Brights: The lights are on, but is anyone home?
By: Robert E. Meyer
Recently, I received an E-mail from a gentleman who described himself as a â€œBright.â€ Just in case you are not familiar with the term, it is not slang for an electrician or a light bulb salesman, but someone that is committed to a naturalistic worldview. To put it in simple English, it is a person who does not believe in God, or anything in the supernatural realm.
But Brights are not content merely to hold their beliefs in isolation. On their website, they declare that they are interested in shaping society and influencing social policy through the implications of their worldview and life perspective. So in a benign and euphemistic sense, they confess that they are endeavoring to accomplish the very thing that the loathsome Religious Right is relentlessly impugned for doing: trying to cram their beliefs down your throat. Well, so much for that ethereal concept of neutrality. Their website contends that their perspective is currently culturally suppressed in most of the world.
That claim made me scratch my head just a little bit. After all, is not the entire enterprise of modern scientific inquiry based upon naturalistic assumptions? For the average person, the idea of truth is so closely linked to the inquiries of scientific examination, that any claims to truth unverified by this methodology are perpetually suspect. The reverence and devotion that most people have for the findings of scientific investigation are unimpeachable and practically universal. In that light, it is hard to explain the claim that the naturalistic worldview is suppressed. I think what is meant by that expression is that only a small percentage of the population is brazenly atheist in articulating their personal convictions. There is still a bit of cultural distain for the hardened unbeliever.
I am hardly the first person to spot the obvious liability in naming your coalition The Brights. There is an old saying that self praise is no praise at all. Undoubtedly this group is comprised of highly intelligent people, but something about flaunting it like wearing egg yolk on your shirt sleeves reeks of conceit, and represents unpalatable hubris to the average person. Of course there are the blatant implications in using the name Brights: because we are so intelligent we know there is nothing supernatural. Because the rest of you are ignorant or just plain stupid, you believe in the supernatural. We occupy the reasonable position by default. The posture of the Bright is reminiscent of the late Walter Brennan. In a western from the late 1960â€™s, The Guns of Will Sonnet, Brennan was fond of intimidating strangers by expounding on his gun-slinging skills, ending the conversation with the postscript â€œNo brag, just fact.â€
Now I have to admit to being occasionally swayed by the temptation of knowing that, I, too, might have been included in this fraternity of elitists were it not for my pesky convictions about the existence of the Almighty. But on second thought, I respectfully decline–in fact I enthusiastically repudiate the elusive honors. I just canâ€™t stand on that ground.
One can only wonder if these folks have considered carefully the implications of their ideology. If we throw out the baby and keep the bathwater, does the water have any significance? Ideas have consequences, so letâ€™s explore a bit to see where a naturalistic worldview leads us. The 18th century skeptic, David Hume, pointed to an axiom sometimes known as the naturalistic fallacy. Hume concluded that we cannot observe occurrences in nature and derive a moral code from those observations. Said another way, you cannot get an â€œoughtâ€ from an â€œis.â€ A naturalistic worldview can at best stipulate an arbitrary morality that isnâ€™t grounded in anything absolute. The idea of such a worldview informing society gives me no warm, fuzzy feeling.
What exactly becomes of human rights if naturalism is the ultimate reality? Our Founders attributed the rights of humanity to an endowment of The Creator. If there is no Creator to impute the rights to them, then rights either come from somewhere else, or rights are just an imaginary fiat, made of the same substance as their claims about supernaturalism. If they are granted by the state, then the state has the prerogative to withdraw the rights at any point. Governments are not merely the earthly curators of those rights, but the dispensary of those rights What a scary thought. These are but few brief examples the problems that are encountered via the flirtation with ideological naturalism.
Brights, by and large, have not learned that a rejection of the supernatural is not a function of intelligence, but a state of the will. Moments of lucidity by skeptics themselves seems to confirm this. Few are more revealing then that of NYU philosophy professor Thomas Nagelâ€¦
â€œI want atheism to be true, and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is not God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.â€
As far as the Brights are concerned, the lights are on, but nobody is home.