The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #183

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- SEPTEMBER 2018 


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Not Shy about Evolution Education

Bulletin subscribers know that an activity of the Brights is to equip future citizens with a robust understanding of the natural story of life on Planet Earth.

There are many factors that mitigate against the development of this understanding in the U.S. citizenry, where so many American political leaders shy away from publicly embracing the fact of evolutionary change over time (or actively deny it).

Educationally, it appears that students just don’t comprehend the geological age of the earth. Furthermore, as one prominent researcher has noted, present-day textbooks do not adequately treat the topic (some package the topic in a chapter and fail to even mention it elsewhere). Perhaps most importantly, as one exploratory study has shown, even college biology teachers have proved timid about teaching this “hot button” issue such that students accept the factual reality of evolutionary processes. (Researchers have uncovered instructor discomfort with the subject matter as it relates to religion or to students’ personal beliefs.)

Supporters of The Brights’ Net are not at all reticent about wanting to advance public understanding of evolutionary change as a foundation for explaining the real world without supernatural agency. We go about it via the evolution poster project focused on supplying high school science classes with a unique resource tool in a visually engaging format.

The seasoned teachers who apply to receive the evolution poster are not reticent about the topic either. They are about as anxious as we Brights to work to ensure that future citizens gain a firm naturalistic explanation of the development of life on Earth and the origin of modern humans.

High school is “The Time” to erase confusion and build confidence about this unifying theme of biology. It’s a time when youngsters are open to ideas that their parents may not have enabled or encouraged them to learn, and for some youngsters, perhaps the high school science class is their last chance. Prior research has shown that high school science teachers are influential in determining outcomes for students who go on to college (whether they accept evolution or question it based on creationism.)

If you’re also a booster of this approach to evolution education, please join this unusual “booster club”!

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Abandoning Theistic Explanations (Australia)

There are bright spots where the situation is quite unlike that in the U.S. For example, thirty-two years of continuous assessment reveals that first year university biology students in Australia are rapidly abandoning beliefs in theistic involvement in human origins.

In fact, a landmark new study reveals that the Australian youth are giving far less credence to creationism or divine guidance. Compared to previous generations, they are showing instead a marked increase in crediting the science of human evolution when offered alternative explanations for how humanity arose.

Green: Created by God within the last 10,000 years;
Blue: Evolved over millions of years with the whole process guided by God;
Red: Evolved over millions of years but God had no part in this process; or
Yellow: Uncertain.

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Homeopathy Has Fervent Fans!  Still…

Last month’s bulletin reported that the Center for Inquiry (CfI) was bringing a fraud lawsuit against CVS, the largest drug store retailer in the United States. The secular organization had produced a dedicated website and animated video to explain the basis for its lawsuit. 

The inclusion of the short report in the Brights’ Bulletin did not sit well with every reader. The most fervent protest came in from a true believer (a 40-year user who reported success for bruises, sprains, colds, flu, chemo side-effects, and more). The email urged BC to drop “this war against homeopathy,” concluding that “it does you no credit.”

Still, with the World Health Organization and medical and scientific communities discouraging homeopathic “treatments” for lack of efficacy (beyond placebo) and for the likelihood of replacing more authentic therapies (e.g., if used for malaria, HIV), we continue to view CfI’s legal action hopefully. 

As for the retail practice of intermingling pseudoscientific “remedies/cures” alongside science-based and FDA-approved chemicals in categories by malady (e.g., cold, headache, flu, sleeplessness, pain, etc.)? If that is indeed CVS’s practice, its system would appear to be unethical and, in any case, then surely the news is worth sharing with Brights in a bulletin.

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Russian Secularism: Getting the Word Out

Image by Eugenia Pilat for the Russian Brights’ website

Russian Brights recently published (and translated into English) a seriously-researched book offering contemporary details on the 2016-17 conditions of secularism in the Russian Federation.

Dissemination of the book’s data and recommendations is unlikely to happen unless the material is read and reviewed outside of Russia. Otherwise, its proposals to the international community will never be implemented, or even considered.

The scholarly research regarding freedom of worldview choice in that nation covering calendar year 2016 is intended for anyone interested in global studies, issues of worldview neutrality, and/or freedom of worldview choice. If you have knowledge, access or affiliations that could be beneficial to help current information on conditions of secularism in Russia reach appropriate readers, please contact directly Eugene Tsygankov, coordinator of Brights Russia. He would welcome your help in giving further notice to the material.

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Something New from Pew

>>Pew presents its fresh typology of religion

Numerous organizations query Americans about religion and belief, but few surveys command greater attention or merit more public confidence than the Pew Research Center’s. Hence, its August 29 report of a new approach to the topic will be of likely interest to many Brights.

At BC, we have grown accustomed to Pew’s delving into religion in the U.S. and how it typically sorts Americans into conventional categories by religious affiliation (or lack of affiliation). But by looking at religion rather differently, it offers an alternative way to understand and evaluate American religious experience. 

The new analysis sorts Americans into seven groups based on “…their religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, the value they place on their religion, and the sources of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.” This “typology” thereby cuts across denominations, identifying both what unites across boundaries of different denominations as well as what divides people within the same religious tradition.

Other than the distinctive characteristics of the seven groupings, the findings point to a low level of religious engagement among many who consider themselves religious, widespread New Age type beliefs (even among those who are religious in traditional ways), and expose many and varied ways that people find meaning and personal fulfillment in their lives.

Related: About the New Typology

Related: The Challenges of Creating a New Typology

Related: How the Religious Typology Groups Compare

Related: Quiz: Find Out where you fit in the new typology

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Solidly Secular?  Or Just a Bright?

Is the “new Pew” a better way to categorize? Where or how would “brights” fit in the new typology?

Pew’s new typology seems to acknowledge, to a greater extent than before, that the terrain of “beliefs” is complex and should be broader than religion. Just as the United Nations’ recognition of a human right of conscience evolved from “Freedom of Religion” to “Freedom of Religion or Belief" to more accurately capture the need to protect the individual from intolerance and discrimination, the “new Pew” is also more comprehensive. Its typology looks especially to “New Age” beliefs, viewed as including “…belief in psychics, astrology, reincarnation, and the belief that spiritual energy can be contained in physical objects like trees, mountains and crystals.”  The broader acknowledgment brings it closer to the wholesale “worldview free of supernatural and mystical elements” that defines a bright.

Pew Research Center’s longstanding categorizations by types and degrees of religious affiliation has always missed the mark with respect to brights. Brights just aren’t easily classified by religion alone. Supernatural agency of any type whatsoever (not just deity) is absent from a bright’s worldview, so to hold “religion” as the metric for worldview comparison is to ignore other considerations, or elevate it above them.

Viewed solely through a religion lens, the vast majority of brights would probably identify as “Solidly Secular” in the new Pew typology, which is so dependent on its “reject New Age beliefs” attribute. (The “Religious Resistors” category is emphatically more politically defined, and it is problematic how Pew actually handles their severance from the “Solidly Secular” folks.)

Still, there are brights by definition who would not themselves identify as “Solidly Secular” because they maintain a nominal or cultural affiliation with a religious community or narrative (absent any supernatural attributions typically attendant to the affiliation). The idea that a person might, for example, be “a Jewish bright” is hard for some to wrap their head around.  Even more difficult is the notion of an atheist giving credence to astrology.  Those people do exist, however!

Someone regularly attending an Anglican church just might be a bright. In contrast, a “nonbeliever” (in God) who accepts psychic energy as real would not appear to fit the definition. Humans are complex. Definitional terrain is tricky. We as individuals best know whether we fit (or don’t).

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More on Assisted Dying (USA)

When the topic of medical-aid-in-dying (MAID) was included in last month’s bulletin, American readers were pointed to two nonprofit organizations:  Compassion and Choices and Final Exit Network, both committed to expanding options for planning a death with dignity (DwD).  

The bulletin text spurred a lengthy response from Nora, an Oregon Bright, who pointed to an additional U.S. nonprofit group that should also receive mention: the Death with Dignity National Center

This Portland-based organization promotes DwD legislation based on its model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity act (a U.S. first). The Center was instrumental in the U.S. Supreme Court upholding Oregon’s law in 2005, and it has since achieved legislative successes in other states (most recently, Hawaii). Today the Center is pursuing getting DwD onto legislative agendas in additional states while protecting existing laws from opponents attempting to use their sway and get reversals.

The August bulletin also mentioned that the legalizing effort was “… a highly contentious topic in the U.S., undergoing opposition by many religious and disability rights adversaries.” Nora disputed the actual degree of contention, pointing out that polls “… regularly show that more that 70% of US citizens support the right to aid-in-dying.”  The most recent Gallup poll indicates such support is holding well.

Nonetheless, she herself mentions “… the highly vocal and dangerously well-funded minority of religious organizations that object to the laws on ‘moral’ grounds.” It is a force with which national organizations like C&C, FEN, and DwDNC must contend. For faster legislative action and expanded legality, that 70+% valuing end-of-life autonomy and peace of mind will need to expand their democratic voice and create an adequate counterforce.

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Hey - That’s Unfair

Do monkeys recognize injustice?

This month's wee story offers some evidence that capuchins are averse to inequity. One capuchin will take notice when “the other guy” is getting a greater benefit food-wise. (Amount seems to matter only when “that other guy” is around, i.e., in a social situation that puts the one monkey at a comparative disadvantage.)

Like prior little "Hotline Tales" from a Danish Bright, this one is available in both Danish and English languages).

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Barking for the Brights! (Canada)

Whatever this duo is saying aloud, neither Charlie nor Max seems at all bashful about wearing the new cloth patch affixed to his kerchief.

(Each received a free cloth patch showing the Brights logo, thanks to the July PHOTO4PATCH free offer.)

Thank you, owner Nataysha, for sending the photos!  (Also for sharing what you know about “the Brights” with any fellow Canadians who may inquire.)

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