The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #179

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- MAY 2018 


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To Seek vs. To Receive?

If a government provides what people need, will the people then be less likely to seek help from supernatural entities?

University researchers addressing this issue have published a report on how government services relate to religiosity. Their new study, “Religion as an Exchange System: The Interchangeability of God and Government in a Provider Role,” results from looking at data from over 450,000 people in 115 countries. The report relied on a mix of World Bank, World Fact Book, U.S. Census and Gallup data, and the data showed that where government is providing services that meet people's needs, intensity of religious belief is markedly reduced. The report [PDF] is accessible online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

If benefits like health care, education, and basic living requirements can be acquired elsewhere, then religion becomes less useful.

For a Miami Herald article about the study, see: “Government vs. God? People are less religious when government is bigger, research says”.

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Classroom Photos—BC Treat!

Kelly at Brights Central handles the Brights’ "Earth and Life: changes over time" dissemination project, and she follows up with the high school science teachers to ensure receipt of the evolution poster. (When the teachers acknowledge receipt, they are generally profuse with thanks. Sample comments continue to show that teachers so value its image they usually professionally laminate the poster prior to installing it in their classroom.)

On occasion, a teacher may be inspired enough to send along a photo with his/her response to the inquiry. At those times, then Kelly is simply over the moon with glee. (At BC, the plaudits are like compensation; receiving a photo is her bonus!) 

The latest photo follow-up received at BC came in May 5 from the Alabama teacher pictured here:

“Kids have loved this poster. It's grabbed their attention and [sic] something we have gravitated towards while discussing earth's timeline. Thank you for sending this to me.”

From BC: This poster’s unique presentation of both physical and life science events on the same time scale allows a viewer to observe connections not seen in other timelines of evolutionary change. It is those connections that make the poster so valuable to helping students understand the natural story of life. Excellent teachers know that!  So, a big hooray to this teacher for her positioning it at eye level and also making it so accessible to frequent close-up inspection by students, since proximate examination is necessary to see the detailed connections illustrated.

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Boosting Vim and Vigor (and Cleaning Up After)

Several recent changes at Brights Central this month slowed us down a bit time-wise, but here we are again with the Bulletin.

One consequence of recent changes shows up in the renewed vitality in our office hardware!  Nothing really fancy took place. (Nothing expensive, either – we are a nonprofit, after all.)  However, it was becoming necessary to speed up our hardware situation, and while we had already installed some new “innards” to the “PC2” in the office, we still needed to handle the nitty-gritty of optimizing everything.

The recent modifications meant some follow-up tweaking in the central networked computer by webmaster Kevin, and a new learning curve as well for Dr. Futrell.   But we’re back now… well, mostly we are. We've tied up most loose ends.

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Speaking of Vitality! (Russia)

What is the most central message sent out from Brights Central to Brights everywhere?  It is this:

To the extent you can in your spheres of influence (wherever and whenever feasible), try to illuminate naturalistic understanding in the civic realm. The message goes for individuals as well as community clusters.

No grouping so far has achieved as much visible success as has the national cluster in Russia. Of special note: Their YouTube site is approaching 38 thousand subscribers. 

The Russian Brights have so far produced quite an array of online or online-accessible resources. They give generous consideration to sharing their work, too! (It’s not only for Russian Brights and the Russian-speaking public, but also for others.)

Besides their nicely constructed website, Eugene and his team this past year engaged in a highly ambitious educational undertaking to begin producing informative banners for science education: Their initial product, “The Journey to the Cenozoic Era(Age of Mammals), came first in Russian language, but they soon after made it available also in English translation. In English, gratis the Russian Brights, the potential usefulness of this visual in educational settings, is greatly extended. (Have a look, and see if you know of prospective users desirous of facilitating a naturalistic understanding of this period of dramatic earthly change.)

The Russian Brights continue to exhibit dynamism. They have produced in Russian an explanatory text about governmental neutrality in the face of global changes (Russian Federation), which they are now striving to provide also in English. 

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Answering Those “Great Big Questions”

In the interest of civil harmony, is there any chance of surmounting that gaping cultural chasm pictured here?

In a forthcoming article in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (to be cited in a Brights’ Bulletin when officially released), the authors posit prevailing over the divide with an inclusive subject of interest: worldviews.

Yes, worldviews!  The abstract for the article begins as follows:

“To get beyond the solely negative identities signaled by atheism and agnosticism, we have to conceptualize an object of study that includes religions and nonreligions.  We advocate a shift from ‘religions’ to ‘worldviews’ and define worldview in terms of the human ability to ask and reflect on ‘big questions [BQs], e.g., what exists? How should we live?).”

The Brights bulletin will return to this topic of “worldviews as academic subject matter” when the impending academic article, “Psychology, Meaning Making, and the Study of Worldviews: Beyond Religion and Non-Religion” is made available for citing and linking.

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“Big Questions” and “Old Hat”?

We hope its appearance is soon, because this fresh academic approach – touting worldview as an inclusive “object of study” tied to human meaning-making – is of special interest here at Brights Central!  

Why? Because, in the interest of promoting civil discourse and civic pluralism, founders of the Brights initiative already had taken some practical steps in that direction.

In fact, even before launching “the Brights,” they several years ago took up worldview education as strategy directed at social studies teachers who were teaching about religions. The instructional approach provided a way to be inclusive of believers and nonbelievers alike and to urge a focus on common humanity. From that program, they excerpted a small 10-slide instructional segment for use on the Brights’ website, where it remains and is still accessible today. 

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Impressions from Elsewhere

Although the nonprofit organization behind the Brights is in the US and communicates in the English language, the overall initiative recognizes no geographical bounds. Consequently, we hear from new registrants in many places on the globe.

A quick glance at recent enrollments into the constituency yields a spectrum of first impressions and “reasons to join” (or not). This sampling of comments from non-US participants, all offered spontaneously at the time of online registration, spans the usual gamut of different ideas and shades of emphasis and English facility:

• Vitus (Nigeria): I’m trying to explore the natural worldview.

• Manikantan (India): I would like to be a part of the realistic world.

• Jonathan (Great Britain): Hitchens saying he was unhappy with Prof Dawkins using the term

• Bilel (Italy): I am seeking a valid factual answer for this world and honestly sick of the service religious heretics.

• Aristóteles (Colombia): I'm 18, I like science, I do not believe in any mythology, including christianism, Islamism, or Judaism. I speak Spanish and I'm studying English

• Greg (Australia): religion particularly annoys me

• David (Canada): I hope I can help in some way to promote rationalism.

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More Translators for Urdu, Hindi?

One long-standing educational goal of the Brights has been to extend the global reach of science-based interpretation of how human morality actually came about—naturally (no supernatural agency, no revelation!).

With hopes of extending accessibility to the Morality Portal information to benefit additional residents of India, Pakistan, and Norway, last month’s bulletin highlighted translation needs in three languages: Hindi, Urdu, and Norwegian.

We are glad to have already assembled one complete cadre of volunteers and reviewers. Thanks to all of you! (We will initiate the task of translating the portal’s infographic and its associated explanations into Norwegian later this month.)

We remain hopeful of assembling an adequate task team of “translation volunteers” for the other two languages as well, so if you would like to explore working with BC to carry out a translation process from English into Hindi or Urdu please don’t hesitate. Email to the-brights@the-brights.net with the specific language in upper case letters in your subject line.  Briefly state your capability. You do not need to be a professional translator (although those are welcome!), but you do need to be comfortable in both English and the target language so you can join with others in a small volunteer task team for a drafting and review/revision process.

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Winds of Change in American Religion? (USA)

Catholics church attendance resumes downward slide [Gallup]

The steep decline in church attendance among U.S. Catholics between the 1950s and 1970s (20%) fell to about 4% in the 1990s and even stabilized in the mid-2000s. Since then, though, it seems the downward trend has resumed, driven primarily by younger Catholics. 

Protestants decline; more have no religion in a sharply shifting religious landscape [Poll analysis by Langer Research Associates based on a large dataset of 174,485 random-sample telephone interviews in ABC News and ABC News/Washington Post polls conducted from 2003 to 2017] 

NYMag.com, interpreting that polling data in terms of political power, had words for secular Americans as well as evangelicals:

“If the irreligious ever get serious about flexing their muscles politically, a lot could change in this country, particularly on church-state separation issues. In the meantime, white evangelicals need to get a more realistic sense of their own trajectory, and stop lording it over other people of faith who share their less-than-robust membership trends.”

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Nursing Care among Insects?

Here is another example of research (presented entertainingly in story form) that probes the social and moral behavior of organisms other than humans.

This time, the research on which the story is based focuses on injured individuals in societies of termite-hunting ants. Actually, in a colony, there is organized social wound treatment.

The ants have ways of handling injuries that their soldiers incur when engaged in a battle with termites. The research reveals a multifaceted helping system to exist. When termites bite off extremities of the ants, there is differential care depending on the degree of injury, with some more mildly injured ants behaving to nest-mates as if more injured. 

This "Hotline Story," like previous ones from a Danish Bright, is available in both Danish and English languages).


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