Bright Liberation?

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Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett wants atheists and agnostics to come out their closets. "Politicians don't think they even have to pay us lip service, and leaders who wouldn't be caught dead making religious or ethnic slurs don't hesitate to disparage the 'godless' among us," he writes. Making a double entendre on the Enlightenment and what I suspect his opinion of the intelligence of such people is, he calls them "Brights."

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  1. Daninel didn’t get the memo. God is dead and has been for a while. Stating the obivious does not equal higher IQ.

  2. I like the Gnostic view better – God is evil. It’s helpful to keep that in mind when politicians start talking about how pious they are.

  3. I suppose I fit the definition, but there’s something a little smug and self-congratulatory sounding about dubbing oneself a “bright,” isn’t there?

  4. not to mention gay.

  5. or progressive

  6. The term “Bright” sounds way too pretentious for me to ever use it self-descriptively. I think I’d prefer “godless”, “faithless” or even “heathen”. However, I’ll just stick to being an “atheist” and get over the disparaging remarks from the “god-fearing” among us.

  7. Actually the term was recently born of an explicit attempt at meme creation by Richard Dawkins. The sentiment, I support; the word choice is lamentable but seems likely to stick.

  8. Is there an organization to join? Will it be like the church (untaxable)? Can I be a “priest” in this group and gain the same tax exempt status? Will I get a letter in the mail after submitting my application stating, “Congratulations, you aren’t a lunatic”?

  9. what is worse

    true believer xians

    or

    true believer atheists

    i sneer at both

  10. Tangentially, I find it both amusing and frustrating that devout atheists never realize that their beliefs are just as much a matter of faith as the bible-thumpers’.

    Agnosticism seems to be the only truly rational choice. If there *is* an omnipotent god, it’s ridiculous to demand that since you’ve never seen him, she doesn’t exist.

  11. I sort of prefer being called a heretic.

  12. Euphrosyne:

    That’s like saying, “well, since you’ve never seen a UFO, it’s ridiculous to say they don’t exist.”

    Maybe in the truly scientific sense it is, but which is more ridiculous: saying god doesn’t exist because there’s no evidence for it and all the evidence presented to date has been mistaken to laughable, or saying god does exist without any evidence?

    And if you’re believing without evidence, why shouldn’t you believe in UFOs, fairies, and L. Ron Hubbard’s entire religion? Who are you to say one is right and one is wrong?

    Of course, people do, and because there is no objective means to sort out who is right, they resort to killing each other to prove their case. Hence the Crusades and 9/11.

  13. sandy: In the past 100 years godless communists slaughered more than any religious nut. The rest of your post is simply scientific reductionism. Can you prove even your own existance?

    I can admit that UFOs are possible, and so is God. But since I can admit that I am not a believing atheist.

  14. From my days on Usenet, I’d have to say true believer atheists are by far the worst.

  15. Russ D,

    A heretic is one who rejects certain tenets of the faith while proclaiming adherence to that faith. I am a heretic. You are a mere heathen.

  16. I just discovered that I’m considered ‘bright’! I expect I’ll be deified or something for this achievement. (Irony noted)

    What a crock!

    I’m too lazy to go to church Sunday mornings…so now I’m bright?

  17. I prefer Jonathan Rauch’s term: apatheist.

  18. Euph,

    You seem to be referring to positive atheists, those who believe god does not exist. There are also negative atheists (myself included) who lack belief in god. It’s subtle yes, but the difference is an important one if you are trying to compare theists to atheists.

  19. Agnostics are wusses. They pay lip service to intellectual honesty but live their lives like no religion is true. Grow a set and make a choice about what you believe.

  20. Euphrosyne

    athiest’s “beliefs” are not a matter of “faith” because they don’t “believe” anything. as a matter of fact a-theism means “non-belief”. remember a person taking the positive position must be the one that provides the proof. one can not “prove” a negative.

    Sandy

    there is an objective means to sort out who is right. it’s called “evidence” or “the burden of proof”. maybe you’ve heard of it.

  21. You can always just define god as the most powerful being (or whatever) in the universe.

    Of course, that means that if humans are the only beings in the universe then Bush is probably god.

  22. People, please, please get away from considering “Atheist” to imply a positive belief in the non-existence of a god. “Atheist” means a lack of belief in any god, but it dosn’t necessarily entail the assertion that there is no god. Agnostics can be theistic or atheistic, depending on what they believe (as opposed to what they claim to know).

    Tangential I know, but I just hate to see the word get beaten up to the point that it’s unrecognizable:)

    Andy

  23. Or Karl Rove.

  24. does “bright” imply a positive belief in the non-existence of a god?

  25. Euphrosyne – you’re wrong.

    The burden of proof is on the positive assertion GOD EXISTS.

    Since GOD belief cannot rise to the simplest forms of factual evidence – that there is no evidence of ANY kind to affirm the postive assertion DOES EXIST- it is irrational to behave that the idea DOES EXIST has merit worthy enough to warrant it’s use in crafting public policy.

    BTW – there is no “faith” in atheism, because there is no irrational claim of knowledge “beyond our ability to grasp” from some “mystical unseen world” involved – only reason and logic. It’s firmly planted in reality. There is no faith required to reject irrationality.

    Agnosticism supports the un-proven assertions of theism by neglecting to reject them – and those ideas are being put into practice in our public policy.

    So, at the very least – your agnosticism sanctions irrationality in public policy.

    BTW -“Bright” is a dumb name. We don’t need any more names. But A-theists need to make their voices heard as much as the mono and poly theists who are dictating public policy the world over.

  26. nonbeliever:

    Just because hating Jews or kulaks has resulted in more mass murder than hating homosexuals doesn’t make hating homosexuals right. Similarly just because some people who believed religously in revealed texts by Marx instead of Saul of Tarsus killed more people than the Crusades doesn’t make the Crusades right.

    The rest of my post is scentific reductionism, which is the point the article gets to. Either you’re a naturalist, and the universe exists and is discoverable, or you’re a supernaturalist. Yes, it is to some degree an assumption, but one that is supported by a heck of a lot more evidence than claims by supernaturalists. The world just doesn’t seem to be the way they say it is.

    That being said, I find the term ‘bright’ to be quite silly.

    The point I was making is that if you take no position–give equal weight to the possibility of Yahweh or a universe without supernatural forces despite the differing evidence, you’re also being a supernaturalist. And if you are, there’s nothing to say your position has any more merit than any nut claiming anything.

    I, too, dislike screechy devout anythings, be they atheist, conservative, religious, or liberal. But the article does make a good point that clamming up out of an unreturned respect for another’s position does seem to be letting a lot of silliness fly around.

    If someone could prove to me a visitation by an extra-terrestrial craft, I’d be over the moon with joy. However, I’m not going to believe it just because some random person says they’ve had carnal relations with an alien. Likewise I’d revise my non-belief in God if someone started pulling out loads of evidence pointing to the Biblical story and account for all the evidence to the contrary.

  27. jeff et al, prove you exist and prove the existance of reason?

  28. Are agnostics 100% sure that the Easter Bunny doesn’t hide eggs? No. Of course not. Each of us might be nothing more than a brain in a vat controlled by the easter bunny. This question illustrates the uselessness of the chicken-shit description “agnostic.” Rational beings agree that EVERY existential proposition is (to some extent) dubious. Because all rational men and women share an unspoken (or background) agnosticism (we assume no prior knowledge & value only testable hypotheses) there is no reason to declare our lack of absolute knowledge about the existence (or non-existence) of a god – it?s understood. Assuming a rational speaker, here is a helpful translation of the shorthand:

    Atheist = I am not 100% convinced that any god exists
    Theist = I am 100% convinced that at least one god exists
    Agnostic = I am an atheist but for some odd reason I am compelled to acknowledge the quite obvious possibility that I might be wrong.

    (One must admit the possibility of a rational theist. Proof may exist.)

  29. anon 4:59,

    Did you just?

  30. nice bigotry there sandy, being religious means hating homosexuals. just terrible. And Marx’s whole system was based on reason and not faith, BTW.

    and I am nonbeliver in the model of the world you present. beliefs are not either supernatural or natural, as both beliefs rely on faith. I used to be a True Believer like yourself. I suggest you read some Robert Anton Wilson and cure yourself.

  31. mojo mojo:
    My point was that *if* you believe without evidence, there is no objective method to evaluate one believe against another. All the evidence in the world won’t convince someone who’s made up their mind that evidence is irrelevant.

    And to make it clear, I think believing without evidence is a *bad* thing.

  32. go to the website
    http://www.the-brights.net

    For now, they seem mainly interested in providing another self-labeling option for those who don’t want to deal with people who don’t know what atheism means (and therefore “sneer” and consider it a “faith”).

    I believe that the likelihood of the existence of any god to be equal to the possibility of the existence of an invisible dragon sitting on my head. Gods are stupid. So is the toothfairy.

    I am an atheist (I guess the positive kind), but I don’t like defining myself with any mention of the supernatural. Atheist still has theist in the title.

    Maybe instead of Bright, I should call myself “Not A Moron.”

  33. “Did you just?”

    nope, it is an act of faith that I exist and that this posting actually happened

  34. Unbeliever:

    Communists/Marxists were not atheists. They worshiped Stalin. Or, at the very least, the State.

    And any doctrine that has a utopian goal involving lollygagging about reading poetry and practicing archery is NOT based on reason.

  35. Anon @ 4:59

    existence is axiomatic, i.e. “existence exists”. you can not go any deeper on the nature of existence than that. as far as “supernatural” goes consider this. everything that exists is “natural” and everyting that is natural “exists”, therefore anything that is “supernatural” or greater than or outside nature does not exists.

  36. Communism/Marxism was based on reason. They don’t worship anything. It is materialism, plain and simple. You may dispute Marx’s conclusions but not his root assumptions. And as for carrying out the orders of Stalin and the State, that was very rational if you value your life. But how can you prove life has any value? So I guess they were believing in something irrationally.

  37. “”jeff et al, prove you exist and prove the existance of reason?””

    PROVE I EXIST: I think therefore I am. Not a thow away line.

    Consciousness subsumes that there is something to be conscious of. You cannot have consciousness without an object to be aware of – without existence or reality.

    Because reality is an axiomatic primary and is subsumed in your very request for evidence -(it is the standard by which you’d measure my evidence) the fact that my consciouness is aware of reality – and that reality exists independently of the faculty of my consciousness proves I exist in reality.

    PROVE REASON:

    No other animal we are aware of right now takes it’s precepts (perceptiual stimuli recieved through it’s sense organs) and turns them into concepts (ideas which include a number of other ideas grouped together by similar and dissimilar attributes) which can then be integrated into abstractions and further into propositions and communicated and built on with language and exxhange of knowledge.

    The process is reason – the method by which it is accomplished is logic – and humans are the only beings we know of that possess this ability.

    Reason is our ONLY means of knowledge.

    It accounts for everything humans have ever done.

    Period.

  38. mojo: You are rehashing Randian A is A mantra. It is a fine linguistic game, but it should be clear to anyone that you can’t really prove with evidence you exist. You and everyone else (if they exist at all) acts on faith.

    This could all be a dream, or a Matrix, whatever. And the fact I can imagine that at all means it is a possiblity.

  39. Saying is one thing, doing is another.

    As a libertarian atheist, I’m a little sensetive to the notion that being god-free was responsible for the crimes of Stalin et al.

  40. Actually Jeff you are just a computer program that I made to think that that it is a real person in the year 2003 AD.

    The year is really 3026 AD and I enjoy watching you Randians pretend you are real in my simulation. It is amusing.

  41. actually that line should be “i am, therefore i think”. descartes got it backwards. remember “existence preceeds essence” one must be before one can be something.

  42. “As a libertarian atheist, I’m a little sensetive to the notion that being god-free was responsible for the crimes of Stalin et al.”

    nobody said that, but without belief in an afterlife murder does seem to lose its evilness (and so does the notion of evil).

  43. anon your argument is a non sequitor. it follows from nothing. as i said existence is an axiom. it is the base upon which all else stands. an axiom is proof of itself. the only other choice is that existence does not exist. so can you prove this is true?

  44. Anon 5:40:

    Why is that?

  45. and what is to be made of you choice of re-hash…kant.

    VERY poor form.

    “I think therefor” – is in response to the question – do I exist? The ability to ask the question subsumes there is an existent to ask it – proving the existence of the existent.

    The reversal you did EXPLAINS why it’s right – but to get there the original form of the question remains intact.

    Also – did you forget that even in the “Matrix” all the humans are still REAL??

    Perhaps you should watch it a 17th time?

  46. I stink, therefore I spam.

  47. “without belief in an afterlife murder does seem to lose its evilness (and so does the notion of evil).”

    Funny, I’ve always thought the opposite. Which is more of a crime, to relieve someone of their time on the mortal coil to roam around in their everlasting just rewards, or to snuff out the only chance at life a being has?

    I fail to see a reason to believe in an afterlife, and this makes me think it’s worse to take another life as what you are doing is permanent and irrevocable. That, to me, is evil.

  48. Is there a name for someone who doesn’t really believe in god, but is planning a deathbed repentance, just in case?

    Just wondering?

  49. Well Sandy I disagree with most of what you’ve said, but just returning from lunch it’s quicker to agree with this last bit:

    Murder without afterlife seems a greater moral crime than killing someone to send them to their cosmic just desserts (good or ill). Of course, similar thinking has been an implicit excuse for religious killings throughout history…

    I agree with what Daniel Dennett touched on (and others have eleborated on a great deal beforehand); that it is a far higher morality which derives from extratheological considerations. After all, “doing good” (whether by giving to the poor or not killing people) is hardly to be commended if the reason is fear of eternal consequences.

    There are those who see godlessness as an excuse to do evil, and those who see it as the highest mandate to good.

  50. “Is there a name for someone who doesn’t really believe in god, but is planning a deathbed repentance, just in case?”

    Yes. Hypocrite.

    Personally, I’m an atheist, but I’m rather dim.

  51. Pascal gambler? Just-in-catheist?

  52. “Is there a name for someone who doesn’t really believe in god, but is planning a deathbed repentance, just in case?”

    I think the preferred term is “Catholic” 😛

  53. I’m a lapsed Catholic. I believe:

    1) There is no God and

    2) Mary is His mother…

  54. “No other animal we are aware of right now takes it’s precepts (perceptiual stimuli recieved through it’s sense organs) and turns them into concepts ”

    Looks like someone is clueless. Not even worth my time.

  55. by his phrasing descartes is saying that thought creates existence which we both know is not true. existence would exist even if there were no entities to contemplate it.

  56. “by his phrasing descartes is saying that thought creates existence”

    First, that’s quite clearly not his argument in the 2nd meditation, and second, he never actually wrote “cogito ergo sum.” That was a sort of catchy sumamry of the argument that others used.

  57. Ugh. What a terrible name. I’m an atheist. When people ask me what religion I am, that’s my answer. It’s latin for “someone who doesn’t believe in a god”. Christ, what an arrogant term.

    I can see how it could work, however. Pretty soon nobody will comment on your atheism. They’ll just say, “what an smug SOB.”

  58. On atheism and civic responsibility:

    Personally I found at least one of Dennett’s arguments that rang a bell. In college, when I was a Christian, the prevailing attitude was that nothing much really mattered here on earth, because this is just a temporary prelude to the real thing – the afterlife (i.e., death).

    Atheism most definitely has encouraged me to take this planet, and everything on it, much more seriously. This is all we have – one shot to get it right. There are no second chances.

  59. So its OK for the religious to consider themselves morally & ethically superior (among other things) but it’s not OK for atheists to think that they are very clever ? That seems to be the concern underlying objections to the use of “bright” as shorthand.
    Huzzahs for Dennett and Dawkins.

  60. As others have noted, atheism does not (necessarily) entail a positive assertion that a god(s) does not exist. It can be — and is in my case — a mere lack of a belief in a god(s). I see no evidence for the existence of a personal, interventionist deity. Show me some, and I’ll reconsider my lack of belief. In the meantime, since most people seem to think atheists feast on slaughtered newborns for breakfast, I refer to myself as a “non-theist.”

    And for those who think it is somehow relevant that “godless communists” slaughtered people, aside from the fact that there is a great deal more to Stalinism/Maoism/Marxism than its atheism, the utility of a beleif does not demonstrate its truth. That applies to theism. Indeed, how very peculiar for those who would “believe” in the absence of evidence simply to bring about some temporal result.

  61. Atheists are ignorant schmucks who’ve never thought seriously about their own existence.

  62. I just re-read the article and what struck me again is his insistence that “Brights” believe in “natural” explanations rather than “supernatural” — natural meaning, of course, the sort of reductionist philosophy Dennett, Dawkins, and other biologists tend to believe in rather than the strange and mysterious universe the physicists are discovering. . .

  63. Dickie,

    Why don’t you elaborate on your point. I’m fairly certain you are wrong, but I’d like to hear you defend your assertion first.

    Not an atheist myself,

    Matthew Cromer

  64. I’m more godless than any of y’all and if someone calls me a “bright,” I’ll pound his ass.

    Beyond silly.

    The folks who started this seemed to have formed their social skills as elementary school hall monitors.

  65. It’s funny… The people most likely to have the habits of mind of a bright are those most likely to shun the label as insufferably twee.

  66. Philosophy really was a boring class in school, wasn’t it.

  67. Good point, SM. People will tell you about their close personal relationship with the creator of the universe, how he really cares for and loves them, and that anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe will be tormented by actual real-live demons. When you disagree they say, “How can you be so arrogant?”

  68. “As a libertarian atheist, I’m a little sensetive to the notion that being god-free was responsible for the crimes of Stalin et al.”

    As a liberal, dissenting Catholic, I’m a little sensitive to the notion that having a spiritual live was responsible for the Inquisition, Crusades, et al.

  69. I think the term “Bright” is entirely appropriate. It shows just exactly how a certain strain of athiest views anyone who sees reality differently (ie “Dim”). Dennet, Amy Alkon, and Dawkins all fit the bill completely. They are brilliant, anyone who believes something different is a fool or an imbecile, and that’s that!

    I’m a questioning person who ends up believing in something other than random particle soup, others might be questioning athiests — but the in-your-face god-bites athiests and hellfire and brimstone Xians deserve one another.

  70. Having read all the contributions on this site I have the following remarks to make.
    1. We clearly need a better name than ‘Bright’. I know that whatever name you suggest some will like it and others won’t. But let us at least not have a name which is only going to attract more disparagement than we already experience. The goal surely is to find respect not contempt?
    How about we all submit a name suggestion (please make serious suggestions only) and perhaps give an explanation of the derivation of the name.
    2. The arguments put so far for atheism being a more rational choice than either agnostism or theism seem to be stronger and no effective counter argument has been put to this on this site.
    3. Remember that there is more to the concept of what makes you a ‘bright’ than just godlessness. An important point is that we are an eclectic group with many differences. We are only linked by our shared lack of belief in any metaphysical/supernatural objects. We must embrace all views within that.

  71. An “Atheist” is one who denies the existence of God.
    One can deny the existance of God all he or she wants, but that doesn’t change the fact that their is a Creator God based on the fact of design alone. Next time you step into your automobile, ask yourself if this vehicle came about by some sort of cosmic explosion or by a Designer / Engineer.
    In reality the Atheist says: “no God for Me”. Rejecting God is accepting Satan and accepting Satan is choosing his abode.(Hell)

    The “Fool” says “no God”….King James Bible

  72. Dr A,

    all you have said is essentially that because all this stuff (the universe et al) must have come from somewhere then there has to be a creator.

    The Agnostic says that this may be the explanation or there are also other possible explanations such as that this is but one universe in an endless cycle of Universes going back forever with no need of a creator etc. The Agnostic is undecided about which explanation is accurate and will remain so until proof of one is found.

    The Atheist and the Agnostic see God not in emotive terms like the theist, but see God as a concept and as an attempt to explain existence. The Atheist has made a decision that the God concept or theory does not provide a good explanation at all. For instance, if God created the universe then what created God? In other words the problem of first cause is simply shifted back one step. Therefore nothing is solved by the God proposition. The atheist would also say that this is not a rejection of ‘God’ because the atheist does not objectify the concept of God, he does not think in terms of denial of a creator and deity because he doesn’t see things in those terms. He sees God as a concept or proposition put forward to try to explain existence. He has dispationately dismissed the concept as unsatisfactory in providing an explanation to existence. Equally he has not embraced Satan as he would also say that Satan does not exist. Satan is an object of theism and therefore part of the theistic attempt to explain existence. When an atheist rejects the theistic proposition he rejects all of it, he doesn’t say “I reject the God part but accept the Satan part”. Satan is used by fundamentalists to denounce non-believers and paint them as evil. This is intended to scare other believers into staying on the God path, it has no effect on unbelievers because they simply don’t believe in Satan or evil etc.

    Since you objectify God, you see Atheists as rejecting the object of God – ‘God the deity’ – you take this personally. You think that this is a conscious choice by a child of the creator to deny the truth and in doing so embrace evil. You need to understand that this is your reality. For an atheist all of that stuff – good, evil, gad, satan etc – are just the components of the theistic explanation.

    Unfortunately, you as a believer, will be unable to break away from your thought patterns and really understand this. You will be unable to allow yourself to think in these terms because you believe that by doing this you are denying God – even for just a minute. You cannot and will not examine things dispationately and objectively. The irony of it is that your will is therefore not really free. Even though Christianity says that God gave us free will he really said – “You are a free to choose but if you don’t chose what I want you to chose than you will rot in hell for eternity”. What kind of choice is that exactly?. That is not freedom. You have no freedom under that regime. The atheist at least has the freedom to weigh up alternatives without being threatened.

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