Lite Bright
July 14, 2003 11:04 PM   Subscribe

Does atheism sound too gloomy? Has the word 'freethinker' been co-opted by too many organizations? Some think so and now the world has a new social group: the "Brights." Also of interest is Daniel Dennett's "The Bright Stuff." The official brights website is here.
posted by skallas (109 comments total)

 
These guys sound about as arrogant and joyless as the Randi people. Another case of agreeing with them intellectually, but not wanting to be associated with them.
posted by jammer at 11:19 PM on July 14, 2003


I don't know if the non-religious crowd needs another word to describe them, but they do need something that sticks. (the real problem may be one of 'herding cats')

>We'd be aghast to be told of a Leninist child or a neo-conservative child or a Hayekian monetarist child

I think the author raises a good point. Why does religion get a free ride when it comes to children, yet the above seems creepy. Maybe because religion is such a part of one's family's shared identity? Even so, does that make it right?

I guess the sucess or failure of the brights will be hinged upon what they do with it. Will there be a Chicago Brights meeting? A Brights center that will be tax-exempt like a church? Little B's on necklaces?
posted by skallas at 11:23 PM on July 14, 2003


That's just obnoxious. And this is a repeat.
posted by delmoi at 11:26 PM on July 14, 2003


Oh, here are some freethinker's kid's books. The book Just Pretend seems a bit controversial. Is it teaching or unteaching kids stuff?

Maybe the non-religious need real social recogniztion more than anything. Whether or not a makeover will help is arguable, but anything that fights the real stigma of being an atheist can only be a good thing.
posted by skallas at 11:28 PM on July 14, 2003


Does that mean that I can be a religious freethinker now, or that real-estate tied up elsewhere?

Can I be religious and bright?
posted by namespan at 11:32 PM on July 14, 2003


Does atheism sound too gloomy?

How about antitheism?
posted by homunculus at 11:40 PM on July 14, 2003


The book Just Pretend seems a bit controversial.

No more controversial than giving a child a bible. Have you read that overwrought folderol? Besides, just about everyone (myself included, I'm sure) could use a little bit of unteaching.

Can I be religious and bright?

If your religion is purely naturalistic and free of superstition, sure. For example, I have a little shrine to the Cauchy-Schwartz inequality in the corner of my bedroom, but it's not like I think Cauchy is living in the sky and occasionally watching me. That would be creepy.

I thought that the most interesting thing about the Dawkins piece was that, despite the fact that Dawkins is a Briton writing in a British publication, the bulk of his examples are keyed to an American audience: "...we may finally get a bright president"; "...60% of American scientists..."; "...the US Congress must be full of closet brights..."; etc. Why is this? Is the battleground for bright rights centered in the U.S.?

And speaking of Dawkins, does the man do any science any more?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:48 PM on July 14, 2003


Antitheism? How about apatheism? (Even better link here, I think.)
posted by emelenjr at 12:00 AM on July 15, 2003


Not really a Double Post, but first referred to in here.
posted by wendell at 12:20 AM on July 15, 2003


I hate the word bright. There's the implication that people who do believe are not bright, and that's descending into name-calling. Of course, "bright" meaning intelligent may just be a british colloquialism, so hopefully I'm wrong about this, and no insult was intended.
posted by seanyboy at 12:21 AM on July 15, 2003


Is the battleground for bright rights centered in the U.S.?

Americans are more religious, therefore the antipathy toward athiests that Skallas mentions is stronger in the U.S.

I grew up in New Zealand. I probably have met about five "strong" Christians in my whole life, and a couple of them were from Kansas.
posted by dydecker at 12:25 AM on July 15, 2003


>No more controversial than giving a child a bible. Have you read that overwrought folderol?

Good point. Or maybe a better example would be a sunday school workbook. Kids don't really read the bible. Funny how the religious texts don't instantly grok as controversial in me when they deserve that title and more.
posted by skallas at 12:26 AM on July 15, 2003


Ahh. Just read a bit more. Dawkins invented the term. The article was in the Gruaniad. This word is a british invention, and is definitely an insult. I'm an athiest, but this is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.
posted by seanyboy at 12:27 AM on July 15, 2003


So now they can be bright and cheerful about scorning the false comfort of the unreal? Good for them.

The author even goes out of his way to mention what someone who is not a bright would logically be. This has lowered my opinion of people who spend their thinking time on subjects like this. It's no better than any other kind of proselytizing.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:49 AM on July 15, 2003


It sounds like they picked the term "bright" to be a euphonious, upbeat-sounding word that they could appropriate to make atheism seem more proactive and less like a rejection (the Guardian writer likened it to the adoption of "gay"). I don't think it was meant directly to characterize the non-religious as smarter than everyone else. But given how often non-theists are attacked as being, and sometimes are, smug and elitist, it's an unfortunate choice indeed.
posted by transona5 at 1:16 AM on July 15, 2003


Ahh. Just read a bit more. Dawkins invented the term.

No he didn't.
posted by rory at 1:26 AM on July 15, 2003


Oh. No - he didn't did he. Sorry. I'm not feeling very bright this morning.
posted by seanyboy at 2:07 AM on July 15, 2003


'Sorright.

One problem with the whole 'Brights' thing, apart from it sounding unbearably smug, is that the founder of a prominent Christian movement is a Bright.
posted by rory at 2:21 AM on July 15, 2003


the real problem may be one of 'herding cats')

Actually, a writer to the Guardian letters page suggested "cat" as a better term: positive connotations of independent intelligence, and an acronym (I forget what, but something along the lines of "Choosing Against Theism").
posted by raygirvan at 2:30 AM on July 15, 2003


I loathe this idea completely.
posted by walrus at 2:44 AM on July 15, 2003


i hate this bright thing, but i really like the apatheist thing that emelenjr brought up.
posted by joedan at 3:05 AM on July 15, 2003


I tried to care about apatheism, but somehow it just didn't seem important in my life.
posted by walrus at 3:31 AM on July 15, 2003


As a self-confessed bright *hangs head in shame* I think it's a great idea. "Atheism" has a lot of negative connotations in a predominantly "Christian" society. The parallel with "gay" is a near-perfect analogy.

The pooftas, faggots, queers and plain old homosexuals had to put up with a lot worse than anything that can be thrown at us, try as you may.

From the article, as it seems that many who have posted here have not read through it:
Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, of Sacramento, California, have set out to coin a new word, a new "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.

Bright? Yes, bright. Bright is the word, the new noun. I am a bright. You are a bright. She is a bright. We are the brights. Isn't it about time you came out as a bright? Is he a bright? I can't imagine falling for a woman who was not a bright.
Maybe one day we will indeed get a bright president. The meme is spreading. Anyone for a Googlewash?
posted by cbrody at 3:48 AM on July 15, 2003


Why would you say people haven't read through it?
So, what's the opposite of a bright? What would you call a religious person?
That statement jumped right out at me.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:16 AM on July 15, 2003


I understand that atheism has a negative connotation. Using a new word to describe a disbelief in religion or deities while at the same time choosing one that will have some rather loaded connotations seems bizarre though. I can't even parallel it with California's desire for a new gay. I'm assuming that their choice of words won't belittle heterosexuals. Of course this elitism doesn't just extend to the non-religious either. Everybody's particular bias in religion is the one and only way to avoid damnation. That seems pretty damned arrogant to me too.
posted by substrate at 4:22 AM on July 15, 2003


Call me old fashioned, but I like to refer to myself as a heathen.
posted by birdherder at 4:29 AM on July 15, 2003


I'm honestly staggered that this is an issue. In the UK you're likely to raise more eyebrows by admitting to a religion than the lack of one. Also: isn't "bright" just everyone's natural state, before all the claptrap starts in? I honestly don't see what all the fuss is all about, but if this carries on I can see myself being forced to take up religion in self-defence.
posted by walrus at 4:36 AM on July 15, 2003


Sorry, I forgot the context of the California statement. Anyway, I think the choice of bright is pretty dim indeed. One other thought I've been thinking of recently is this: Why do people desire to be labeled, categorized and neatly defined? I understand why you wouldn't want to be grouped in with what you aren't but why should you desire to be explicitly grouped in with what you are? What am I? I am substrate, I am John etc. Pick any label and it comes with pre-conceived notions. I try not to but I fall into the same trap. People at work volunteer that they're one of the local sects of Christianity and I immediately start thinking "Creationist".
posted by substrate at 4:37 AM on July 15, 2003


You know, I've been atheist all my life, but I've never once given a moment's thought to naming my beliefs. I like sports... do I need some identifier to distinguish me from all those non-sports people out there? Should I introduce myself at parties with "Hi, I'm literate", just to make sure nobody confuses me with an illiterate? Oh, and don't forget I'm a "butt-squeezer", and not one of those people who are so foolish as to squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle.

One of the great things about being atheist is doing without these idiotic labels.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:41 AM on July 15, 2003


substrate: I don't want to be labelled. But the offer of a punch on the nose no longer stands. I've decided that only Daniel Dennett is eligible to claim it, and only under the condition that he collects in person, at his own expense.
posted by walrus at 4:45 AM on July 15, 2003


Great idea.

And theists, of course, can be the 'Brilliants'.

I gotta find a way off this planet...
posted by Opus Dark at 4:52 AM on July 15, 2003


walrus, it's different in the U.S. I moved from Canada 7 years ago, people were religious but I wouldn't say that the society was religious. Religion might be part of what makes you but it wasn't part of what made the society as a whole. Maybe the Prime Minister was religious, maybe not, but it never came up. In the U.S. it seems very different to me. If you're not religious then you're seen as not quite right. Religion is very much a part of politics. It is unavoidable in the United States.

I work in the Midwestern United States. I know the denomination and church of just about all of my coworkers. When I first moved here I was invited to everybody's congregation which I politely declined. I started getting dragged into the middle of religious discussions, quite literally. They'd sort of erupt around me. I was expected to nod in agreement whenever they went on about the latest silly thing those evolutionists came up with, or whatever line of the Bible they were choosing to defend keeping women out of work, ostracizing homosexuals or dropping nukes on some non-Christian country. I was invited to Promise Keepers many times, to help protest certain books or teachings in schools. No, I'm not interested was never good enough. Eventually I had to say that I am an unbeliever. That wasn't good enough. "We can convert unbelievers!" Finally I settled on atheist (and I don't even know if I am an atheist or not) because it moved a lot of these problems away from me.
posted by substrate at 4:55 AM on July 15, 2003


Humph. Seems to me the whole point of atheism is an attempt at being rational. Rebranding seems phoney and pathetic. If you're that worried about appearances, call yourself a humanist and leave the rest of us alone.



/scoffingpaganinfidel
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:55 AM on July 15, 2003


Space Coyote, I should have said "a few", sorry.

I could think of several apt words for religious people, but "Believer" is probably the most all-encompassing (and neutral) one. "Spiritualist" is too loaded with new-age gobbledegook.

I admit not being entirely confortable with the word Bright, but it does get away from all the ones that start with a negative: ag this, a that, ap the other. It's a forward step to define a common world-view with a positive word. Unfortunately Bright does have some negative connotations (and not just for me: I once worked for a -- now defunct -- company by that name.)
posted by cbrody at 4:56 AM on July 15, 2003


A further point, which seems to be missed, is Dawkins' (and the Bright movement's) desire to have a clearly identifiable community with which people can identify, organise and take on opposition.

One of the great advatages of the internet is that it allows people from all over the world find common causes and promote them. MoveOn.org comes to mind as an example, and though I don't fully subscribe to the "emergent democracy" ideas espoused by Joi Ito, Adam Greenfield and the like, I think there is great potential in this.

In the end (one hopes) humanist rationalism -- and idealism -- will win out over those smaller communites that define themselves by who they exclude (and I count most of the world's major religions in that group.)
posted by cbrody at 5:04 AM on July 15, 2003


Thanks substrate. That's a scary story. American culture always comes across as so secular, but I expect we ignore any rabid stuff through the lens of our own secular media. As a reaction to endemic fundamentalism, I suppose this movement makes a little more sense. I still find myself vehemently antithetical to the whole idea, however. I'd prefer to just be left the hell alone with my lack of beliefs.
posted by walrus at 5:05 AM on July 15, 2003


cbrody: why can't we all just get along?
posted by walrus at 5:06 AM on July 15, 2003


one of the things that bugs me most about religion is the need for people to identify themselves with a particular group and pester others about their own "right way".

and the name "brights" reminds me of those squeaky clean mormon boys.

i guess apatheism isn't such a bad idea.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:14 AM on July 15, 2003


I'm with birdherder. Just call me "Heathen".
posted by seanyboy at 5:29 AM on July 15, 2003


I think the best suggestion I've heard came from NortonDC in another thread. Just say you're 'non-religious'. Atheists and agnostics are not an opposing group to the religious with a set of beliefs. This is not a black and white, yin and yang kind of thing. Identifying yourself as some kind of oppressed minority gives too much weight to religion. They're the ones defining themselves, we're just everyone else.
posted by Summer at 5:32 AM on July 15, 2003


Apatheism is pretty good, but in my frame of mind today it just doesn't sound ... evangelical enough. If we're all to get along, we first have to get rid of the sectarian brainwashing that has corrupted far too many young American (not to mention Saudi, Irish, Palestinian and Israeli) minds.

Summer is right of course. We're not an oppressed minority, just the majority-in-waiting, yearning to breathe unpolluted air. Notwithstanding my own somewhat extreme views on religious tolerance (I can't abide it), the intolerance of organised religion is something that most must agree needs addressing.

Rant over. I will surely burn in hell. But which hell?
posted by cbrody at 5:48 AM on July 15, 2003


I will surely burn in hell. But which hell?

I expect we are substantially in agreement, cultural contexts notwithstanding. As I said above: isn't "bright" just everyone's natural state, before all the claptrap starts in?

I don't think I'd go so far as disbarring the claptrap, which is clearly where the evangelical part of this movement comes in. I'm in opposition to forcible conversion, whether it's to or against religion. Let people find their own path to wherever it is they're going or not going, respectively.
posted by walrus at 6:06 AM on July 15, 2003


cbrody: Believer? Don't you mean Make-Believer?
posted by jon_kill at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2003


I guess, what was wrong with "humanism" or even if you wanted to be more specific "secular humanism" which nicely describes what we non-believers do value?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:16 AM on July 15, 2003


The point of the brights movement, which has been roundly ridiculed but not addressed, is that by not coming together to assert a stake in the (United States of) American polity, atheists will continue to be ridiculed, marginalized, and abused for cheap political gain. I don't necessarily love the term, but I dig the idea.
posted by norm at 7:22 AM on July 15, 2003


Language rarely, if ever, changes due to a NYT Op-ed.
posted by goethean at 7:43 AM on July 15, 2003


I don't necessarily love the term, but I dig the idea.

I think I'm with you there. There's a certain smugness to "bright," with an implied slur on the other side - which I sort of agree with in fact, but in practical reality I don't make a big deal of because it's counter-productive. (Like, my personal answer to the question posted above, "What would you call a religious person?" is "possibly deluded.") Really I don't much care what religion a person chooses to follow as long as they keep it to themselves - when they cross the line into insisting that others need to believe as they do, then they've gone to far and need to be bitch-slapped. And here in the US there's far too much of that line-crossing going on, with politicians from secretive christian sects like Opus Dei attempting to turn the US government into a theocracy. That is disgusting and apalling. I don't think this "brights" thing will help that, but perhaps something will come from the same motivations that can make a difference.
posted by dnash at 8:06 AM on July 15, 2003


Well, pardon me, but I've got to wear shades. Other than that, I repeat the classic question: who is the prime mover of the universe and all perceived forces, sensations and verifiable data? homo brightus? Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins?
To trust your sensations (as the average person normally does) already implies acknowledgement of a silent mediation between man and nature, man and perception, man and feeling and so on. Who performs this mediation? Is it rational to suppose that it acts itself out so to speak?
Is everything created out of nothing?

ps: why the confidentiality clause on the site? I mean, what's the point of signing up when you feel somewhat ashamed of your own bright worldview?
posted by 111 at 8:17 AM on July 15, 2003


I hate the word bright. There's the implication that people who do believe are not bright, and that's descending into name-calling.

seanyboy, if homosexuals are gay, does that mean that heterosexuals are gloomy? Using the word bright for a certain group doesn't make everybody else dim.
posted by Guy Smiley at 8:19 AM on July 15, 2003


I repeat the classic question: who is the prime mover of the universe and all perceived forces, sensations and verifiable data? homo brightus? Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins?

That question is and should be absolutely irrelevant in our political scene, yet somehow it IS relevant. Our politicians use religion to their advantage, Democrat and Republican, and impugn those who don't have time for it and rub it in their (our) face at many a public and official event. If politics was separate from religion there would be no need for even the attempt to organize such a movement.
posted by norm at 8:22 AM on July 15, 2003


A further point, which seems to be missed, is Dawkins' (and the Bright movement's) desire to have a clearly identifiable community with which people can identify, organise and take on opposition.

I've been thinking about this recently. An acquaintance from my childhood called up the other day; he went full-on fundamentalist Christian in his teens, and after some years of disillusionment thinks he's made a mistake. Basically, he wanted to know, what's it like outside, and would he regret leaving?

Of course life is more fun out here in the big world, but one of the things the conservative Christians seem to do better than anybody else is small-scale social organization. Church was boring and tedious, but it never occured to me until I left that the real world has nothing to replace it. A fundie who moves into a new community can expect, within a few weeks, to have met at least a couple dozen people of similar faith, who invariably welcome the newcomer into their group and take time to help integrate them into the community. People expect to hang around after church and socialize for an hour or two, and there are usually small group Bible-study meetings practically every weeknight, so it's hard to *not* meet people.

The real world feels pretty cold when you grow up in this kind of experience. You can find echoes of it in some subcultures but they are typically youth-oriented and transient, without the staying power or sense of solidarity that conservative Christians can muster.

They think of themselves as a group and have no qualms taking on projects as a group. They are used to organizing themselves to deal with small projects like potlucks, church-in-the-park outings, special Easter or Christmas services, and usually a variety of ongoing service projects. Political activity is just a small step away. They have power beyond their numbers simply because they know what they are about and they are used to working together.

The "Brights" label sounds a bit hokey to me, but I like the concept of a secular identity & social organizing principle. The world can use a few more kernels for people to cluster around, and this particular one is likely to be healthier than most as it is not based on myth or morality. Right now they seem to be focused on the broader scale, though, and I don't see as much value in that; it's basically yet another advocacy group. The real promise here is in the idea of self-identification as a "Bright"; if they can convince people to think of themselves as part of a group at all, they may be able to translate that into an impetus for local action and thus into some real social power.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:23 AM on July 15, 2003


I was really annoyed to see Dan Dennett jump on this bandwagon. I'm all for a positive representation of atheism / humanism, but "bright" a) sounds elitist (we're bright and you're not), b) sounds dippy (any adjective appropriated as a noun is problematic, but especially a cute little perky one like this) and c) sounds culty (like "clears" in scientology, as I said in that previous thread). It isn't a word I'll be using anytime soon.

on preview:
seanyboy, if homosexuals are gay, does that mean that heterosexuals are gloomy?

a) people are more sensitive to labels which seem to refer to intelligence than those which might describe mood; b) "gay" came about more naturally - as in, he seems a little, you know, flamboyant, a little, perky, a little, gay...
posted by mdn at 8:25 AM on July 15, 2003


What a load of hooey. Was secular humanism too informative? Not smarmy enough?

Hey! Let's all call ourselves sparkly! Wait... shimmery? No! Bright! Yeah... we're brights! And if you don't know what that means, then you're not! Bright, that is! So there!

Yeah. Great idea. I'm sure it'll catch on right away.
posted by stefanie at 8:41 AM on July 15, 2003


111: You realize your questions are tautologies, right?

Who is the prime mover of the universe and all perceived forces, sensations and verifiable data? Who performs this mediation? Is everything created out of nothing?
posted by signal at 8:49 AM on July 15, 2003


111: Well, pardon me, but I've got to wear shades. Other than that, I repeat the classic question: who is the prime mover of the universe and all perceived forces, sensations and verifiable data? homo brightus? Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins?
To trust your sensations (as the average person normally does) already implies acknowledgement of a silent mediation between man and nature, man and perception, man and feeling and so on. Who performs this mediation? Is it rational to suppose that it acts itself out so to speak?
Is everything created out of nothing?


These questions are not so hard. The difficult question is whether one should give in to temptation and indulge in a lengthy and ultimately futile discussion into metaphysics, the transcendental argument for god, and prime mover arguments, or whether one should not feed the trolls who divert discussions of society and culture to metaphysics?

111: ps: why the confidentiality clause on the site? I mean, what's the point of signing up when you feel somewhat ashamed of your own bright worldview?

Um, because it is good practice for web sites to disclose how they plan to use the information you collect whether you are a university, a tractor company or even a Methodist Church. It provides the users with a small amount of reassurance that they won't find their mailboxes flooded with invitations to Bright-themed vacations on tropical beaches, Bright-on-Bright pornography or offers to make personal organs even more Bright.

Mars Saxman: They think of themselves as a group and have no qualms taking on projects as a group. They are used to organizing themselves to deal with small projects like potlucks, church-in-the-park outings, special Easter or Christmas services, and usually a variety of ongoing service projects. Political activity is just a small step away. They have power beyond their numbers simply because they know what they are about and they are used to working together.

I also think that we miss out on a ton of political capital because of the lack of secular social/civic organizations comparable to Habitat for Humanity, the variety of lodges and youth organizations that are not associated with any particular church but have a religious bent to them. It's not just what those organizations do that is important but who you meet through them.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2003


Every time I hear about a new package for atheism, I get interested, because I'm against theism (as a public, political force, that is). But then, eventually, you get back to the nuts-and-bolts where I can't sign on:

A bright is a person whose world view is free of supernatural and mystical elements

Sorry, but to believe that such a person exists is, IMHO, a leap of faith. More accurate might be "A bright is a person who strives for a world view free of supernatural and mystical elements." But atheists seem to succumb to easily to the fallacy of "as long as I can see through this, this and this, then I'm thinking clearly." I don't buy that. All our thoughts are informed by myths, both personal and cultural, that we sort out, and attempt to discard (if we want to), as we go through life. In some ways people who consider themselves completely rational are more deluded than those who believe they're talking to a sky-god.
posted by soyjoy at 9:23 AM on July 15, 2003


norm, I take exception to the fact that atheists are hypocritical when trying to sell their worldview as self-sustaining and exempt from implications in daily life. Religion, arts and politics are innate and highly connected.

Civilization did not arise from nature. Religious thought is the one consistent upholder of moral values in history. People blather about Galileo and the Inquisition but forget the fact that western society was organized from religious bases from the Holy Roman Empire onwards, and that education itself as we know it (and as opposed to having disciples, academies, lycee etc) may be described as an invention of christian preachers and then monks. So science would not thrive in a vacuum of anarchy and irreligiousness; at the very least, to this day religion keeps challenging atheists to refute its basic assumptions. Dawkins and Dennett owe their jobs to the church.

Contradictions coming from supposedly rational (and bright!) people can't be buried under the carpet. The so-called brights have the moral duty to tell their prospective constituency things like:

-there are limits to merely human, scientific knowledge, particularly when it comes the origin of life and consciousness;

-you can choose to have no religion and you can insist there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to mankind's understanding, but it should be mentioned that virtually all societies known to us have included religious thoughts among their basic tenets (see, if I'm not mistaken, Edward O. Wilson's "Diversity of Life");

-these "intimations of immortality", when acted upon human beings by way of prayer, meditation and even silent gratitude make you happier and healthier (as widely demonstrated through research with tibetan monks, nuns et al);

-a naturalistic worldview would imply Darwinist consequences. I won't even go into the "if God does not exist, then everything is allowed" scenario, but nature tells us this: kill your opponents, gather material possessions, have as many offspring as you can and feed yourself from time to time. There is no such thing as a "naturalistic" ethics.

KirkJobSluder, since the questions are not so hard, I invite you to offer a concise answer or at least point one single work in the history of civilization that properly addresses them. I suspect you'll refer us to the man of K├Ânisberg, but then you'll be simply pointing at the wall and saying "see? It cannot be overcome! It can't even be defined!" to which I'll say "no, you're mistrusting your senses and living an existential lie" and then depart.
Re sign ups, well, just leave your nick and no email then. Simple.

signal, no I don't. You may substitute what or whence for who if you feel like, but the question remains. Being is a broad category definable through 1- our limited senses as well as by our 2- inferences about the impact of these senses on our rational conclusions. the second process is what makes us human; to challenge its existence means giving up any attempt at discourse and/or sanity.

ps: an aside on trolls: when debating hot issues here, people will often say you're a troll if you disagree with them. This is not what the Internet is about. This particular thread is not supposed to be a celebration of "brights" and atheism; like life, it is open to dissention. It's also highly unintelligent to debate someone's point of views without going to this POV's basic premises. Considering the observations and questions I raised, is it grammatically correct to keep calling these people "bright"?

If the very foundations of your thoughts are fragile (as in atheism, communism, leftism, populism etc etc), it doesn't surprise me you'll act defensively and whine about trolling, but you're just offering additional evidence of your ultimate ignorance and lack of argumentative skills.
posted by 111 at 9:38 AM on July 15, 2003


Well, I've finally found my pigeonhole: post-bright.
posted by goethean at 9:50 AM on July 15, 2003


111, I don't necessarily disagree with your history lesson, but note that the USA was founded in part based on an Enlightenment philosophy of a secular approach to government, one that didn't need religion to justify it and expressly forbade the government to associate itself with religion.

I take exception to the fact that atheists are hypocritical when trying to sell their worldview as self-sustaining and exempt from implications in daily life. Religion, arts and politics are innate and highly connected.


I guess this is where we fundamentally disagree. I think that religion ought not to be a public or quasi-official affair, so that each person in society may choose their approach to a deeply personal question. They may be innate and highly connected, in that a fundamentalist Christian may find that belief to affect their political viewpoint -- fine! No argument! But when such a person is elected and then prays in public at official events and redirects funds to the religion, it crosses a line.

If the very foundations of your thoughts are fragile (as in atheism, communism, leftism, populism etc etc), it doesn't surprise me you'll act defensively and whine about trolling, but you're just offering additional evidence of your ultimate ignorance and lack of argumentative skills.


I didn't see any trolling in this thread until this comment.
posted by norm at 9:50 AM on July 15, 2003


What would a person be called who believes that god, if he exists, is evil?
posted by beth at 9:58 AM on July 15, 2003


111: Being is a broad category definable through 1- our limited senses as well as by our 2- inferences about the impact of these senses on our rational conclusions. the second process is what makes us human; to challenge its existence means giving up any attempt at discourse and/or sanity.

Um, trying really, really hard to parse that, but can't. Could you translate, please? Particularly " inferences about the impact of these senses on our rational conclusions."?
posted by signal at 10:00 AM on July 15, 2003


111: Also re: your tautlogical questions, they assume: there is a "prime mover", there is something (or someone) mediating the information we recieve, and everything was "created".

I'm not saying any of these assumptions is necessarily false, just that they're implicit in your questions, and point pretty directly to the answer you wish to recieve.
posted by signal at 10:05 AM on July 15, 2003


beth: What would a person be called who believes that god, if he exists, is evil?

Some flavors of Gnosticism have this assumption, sort of: our universe is not the real reality and it's creator isn't the real God, but an insane/incompetent servant of the "real God" from the "real universe", who stole the real God's knowledge and tried to make his own pefect universe. He failed and thus we are the flawed creation of a flawed creator. A few of the documents in the "Nag Hammadi Library" get into this fascinating concept.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:08 AM on July 15, 2003


But when such a person is elected and then prays in public at official events and redirects funds to the religion, it crosses a line.

norm :
You are, aren't you, aware that many of the founders (elected) prayed at public events? In fact the elected still do (e.g. the prayers that open the house and senate each day). Are you also aware that even the Supreme Court held communion together and worship services?

Were all our founders who participated in these religious events "crossing a line?"
posted by alethe at 10:09 AM on July 15, 2003


Beth, I think those are called Fundamentalists. They just don't acknolowedge that eternally torturing everyone who doesn't suck up is evil.

"Brights" is a trademark of The MeadWestvaco Corporation, by the way.
posted by Foosnark at 10:12 AM on July 15, 2003


This article is hard to grasp being a citizen of the United States of America. Because the US doesn't separate by religious denomination, just by race and State.

Worked with a guy whose origin was from St. Petersburg, Russia. He showed us his passport one day, and his origin was Jew, not Russian. It really stuck out when we realized he was attending a Catholic Church. So we asked him what's the deal, he looked at us like it was a no brainier.

He said it was put on his birth certificate because of previous family members whom had practice Judaism. When I said but you don't practice it why is Russian not your origins. He became silent and gave us all dirty looks then walked off. To this day we dropped it, yet this article explains his plight. He was labeled w/o even his origins being said.

But this article is way off for most US citizens, because they forget in other parts of the world folks are labeled by religion not color or origin. Why folks come to the USA too.
posted by thomcatspike at 10:19 AM on July 15, 2003


111 -a naturalistic worldview would imply Darwinist consequences. I won't even go into the "if God does not exist, then everything is allowed" scenario ... nature tells us this...

Nature doesn't. There are many examples of animals that live sociably in large groups. Even unsociable ones don't inevitably kill their opponents; evolved conflict behaviour often involves displays of strength that scares off the loser rather than inflict serious injury. Is that because God is keeping these animals moral? No: it's because evolution can produce cooperative as well as competitive strategies, so it doesn't at all wash that Darwinism implies moral chaos.
posted by raygirvan at 10:21 AM on July 15, 2003


I repeat the classic question: who is the prime mover of the universe and all perceived forces, sensations and verifiable data?

What does this even mean? Why should the universe not move itself? What is your "prime mover" - is it not you?

To trust your sensations (as the average person normally does) already implies acknowledgement of a silent mediation between man and nature, man and perception, man and feeling and so on. Who performs this mediation? Is it rational to suppose that it acts itself out so to speak?

why not? Why do you insert a "mediation" there? Man is part of nature, man experiences through perception and feeling, and experience is the only form of knowledge we actually have, even if we need the understanding to parse it. But the ability of our minds to perceive is due to the organization of matter.

How would you explain the working of a supernatural form of the understanding? Where would the soul be? How would it work?

Is everything created out of nothing?

is god created out of nothing?

-there are limits to merely human, scientific knowledge, particularly when it comes the origin of life and consciousness;

how do we know where those limits are? Are not the exact same limits in effect when it comes to non-scientific knowledge regarding the origin of life & consciousness? If we posit god as an answer to something, absolutely no information or knowledge has been gained; instead an unfounded suggestion has been made and left unquestioned.

but nature tells us this: kill your opponents, gather material possessions, have as many offspring as you can and feed yourself from time to time.
'
"god" has told many people the exact same things. Nature also tells us to work together to achieve the most, to do things which make us happy and feel good, such as sharing what we have and helping others and forming families and communities - etc.

There is no such thing as a "naturalistic" ethics.

On the contrary, all ethics are naturalistic.
posted by mdn at 10:21 AM on July 15, 2003


111: a naturalistic worldview would imply Darwinist consequences. ... nature tells us this: kill your opponents, gather material possessions, have as many offspring as you can and feed yourself from time to time.

Nature doesn't "tell" us anything, actually. Stop anthropomorphizing everything! And leave Darwin alone, he wasn't a moralist, he was a scientist, and any spurious "consequences" reached by others are entirely their fault, not his.

There is no such thing as a "naturalistic" ethics.

I take offense at that, as someone whith no supernatural beliefs whatsoever, who's ethics are much stronger than most of the believers I am aware of.

The foundation for naturalistic ethics is simple: they're human, just as I am. Or sentient. Or living. Or just "they are, as I do". Simple.
posted by signal at 10:26 AM on July 15, 2003


alethe: "Were all our founders who participated in these religious events "crossing a line?"

The answer is yes, but enlightened as they were, the Founders were not quite enlightened enough to see the contradictions in what they preached (secularism) as opposed to what they practiced.

Most of the rest of the (Western) world has moved on I believe, although the UK Parliament still has a daily, Anglican prayer. We don't however have a Constitution which mandates the separation of Church and State.

thomcatspike: "the US doesn't separate by religious denomination"

You left out the word "legally" between "doesn't" and "separate". Lots of folks choose to leave too, by the way.

beth: "What would a person be called who believes that god, if he exists, is evil?"

George W. Bush

Sorry, that one was just too obvious for me to pass up on.
posted by cbrody at 10:39 AM on July 15, 2003


111: -there are limits to merely human, scientific knowledge, particularly when it comes the origin of life and consciousness;

A really great educator on evolution I heard speak a while back suggested that we should do just that in using a big mac in talking about the history of the universe. Athiests will freely admit that very little is known about the first handful of seconds that the universe existed. However, we do know in a great deal of detail what happened over the next few billion years. We don't know how life first developed, we do know that once it got here that evolution was the mechanism by which it produced the current diversity of life. Likewise, we don't know much about the development of early intelligence. The primary difference is that athiesm finds these questions to be more exciting than troubling. There are dozens of theories proposed for the mechanism behind the big bang, many of them much more exciting than "god did it".

-you can choose to have no religion and you can insist there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to mankind's understanding, but it should be mentioned that virtually all societies known to us have included religious thoughts among their basic tenets (see, if I'm not mistaken, Edward O. Wilson's "Diversity of Life")

True, on the other hand, the sheer diversity of those religious beliefs and incompatibility among them suggests that theories about god and a spiritual aspect of mankind's understanding suggest that they are little more than social constructions. Meanwhile, religious debate including freethought has been a feature of virtually all societies known to us as well.

-these "intimations of immortality", when acted upon human beings by way of prayer, meditation and even silent gratitude make you happier and healthier (as widely demonstrated through research with tibetan monks, nuns et al);

True, however meditation appears to be beneficial even when the object one is focusing on is entirely secular. This points to a physiological reason for these practices to work, rather than a supernatural one.

-a naturalistic worldview would imply Darwinist consequences. I won't even go into the "if God does not exist, then everything is allowed" scenario, but nature tells us this: kill your opponents, gather material possessions, have as many offspring as you can and feed yourself from time to time. There is no such thing as a "naturalistic" ethics.

This one is so easy to rebutt. It is rather like saying that a naturalistic worldview would imply the consequences of Boyles Gas law in that what we should be doing with our lives is bouncing around in random directions occasionally engaging in interactions with other particles. Or imply the consequences of Plate Techtonics and move slowly at a rate of a few centemetres a year. Or imply the consequences of Einsteinian Gravity and move in straight lines through curved spacetime. Theories have limits and domains. I don't use literary criticism to balance my checkbook, nor do I use algebra to review a movie. Dawkins was stretching even when he proposed that ideas can be modeled using the same tools that apply to genes. The fact that Darwinism is the best theory for describing the current genetic diversity of life (a theory better supported than Kepler's solar system model.) Does not mean that it should be used as a guiding principle for human ethics.

As for, "There is no such thing as a 'naturalistic' ethics." What I think you really mean is, "none of the atheistic ethical systems are convincing to me." If you mean that there is no such thing as naturalistic ethics, well, that is a factual error ignoring 2500 years of philosophy.

KirkJobSluder, since the questions are not so hard, I invite you to offer a concise answer or at least point one single work in the history of civilization that properly addresses them.

Have you tried google? Personally as a pragmatist, I'm rather fond of Dewey's Experience and Nature which nicely got around the problem of needing a mediator between artificial dualities. However, there are many better places to engage in discussion about this without engaging in hostile thread diversion.

when debating hot issues here, people will often say you're a troll if you disagree with them. This is not what the Internet is about. This particular thread is not supposed to be a celebration of "brights" and atheism; like life, it is open to dissention. It's also highly unintelligent to debate someone's point of views without going to this POV's basic premises.

Its not a troll because you disagree. Its a troll because you are rather blatantly trying to take over the discussion by introducing an rather inflamatory argument that is only tangentally related to the central post. Perhaps I've been around the block several times on this, but it is a constant source of frustration in that it is impossible to hold a discussion about humanist ethics, politics, and criticism without having to get into the same old "prime mover" arguments, arguments about epistemology and lack of evidence, and the arguments about the reasonableness of belief. (I belive that it can be entirely logical and reasonable to believe in god, however none of the arguments you've set forth are convincing.)

If you regard my unwilliness to repeat basic atheistic philosophy, at the expense of more fruitful discussion, just to satisfy your need to troll to be "adding evidence of my ultimate ignorance and lack of argumentative skills." Well, whatever myths make you sleep better at night.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:40 AM on July 15, 2003


beth, who knows-- a gnostic or a satanist perhaps. That would depend on this person's definition of God, existence and evil.

signal, OK, first of all, assumptions underlie every single act of thinking. It would strain and subvert your basic mental processes to defend the nonexistence of creation. Any attempt to disregard the depart of any given process falls upon itself. What came before the Big Bang? I challenge anyone anytime, as said before, to make a case for the nonexistence of creation (never mind that these attempts would entail acts of creation and rationalizing that would immediately bring to the fore the question of their own creation etc).

About your first comment:

-you're alive;
-you have five senses;
-you perceive the world through them;
-you also act upon your perceptions through your mind broadly speaking: you eat an apple, wonder where the very first apple tree came from, the first seed, the first piece of land, solar system and so on to the very beginning;
-when asking yourself about the existence of an agent (who, what, whence), you may use the category available to you (a creator) in order to grasp the notion;
-to fully acknowledge the existence of the creator, who's responsible for everything from Mount Fuji to Daniel Dennett to frisbees, you'll need to go back to your five senses; unless you possess the intuitive knowledge that an act has been performed to make it possible for you to bite an apple and taste it, and you trust your senses enough to say "yes, I just ate an apple, and it happened outside my mind but was made available to it through a process autonomous to my own conclusions" is to understand there is an element of action outside all constructs and conventions, making data available to you through your senses, both chronologically and physically-- God.

raygirvan, that's a fallacy; you may take the exception for the rule if you want, but that says nothing about the pattern. Some species may live sociably, but retain ruthless aspects nonetheless. Cooperation is just an alternative to a frankly competitive pattern, intra and among species. Our own species, left to its own naturalistic devices, is more than apt to show nature red in tooth and claw. Although it is a movie and a metaphor, I can't help but mention Bunuel's masterpiece "El Angel Exterminador".

mdn, your building will fall apart as long as you disregard antecedents. Did you (or your parents, grandparents et al) move yourselves into existence? Can you perpetuate yourself indefinitely? Can you do without food?

is god created out of nothing?

A created god wouldn't be God!

On the contrary, all ethics are naturalistic

You either misconstrue "ethics" or "naturalistic". The fact that you had to be toilet trained should be enough to make you rethink that assumption.
posted by 111 at 10:52 AM on July 15, 2003


> what was wrong with "humanism" or even if you wanted to
> be more specific "secular humanism" which nicely describes
> what we non-believers do value?

We still lack a label for those who don't believe in humans either--i.e. the old man up in the clouds doesn't run things rationally because He doesn't exist; humans don't run things rationally because they are, en masse, too dumb.
posted by jfuller at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2003


signal: One of the things I've noticed is that athiests and theists come from very different epistemologies. Theists are more likely to believe in human mind as the ghost in the machine connected to the outside world through unreliable sensory apparatus. As a result, they create a problem of knowledege for themselves. Thus the need for a mediation between mind/body, man/nature. Somewhere between seeing and knowing, something magic must happen.

Contemporary atheism comes tends to come from a more pragmatic epistemology which emphasizes inquiry. We can be fooled by our senses but repeated experiences tend to develop better, more accurate understandings of the world.

althe: You are, aren't you, aware that many of the founders (elected) prayed at public events? In fact the elected still do (e.g. the prayers that open the house and senate each day). Are you also aware that even the Supreme Court held communion together and worship services?

True, on the other hand, I find it interesting that religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution in two places. The first is in the body of the constitution forbidding the requirement of religious oaths for public service. The second is the first amendment of course. We also have to give them credit for being radical for their day. It should be remembered that Rhode Island was founded by exiles kicked out of Mass. over an obscure doctrinal difference. The notion that Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, Quakers, German Separatists, Baptists, and non-doctrinal freethinkers such as Benjamin Franklin (who was widely criticized for his religious tolerance) should vote on the same ballot box, serve on an elected body together, and attend school together was as radical in the 1790s as racial integration was in the 1950s.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2003


mdn, your building will fall apart as long as you disregard antecedents. Did you (or your parents, grandparents et al) move yourselves into existence? Can you perpetuate yourself indefinitely? Can you do without food?

what does any of that have to do with a supernatural creator? Of course I need food; I'm a complex machine (organism) that processes energy. Why do you need food? Are you not an immortal soul?

A created god wouldn't be God!

oh, well that clears that up. I mean, why not just "a created universe wouldn't be The Universe?

You either misconstrue "ethics" or "naturalistic". The fact that you had to be toilet trained should be enough to make you rethink that assumption.

Mostly I was just trying to point out the level of evidence you provided for your sweeping statemtn. But ethics is the behavior of a group; group behavior is naturalistic. The fact that we learn from members of our species who have had more experience doesn't seem to me to challenge that at all.
posted by mdn at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2003


Argh, as a former editor I wince in great pain every time I see someone type "athiest". That is WRONG WRONG WRONG!

The correct spelling is atheist, dammit! Please people, get it right!
posted by beth at 11:26 AM on July 15, 2003


KirkJobSluder: good points. One thing which gets to me about most arguments for the existence of gods is that they take the form:

a- X must exist [where X can be "prime mover", "sensorial intermediary", etc.]

b- X isn't part of the natural world

c- ergo X is god

it's point b that seems fallacious to me. It assumes a priori that existence can somehow be divide into natural and supernatural, and that supernatural = divine.

It's a cute trick, presenting a (false) paradox (in 111's case, the separation of "mind" and "outside world") and resolving it by invoking a being somehow outside of the logical chain they're using in the first place!

Therefore I propose a new proof of the existence of god, the Argument From Movement (with apologies to Xeno):

a- To get from point A to point B, you must first pass through an infinite series of points in between

b- You can't, so there must be some agent moving you magically between point A and B

c- This "prime mover" is known as "God"

QED baby!
posted by signal at 11:32 AM on July 15, 2003


111: You either misconstrue "ethics" or "naturalistic". The fact that you had to be toilet trained should be enough to make you rethink that assumption.

Actually, I think that you are the one redefining "naturalistic" here. Specifically for this context:
2 : a theory denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specifically : the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena.
There are many ways to explain how I was toilet trained without invoking Father, Son or Holy Ghost. (A combination of Piaget and Skinner would probably do the trick.)

signal, OK, first of all, assumptions underlie every single act of thinking. It would strain and subvert your basic mental processes to defend the nonexistence of creation. Any attempt to disregard the depart of any given process falls upon itself. What came before the Big Bang? I challenge anyone anytime, as said before, to make a case for the nonexistence of creation (never mind that these attempts would entail acts of creation and rationalizing that would immediately bring to the fore the question of their own creation etc).

The basic answer is "we don't know". And the funny thing is, that is not a serious problem for atheistic philosophy because it does not need to fill in the gaps with a supernatural entity. (I suppose that one could argue that anything prior to the big bang is by definition supernatural.) I find the unanswered question (and if Stephen Hawing is correct, unanswerable question) to be much more pleasing to me because it opens up endless possibilities. Perhaps it is god, perhaps this universe is an event in a larger multiverse. The possibilities opened by science are much more beautiful to me than the creation myths of theism.

-to fully acknowledge the existence of the creator, who's responsible for everything from Mount Fuji to Daniel Dennett to frisbees, you'll need to go back to your five senses; unless you possess the intuitive knowledge that an act has been performed to make it possible for you to bite an apple and taste it, and you trust your senses enough to say "yes, I just ate an apple, and it happened outside my mind but was made available to it through a process autonomous to my own conclusions" is to understand there is an element of action outside all constructs and conventions, making data available to you through your senses, both chronologically and physically-- God.

Assuming this epistemology is good (and like most epistmologies, as you've said, all of them are based on fundamental assumptions, as Huxley pointed out, depending on your starting conditions one must either become an atheist or deist) why should this "element of action" be called god? Why is it worthy of worship? What role does it play in ethics?

But here is where the fundamentally different epistemologies come into play. Is it really a given that because the universe exists, that we are fundamentally sundered from it needing this magical mediator to permit us to draw conclusions? The TAG is just an answer to an unnecessary question. If cognition is not something that happens in the head, but a situated behavior in the world, then the need for a mediator vanishes like the epicycles of Ptolemey.

That is not to say that I find the TAG to be irrational. If one buys the initial premise that we are just ghosts driving around a body through a distant universe limited by our sensory organs, it certainly makes sense. But with the continual erosion of the basic gulfs between mind/body, mind/nature the TAG becomes radically unnecessary.

Even if true it is still yet another big bold leap from the TAG to a specific religious faith. Which throws one basically back into agnostic humanism/weak atheism. Without any clear idea what this "God" is beyond a mediating influence, we need to figure out alternative ways to justify and evaluate what we do.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:37 AM on July 15, 2003


Only slightly less offtopic than the proof-of-god diversion, I have a question: is Howard "Napster" Dean a Bright? I think we should be told.

KirkJobSLuder: "Dawkins was stretching even when he proposed that ideas can be modeled using the same tools that apply to genes."

Some would say the Dean-as-Napster meme has already caught on and been converted into a real-world phenomenon, with real political (and financial) clout. Once sown, this filthy, peer-to-peer spawn does spread fast, far and wide, and no Democrat can top it -- yet.

More generally, Politics-as-Napster gathers strength, mutates, upgrades, and the amphibians, such as MoveOn, MeetUp, EFF etc. propagate it to the real world.

And lose, unfortunately -- so far. But we're in the early dark ages of internet politics. Dean was the first to taste the forbidden fruit and jump on the untamed wild horse of blogdom. Smart guy. He won't win, but we (Brights) will, in the long run.

I think the concept (if not the word) has a lot of staying power. I'd be willing to bet that a Google search for "Bright" will return a relevant, top-twenty link in under a month (nowhere to be seen in the top 100 at the moment).

n.b. What on earth is Mario Cuomo doing these days? Is he still alive? I can't be the only one wondering...
posted by cbrody at 12:23 PM on July 15, 2003


But when such a person is elected and then prays in public at official events and redirects funds to the religion, it crosses a line

Disagreement; that's a free speech issue. If they can say "Vote for me" or "Fourscore and seven years ago" or "Hooble stinky florky blotch" at an official event, they can also say "May God bless..." or "Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!" or anything else that comes into their pointy little heads.

Of course, you're always free to vote against people who say things you find distasteful, whether that's "May Christ Jesus save us..." or "Ramalamadingdong."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:23 PM on July 15, 2003


Howzabout: "Jesus built my hotrod"?
posted by signal at 12:25 PM on July 15, 2003


Or the favorite in our household "Jesus is my pantaloons."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:28 PM on July 15, 2003


KirkJobSluder, you already admitted that there is an origin of life whose mechanism and purpose remains unattainable by science, and that's a start. Unfortunately, you use darwinism selectively and say that sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. "Theories have limits and domains", you say; since darwinism deals with man and is described in human terms (language), your attempt to displace or minimize the effects of evolution and the origins of ethical behavior falls apart.

why should this "element of action" be called god? Why is it worthy of worship? What role does it play in ethics?

You can call it Cheech and Chong if it makes more sense to you. The fact that It's responsible for the entire existence of the universe seems enough to validate Its worship imho.

Now re ethics and naturalistic behavior: the vehicle for the ethical paradigm has always been religion. The basic ethical assumption ("we must get along and protect our offspring and other humans even if shortens our life and drain our assets") values human life on a level never attained by nature or naturalistic frameworks. Plus it is a fallacy to state (with mdn) that all group behavior is naturalistic. If everything is naturalistic, why bother? Your own assumption will be naturalistic as well, thereby defeating the purpose to explain ethics, religion and gregarious living in purely evolutive terms.

Is it really a given that because the universe exists, that we are fundamentally sundered from it needing this magical mediator to permit us to draw conclusions?

Try doing without the mediator. Did Dewey write his book in a vacuum where his ideas, his pencils, his hand etc all existed in tandem and soared above daily existence, thereby allowing him to distance himself from the very process that enabled him to discuss it? Does it make sense to you as a human being to distrust your senses or else think of them as spontaneous, autonomous and self-contained?

If cognition is not something that happens in the head, but a situated behavior in the world, then the need for a mediator vanishes like the epicycles of Ptolemey.

Cognition is the context within which your assumptions are tested and your sensations are acknowledged. You cannot explain cognition away unless you throw your own cognitive acts in the garbage. You can't enter cognition mode when you want to brush your teeth or cross the street and abandon it when you want to play impartial scientist with a clipboard!

the continual erosion of the basic gulfs between mind/body, mind/nature the TAG becomes radically unnecessary

A golf erosion means a wider chasm or an approach between mind/senses/nature? A caveman had exactly the same tools Richard Dawkins has to perceive himself and his limits, so the links between feeling and thought to nature have not been altered; we still gather data which is presented by the senses and taken from an external world; we're still mysteriously connected to an origin unknown to us.
posted by 111 at 12:58 PM on July 15, 2003


norm :
You are, aren't you, aware that many of the founders (elected) prayed at public events? In fact the elected still do (e.g. the prayers that open the house and senate each day). Are you also aware that even the Supreme Court held communion together and worship services?

Were all our founders who participated in these religious events "crossing a line?"


Yes.
posted by norm at 12:58 PM on July 15, 2003


The fact that It's responsible for the entire existence of the universe seems enough to validate Its worship imho.

How do you know it created the universe? Please answer in terms of *evidence*, not mere supposition.

If there were a being that created the universe, how would we know that it didn't do so in order to torment us because it was amused by our suffering? Would you still think it worthwhile to worship such a thing?

I certainly wouldn't.

I think the world would look a lot different if it were designed by a loving creator. Why so much suffering? Surely an omnipotent and omniscient being could come up with a better and less painful way to teach us the lessons we're supposed to learn, right?
posted by beth at 1:12 PM on July 15, 2003


I think the world would look a lot different if it were designed by a loving creator. Why so much suffering? Surely an omnipotent and omniscient being could come up with a better and less painful way to teach us the lessons we're supposed to learn, right?

Perhaps God practices the reciprocal form of apatheism towards his creation?

PS. This is a tired argument, and I was impressed it took so long to get started in this thread.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:16 PM on July 15, 2003


Perhaps God practices the reciprocal form of apatheism towards his creation?

Then why bother worshipping him, if he doesn't even give a shit about human suffering?
posted by beth at 1:19 PM on July 15, 2003


111 (and co-conspirators) officially derailed the thread. Impressive, really, in its totality.
posted by norm at 1:21 PM on July 15, 2003


Okay, back on topic, I think people uninfected by the theistic meme complex should be referred to as "immune".

"Bright" sounds too superior and just plain happy-shiny.
posted by beth at 1:29 PM on July 15, 2003


How do you know it created the universe? Please answer in terms of *evidence*, not mere supposition.

It's inherent to the definition of God, isn't it? God is the benevolent origin, creating us out of nothing so that we can eventually, through our own free will, be reunited in harmony with Him.

If there were a being that created the universe, how would we know that it didn't do so in order to torment us because it was amused by our suffering?

If It weren't good, it wouldn't be God. Saint Anselm proposed this definition of God: that Being beyond which nothing higher or more elevated can be said. For those who believe, the most perfect perfection, the greatest good, the ultimate origin of everything is God .

I think the world would look a lot different if it were designed by a loving creator. Why so much suffering? Surely an omnipotent and omniscient being could come up with a better and less painful way to teach us the lessons we're supposed to learn, right?

"There will always be suffering/ It flows through life like water" (Nick Cave, Lime Tree arbor)
Nick Cave also gave an interview once saying that our human love and love stories are actually attempts to emulate and then approach the Love of God. Your intuition constantly leads you toward God; just trust it. If it were easily explained, it wouldn't be divine, therefore not the creation of God. We are here to fulfill our mission-- I hate to be pie in the sky and everything, but true happiness is attained here mostly as a promise of Eternal Life, not by a smug, naive assertion of impartiality or a superficial reading of Charles Darwin.

norm, you're wrong and bitter because, to reclaim the old saying, I brought info to the thread that reveals the atheist emperor's nakedness. Take it to MeTa if you think you have a case-- I responded to your, KirkJob and others' arguments and questions and will keep doing so as long as I have the time and the data. Not my fault if some people will have to start reconsidering their own so-called brightness from now on.
posted by 111 at 1:36 PM on July 15, 2003


Your intuition constantly leads you toward God; just trust it.

The only thing that led me toward god was psychosis.

I got better (still taking my meds, of course). Amazing thing that once I got better, all religious belief disappeared. Funny, eh?

I would pester you about the other stuff, 111, but I have an obligation to go visit my daughter now. Suffice it to say you didn't really answer my questions.

Not my fault if some people will have to start reconsidering their own so-called brightness from now on.

LOL, you really take the cake. You think you have such powers of persuasion? Get a fucking grip.
posted by beth at 1:46 PM on July 15, 2003


norm, you're wrong and bitter

I am not bitter, and I am never wrong.

Take it to MeTa

Ok.
posted by norm at 1:47 PM on July 15, 2003


Would everyone who wants to carry on with the real discussion kindly ignore 111 & co's derailments, and the noise will hopefully go away. I'm almost tempted to re-post my last (slightly off-topic) comment but I'll try to avoid reprobation by asking a slightly different question:

Are any (and I mean ANY) of the potential Democratic presidential candidates publicly areligious?

Jumping to the all-too-obvious conclusion, America is not ready for a secular democracy yet. Yet we expect to create one in Iraq. How funny!
posted by cbrody at 1:50 PM on July 15, 2003


in the year 2003 we still repeat the nervous suppositions of cave dwellers frightened by the sound of mating bison.
posted by quonsar at 1:52 PM on July 15, 2003


you can choose to have no religion and you can insist there is no such thing as a spiritual aspect to mankind's understanding, but it should be mentioned that virtually all societies known to us have included religious thoughts among their basic tenets (see, if I'm not mistaken, Edward O. Wilson's "Diversity of Life");

111: Nice try, but I'm not going to let that attempt to hijack E.O. Wilson's writings to support a pro-religious argument fly. In Consilience, Wilson describes religion as one of the methods that man has invented to explain nature. He writes "Could Holy Writ be just the first literate attempt to explain the universe and make ourselves significant within it? Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better-tested ground to attain teh same end. If so, then in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large. " So yes, you are mistaken.

Another point of contention I have with your arguments here is that a supernatural world is assumed. You say that there must be some sort of mechanism to move information between the physical senses and the mind that exists somewhere else, the 'spiritual realm' or some other abstraction. But what necessity is there to assume that the mind is not in fact something physical? I hold that all empirical evidence points to thought/mental activity as simply a highly complex neural system, leaving no room for a supernatural entity. I suppose if all possible scientific knowledge were immediately available to us, some would still insist in the existance of a God-like entity. You know, they're right, it doesn't mean something doesn't exist just because there is no evidence for it. (God.) But seriously dude, get a grip...it's far less likely in that case that it DOES exist. Consider this: Maybe there is a 23rd planet in our solar system. And why not? We have no PROOF that it doesn't exist. Although we do not see any evidence that points towards the existance of a 23rd planet, it is still possible that it exists. But seriously dude, get a grip...I wouldn't base my entire ideology on an idea that shaky. A concept thought up by some mediterranean farmers two thousand years ago. As Wilson put it.

As long as this thread is already completely sidetracked, I had might as well bring up another question. If God created a universe that contained us, beings that could appreciate his creation, and was constrained by a number of prime values that dictate the laws of the universe, that would result in the human race if given only ONE set of initial values...did he have any choice in creation of the universe? And if god has no choice....he would be more of a machine than a supreme being. Now that, a mechanism of creation, I can believe in that. Being a Bright and all.

Speaking of Brights...hey wasn't somebody talking about them earlier? Anyway, I admire the ideal that Dawkins and Co. are after. A truly organized and unified secular political force is something that I would love to see in our current national scene, but doubt if it will come to fruition. Religions tend to dictate a basic set of ideals to their followers, while the whole idea of atheism, excuse me, Brightness, is free thought, which would by definition contain a vastly wide array of social and political thought, held by a group of people that would not be likely to rally around one candidate, giving religiously influenced candidates a considerable advantage over those of secular persuasion come ballot time.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 2:06 PM on July 15, 2003


Are any (and I mean ANY) of the potential Democratic presidential candidates publicly areligious?

I think Kucinich might be, but most important to the discussion at hand, I don't think any of the mainstream ones feel like they can take that kind of risk.

I'm really surprised no one has brought up Contact.
posted by norm at 2:11 PM on July 15, 2003


beth, why do they keep reacting and responding? You're on the internet, so you must select the information you want to process; why not ignore all my previous statements and hop into other threads? Perhaps because your intuition may be telling you that this long, complex, discussion may be on to something after all. Everything eventually makes sense in a good way, I guess.

Are any (and I mean ANY) of the potential Democratic presidential candidates publicly areligious?

Now that's 100 % on topic! I'm sure cbrody is not merely trying to redirect the discussion into vulgar GOP/Bush bashing. Not at all. I mean, that never happens in MeFi, now does it?
posted by 111 at 2:11 PM on July 15, 2003


Thanks for bringing up Contact, Norm. That film had a lot to say regarding faith and the future of humanity. According to my secular view, the majority of people aren't ready to accept that what their culture has believed for two thousand years was a mistake. Until the public can accept that...a true secular democracy is unlikely in this nation.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 2:16 PM on July 15, 2003


Now that's 100 % on topic! I'm sure cbrody is not merely trying to redirect the discussion into vulgar GOP/Bush bashing. Not at all. I mean, that never happens in MeFi, now does it?

Nope. Cbrody's asking if a candidate for president can be both an atheist and viable. If the answer is no, then the question of whether we can create a secular democracy in Iraq when we demonstrably don't have one in the USA (because a candidate's religion or lack there of is tied to his chance to be elected) is a valid one and not a "Bush/GOP bash". Since one of the aims of this Bright movement is to create political viablility for atheists, the post is also on topic.

Of course, I believe the universe was created in three days by fluffy white kittens wearing bowties, so my take on all this probably isn't valid.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 2:24 PM on July 15, 2003


Stranger in a Strained Land:

Well. This is awkward. Should we like....grok out, or something?
posted by lazaruslong at 2:37 PM on July 15, 2003


I mean, that never happens in MeFi, now does it?

Nah, no-one hijacks threads for their own nefarious purposes these days. No-one of any consequence.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:42 PM on July 15, 2003


111: It is impossible to have a discussion on naturalistic ethics given that you quite obviously have fundamental misconceptions about Darwinism and the 2500 years of atheist ethical thought.

StrangerinaStrangeLand: Another point of contention I have with your arguments here is that a supernatural world is assumed. You say that there must be some sort of mechanism to move information between the physical senses and the mind that exists somewhere else, the 'spiritual realm' or some other abstraction. But what necessity is there to assume that the mind is not in fact something physical? I hold that all empirical evidence points to thought/mental activity as simply a highly complex neural system, leaving no room for a supernatural entity.

I would go even further than just a neural system. I'm rather fond of situated cognition which argues that "mind" is not only what goes on in our heads, but our tools and how we use those tools.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:45 PM on July 15, 2003


God (the Christian one): yes I believe in you, of course I do. I've always believed in you. Does that make you feel better now? Good, can I be president next? My maiden name's Hilary Rodham and I'm a born-again virgin.

111: No political party has the monopoly on lies and hypocrisy. I don't believe for a minute that HR-C actually believes in God. As for Bush, well, there are plenty of simple folk on all sides who'll believe most things if they're repeated enough times, with enough conviction.

However, this discussion is not about the existence of your God, we'll just have to agree to disagree on that, but about the USE of religion in society. A meta-discussion, in other words. You do understand what that means don't you?

One of the pleasures of Mefi is finding out something about the background of your adversary (or your partner) - shame you don't subscribe to that. </meta>
posted by cbrody at 2:49 PM on July 15, 2003


beth, why do they keep reacting and responding? You're on the internet, so you must select the information you want to process; why not ignore all my previous statements and hop into other threads? Perhaps because your intuition may be telling you that this long, complex, discussion may be on to something after all.

111, do you keep responding to us because secretly you're realizing the baselessness of your beliefs and yearning to become free of its redundant suppositions so that you can truly begin to explore the rich, complex, and beautiful workings, mechanics, of nature and consciousness?

seriously, your arguments are poorly presented and you're not saying anything we haven't heard before. I've been an atheist my whole life, and have had countless discussions and debates on the matter. I don't have a problem with people following religions - life can be rough and anything that works is okay by me - but it makes absolutely no sense to me. Why posit this additional layer of reality when nature makes more sense on its own? that previous thread posed a lot of these questions, if you want to have a look.
posted by mdn at 2:49 PM on July 15, 2003


I'm less concerned about a candidate's faith or lack of it than what his or her alliances are. Although they don't have the publicity or lobbying machienery of the religious right or the Chistian Coalition, I think that there are a fair number of churches out there who are very warry of state interference because of their history.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:14 PM on July 15, 2003


The fact that It's responsible for the entire existence of the universe seems enough to validate Its worship imho.

Why? Did It ask us to worship It? Absent any kind of clear, unambiguous Message from a Deity, we can only speculate about its nature, desires, intent, and indeed its very existence. In the absence of fact, then, my opinion is as good as yours. And my opinion is, stop wasting time worrying about things you can never know, and get on with your life.
posted by kindall at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2003


The only thing that led me toward god was psychosis.

I got better (still taking my meds, of course). Amazing thing that once I got better, all religious belief disappeared. Funny, eh?


For a second there, I expected to see "posted by konolia" at the bottom.

No such luck, I guess.
posted by signal at 4:46 PM on July 15, 2003


I expected to see "posted by konolia" at the bottom.

the remarkabilities are similable though.
posted by quonsar at 5:33 PM on July 15, 2003


Here's what the 'Brights' are doing next. At least one of them, anyway.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:34 PM on July 17, 2003


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