For effective marketing, we need a better label than ‘naturalist’, ‘skeptic’ or ‘bright’

For effective marketing, we need a better label than ‘naturalist’, ‘skeptic’ or ‘bright’

JEFF T HALEY argues that we need better terms than the ones that exist at present to promote a more rational worldview

(This essay was first published in the October 2013 print edition of the Freethinker magazine)

Tags:  worldview, naturalism, naturalistic, bright, scientism, Enlightenment, evidist, evidism

FOR the last 300 years, cultural evolution has been advanced by the development and advocacy of a scientific worldview characterized by the ideals of the Enlightenment: that one should rely only on sources of knowledge that have been verified though scientific confirmation and one should reject as valid sources of knowledge tradition, dogma, superstition, religion, faith, revelation, charisma, conventional wisdom, intuition, and inspiration.[2]  Of course, one must make decisions every day based on intuition, inspiration or tradition with no scientifically supported basis, but a person with the new worldview remains ready to amend such decisions upon receipt of valid evidence.

Jeff T Haley is a US-based naturalist/bright/evidist and inventor

Jeff T Haley [1] is a US-based naturalist/bright/evidist and inventor

Although there has been progress[3], this new worldview consistent with scientific evidence has not yet become dominant in any region of the world larger than a university town. Spreading the new worldview would likely increase human happiness by three mechanisms:

(1)  Increasing levels of education and abilities of people to understand each other’s viewpoints has reduced conflict,[4] and spreading acceptance of the new worldview is likely to increase abilities for people to understand each other’s viewpoints.

(2)  Differing religions/worldviews have caused conflict; adoption of a common worldview by an increasing number of people would likely reduce future conflict; and the new worldview is the only worldview that has a chance of achieving wide adoption.

(3)  Individuals become happier when they have a more correct understanding of the dividing lines between reality and fantasy and are not confused about whether there is truth or whether people can ever know truth, which frequently results from being taught falsehoods of worldviews that are inconsistent with science and reason. It would help spread the new worldview if we had words for referring to the new worldview that people with a modest intellectual inclination can easily learn and understand.  Presently used terms for the new worldview and its adherents – “naturalist”, “bright”, “skeptic”, and “scientism” – are ineffective choices for spreading the new worldview. imagine_no_religion_brights This essay characterizes the new and old worldviews, criticizes the previously used terminology, proposes better terminology, and solicits comment and criticism.

Relationship to religious concepts

The new worldview accepts scientific validation as the only adequately reliable way to draw a line between reality and wishful thinking.  There are some who claim they accept the findings of science but also claim they have scientifically valid evidence that justifies including various religious concepts within reality.  To be clear, generally accepted scientific theories hold that, to date, insufficient evidence has been found to support a significant probability of: a god, a creator, spirits, a soul, an afterlife, reincarnation, a mind or thoughts separate from the physical brain, or any objective source of human values or morality outside of humans. [5]  Anyone who does not accept each of these points disagrees with generally accepted scientific theories and does not hold the new worldview discussed herein.[6]

As most traditional religions rely on elements listed above, the new worldview undermines most traditional religions.  However, there are religious leaders and congregation members who hold the new worldview.[7]  The new worldview is not inherently inconsistent with religion.[8]  A person can hold the new worldview as an overriding amendment to their preferred religious or values affiliation whether it is humanist, Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Confucian, vegan, environmentalist, new age, pacifist, socialist or other.

Needed terminology

We need terminology to label the new worldview that can be easily understood and used by everyone, not just academics.  And we need complimentary inoffensive terminology to label the older worldviews so that we can talk to people who hold these views and cause a minimum of emotionally distracting insult.  The new terms that are needed include:

(1)  person-categorizing nouns for adherents of each of the old and new worldviews – words that typically end in –ist or –ian or –an;

(2)  adjectives for characterizing each worldview – words that typically end in –ic or –istic or –ial or-al; and

(3)  school of thought labeling nouns to identify each worldview – words that typically end in –ism. Some argue that an “ism” noun is not needed for the new worldview and is counterproductive because it is misleading as to the true nature of the new worldview which, they say, is not and should not be a theory or “ism” because theories become bound with dogma – attempts to characterize the theory with a particular set of words – which is inconsistent with the self-correcting nature of the scientific spirit.[9]  I do not here discount those arguments.  However, “ism” type nouns for the new worldview are already in use (“naturalism” and “scientism”[10]).  If our meme spreading is to be effective, we must provide people with preferred terminology that they will be persuaded to use.

Characterizing the old, naturally evolved worldviews

As pre-humans first developed a thinking brain, the brain evolved intuitive ways of assembling and retaining beliefs about everything relevant to making decisions affecting survival or thriving.  This is a naturally evolved, intuitive worldview or epistemic method – a method for assembling knowledge.  Before the advent of language, using individual intuition, each person assembled on their own a set of beliefs on which to base decisions, which must have varied widely from person to person.  We can observe an example of this process as we watch a dog assemble a set of beliefs on which it acts.  Unfortunately, evolution gave our brains intuitions that, if unchecked by education, lead us to believe in false sources of knowledge.

As early humans began to develop language, beliefs could be passed from one person to another, particularly from older people to younger.  As humans developed more complex cultures, this passing of beliefs provided “knowledge” to each person in many forms, including tested truths based on good evidence as well as untested intuition, inspiration, tradition, dogma, superstition, and religion.[11]  The leading theory among anthropologists is that, more than 10,000 years ago, all humans believed that spirits cause all events, including human actions when the person is infected by a spirit.  This universal, natural worldview then evolved in separated cultures into the various mutually contradictory religions.[12] brain In addition to beliefs passed on by religions, the naturally evolved worldviews encompass many other beliefs that are formed and passed on without adequate scientific review, such as belief in ghosts, other spirits, witches, fate, destiny, providence, karma, spells, curses, astrology, homeopathy, lucky and unlucky numbers or objects or events, unwarranted fear of vaccines, unwarranted fear of fluoridation of water supplies, beliefs about special days such as Day of the Dead, and effects of amulets and similar objects. From the perspective of educated people today, many naturally evolved forms of “knowledge”, both religious and non-religious, appear illusory and ill-founded.

However, before the development of scientific methods, these were the only available sources of knowledge on many topics.  As humans evolved, children were vulnerable to predation or injury and it was naturally selected that they believe what their elders tell them.  This prescientific, naturally evolved, intuitive worldview, in its various forms, has dominated human culture since its beginning and continues to do so in all cultures today.

Characterizing the new worldview that is consistent with science

People can get beyond the natural tendencies of their minds to be self deluded and to believe what their elders tell them – the intuitive, traditional worldviews – only through education consistent with reason and good evidence, particularly as determined by scientific methods.  Preferably, the education includes epistemology – the study of sources of knowledge – how we can know what to believe.  While learning science and how to interpret evidence is entirely rational, it requires study and is not intuitive for humans.[13]

Once a person fully understands and integrates this worldview that is fully consistent with generally accepted scientific theories, they cross a bright line and do not slip back into a natural or intuitive worldview.  However, if education levels fall in a culture, young people can hold onto the intuitive ways of viewing the world that they are born with, and the culture as a whole can slip back. No person can assemble on their own enough valid knowledge to acquire the new, scientific worldview.

We all must learn from others who shared their contributions through writing and correcting each other’s contributions to reach a scientific consensus.[14]  By soaking up knowledge from appropriate sources, individuals can move their thinking toward the new worldview without being explicitly aware of the difference between the old and new worldviews. With education in epistemology and in current, generally accepted scientific theories explaining everything that matters to each person – and limited teaching of theories for which there is no scientific consensus, such as traditional religion, astrology and homeopathy – each person can be given the mental tools to adopt this new worldview.  With these tools, they can avoid reliance on unworthy theories of truth that they invent by intuition or inspiration or that are presented to them from unreliable sources.

Note that what should be taught is not just the subjects of science that are common in the schools but also generally accepted scientific theories for understanding whatever each person is interested in – what they care about in their daily lives – including religions, spirituality, and superstition. Unlike atheism and skepticism, the new worldview is not merely a negation of invalid sources of knowledge.  It is a positive worldview that affirms valid sources of knowledge on all topics.  I

t exults in the prospect that there is no part of reality that cannot be discovered through inquiry consistent with science.  It is the opposite of epistemological nihilism[15] which is the negation that anything can be known to be true. By requiring consistency with generally accepted scientific theories, the new worldview does not dismiss contributions from the “humanities” as contrasted with the “sciences”.  There is no clear boundary between scientific and humanistic scholarship.  What we call the sciences and what we call the humanities is largely a matter of pedagogical practicality.  All the methods used by either are available to both.[16]

The new worldview facilitates good decisions on the important and difficult issues of values, morality, and ethics because people stop trying to base these decisions on false beliefs that answers are provided by a deity or a source outside of humanity.[17]

Presently used labels are inadequate   

1.  Naturalist / Naturalistic.

Some suggest we should use the adjective “naturalistic” to identify the new worldview because the view is based only on good evidence from nature.[18]  Quoting one of these authors: “The basic epistemic commitment undergirding naturalism is that we should stick with science, in partnership with philosophy, as the arbiter of what fundamentally exists.”[19]  Those who like the label “naturalism” advocate using “naturalist” for the associated person-categorizing noun.  This meaning of “naturalism” has decades of momentum but has not yet made significant progress outside of academic philosophy. To most people, the word “naturalist” refers to a person who studies life forms or explains nature to public audiences.  To reeducate all speakers of the English language and lead them to understand the new definition of “naturalist” would be an impossible task.

The above picture depicts a brain demonstrating Naturalistic behavior by separating emotion from reason. (See context here).

The above picture depicts a brain demonstrating Naturalistic behavior by separating emotion from reason. (See context here).

Some object to use of the term “naturalistic” because they say it implies reliance on only the “natural” sciences and discounting of all other epistemologically valid sources of knowledge from other fields that emphasize values like curiosity, honesty, accuracy, precision and rigor, including mathematics and history.[20]

The elevation of the “natural” sciences over other valid sources of knowledge implicit in these terms is offensive to academics in other fields.[21]  This connotational baggage associated with the words “naturalistic” and “naturalist” is an insurmountable impediment to achieving agreement on this terminology. There are confusing, inconsistent meanings of the word “naturalistic” in scientific/philosophical writing.  Some authors use the word to denote the new worldview that is fully consistent with generally accepted scientific theories.[22]  Others use the word to denote a philosophy that includes no supernatural concepts but that draws supposedly objective conclusions about values from observations of “nature.”[23]  Using a single word to refer to two conflicting theories makes it more difficult to spread the new worldview with that word.

In addition, the word has still more inconsistent meanings outside of philosophy.[24]  It would be best to choose new labels that have as few inconsistent meanings as possible. This proposed terminology is confusing because the word “nature” is useful in describing both the old and the new worldviews.  “Natural” connotes the essence of the old worldviews much more than the essence of the new worldview because the old worldviews evolved naturally.  The word “natural” has effective connotations for the new worldview only when contrasted with the word “supernatural”. If “supernatural” were the best label for the old worldviews, “naturalistic” might be the best label for the new worldview, but “supernatural” is a poor label for the old worldviews because, for examples, the proponents of homeopathy and religious naturalism[25] claim that they are describing nature and there is nothing supernatural about their theories.

We can tell them that they are wrong and that their theories invoke supernatural forces, but they will not accept this characterization.  If they will not accept the label we apply to them, the label loses most if not all of its utility.  The problem is that the proponents of these theories do not view generally accepted scientific methods as valid for testing their theories. The dichotomous labels of “supernatural” and “naturalistic” were chosen from a perspective that places too much emphasis on ending the influence of belief in a god or spirits and not enough emphasis on ending other beliefs that are inconsistent with generally accepted scientific theories.

This choice of terminology grew out of the conflict between theism and atheism which is losing importance as theism begins to fade.  While belief in gods may still be the strongest restraint on the adoption of a shared worldview in human culture, it is not the only restraint.  Adopting a worldview that includes no gods but still does not reflect the importance of relying on generally accepted scientific theories in all aspects of one’s worldview fails to take people across the bright line into the new worldview.  Thus, the labels “supernatural” and “naturalistic” would only be temporarily effective (until theism is no longer a problem) and would miss the opportunity to cast helpful light on other failings of the prescientific, intuitive, traditional, natural worldviews.

To summarize, the terminology of “naturalism”, “naturalistic”, and “naturalist” is presently too ambiguous, has established inconsistent meanings, and will never be adopted by large numbers of people to identify the new worldview based on generally accepted scientific theories.  It is time to give up using these labels and move to labels that are selected to be more effective.   

2.  Bright / Naturalistic.

An association of people whose worldviews are free of supernatural or mystical elements organized through a website in 2003.[26]  They coined the noun “bright” to identify such people, and suggested the contrasting label “super” to identify people who maintain beliefs in supernatural or mystical entities or agency.  They use the word “bright” to denote the new worldview that is fully consistent with generally accepted scientific theories. “Bright” has advantages of being short, easy to say, easy to spell, upbeat, and memorable. Unfortunately, the word “super” will never be widely accepted by those it is intended to characterize, and such acceptance is important to making progress.  In addition, the word “bright” will not be widely accepted until the “brights” dominate a culture because the word is too self-congratulatory, presenting an insurmountable chicken and egg problem.

Furthermore, “bright” has no adjective form so “naturalistic” is used as the adjective.  The lack of a common root between “bright” and “naturalistic”, makes the terminology difficult to learn. While the “brights” effort is a laudable attempt to solve the same marketing problem that this essay addresses, and the effort was mounted for the same reasons, the failure of this terminology to gain serious traction[27] shows that it is time to give up on this terminology and try again.[28]  Perhaps the works generated by these efforts can be modified to keep as much of the “brights” momentum as possible while adopting new, better terminology.   

3. Skeptic / Skepticalskeptic-cartoon

Apparently due to their dissatisfaction with “naturalist” and “bright”, many people are currently using the words “skeptic” and “skeptical” to identify the new worldview.[29] “Skeptic” is misleading to audiences because it seems to mean merely doubting of questionable assertions.  The word “skeptic” only conveys negativism toward views expressed by others and inadequately conveys the affirmative sense that there is no part of reality that cannot be discovered through inquiry consistent with science.

A person who calls themselves a “skeptic” might also be an epistemological nihilist[30] and that is inconsistent with the new worldview. “Skeptic” is inadequate for our purposes because there are several meanings[31] and some of these meanings are inconsistent with the new worldview.  We need a short, single word so that, in response to an assertion, people can say “I am a ____.  If the listener knows what ____ means, the response will be correctly understood.  If the listener does not know what ____ means, they will inquire.  “Skeptic” will not work for this purpose.

Until the new meaning is widely disseminated and other meanings disappear from lack of use, people will assume the speaker merely means to say they are skeptical of the assertion just made, not that they are trying to convey something more. The word “skeptic” is seriously flawed for our marketing purposes.  We will never be able to adequately eliminate the ambiguous meanings of “skeptic” from the language.  Hopefully, if we find and adopt a new word, the new word will replace “skeptic” in the current references to the new worldview.   

4.  Scientist / Scientific

We could call this new worldview the “scientific” (or “scientistic”) worldview.  The “ism” would be “scientism”.  These words have suitable connotations for the new worldview and there are advocates for this terminology.[32] It is important to also have a person-categorizing noun and there is no suitable matching candidate.  The matching person-categorizing noun would be “scientist” or “Scientist” with a capital S.  This terminology faces a major weakness because the word “scientist”, in present common usage, means a person who makes a profession of work using scientific methods or a person with a degree in higher education from a select list of degrees.

We would need to change the understood meaning of “Scientist” to refer to a worldview that anyone can have, not just those who practice scientific methods in their professional lives or have a college degree. In the United States, as tested with a focus group, there are people, including some with advanced degrees from prestigious universities in fields not labeled as “science,” who are not at all willing to call themselves “scientists” even though they hold the new worldview.[33]  As the word “science” is understood in English, it excludes fields such as mathematics and history which are also valid sources of knowledge.

This connotational burden for redefining what it means to be a “scientist” is insurmountable.  In the same focus group, these people rejected the word “bright” but they were comfortable calling themselves “evidentialists”. In addition, some of the people who self identify as “scientists” and are accepted by all sectors of society as “scientists” employ the new worldview only in their work and not in their personal thoughts and lives 24/7.  For examples, Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, says he believes in a god, and Steven J Gould argued that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria”.

It would be risible to claim these men are not scientists, but indisputable to say their expressed views are not consistent with the new worldview.   

5.  Atheist / Atheistic

Some people use the words “atheist” and “atheistic” to identify the new worldview.  This use is confusing to audiences because it seems to mean merely no belief in a god, yet the speakers often intend to convey much more than this, including the entire affirmative epistemology of the new worldview. atheist The word “atheist” inadequately conveys this affirmative sense and it would torture the language to try to redefine what “atheist” means to fill the need.

The word “atheist” is useful to contrast with theism and it would diminish the usefulness of this word to try to stretch it to refer to all aspects of the new worldview. Furthermore, there are atheists who hold beliefs that are inconsistent with generally accepted scientific theories, beliefs such as homeopathy, or astrology, or that nature (all life on earth) is a valid source of objective values,[34] or that objective values can be derived from a source outside of humanity.[35]

Criteria for selecting new terminology

For helping the thinking of people who are already skeptical of the traditional worldviews, whether they call themselves naturalists, brights, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, or other labels, new terminology is not important.  These people can use any of the existing labels to fully explore the issues.  We need more marketable terminology for spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment to people who are not yet engaged with this way of thinking. One of our targets for marketing the new worldview should be people who are causing harm to others and using false beliefs for their motivation or justification, such as religious fundamentalists.

As we choose better labels, we should keep in mind whether the labels will be optimally effective for reaching these people. The target where we may achieve the most success and therefore make the biggest difference for the evolution of culture is the “Nones”[36], as well as the religionists who might switch to Nones with a little help.  Researchers report that large numbers of Nones have no interest in either theism or atheism.[37]  The new terminology should make no implicit reference to the long-standing theism/atheism debate.  The day will come when this issue is considered by most to be inconsequential.

We need terminology that will be useful for making progress on the rest of what’s important in each person’s worldview. The three words we choose should work well in translation to all important languages.  In English and Latin based languages, the three words should have a single root with three varied endings to make them easy to learn.  The root should have an appropriate connotation to convey desired meanings and therefore require less effort to teach the words.  If we choose a root that is Latin or Greek, the same root is likely to work in many languages.  Ideally, the root would require no spelling change for other languages.

It would be best if a connotation of the root helps people distinguish between conclusions based on generally accepted scientific theories and conclusions based on values or fringe theories.  Perhaps the best root would create a mental association with “science” or “evidence” or “reason” or “reality”. An important question is whether we should use a word that already has a suitable general meaning, such as “scientific” or “evidential,” and educate the world to a new, more specific meaning for this word, or whether we should coin a new word.

Here is a strong argument against using an existing word with a suitable general meaning:  Any person or group who applies the imprimatur of this word to their worldview will cause confusion as to what the word means.  For example, if we choose “scientific” or “evidential” or “naturalistic” or “skeptical”, a person promoting a view that is inconsistent with the new worldview might, without being obviously wrong, say that their view is also “scientific” or “evidential” or “naturalistic”[38] or “skeptical” and confusion would ensue. To avoid this problem of others co-opting our terminology, we need to (1) coin a new word, (2) articulate a simple test for what is and is not within the new worldview, and (3) overpower with public speaking and publications any effort by others to change the meaning of the new word in a wrong direction.[39]

To coin a new word, we can compose a root that is a novel string of letters with a novel sound or we can select an existing word with no related meaning such as “apple” or “bright”.  Selecting an existing word with no related meaning will make the education task more difficult than composing a novel string of letters that creates a helpful mental association. The best balance of considerations is to compose a new root that sounds like a root with desired connotations and does not have any undesirable associations with existing words.  Perhaps we can compose a new root that sounds like one of the roots in the commonly used words “science”, “evidence”, “knowledge”, “reason”, or “reality”.  Other than the coined root proposed below, I have been unable to compose such a root that does not create unhelpful mental associations.  Perhaps someone else can.

Proposed new labels:  Evidist / Evidism

The analysis above shows that the founders of The Brights were right to coin a new word.  Unfortunately, the word they chose has serious flaws.  To try again, it is important that we move cautiously and obtain extensive criticism before settling on a new triplet of words. In the new worldview, beliefs are consistent with evidence and reason validated through the peer reviewed scientific process.  Referring to the new worldview with the adjective “evidential” has appropriate connotations.  Unfortunately, as explained above, if we choose this word which has a suitable general meaning, people with other worldviews can, without being obviously wrong, also claim that their worldview is “evidential”. We can use the sound of “evidence” to coin a new root and make the needed new words.  I propose “evidist”, “evidism”, and “evidal” or “evidistic”.

I do not claim these are excellent choices; merely the best so far given the above considerations. In English, these words trigger an appropriate association with “evidence”.  I do not believe they will trigger undesirable associations for speakers of English.  Because “eviden” is a Latin root, it is likely that “evidist” will have the same association in all Latin based languages that it has in English.  It would be best if the same spelling of “evidist” will also work in all other languages that use the Latin alphabet. I invite fluent speakers of other languages to publish or send me their opinions (1) whether “evidist” will trigger undesirable associations in another language, (2) whether the same spelling of “evidist” will also work in the other language, and (3) whether “evidal” or “evidistic” works better as an adjective in the other language.

If we use the term “evidist”, this would imply we are accusing anyone who does not adhere to the new worldview of not respecting the importance of evidence, and they might find this denigrating.  It is undesirable to select a word that others might perceive as denigrating, but it probably cannot be avoided.  Insulting people over their failure to understand what is good evidence may be worth the drawback because this is exactly the point we most want to make.

Proposed new test:  “generally accepted scientific theories” 

To easily explain the core concept of the new worldview and prevent the triplet of coined words from being co-opted to change their meaning in a wrong direction, the analysis above shows that we need a simple test of what assertions about reality may be characterized as “evidist”.  It is not critical that we choose a perfect first articulation of this test.  As science is a self-correcting process that works by collaboration and no single expression of any concept is fixed as the best expression, the test may be articulated in other ways. To match and emphasize the affirmative aspect of the evidist worldview, it would be best to have a positive test for what is consistent with the worldview rather than a negative test for what is not.  For the test, I propose: “consistent with generally accepted scientific theories.” [40]

This articulation of the test restates that our understanding of reality is a set of theories, not facts.  It is good for development of scientific literacy to frequently remind people of this aspect of scientific understanding. If a person says they are an “evidist” and they articulate a belief that does not meet the above test, we can say unequivocally that they are not an evidist and, short of debating what views are consistent with generally accepted scientific theories and citing peer reviewed scientific publications, no-one can disagree. People will always publish bad science, and science that once looked good will become outdated and wrong, but using a standard of what is generally accepted at any time seems to be the best test we can devise.  “Generally accepted” does not mean accepted by a majority of some quorum.  It means accepted by the most respected authors of scientific analysis.

Labeling the old, dominant worldview

From the perspective of the new worldview, all the other worldviews are sufficiently like each other that it would be effective to lump them together under a single label.  Perhaps it would be best to call the old, naturally evolved worldviews based on human nature “traditional” worldviews or “intuitive” worldviews or “prescientific” worldviews. It would be a fitting use of the language to call the old worldviews “natural” worldviews, but this would conflict with terminology (“naturalist”, “naturalistic”, and “naturalism”) that already has some traction, and it would cause confusion for many decades until people stop reading the writings that use this terminology to refer to evidism.

Others have called the old, naturally evolved worldviews “supernatural” worldviews, because they include belief in supernatural spirits.  However, the term “supernatural” is too narrow because the word fails to clearly encompass beliefs that are equally unreliable as supernatural beliefs where the proponents of these believes do not agree that they are based on anything supernatural.  There are many people today who claim to have no beliefs in spirits or anything supernatural or mystical, yet they have beliefs in false theories such as fate, karma (in the strong sense), new-ageism, homeopathy, astrology, unlucky days, or values from a source other than humans, which shows that their worldview is still inconsistent with generally accepted scientific theories.

For an effective noun for a person who follows any of the naturally evolved worldviews, perhaps we could call them an “intuitivist” or a “traditionalist” to correspond with their intuitive, traditional worldview.  Those who follow any variation of the intuitive, traditional worldview might find each of these labels helpfully inoffensive.

Summary conclusion:

Previously used labels for the new worldview based on the ideals of the Enlightenment are insufficiently effective for advancing the new worldview.  This essay proposes that we urge everyone who gives no weight to sources of knowledge that are inconsistent with generally accepted scientific theories to self-identify as an “evidist”.  On the topic of knowledge, in contrast to values, they should assert that they hold an “evidist” (or “evidistic” or “evidal”) worldview.

All others we would refer to as “traditionalists” or “intuitivists” who hold a “traditional” or “intuitive” worldview. For the sake of positive evolution of human culture, we need to select the best terminology for the new worldview and move forward with consistent usage by as many authors and speakers as possible. As a next step, I invite others to publish or send me critiques of these proposed terms, suggest any terms they think might be better, and publish or send me criticisms of the “generally accepted scientific theories” test.

Copyright 2013 Jeff T Haley For permission to copy or translate, send an e-mail to jeff@haley.net.

Acknowledgements:  Special thanks to Mynga Futrell, Russell Blackford, Richard Carrier, Tom Clark, Wesley Wildman, Tom Flynn, Ed Buckner, and my wife Carol for criticism of drafts.

[1]  Jeff T. Haley is a naturalist/bright/evidist, inventor (patents 7,366,913, 8,349,120, 8,442,490, 20070274927, 20110105082), entrepreneur (OraHealth), chemist, clinical researcher (NIH funded), patent lawyer (#34,834), public interest advocate (founder, co-sponsor, and chair of Washington’s successful medical marijuana initiative campaign), and former civil rights lawyer (Bethel v. Fraser, USSC).  He has experience designing and evaluating marketing plans for consumer health products (OraHealth) and public policy voter initiatives (medical marijuana).  He can be reached at jeff@haley.net.
[2]  Steven Pinker characterizes and defends the scientific worldview in Science Is Not Your Enemy An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians  http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114127/science-not-enemy-humanities#.
[3]  Steven Pinker, To See Humans’ Progress, Zoom Out, New York Times, February 26, 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/02/26/are-people-getting-dumber/zoom-out-and-youll-see-people-are-improving.
[4]  For example, cultural evolution has significantly reduced violence between humans.  Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature (2011).
[5]  Although the scientific process can provide useful data and analysis for making moral determinations, science determines little content for human values, morality or ethics.  Religions and philosophy can make important contributions in these areas.  Science shows that genetic evolution of humans as social animals gave humans a predisposition for certain values, that values evolve as a culture evolves, and that there is no valid source of values outside of genetic and cultural evolution and human thought.  Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate (2002).
[6]  This statement may sound like dogma, which is inconsistent with the new worldview, but, it is merely a statement of what is shown by the evidence to date and is no prediction of what might be found in the future.
[7]  Jack Good, Pastor (Retired), The United Church of Christ, http://www.the-brights.net/vision/essays/dennett_good.html
[8]  Any religion can be modified to strip away elements that are inconsistent with generally accepted scientific theories and have left the values that are not inconsistent.  For an example of this modification of Buddhism, see Ian Flannagan, The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized (2011).
[9]  E.g. Timothy Williamson, What Is Naturalism? http://www.opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/what-is-naturalism/
[10]  Alex Rosenberg proposes use of this term with no negative connotation, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, 2011.
[11]  Satoshi Kanazawa, Why Atheists Are More Intelligent Than the Religious, Psychology Today, April 11, 2010 http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/201004/why-atheists-are-more-intelligent-the-religious.
[12]  Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, Viking (Penguin) (2006), explains this process of cultural evolution.
[13]  Steven Pinker says “the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions.”  Science Is Not Your Enemy An impassioned plea to neglected novelists, embattled professors, and tenure-less historians  http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114127/science-not-enemy-humanities#.
[14]  Wikipedia is an example of a means for assembling and correcting knowledge consistent with the new worldview and spreading it to large numbers of people.
[16]  For example, in The Better Angels of our Nature (2011) Steven Pinker masterfully merges the methods of science and the methods of history to draw scientifically supported conclusions from historical records.
[17]  As religions adapt to knowledge of human evolutionary psychology and what can be changed through cultural evolution, and they drop the assumptions that values come from a deity or nature, this is likely to cause cultures and religions to evolve to be more alike.  Tom Clark, http://www.naturalism.org/scientism.htm#resources and http://www.naturalism.org/systematizing_naturalism.htm.
[18]  Examples include: (1) Alex Rosenberg, Why I am a naturalist, opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/The-Stone/2011/09/17; (2) Tom Clark, with numerous publications listed at his web site, http://www.naturalism.org/ and his blog at http://centerfornaturalism.blogspot.com/; (3) Kai Nielsen, Naturalism and Religion (2001) and Naturalism Without Foundations (1996); (4) John R. Shook, The Future of Naturalism (2009); and (5) Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. (2005).
[19]  Quoted from Tom Clark, http://www.naturalism.org/landscape.htm (2008).
[20]  e.g. Timothy Williamson, note 9.  Timothy Williamson argues that what I suggest we should all refer to as “evidism” is best characterized by “the aspiration to think in a scientific spirit … by emphasizing values like curiosity, honesty, accuracy, precision and rigor.”
[21]  Philip Kitcher argues this point in The Trouble with Scientism Why history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge; http://www.newrepublic.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/103086/scientism-humanities-knowledge-theory-everything-arts-science.
[22]  Note 18.
[27]  Countless articles have been published by people who know this terminology where “bright” would have fit well in the context but the author chose not to use it.  This is convincing evidence that this effort will not reach its goals.  For examples, Mary C. Taylor, http://www.atheistscholar.org/AtheistPhilosophies/Naturalism.aspx and http://www.atheistscholar.org/Websites.aspx; Tom Clark http://www.centerfornaturalism.org/allies_of_naturalism.htm; Alex Rosenberg, Why I am a naturalist, opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/The-Stone/2011/09/17.
[28]  The list of criteria adopted by the founders of the brights movement for choosing appropriate labels is a useful guide: (1) Short – easy-to-say/spell/pronounce, (2), Upbeat/positive term with pleasant connotations, (3) No baggage in and of itself, (4) Meme potential (arouses curiosity and prompts discussion), (5) Reminiscent of the Enlightenment, (6) Opportunities for symbolism, (7) Inclusive of anyone who sees self fitting the definition.
[30]  See text at note 15.
[32]  Note 10.
[33]  Focus group conducted by the author, unpublished.
[34]  This is the position of Religious Naturalism.  Note 23.
[35]  In “Religion Without God” published by Harvard Press, the late Ronald Dworkin argued that a “religious atheist” rejects all notions of god but accepts as objectively true two values: (1) “human life has objective meaning or importance” and (2) the universe as a whole and in all its parts “is itself sublime and something of intrinsic value and wonder.”  Science has shown that that evolution gave humans a disposition to believe that such values are objective, and there may be good reasons to live as if these values are objective, but no adequate evidence has yet been found that they are in fact objective.
[36]  The term “nones” is often used to describe people who indicate in surveys that they have no religion or do not belong to any particular religion.  See, for example, Kosmin, Barry A. and Ariela Keysar, with Ryan Cragun and Juhem Navarro-Rivera. 2009. “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population, A Report Based on the American Religious Identification Survey 2008.” Trinity College, http://commons.trincoll.edu/aris/files/2011/08/NONES_08.pdf.  See also Smith, Tom W. 2007. “Counting Religious Nones and Other Religious Measurement Issues: A Comparison of the Baylor Religion Survey and General Social Survey.” GSS Methodological Report No. 110. http://publicdata.norc.org:41000/gss/documents/MTRT/MR110-Counting-Religious-Nones-and-Other-Religious-Measurement-Issues.pdf.
[37]  Pew Research, Religion and Public life Project, http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/
[38]  An example is the use of the words “naturalism” and “science” by Religious Naturalism which claims to be “naturalistic” and “scientific” but maintains that objective values come from a source outside of humanity.  Note 23.
[39]  Perhaps elements (2) and (3) are sufficient and we do not need to coin a new word.  In this case, “evidentialist” may be the best available general term.  For the stated reasons, I think it is better than “skeptic”.  Perhaps “evidentialism” is little enough used and has a sufficiently limited history of use that we can, with sufficient public speaking and publication, assert and maintain control of the accepted meaning of this word.  In philosophy, the word “evidentialism” has been defined in a way that generally states quite well the new worldview.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidentialism  Some have tried to show through philosophical argument that the theory of evidentialism, as it has been stated, is incomplete (e.g. “reliabilism”).  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/reliabilism  If “evidentialist” is to be used for promoting the new worldview, it would be prudent join this debate and urge that the philosophical statement of “evidentialism” be amended to be fully consistent with the new worldview, if it is not at present, and that the label “evidentialism” be retained without modifiers as the philosophical theory is further amended to maintain consistency with the new worldview.
[40]  The “generally accepted“ language comes from Food and Drug Administration law where “generally recognized” is used to articulate a science based legal test of what is safe for food where the test can evolve over time according to the latest scientific findings.

22 responses to “For effective marketing, we need a better label than ‘naturalist’, ‘skeptic’ or ‘bright’”

  1. Rationalist, FFS. What’s the problem? And why does that word not appear anywhere in this (incredibly long and dense) article?

  2. barriejohn says:

    TLDR: Rationalist.

  3. Long, yes, but interesting overall.

    I think the perceived issue with Rationalist/ism/istic as a grouping label is the corresponding implication of irrationality that is immediately applied to any counter position. Not an issue because it is the wrong word, necessarily, but because it emphasises the adversarial and one point of the article is to seek a way to advance the species as a whole without undue conflict.

    I propose (for the purpose of debate, so please feel free to tear open its belly) the following term for that thing that We are:

    Innovist, a proponent of Innovism, being the pursuit of Innovistic practices.

    The obvious connotation here is with innovate/ation/ative, the goal of improving our solutions to “problems”. I would argue that a helpful definition of the purposes of science might be 1) to better explore reality; 2) to better understand reality; 3) to better apply that knowledge; and 4) to repeat. This is a cycle of innovation.

    If like-minded rationalist philosophies, individuals and organisations can also be said to pursue “justifiable” improvement (ie: if the term could be widely useful, not limited to the realms of academia) then perhaps innovism as a label would suffice. For example, the activities of Médecins Sans Frontières could be defined using the same four steps above, if you step back and squint a little: where “reality” (a situation of medical need and/or our accumulated medical knowledge) is first explored, then better understood, before gained knowledge is applied and the next challenge arises. This is also the activity of an individual doctor, by the way.

    The opposite of “innovation” is “stagnation”, and I think that would pretty clearly be a problematic root for a developing a label for non-innovists. The issue of relabelling the counter-position in a non-judgemental way is a delicate one, since there has to be an inherent value that those who would wear (or be dressed in) that label can recognise, otherwise they will rightly reject it. So, also for debate, I propose the following:

    Reverist, a proponent of Reverism, being the pursuit of reveristic (or reveral?) practices.

    The connotation here is with to revere, a word widely embraced by religious and spiritual persons but which could also be applied in a recognisibly logical way to practices like “traditional medicine”, in all its many forms. Here, passionate acceptance of dogma or of the historical weight of the tradition is more important than the verifiable nature of the practice; diligent observance leaves less room for exploration and improvement (especially since “improvement” may well mean kicking over a rock that has nothing beneath it…).

    Both reverence and innovation are positively connoting words, and it is still possible that players on either team might object to the other side calling shotgun on a sound they may still want to keep handy for themselves. However, in the sense that the rational point of view places notions like innovation in a position of primacy, while religions treat the notion of reverence the same way (ie: as a primary goal), I would say innovism and reverism are potential options.


  4. Barry Duke says:

    I should point out that Barbara Smoker responded thus to the original article:

    Although Jeff T Haley’s article in the October Freethinker was too verbose to my taste, I applaud his concluding neologism “evidists”, to supplant the too equivocal “sceptics”, the solely negative “atheists”, the inexplicit “secular humanists” and the distastefully arrogant “brights”. His new coinage establishes the all-important fact that scientific evidence, as opposed to revelation, superstition and wishful thinking, is the source of our freethinking perspective.

    My preferred declension of “evidist” for the person would be “evidistic” as the adjective and “evidism” the noun describing our down-to-earth philosophy. Hopefully these meaningful new words will eventually become part of the common language.

  5. JohnMWhite says:

    Since when is ‘atheist’ solely negative? Asexual is without sex not anti-sex. ‘Brights’ just sounds awful and ‘evidist’ just seems to be trying too hard. Presumably I’m missing something, but I really don’t thing nomenclature is a problem for atheists. True, many religious people have distaste for the term, but they’ll swiftly have distaste for evidist as well, plus a good excuse to laugh at us. Making up new words isn’t going to do a single thing for the conflict between the religious and the secular (hey, there’s a good word…).

    There’s a lot of effort being put in to a non-problem, as far as I can see. What am I missing?

  6. Broga says:

    @JohnMWhite: I like atheist. To me it has a confident sound to it and the opposition to militant/new/aggressive or whatever atheists just indicates how rattled the “people of faith” are becoming. What is needed, in my opinion, is for more people just to say straight out “I am an atheist.”

    Unlike being an RC, Muslim, C.of E. or any of the many versions of Christianity an atheist is able to defend and explain why they are an atheist. You don’t need to know too much to put forward reasons for atheism and against Christianity that they cannot defend.

  7. Har Davids says:

    Whatever label we atheists use, we’re hell-bound unbelievers, so why mince around the subject? The moment religion is mentioned, we’ll have to tell we don’t do god and that will be the end of it in the eyes of the godly. I’m sure most atheists will believe in some kind of deity were he to show himself.

    And why bother marketing? We’re not Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  8. Broga says:

    @Har Davids: A Christian, with whom I occasionally discuss our different opinions on religion, said to me a couple of weeks ago, “There is no point in arguing with you. You would never believe in God.”

    But that, as I told him, is where he is so wrong. If an angel appeared on my front lawn, if persuasive facts were produced, if a miracle actually occurred e.g. someone having an amputated arm replaced, I would believe. The core of our differences is that what persuades him seem to me like vagaries and obfuscations and selective reading of the bible. And I don’t find I can accept those.

    What about some incontrovertible evidence. Perhaps a spiritualist claim to contact a dead person revealing some new scientific fact instead of banalities about Uncle Fred being happy and missing his dog.

  9. Barry Duke says:

    JMW (and others): From the age of 13 I have ALWAYS used the term “atheist” to describe myself. I embraced it as a youngster because, next to “communist” it was the most reviled label in apartheid South Africa where I grew up. And being an extremely bolshie little sod, I let all and sundry know that I regarded the label as a badge of honour. Of course, it was always assumed by authority figures, mistakenly of course, that atheists were automatically communists. In my case this was true. I supported the Communist Party in South Africa because it was the only organisation that had the balls to stand against apartheid (working, naturally, underground after it was banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suppression_of_Communism_Act,_1950)

    One mistake I made was to assume that fellow atheists were on the same page when it came to opposing apartheid. I discovered to my amazement, after fleeing to the UK and joining the National Secular Society, that this was not the case. At an AGM of the NSS, I was challenged by the philosopher, Professor Antony Flew, to reveal whether I had ever been a member of the SA Communist Party. When I proudly admitted that I had been, Flew flew into a terrible rage and objected in the strongest possible terms to articles I had written in the Freethinker about the apartheid regime, which he clearly supported. In the ensuing uproar, Flew threw the contents of his briefcase across the meeting room and stormed off, never to be seen again at an NSS AGM.

    As most of you will know, Flew – who died in 2010 – completely lost the plot and authored a book called “There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”. It was written in collaboration with Roy Abraham Varghese. Flew regarded himself as an “evidentialist” and decided in 2005 that all the evidence pointed to the existence of God. Christian fundies wet their knickers with delight over his conversion

    (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Flew and http://creation.com/review-there-is-a-god-by-antony-flew)

    A decade later, in the US, I discovered that atheism there too was equated with communism. A visit I made to San Francisco was hosted by an American I met in Spain. He was guiding me through this beautiful city when I spotted a poster advertising an upcoming debate on gay rights at Berkeley University. Several religious representatives were listed as being on the panel. “Interesting that there are apparently no atheists listed,” I noted. He looked at me in horror and replied: “I don’t thing we have any atheists in San Francisco.” When I retorted “You do now!” he called me a “fucking communist”and told me to pack my bags and get out of his house immediately. I did.

    Even today, there is confusion and ignorance over the word “atheist”, but much more so over “humanist” and “agnostic”. Throw a word like “evidist” into the mix, and the confusion will be exacerbated. I find it a lot easier to explain to those willing to listen that, as an atheist, I simply do not accept the existence of a creator that has any interest in the affairs of humanity. Show me evidence to the contrary and I will remove the large “A” within a circle tattooed my chest. Beneath it is the word Spanish word for atheist – “Ateo”.

    When I first registered with a Spanish GP and had a routine check-up, his eyes lit up when he saw it, and enthusiastically declared “bueno, estoy también” (“good, so am I”). So, no confusion there!

  10. Angela_K says:

    There is problem with all these different labels as to what to call our ourselves in that, to our opponents, we could appear as in the Monty Python sketch to be the People’s front of Judea or the Judean People’s front.

    I’ve always tended to use “Atheist” even though I’m a bit uncomfortable with the semantics but mainly because it is the word most people recognise. I often describe myself as a Freethinker because of my opposition to every type of woo including religion and interestingly, I have found it easier to engage with people who ignorantly equate Atheism with Communism – yes I’ve had that jibe too even though I’m a card carrying Liberal.

    I dislike “Brights” too arrogant and other labels don’t really describe us. I hope that “Freethinker” will become a popular term because it sounds positive, rather than “Atheist” which some religious types throw back saying “but that means you know god exists but choose not to believe” Sigh!

  11. Broga says:

    @Barry: I have used the term atheist since I ditched faith in my teens. I admit that in my earlier days I was a bit gutless in biting my tongue in company when a discussion came up about religion. That has long gone and attitudes have changed in my experience. When I told a religious woman, whom I like, that I was an atheist I was delighted to hear her husband say, “So am I.”

    For reasons of secular history, struggle and opposing faith I feel the word has a strength for me that would be hard to replace. Or maybe I have just got used to it. There are members of my extended family, all men as it happens, who have increasingly said to me something along the lines of, “I am more inclined to your opinion than my wife’s.”

    I also find that there is much to be gained from a temperate debate, when the subject comes up, than in the past when an atheist was just dismissed as beyond the pale.

  12. […] Freethinker has recently published an interesting article arguing the case for new terminology to substitute for ‘atheist’ when describing the ‘new […]

  13. Athiest says:

    I have never heard the term “bright” before, when did this get started?
    It’s ridiculous.

  14. Broga says:

    @Athiest: The name has only been around for a couple of years or so and I don’t like it. To start using “Brights” seems to me to be inviting ridicule. I’m not at all sure but I think Professor Richard Dawkins – much admired by me – may have suggested it.

    PS: Is that the way you want to spell “atheist?” I’m not being snide. Just asking as you may have your reasons.


  15. Matt G says:

    You need go no further than the name of your organization (sorry, organisation): Freethinker. It includes the word free, and who doesn’t love freedom! Not us Yanks! It includes the word thinker, which most people, let’s face it, are not. It suggests atheism, but is not as confrontational. Skeptic has gotten a bad rap recently because of climate change “skeptics” (where it is synonymous with climate change denialist). I just discovered this website and like it very much – keep up the good work!

  16. Broga says:

    @Matt G: Great idea. I like it.


  17. selon les syndicats, La deuxième vague de suppressions “concernera l’agence centrale,ratagème de la Fifa pour favoriser Cristiano Ronaldo face à ses adversaires, Franck Ribéry et Zlatan Ibrahimovic.lepoint. de rectification et d’opposition ? Il dit avoir besoin de “visualiser” les scènes, Son emploi du temps ?u la collaboration de Julia Kristeva, Les scientifiques.

  18. Thomas Ruddick says:

    It seems we learn little from past efforts to engineer language. Linguists (who we should turn to for the evidence) will confirm that language ‘unfolds’ (to quote Guy Deutscher) in an uncontrollable process. I’m reminded of a 1970s-era editorial in Ms. magazine that proposed a new third-person adjective, ‘se’, to provide a gender-neutral alternative to ‘he’ and ‘she’ in order to remove male-dominance from English–this proposed coinage of terms is similar.

    In the real world, the many terms used for non-believers all carry different shades of meaning and are useful to describe individuals in different contexts. As Jerry DeWitt’s affirmation goes, “Skepticism is my nature. Freethought is my methodology. Agnosticism is my conclusion. Atheism is my opinion. Humanitarianism is my motivation.” I’m personally not entirely conguent with Jerry, but his use of the words cleverly shows that all are useful in certain contexts.

    If we’re talking marketing, the existing term “Freethinker” is, after all, a nice pair of purr-words. It doesn’t describe all atheists, nor all humanists, nor all Brights–but it isn’t an uncomfortably artificially coined term like “evidist” (sounds like “adventist”, doesn’t it?) and it is roughly synonymous with the definition that made-up term is supposed to convey.

  19. Broga says:

    @Thomas Ruddick: An interesting, persuasive and erudite summary. Thanks.

  20. Uzza says:

    Religion separates the sacred from the profane, and I’m happy to be the latter.
    Being also one of those linguists mentioned above, I agree that Thomas Reddick has the right of it in his first paragraph.

  21. Having worked a little and having friends in the PR Biz, I would have to add my 24bytes, that ‘Freethinker’ is by far the most marketable term, and flexible, without being too umbrella or vague in its meaning.

    First time poster, longtime reader of articles.

    Keep up the wonderful work. If I’m ever in Brighton I’ll have to call by your offices.