The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #151

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- DECEMBER 2015 


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Receptivity for “Bullshit” Scrutinized

The authors of a recent article in the Journal of Judgment and Decisionmaking do not hold back. Having considered “nonsense” and “rubbish” inadequate to the phenomenon of interest, they deem “bullshit” a consequential aspect of the human condition and set about to put at least one type of it under empirical investigation.

Titling their report, “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit,” they define the attribute as “seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.”

After pursuing 4 different studies regarding bullshit detection, the authors conclude, among other things:

“[W]ith the rise of communication technology, people are likely encountering more bullshit in their everyday lives than ever before.”…  [S]ome people are more receptive to this type of bullshit” and “[D]etecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims.”

The study is serious, but reading it is likely to bring chuckles to many Brights who would like to think that Deepak Chopra would not be pleased by the scrutiny.

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Explaining to Children

Another “best”” for parental consideration is the book What Is God? by Etan Boritzer (illustrated by Robbie Marantz). As its title implies, the purpose of this children’s book is to “answer the god question” directly. It does this by characterizing the deity as a “feeling and an identity with the natural world” rather than as a person or thing.

The nomination comes in from Michael (Kansas, USA), who expects the author’s approach will keep open a child’s pathway to a naturalistic understanding of the world as it carries the idea of god across belief systems.

Michael writes that the approach “takes apart anything children may have been taught in Sunday school” without introducing contradictions that might confuse them. Further:

Ironically, this is a children’s book, but a book that could be enjoyed by any adult, anywhere in the world, and at any age. It must be read to the final conclusion that answers the question completely.

If you have your own “best book” recommendation, please provide title and author and, if you can, a link to further information (or send an abstract).  Email the “top choice” to the-brights@the-brights.net with BEST (in upper case letters, please) in your subject link.

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Looking toward Reason Rally 2016

The first Reason Rally on the Washington, DC mall (3/24/2012) was billed as “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history.” Despite the cool weather with constant rain, it was fairly reported as such.

Four years later, the planning for a second “Celebration of Reason” is proceeding apace, with events being scheduled for Thursday June 2nd through Sunday June 5th. The new mall location is the Lincoln Memorial. You can make your travel plans for 2016 now.

The Brights’ Network was a supporter and helped to sponsor the 2012 Reason Rally. Brights Central is presuming adequate interest from American Brights in continuing support and participation for the 2016 event. Co-sponsorship costs have multiplied several fold, though, so please earmark any extra donation to this purpose.

Also, let us know if you are personally interested in aiding participation by Brights (email to the-brights@the-brights.net with RR2016 in your email's subject line).

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Some Progress for Pluralism and Humanism (UK)

Will the school curriculum on Religious Studies include major non-religious worldviews such as humanism?  Would the government meet its obligations if only religious worldviews are provided?

Such questions have been issues of contention in the UK, and there have been a number of recent developments regarding whether the Department for Education meets its obligations if the context of the academic exploration of ethics and fundamental life questions provided to students is almost exclusively religious.

Three families challenged the Education Secretary's omission of non-religious worldviews from the new General Certificate of Secondary Education curriculum and syllabus of religious studies. At the latest, in response to the families’ challenge (and perhaps in view of input from several religious leaders arguing that humanism should be included in the curriculum), the High Court has ruled that the education secretary made "an error of law" in leaving "non-religious world views" out of the new religious studies GCSE.

A “religions only” curriculum addressing such topics as death, human relationships, war and peace, sanctity of life, etc. would leave an impression on youngsters that religion, in whatever form it may present, has the corner on such matters. Hence, the ruling was welcomed by British secular and Humanist organizations for appearing to ask that the religious education syllabus not prioritize religious over nonreligious worldviews.

Report on the Ruling

Report on the Challenge

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Wrapping up a Year of Divisive Politics (USA)

With the ever-increasing political polarization in the American public, 2015 may be the year for American Brights, as citizens, to take a good hard look at the divides between the political parties (Republicans and Democrats) to better understand what they actually entail.

Thanks to Pew Research Center’s steadfast examination of key issues of American politics and science, a rather handy road map to a range of topics is available. In case you missed Pew's mid-year summary of relevant findings, now might be a good time to ponder the general public’s views on science-related topics, along with the extent to which people’s knowledge about science connects to their views.

While examining patterns underlying perspectives of science itself, the Pew study explores the degree to which political views, educational attainment, religion and demographic factors are connected to science-associated views. Chapters focus on these arenas: 1) climate change and energy; 2) support for government funding; 3) evolution and perceptions of scientific consensus; 4) opinions in the biomedical arena; 5) food and food safety; 6) use of animals in research; and 7) space program issues. 

Results show increased alignment between ideological orientation and political party leanings.

On a handful of science topics, religion comes to the fore. For example, religious differences play a role in beliefs about whether human evolution occurred through natural processes, and perceptions of scientific consensus related to evolution or the creation of the universe), but its role is not central in people’s beliefs about a range of other science topics (e.g., excepting some in the realm of biomedical issues).

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Religion and Science… Viewed Anew?

Should the notion of “science vs. religion” (as a reality) be rethought?  Scholars at Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program appear to think so. Certainly, there is food for analysis by Brights who would view this international study (reported December 3) from outside its lens.

Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative regards its study’s findings as “helping to improve efforts to increase productive dialogue between scientists and religious communities in different countries and regions by uncovering cross-national similarities and differences in how scientists perceive the relationship between science, religion, and spirituality, and translating these findings to significant media outlets and global community leaders.”

Although the researchers recognize multiple issues as influencing the social context of science as it takes place across the globe (e.g., differences in “family life, commercialization, and international collaboration”), their Templeton-supported study (unsurprisingly) focuses primarily on religion.

The authors of “A Global Lab: Religion among Scientists in International Context” (conference report) conclude that while scientists worldwide are “more secular than the general population,” they “do not think science is a secularizing influence.” Further, and foremost: “the idea that science and religion are in conflict is mainly a Western, Christian notion.” 

If arguably Western—Christian?? 

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At the International Forums

There are many differing styles of advocacy in the secular arena, with vigorous defenders of each on their sides.  Some organizations insist that a robust, in-your-face presentation is the best way to grow their memberships and influence public option, whereas others favor a kinder, gentler approach to allow their cultural opponents to save face, or to draw in those who simply have a milder disposition.  A well-recognized proponent of the former style is David Silverman of American Atheists, who has written a book-length defense of aggressive secular campaigning.  Is he on the right track, or derailing the movement?  Discussion here.

For more on communication styles, see this Topic on the “regressive Left” and “safe spaces.”  Many people think that people should be protected from “offensive” communication, but there seems to be a lot of controversy about what “offensive” means and the amount of protection from offensive speech that people deserve.  Of course, there are those at the poles of the dilemma arguing either that anything goes or that nobody should ever be allowed to have their feelings hurt about anything, but surely the best way forward lies somewhere in the middle?  What do you think?

Forum registration is quick and easy.  See you there!  

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Secularist View of Religiosity Decline (USA)

Last month’s Bulletin recounted the recent Pew Research report highlighting an overall falloff in traditional religious beliefs and practices from 2007 to 2014. Key links repeated here:

 

Report / Highlights / Video / Database / About Atheists

Analysts at the American Secular Census have regarded the Pew report from the secular angle.

 

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“Giving Season” Support Options

This is a season in which your online shopping for gifts can greatly benefit the Brights movement for the coming year—IF you choose to pursue your online shopping via links at The Brights’ Net leading through Amazon or iGive.  (Each purchase you make by starting off at a portal link on the website can spur a small donation to the Brights at no extra cost to you.)

One needn’t shop to support the Brights, of course. In the season of end-of-year giving, you can direct your charitable generosity more directly to the educational efforts of The Brights’ Network to elevate the naturalistic worldview. Even $5 per month ongoing (via PayPal) is of enormous help to the resource planning.

And it's not just for Brights either. Anyone you know who indicates favoring civic parity for citizens who have a naturalistic worldview may be invited to channel some support for the Brights' initiative in this manner.

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To Amazon, or Not to Amazon

Of course, many persons know of reasons not to give support to Amazon, as one protesting Bright voiced clearly in a recent note to BC. Steve (Oregon, USA) is lucky to live near the fabulous Powell’s Books, but he cited several reasons that Amazon is not the ideal vendor for him, or for anyone, and then says:

"It’s great that Amazon gives you a pittance for selling on their site, but it doesn’t seem ethical to me to encourage people to bypass their local economies instead of giving directly to you. And besides the huge negative effects on local economies, the way they treat their warehouse workers (as virtual slaves) and even their white-collar workers should make anyone pause before giving them money."

Note from Brights Central:  As we have mentioned several times in previous bulletins, the most effective way to support the Brights is through direct donations. (We have also written before regarding the ethical aspect and taken no position beyond offering the route to users who wish to use it.) Factually, we can state that the cumulative “pittance” from Amazon is not chickenfeed.  It actually does play a significant role in keeping lights on and activities proceeding at the nonprofit The Brights' Network. Regarding books, staff here personally appreciate independent bookstores and the fact that some can use a route to locating such bookstores in the US. Wherever you are located and whatever vendors you choose, if you decide to free yourself from Amazon, we welcome your remembering to periodically direct a donation to The Brights' Net!


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