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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- JUNE 2019 


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A Moment for Introspection

Have you ever thought about how you have come to see the world as you do? 

Brights are defined as persons who hold a naturalistic worldview. That attribute says something about “the window through which we, as Brights, perceive the world.”

It’s a big deal, really, in that your own worldview pretty much wraps up how you understand the world and interact within it. 

Your worldview is your personal insight... your take on reality. You observe and relate with everything around you through your worldview.

Somehow, life itself has educated you into the worldview that you have.

From worldvieweducation.org: “No infant has a worldview. Each person’s 'life understanding' takes shape over time as the individual grows and develops, as he or she engages in new events and experiences, interacts with others and with his or her surroundings, and derives answers to inquiries about life and living from fellow human beings. Any individual’s worldview is internal and, in the fine scale, unique.”

According to Wikipedia, the term worldview (derived from the German word Weltanschauung) is generally used in English to refer to the deep-seated cognitive orientation of an individual, or group, or society.  “It refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.”

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Educating Minds / Changing Minds

Education of young people is one of the most important roles of society.  Early life experiences matter! Once a person’s views are rather well established, alteration becomes difficult.  

As a robust body of scholarship makes clear, people will hold onto pre-existing views, even in the face of conflicting data.

Current example:  A July New York Times article describes how white supremacists will rationalize disappointing (to them) DNA results. Revising their philosophy instead is too large a difficulty to surmount.  

There are some strategies offered by cognitive scientists for altering pre-existing views in the face of commitments. For example, this animated video from a TED-ed Talk by French cognitive scientist Hugo Mercier, answers the question: “How can you change someone’s mind?” However, attempting to do so is not always a wise action to undertake.

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Reality - So “In-Our-Face”

May’s bulletin pointed Brights’ attention to a then-just-released interim report on a global assessment entitled “Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’.”

If you haven’t yet had a look, do consider.

That UN-based IPBES Study’s provisional report had minced no words in its communicating what is a rapidly accelerating rates of threatened species extinctions.

Our subsequent further scrutiny of the text of that report all too easily combines with recent contemporary news. The recounting of local and global occurrences and unprecedented measurement magnitudes have us at BC asking: “Among the numerous challenges facing humanity as a whole, might actual existential encounters sooner than later lie ahead of us?”

There is indeed some trepidation about reading details of the full global accounting, promised to come out later in the year. As we encounter further planetary changes, how serious should be our concerns for humanity itself?

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Foundational “Facing Up”

In a hopeful vein, Brights’ bulletins have also given recent attention to a report published in May in Current Anthropology: "Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-As-Cooperation in 60 Societies."

Like much of the research taking place in the rapidly evolving field of anthropology, it points to “cooperation” as a key factor in the evolutionary development of morality in the human species. During the 50 million years that humans and their ancestors have lived in social groups, they have faced a range of different problems of cooperation. Across that span of time our species evolved and invented a range of solutions to these problems.

The human capacity for cooperating in large numbers does set our species apart from others. So, might human’s ability to collaborate in great numbers give us hope?  It has already enabled humankind to decipher the workings of nature and, through reason and science, to control it largely to social advantage.

“All hands on deck,” as the saying goes, lends hope that humanity will rise to the occasion to meet its most crucial contemporary challenges head-on. However, some caution is surely warranted because facing reality may be insufficient to the task. 

This same capacity (to cooperate in large numbers) seems also to be playing a role in the vulnerability of our species to unrealism. Humans have an ability to turn down their rationality in order to “buy into” some commonplace unfounded notions.

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Elevating Nonsense above Reality

Quite common among Brights are complaints of the susceptibility of their fellow citizens to groundless notions.

In fact, confronting the prevalence not only of supernaturalism but also of the many other unfounded - even nonsensical - ideas around in society has been foundational to the overall Brights initiative. It is a common basis for our educational actions.

A recent NYT opinion article by historian Yuval Noah Harari explores “…the curious fact that we humans know many more truths than any other animal, but we also believe in much more nonsense. We are both the smartest and the most gullible inhabitants of planet Earth.”

In his essay, Harari (author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind) delves into the complicated relationship between power and truth, noting that fiction actually has some inherent advantages over the truth when the purpose is to unite people. The consequence in human history? – “Fictional stories have routinely triumphed over truth.”

Brights who wonder how so many people in society can fall prey to obvious untruths or hold on so strongly to beliefs in far-fetched and outlandish stories for which there is no evidence whatsoever will be interested in Harari’s article. He points out that increased social cohesion is yielded when reduced rational faculties enable people to believe in the same fiction. Great for tribal affinity, but hardly helpful to confronting physical reality.

His brief and easy-to-read article offers you abundant food for thought about that.

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Odd Fascinations with “Unbelief” 

>> The Catholic Church 
The subject of nonbelief has long been of interest to the Vatican, and Roman Catholic personnel have for decades engaged in “investigating unbelief” and “dialoguing with atheists”. They seemingly really do want to comprehend nonbelief!

>> The John Templeton Foundation
This moneyed entity has exhibited its own longstanding interest in atheism, and under its umbrella of “scientific research” has funded numerous enterprises that have appeared not only to explore, but also perhaps to blur, the boundaries of science and religion. Critics like Alexander Saxton (secularhumanism.org) will speak more bluntly about the Foundation’s “corrupting science,” saying that it “…has simply bought up scientists, teachers, and educators.”

>> Taken Together – For a recent example of the Church and Foundation engaging in common enterprise., take the “Scientific Study of Nonbelief” Project, which was directed out of St. Mary’s (UK) and funded by Templeton. Running from 2015-16, it sought to spur a field of “nonreligion and secularity studies.”

The international and interdisciplinary “Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network” (NSRN) established in 2008 was to centralize existing research on the topic of nonreligion and secularity and facilitate discussion in this arena. Templeton had provided “foundational resources” as a service and as encouragement to scholars helping to grow that subject.

>>What Their Researchers Are Learning – Among the research centers at St. Mary’s University is a new international research hub, its Benedict XVI Center for Religion and Society (established only in 2015). The Center’s robust attention to unbelief can already be noted in two of its six listed reports.  There is the Center’s “The ‘No Religion’ Population of Britain” Catholic Research Forum report. (If interested, you can check out those “ten key findings.” There is also its “Understanding Unbelief: Atheists and Agnostics around the World,” a multi-year attempted mapping study.

>> Hot off the Press – In late May, the Vatican hosted a conference at which some of the researchers reported what they had already learned in their investigations about atheists and agnostics.  The investigators had asked about attitudes to issues like supernatural phenomena, such as life after death and astrology, whether the 'universe is ultimately meaningless' and what values matter most to these unbelievers. This interim report (2019) is the place to go for their “eight key findings.”

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An Awakening to Secularism

Such Earnest Attention! – Religious organizations giving serious scholarly attention to atheism and related nonreligious outlooks may be perceived as peculiar. Why such an arousal of interest and new dedications of resources?

According to the website at St. Mary’s, its multi-year research program “…is motivated by the growing public, scholarly, and media interest in atheism, nonreligion, and secularity, fueled by the growing proportions of religious ‘nones’ and ‘unbelievers’ in many countries, the flourishing of secularist activism and nonreligious cultures such as ‘New Atheism’, and urgent policy debates around the status and rights of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and related groups.”

Not to Be Counted – Interestingly, the two concepts of research interest (nonreligion and secularity) are intended to summarize “…all positions which are necessarily defined in reference to religion but which are considered to be other than religious.”

Hmm… Well, this counts out “the Brights,” which (quite purposefully) are not defined in reference to religion, any religion! (The reference of note for the naturalistic worldview is all variants of supernatural and mystical, a far broader scope.) And, as has been stated numerous times, it is possible for an individual to personally hold a naturalistic outlook and still be quite comfortable with the cultural aspects of a religion. There is, in fact, a “special interest group” of the Brights whereby such persons can register their interest.

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Got Something to Say?  Say it with Swag (USA)

With Brights-themed merchandise, you can draw attention to the Brights' in numerous ways.

Plenty of apparel and swag items await you at The Brights' Shop at Cafe Press (choose your favorite message!).

Wearing the Brights icon is good way to draw attention, too.  You'll find several versions of it, along with a "No Supernatural Ingredients" shirt - at The Brights Kiosk at Zazzle.

All Brights merchandise items are offered simply as a service to constituents at the minimal percentage markup allowed by those companies.

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Older Than We Knew

Last month’s bulletin gave a mention to the A Little Brightness newsletter project but erred when noting its age. It turns out the project actually has a longer history than the reported “now in its 7th year”. Make it 12!  Wow!

The Brights’ Evolution Poster Project also has a lengthy history. Thanks to Brights Central staff, experienced science teachers, and the ongoing financial support of individual Brights, the learning of well over a quarter million students has so far been strengthened through this project.

Support for either of these project would be welcomed and put to good use. You can earmark any donation you send with “For ALB” or “For Poster Project” and it will be earmarked accordingly.

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