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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, December 06, 2010

Currently reading: Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed by Kerry Walters

This isn't a bad little book, but it's annoying the way it goes on so much with the false moral equivalence between religious fundamentalists and New Atheists. This is lazy, unfair, and (by now) boring.

There are also other occasional oddities among what is mainly solid discussion. One is this claim (bear in mind that we're talking here about a new book, with a 2010 publication date): "In fact, it's become a convention among the New Atheists to refer to unbelievers as 'brights,' with the accompanying implication that believers are dim(-)witted."

This is simply false. There is no such convention. Admittedly, a couple of folks tried on this idea of "brights" as a positive-sounding name for non-believers, though those people were not Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. The idea never really took off and it is just false to say that it's a convention adopted in New Atheist circles. I can assure Walters that you can hang round in Gnu circles as much as you like without encountering any such "convention". In fact, you'll be very unlikely to encounter the usage at all.

This sort of outright misinformation, doubtless unintended, gives the impression of an author whose finger is just not on the pulse.


Richard Wein said...

Actually, I think Richard Dawkins was one of those promoting the word "Bright":

The idea seems to have faded away after a brief flash.

strangebeasty said...

For some reason that ridiculous "brights" idea gravitated in my mind to Daniel Dennett, but wikipedia attributes it to Paul Geisert.

It seems that Dennett took to the title rather enthusiastically for a little while at least, though Dawkins' response was a little more reserved.

Russell Blackford said...

Yes, it was Paul Geisert and his people. Dawkins expressed some initial enthusiasm, as did Dennett, but neither originated it.

But the point is this: first, it's on the public record that Dennett and Dawkins expressed some approval of the idea several years ago. But it's another thing for a book published in 2010 to make the wild - and false - inference that there is now a convention among Gnu Atheists to use the term "bright".

The latter is conjecture, not established fact - Walters can't possibly know any such thing because it's not actually true. It's a false conjecture, as a minute's checking around would have shown. As Richard W says, the idea (largely) faded away after its first brief luminescence.

Now, however, another claim about Gnu Atheists is out there in what is generally a reputable book, so lots of people will, understandably, believe it. Sigh.

Hamilton Jacobi said...

Most people who were in the target demographic for calling themselves "brights" (such as me) just thought it sounded lame and pathetic and ignored it. That was years ago. I can't believe anyone can say this with a straight face in 2010.

Maybe this Kerry Walters just discovered Sam Harris's first book at a used book store and thought, "Hey, this is an interesting new phenomenon! I should jump in and add my two cents; I'm sure everyone will be really interested in my insightful and up-to-date commentary."

Blake Stacey said...

By the time I had heard of the "bright" idea, it had already fizzled.

godskesen said...

It should also be mentioned that Daniel Dennett explicitly denied the implication of religious people being dim. He proposed that their "pet name" could be the 'Supers' as a way to point to their supernatural beliefs. Maybe it was a vain hope that anyone would buy Dennett's claim or that the opponents of atheism wouldn't attribute the intention of an insulting implication of the word 'Bright' to atheists no matter what. I say that the term was probably a poor tactic from the start.