  For simplicity and elegance.  For science.  That is my god (and it doesn't require a capital letter, either).

For some, replacing an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing, all-everything deity with "mere" science is horrible.  That's okay, I don't ask anyone to think as I do, and I can accept that your reality (as perceived by you) is different from my reality.  But for me, I can't imagine anything more beautiful.


Posted by ole at 11:17 PM

Someone can have a naturalistic worldview (and thus be "bright" according to the definition) and believe in the existence of god(s). In fact, the naturalistic worldview itself was born and evolved among people who believed in the existence of god(s).

Terms like atheist and agnostic were created by people who aimed to use language to describe things as they are. They were created by real naturalists for whom language should reflect reality and should aim to be an adequate means for describing the distinctions present in reality. Terms like "bright" are born from an entirely different need, one that is separate from reality, and aims to create a certain psychological mood.

Posted by: Dienekes at September 11, 2003 12:10 AM

i care not what you believe, but how you came to believe it ;)

Posted by: razib at September 11, 2003 12:46 AM

More verbal-ability ineptitude among the scientistic. Dawkins has become, and Dennett always was, a propagandist rather than an original researcher.

Their kind used to call themselves "rationalists" or "freethinkers", and that didn't work either. Congratulating yourself every time you allude to your little gang won't endear you to the rest of mankind. It sounds too much like whistling to keep your courage up.

The term "gay" has become risible as evidence mounts of the fundamental dysfunctionality of the "lifestyle": drug addictions, alcoholism, OCD promiscuity, domestic violence among lesbians etc. "Brights" sounds like nerds who are being ignored trying to cheer each other up.

Go away and try again, infidels. And ole, don't use the s-word as a bland subsitute for piety. Read http://www.americanatheist.org/spr03/T1/eller.html and beware of the spiritual!

Posted by: WJ Phillips at September 11, 2003 03:24 AM

Calling yourself "bright" is so gay.

Posted by: Justin Slotman at September 11, 2003 04:48 AM

Jeez when did "bright" become a pejorative? I thought it meant "smart, sharp, witty". How did I fall behind on this one?

Posted by: Katy at September 11, 2003 05:54 AM

Atheism is as metaphysical a doctrine as any theism and therefore has nothing to do with science.

Posted by: Val at September 11, 2003 07:52 AM

I am agnostic about this issue.

Posted by: Diana at September 11, 2003 08:22 AM

name changing seems so desparate, and doesn't change much. (I think 'gay' beats 'homosexual' only because it reduces syllables and 'homo' is ambiguous--homo sapian?).

The bottom line is that most people don't trust atheists to behave morally, and so wouldn't entrust them to major public office. It isn't obvious why atheists behave morally, and until it is, 'brights' will be viewed with suspicion just as atheists are.

Posted by: eric f at September 11, 2003 08:36 AM

The bottom line is that most people don't trust atheists to behave morally, and so wouldn't entrust them to major public office.

in the united states. states as diverse as chile, australia, france & india have had atheist/agnostic non-communist heads of state. i assume a non-trivial number of the unitarian-universalists elected to public offic as well as jews are not theists. also, our former governor in oregon, john kitzhaber, did not list a religious affiliation.

Posted by: razib at September 11, 2003 11:25 AM

Back in the 1700s, "brights" used to call themselves "deists".

Posted by: Gordon Gekko at September 11, 2003 11:46 AM

Everyone, please kill this meme by utterly ignoring it.

Posted by: PhlegmAsiv at September 11, 2003 12:14 PM

phleg, it's beyond that stage....

Posted by: razib at September 11, 2003 12:57 PM

I am not bright; I am an atheist. How can an atheist be bright?

Posted by: Bob Badour at September 11, 2003 02:02 PM

The bright term is unfortunate, since I always start thinking about wattage, incandescent vs. fluorescent, etc.

Posted by: zizka at September 11, 2003 08:52 PM

C'mon, why hide your light under a basket? Call yourselves "brilliants."

Posted by: Steve Sailer at September 12, 2003 01:40 AM

Hi, I'm V Bright and I'm an Arrogant. Some of us prefer the term Obnoxious or Boastful while others just like the term Laughables, but as such a high proportion of Arrogants are research scientists and computer programmers we really can't see how silly it looks to the outside world to call ourselves Brights.

Posted by: Mr V Bright at September 12, 2003 04:20 AM

The proper term is "A Bright", not to be confused with BEING bright.

Posted by: Sam at September 30, 2003 06:20 AM

> It isn't obvious why atheists behave morally

Theists scare the shit out of me. What happens when they figure out that there's no eye in the sky? Riots?

Posted by: Gumnaam at October 13, 2003 01:17 PM