Shedding Light on the Brights

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We here at Salvo are making some more material from the magazine available online. While looking through past issues, I came across this article from which the above graphic is taken. In it, Regis Nicoll shows us the science-fictions that must be invoked to hold together the strict materialist worldview. This article also relates to the cover story of the current issue of Salvo, too–Sci-Fact or Sci-Fi? What We Won't Learn from Hyped-Up Science News Headlines (not available online). That's my subtle hint to subscribe to Salvo if you don't already, by the way.

Sci-fi Apologetics
Who's Really Brighter: the Naturalist or the Supernaturalist?

A while back, I had a lively discussion with "Phil," an academic philosopher, a self-­described atheist, and a "Bright." Never heard of Brights? Well, according to their website, Brights are people whose worldviews are "free of supernatural and mystical elements." In other words, they are naturalists, and among their brightest stars are Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, and Richard Dawkins.

Anyway, during our dialogue, Phil expressed unflagging admiration for his own Bright worldview. And before long, his admiration moved to paean: "Mighty in merit," "powerful," "a pinnacle of human thought," "so parsimonious": These were just a few of his superlatives. Wait a minute—parsimonious? That's right. Phil explained that naturalistic science, which is responsible for mankind's most breathtaking achievements, rests on the sparsest number of conjectures and surrenders nothing to what lies beyond empirical verification.

The supernatural worldview, on the other hand, inserts the "Cosmic Tinkerer" into every perceived dead end. As a placeholder for our ignorance, "God" is not an explanation, but rather an obstacle to progress. While naturalism is continually validated by the scientific method, supernaturalism is propped up by what Phil called "sci-fi apologetics."

Whether it's The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Star Trek, every sci-fi yarn contains departures from known physical laws, breaks in logic, and internal inconsistencies that devoted fans will either ignore or accept on the basis of flimsy rationalizations. The same goes for supernaturalists, Phil argued. They will discount or explain away any difficulty that threatens the cohesion of their worldview. Conversely, naturalism is free of any such blinkered ­commitment—or so Phil's argument went.

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