The Brights movement is a social movement that aims to promote public understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview. It was co-founded by Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell in 2003.
The noun bright was coined by Geisert as a positive-sounding umbrella term, and Futrell defined it as "an individual whose worldview is naturalistic (free from supernatural and mystical elements)". Daniel Dennett has since suggested that people that believe in supernatural should be referred to as 'supers'.
This created the basis for a civic constituency to pursue the movement's three major aims:
- Promote public understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview, which is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
- Gain public recognition that persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance.
- Educate society toward accepting the full and equitable civic participation of all such people.
The brights movement has been formed as an Internet constituency of individuals. Its hub is The Brights' Net website, but individuals have autonomy to speak for themselves. As of 2009, the Brights' Net's tagline is: "Illuminating and Elevating the Naturalistic Worldview".
Paul Geisert was a biology teacher in Chicago in the 1960s, a professor in the 1970s, an entrepreneur and writer in the 1980s, and the co-developer of learning materials and a web site regarding teaching about religion in public schools in the 1990s.
In deciding to attend the "Godless Americans March on Washington" in 2002, Paul disliked the label "godless" and resolved to identify a better term to unite the "community of reason". He sought a new, positive word that might become well-accepted, in the same way that the term "gay" has come to mean "homosexual". In late 2002, Paul coined the noun "bright", but did not announce it immediately.
Working with Mynga Futrell, the co-founders of the brights movement wanted to connect and galvanize the many individuals who were non-religious, but who were not associated with the many philosophical organisations already in existence. To achieve this they created not only the definition of "a bright", but also the idea of a civic constituency that would coalesce through the Internet.
Having tested this idea during the early months of 2003, they launched the Brights' Net website on June 4, 2003. The movement gained early publicity through articles by Richard Dawkins in The Guardian and Wired, and by Daniel Dennett in The New York Times. Within a year, registered Brights numbered in five figures and spanned 85 nations.
The movement has continued to grow and experienced accelerated registrations following media debate around "new atheism" prompted by a series of book releases in late 2006 including The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, God Is Not Great, The End of Faith, and Letter to a Christian Nation. As of March 2009 over 40,000 Brights have registered from 183 nations.
The Brights' Net
The Brights' Net web site serves as the hub of communication and action projects in the Brights movement.
The Brights' Net recommends project priorities and facilitates the formation of local groups, known as Brights' Local Constituencies (BLCs). There are BLCs in London, Paris, several cities in the United States and Canada, and various other locations worldwide.
However, Brights act autonomously in doing their part for the furtherance of the brights movement. No person or entity, including The Brights' Net Co-directors, can speak for all Brights.
Within the definition of bright, many, but not all, brights also identify variously under other terms or identities, including atheist, humanist, secular humanist, freethinker, objectivist, rationalist, naturalist, materialist, agnostic, skeptic, apatheist and so on. Even so, the "movement is not associated with any defined beliefs," as written on The Brights' Net website. One of the purposes of the Brights' Net is to include the umbrella term bright in the vocabulary of this existing "community of reason".
However, "the broader intent is inclusive of the many-varied persons whose worldview is naturalistic" but are in the "general population", as opposed to associating solely with the "community of reason". So persons who can declare their naturalistic worldview using the term bright extend beyond the familiar secularist categories, as long as they do not hold theistic worldviews . Registrations even include some members of the clergy, such as Presbyterian ministers and a Church History Professor and ordained priest.
Dawkins' analogy in the aforementioned Guardian article is instructive, comparing the coining of bright to the "triumph of consciousness-raising" from the term gay:
Gay is succinct, uplifting, positive: an "up" word, where homosexual is a down word, and queer, faggot and pooftah are insults. Those of us who subscribe to no religion; those of us whose view of the universe is natural rather than supernatural; those of us who rejoice in the real and scorn the false comfort of the unreal, we need a word of our own, a word like "gay". ... Like gay, it should be a noun hijacked from an adjective, with its original meaning changed but not too much. Like gay, it should be catchy: a potentially prolific meme. Like gay, it should be positive, warm, cheerful, bright.
Despite the explicit difference between the noun and adjective, there have been comments on the comparison. In his Wired article Dawkins states, "Whether there is a statistical tendency for brights [noun] to be bright [adjective] is a matter for research." Daniel Dennett, in his book Breaking the Spell, suggests that if non-naturalists are concerned with this connotation of the word bright, then they should invent an equally positive sounding word for themselves, like supers (i.e., one whose worldview contains supernaturalism). Geisert and Futrell maintain that the neologism has always had a kinship with the Enlightenment, an era which celebrated science, free inquiry, and a spirit of skepticism; they have endorsed the use of super as the antonym to bright.
Notable brights include biologists Richard Dawkins and Richard J. Roberts, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, philosopher Daniel Dennett, and stage magicians and debunkers James Randi and Penn & Teller. Other brights include Amy Alkon, Sheldon Lee Glashow, Babu Gogineni, Edwin Kagin, Mel Lipman, Air America Radio talk show host Lionel and Massimo Pigliucci.
Criticism of the title
The movement has been criticised by some (both religious and non-religious) who have objected to the adoption of the title "bright" because they believe it suggests that the individuals with a naturalistic worldview are more intelligent ("brighter") than the religious. For example, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry published an article by Chris Mooney titled "Not Too 'Bright'" in which he stated that, although he agreed with the movement, Richard Dawkins' and Daniel Dennett's "campaign to rename religious unbelievers 'brights' could use some rethinking" because of the possibility that the term would be misinterpreted. The journalist and noted atheist Christopher Hitchens likewise found it a "cringe-making proposal that atheists should conceitedly nominate themselves to be called 'brights.'" Dennett posed the idea that super may serve well as a positive title for those who believe in the supernatural. He also suggested this during his presentation at the Atheist Alliance International '07 convention. 
Similarly, Michael Shermer, who is an Enthusiastic Bright, has nevertheless resisted using the term to describe himself, saying, "I don't call myself a 'Bright'.”
In response to this Daniel Dennett has stated in his book Breaking the Spell:
There was also a negative response, largely objecting to the term that had been chosen [not by me]: bright, which seemed to imply that others were dim or stupid. But the term, modeled on the highly successful hijacking of the ordinary word "gay" by homosexuals, does not have to have that implication. Those who are not gays are not necessarily glum; they're straight. Those who are not brights are not necessarily dim.
There is historical precedent in the naming of the Friends (Quakers), for example.
- Out Campaign
- Religiosity and intelligence
- Logical positivism
- Scientific skepticism
- "Bright (n.)--What is the definition?". Frequently Asked Questions. The Brights' Net. http://www.the-brights.net/vision/faq.html#1. Retrieved 2006-11-04.
- "The Brights' Net - Home Page". The-brights.net. http://www.the-brights.net. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- "The future looks bright". The Guardian. 2003-06-21. http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,12084,981412,00.html.
- "Religion Be Damned". Wired. October 2003. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.10/view.html?pg=2.
- "The Bright Stuff". The New York Times. 2003-07-12. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bright/bright_index.html.
- "The Church of the Non-Believers". Wired. November 2006. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html.
- "The Brights' Net - Brights Clusters". The-brights.net. http://www.the-brights.net/community/blc/list.html. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- "What is the purpose of the Brights' Net?". Frequently Asked Questions. The Brights' Net. http://www.the-brights.net/vision/faq.html#8. Retrieved 2006-11-04.
- "Theistic Brights? - Not So!". The Brights' Bulletin Issue #70. The Brights' Net. http://the-brights.net/movement/bulletin/bulletin.html?b=70.
- D'Souza, Dinesh (12 October 2003). "Not So 'Bright'". The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Co.). http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110004153. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
- Brights: Not Too "Bright" (Doubt and About)[dead link]
- "Exclusive excerpts from Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great. - By Christopher Hitchens - Slate Magazine". Slate.com. http://www.slate.com/id/2165033/entry/2165035/. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- Dan Dennett at AAIC '07 Oct. 2007
- 26 oktober 2007. "Dan Dennet: Award & Speech at AAI 07 pt1 of 2". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyyRAE7PDvw&feature=related. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- "Enthusiastic Brights". The-Brights.net. http://www.the-brights.net/people/enthusiastic/index2.html. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
- Dennett, Daniel. Breaking The Spell (2006). London: Penguin. p.21.
- The Brights' Net – The originating hub of the Brights' Constituency
- Teaching About Religion In Public Schools: Worldview Education
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