The Brights Movement is an international social movement. The members of that movement refer to themselves as "Brights". They hold a naturalist worldview and believe that matter is the fundamental substance of nature and that all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are the result of material interactions. This belief is sometimes referred to as materialism.
Brights are naturalists in the philosophical sense. However, Brights do not usually describe themselves as naturalists because most people understand the designation "naturalist" to mean a person who studies natural history. The term "Brights" was invented in order to avoid causing confusion.
Most Brights believe that public policies should be based on science (a body of knowledge obtained and tested by use of the scientific method). Brights are likely to oppose the practice of basing public policies on supernatural doctrines. Brights may therefore be described as secularists.
The most politically active Brights frequently and openly advocate scientocracy, the practice of basing public policies on science. They look forward to living in an era when the best available scientific evidence provides a foundation for the humane and compassionate operation of human societies.
The term "bright" was coined by Paul Geisert. A one-time Chicago biology teacher, professor, entrepreneur, writer, he co-developed learning materials and a website regarding teaching about religion in public schools in the 1990s. In deciding to attend the "Godless Americans March on Washington" in 2002, Geisert 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, Geisert 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 organizations 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.
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. The movement has grown to be a constituency of over 58,000 brights in 204 nations and territories.
Many, but not all, brights also identify as atheist, antitheist, humanist (specifically secular humanist), freethinker, Objectivist, irreligionist, naturalist, materialist or physicalist, agnostic, ignostic, skeptic, apatheist, or even naturalistic pantheist. Even so, the "movement is not associated with any defined beliefs". The website Brights' Net says its goal 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 compares 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" ... 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 stated, "Whether there is a statistical tendency for brights [noun] to be bright [adjective] is a matter for research."
Contrasted with "supers"
Daniel Dennett, in his book Breaking the Spell, suggests that if non-naturalists are concerned with connotations of the word bright, then they should invent an equally positive sounding word for themselves, like supers (i.e., one whose world view contains supernaturalism). He also suggested this during his presentation at the Atheist Alliance International '07 convention. Geisert and Futrell maintain that the neologism has always had a kinship with the Enlightenment, an era which celebrated the possibilities of science and a certain amount of free inquiry; they have endorsed the use of super as the antonym to bright, although this term makes the assumption that anyone not a "bright" necessarily subscribes to notions of supernaturalism.
Notable people who have self-identified as brights at one time or another include: biologists Richard Dawkins and Richard J. Roberts; cognitive scientist Steven Pinker; philosophers Daniel Dennett and Massimo Pigliucci; stage magicians and debunkers James Randi and Penn & Teller; Amy Alkon; Sheldon Lee Glashow; Babu Gogineni; Edwin Kagin; Mel Lipman; Piergiorgio Odifreddi; and Air America Radio talk show host Lionel.
The Brights' avatar represents a celestial body viewed from space. As there is no up or down or right or left in outer space, the arrangement of planet and darkness and starlight is changeable. Although the symbol is open to the viewer's interpretation, it is generally meant to invoke transition and a sense of gradual illumination. The intentional ambiguity of the avatar is meant to symbolically reflect an important question: Is the future of humankind becoming luminous or more dim? The Brights aspire "to take the promising route, whereby the imagery brings to mind a gradually increasing illumination for this earth of ours, an escalation of enlightenment". This optimistic interpretation of the Brights' symbol is summarized by the motto "Embrightenment Now!"
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 non-naturalists, such as philosophical skeptics or idealists, believers in the paranormal, philosophical theists, or 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's 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.'"
In response to this, Daniel Dennett has stated:
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.
- Atheism and antitheism
- Metaphysical naturalism
- Naturalism (philosophy)
- Naturalistic pantheism
- Out Campaign
- Religiosity and intelligence
- Religious naturalism
- Scientific skepticism
- Sea of Faith
- Secularism and secularity
- Secular humanism
- "The future looks bright". The Guardian. 21 June 2003.
- "Religion Be Damned". Wired.com. Condé Nast. October 2003.
- Dennett, Daniel C. (12 July 2003). "The Bright Stuff". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- "The Church of the Non-Believers". Wired.com. Condé Nast. November 2006.
- "Supporting the Brights". Be a "Checkbook Activist"!. The Brights' Net.
- "Bright (n.) – What Is the Definition?". Frequently Asked Questions. The Brights' Net. Retrieved 4 November 2006.
- "What is the Purpose of the Brights' Net?". Frequently Asked Questions. The Brights' Net. Retrieved 4 November 2006.
- "Theistic Brights? – Not So!". The Brights' Bulletin Issue #70. The Brights' Net.
- Dennett, Daniel. Breaking The Spell (2006). London: Penguin. p.21.
- Dan Dennett at AAIC '07 Oct. 2007
- Dennett, Daniel C. (26 October 2007). "Award & Speech at AAI 07 pt1 of 2". Retrieved 4 January 2010 – via YouTube.
- "Brights Symbology". The Brights Net. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
- D'Souza, Dinesh (12 October 2003). "Not So 'Bright'". The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones. Retrieved 30 November 2007.
- Mooney, Chris. "Brights: Not Too 'Bright' (Doubt and About)". CSICOP.org. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved 5 April 2011.
- "Religion Poisons Everything (Exclusive Excerpts from Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great)". Slate. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
- The Brights' Net – The originating hub of the Brights' constituency
- Teaching About Religion in Public Schools: Worldview Education