The Brights' Bulletin

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Issue #143

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



One Bright Spot

If you are seeking a one-stop-shop to help you combat human absurdity, there’s a lot of “Brightness” in the Skeptics Dictionary (online since 1994). The site is “rich in the reality” behind beliefs in alternative medicine, UFOs, pseudoscience, New Age, supernaturalism, the paranormal, and much more. 

Just as importantly, though, you can learn there about the difficulty of changing others’ minds.

If the goal of critical thinking is “to arrive at the most reasonable beliefs and take the most reasonable actions,” as the SD states, then it’s not our human inclination to think critically.  By nature, “[w]e are prone to reject evidence that conflicts with our beliefs and to attack those who offer such evidence.”

It’s an evolution thing.  We humans have evolved, not to seek the truth, but to survive and reproduce. That makes critical thinking pretty much an unnatural act. Humans seem driven to confirm and defend our current beliefs, even to the point of irrationality.


At the International Forums

Can science investigate the supernatural?  So asks a Topic of that title at the Forums.  What do you think? Do the naturalistic assumptions of science create a blind spot for the understanding of claims of supernatural happenings; are at least the claims suitable targets of inquiry; is there nothing to be investigated, or is there some way to acknowledge the reports of supernatural things without succumbing to “just so” stories?

But it’s not all weighty discussion over there; maybe just drop by to share a pic of a solar eclipse photographed from above the earth.

Anyone may view most Forum content; participation needs only a brief and confidential registration. See you there!


Seculars Broadening Focus?

There is perhaps a budding shift in priorities among many secular organizations. One indicator is the recently retooled mission statement and strategic plan of The Secular Student Alliance, a national umbrella group that is the face of the secular movement on American college campuses. The SSA’s executive director, August Brunsman (also a Bright) highlights features of the new document, as follows:

An explicit focus on social justice and diversity.
* We want to convey the importance of diversity to our affiliate groups and individual student members, and support efforts to make their communities more welcoming. This means including social justice issues, even those that might not traditionally concern the secular movement at large, in all levels of the organization.

An explicit focus on making our work richer by working with intersectional causes
* We will engage with intersecting issues and partner organizations aligned with our Mission, Vision, and Values, both inside and outside the secular movement. We need to broaden the audience we engage with by attending and participating in events and initiatives outside of the secular movement, and reach those audiences in ways we have not traditionally used.

Helping more people use secular values to find meaning and purpose in their lives
* We believe secular values can guide society and the individual to a better future. Our programs and efforts will support those building a secular identity, and integrating secular values.

Individuals can read and register their support for the new mission, the SSA, and the secular movement.


Moving Beyond God Debates

Atheist blogger Adam Lee indicates support of the secular students’ diversity emphasis in a The Guardian commentary, “It's time for atheists to stop debating God's existence and decide what to do about it.”

“For too long, atheists have conducted abstract debates. It’s time to focus on the pursuit of justice. For many, being an atheist makes this world and life infinitely more significant, since they’re all we have. Having seen so many examples of oppression, injustice and violence promoted by religion, atheists can and should have a strong reason to desire justice in society. That’s why atheist groups, especially atheist student groups, are increasingly joining forces with other social change movements and emphasizing how their goals and ours intersect.”


Civics and Sensitivity (USA)

In the United States, governmental mention of a generic God, rationalized by history and tradition, has become part of the American civic fabric, including the public schools. Although many citizens give little notice to speech and symbolism drawn from a religious context, the melding of piety and patriotism seriously disquiets many others. With national calls to prayer having arrived, the creeping ceremonial deism increasingly makes some feel like second-class citizens.

Used mostly for ceremonial purposes, the conventions are sometimes referred to as “civil religion.” Citizens with a naturalistic outlook, who usually support a firm separation of church and state, may cringe, but lawsuits based on constitutional arguments have had mixed results. Over time, the God talk has become legal, based on the assumption that no one is truly harmed by it. The government-backed 1950s-era actions (examples: the 1954 insertion of Under God in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, and the 1956 replacement of the original E Pluribus Unum motto with In God We Trust) have become entrenched.

“Saying the Pledge” problems will persist and be contentious, but sometimes young people can find a pathway that adults don’t see.


Don’t Be a Missing Person?

After each equinox, we extend gratitude in the Bulletin to those of you who responded to the twice-a-year fund appeal with some level of generosity. So, thanks go out now to all of you who sent something our way in response to last month's equinox email. We appreciate that you recognize it takes more than good thoughts to support the Brights international endeavor.

The "keep up the good work" words that the occasion sends our way are nice, for sure. But the cheerleading counts no more than nonchalance when it comes to keeping the lights on or pursuing our projects. Having resources beyond the "pennies-per-Bright" are necessary for both activities. So, if you haven't participated yet, please do so now. The donation page provides you with many different options.


A Bright Retires (Somewhat)

We were amiss last month in failing to report the recent retirement from the James Randi Educational Foundation of James “The Amazing” Randi himself.  At 86 years of age, he felt it time to officially step down from his organizational position—to slow down, but also to keep going.

A registered Bright since The Brights’ Net’s launch its first website, Randi now promises, “I’ll still lecture and write, here and abroad – but now on my own time – not on the exhausting schedule that I’ve had these past few years.”

If ever there has been someone shining forth “Brightness” to the world, it has been this master of scientific investigation, expert magician, and global icon of skepticism. Thanks to his educational efforts, more citizens understand that the illusionist’s tricks are just "smoke and mirrors" maneuvers (i.e., props or machinery, training and practice) absent any interventions whatsoever of supernatural forces.

We hope he holds to the promises (e.g., to be present at July’s “The Amazing Meeting 2015,” where attendees will hail him as featured guest and celebrate his long and productive career). Of late, Randi has been busy touring with the new documentary film, An Honest Liar, about his life as a performer and writer.


35,000+ Students Engage Evolution!

Kelly’s data shows that, thanks to donations from individual Brights (supplemented by a grant from the James Hervey Johnson Charitable Educational Trust), over thirty-five thousand students are benefitting from the Brights' Earth and Life: changes over time poster distribution that has taken place in the 2014-2015 school year alone. That is the  highest school year distribution so far.

But what about next year’s students? They will also benefit. In fact, most teachers, we find, intend to use the poster again and again. (This conclusion is indicated both by the usual immediate lamination upon its receipt, and by data from a 2013 followup survey in which 95% of the respondents pledged its use the subsequent year.  To obtain a poster from The Brights’ Net, a high school science teachers commits to integrating the detailed information into their teaching about evolution, so that more students can really comprehend the natural (biological and geological/physical) changes over time have made life on earth what it is today.


Evolution Education Failures (USA)

Craig Stanford, Director of the University of Southern California Jane Goodall Research Center, when promoting his recent short-book, Evolution: What Every Teenager Should Know (73pp.), speaks bluntly about a sad state of affairs in American education.  In a recent online article, Dr. Stanford not only makes the case for having more youngsters understand that life on earth really did evolve by natural selection, he strongly criticizes the failures of present-day textbooks to adequately treat the topic (e.g., forty pages in a six hundred-page textbook; with the word not even mentioned in other chapters, despite the fact that evolution accounts for a whole range of topics located elsewhere).

"Evolution isn’t a stand-alone subject that can be neatly boxed in a chapter. Restricting it to a chapter or two enables teachers with an anti-evolution mindset to simply ignore the entire concept. Evolution cannot be taught as a stand-alone science; it’s the thread that unifies modern biology."


Amazon Resisters Alert

Although The Brights’ Net does benefit by being an Amazon affiliate in North America, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, the nonprofit takes no political stance with respect to Amazon shopping itself.

However, BC will put in a word to help those who prefer not to shop Amazon (but occasionally find themselves doing so anyway). 

It may help to recall that by using the Brights’ affiliate link for what purchases you do make, like a thief, you are in essence subtracting from Amazon’s portion of the funds you happen to be send that corporation’s way! "Thievery" for a good cause.


Amazon Shopper Savvy

If you are using the affiliates link on the website, 6-7% of the price of your Amazon purchase(s) will come to the Brights.

Oops! Did you know that you need to turn off your “ad blocker” in order to get the proper display? 

Using the Amazon Smile link (if you acquired Smile) would help too, but much less. And, as a few folks who tried it last month pointed out to Brights Central, Smile works only in North America?


Brights Flag Coming!

The March Bulletin reported that BC has over time received a smattering of earnest requests that a banner of “sports flag size” be offered on the merchandise page.

Based on feedback (and a helpful Brights’ donating so a more appropriate size could be acquired), it appears that enough folks do have interest in having a Brights flag. Consequently, we have ordered flags to respond to all who emailed their interest. It would be nice to acquire several hundreds more and get the cost down more radically, but as BC is a lean central operation and not in the merchandise business, we prefer spending staff time on the main projects. Still, we’re awfully excited about getting our own flag here at BC!  (We’ll be putting the “flag addition” on the merchandise page when the supply arrives here, and then announcing availability further in the next bulletin.)


Homeopathic Hooey

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