Some thoughts on Daniel Dennett and the (not so) Bright Movement

The American philosopher Daniel Dennett (b.1942) has made some important contributions to the philosophy of science, the study of Charles Darwin, the study of consciousness, and combating religious fundamentalism. I was honored to attend a guest lecture at Rutgers back in 2014 where he was one of cognitive science professor Stephen Stich’s guest lecturers. Dennett spoke on the subject of closet atheist clergy. I found his lecture rather underwhelming. Impressed by his book Breaking the Spell in my late teens, I find the book now to be rather sophomoric and useful only in combating religious fundamentalists.

Daniel Dennett has made some seriously questionable moves from an intellectual standpoint, most notably in his support of the narcissistic ‘Brights Movement,’ an awkward movement for prideful intellectuals who dislike what they perceive of as supernatural belief systems and then proceed to further bastardize the term ‘humanist’ to refer to a condescending form of scientism. The Brights Movement is an intellectual society with its head up its ass. For them, a ‘bright’ is someone who holds a natural, rather than supernatural way of viewing the world (though what all this actually means is hazy at best). For many, religious belief is not supernatural. When asked to define ‘god,’ Jordan Peterson had this to say (from an Instagram post):

“I was once asked how I would define God. My God is the spirit that is trying to elevate Being. My God is the spirit that makes everything come together. My God is the spirit that makes order out of chaos and then recasts order when it becomes too limiting. My God is the spirit of truth incarnate. None of that is supernatural. It is instead what is most real.” -Jordan Peterson, 2019

For the ‘brights,’ those whose worldview does include elements of the supernatural (however these ‘brights’ understand it) are called ‘supers.’ I believe Dennett has expanded on this to include a group he calls ‘murkies,’ those who do not fit neatly into the other two groups. The idea of splitting people up into these two/three groups is simply absurd. Dennett is undermining his own credibility by supporting such stupidity as this ‘Brights Movement.’

New Atheism makes sense as a force in opposition to religious fundamentalism but becomes infantile and ridiculous in the absence of the latter. It is no surprise that the high point of this movement was just over a decade ago when then-president Bush was courting the crazies of the religious fundamentalist Christians. This intellectual movement had those of great rhetorical skill (the late, great Christopher Hitchens), great scientific achievement (Richard Dawkins), and robust philosophic arguments (Sam Harris and, to a lesser extent Daniel Dennett).

Dennett has made significant contributions to the study of consciousness but this is often overshadowed by his rather pathetic fixation with New Atheism and the ludicrous ‘Brights Movement.’ While I maintain some respect for the guy, I cannot deny that my opinion of him has decline precipitously over the past decade. Unlike Christopher Hitchens, there is no rhetorical skill to maintain his reputation. Nor major scientific achievement like that of Richard Dawkins. Daniel Dennett, it seems, will become an increasingly irrelevant footnote in the history of atheism but will perhaps be remembered for his contributions to the philosophy of mind.

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