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Issue #180 (latest issue)

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- JUNE 2018 


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Brights’ Delight

At Brights Central, we relish what some folks say when joining the Brights. 

So, amid a plethora of downbeat news about some matters nowadays, we’ll just kick off this bulletin with some cheery remarks from registrants of late:

  • Robert (CA): I feel very strongly about the need for evidence based policies, a greater public awareness of science, and an emphasis on education and critical thinking.
  • Kay (TX): Reading and listening to the ideas of Brights offers me ways to extend my thinking and to think about and describe the threats to reason arising out of cultural relativism and postmodern ideas of privileging self-reference over evidence.
  • Lauren (OR): I think this is a lovely movement. I like that it has a positive tone. I want to help people break the chains of religion. Thank you.
  • Simon (UK): I have [not] seen nor heard of any credible evidence to support any supernatural claim.
  • Jean (NY): You have a positive association that looks like kindred folks.
  • Marie (TN): I would like to listen and learn about more people like myself - a growing segment of atheists who do not use superstition to answer life's questions or events.
  • Kevin (WA): I'm very glad this organization exists. The overwhelming perception of secular people and Atheists is very negative. Thank you for being Positively Secular.
  • Daniel (FL): I am pleased to help represent knowledge against superstition.
  • Jack (UK): I am delighted to find a group of people so dedicated to this specific view. I often feel like I am one in a small minority of people and that Mumbo-jumbo is believed without any evidence simply because people are ignorant to the millions of things in motion around them.
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Exploring a Concept: Universal Morality

Ponder the diversity of cultural moral norms to be found in different parts of the world. So many contradictions!
(Society A often sees sheer bizarreness in what is and is not deemed acceptable in Society B.)

Maybe what is to be considered morally binding just depends upon one’s society?

Still, maybe there are moral universals across Societies A, B, C, etc. Certain philosophers have argued some form or other of utilitarianism, although no “universal morality” has yet attained broad acceptance.

If you are interested in this question (the “universality of morality”) then a fresh set of essays is definitely for you!  You will find them readily accessible in This View of Life, the online magazine of The Evolution Institute.

Each essayist was asked whether there is anything that can be said to be universally moral, and why the average person should care about the substance of their response.

All these philosopher and scientist respondents assume a naturalistic basis to morality but take off in different directions when answering the major query: “Can an evolutionary perspective reveal a universal morality?” Some answer “Maybe,” others ‘No,” and still others “Yes!”  Some points of accord are brought to light.

These essays (fifteen short pieces from 15 choice commentators, also splendidly compiled as a printable PDF) are worth exploring because new considerations are being given to the subject in light of results from neurobiology.

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Beware the Trick

Prominent surveys in the U.S. (e.g., Barna, Pew, PRRI) and some countries report a rise in secular identifications, particularly among the young, who reply with “none of the above” when asked their religious preference.

Most Brights applaud the rise, perhaps deducing a healthy upturn in supernatural-free explanations for how the world works.

However, it’s rather tricky, as nonreligious citizens also fall prey to nonsensical ideas and groundless beliefs.  

The ongoing and widespread popularity of hokum and unsubstantiated claims is evidence that absurdities are frequently given priority over reasonable real world facts. And, with the political assault on science and educational failures to instill skepticism and critical thinking, particularly in the United States, there is clearly far more work ahead for the Brights.

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Brights & Supers – A Puzzling Identity Buffet

When it comes to elucidating for others your personal worldview, do you tend to claim any specific identity label to go along with it?  Several labels, perhaps?

Brights, by definition, hold a worldview free of supernatural/mystical elements. Linguistically, a Bright is a bright, so Brights can always identify as brights (rather than as supers).

As a Bright, you can freely take on any identity label(s) you perceive to match “who you are.” (Remember that, unlike you, supers in their personal view of the world, hold to be real at least something supernatural.)

The vast majority of brights (but not all!) match themselves to secular labels.One has to use caution to avoid making assumptions about brights and supers alike because the dividing line between brights and supers is not quite as you might expect.

Did you know that some brights may claim a culturally religious identity? (They find value in community and the food, images, rites, holidays, etc. of a religion although they personally ascribe no supernatual agency or mystical meaning to it at all.)

And, even more surprising to many: some atheists may actually be supers! 

If all this is hard for you to get your head around, the matter deserves some further thought. You can ponder the variety by studying a diagram of identities on the website. Key to comprehension is that you recall this key idea: a worldview is personal. (Labels can sometimes be as confusing as illuminating.)

Website Discussion at:
http://www.the-brights.net/vision/concepts/identity.html

Identity Diagram at:
http://www.the-brights.net/images/Brights&Supers.jpg

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The Customary Beliefs Ballgame

In many nations, there is a robust societal dominance of religion. To “be free of it” is no easy matter. Answering big “worldview questions” often leads a person to focus on beliefs, and then some sort of religion-referenced identity label comes to the fore.

"Religion holds near hegemony in the beliefs terminology ballgame."

Although it is commonplace for a bright to take on a secular label such as atheist or agnostic, this choice evidences to some extent (and further magnifies) religion’s cultural dominance.

Some Brights may, for their own good reasons, keep to a culturally religious identity. Other Brights may frown on this, demanding wholesale rejection of a religious association, but that is merely evidence that they too are just as stuck in the religion arena, defining personal identity by their negative orientation to its ideas! 

To repeat: "Religion holds near hegemony in the beliefs terminology ballgame."

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Brights Switch the Playing Field

The Brights movement focuses on the civic arena, not religion. The general concern is broadly society-based, and the overall vision embraces ‘supers’ and ‘brights’ as civic equals.”  (That is, the initiative does not engage Brights in bigotry against supers.)

The focus for Brights is toward elevating awareness and acceptance of citizens who have a naturalistic understanding of the world. When engaging fellow citizens, Brights seek to be constructive and plant seeds of naturalistic understanding (diminishing civic affinity for/reliance on supernatural explanations.)

It is fairly evident that most participating in the Brights initiative are a “science-leaning” bunch of folks, focused on the natural world and generally touting “methodological naturalism” (scientific method; natural world only).

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Generating Grateful Science Teachers

If we Brights had built a factory just to fabricate as its product “thankfulness among science teachers,” we could hardly have done better than by our Earth and Life: changes over time evolution poster project.

Here’s the latest from the flow of comments that just keep coming in to Brights Central, many explaining how they don’t just employ the poster when teaching an evolution unit. Here’s what Tim, who teaches in California, had to say, after explaining his choice to place his poster under cabinets at the very front of the room where students could have continuous access.

“It fits great and students look at it every day.  I really appreciate stuff like this.  With classroom funding as minuscule as it is, things like this help us out a lot.”

And he sent along a picture, too!

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Gratitude in the Other Direction

Okay -  Let’s not forget here to pass along Brights Central's appreciation for the support of you Brights out there who are donating to this endeavor.

You know who you are!!

Whether you are giving an occasional one-time contribution (always welcome), or sustaining several months of small $5 or $10 ongoing contributions, you are a bulwark in propelling this project. And, of course we have to add: 

To the rest of you...

If you have been a Bright for a while and have yet to help with this project so far, isn’t it about time? Please consider making at least a small donation so that you can feel part of our disseminating this unique teaching resource to additional teachers. Remember: These are teachers who apply and commit to integrating the information on evolutionary change that is so well illustrated on the poster. We’re approaching, and hoping soon to reach, 300K affected students!!  Join in. It's easy.

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Volunteer as a Mandarin-speaking Bright

We have one volunteer in Shanghai versed in both Mandarin and English and willing to draft a translation for the Brights’ Morality infographic (and, hopefully, eventually the accompanying explanations)!

We are, however, in need of additional volunteers to form a complete task team and ensure the Chinese translation offers the best possible science-based explanation of how human morality actually came about—naturally (no supernatural agency, no revelation!).

The task of the added volunteers would simply be to review and counsel regarding the initial draft of translated material.

Given the current composition of the constituency of Brights, this may be a reach too far, but at BC we are willing see if we can extend the global reach in a new direction.

If you can volunteer yourself as a potential reviewer for the English into Mandarin Chinese material, please email to the-brights@the-brights.net and 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 our target language for the review/revision process.

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Continuing Winds of Change

Changing religious landscape of western Europe [Pew]

The Christian population is declining, while the share of religiously unaffiliated adults is increasing. The Muslim population is growing as a result of immigration and higher fertility rates. Meanwhile, the Jewish population appears to be on the decline due to emigration to Israel and other factors.

Against this backdrop, Pew Research Center asked people in 15 Western European countries a number of questions related to multiculturalism and pluralism, with a specific emphasis on attitudes toward Muslims and Jews. A few not so surprising nuggets in the results:

• “Most non-practicing Christians in Europe believe in God. But their concept of God differs considerably from the way that churchgoing Christians tend to conceive of God”

• “Most religiously unaffiliated Europeans say science makes religion unnecessary”

• “Christians more likely than religiously unaffiliated to say government should support religious values and beliefs

• “Christians more likely than ‘nones’ to hold negative views of immigrants, Muslims, and Jews”

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Reciprocity in Rats

It’s not just humans that help their fellows. Nor do we have the monopoly on reciprocity.

This image shows one rat helping another rat by cleaning saltwater off its neck.

Norway rats exchange different commodities while strictly following the principle of "tit for tat." They do so even when paying with different currencies, such as grooming or food provisioning.

Like other fascinating examples probing the social and moral behavior of other organisms, this new research is presented entertainingly by a Danish Bright as a “Hotline Story” in both Danish and English languages. By placing the research in a conversational format, the story format augments meaning.

Photo credit: Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern


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