The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #110
June 30, 2012

(Note that links in archived Bulletin issues may no longer be valid.)


BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- JULY 2012 


Poster “Flood” Mystery Solved

The evolution poster requests are subsiding. Last month’s burst of applications from Arkansas science teachers has thankfully slowed to a trickle, giving Brights Central a welcome breather. Whew!

Tracing back, Kelly has identified what happened to cause so many teachers in that state to suddenly apply for the 5-foot wide classroom poster (Earth and Life: changes over time).

Mark, an Arkansas science teacher (not a Bright), had ordered and received a poster for his classroom. Greatly pleased, he wanted to tell others. He took advantage of the state’s message board for science teachers and sent this message:

"Need a great poster for your classroom showing the major evolutionary events in life alongside geological periods and changes?
Here's a great one for absolutely free:
http://www.the-brights.net/action/activities/poster.html"

Now that we’ve traced the source, Brights Central wants to try to replicate this type of response in other states via similar routes. Kelly will devote some time this summer in that direction. Email to kelly@the-brights.net if you have a particular suggestion she’s not likely to uncover on her own.

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Conspiracy!

Several Brights emailed BC with concerns that the surge of poster requests didn’t come from teachers who are truly intending to use it in teaching about evolution. As one said, “Are we sure that the big demand is actually teachers and not an organized attempt to drain our coffers by some bible nuts?” (Henry, Wisconsin).

BC’s response to Henry:  “Well, we do have a high degree of confidence in the process we are using. (The applicants that we followed up on are all on their school websites, for example.) Thanks a lot for caring!”

Teachers sign an agreement and provide school contact information and class counts. We’ve taken some time to follow up with teachers to see that they received the poster. Some state their intentions. Many describe how they have already used it. Example:

Kathy (Pennsylvania): “I finally received the poster- seems it found its way to my dept. chair's desk and was there for weeks. I did receive and LOVE IT- will be getting it laminated to reuse year to year. I had the students measure our hallway and discovered it would not be long enough for a ‘correct’ timeline! Thank you so much”

Some even sent pictures (click to enlarge):

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International Brights’ Forum Report

Lately the Forum community has been discussing some weighty legal matters originating from both sides of the Atlantic.  A regional court in Cologne, Germany has ruled circumcision of infants on religious grounds unlawful, on the basis that it causes grievous bodily harm, and the ramifications are being discussed in this topic.  Meanwhile, in the USA, the Supreme Court has made several important decisions, including upholding the highly controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which represents the most significant US health care reform in recent decades.

What happens where you live, and how does it affect your life?  Register in the Forum to inform others of important developments, or simply drop by to discuss your hobbies and interests with a global community of naturalistically-minded individuals.  All are welcome.

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Philosophy Swamp

Too many queries flow in to Brights Central to answer them all. Still, we don’t like to ignore email, and when one of us can speedily reply to a query, we do our best. Most of the easy ones are about the Brights movement, forming a BCC, etc. For other topics, we try to refer the questioner to other websites (e.g., naturalism.org) or to the Brights Forums.

Where we run into trouble is “philosophy.” It is clear from the “comments from the website” that beliefs and religion and science are of great interest to site visitors. And it is the case for many "new Brights," particularly to those who have come only recently to their worldview and conclusions about life. But philosophy is not our ballgame (interest or expertise) at The Brights' Net.

During June, perhaps stimulated by the title of a recent book by Lawrence Krauss (A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing), the most-asked questions from the philosophy camp involved that “nothing.” Several different emails asked “How do you explain ‘nothing’? How can ‘something’ come from ‘nothing’

We referred these inquirers to a posting by Victor Stenger, whose blog often deals with questions on religion and science and the “big bang” of the universe. Conveniently for us, it had an interview for an upcoming book by Trevor Treharne that touches these “nothing” ideas “in a nutshell.”

Excerpt: “Once you define [nothing], give it some property, then it becomes ‘something.’ So, I don't really know how you define ‘nothing,’ when you start talking philosophically. The way I handle that question now, which is consistent with all existing knowledge of cosmology and physics, is…”

If you are a bulletin reader whose curiosity rests in that arena, visit that blog post. But please don’t email back to BC with more philosophy queries!

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Books by Brights

If you are a constituent and have recently written or edited a published book, be sure to submit it for announcement in the Brights Bulletin and on the website.

Publishers often send suggested books or notices our way, but Brights Central announces only when the author, already a registered Bright, personally submits his/her announcement according to the guidelines for authors.

If a book you have written and we've posted is no longer available, or if the entry simply needs updating, email to the-brights@the-brights.net with UPDATE BOOK (upper case letters) in your subject line. Thank you.

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Recent Commissions (and Memory Check)

Brights Central stretches the time between Equinox donations with the help of PayPal donations and online purchases of varied items from established online merchants. So, thanks to all of you whose purchases (at no cost to you) are sustaining the overall initiative’s communications and activities. The trick, of course, is remembering to initiate the online shopping via the website’s available links. Please bookmark and use the relevant links.

Amazon and iGive proceeds sent to The Brights’ Net in May started to approach December’s holiday season total. Whatever the cause (June weddings? graduation gifts? renovations?), we thank you. Perhaps it was simply telling your friends about using the links on the site!

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Squeaky Wheels & Inbox Comments

BC once frequently shared in the monthly bulletins a sampling of remarks from registrants or statements coming in Email that month. We’ve skipped it for a few months. We stopped because a few Brights thought our including it to be rather silly and wrote (squeaky wheels) to say so. Apparently, some other people (more squeaky wheels) have noticed the absence and inquired why we dropped it. As Cara (UK) says, “It reminds me that we are a constituency, and that others share that relief feeling I got when first discovering the Brights. I have that bond with others elsewhere.

The middle ground - better to space it out, perhaps? We will include a sampling from recent months for Cara and others like her to reflect on a “common bond” shared by some Brights.

David (Berkshire, UK): “Another little lumen

Robert (Indiana, USA): “The Brights sounds like a very positive and open-minded way of thinking. I've known for a while that I didn't believe in any supernatural ideas that I'd been taught growing up and try to remain positive in the face of the hateful and closed-mindedness of the people in the area I live in.”

Nancy (Kansas, USA): “I find it very comforting that such a movement exists.

Laila (Ontario, Canada): “Finally a group that understands we should not be defined in relation to religions.

Barry (Australia): “The first time I’ve found a label that fits!

Tom (New Mexico, USA): “I had a tear in my eye as I read your newsletter.

Branden (Missouri, USA): “Hopefully, as we cease to be mere singular voices crying out from the lonely wilds of intellectualism and become an organized association of purpose driven free-thinkers, we will bring our positive views and abilities to bear on the world around us. There may yet be a brighter tomorrow for mankind, but if there is to be such a day it will only be because of the efforts of non-superstitious minds.

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POLLING POINTS

Atheist Electability – Painfully Slow Progress (USA)

Of interest in an election year is a recent Gallup poll that focused on the degree of Americans’ acceptance of presidential candidates of various characteristics and backgrounds.

This poll (conducted in early June) has received considerable attention in atheist/freethought circles. In particular, much has been made of the poll’s indication that – at long last – a majority of Americans would vote for an atheist for president of the United States.

When Gallup first asked the question about atheist electability (back in 1958), only 18% expressed willingness to vote for “a generally well qualified person” with that identity. Now, having repeated the question 3 times, the acceptability number is 54%.  Okay, that’s progress, if one deems the polling methods to be telling us something credible.

While most are touting the achievement of the 54%, the reality is that the electability growth is only slightly over 2% per year across the 54 intervening years. It appears, too, that most of the progress was early on. From 1958 to 1978, atheist electability more than doubled across the twenty years (going from 18% to 40%). The number then climbed more gradually moving just 9% (to 49% in 1999) before climbing even more gently across the following decade to pass the majority point for electability.

In his “Friendly Atheist” blog, Hemant Mehta, a Bright, has a nice discussion of the data from the atheist perspective. Yet his title sums up the poll’s findings under the title: “Atheists Are Still the Most Unelectable Group in America.”

The bright spot, however, is there to see if one looks. It is the fact that young folks (ages 18 to 29) are generally the most tolerant of presidential candidates from various backgrounds. They're way more accepting than citizens over 65.  As regards atheists, the comparison is 70% to 40%, a powerful 30% young-to-old difference.

Gallup data show that Americans have generally, over time, become more accepting of various groups (minority religions, women, blacks, gays). However, the poll report concludes that “...there are still certain types of candidates -- specifically atheists and Muslims -- that Americans would have a harder time supporting.” The poll was about presidential candidates, but that’s likely indicative of other capacities.

Citizens who have a naturalistic worldview tend to recognize that human morality has developed naturally in the species. Consequently, they know they have moral equivalence to citizens who hold fast to supernatural and mystical explanations (including deity-belief). But they also know they aren’t perceived and treated as civic equals. And they won’t be for a while at the snail’s pace Gallup polls indicate.

Being characterized (mired) in the religion ballgame, brights of all stripes (and not just those who identify as atheists) are evaluated by way of contrast. It is one of the factors making progress in social acceptance of all brights so painfully slow.

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