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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- FEBRUARY 2017 


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Pack Your Punch!

It’s a fact:  Helping students understand how life has come about – naturally, without any supernatural interventions whatsoever – involves an amalgamation of teaching goals that are challenging for a teacher to accomplish.

But Brights are helping!  Consider this recently received comment from a biology teacher in McGuffey School District (Pennsylvania). He points clearly to the exceptional value of the unique visual image we disseminate in resolving a key problem one faces in teaching about evolutionary change on earth:

“Thank you and your donors for the wonderful poster.  My favorite topic to teach is evolution, and it has always been a challenge for me to get students to make the connection between change in organisms and change in the physical world.  Having such a great visual resource as a way to help students connect concepts and really get the big picture was such a great help this year, and will be for years to come!

If you are already sponsoring an Earth and Life: changes over time poster, you can be assured that there is a another grateful teacher out there whose students are more clearly grasping the key concepts of evolutionary changes on earth (both physical and biological). Not only this: according to our survey of teachers who previously received this unique classroom poster, several hundreds of students following along in subsequent years (future citizens) will also recognize how key changes took place, naturally. No supernatural necessity.

Most Brights want sound science education (no creationism, thank you very much). That desire is what has led to an evolution poster project supported by Brights themselves. Does that support include you? You can help with any amount (to completely sponsor one 5.5-foot wide classroom poster: $60).

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What a Change Indeed! (USA)

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonprofit nonpartisan research organization, does research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.

A recent study reported in its “Religion and Culture” topical section focuses on the rapid rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

From the early 1990s, when only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as “none,” the rate of change has accelerated to the point where today the single largest “religious group” in the U.S. consists of Americans claiming “no formal religious identity.”

To grasp that demographic transformation, and aspects of PRRI’s accompanying analysis: http://www.the-brights.net/action/activities/poster.html

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How One Freethinker Sees It

A response to the PRRI’s latest research showing a dramatic rise of “the nones” was recently published on the reader-supported CounterPunch. (This self-described as “radical left” website has a readership around 2 million unique visitors” each month.)

Jim Haught’s “one freethinker’s analysis” of the demographic trends reported by PRRI offers his unique perspective in a readable form.

The author reports being quite pleased to have had this bit of success after years of “trying to put a skeptic treatise into mainstream media, not just freethought journals.” 

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Privileging of Religion (Russia)

As many Brights in “secular states” around the world are well aware, a nation’s secular status often exists more in theory (or in the wording of its oft-lauded constitutional texts) than in the cultural reality of the society itself.

In January Russian Brights have placed on the Brights-Russia.org website a reporting of recent research into how official powers are used to the benefit of religious associations there. The report, “Violations of Constitutional Secularism in Russia,” has been translated into English to facilitate dissemination to citizens elsewhere who have interest or similar concerns.

This report by Sergey Buryanov, Ph.D., who researches aspects of civil society and freedom of conscience, details how the state is driving faith in Russia. Defining a secular state as one that is neutral in matters of religion (i.e., not having any official religious or non-religious ideology), the author takes the position that such neutrality is requisite to citizens having opportunity to choose beliefs freely.

In the text, Buryanov identifies instances considered to be public and financial violations of constitutional principles of state secularism and freedom of conscience. (Example: instances when public funds are used for physical restorations of edifices devoted to serving religious traditions and practices.) With agreement of the author, the posted English version is open for unrestricted dissemination provided that the original author and source are credited. 
Translated by: Yana Shutrova;  Illustrated by: Maria Sadretdinova

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In-Box Impressions

New registrants often add their explanation for signing into the Brights, and the reasons may vary considerably, but these two comments from non-US constituents touch on two common incentives.

Eric from Nicaragua, says:  I learned at a young age that the only stupid questions are the ones not asked, to trust in myself, and to take comfort in my own council...  Being raised reading Nietzsche was my salvation. “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be often lonely, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." It is a pleasant surprise to find there are others of similar ilk out there.

Ali from Pakistan: “Now that I came across the term ‘Bright’, surprisingly I am a ‘Bright’ too! Nonetheless I had been a ‘bright’ in the essence even before being familiar with this term. I am a university teacher and I've already been activity involved in raising the consciousnesses of my students about the Naturalistic worldview.”

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Uncovering Dissimilar Doubting

New research from Rice University examines the broad "anti-science" tendency that some perceive to be related to membership in conservative religious groups such as evangelical Protestants. Science policymakers who want to address environmental care and climate change, though, may need to more carefully channel their efforts.

Using national survey data, Rice sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and coauthors report on their having examined the link between evolution skepticism and climate-change skepticism while considering religion's association with both. Their study, "Examining Links Between Religion, Evolution Views and Climate-Change Skepticism," appeared in a recent edition of the journal Environment and Behavior.  

The study reveals that American evangelicals are more skeptical of evolution than of climate change. Ecklund comments: "This is different from the popular account that the people who oppose climate-change research and the people who oppose the teaching of evolution are the same and that evangelical Protestantism is clearly linked to both," aid.

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Trending – A Dimming of Science

Over three years ago a Brights Bulletin segment pointed readers to a New York Times article decrying the cultural status of science in the U.S. The article was entitled “Welcome to the Age of Denial” and its author, physicist Adam Frank, offered specifics. He concluded the lamentations with a forewarning:

“[S]cience is, simply put, a tradition. And as we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now.”

Has the crisis deepened?  Have we learned that lesson? 

Of course not all Brights are “lifelong students of science,” but all are citizens who reap what authentic science has delivered. Having science “broken and lost” would affect everyone. As subsequent events have unfolded, concern about the situation, particularly in the U.S., is mounting, even to the point where scientists are copying data to preserve it and PACs (political action committees) are forming to expand representation by scientists in political decision making.

Climate director for the Skoll Global Threats Fund, Amy Luers, finds deeply troubling that “post-truth” (the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 “word of the year”) has risen so dramatically in public discourse, thanks to the rise of fake news. This trend is in direct opposition to, and undermining of, the attributes and capacities of scientific enterprise. Time for Brights as citizens to ponder what action might be personally feasible and beneficial to counter the current trends.

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Speaking up for Science

A date has been set.  So, on April 22, 2017 you can join with Brights and other concerned citizens in the newly developing “Science March on Washington.”

The idea started out as a small Facebook group and snowballed into over 220,000 people clamoring for action to stand up for the values of science in this new era of "alternative facts," anti-vaccine rhetoric and climate change denial.  

Planners want marchers to send a potent message in defense of science-based public policy. To join a secular contingent, you can connect on Facebook with American secularists.  

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Taking Action on #REALITYABOUTMORALITY

Has your social network expanded since you let your friends and followers know the reality of “how human morality has come to be”?  If so, then perhaps it’s time to re-engage your activism regarding the topic.

When the infographic was first published, the UK Brights suggested a number of varied approaches for alerting acquaintances to the infographic's information:

• Looking for a natural explanation for the existence of morality? Look no further.

• You thought morality was exclusive to humans? Well you were wrong, and this explains why.

• If you think morality is exclusive to humans you are wrong and this infographic explains why.

• Are morality and evolution related? Yes, and this infographic explains how • See how leading scientists and thinkers have contributed to an explanation of how morality and evolution are linked.

• Is religion a prerequisite for morality? No, and this explains why not.

• Being slighted as people imply that religion-free can't be moral? This shows them to be wrong.

Keep getting out the word on the Brights’ explanatory infographic. Choose one that suits you, or invent your own. But, as an activist Bright, it’s important that “reality about morality” be available to others in your social networks! (Remember that the infographic and its associated explanatory material is available in 15 languages!)

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From the International Forums

Last month in the Forums, some members responded to a blog post at Scientific American: Mind about some ethical, practical and legal challenges around determining the content and significance of personal belief in legal and clinical matters. 

The post, entitled “How Do You Distinguish Between Religious Fervor and Mental Illness?” is not an offhand or activistic attack on religion, but the account of an expert of the practical, legal, and clinical challenges around religious expressions as they must be interpreted in cases of psychiatric practice or criminal prosecution.

But needless to say, it’s controversial even to raise the point that “private” beliefs sometimes have all-too-public consequences, to say nothing of other consequential issues that also relate.  If you find this of interest, please read or comment in the Topic “Religion or Mental Illness: A serious question.”

Registration to the Forums is quick and easy, and anyone may read this content without registering.  We hope to see you there.  

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Still Seesawing

January 31, 2017"Texas mulls changing science standards questioning evolution" 

• How the Republican-controlled board will vote remains unclear…

February 2, 2017"Texas votes to change science lessons challenging evolution" 

• The board votes again Friday and in April. It could further modify curriculums either time.

A 2016 article in Slate offers background on the back and forth.

Stay tuned and see how it goes!


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