Time for a little equal-opportunity mockery.
As I’ve stated before I’m a skeptic. Or rather, I have a skeptical philosophy. What that means is that I try to approach things from a rational point of view, requiring that claims (particularly those of an extraordinary nature, such as ESP, Ghosts, and Compassionate Conservatism) submit some kind of proof before I’m willing to give them a go. I regularly read magazines such as Skeptical Inquirer, Skeptic, and Fortean Times (more skeptical than some people give it credit!). Do I think this makes me a better person than people who don’t share this view? No, I think my Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Fields Medal do that.
In many ways I’m not a good skeptic. For one thing, a good skeptic is supposed to believe that there’s always the possibility that good evidence of some paranormal claims will eventually surface, and so one must always examine evidence in case that happens to come up. I personally think there are things we can close the book on. For example, astrology has been given several centuries to prove it’s not a load of cack and has come up short. I think we’re done with that. I see no reason to humor astrologers by looking at their ‘evidence’, especially when it’s the same load of bogustry over and over. Another way I’m not a good skeptic is that I don’t get all bent out of shape over paranormal and mystical elements in entertainment. I’m not upset that ‘The X-Files’ doesn’t present a 100% rational worldview. I’m more upset that it really started to suck after season four.
But now, here come the Brights! And another chance to prove that I’m not a good skeptic. I first heard about this whole “Brights” movement on James Randi’s website and at the time it had me rolling my eyes and hoping it was a passing fad that would die out. But it seems like the movement’s members really want it to gather steam, so it hasn’t gone away. The Brights, as explained on their website, are a group of people whose worldview is naturalistic. Seems fine, right? Well, personally, I think this is all incredibly silly and unnecessary. We already have terms for this sort of thing, terms like “humanist” and “secular humanist” and “rationalist” and – oh yeah – skeptic.
But, say the Brights, these terms are insufficient. After all, the term “naturalist” can mean things unrelated to philosophy (unlike, say, the term “Bright”). And there are plenty of skeptics who aren’t atheists, whereas Brights are. (A skeptical atheist, by the way, isn’t the oxymoron you might think. People holding this view usually say that religious beliefs occupy a place that is untouchable by science, and therefore are immune from scientific investigation — until, of course, a claim that can be tested comes up.) Plus, the skeptical community hadn’t been charged with elitism and condescension in about a week or so, which needed to be addressed.
As you can probably tell, I’m really not in favor of this movement. In fact, I think it’s stupid and wrongheaded. I mean, look at me — I call people kooks, I cheerfully declare my skepticism, I read Skeptical Inquirer, for god’s sake!, I am 100% qualified for membership and I think it’s a stupid, stupid idea.
For one thing, I think it’s completely unnecessary. There’s no need to come up with a new term to define skeptics. We don’t need to have new sub-categories of skepticism. There’s no problem with what we already have. Second, it sounds elitist. If the purpose is to try to enlighten the masses to the rational philosophy, you won’t accomplish that by acting as though they’re stupid and you’re above them. That doesn’t make people listen to your point of view. Whether you like it or not (and most do like it), the term “Bright” is not free from connotations that make strong claims about those who aren’t so described. The two opposites of “bright” that spring to mind immediately are “dim” and “stupid” and it’s tough to rally people around your cause that way. Third, even if we did need a new elitist club with a cool name, “Brights” wouldn’t fit the bill. It sounds artificial and forced. Does the phrase, “Yeah, I’m a Bright.” work for anyone?
So in short, I’m a skeptic. I’m pretty much an atheist, for reasons actually somewhat unrelated to my skepticism. I try to have a naturalistic worldview. But I’m not a Bright. I don’t want to be a Bright. And in fact, I’d really like for the Brights to not be Brights, in the same way that I wish many comic book fans would take a shower. They’re hurting the cause, I think.