The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #154

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- MARCH 2016 


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Dispersing Your Bits of “Brightness”

The Brights’ tagline (“illuminating and elevating the naturalistic worldview”) clearly evokes the major focus of this initiative. We, as Brights, are acting to bolster supernatural-free understanding of the world, especially as regards the civic arena.   

One way we do this is through individual actions within our own spheres of influence (openness, visibility, constructive engagement, principled civic participation). A second way is by lending our support to volunteer endeavors coordinated by Brights Central (targeted to specific populations and enabled financially by the generosity of Brights at large).  

Currently, BC coordinates several spread-ready” projects that can be extended to larger audiences. The support of constituent Brights determines the degree to which the network can be enlarging these coordinated activities to augment the naturalistic view of the world within varied populations.

 “If it is amazement you want, the real world has it all… Not only is life on this planet amazing, and deeply satisfying, to all whose senses have not become dulled by familiarity: the very fact that we have evolved the brain power to understand our evolutionary genesis redoubles the amazement and compounds the satisfaction.

— Richard Dawkins (closing thoughts, The Ancestor’s Tale, p. 613)

Although it can be personally satisfying to hold a naturalistic worldview, even better is to know that you are playing an active role in promoting our “Evolution Poster Project” (targeting secondary science education), our “Reality about Morality Project” (the general online public as well as academics), or “A Little Brightness” (religiously oppressed incarcerated persons). You can volunteer your talents to the constituency (e.g., for translations, graphic arts, reviewing, etc. (email specifics to the-brights@the-brights.net) or simply help by subscribing a small monthly donation to sustain the overall endeavor.

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The Brights and the Atheists

As Brights, are we proselytizing atheism?  Have you considered this question?  Please do.

Richard Dawkins is someone whom many think of when they think of the Brights. He is what we might term an “atheistic Bright (self-declared as both an atheist and a bright). But not all brights say they are atheistic. Some take an agnostic position with respect to any god-belief, while functionally they live their lives without it.

It does surprise some people to learn that there are persons who, like Dawkins, give no credence whatsoever to a god or gods but who (quite unlike Dawkins) nonetheless hold onto some general sensation of there being mystical forces or supernatural agency present and functioning. Such atheists would no more be brights than would those persons who accept as real certain phenomena and/or forces (among the better-known: astrology, auras, ESP, iridology, Psi, souls, telepathy, vitalism).

These variations exist because the Brights’ initiative is grounded not in religion but in the notion that a supernatural-free understanding of the world (the naturalistic worldview) can lead to improved civic agency and better public institutions.

There can be little doubt that as individuals gain a more naturalistic understanding of the world, then their “belief without evidence” (faith) tends to be undermined in turn. This may be relevant to religions and religion in society, but that’s not the main idea here. The main deal for Brights is spelled out in the vision statement on the website, and it is a vision in which individuals join the network to work toward some broad civic aims. We are relishing a naturalistic outlook and also living it in ways intended to benefit the civic status of fellow citizens.

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Inject More Reason into Public Policy (USA)

Reason Rally 2016 is a celebration of fact-driven public policy, the value of critical thinking, and the voting power of secular Americans.

The Rally will be held June 2- 5, 2016, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Two days of lobbying will precede the Rally itself on June 4 and a conference will be held Sunday, June 5.

If you go, you will be joined by speakers, entertainers, top-level scientists, political leaders and the tens of thousands of other participants who want to celebrate their secular, humanist and other nonreligious identities and promote the goals of the gathering.

The celebrities there will be speaking up for reason and the event’s several assertions:

• Public policy should be based on facts, not faith.

• Medical research should be based on scientific rigor, not corporate or ideological influence.

• Being patriotic has nothing to do with believing in a god.

• Religious litmus tests for candidates are wrong.

• Rational thought is important in personal and public life.

• Democracy works best when everyone’s voice is heard.

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“Getting Real” about Morality

The Brights’ ongoing “Reality about Morality” project pursues varied strategies to help people absorb the naturalistic nitty-gritty of human morality in order to challenge the widespread presumption that ethical systems and morals are imparted to humankind by some form of divine being or power.  Current activity on the project (Area D) is moving beyond the already completed online "Morality Portal" (Area C's set of products). 

The Area D team is now focused on designing and disseminating some additional materials under the rubric of “Getting Real” about issues of right and wrong, good and bad. 

Andy Norman of Carnegie Mellon has proposed this different approach and drafted an infographic to get the ball rolling. His product began with the notion of “How to think like a scientist about morality” and has resulted in ten points of advisory text, along with proposed (and very brief) substantiation of each element. He submitted draft text to BC and the Area D team, and then ran it through several iterations, editing to some extent as a consequence of recommendations from others.

Brights Central has sent Dr. Norman’s latest text out for review by academics who are actively involved in research on morality. The material under review (with any necessary revisions) will likely be rendered in two visual editions.  One adaptation will be produced at Carnegie Mellon and directed to academic audiences, and a second version will target general audiences. The latter translation (with BC commissioning a graphic art presentation consistent with the style of the morality portal) will become a component of the envisioned instructional package for Project Area D (e.g., infographic, fact sheet[s], and PowerPoint).

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Religious Privilege Scrutinized (Scotland)

How are religious individuals and/or organizations specifically protected or privileged in Scots Law?

A University of Glasgow research project has produced results that shed considerable light on the question. The project was initiated to map both historical and current religious privileges in Scotland’s laws. Results are being made available in the public domain in hopes of lifting the quality of discussion on a topic that sometimes elicits overly emotional or highly sensitive responses.

Commissioning:  Impetus for the U of G audit came from the Humanist Society of Scotland, which invested in the project to inquire into the privileges enjoyed by religion in Scots law and to increase public and political awareness of the changing role of religion and belief in Scottish public life.

Summary Document:  A useful digest points to the societal changes (decline in churches, falling church membership and affiliations, as well as the rising proportion of Scots registered as having “no religion”) having transformed church and faith.  Against that background, the project explored contemporary law, chiefly statute, across a range of areas (e.g., the Church of Scotland, marriage, education, armed services, charities, family law, etc.) to discover the place of religion (how it is regulated, recognized, respected, or privileged).

Final Report: The project’s recently released extensive (355 pp.) final report can be used to inform varied constituencies and help develop the sophistication of the current ongoing debate about the role of religion in public life.

Related Article (on challenging religious privilege)

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Atheism Also Natural (A Study)

Is it accurate for atheists to depict religion as something from an earlier, more primitive stage of human development? Is belief in a god/gods inherent, a “default setting” for humans? Are believers correct to talk about atheism as if it's a pathology?

Looking further into the monotheistic/atheistic divide – this time with the benefit of knowledge of ancient history – provides a different, and according to the study’s author, Tim Whitmarsh, a more accurate perspective.

Are humans really “wired for religion?”  (Apparently, no more so than atheists are wired for atheism.)

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International Forums

Both Russia and Germany saw headlines this month about citizens criminally charged for speaking against religion.  Are these signs of an overall trend, or one-off applications of obsolete law.  The Forums invite reports and reactions from people everywhere to such developments.

In the USA, the government has brought suit to force a private company to defeat the security features of one of its products to enable the government to search for evidence pertaining to a crime.  Needless to say, this is widely regarded as controversial: should the government be able to direct private industry?  Does digital data deserve special protection from search and seizure?  What are the conventions where you live regarding government’s access to personal information?

A simple registration will let you join the debate.

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“Creator’s Design” Stirs Publishing Questions

PLoS ONE, a noted publisher of peer-reviewed scientific research, has retracted a paper that attributed the architecture of the human hand to “the proper design by the Creator.”

An explosion of criticism followed on the heels of the paper’s publication, with its seeming creationist slant. The ruckus (with hashtags #Creatorgate and #HandoffGod) drew attention to issues of quality in editing and peer-review not only at PLoS, but at high volume journals in general. (It is a system in which papers are arriving from across the globe, often from scientists who are far from adept in English language, and are being handled by editors facing tight deadlines and complex process challenges.)

As one scientist noted about the incident: “[It] may require more than retraction to clear the reputation of the journal and, by extension, the reputation of all of us that trusted the journal to disseminate our work. The repair will not be even half complete until all responsibilities of this event are publicly known. That means full disclosure of all the details of the revision process.”

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Got Time to Visit the Edge?

The annual Edge question for 2016 is this:
What do you consider the most interesting recent [scientific] news? What makes it important?  

Many Brights will delight in the response essay from Michael McCullough, who directs the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory at the University of Miami. His assertion? — “Religious morality is mostly below the belt.

The McCullough piece is entertaining as well as informative, and a nice starter to your exploring the 2016 commentaries.  Enthusiastic Bright Daniel C. Dennett has remarked about his progress in plowing through the responses:  "I’ve just treated myself to the first third, roughly, of this year’s Edge answers. Addictive, fascinating, exciting—even on topics that I already knew quite a lot about. Very high quality." 

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Merchandise Mart

As a service to those of you motivated to openly invite queries about the Brights movement, Brights Central has priced all its merchandise on the website at cost (and in a few cases below it!), and all merchandise accessible through a vendor is priced with the minimum markup the merchandiser allows.

Need a new Tee?  The Brights’ Net may have sold out of its flag supply, but there are various designs in T-shirts and lots of other Brights-labeled items that Brights can purchase.

Clothing options are available via the Brights’ Shop (Café Press) or the Brights’ Kiosk (Zazzle).  Zazzle broadens options for Brights internationally and offers not only a standard T-shirt, but also a style generally more suited to the female shape. There's a quality organic canvas tote bag for your groceries, too!


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