The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #189

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


BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- APRIL 2019 


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News from the GSS 2018 (USA)

Data from the nationally representative 2018 General Social Survey (GSS) became live and available to the public March 19, and its tracking of changes in religious affiliation in recent years is newsworthy for Brights.

(Funded in large part by the National Science Foundation, the GSS has been conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago since 1972 to monitor societal change and study the growing complexity of American society. The GSS is second only to the U.S. Census as the most cited social science dataset in the country. It is the longest-running national longitudinal survey tracking the views of the American people and where they stand on a vast array of critical issues. Throughout its history, the GSS has served as an objective, scientific, and non-partisan resource for decision-makers, journalists, researchers, business leaders, and many others.)

One of the more important changes that the GSS has found concurs with the reported rising tide of religiously unaffiliated voters that the Public Religion Research Institute had previously publicized back in 2016.

A March 21 article in Religion News Service points out that the new data from GSS put “nones” at roughly the same percentage of the U.S. population as those who identify as evangelical or as Catholic.

The article, drawing upon analysis by political scientist Ryan P Burge of Eastern Illinois University, quotes him as follows: “Nones have been on the march for a long time... It’s been a constant, steady increase for 20 years now. If the trend line kept up, we knew this was going to happen.”

Will this shift signify coming political changes? -- Among other things, as younger and more liberal voters arrive on the scene, the shift reduces the overall representation of aging white evangelicals. Those folks, according to Burge, “punch way above their weight” at the ballot box.

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There’s Atheist “Spirituality” – Really?

Perhaps you’d like to look into the perplexing notion of atheist spirituality? 

If so, you can be guided by a short newsy item in the Christian Science Monitor (March 11).

The article titled “Spiritual or Atheist? – More nonbelievers are saying ‘both’” touches on the notions of nontheistic forms of spirituality. (These are usually awe-inspired variations of what many atheists would describe as a personal form of religion or religiousness, despite their not believing in a supernatural deity).

The article offers useful background. (That is, you will encounter such background if you do use the links so liberally provided!).  It also discusses what many Brights might consider some rather bothersome information about atheists.

For anyone who has considerable difficulty with use of the term “spiritual” itself, this Monitor piece might be deserving of some closer scrutiny. What it does do is offer you a beneficial look at how having a naturalistic worldview is distinct from being an atheist. That’s a distinction that many persons have difficulty making, but following the links pulls together some notable comparisons for you. There’s also some mention of the problem of using labels, period.

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Morally Good – All around the World

During the span of time that humans and their ancestors have lived in social groups, they have faced a range of different problems of cooperation. Across these 50 million years they evolved and invented a range of solutions to these problems.

Help your family / Help your group / Return favors / Be brave / Defer to your superiors / Be fair / Respect others’ property

Researchers today have recently concluded from studies so far that no matter where on earth humans are living, they consider the seven cooperative behaviors just listed here to be "morally good.

According to a critique published March 26 in Behavioral Scientist, the growing consensus that “morality is simply those biological and cultural traits that promote cooperation” has opened the door to a blossoming interdisciplinary undertaking drawing on research in many areas of science.

Using what they know from game theory, researchers are now anxious to use principled theory to generate testable predictions and thereby pave the way for a genuine science of morality.

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Relishing the Evolution Poster

High school science teachers almost always gush with delight when they first receive the Brights’ Earth and Life: change across time classroom wall poster that they have applied for.

We know that they do from the emailed comments that we receive at Brights Central, many of which have been posted on the website.

Upon receipt of the poster, some teachers will write and forecast for BC the several ways they plan to put the unique image to use in their instruction. These are the teachers, after all, who do teach about evolutionary change. (They do not possess the notable reluctance to teach about evolution that, as previously reported, has afflicted so many teachers in lots of areas of the U.S. where public resistance to accepting evolution has - despite the strength of its evidence - even escalated.)

These are teachers who want real science in their classrooms, and they want to teach it well!

What’s even a greater pleasure at BC is to hear from a teacher who long ago applied for and received the poster along with an accompanying handout that BC sends out, offering brief suggestions for poster use. For example, we just this month heard from an Alabama teacher who acquired the poster back in 2017 and who has been using it ever since.

About its usefulness (and pertinence in Alabama), Jon says: 

“I teach Human Anatomy and Physiology with a heavy dose of evolutionary adaptation and comparative anatomy. I refer to it [the poster] when we are talking about the concept of change over time. I use it as an example of how to represent data visually that maintains accuracy, but provides context (dates of major cosmic, earth changes in relation to each other). I also use it as a discussion point for fact checking…students take information from the poster and have to find an academic source that supports the information (no one has found contradictory information)… in the state of Alabama, students need to see that as much as possible, very few get information at home….of course, some do…but I am often surprised at how many high school juniors and seniors only know the  following:  Charles Darwin and 'survival of the fittest' with no ability to elaborate.” 

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Trail Clearing by Ants

Ant colonies can accomplish infrastructure construction of amazing size and complexity. Their tens of thousands of work hours across many thousand individuals get the job done.

Through obstruction experiments with leaf-cutter ants, scientists in field and lab have been investigating how these sophisticated trail builders “…remove leaf litter, cut through overhangs and shift soil to level the path of trail networks that may cumulatively extend for kilometers.” 

Do they coordinate with one another?

Studies around that question form the basis of this month’s "Hotline Tale", which, like prior ones, is available in both Danish and English language versions.  A report of the experimentation was published in January 2019.

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Yes, We Took a Breather Here!

Director Mynga Futrell oversees each month’s bulletin, and amidst preparations for last month’s edition, a decision had to be made due to the March hospitalization of fellow Brights co-founder Paul Geisert, her husband.

Dr. Geisert’s accident, which resulted in a fractured pelvis, led to a hip replacement surgery and some consequent serious rehabilitation efforts. He’s a trooper, though!

Paul’s sudden accident carried into a stressful time affecting all of us at the Brights Central office. (We are close here, almost like family) and involved his eventual placement in a rehabilitation facility requiring her travels away from the city. (He remains there engaged in consequent orthopedic-follow-up.)

At first, thinking simply to delay March’s bulletin edition a week or so, Mynga had already selected the photo of the waterfall that headlines this April bulletin (she chose the lovely scene far above for its calming influence on her personally at the time).  Dr. Futrell had also already also selected the picture of the girl here as a follow-up to her husband’s hospitalization. (That photo comes complete with her instructions to those Brights who know him!)  Both scenes are drawn from family pictures taken and shared by Paul’s son, Bruce. The former photo, from Bruce’s African ventures, may be recognizable to any who have been in Zimbabwe.

As Paul has been trudging (literally) through the rehabilitation and she traveling back and forth to oversee his recovery, we all decided that the better strategy was to pick up in April. So here we are again!

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Conversation Starter -  Free!

A Brights' logo patch is a helpful conversation starter, and about the best place is on a pet's garment. Of course, totes, backpacks, hats, book bags would work, too.

Cloth patches (2¼"x3") have been offered year-round as a $3 purchase via PayPal on the website merchandise page. But, if you'd like to use a patch to start your own conversations, you can, this month only, acquire it for FREE.

If located in the USA, send a self-addressed, stamped (50¢) envelope to Brights Central (P.O. Box 163418, Sacramento CA 95816 USA). With 1 oz. postage, we can send you a brochure and a bit of extra swag, too! We are able to mail patches domestically only via SASE envelopes, so please do not email your request.

The offer is extended internationally if you have available and can enclose $1USD to help defray our having to purchase the necessary international postage. You will also receive the bit of bonus swag. (However, please do not send us any non-US currency - Thanks!)

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Charities and Their “Good Intentions”

 “[S]ociety should stop assuming religious organisations only have good intentions.”

This above statement is a main contention of the National Secular Society (NSS), a U.K.-based nonprofit that has produced a report about charities. Among other things, the NSS is seriously contesting the notion that “the advancement of religion” is even a valid public benefit. Its report sets out "recommendations for a fairer and clearer charity system."

Organizations that focus on relieving poverty, saving lives, promoting wellness, and protecting the environment bring obvious benefit to the public. However, the NSS sees no such value in the associated actions of many religious organizations. In particular, the NSS in an opinion piece by Lloyd Evans has drawn attention to actual harm done by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Scottish government is currently acknowledging the changing environment that charities are operating in and feels the times call for a renewed look at “how well the current arrangements are working and explore potential improvements.” So, with Scottish Charity Law to be undergoing a new look, the NSS timing for its critiques is apropos.


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