Bright is as Bright Does

by Kieran Healy on July 13, 2003

Via Kevin Drum and an Op-Ed piece by Daniel Dennett comes word of The Brights. A “Bright” is someone with a “naturalistic worldview … free of supernatural and mystical elements.” (E.g., consciousness.) You can meet them, learn about what it’s like to be them and even sign up. They have helpful tips on how to engage your Inner Bright (sorry, that sounds a little mystical). For instance:

bq. The most valuable contribution current Brights can make to the BrightS’ Movement is simply to “be the Brights they are” in their everyday interactions with others, keeping the most positive (Bright) shine they can on the endeavor.

This sounds like it’s being spoken by the bastard child of Buckminster Fuller and Norman Vincent Peale. It gets worse.

With the new noun, it’s rather easy to respond to queries as to your religion (“I am a Bright”) and also, as you may wish, to freely present yourself as a Bright in varied settings.

Scenario.  Suppose you are in a discussion with someone and the question of religion comes up. If someone inquires about your own religion, you can pop up with “Well, actually, I am a Bright.” The other person’s curiosity will probably take hold: “A Bright? What is that?”

If you ask me, the interaction is more likely to go like this:

Bright: Did you just ask me what my religion was?
Victim: No. I said “Do you have the correct time?”
Bright: Well, actually, I am a Bright.
Victim: You’re a pillock is what you are.

The Brights make excessive use of the word “meme” which also annoys me. But they are vaguely aware of some of the problems with their idea:

bq. A Hint.  For reasons we hope are obvious, we would in fact recommend to Brights a bit of caution when discussing worldviews to practice avoiding adjective uses that could be readily misconstrued as arrogance until such time as the term’s new meaning takes hold in mainstream society…20 years?

Never, mate. Nev. Ver.

Who is this reminding me of, anyway? There’s more:

bq. An Example.  Perhaps you’d like to think of the “constituency of Brights” as a community of fellow travelers in life. If so, then you will refer to us all together as a community.  How best to describe that community?  We suggest that, while “The Community of Brights” or “the Brights’ Community” are appropriate, “the Bright Community” is problematic.  In the last reference, “bright” is an adjective, and so it can have dual meaning.  The plural form helps to delineate the term as a noun.

I know. It’s the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. “You may join my organization, but first you must answer me these questions three.” It’s almost as bad as the dreaded Mensa, the organization for highly intelligent people who are nevertheless not quite intelligent enough not to belong to it. I imagine the next Mensa convention will be filled with people itching to say “I’m a Bright!” over a game of three-dimensional scrabble and a cup of Ovaltine.



Jeremy Osner 07.13.03 at 2:08 am

Well… Maybe this is the movement for me — my mom always said I was bright…


bryan 07.13.03 at 2:59 am

?You may join my organization, but first you must answer me these querstions three.?

Isn’t that the guy who watches the bridge in Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

Sorry, I don’t watch the simpsons.


Andrew Edwards 07.13.03 at 3:14 am

Aside from the comicbookguyness of this, about which you’re quite right, it bugs me that so-called ‘brights’ equate skepticism and atheism with a naturalistic worldview.

I’m an atheist more the way Nietzsche was an atheist than the way Stephen Jay Gould was an atheist. That means I’m not a ‘bright’.

It bugs me when people suggest that to eschew religion or belief in god is to eschew any idea of metaphysics or of spirit, or even of some specialness about human consciousness.

(I fall into the final category. I’ve met atheists who had a metaphysics, but I’m not among them. For me, though, the root of my atheism is not naturalism, but is precisely in my sense that there is something quite special about human self-definition, and human moral freedom. I find God incompatible with that specialness, so I find him contrary to my intuition.)


fontana labs 07.13.03 at 3:34 am

I knew it was only a matter of time until Dennett got both barrels in the face, and rightly so.

Irritating term aside, Danny D is onto at least a little something, no? I mean, it would be nice if a chunk of the electorate made faces every time someone said something stupid about God in a political context. Or if someone would stop Orrin Hatch mid-pontification and yell “fuck you, you baptize the dead and believe in the least plausible religion ever. Why should I listen to your pompous moralizing?”

Wow, typing that was really cathartic.


Brock Sides 07.13.03 at 4:12 am

Whatever happened to the perfectly good term “secular humanist”?

Oh well, at least “bright” isn’t as bad as Paul Kurtz’s unwieldy “eupraxophist”.


Dell Adams 07.13.03 at 4:33 am

Hmm – without consciousness, is there really something it’s like to be a Bright?


drapetomaniac 07.13.03 at 5:54 am

wow. just what atheism needs, a cheery, pop rebranding, complete with celeb ‘coming out’s and no doubt brightly colored t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Brights’.

can atheism successfully employ the strategies of cults? why not heathen or godless, reclaiming slurs seems to me much more enticing than mr.dennett’s option.


Dean Esmay 07.13.03 at 6:50 am

What’s wrong with the term “secular humanist” is that I am NOT a secular humanist. But I am a bright. And I don’t particularly care if people want to insult me for such a delightful and innocuous term. And no, I’m not a member of Mensa, thanks. ;-)

Secular humanists strike me as condescendingly arrogant people. They also believe things I don’t.

I view religion and religious people with a great deal of esteem and respect. I view religious values as highly important and useful. I view with suspicion people who try to construct massive moral views based on rejecting religion and religious tradition. I also admit that my worldview may be wrong, and too many atheists take their nonbelief to an extreme I’m not willing to take.

But I am a bright: I don’t really believe in the supernatural, don’t really believe much of what’s in the Bible or the Koran or the Book of Mormon. I just don’t. I fully admit I may be wrong. I fully admit that smart people disagree with me.

But I like having a non-limiting label. I will, therefore, not cease to use the term, no matter how many people bash me for it.

I think you guys need to get over yourselves. ;-)




sp dinsmoor 07.13.03 at 7:26 am

Wow! That editorial is awful. I couldn’t even read the entire article.

But, what I did read reminded me of a passage from E.M. Forster’s essay, “What I Believe.” The first sentence of Forster’s essay is, “I do not believe in Belief.”

I believe in aristocracy though – If that is the right word, and a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all nations and classes, and all through the ages, and there is a secret understanding between them when they meet. They represent the true human tradition, the one permanent victory of our queer race over cruelty and choas. Thousands of them perish in obscurity, a few are great names. They are sensitive to others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness, but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.

I would like to thank William Strunk for giving me the heads up. It is most likely that i would never have found this quote if it was not included as an example in “The Elements of Style.”


mitch 07.13.03 at 8:08 am

If you’re not a Bright, don’t worry! You may be … a BLIGHT!

What is a Blight? A Blight is someone who doubts everything – and I mean everything – including the rationalist nostrums of their age. A Blight is willing to use the glib rebranding techniques pioneered by marketing and positive thinking, but only ironically. A Blight is an unconstructive person who thinks the truth will set you all too free.

Discover your Inner Blight!


Jimmy Doyle 07.13.03 at 11:11 am

I’d like to suggest a couple of alternative terms that do a better job of honouring the movement’s founder, the Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford. How about ‘dicks’? Or ‘dorks’?


Scott Martens 07.13.03 at 11:36 am

Dean, I’ve long classified myself as a secular humanist, roughly since the day I stopped pretending that I actually believed in my parents’ religion. I am not trying to make fun of you, but I am genuinely curious in what way being a “bright” differs from being a secular humanist? What do they believe that you don’t?

So far, you’ve listed a lack of contempt for religion and a suspicion of those who construct quasi-religious systems without supernatural roots and then believe them to be infallible. The whole reason I started calling myself an agnostic and a secular humanist instead of atheist was because I agree with those things.

Like some of the other commenters here, I tend to bristle at the word “meme”, and adding a section on memes to their website tends to make me wonder if this isn’t going to be the Church of Daniel Dennett of Latter-Day Cognitive Scientists. But otherwise, I do see a couple of things worth objecting to:

1 – “A Bright’s ethics and actions are based on a naturalistic worldview.”

How about everybody’s ethics and worldview are firmly grounded in the categories, prejudices, preconceptions and ideologies that come from their historical context and the conditions of their existence? Does this fit into the Bright worldview?

2 – “A naturalistic worldview is absent any presumption of forces or entities beyond what can be observed/measured.”

You will find a great many people who quite firmly believe that they can and do personally observe the hand of God at work in the universe. By the same token, does a conspiracy theory worldview constitute a naturalistic worldview? Or a belief that aliens are really in control of our lives? Neither invokes supernatural forces and true believers claim to be able to observe the effects of the agencies they invoke. By getting into this territory, you don’t actually end up excluding many beliefs.


Maria 07.13.03 at 12:49 pm

Give a thought to Comte’s Positivist religion which took on the trappings of Catholicism (sacraments, rituals, priests and prayers) and forgot all the good bits; stories, snacks, and all the best songs.


Shai 07.13.03 at 1:16 pm

My problem with Dawkins (not Dennett?) is that he’s fanatically anti-religious, more so than most people are actually religious.

As for Dennett, he’s often described as Gilbert Ryle meets Scientific American — which he says is accurate enough. He’s an excellent writer, and anyone reading his newest book “Freedom Evolves” will know that, but it’s also clear that his enthusiasm for some themes (eg. memetics) exceeds anything scientific. Nearly everything he says in that book is uncontroversial of course –particularly the scientific facts because they seem to all come from mah Nature summaries before the real articles in Science, Nature, and, perhaps, some undergraduate cognitive psychology and neuroscience textbooks. But you don’t have to be religious to not be enthused with the Rylean spin in Dennetts work (I prefer Pinker myself).

We can have wonder without science worship — not necessarily anything religious (I’m not), but I still think there’s room for it despite what Dawkins and Dennett tend to believe.


Jesper Juul 07.14.03 at 1:30 am

From the comments here, I begin to wonder whether there is a basic incompatibility between science and contemporary “critical” theory: Science will tell you that there is nothing special about humans; we are not in any way the center of the universe. Contemporary theory’s emphasis on knowledge as being exclusively a product of specific historical circumstances often gets used in the sense that we _are_ the center of the universe.

OK, so I’m a Bright (even though it’s an terrible word).


Christian Waugh 07.14.03 at 5:22 am

I like the idea of the term “Bright,” but I totally disagree with the way DD is trying to throw it at us. A political tool for rights? For being heard? To what end?

We don’t need special rights. I like other things the name I think what might truly be positive: taking a brighter outlook on the world. It’s time to start making happy endings because we can make a difference. I fear that making a “special community” like DD outlines would marginalize us all…


Nick 07.14.03 at 5:35 am

“How best to describe that community?”

Isn’t it obvious? They’re the Bright Brigade!

Into the jaws of Death,
But not into the mouth of Hell,
Because it doesn’t exist,
Just like elves and the Easter Bunny,
Rode the six hundred.


dsquared 07.14.03 at 7:40 am

I have to say that I too have been waiting for a word to describe the kind of atheist that spends nine hours a day militantly denying the existence of a massive God-shaped hole in his worldview, and “bright” will suit just fine.


Guenevere Burke 07.14.03 at 10:52 am

I have just read Daniel Dennetts article in the New York Times, July 12, and beg to differ with his definition. I have yet to meet these numerous academics who are “brights”. Here, in South Africa, our academics are well versed in their own fields but are certainly not “inquisitive” of any thing else WHATEVER in the world. And, we are passionately, and I mean passionately, religious! Still, it is consoling that there are other people on the planet, and especially in the USA, with a sense of wonder and curiosity about it all.
Guenevere Burke, Department of Chemistry, University of Cape Town.


Identities: How Governed, Who Pays? (2001) 07.14.03 at 1:55 pm

Identities: How Governed, Who Pays? (2001)

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A. Coward 07.14.03 at 2:22 pm

Bright? too cute by half.

I guess I’ll be the one to mention Paul Fussell’s “Class X”, the ones who can whistle a Beethoven string quartet, among other things. I prefer to whistle art songs by Debussy myself. I hope that doesn’t disqualify me.

Anyway, there really can’t be too many of us “Class X”. For example, in New York City the only people who hear contemporary “classical” music are performers, composers or friends of the performers. This makes for some pretty small audiences.


bright but no friend of Dennet 07.14.03 at 2:45 pm

Dennet is full of it.

Evolution is obviously a valid theory and it should be taught, but that doesn’t mean that all metaphysical constructs are invalid.


Martin Wisse 07.14.03 at 3:02 pm


“Scientology for the 21st century”.


“Objectivists for the new millennium”.


Ruth feingold 07.14.03 at 3:39 pm

Well, I’m pretty appalled at the way religion (and, despite various superficial nods to inclusiveness, primarily Christianity) is inserted into the political life, discourse, and policy-making of this ostensibly secular country of mine. And I’m profoundly offended by the persistent equation of “godless” with “bad.” But the “Bright” op-ed piece embarrassed me. I don’t believe in God; that makes me an atheist. Rather than trying to disavow the word (remind anyone of “I’m not a feminist but…?”), why not work for a more positive and complex understanding of the perfectly good word we already have?


Matt Kaufman 07.14.03 at 4:27 pm

To call oneself a “bright” in the manner that Dennett has is the most self-serving and disingenuous title I can imagine. It’s marketing/positioning, pure and simple. To label yourself “bright” because you don’t believe in God, is to hint that those who do are “dim”. If Mr. Dennett wishes to be forthright about his disbelief, that is his right, but he should be forthright about it, call himself an atheist and be done with it.


G. Ready 07.14.03 at 4:36 pm

I find myself in the dark with the Bright movement. Like many respondents, I prefer “secular humanist.” Humanism has deep historical roots, and points to the simultaneous birth of modern science (with a significant nod to Bacon) and the early beginnings of European skepticism. However, we cannot forget about “agnosticism” and its historical context. Agnosticism was first used in a wonderful 1889 essay by scientist T.H. Huxley at the dawn of Darwinism. Mr Huxley’s skepticism strikes a nice balance when discussing the limitations of epistemology, Gnosticism and science. I find Mr Huxley’s reasons for creating agnosticism fair and judicious. Mr Dennett, on the other hand, leaves little room for skepticism of the scientific movement for prospective Brights. He assumes Brights are all equally materialists. Mr Huxley is cautiously wary about answers whereas Mr Dennett believes Bright’s have the answer. Mr Dennett is Dr Frankenstein reborn, emotionally wailing that he has finally got his objectivity under total control, that he has finally found the total answer – that Brights can finally save the total human race from everything that is all too human. Somehow, I don’t find Mr Dennett’s monstrous simplicity attractive.

Mr Dennett’s contention that a Bright has “a naturalistic worldview absent [of] any presumption of forces or entities beyond what can be observed/measured” is just as ridiculous. You see, measurement is a fickle thing. We cannot scientifically measure or observe love/justice/happiness but these entities drive the human story – they are more factual than one plus one, vitamin C, and a meme. A belief in love/justice/happiness is compatible with many secular humanists and agnostics, whereas for Mr Dennett’s Brights, these entities are electrons in the brain or piles of dung proving the existence of memes. Alas Danny boy, unmeasurable entities will always secure Religion a prominent place in human affairs until Science can sincerely legitimate love/justice/happiness, placing them at the centre of its project.


Pereger 07.14.03 at 5:00 pm

Richard Dawkins writes about “Brights” here:,12084,981412,00.html

Of course, if you don’t like the word “meme,” you may not like Dawkins, since he invented the term.

In other news, we have yet another person who obviously has no personal knowledge about Mensa, but still feels comfortable knocking it.

Three dimensional scrabble? One-liners like that are easy to make, but (of course?) have nothing to do with reality.

By the way, even if that’s all Mensans did all day, why would that bother anyone?


Roger 07.14.03 at 5:14 pm

Perhaps all this explains what I saw in Barnes & Noble yesterday.
Science section moved…
to an aisle containing astrology and new age. what’s up with that?


eric scoles 07.14.03 at 5:47 pm

I’ve been following this bright-business for a while, now, and there’s one thing I don’t understand:

What in the hell makes these people think that making a *noun* of it is an improvement?

I mean, let’s think about this: In what history and universe is it better to be:

“a gay” rather than “gay”

“a queer” rather than “queer”

“a brain” rather than “brainy”

“a green” rather than “green”

“a mic” rather than “irish”

“a punk” rather than “punk”


Margot 07.14.03 at 6:40 pm

Hey! For many of us it is not safe to admit we’re godless.

Where I live, smack dab in the middle of the USA, it could actually hurt my career to admit to my fully educated colleagues (in academia, really!) that my family simply DOESN’T DO XMAS. I’d be seen as Just Too Weird and Not To Be Trusted.

Silly, eh?


david ross 07.14.03 at 7:51 pm

In the Judeo-Christian tradition light is associated with God, his Angels, and even Man, when Sanctified by Grace. By contrast Satan, and his evil works and pomps are associated with Darkness; Lucifer, (“Light-bearer”)rebelled against God and was cast into darkness.
I think a better term for these God-rejectors would be “DARKS”, since “BRIGHTS” might create an unwarranted association with God, Whom they reject..


nicholas 07.14.03 at 9:35 pm

I agree that the word “bright” is not the best of words but remember Dennett did not define the term. I think it more important to address the content of the article:

Dennett wanted people to “come out of the closet” about their beliefs or lack thereof. There is nothing wrong with not believing in God, yet postings like Margot’s show that in some communities it isn’t considered acceptable. We should all act to change that. Consider what would happen today to a Presidential candidate who declared themselves an atheist/agnostic/bright? Isn’t the fact that that would be political suicide be cause for concern? Why are, if as Dennett states, the majority of scientists and intellectuals are so afraid to publicly state their skepticism?

If someone can come up with a better term then step forward. If you want to describe yourself as a secular humanist, fine do that but all of us out there the next time someone thanks God for the good weather speak up.


Zizka 07.14.03 at 10:07 pm

The metaphorical ramifications of this are tempting. Soon the 100-watt brights will be slagging on the 40-watt brights. The soft-light fluorescent brights will denigrate the uncool, police-interrogation-glare brights. The soft-candlelight brights will get all the girls. Lucretius will be compared to an oil lamp — a crude early attemot at brightness. I could go on. (You’re welcome).


PG 07.14.03 at 10:32 pm

As described by Dennett, brights seem to be a group for which I don’t qualify, despite my identifying as an agnostic. They are too certain.

If Dean wants to call himself a bright, that’s fine. He shouldn’t get het up over the rest of us finding the term silly, though.

For the record, I also find the term “assault weapon” to be stupid. All weapons are assault weapons. If they weren’t meant to assault someone, they wouldn’t be weapons.


Ophelia Benson 07.14.03 at 11:21 pm

I’m not very keen on ‘bright’ either. I don’t like euphemisms, and I especially don’t like cute ones. But secular humanist is not a synonym for atheist. I’m an atheist, and a secularist, but not a humanist. I don’t worship humans, for a start. They’re a tad flawed for that.


jerry 07.14.03 at 11:32 pm

I suppose a better word than “bright” might hsve been chosen. Nevertheless, Mr. Dennett’s piece brings to the fore that there are a lot of us who are not willing to remain subservient to the religious right. I say remove all mention of god (who does not exist) from our currency and the Pledge of Allegiance.


Justin Geist 07.15.03 at 2:54 am

There are some groups in which atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, “brights,” etc. exist in higher concentrations than in the population at large and may even consitute a majority. I think the higher percentage of persons with these views correllates directly with higher levels of education (and with the higher intelligence required to complete advanced degrees in academic or scientific fields.) You may find a majority among scientists (not to be confused with high school science teachers) because a devoted scientist spends so much of his time thinking in terms of mechanisms and processes and interactions that he tends to view everything with the same scrutiny–down to his own emotions and desires.

Among their collegues, such areligious people enjoy a level of tolerance that doesn’t exist in the world at large. The rest of us, unless we have an agenda, prefer to remain reticent. Although “freedom of religion” is touted as one of the great achievements of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., and religious folks make a big fuss about saying everyone is entitled to their individual beliefs, rarely is that same lip service paid to people who have no faith. In a society that is hostile to our views, it behooves us to avoid revealing ourselves in mixed company.

I dislike saying “I don’t go to church” when I mean “I am an athiest and am thouroughly anti-religious.” Nevertheless, I don’t need a role model, and I don’t need a catchy name for my views. Besides, the public advocacy and neologism smacks of New Age to me. My apologies to subscribers of the Utne Reader, but I think that kind of soft-headedness is bad thing, despite good intentions. Acheiving and maintaining a rationalist way of thinking is difficult. I don’t think Dennett and Dawkins are really helping our freethinking brethren. I find it actually helps to be assailed by religious sentiment on a regular basis; it hones my ability to recognize tainted patterns of thought and speach in myself.

Whatever. Maybe some mediocre biology major at Antioch College will work up the nerve to admit he’s not a believer. I don’t take much pride in that victory. Besides which, he’s going to look like an ass if he calls himself a “bright.” And the worst thing about identifying himself as a “bright” is that he will almost certainly be too stupid to know that he is reciting a creed when he responds to the question, “What’s a bright?”


Businesspundit 07.15.03 at 2:55 am

I joined MENSA last year and can tell you that they don’t sit around and drink ovaltine. They sit around and eat junk food and drink alcohol – and they practice was some of us call intellectual masturbation.

As for brights, well, I’d prefer to consider myself part of the Edge


david palmer 07.15.03 at 2:56 am

Science and all religions are factual structures based on belief systems. Science does a fair job of describing (but not explaining) material processes, but has no more authority than Christianity when it comes to explaining the universe. Either may be right, but are much more likely to be so inadequate as to be meaningless.

The idea that the ‘supernatural’ doesn’t exist because you can’t sense it is as intelligent as a blind person disputing the existence of the moon.

Mr Dawkins prosecutes his beliefs with what can only be described as religious zeal. The man has a religious nature, but for psychological and circumstantial reasons chose atheism as his religion, with Darwin his Jesus.

The ‘bright’ logo is no more daft than the certainty and supposed authority of logic with which atheists promote their beliefs.


Willie 07.15.03 at 3:10 am

“The bastard child of Buckminster Fuller and Norman Vincent Peale”
“Fanatically anti-religious”
“The kind of atheist that spends nine hours a day militantly denying the existence of a massive God-shaped hole in his worldview”
“Dennet is full of it”
“Scientology for the 21st century”
“Dr Frankenstein reborn”



yurbright 07.15.03 at 3:59 am

45 bright comments, what a small percentage.


John G 07.15.03 at 5:15 am

How can someone who is bright participate in this kind of language-mangling, so characteristic of conformist culture — whether dot-com or megachurch?


Richard Carlson 07.15.03 at 9:25 am

Rant on about the Brights, if you will. What flickers in this brain is concern about the Dims. Not only, clearly, are there more and more…but they’re hogging all the Juice!


Dr Ash 07.15.03 at 10:50 am

I’m a sort-of aetheist (too much a fallabilist to be more than sort-of anything, except a fallabilist, sort of), and the real problem with this “bright” thing is that it is completely DORKY.


Scott 07.15.03 at 3:16 pm

Pity these sad people. They wish to shed anything negative with the word atheist. They wish nothing more than for people to notice them in a positive way. They have major mental problems.


Charlie 07.15.03 at 4:46 pm

Hey, businesspundit, what freakified Mensa chapter do you belong to? I can’t say I’ve seen any of my fellow Mensans involved in what I’d call “intellectual masturbation;” that phenomenon usually confines itself to the professors’ lounges (and sometimes bathrooms). The junk-food-and-alcohol pattern you’ve identified is on the money, of course…

Forgive me if this “Bright” business sounds more than a little bit cultish to me. I think someone may have brought up the Scientology angle before (too lazy to scroll up, sorry); I have to say that the “Clear” hierarchy and jargon that permeates the “Church” of Scientology was the first thing that came to mind. Throw in a little of the precious, self-absorbed Jacobin worship of “Lady Reason” in the sorry aftermath of the French Rev, plus the intrusive presumption of proselytizing Jehovah’s Witnesses flocking to your door with enough pamphlets to fill the Library of Congress, and it sounds like you have the makings of a “Community of Brights.”


Janes_Kid 07.15.03 at 7:16 pm

The whole site is unkind to those of us who have visual problems.

The software and hardware people have made tools to enlarge the font but with some site this causes overlapping frames that make the enlarged fonts unreadable.

At there is a row of links down the right hand side of the screen that overlaps the text when the font is enlarged.


Jimmy Doyle 07.15.03 at 7:39 pm

Willie: Chill. Some proposals are so embarassingly smug, ignorant and self-serving that they require ridicule and not “commentary”, which would imply, misleadingly, that they deserve to be taken seriously. Dawkins’ suggested comandeering of the word ‘bright’ is one such proposal.


mojo 07.15.03 at 9:12 pm

“least plausible religion ever”, “fontana labs”? Not hardly. The Morons…er, Mormons…er, excuse me, the “Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints” isn’t the wierdest, least plausible, or even the stupidest religon on this poor benighted old planet. Not by a long shot.

But Orrin Hatch is a doofus, granted. It just doesn’t matter that he’s a Saint. He’d be a doofus anywhere, anytime. It’s his nature, not his religon.

That said, how about organizing a contest, “Brights” vs. “Clams”?

Something along the lines of the invasion of Guadalcanal…


Mike Huben 07.15.03 at 10:46 pm

The preceeding commenters just don’t get it. This is an umbrella term to be used to collect atheists, agnostics, humanists, objectivists (ugh), and an assortment of others who reject supernatural worldviews. It is a good idea for giving unified voice to a large but fragmented minority. Christians, for example, would be much less powerful if they were not unified by their self-identification as Christians before they begin to disagree on fine points of theology.

Organization nowadays requires this sort of public relations strategy. It’s about time somebody did it: the actual humanist organizations I’m familiar with are too incoherent to even find much new membership.


lightning 07.16.03 at 12:01 am

Pick a nice word with somewhat perjoritive antonyms (Dimbulbs? Darkies?), stick it on you and your friends. Now you can point at people who disagree with you and yell NEENER NEENER. Feels good.

In what is laughingly referred to as the Real World, this doesn’t work. People get offended when you dis their beliefs. Want a name? Pick something nice and neutral like “secular humanist”. (Note for a poster far above — “humanist” doesn’t mean “worshiping humans”. It means “people matter”.)

When dealing with theocrats, I’ve found it much more productive to play them off against each other. Frontal attack doesn’t work; there are more of them than there are of you.


abc 07.16.03 at 12:37 am

Ahhh scientism and vacuous rhetoric.


abc 07.16.03 at 12:38 am

Ahhh scientism and vacuous rhetoric.


soren 07.16.03 at 3:09 am

Thus spake Andrew Edwards:

For me, though, the root of my atheism is not naturalism, but is precisely in my sense that there is something quite special about human self-definition, and human moral freedom. I find God incompatible with that specialness, so I find him contrary to my intuition.

So, in other words, you reject the concept of God because it is offensive to your ego. ;-)


John Landon 07.16.03 at 3:37 am

Watching the Internet ripples on the ‘Brights’ after an Op Ed article by Dennett in the time leaves me wincing with embarassement. These poor people seem unaware of the meaning of stupidity. One mutters, don’t go this route. To espouse atheism is one thing, but to suggest that atheism is a sign of some special ‘brightness’ is the kind of balderdash Dawkins has been peddling for a bit too long, and it makes no historical sense. The sad thing is the way Darwinism has decreased social intelligence. That’s a scandal, and worse, nothing seems possible to stop it.


bob jernigan 07.16.03 at 1:55 pm

Being an atheist takes as much commitment as being a theist. I don’t think I’m smart enough to be either. As a bumper sticker said: “I don’t know and your don’t either, Militant Agnostic.”


Asian man on the wrong little island 07.16.03 at 8:21 pm

Are all Tufts professors espousing silly names for commonplace beliefs which, given their abundance, hardly need defense and special political pandering? Does a Gilbert Ryle-meets-Scientism conspiracy grip all of Tufts faculty? I really want to know, because I was thinking of going. Comments?


Ivy League and I believe 07.16.03 at 9:04 pm

St. Thomas Aquinas did the hard work of resolving theology and philosophy, putting the intellect to work on behalf of faith. Check it out!


Trapper John 07.16.03 at 9:10 pm

Gah! This reminds me of nothing so much as Andrew Sullivan’s continuing endeavor to convince people to use the term “eagle” to describe people who think like Andrew Sullivan.

I’m an unwashed heathen, meself.


Rodney Dill 07.17.03 at 1:17 am

The opposite of Bright is Brilliant
Here is the definition of a Brilliant(R)

A Brilliant is a person which is cognizant of both a naturalist and supernaturalist world view. We Brilliants embrace, in humility, the belief that there mysteries that man cannot fully comprehend. We disagree about many things, and hold a variety of views about morality, politics, and the meaning of life. Brilliants are not blinded by the arrogance of the type of intellectualism that only acknowledges the existence of things that are tangible to human senses.


Lloyd Reinhardt 07.17.03 at 6:43 am

Does this movement have participants or recruits in Australia? Australia is full of philosphers who are not shy of being called atheistic materialists (and nonphilosophers too) I am sure that support for ‘bright rights’ would be forthcoming here,
But those who would avow brightness don’t really get much eyebrow raising or frowning from religionists or establishmentarians. So not much urgency is likely to be felt about the matter.


Jim Wilson 07.17.03 at 4:59 pm

Not quite bright…

I think the word you’re searching for is intellectual. Since that particular word has been so sullied by the intellectual feudalism of the various socialist movements I can understand the desire to change the word. It would perhaps be best to come up with something less arrogant. Intellectual and Bright have the same connotation: we’re the smartest. I think Smarty would be better. It’s as cutesie as Bright but has a little bit of self-mockery to make it less presumptuous.
I am not a Bright or Intellectual myself, or even a Secular Humanist. I’m not nearly closed-minded and dogmatic enough.


tony somera 07.17.03 at 10:25 pm

For me the key question is not whether there’s a God (if there is one he’s abandoned us) it’s whether Nature contains the explanation for its own existence or not. I don’t think it does so I can’t rule out the metaphysics.


Tim Gorski 07.18.03 at 1:32 am

Unfortunately, people – even unbelievers – are tempted to believe in quick fixes for every problem. The problem for unbelievers is not one of having good labels. Those abound: atheist, agnostic, freethinker, unbeliever, nontheist, humanist, secular humanist, nullifidian, etc. If we want better PR it is not a new name (that can also be used to pillory us – “You’re really BLIGHTS” – “You’re saying that the rest of us are DIMS” etc) that we need. What is needed is a new approach, or, rather, wiser applications of old approaches. To get unbelievers to come out of the closet they must be given good reason to come out of the closet: communities of others like themselves, as opposed to exhortations from tenure-safe book-writing professors in ivory towers. See


Simon Bidwell 07.18.03 at 4:14 am

With their cloyingly cutesy concept of ‘brights’, Dennett/Dawkins et al appear to be making explicit what has long seemed implicit in their expoundings: they would like to make of their shared worldview an ideology or creed which can be set up in opposition to other ideologies or creeds.

In doing so they reveal themselves to be closer to their supposed opponents than they would care to acknowledge. As pointed out elsewhere in this discussion, the vehemence of Dennett’s/Dawkin’s opposition to religion, and promotion of their own ‘hard Darwinism’, itself appears to have religious overtones.

And surely, what is most regressive about religion, from an intellectual and a human standpoint, is not its commitment to the ‘supernatural’ (whatever that might be), but its dogmatism. The ‘bright’ movement’s expectation that followers will declare their adherence to a particular belief structure pushes it down this pathway, and contravenes the Enlightenment principle of intellectual openness; the acceptance of the revisability of even core belief principles.

Whereas atheism and its arguably subtler cousin agnosticism are effectively negatively defined positions, Dennett, Dawkins and Co. want people to sign up to something more aggressive. As mentioned by others here, this ‘naturalistic world view’ ends up being something so inclusive and mellifluous that it is basically meaningless, or involves a commitment to D&D’s own narrowly defined position: that everything is at least in principle reducible to interactions governed by Newtonian mechanics, as they impact on observable phenomena (a kind of quasi-positivism).

Dennett usually defends this position as being simply a pragmatic epistemology; when prodded on the issue it turns into something more like a dogmatic metaphysics.

Philosophical considerations aside, one wonders what the haranguing of all things religious is really about. From a British (read New Zealand or Australian) perspective, it’s almost incomprehensible why D&D would want to spend so much time attacking what seems to be a straw man. The differences in the American situation are noted, and it is indeed worrying that academic faculty in Missouri can’t admit to being atheists.

However, I find it hard to believe that fundamentalism is widespread among New England academes: it certainly isn’t in New Zealand universities, yet I’ve been to lectures by both Dennett and Dawkins in which they spent most of the time rubbishing Creationist theories. People were puzzled – the expression ‘preaching to the converted’ sprang to mind. I certainly see no record of the Leaders of the Brights down in the Deep South impassionedly trying to convince hellfire-raising preachers of the error of their ways…

Maybe it would be unkind to suggest that it adds up to an easily identifiable and quotable ‘brand’ issue that has a vague tinge of controversy and helps to sell more books…


Kirk Hughey 07.20.03 at 2:34 pm

As Dennett (with Dawkins and Marx, among many)demonstrates; humans cannot fail to create religions no matter how hard they strive toward the opposite. That of the “brights” is scientism, one that has proved as destructive as any in our past and even more hollow of meaning. Its god is the human, certainly the most ludicrously arrogant choice in our ill-starred history.


Lynne 07.20.03 at 10:13 pm

I like the concept of Bright, but I think it’s a bad name. As my poll shows (see url), most people find it offensive and I think that’s because it seems to imply that supernaturalists are somehow less “bright”. Although I like Humanist or Secular Humanist, I do agree with those who say it is not all inclusive because you can have a naturalistic outlook and still not accept the specific moral values that Humanists embrace. A good blanket term, and one that my poll shows is the most popular, is “Freethinker”. Yeah, in rare cases a supernaturalist might call themselves a freethinker, and even be a freethinker, but such people can be good political allies, esp. in regard to church-state separation issues.


metaph0r 07.23.03 at 2:43 am

Very well put:
1 – “A Bright’s ethics and actions are based on a naturalistic worldview.”
How about everybody’s ethics and worldview are firmly grounded in the categories, prejudices, preconceptions and ideologies that come from their historical context and the conditions of their existence? Does this fit into the Bright worldview?
2 – “A naturalistic worldview is absent any presumption of forces or entities beyond what can be observed/measured.”
You will find a great many people who quite firmly believe that they can and do personally observe the hand of God at work in the universe. By the same token, does a conspiracy theory worldview constitute a naturalistic worldview?

A lot of apt replies (criticism and support) in this thread!


ATON--TExas Tech University 08.06.03 at 7:38 pm

Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, July 24, 2003


A Collection of Ancient Folk Tales From Turkey Meets Modernity on the Internet

For more than four decades, researchers interested in folklore and oral history have trekked to Lubbock, Tex., to use one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of indigenous tales: the Uysal-Walker Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative at Texas Tech University. Now, through a digitization project,
librarians at the university are making their unique archive accessible to a broader audience on the Web.

Texas Tech came upon its sizable collection “by sheer luck,” according to H.B. Paksoy, an adjunct professor of history at the institution who heads the online project. In 1961, Warren Stanley Walker, a professor of English at Iowa’s Parson College, was teaching English in Turkey on a Fulbright grant. There he met Ahmet Edip Uysal, a professor of liberal arts at Ankara University.

The pair shared an interest in Turkey’s rich but largely unacknowledged history of folk narratives, and spent parts of several years journeying to small villages to document indigenous tales and traditions. When Walker returned to the States and took a position at Texas Tech, Uysal continued to send information collected from the field. The transcripts and recordings that Walker accumulated became the basis of the university’s collection. (Uysal died in 1997, Walker in 2002. Walker is survived by his wife, Barbara, who worked with the oral-narrative archive until this year.)

Online, the Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative makes available all of Walker and Uysal’s transcripts of Turkish epics, folk legends, and local stories. The Web site’s highlights include versions of the Dede Korkut, an oral history of Central Asia that survived for almost a thousand years before it was committed to paper in the 19th century. Samples of Uysal and Walker’s fieldwork include stories like “The Guessing Children” and “The Farmer and the Bear,” gathered from Turkey’s Konya province.

Such narratives shed light not just on Turkish life, but on the central role of folk tales in cultures throughout the world, according to Mr. Paksoy. “These would be of great interest to anyone investigating cross-cultural stories,” he says. “A great volume of what we have online applies to students of anything from Icelandic sagas to African narratives, because it provides a context and a sense of what themes develop across cultures and geographies.”

In addition to the transcripts, the site includes a growing number of multimedia elements. At present, Mr. Paksoy and his colleagues have digitized a small collection of images of modern-day Turkey, audio of indigenous-music performances, and many of Uysal and Walker’s recordings of epic tales as narrated by Turkish citizens. Mr. Paksoy says he is working on placing recordings of key narratives alongside the transcripts so that researchers can listen to a reading in a Turkish dialect while examining its translation.

Faculty members at a number of colleges offering courses in Turkish culture and linguistics — including Princeton and Indiana Universities and the University of Pennsylvania — have directed students to the site, Mr. Paksoy says. Erika H. Gilson, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, is one such professor. Ms. Gilson and other professors say that the site is a useful tool in part because it provides students of Turkish with valuable exposure to the language as it is spoken.

The Web site presents its information in a smorgasbord of languages. Most of the material is available in both Turkish and English, but many of the narratives are recorded in some of the many dialects — including Kazakh, Turkmen, and Uzbek — that appear in pockets throughout the nation. The site’s use of multiple languages has increased its appeal, Mr. Paksoy says, noting that the project has attracted a strong contingent of international users.

And Mr. Paksoy says that the archive’s home on the Web has made the narratives available to an audience that would never have traveled to Texas to use the originals. In the first three weeks of 2003, when the project made its debut online, some 10,000 documents were viewed or downloaded — more, according to Mr. Paksoy, than were read in the library’s previous 41 years. The original collection can still be seen only by appointment.

“This way we can reach the furthest corners of the earth without potential users’ having to travel,” he says.


Go Back to Uysal-Walker Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative
Uysal Walker Türk Öykürleri Sandığı’na Geri Dönüş

Copyright © 2002-2003. Southwest Collection / Special Collections Library
Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas


Pete 09.10.03 at 12:32 am

There could be some useful arguments going on here but we’re getting bogged down in semantics and emotions. What are the “Brights” trying to do? I believe they are trying to fix a problem

Religious groups have the benefit of their own organizational structures to project their viewpoints into the democracies in which they operate. Secular peoples (Agnostics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, Free Thinkers etc.) have little or no organized voice with which to project their views into a democracy.

Effect / Problem
Politics in the world’s wealthiest democracies is being monopolized by people who are overtly religious and social pressures are being applied to people who are secular.

Organize secular viewpoints into an umbrella group and establish political clout.

To me, that’s the entire Bright movement in a nutshell. Everything else in the movement is fluff. The people running the movement will certainly concede to that.

I must confess, on this topic I am about as mentally gymnastic as cat poo.
I would like to read you opinions concerning how the Brights should be moving forward more effectively. Any marketing gurus out there?



Brett Fife 10.02.03 at 1:08 pm

For what it’s worth (and coming from an anonymous post, let’s say not much) there is a bit of blindness evidences by most of the harsh critics of the Bright movement. I do a bit of research regarding extant worldviews, have for a while. When I stumble on something new (new to me, or ‘brand-new’ though don’t care fro the expression), it doesn’t make me afraid or spark a desire to condemn. Relax. If you insist on being blind, please don’t be afraid of that which you stumble over in the dark. This comment in no way addresses the visually impaired. Thanks.

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