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Issue #195 (latest issue)

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- NOVEMBER 2019 


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Decision-making of Mounting Consequence

Amid our rapidly shifting global circumstances, the scope of difficulties facing humankind is extensive and components, though diverse, interdependent.

The image at left lists various challenge categories that have been identified in the 2019 IPBES report. This is the global report that has recounted extraordinary declines in various facets of nature (in particular, the dramatic species extinctions now taking place).

Given the likelihood of reduced decision-making time horizons, our current period of rapid change is one in which adaptation planning is becoming increasingly critical. The limitations of our traditional decision-making processes in the context of uncertain consequences are fast becoming recognized (e.g., the shortcomings of cost-benefit analysis). In the face of deep uncertainty about a variety of potential futures, as reviewers of decision-making/adaptation processes have stated (2016):

“Adaptation to climate change is not a new subject. Throughout history, societies, their organizations and their different activities have shown a strong capacity for adaptation to changes in environmental and climate conditions… However, the rate of change in climate, which has recently been observed and the rate of change projected for the future, strongly overcomes to any change speed observed by humanity in the past, which calls for a special and urgent awareness of decision makers to consider these new, changing and uncertain conditions.”

What may prove most promising in moving from meaningful analysis to timely implementation?  Brights who value and rely on facts and scientific evidence will recognize that there is more and more need for policy-relevant knowledge to be brought to bear on the circumstance, and definite urgency as regards political actions across the globe.

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Secular Survey Reminder

Brights Central told you in last month’s Bulletin about the #SecularSurvey, an effort to address the lack of available information on that portion of the American population identifying as secular by any label(s).

The U.S. Secular Survey organizers had originally announced a closing deadline of November 22.  We should now note that the organizers of that project closed the survey on November 1. The survey did achieve participation from over 35K survey partakers.

Anyone who clicks on the U.S. Secular Survey link today, instead of getting an opportunity to participate, will be asked to donate. Unfortunately, the switch to accepting donations with which to continue analysis has likely disappointed, and understandably so, anyone thinking of participating at any point just prior to the previously announced deadline.

If you are curious about the nature of the survey processes themselves, there is still on the site FAQs information that describes those.

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Posters Have Arrived; Mailing Tubes, Too!

Here at Brights Central we have again started another round of evolution poster disseminations. The outcome of our renewed efforts is that additional tens of thousands of high school students will be able to acquire from their schooling a richly exacting naturalistic understanding of life.  (Far less need for supernatural explanations when “it all makes sense through science”!)

This project is a major effort of the constituency and Kelly’s favorite work at BC, in part because the Earth and Life: changes over time instructional resource so pleases the science teachers who receive it, and they tend to say so

It’s so nice to be back once more in our “distribution mode”– carefully rolling up and packing each 5 ½ foot wide poster along with brief guidance for its classroom use, and mailing the combination out to teacher applicants.

The Brights have the exclusive privilege of supplying this unique educational resource to experienced teachers who are motivated to teach about evolution! (All must apply to receive the poster.) The image combines physical and biological on a timeline that aids teachers visually illustrating components of evolutionary change.

The poster printing takes place with funding by individual Brights and in cooperation with an accommodating local printer (with whom BC negotiated a per-copy cost far below competitors. We are pleased that we have obtained another high quality printing and are hopeful that Brights will continue their support. The limiting factor on distribution has now shifted once again to funding postage for the mailings.  If you haven’t yet contributed, please think about helping us to keep these going out the door.

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Dawkins Is Surprise Character in New YA Novel

Newly listed in our “Books by Brights” web section is a novel that would make an excellent gift to a reader of suitable age. Cogento is authored by Thü, a Swiss Bright, and it is available in both English and German.

One fact alone should spark interest of many Brights in this new novel:  world-famous atheist and prominent Bright Richard Dawkins makes therein his first appearance as a literary figure.

Cogento: a Superhero’s Adventure into Humanism is fiction for teens or young adults, and it serves not only as an introduction to that particular topic (humanism), but also as incentive to skepticism and boon to critical thinking.  As the author remarks of his rather covert motive to write: “I told Mr. Dawkins, my intention is to reach (young) people who probably would never take up one of his books.” 

Dr. Dawkins, of course, has himself written books with youngsters strongly in his mind: The Magic of Reality: How we know what’s really true, and the newest one, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide. Still, it may well be that Thü’s motive to write in order to surmount any religious barrier has a basis (some parents who would not favor their child reading Dawkins directly would give little attention to a simple adventure story by another author). There are many kids who would be well served by the experiences in skepticism and critical thinking.

As Thü explains: “So I mixed Philosophy and Humanism into what is mainly the adventure story of a superhero.” In a message to BC, he adds for good measure: “The book also contains a list of organizations, with The Brights.” 

The season approaching on the calendar is one in which many engage in gifting. This adventure novel would be a gift worth considering for a reader at suitable level (the author suggests age 16+). This superhero fiction (in which Dawkins and other contemporary characters appear) could prove mind-enriching as well as appealing.

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Equality Vision Drives Action

The Brights’ vision, as it is stated on the website, is a civic and egalitarian one: a world in which persons like ourselves - who have a naturalistic worldview – are accepted as full participants in our societies.

This ideal holds that “brights of all stripes” should be recognized as civic equals to fellow citizens. Whatever labels or designations brights may prefer to use to characterize themselves and their worldview, they should not be stifled or civically marginalized as a consequence.

There is no further elaboration of what such an egalitarian vision might actually entail. There is no attempt to create a manifesto statement for “the Brights”. (Nor will there be.) Although some “statements” have at times been suggested to BC, Principle 1 of the Brights movement makes quite clear that we are a constituency of individuals. Among brights who enroll in the online constituency from all over the world, there could be many specifics of the civic vision and many diverse actions taken by Brights who are working toward their interpretation of the suggested openness, visibility, engagement, and participation that would make sense to them within their cultural context.

Still, there have been many attempts to reach consensus and craft a shared interpretation of civic fairness, and it is well worth considering how others have proceeded.  Various declarations have been generated over the decades, generally showing a common reach, especially in times that seem to require direction.

For example, three iterations of the American Humanist Association’s “humanist manifesto”(1933,1973,2003) have been produced by humanists attempting to reach common understandings in changing times. These affirmation statements have tended to focus more on characterizing humanists (a consensus on what they believe) than on what society should be like. Current focus has shifted to issues and actions.

Most recently the UK’s National Secular Society, in advance of a coming general election, has formulated and posted its vision to advance freedom, fairness, and equal citizenship. Their eleven-item manifesto for a freer, fairer society was set forth in hopes of advancing incorporation into political party platforms. In sum, the formulation is one of reducing the privilege given to religion in that society.

Most Brights are also secularists and would perhaps find these fresh secularist vision statements worthy of their consideration as guidance for their own local or national actions. Many Brights, of course, maintain ties to religious communities (while keeping a personal worldview free of supernatural). They too, however, are likely to approve of the secularists’ drive toward withdrawing undue privileging given to religion in public matters.

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Over the Transom, Discouraging News (USA)

Professor Caroline Mala Corbin recently emailed Brights Central to point us to her paper at the Alabama Law Review, saying: “I thought perhaps this essay on the U.S. Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence and Christian nationalism might interest you.”

The legal paper is entitled “The Supreme Court’s Facilitation of White Christian Nationalism” and is rife with legal citations showing how Christian nationalism has wended its way into Supreme Court decisions, resulting in the Court having weakened the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment Establishment Clause. That’s the clause in the Bill of Rights’ First Amendment that, by forbidding “establishment” of religion, was meant to ensure a civic equality for citizens across all faiths or none.

Dr. Futrell at BC, in thanking Ms. Corbin and promising to read her article, wrote: “I’m no legal expert whatsoever, but over the time of my life, it seems that the Establishment Clause is increasingly weakened/ignored at all judicial and civic levels.” Ms. Corbin right away emailed a reply: “Unfortunately, you are spot on: with each Supreme Court decision on the religion clauses, the separation of church and state gets weaker and weaker.” 

The Court’s decisions favoring Christian nationalism are paving the way for antagonistic public policy effectively turning non-Christians into second-class citizens. That is, the consequences of such decisions can lead not merely to symbolic exclusion from the community and nation, but may eventually result in actual exclusion.

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Beliefs That Motivate Political Complexity

>> Supernatural Punishment? Or Moralizing Gods?

Brights recognize that human morality has come about naturally through biological and cultural evolution, without any involvement of supernatural entities or agency. 

The last decade has seen substantial growth in the contribution of evolutionary theory to debates about the role that religion plays and has played in the development of human society. What are scientists learning about the real-world factors that have driven social change toward larger and more complex societies?  If not any actually existing supernatural entities or powers are to be credited, then what about the mere beliefs in such? 

Stan, a Bright who regularly alerts Brights Central to current research findings (those relating to or in support of concepts we publicize in this bulletin) has directed BC to some prior cross-cultural research he has deemed relevant (the research was actually reported in 2015). 

The lead researcher on the study provides a helpful interpretation of the somewhat convoluted study and shows how scientists now use phylogenetic methods accounting for the common ancestry of species. In his online commentary, “Did Fear in Supernatural Punishment Build Complex Societies?”, the researcher reports, “These methods are capable of getting at causality by indicating which trait tends to come first, and whether a particular trait increases the chance of another arising.”

Using such computational methods, the study of interest looks to compare the ability of powerful animistic gods to punish transgressions versus allowance for a range of supernatural punishments.

The former type (e.g., like the monotheistic deity of today’s Christianity and Islam) are prominent religions today, but the latter type (e.g., those imperfect localized ancestral spirits and the inanimate processes like karma) remain and are found globally, throughout ethnic and world religions.

Is one or the other type a greater driver of social complexity, enabling believers to build the kind of complex societies that define modern humanity?

The results of this study may surprise you.

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Crows Draw Pleasure from Using Tools

Can that be? Do crows actually enjoy using tools?

This month’s wee science story draws on research indicating positive emotional outcomes for New Caledonian crows attributable to their tool use.

Their subsequent behavior, after using a tool, appears to be optimistic and intrinsically motivated. 

You can read the little story volunteered to Brights bulletins by a Danish Bright in English or Danish. Also, there’s rather watchable video online showing basic elements of the research and conclusions.

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