The Brights' Bulletin

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Issue #153

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Which Way, Humanity?

Is society progressing or regressing?  

Either answer seems a provocative one that necessarily involves all aspects of personality, ecology, and ethics. 

Some would argue that an increasing body of scientific knowledge and technological application is “progress,” self-evidently a good for humankind.  Others claim that this is value-relative and the very notion of “progress” seems suspiciously self-serving.  Our very scientific power itself creates problems predisposing cultures to “regression” (things like climatological problems and the dense populations that foster revolutionary upheavals). With varied factors coming into play, whether humanity is progressing now is an open question.

This “direction of civilization” matter is one of the many kinds of topics discussed at the Brights' international forums, but the gamut from silly pet tricks to cosmology is fair game.  Drop by and have a say! Registration is simple and confidential.


Does moral decline accompany religious decline?

Observing that religion had been in rather sharp decline in many European nations prompted a University of Manchester researcher to wonder about the moral consequences of each generation being less religious than the preceding one. “I was interested to find out if there was any reason to expect moral decline.”

In research published in Politics and Religion, Dr. Ingrid Storm has concluded that religious decline does not equal moral decline. The study considered varied controversial conduct (abortion, homosexuality, lying, stealing, cheating, etc.) and citizens’ justifications for going against tradition or law. After analyzing European survey data (48 European countries), she found religion related only to some moral values, and more so in religious nations or when citizens do not trust the state.

According to Dr Storm: "More Europeans are now willing to justify behaviours that go against tradition, but attitudes have not changed when it comes to breaking the law or harming others... Morality is not rooted in religion and religion matters less for moral values now than it did 30 years ago,” she says. More information: Ingrid Storm, “Morality in Context: A Multilevel Analysis of the Relationship between Religion and Values in Europe, Politics and Religion” (2015).


“Reality about Morality” 2016

This priority project of the Brights exists to help more and more people absorb the nitty-gritty of morality. Most importantly:  human morality has naturalistic foundations; it is not something supernaturally revealed.

Widespread misconstruing (as to the source of morality) is detrimental to the civic status and welfare of persons who hold a supernatural-free outlook. As stated on the website in Brights’ Action Arena 1: “Persons who have a naturalistic worldview are perpetually ‘up against’ the false but widely held cultural presumption that they, because of their worldview, lack certain requisites to be moral persons.

The January Bulletin urged all Brights to take the time this year to educate others about human morality.  Before doing that, of course, it’s important to steep oneself in the topic so that there’s accurate understanding all the way around! We continue emphasis here by including a couple of additional segments on morality this month.


To “Bone Up” on Morality

Brights want to provide naturalistic explanations, but it’s important to have solid information that is well-substantiated and not just “have faith” in one's assertions.

The best starting point (for learning the essentials about human morality) already exists for you in the Brights’ morality web portal, which features an infographic with supportive explanations. It holds the essentials, but you may want to delve more deeply into the topic. In that case, explore the recommended readings.

The web page lists a large variety of recommended readings. Topmost are those proposed by the original panel of morality experts. The panelists largely shared agreement that The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker and Good Natured by Frans de Waal are two of the best sources of information for nonscientists. 

Just this month, the project team has added two more recent works to the original listing: The Evolution of Morality (an interdisciplinary listing edited by Todd Shackelford and Ranald Hansen), and God Is Watching You: How Fear of God Makes Us Human (also an interdisciplinary exploration). The latter book, by Dominic Johnson, focuses on how fear of supernatural punishment exists within and outside of religious contexts, with the author offering a novel theory of the origins and evolution of not only religion, but human cooperation and society as well.

A review:


32 Studies Added to Morality Portal

As promised when The Brights’ Net first launched its portal, the “Reality about Morality” project team has updated the bibliography of scientific studies. In January, 32 recent morality studies have been incorporated, providing further support to the four scientific statements validated by the project’s panel of academic reviewers showing the naturalistic foundations of human morality.

It appears that 2015 has been good for the field. The research community has been impressively prolific, having published a number of high-quality cross-cultural, infant, cross-species, and meta-analysis studies. Almost all of the new bibliography entries are directly accessible from the web portal via a simple click on the PDF next to each entry.

For a balanced representation of the ongoing scientific debate about the psychology of morality, the updated bibliography includes some skeptical perspectives and scientists' disagreements about morality's cognitive architecture. It’s truly a one-stop shop for human morality research. However, no entry there is traceable to supernatural intervention.


A Chance to Meet

Although they had communicated several times by Skype and phone and email in the past, Executive Director Mynga Futrell had never met Ruban Bala in person. In January, as he was visiting in California, Dr. Bala stopped by the Sacramento office, and both were able to chat briefly. 

Dr. Bala has headed the Brights’ “Reality about Morality” Project since Paul Geisert, the previous Executive Director, first called on Brights to find ways to address this crucial barrier to civic respect and involvement in public affairs. (A broad survey of the constituency had revealed “the morality issue” to be a chief concern for Brights.)  

As follow-up to their January conversations about the project, Bala and Futrell crafted a very short Q&A to highlight what Dr. Bala had said about how the topic became an “action priority” for Brights (and for him) and what he foresees now in terms of ongoing activity.


More Lack Religion, But UK Not Secular

A new YouGov survey carried out by Lancaster University researchers adds detail to the trending of British people toward the “having no religion” identity. The proportion of “nones” may be rising with every generation, but according to a news article reporting the survey, the UK is not yet secular (most nones still not identifying as nontheist). 

Linda Woodhead (Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University) carried out the poll. She deems “no religion” the new norm, with every indication of its share growing and a considerable “stickiness” in terms of upbringing. Says she: “We can see that 95% of people with a ‘no religion’ upbringing retain that identity, whilst 40% of those with a Christian upbringing lose a Christian identity.”

Along with plentiful further facts, the research shows nones to be very liberal in their attitudes to personal morality, even more so than those who identify as religious, but otherwise not distinct from the rest of society in terms of class, educational level, or political leaning, The news article sheds light on numerous other characteristics of British nones.


“Speak Up for Reason” at the Rally

The second Reason Rally celebration on the Washington, DC mall (the first was in 2012) will focus on the idea of speaking up ­– and voting – for reason in public policy. Rally organizers are hoping to propel citizens who hold nontheistic perspectives toward becoming a voting block to be reckoned with.

The main event (with associated activities pre- and post-) will be taking place on Saturday, June 4 at the Lincoln Memorial. The Rally’s home page has been updated to show the main goals and excite as many people as possible to attend.


From a Notable Bright

“Islamo and Atheisto Phobia” is a topic that may be of interest to many Brights. It is the title of a January blog entry by Herb Silverman, initiator of the Secular Coalition for America, in which he addresses how the American context poses for Muslims and atheists some unenviable civic commonalities.

There’s another reason Dr. Silverman’s posting could be of special interest to American Brights, especially those looking forward to the 2016 presidential election. All need to be aware of how U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia conceives of liberty of conscience. His recent comments will astonish citizens who hold to a view that embraces governmental neutrality (both across religions and between religion and nonreligion). Justice Scalia has no such equivalency notion.


Registration Inbox Sampler

Every now and then, we at Brights Central like to share a glimpse of the comments that so often accompany a person’s registration into the database.

Lots of diversity in the international constituency of Brights! 

Austria:  “Just an entrepreneurial student trying to understand the world and the fundaments of ethics and why they are good/right the way they are.”

Georgia, USA:  "‘The planet Earth is in fact round.’ This is all my sister, a third grade teacher in the state of Georgia can teach her students. The fact that the planet Earth is in fact billions of years old would offend too many parents. The Theory of ‘Jesus done did it’ supersedes all science. This makes me sad.”

France:  “I am an atheist, completely decontaminated of all beliefs in angels, spirits, the soul, imaginary gods and other crap like that.”

Arizona, USA: “This is fantastic! Finally. I am something other than a ' (your choice of bad here) in my country. Bright !! I love it! Yes I am proud of my Brightness! Thank you all.

Norway:  “The information on your web-page is very good, accessible and appealing. My own worldview is naturalistic and non-religious, and I want to join the Brights in order to be counted.”

California, USA:  “The decision to participate in any form of organization, even one as deliberately loose as the Brights, is one I do not take lightly. That said, the Bright's Principles, particularly the emphasis on the positive characterization of the group, as opposed to a reactionary one, convinces me I want to self-label as a Bright.”

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