August 02, 2003

Bright Wing Politics

Call it Atheist Pride. They are coming out of the closet and Richard Dawkins (who I've been painfully aware of since his Selfish Gene days) is unashamedly "bright"...a term he (seriously) appropriates (although suggested for this purpose by others) from the English language to obviate the past negative connotations of being godless. And of course, not unintentionally, this term relegates those benighted souls like me who slink around afflicted by the pathetic dark 'superstition' of Christianity onto the other side of this great divide: Theists of any stripe become The Dim. The Darks. The UnWise. The Marginalized Pre-scientific. Dawkins boasts...

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.
Geisert and Futrell are very insistent that their word is a noun and must not be an adjective. "I am bright" sounds arrogant. "I am a bright" sounds too unfamiliar to be arrogant: it is puzzling, enigmatic, tantalising. It invites the question, "What on earth is a bright?" And then you're away: "A bright is a person whose world view is free of supernatural and mystical elements. The ethics and actions of a bright are based on a naturalistic world view."

I tried living in their world. Examined as if the answers made all the difference, the data didn't fit. I decided that C. S. Lewis was correct when he said "What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience". These brilliant scientists have their own conceptual blind spots and bring their presuppositions with them when they ask the Big Questions. I believe these hyper-rational bright people have wrongly excluded from Nature the very Truth necessary to know it and ourselves. They are right about a lot of things that can be known by physics and mathematics, and their conclusions may be correct if there is no thing outside the closed universe of matter; if they are wrong, they will some day be shocked to find it out.

For what a man had rather were true, he more readily believes.
- Francis Bacon

Posted by fred1st at August 2, 2003 07:17 AM | TrackBack

Leaving aside the question of whether their opinions are correct or not, they are definitely a group whose image is in need of a public relations makeover. Unfortunately "bright" was a poor choice it seems to me.

Posted by: bill hopkins at August 2, 2003 06:11 PM

The choice of nomenclature was my point, but the arrogance of Dawkins and his ilk is no less disgusting to me than the fundamentalist rigidity that gets so much negative press but this self-blindness is overlooked when coming from the "smart" side. I was compelled to avoid my usual resistance to opine.

Posted by: fredf at August 3, 2003 06:58 AM

Anytime opinions are strongly held, we risk being blind to our own errors or stiff-neckedness. Many years ago, a minister friend invited me to attend services at his church. When I reminded him that I was an unbeliever he said, "That's all right. We don't discriminate!" We both had a good laugh. Most, but not all, of my friends are believers in one or another theology (not all are monotheists, though) and we seem to be able to get along. That's the great thing about America. Not only do we not "have" to believe, but we don't need to pretend. Holier-than-thou's/smarter-than-thou's are a bit irritating, be they believers or unbelievers. Thanks for letting me know what a "bright" is supposed to be. I'd heard the term but had no clue of its connotation.

Posted by: Cop Car at August 3, 2003 01:39 PM

My problem with the atheist solution is much like yours, except that I base mine in scientific method as did Stephen Jay Gould when he was alive and Michael Shermer. Namely that the whole matter of God is unprovable one way or the other. Science depends on the senses. Atheists jump to the conclusion that the senses can detect anything, despite the overwhelming evidence that there are species with fewer senses than ours which might have problems detecting ~us~. Inherent in this view is the idea that we are the end of evolution when evolution is continuing to happen. It could be that we lack the senses to settle the Ultimate Question.

When you reflect on these blind spots, you do start to see a lot of resemblances between atheists and fundamentalists. I am most comfortable with agnostics and with people who persist in being religious despite doubts. Doubts are a healthy thing, IMHO. This is what Dawkins and Falwell both lack on the whole God issue.

Posted by: Joel at August 3, 2003 04:09 PM

I've known a few "bright" people. They seldom impressed me as very "bright." At the heart of atheists public relations problem is their insufferable intellectual arrogance. Almost invariably, they speak and write with more dogmatism than the worst fundamentalists.

So I guess, by Dawkins' distinction, Michael Faraday was a Dim. So were Newton, Kelvin, Galileo and Copernicus. Yes, we all know that religious belief limits your ability to do good science.

I guess one day I'll get around to reading "The Selfish Gene," but this sort of claptrap makes me wonder why I should bother. Perhaps his naturalistic conclusions are driven as much by an atheistic agenda as by any valid scientific evidence.

And thank you for bringing in Lewis...he has been such a wonderful bulwark against these kinds of fallacies, ever since you first introduced me to him via "Miracles."

Posted by: Curt at August 4, 2003 10:21 AM

Lewis's "Miracles", while not being a 'popular' book, for me was central in pointing out the differences between Nature and super-Nature, placing God either as the Prexisting Cause of nature or else, a creation of and contained by the bounds of the material world. There is no middle ground, and the 'brights' cannot know (in the usual measures by which they typically demand us to use this word) beyond "The Beginning", even if they can bring vast assumptions to the argument, and then build worlds upon them.

Posted by: fredf at August 4, 2003 10:32 AM

Whole worlds have been built upon religion, too, fred. Just look at the Creationists who would rather lie about the facts than admit that perhaps the Bible is only a human document, perhaps in parts a testament to encounters with the divine.

A God is supposed to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. How are we mere humans supposed to understand an existence like that? How dare we pretend to know its intentions? I think the best line I ever heard about God came from the movie "Bless the Child": "It's there and It don't care if you believe in it or not."

Posted by: Joel at August 5, 2003 02:55 AM

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