Critical Section

Are You a Bright?

Wednesday,  09/10/03  10:20 PM

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

Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are brights.  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 a 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 a 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.


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