Blackford: New Atheists didn’t coin “brights”

May 30, 2011 • 7:09 am

I suspect that, like me, most readers don’t like the term “bright” when it’s used to refer to atheists, humanists, or naturalists (naturalists, that is, of the Grayling rather than the biological variety).  I’m not sure that we need any new epithet, but even if we do, “bright” is simply the wrong one.  Regardless of why it was coined, it simply smacks of arrogance, of we’re-smarter-than-you-are.

Everyone thinks that the term was coined by Dan Dennett, but in a post last week at Metamagician, Brother Blackford shows that this ain’t so, nor was it meant to have supercilious implications:

The term “bright” was first employed by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell when they launched the “Brights movement” early in 2003. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, it was actually thought up by Geisert the previous year. Be that as it may, the idea was to find a positive-sounding word for people who have a naturalistic worldview, analogous to the word “gay” for homosexuals. It is supposed to be a word with uplifting connotations, as with cheerfulness and bright colors … and thus much like “gay”.
Hence the word is supposed to be a positive label for a class of people whom Geisert and Myngell saw as despised. Geisert and Futrell have maintained that the main basis for selecting the word is its association of philosophical naturalism with the Enlightenment.
The faithful and their running dogs delight in making fun of  the term “brights” to prove the arrogance of atheists like Dawkins and Dennett, but let us not have any more accusations that those folks invented it.  Nor is it used much these days,  certainly not by any of the Four Horsemen.  I haven’t heard it in months.  The concentration on the term “brights”, of course, is just another way to avoid the substantive arguments of the Gnus.

105 thoughts on “Blackford: New Atheists didn’t coin “brights”

  1. Michael Shermer wrote an autopsy of the Bright label in his book “Science Friction.” The intentions were good, but it just doesn’t have the traction other terms like “atheist” or “humanist” have gained. You can’t force a meme, I guess. But I know some tweeps who are still using it.

  2. For an unrelated reason I saw Tom Flynn’s article in Free Inquiry from 2004 when the term ‘Brights’ was first being circulated. Here is what he wrote then in his article ‘Turnding Down the Brights’:

    If you need proof that the secular humanist and (for lack of a better term) religious humanist communities have taken separate paths, consider Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell’s proposal that humane nonreligious people call themselves “Brights.” In their guest editorial (see p. 20) they report that their idea is enjoying broad acceptance. There’s no reason to doubt them, especially since America’s largest (again, for lack of a better term) religious humanist organization has launched its own Brights-based project.

    It’s equally clear that the proposal left most Free Inquiry readers cold. We gave it every chance for acceptance, running the seminal “invitations to enBrightenment” by biologist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Daniel C. Dennett in our October/November 2003 issue. A proposal can scarcely wish more distinguished advocates, and so I was astonished at the one-sidedly negative reader response. We received formal letters to the editor as well as a great deal of less formal e-mail, phone, and personal feedback. No one wrote or spoke in favor of the proposal. Objections varied; some readers simply thought there was no need for a new label. Most expressed misgivings that, despite proponents’ best efforts, calling ourselves “Brights” would inevitably come off as the nonreligious claiming to be smarter than everybody else.

    Complete article can be found here:

  3. I think Dawkins does push the term in the God delusion.
    And I never heard it from anyone else than Dawkins, I thought it was his invention.

    1. I thought so, too… but before I read TGD. Must’ve been some Youtube clips made around 2003-4.

      Glad to have that cleared up.

  4. I’ve never heard anyone go after the term ‘Brights’, though it is fodder for attack. What I’ve heard getting made fun of lately is the term “Freethinker”. Apparently it’s taken as being arrogant. I’ve explained the meaning once or twice.

      1. those who think we are arrogant a priori.


        the people who you will find criticizing the word “bright” will also be using the epithet “ivory tower” when referring to those working in academia.

        all it is is an extension of the argument from, by, and for, ignorance.

      2. Right. But the Jews can call themselves “God’s own chosen people” and nobody bats an eyelash. Go figure.

  5. I’ve never cared for the “bright” epithet. It’s worse than going up to people and bragging about your MENSA membership.

    Never did exactly get the point of MENSA, either….

    Anyway, I find myself increasingly using the term, “rationalist.” It might not be sexy, but it’s accurate and it cuts right to the heart of the reason / faith divide.



    1. I was a MENSA member for a year… maybe two in the mid-90s. My rationale was to use it as a connection to their various “SIGs” to get group discounts on dive trips, river rafting – that kind of thing. The testing for it (esp the math part) was revoltingly easy – opened my eyes a bit to the low bar that many could use to give themselves a pat on the back. It turned out there were very few people in our local chapter that I could actually stand as human beings. The ones who were actually really cool people tended to be the outcasts, among a cliquish group of outcasts. I couldn’t stand the group dynamics and never renewed. Perhaps it saved my life… I could have been having an out of air emergency with a puzzle-loving dive buddy thinking I was playing charades.

      1. I had two problems with Mensa:
        1) the tests just found people who were good at solving puzzles with paper and pencil. So playing puzzle games was really the only thing we had in common.
        2) Being a Mensan was no guarantee of wisdom, or insight
        2a) but many of them thought it was.
        3) A fair few Mensans are just BORING.

        1. TWO problems? You *were* a Mensan! 😉

          The couple that ran the local chapter thought there was no population problem, whatsoever. Their rationale consisted solely of the fact that you could fit every human being on the planet into Tampa FL if you gave everyone a square meter to stand in.

          That was typical of the kind of discourse going on. Of course, your mileage may vary.

    2. Hmmm–interesting to know that. Thanks. I’d always kind of wondered about that, in fact (“what, exactly, do Mensans… *do*?”). Now I know. I think I’ll just hang out here at WEIT instead– much more interesting people! 🙂

      1. What do they do? Sit around and preen themselves on how intelligent and superior they are, from what I can work out! The thought that one might want to USE one’s intelligence instead of just having it doesn’t seem to cross their minds…

  6. It’s an idiotic term, and whatever the motivation it comes off sounding smug.

    That said, I haven’t heard it seriously used in years. Which is a good thing.

  7. Yes, the Brights campaign was indeed invented, not by Dan Dennett and not by me, but by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, and they continue to run it on I think all the carping and dumping on them is rather unpleasant. One can register a preference against something, without entering into a feeding frenzy of attack against it.

    There seem to be two main objections:

    1. Some feel that we don’t need a euphemism, but should just openly call ourselves atheists. That’s OK by me personally, but I understand why others might prefer not to use the a-word, for example because they don’t want to hurt their family. How could one not sympathise with that?

    2. Some complain that the word ‘bright’ is ‘arrogant’ because it suggests that religious people are dim. The possibility that many religious people really ARE dim can be set on one side, because Geisert and Futrell made it clear from the start that their word is a noun, not an adjective. Mynga Futrell is “a bright” (noun), whether or not she is also bright (adjective). In this respect the brights campaign is more modest than the gays campaign, because ‘gay’ in the sense of homosexual is used as an adjective as well as a noun.

    Dan Dennett has made the constructive suggestion that the opposite of ‘a bright’ should be not ‘a dim’ but ‘a super’ (short for supernaturalist). Surely no supernaturalist should be offended at being called a ‘super’?

    I recognise that the baying chorus of bigotry against the brights campaign has reached a level where the word is now unlikely to take off in the way that ‘gay’ did, but I am not particularly delighted by that. It is not entirely clear to me why the campaign to hijack the word ‘gay’ succeeded where the campaign to hijack the word ‘bright’ should fail. They are really very parallel, and neither campaign deserves vilification.


    1. Richard,

      I think the reason “gay” took off and “brights” did not rests entirely with the connotations of arrogance and superciliousness that attach to the latter. “Gay” may suggest “happiness,” but it doesn’t have an air of superiority about it. I, for one, would have strong reservations about calling myself a “bright,” just because I know how other people would interpret that word.

      1. Why couldn’t one make the exact parallel point with respect to ‘gay’. Arrogant and supercilious to suggest that heterosexuals are drab, dull, gloomy, colourless (whatever are the antonyms of gay in its earlier sense)?

        1. Well, my dictionary gives the synonyms for “gay” as “lighthearted” and “carefree.” I suppose the opposite of those would be “serious” or “has gravitas,” which don’t seem nearly as pejorative as “dumb”!

          1. The following is the complete list of antonyms for ‘gay’ given by the Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary: miserable, sad, unhappy, blue, dejected, bleak, gloomy, forlorn, sombre, woebegone, wretched, mournful, dismal, dreary, dull, colourless, dingy, drab, gloomy, lacklustre.

            In any case, you haven’t answered my point that Geisert and Futrell insist that their ‘bright’ is a noun, not an adjective. Nouns don’t have opposites, so those who are not ‘brights’ have nothing to feel insulted about (not that I’d mind insulting them anyway).


            1. It doesn’t matter what the term is intended to convey, what matters is its wider interpretation. Those who are not “brights” will inevitably understand the term to be an implicit slur against them (and many atheists like me will see it as implicitly smug).

              1. And why doesn’t the same apply to ‘gay’? Why didn’t it, rather, because the ‘homosexual’ meaning is now well understood, and might indeed now be the wider interpretation. But there was a time when one could have made the exactly parallel point to the one you are making.

                In any case, object to it as you may, it seems to me hard to justify strongly contemptuous words like ‘idiotic’. In the early days of the metamorphosis of ‘gay’, would you have described it as ‘idiotic’?

              2. Richard, the term “gay” evolved naturally in the culture, and had long been applied to sexuality (usually in the sense of “loose morals”), so there is a sense of reclamation. By contrast, “bright” was imposed without any pre-existing cultural meaning in that context.

              3. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to dictate language by fiat.

                As someone says below, “gay” evolved, naturally, in common English. It gradually moved from a euphemism to a concrete label. Maybe the euphemism was co-opted by those euphemised on to make a point. Not sure the exact history.

                “Bright” was sprung upon us- and it quite naturally carried the connotations of its common usage. That’s just how language works. They should have consulted a linguist- they would have been told the idea was doomed to fail.

                You can scream BUT IT DOESN’T MEAN THAT as much as you want… people’s brains make the semantic connection before you get to the second word.

                Very different cases.

              4. Completely OT, but what you and Abbie have just observed is precisely why I maintain that tonality is a comprehensible and meaningful musical language, while dodecaphony, and serialism in general, are not.

                OK. Re-commence pertinent commentary.

            2. Richard,

              It’s just my opinion that when someone says they’re “gay,” it isn’t perceived as an insult to heterosexuals, while someone who says she’s a “bright” can readily arouse antipathy in religious people just by using the word (granted, religious people often have antennae keenly attuned to “insults”). And I don’t think it’s relevant that “bright” is a noun. If you say to someone “I’m a bright,” they’ll often just hear the adjectival meaning!

              I think that this is simply the way it is, regardless of what Geisert and Fuller intended. This is one case in which we do have to think about the political consequences of what we say.

              1. I really like the term bright. To me it reflects the idea of emitting light or shining a light, rather than being smarter than other people. Like many others I don’t like the term atheist (although I use it out of solidarity) because I don’t like having to identify myself as not believing in something that doesn’t exist. I don’t like the term humanist because it implies a concern primarily with human welfare rather than the welfare of all animals (and because humans are appalling as often as they are “humane”). I wish that “Brights” had taken off.

              2. According to the OED the modern use of gay to mean homosexual dates from at least 1922; there was originally a good deal of resistance to the word in what we now call the gay Movement: the perception was that it derived from the use OED gives as: Originally of persons and later also more widely: dedicated to social pleasures; dissolute, promiscuous; frivolous, hedonistic. Also (esp. in to go gay ): uninhibited; wild, crazy; flamboyant. Cf. Gay Nineties n. at Special uses 2a. Now rare.
                It certainly isn’t an insult now, but originally almost certainly was. Compare the way ‘Queer’ is used now – you have to be queer to get away with it.

              3. AFAIK, the word gay = homosexual derives from its use in Polari, and dates from when homosexuality in Britain was severely criminalized. It was a coded way of identifying fellow homosexuals without drawing the attention of the authorities. It was only later picked up by outsiders and used pejoratively. You can see the transitional ingroup/outgroup use in the famous scene in “Bringing Up Baby,” where Cary Grant’s character, dressed in a negligee, explains to his future mother-in-law that “I’ve suddenly come over all gay!”

            3. While I agree with your views concerning the “Brights”, as a linguist I have to disagree with your assertion that “nouns don’t have opposites”. That is not true. There are many nouns that have opposites, semantically speaking. They are often indicated by certain prefixes like un- or non-.

            4. ‘London’s a little too gay for us, London’s a little too gay’ – a Canadian (American?)officer in the flat of Doris and Dusty, two girls who to use an ancient euphemism are no better than they should be, in T.S. Eliot’s ‘Sweeney Agonistes’, which is set shortly after the First World War and was published in the early Twenties, that era of ‘flappers’ and ‘bright young things’. I am quoting from memory, not having the poem to hand, so I may have got the line wrong. As somebody else points out ‘gay’ has a long history of referring to sexual excess, outrageous behaviour, outrageous parties, fun, fun, fun, etc., and it was taken up very much on order to throw a ‘shocking’ life-style in the collective face of the heterosexual prudery. Its antonym in this meaning might be ‘sober’, ‘strait-laced’, ‘prudish’, ‘prune-faced’ or ‘puritanical’.

              And, honestly, the noun ‘bright’ does sound as if one is throwing other people’s stupidity in their faces. One can’t treat words as though they don’t come with sets of connotations that can be ignored if one believes one doesn’t intend them.

              And since we are on the subject of poetry, did you know, Professor Dawkins, that you make an appearance in the ‘Clavics’, the latest volume of poetry by the newly-elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford, Geoffrey Hill, who in his photographic portraits has come to look more and more like some dour and very un-gay prince of the Church from a painting by Holbein? Page 41. He doesn’t seem to like you very much! And I’m not sure that I like his recent poetry very much.

        2. My understanding is that the term “gay” had already been applied to homosexuals as a negative slur: it was thus proudly co-opted in the spirit of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The term “Bright” was instead deliberately crafted for public relations. It went over like a lead balloon among most atheists and theists.

          The best comparison I heard was that re-labeling atheists as Brights to get around the negative associations with the term “atheist” was like deciding to change stereotypes about the Irish by calling them “Lushes” — you know, for the lush green fields of Ireland. The Enlightenment reference had to be explained: without it, the stereotype only seemed confirmed. Atheists think they’re sooooo damn smart.

          The funny thing is that I think Paul and Mynga Futrell are about as opposite to arrogant as you’ll find within organized atheism. Even those who disagree with them like them; it’s probably impossible not to. The Brights Network is a cheerful, happy place of positive values. If anything, some of their rhetoric smacks of accomodationism — let’s leave off criticizing religion and work with the moderate religious folks on the things we all have in common. Mynga even gave a speech on that topic at an AAI conference once.

          I was also there at the AAI convention in Tampa 2003 when Paul and Mynga introduced the term with a lot of sparkling good will and much cautionary buildup about not picking it to death lest we never get anywhere. I was nevertheless skeptical, and didn’t sign the pass-around sheet alleging that yes, I too was a Bright. I sat behind Prof. Dawkins and noticed that he signed. When I questioned him about it afterwards and mentioned some of my reservations, he replied that he was really interested in seeing whether or not the atheist movement could successfully spread a new meme to the wider culture. At least, that is how I remember it. He may have said more, which I’ve since forgotten.

          1. “I sat behind Prof. Dawkins and noticed that he signed. When I questioned him about it afterwards and mentioned some of my reservations, he replied that he was really interested in seeing whether or not the atheist movement could successfully spread a new meme to the wider culture. At least, that is how I remember it.”

            Yes, you remember correctly. That is exactly how I felt about it. My 2003 Guardian article about the launch of the brights can be found here:

          2. I think it was worthwhile to try to establish a positive term for “unbelievers” or “atheists” that was not just a negation of religion. It’s a bit silly to get the god-talk dominate the discussion so much that we even define ourselves in terms of non-religion.

            The word “Bright” didn’t click for me, and I immediately think that it implied that religious people were a bit “dim”, but I like the general idea.

        3. I think there are two significant differences between “bright” and “gay.”

          The use of “gay” to refer to homosexuality evolved organically over a period of at least decades, and, with regards to sexuality, always carried something of a negative connotation — even when the sexuality in question was heteronormative.

          On the other hand, the use of “bright” as a synonym for “irreligious” is intentionally manufactured, and there aren’t any downsides to being bright.

          Also compare “nerd” and even “nigger.” Both were used as insults before those being insulted took them back and claimed them with pride for their own use…though, if you yourself are neither a nerd nor a nigger, you better be damned careful about your use of the terms.

          The most comparable term for us unbelievers would probably be “heathen.” It’s long been used at a pejorative, but many are now claiming the term with pride. Perhaps some other similar term, such as “apostate,” might have more impact…but these things can’t be forced.

          As I wrote above, I’m personally fond of “rationalist.”



          1. I have a shirt I bought a long time ago from the Freedom From Religion Foundation: it says “Infidel.” I particularly enjoyed wearing it after 9-11.

          2. I like heathen. I would be uncomfortable calling myself a rationalist since I am so frequently irrational about everything except religion.

            1. I think, in a perverted kind of way, irrationalism can still be rational so long as one is conscious and accepting of the irrationality of it.

              That is, Hitch knew and knows full well that boozing and smoking aren’t rational behaviors to engage in and yet proceeded to indulge in them regardless. One can still call that a rationalist approach, as opposed to the smoker who doesn’t quite because she thinks she’s immune to lung cancer or the alcoholic who doesn’t think he’s got a drinking problem.

              For me, rationalism comes down to a matter of whether you prefer your self-delusion to be a conscious or an unconscious act.



            1. I just like plain ol’ Atheist, with a Gnu on the front if you want to be cheeky.

              The main complaint I hear with “Atheist” is that it’s defined by a negative. And yeah, that’s the etymology, a-theism. But words aren’t defined by their strict etymology, and there’s no reason Atheist can’t be more than a synonym for “not theist”. (I think the theist/atheist dichotomy is a limited anyway, as of course we have religions like Buddhism, which are technically atheistic.)

              I mean, we still have “non-theist” for technical usage. Nothing is lost with broadening Atheism to be a label of self-identification.

              As long as it happens naturally.

          3. Ben:

            I’m personally fond of “rationalist.”

            So, you’re saying that religious people are irrational? (Actually, I’m OK with that.)

            Seriously, I’ve had religious friends voice exactly that objection to “rationalist” — and my reply was that yes, your religious beliefs are irrational, even if you’re fairly reasonable about other subjects.

            The objection usually comes with an assertion that atheists/naturalists have “faith” in science.

        4. Yet the antonym of “gay” is “straight” (or as I prefer to spell it, strait, which means narrow. You ex-christians will know “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life”) and “bent” as the opposite of straight is known (as in the play) but hardly used.

          1. A strait is narrow, navigable body of water connecting two larger bodies of water. I’m confused enough will netspeak, lolspeak and god knows what else without this wanton rapine of the English language!!

          2. Regarding polari (mentioned above) where I come from the Polari for gay is ‘omipolone’, and it’s antonym is ‘naff’ (not available for fucking). Ironically naff has become general slang for tacky or worthless.

    2. The problem with the word “brights” is that it’s cringe-worthy. Alas, the culture decided this, and even if the original authors intended its use as a noun rather than an adjective, the authors have lost control of the way the culture uses it.

      Rather than think about “bright” in synonymous terms, think of gay vs. bright in antonymous terms. The opposite of “bright” is “dull”. The opposite of “gay” is “sad”. If someone accuses me of being sad, that is unlikely to hurt my feelings, but accusing me of being “dull” (even if true) might.

      The kindest thing we can do for the term is bury it in the back yard.

    3. I may remember this wrong, but I think the word “gay” was in widespread use (often as a pejorative) already before the homosexuals decided to take it to heart. As such I think we can learn from this and promote the word “atheist” more since this also has negative connotations. We should simply call ourselves atheists and be proud about it without making any excuses.

      1. My thoughts exactly — I gaily call myself an atheist, and if that makes people uncomfortable, I hope it also makes them think about why it makes them uncomfortable.

        I’m reclaiming “atheist” as a positive attribute. A “non-bullshitist”. A “grounded-in-realityist”.

        “Gay” is a little too vague for me. It must often mean “homosexual men“, or else why do we sometimes say “gays and lesbians”? So if someone refers to “equal rights for gays”, doesn’t that imply different rights for lesbians?

        I prefer to try to include everybody when I mean everybody. So for example, instead of a debate about adopting “gay marriage”, let’s talk about having “marriage equality”.

    4. I think this highlights a problem with the “meme” conception, which seems to me not to integrate so well into modern theories of linguistic mechanics. The word “meme” itself has been undergoing adoption and change through use and agreement — to the point where I don’t see any difference between this word and the word “idea”.

      One could, I suppose, say this is an example of mutation… and that resulting successful memes get selected by the environment of use, or something like that… but for me (and especially my linguist S.O.) the metaphor doesn’t really apply so well. The core of the problem for us is that innovations in language (language change) doesn’t translate so well into conceptions of information transmission from brain to brain. (or computer to computer – or organism to organism). The dynamics are really not terribly similar to transmission of genetic information or how one would set up a phone network, or a series of signal relays of any type, for example. That we have a successful metaphor for this — “telephone tag” — doesn’t help matters for the linguists I know.

      Adoption of new terms (and new ways of using old ones) seems to be a much messier process than point-to-point inoculation of the heads that hold them… and I’m afraid that goes for religious ideologies as well. What makes things take off is when groups use and reuse (and reuse) certain ideas in context. It is a process of negotiating meaning through use, within groups, that seems to be required to breathe life into new words/ideas.

      I’m a social network scientist, accustomed to modeling communicable disease transmission, so I’ve appropriated much of the methods of signal theory to get the job done (using information centrality, or distance-based measures). All that I knew had to change to accommodate my first linguistic study. Instead of focusing on transmission dynamics, I had to force myself to work more with measures of subgroup detection (k-plexes, n-cliques).

      Now for the “meme” concept to work for me, it has to be like some kind of glowing ball that gets its specific colors from the way its myriad handlers massage it (and attempt to prevent upstarts from stroking it “incorrectly”), while they stumble about, trying not to drop it while it still has some use in it. Thank goodness we don’t have to do any such thing to propagate our genes.

    5. “One can register a preference against something, without entering into a feeding frenzy of attack against it.”

      Stated without a hint of irony. Wow. I suspect that a number of religionists might direct this precise comment back to you.

      1. You suspect correctly. There’s a difference, though. The religionists tend to be the ones without a solid leg to stand on.

  8. building octads
    eight fits at once must mean a fight
    eight bits combined comprise a byte
    eight shits together make a shite
    eight brits join up to form a bright
    — cuttlefake

  9. A meme hangs or it doesn’t.

    In this case, ‘brights’ didn’t hang. End of story. And being ambivalent about its usefulness, it was not a sad case for me to simply let it go.
    But I do think there is merit in noting to the religious, “Ah, so. You’re a ‘super’, right?”
    It has the inferred nuance or subtlety of distinguishing someone as having a particular belief in a parallel universe, or a [putative] ‘otherworld’, rather akin to ‘trekkies’ or Star Wars aficionados. And it embodies a somewhat [reality] questioning implication about the person than the more obvious and unsubtle ‘believer’ or ‘faith-head’ epithets.

    1. But I do think there is merit in noting to the religious, “Ah, so. You’re a ‘super’, right?”

      It’ll never catch on. Nor should it. “Super” (when you really mean the opposite) is also cringe-worthy.

      1. Then perhaps, ‘supernat’, or a ‘supernut’ or a ‘supernit’ or a ‘supernong’?

  10. I think both Michael Shermer and Massimo Pigliucci, neither of whom are gnuish, were listed as supporters of the brights in the past.
    I think the objections to the term came when people started pointing out that the natural term for a non-bright was a ‘thick’.

  11. I’m not sure if my perspective is useful, as “gay” was already in use when I was learning language while “bright” was not. However, to my ear, “gay” just sounds like a reasonable word whereas “bright” feels contrived and forced. When spreading a language meme, I think certain non-semantic considerations must be taken into account. “Bright” simply isn’t catchy.

  12. I had my 84th birthday yesterday and have considered myself an agnostic since stating to read in the 1930’s, especially the reasoning of Marshal J. Gauvin as opossed to the rantings of Billy Sunday. From there it was to Paine and then started reading Dawkins in the 1980’s. Somewhere in that era I definitely became a “radical Atheist” and have been comfortabe with it through: Stenger, Hitchens, Harris, Russell,Shermer, Singh, Sagan, and Darwin who was born in the same year Paine died. I do not consider myself a brain, bright, and certainly not a brilliant. I did not hear of the word “Brights” from any of them at any time so I consider it a term developed by someone as a demeaning 7 letter word. I am an atheist because I have studied the Bible, the Koran and Smith’s Book of Maroni. The are all fabrications and especially, Genesis which I find to be a gory story of pornography handed down as dirty jokes by dirty old men. The God of Genesis from the 8th day was pimpe and gynacologist, sayiny who could “go into whom” and opening an closing wombs. It was that book that made me go to Gauvin instead who reasoned it was not true and that Jesus never existed.

    1. “The are all fabrications and especially, Genesis which I find to be a gory story of pornography handed down as dirty jokes by dirty old men. The God of Genesis from the 8th day was pimpe and gynacologist, sayiny who could “go into whom” and opening an closing wombs.”

      I can honestly say I’ve never thought of Genesis this way before… That’s eye-opening.

      Happy Birthday!!!

  13. Though I understand “bright” is meant as a noun and not as an adjective, it’s still true that “We are brights” sounds very much like “We are bright”, and “I’m a bright” is even more dangerously closer to “I’m bright”.

    The word “gay” succeeded, I think, because anyone can be “gay” sometimes(except the terminally depressed, perhaps), whereas not everyone can be “bright”. “Gay” is an attitude, “bright” an ability.

    I think most of us would describe ourselves differently in different contexts: atheist, rationalist, sceptic, etc. And unless we are dreadfully conceited, we should sometimes describe ouselves as plain stupid.

    Maybe we should just accept that we (whatever that means) are a herd of cats, and forget about labels, however well-intentioned they might be.

  14. I’m looking at this issue from a non-english-speaking culture. Here gays don’t have a similar word that would have formerly meant something else. Yet the phenomenon of homosexuality is considered by the great majority of society to be acceptable and a personal choice issue. So our word for a homosexual, “homo”, is used by anyone who wants to refer to a homosexual person in a neutral way. The word used to be more derogatory than it is nowadays. Hence I think that it is the phenomenon that becomes accepted and the association with the words changes alongside.

    Referring to atheists or humanists etc. with a word that obscures the fact doesn’t help change the atmosphere in a community or a society, in my opinion. The atmosphere will gradually change when more and more religious people notice that perfectly respectable and nice people are just as likely (if not more likely) to be atheists as religious.

  15. Richard asks why, if “bright” is seen as self-flattering, “gay” is not seen the same way. (The thread on which he asks is now way too long, so I’m arrogantly starting over.) I can explain. It’s because of Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby.” It’s that scene in Linda’s (Katharine Hepburn) grandmother’s house, where Grant is wearing a fluffy filmy dressing gown of Linda’s, and there’s a lot of frantic cross-talk going on, and the grandmother asks in a stuffy huffy way why on earth Grant is wearing Linda’s fluffy dressing gown and Grant, driven to the edge, shouts “Because I just went gay, all of a sudden.”

    So that’s the word’s history, you see. “Bright” doesn’t have anything of that kind. I would suggest doing a movie like “Bringing Up Baby” to make it happen, but alas, they don’t make them like that no more.

    1. For some reason, Steve Buscemi’s line from Armageddon comes to mind:

      “Because I’m a f*cking genius, that’s why!”

      Can we use that? I’ve always wanted to be a F*cking Genius!

  16. As I just posted on the other thread today, I propose the term “Religionist” for people who are “deity-chasers” (my own term here, like it or not.) The reason being, “Religionists” include such people as Hitler, Stalin, Mao…prominent figures that god-believers invariably attempt to toss into the “Atheist Camp” and assign negativity to atheist philosophy, by association. Hitler, et al, were indeed Religionists: the punishment in their regimes, for apostasy, was death, just as it is in Islam. Simple truth, simple explanation, inclusive label.

    I personally prefer “Naturalist” to Atheist, as it more accurately (though, with admitted confusion) nameplates my philosophy, which is an advocate of a scientific, realistic, natural view of the world, exclusive of any thing or thought “supernatural”.

    And “bright” I rejected immediately (I recall its introduction in 2003, and immediately rejected it.)

    “Now, that was bright…” is a common expression that has a negative connotation and message. That alone was reason enough for me for rejecting the “bright” label.

    The San Francisco Chronicle has recenty begun using the term “City Brights” (a play on ‘city lights’) to profile individuals doing good works for the city. No measurement of intellect in it; more like polishing the brass and making it shine. It could be as simple as organizing panhandlers to clean streets. Good works instead of good philosophy.

  17. “Brights” always reminds me of the Bright Young People of 20’s London. Don’t know if they were ever referred to as “Brights” by the media of the time or among themselves or not?

  18. I suspect that – as some people have pointed out – the fact that the term “gay” (and “queer” for that matter) was successful is that it was a subversion of a subversion: “gay” originally meant carefree, but later came to take on negative connotations (a subversion): carefree in the sense of not being fussy about one’s (largely sexual) behaviour. For some reason, it later became used almost exclusively to refer to homosexuals, keeping the negative connotation.

    The adoption of the word by the homosexual community was another subversion, which presumably happened without explicit organisation. It just caught on: an oppressed minority embracing the attribute (and the name) people were persecuting them for.

    I think that might be a reason why the “bright” label didn’t catch on. As others have said, it’s difficult to get on board with a suddenly manufactured term, whereas there are several examples of communities proudly subverting insults: geek, nerd, gay, queer, skeptic, atheist….

    I don’t think that explains why so many people are so antagonistic toward the term “bright”, though. I thought it was a good effort and a good idea. I think it did quite a bit of good in some circles, helping people to recognise that there were others like them out there.

    Personally, I never felt very comfortable with the term “bright”, but neither could I think of a particularly good reason *why* I didn’t like it. And I didn’t come up with anything better.

    I agree with Richard that the vitriol is inappropriate.

  19. There is no reason why ‘bright’ can’t take off in future.

    I have no problem calling myself a bright, but currently, it sounds pretentious and uncool, not a label with any history to it or pride. Not a label with loaded cultural references, any history or story behind it.

    Since I think the ‘new atheism’ is a social or cultural movement, not confined to a single founder (aka Dawkinism or Harrism) nor a political doctrine or manifesto, then I guess sticking with what is already widespread in the culture “New Atheism” will make do for now.

  20. I’m tickled that Ophelia brought up “Bringing Up Baby” before I had a chance to do so.

    Although Dan Dennett seems to be — at most — sitting on the fence about the usefulness of “bright” as a noun, at the AAA Convention in Washington, DC in September 2007, I think, he brought up “bright” in his talk . . . the same talk when he suggested “super” and “murky” as two other nouns to describe religious enthusiasts and vagueness-loving mysterians. Dr. Dennett noted the unfair criticism of “bright” because its use unfortunately implies that theists are “dim” or “dull,” and then added, “Well actually, of course, it does.”

    I registered as a “bright” early on, but I don’t use the label.

  21. Re: the changing meaning of “gay”:

    The English rendition of Augustin Lara’s “Granada” ends with:

    ” . . . Then moonlit Granada will live again the glory of yesterday, romantic and gay.”

    And then “Jamaica Farewell”:

    “Down the way where the lights are gay and the sun shines daily on the mountaintop . . . .”

    Then, “Under Paris Skies”:

    ” . . . Parisian love can bloom
    High in a skylight room
    Or in a gay cafe where hundreds of people can see . . . .”

    No doubt there are numerous others. There are rhymes and rhythms where “happy” just won’t work.

    Anymore it’s difficult to sing such songs without someones obligatory juvenile tittering about the use of the word. Just try singing innocent-enough “Jamaica Farewell” before a group of humans fourth grade and older.

    Seems one is able to still get by with “gaily.” Is that because the “y” is changed to an “i”?

    Christopher Hitchens, in several speeches and debates, has driven home the point that as scientists have learned more and more we’ve learned just how little we know; that the other side claims to know things they cannot possibly know. (Yea, verily, in their view who is anyone to question that they have been vouchsafed a special knowledge, via revelation or dream [or hallucination!]?) The first step in conforming to Enlightenment values is to freely and congenially acknowledge ones ignorance.

    I.e., there are two types of people: those who know that they don’t know, and those who don’t know that they don’t know. (I suppose there could be a third – and the least envied group – those who know that they don’t know, and don’t care.)

    Perhaps a moniker for the other side should be “The Omniscient”? Why don’t we – in a tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink, hint-hint, nudge-nudge way – refer to our side as “The Ignorant”? As Hitchens says, we know that we don’t know. We can handle (our own self-directed) sarcasm. We don’t requre an undue, unwarranted respect for our position.

    Regarding “nerd,”geek,” etc., it’s not my experience that those at whom those invectives have been hurled have somehow co-opted and adopted them as positive monikers. They have come out of the mouths of Philistines in this anti-intellectual Amuricun culture, ignoramuses who yammer hours on end on cellphones within earshot, but who cannot be troubled to do the intellectual heavy lifting required to understand the scientific principles on which engineers and technologists base their designs, advances and acheivements. Amuricuns know who won the popularity contest “American Idol” but can’t describe why a plane can fly.

    How about referring to ourselves as “The Curious”? Curious as in curious to find things out (re: Feynman’s essay), to find out how things work. The other side could get its fatuous jollies out of thinking us curious (as in “odd”).

    (One does not have to be bright in order to be curious, though it seems that they are quite complementary, thought the latter seems necessary to bring out the former.)

    Just curious, does anyone know what are the opposites of “nerd” and “geek,” other than to put “non-” before them?

        1. I had to look up that Coppola movie. Never heard of it. We were using “soche” (sp?) in 1980-82, a couple years before the movie came out.

          Looks like Susan Eloise Hinton wrote the novel in ’67, but I never heard the term until 1980, when our family moved from Alaska to Colorado. “Deb” (for Débutante) was another, less-used term.

    1. I think you missed the most common one of all:

      Deck the halls with boughs of holly,
      Fa la la la la, la la la la.
      ‘Tis the season to be jolly,
      Fa la la la la, la la la la.
      Don we now our gay apparel,
      Fa la la, la la la, la la la.
      Troll the ancient Yuletide carol,
      Fa la la la la, la la la la.

  22. Those above who note that language usage can’t be forced are correct– *especially* for any term that attempts drape the trappings of ‘cool’ around itself.

    All I can say is Bright=Segway.

  23. Labels are so confining at times. It is the easier to say what I _can’t_ use:

    * Bright:
    Because of its history.

    * Rationalist:
    Because even a religious can be narrowly rationalist; because without empiricism it doesn’t go anywhere near reality.

    * Realist:
    Because it doesn’t mean entertaining the existence of realism; because people have different ideas about reality.

    * Materialist:
    Because reality isn’t only matter.

    * Naturalist:
    Because philosophers have hijacked it to mean method instead of result; because even a religious can be narrowly naturalist (even if they never say so AFAIK).

    * Atheist:
    Used for reference only; because it describes a reactive position.

    By elimination I’m now down to Carroll’s “physicalist”. Oh, well.

    Geisert and Futrell have maintained that the main basis for selecting the word is its association of philosophical naturalism with the Enlightenment.

    That is exactly how I figured it! That, and the connection to gay, or at least that is how I remember it.

    Definitely one of my favorite terms. Unfortunately you can’t find much use for it as an atheist, despite the shortcomings of the latter. But I feel with Dawkins in this; an opportunity wasted.

    I guess I have to settle with enlightened when it is appropriate.

    1. Hi Torbjorn, here are my alternative suggestions:

      Naturalistic worldview: I’m a natural.

      Supernaturalistic worldview: I’m a super.

      Modern scientific materialist: I’m a physicalist.

      Empiricist/rationalist of the scientific bent: I’m a pragmatist.

      Having a positive, scientifically-informed philosophy above and beyond simple atheism (like Sagan or Dawkins): I’m a wonderist.

      Aside from super, which I’m not, I feel very comfortable these days defending each of those self-chosen labels. As for supernaturalists possibly not liking super, I’d just say, “Hey it’s just a suggestion. It’s simple and easy and makes sense: Naturalist shortens to natural, supernaturalist shortens to super. But feel free to call yourself whatever you like.”

  24. Jeez, I knew there was a lot of resentment against the term bright, but did not realize so few of our purportedly scientific minds here had ever bothered to research it! I thought everyone knew about Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell’s founding roles and great efforts. Go ahead and don’t like the term, but take a moment to look at who and what Brights are and mean:
    And maybe sign up for their free monthly bulletin for further info:
    So far over 54,000 people have joined.

    1. Thanks for that, Diane. A worthy organization, even if I’m not so enthused about the umbrella term — I understand the need for some descriptor. A rose by any other name…

      1. Well, thanks for taking a look! I’ll admit I’m a bit leery of using the term myself, though I signed up early on when Dennett and Dawkins were so enthusiastic, I have a Brights bumper sticker on my car along with other org’s logos, and I donate fairly often. I do enjoy the constructive nature of their endeavors as related in the monthly bulletins.

        Note, the aforementioned leeriness is mainly due to the reaction I’ve seen on atheist blogs! I’d never have posted what I did on Pharyngula, for example! (Hi, Salty!) Well, maybe I would have after the Dawk himself weighed in on the plus side. Ain’t I a profile in courage? 😀

        The organization I most recommend to anyone new to atheism/humanism/freethinking is the FFRF, but there are other people who might prefer the approach the Brights take. IMO, the more the merrier, as long as we can avoid internecine squabbles. A lesson I wish the accomodationists would learn.

        1. I’d never have posted what I did on Pharyngula, for example! (Hi, Salty!)

          😉 If I could go back in time,… Nah, I’d do it again. It’s how I roll.

          Thanks for the links!

          1. Well, you see we’re now in agreement–I am a coward. 😀

            Checked out your blog a few days ago and your output has certainly exploded–gonna take a few days before I can catch up!

            1. Well, you see we’re now in agreement–I am a coward.

              Oh, no, that’s not what I meant! I don’t see it as bravery – more of…not quite a compulsion, but something like that.

              Checked out your blog a few days ago and your output has certainly exploded–gonna take a few days before I can catch up!

              Well, relative to my usual paltry output. I have more in the works, but have been slow in getting it out, but that’s primarily because I’ve been writing other things (which is good). Thanks for reading!

  25. Words

    Words are flowing in my mind
    In patterns made of silv’ry smiles,
    New worlds are being born, bang bang,
    And they spread out across the starry vault,
    All around me that hustle bustle propensity
    Is lightin’ up the world,
    As the dance of life
    Throws up a bright billion galaxies of light:
    O! I find that words are not enough.

    Ah! Golden ships fly the range galore,
    From middle ground to utmost shore.
    Both ways they go. Set up a call;
    And the world will tumble as it falls
    Free, ablaze, a great delight;
    An’ that a trail of transversality creates
    That will will itself the great divide
    To bridge, as word and æon burn.
    O! Fly me beyond the horizon.

    Yea, as I look from shore to shore,
    At my canvas edge strange worlds unfold.
    Galaxies, bang bang, like grains of sand
    Abound, are everywhere around,
    And in my hand, a fire, a pertinence
    Of essence, every colours’ inner shinin’ light.
    And thus I strive to finalize,
    To draw the line, set the scene:
    To make, and then, as river ripplin’ flow, go.

    Juri Aidas (Albatross of The Brights)

  26. (Sorry in advance for my struggles with the english language.)

    “Heathen” has been mentioned here, as well as “infidel”. I think the problems with words like “heathen” or “infidel” are that they are words related to religion, in much the same sense that atheist is. And this is precicely the reason why I don’t like the word atheist either.

    Atheism is just an effect, a consequence, of an underlying world view. It is the same world view that leads me to reject notions of ghosts, telepathy, levitation, psychics, homeopathy, etc. The problem with describing myself as an atheist is that it gives the impression of atheism being the cause for my world view, rather than just another effect. (As an annoying side effect it also gives opponents the chance to make fallacious noise about Stalin and people of his ilk being atheists.)

    Therefore I would welcome a term who describes WHY I am atheistic, WHY I reject homeopathy, ghosts, angels, fairies etc. There are several paths to this position and not all of them are sound.

    “Bright” is an attempt to create such a term, but i do agree with the critisism of it sounding smug. Maybe “rationalist” could work, but at the same time it has too much Descartes in it for my taste.

  27. One linguistic problem is that even though the Brights Movement is international, “bright” is an English word that doesn’t have readily comprehensible equivalents in the other languages such as “naturalist”. For example, when I say “Ich bin ein Bright” in Germany, then many will think I’m sloshed, because “bright” sounds like “breit”, which literally means “broad” or “wide” but is also used as a slang word for “being drunk”.

  28. Actually, come to think of it, it seems to me that “gnu” is doing what “Bright” was meant to do, and doing it in the unplanned because-people-like-it way that the planned introduction of “Bright” made impossible (if you see what I mean).

    Granted, it currently doesn’t mean atheists in general, but it could if the Chamberlain/quisling/oh I’m so sorry school could get over it.

    1. I don’t think I agree, Ophelia, at least not completely. You’re right in the sense of coming up with a word that can be used to defend a despised minority. Both bright and gnu are intended for that.

      But bright is much broader. It is anyone with a naturalistic worldview. It is closer to ‘all atheists, non-theists, etc.’.

      Gnu is specifically about being up-front, speaking out, being confrontational (non-violently, of course), and being completely unapologetic about all this (because there’s nothing wrong with it). It’s also about rejecting the ‘new atheist’ smear label and poking fun at it at the same time, rejecting the idea of religious privilege that wants to tell us to “STFU!”

      And, until atheism becomes mainstream, and probably even then, I’m afraid we’ll likely be stuck with the non-theist anti-gnus for a long while yet.

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