The Brights' Bulletin

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Issue #206

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



Reason to Read about Rationality

As we have mentioned in some prior bulletins, (e.g., earlier this year), there’s a great need for more critical and analytical thinking in educational programs and in the broader society.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more citizens were better skilled at recognizing fallacies and weighing evidence? Perhaps Stephen Pinker’s newest book will engender some movement toward the ideal of ship-shape public thinking. That’s one aim stated by the prolific Pinker regarding Rationality, what it is; why it seems scarce; why it matters. (We say “prolific” because he is listed among several other Enthusiastic Brights who have proven their personal productivity with the pen – well, more likely the keyboard.)

When describing the book on his website, Dr. Pinker asks, “Can reading a book make you more rational?” The author aspires to an affirmative answer to that question as he addresses in this book many tools of reasoning (logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation, causation, etc.). A book tackling rationality would seem to be tailor-made for our times. We are, after all, living in a time when (as he says) “humanity is reaching new heights of scientific understanding—and at the same time appears to be losing its mind.”

The essential question the author poses and pursues is this: “How can a species that developed vaccines for Covid-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing?” Perhaps Rationality will edify, and for those who want to delve more deeply and potentially sharpen some skills,” a companion Study Guide is available. The latter promises to help “enlighten, inspire, and empower you to be rational, think logically and make better choices in your life and in the public sphere, and ultimately enhance social justice and moral progress.”


A Post-Event “Visit” to SkeptiCal 2021

Across a year, many opportunities may arise to help us hone our thinking skills. Among Brights, it’s probably no secret that (for keeping brains active and challenged) immersion in the activities of scientific skeptics can be quite beneficial.

The recent “SkeptiCal” conference is an example worth at least a mention in this bulletin because so much of this year’s “content” continues to be available on YouTube. (Traditionally an annual event happening near San Francisco not far from BC, 2021’s event was conducted virtually due to the pandemic. It drew attention of and attendance from Brights Central.)

Portions remaining available enable additional audiences to “attend” and activate some neurons.  If you are at all interested, you can easily access many pertinent aspects, including the four highlighted topics below.

“The Fiction of Memory” (Elizabeth Loftus)

“Communicating Science to the Public” (Paul Offit)

“Fake Doctor. Real Harm” (Britt Marie Hermes)

“How to Start a Cult” (Ross Blocher)

There’s also a rather delightful Jeopardy-style game of “Skepardy” to test your knowledge in such categories as: Asimov, High Energy Pseudoscience, Snake Oil, The Demon-Haunted World.


A Tribute to (Vociferous Bright) James Randi

For most Brights, surely the highlight of the aforementioned SkeptiCal conference would have to be its video Tribute to James The Amazing Randi, who died in October a year ago at age 92.

Indeed, anyone who knew (or knew of) this remarkable magician and educator would enjoy viewing the half-hour program, which is now accessible on YouTube.

Randi was a truly superb scientific skeptic whose resumé investigating supernatural claims is unequaled, and he is fondly recalled by the many attendees of his popular annual convention, “The Amaz!ng Meeting” (TAM). He was also one of the earliest notables from the worlds of skepticism and atheism to register as a Bright. (Randi had signed up on hard copy even before there was a website!)  At the time, he was attending the 2003 Atheist Alliance International conference in Tampa to receive direct from Richard Dawkins the first ever Richard Dawkins Award” in recognition of Randi’s contributions to rationalism. (In 2019, this award began to be presented under the auspices of the Center for Inquiry.)

Interestingly, the award presentation to Randi came only an hour after Brights’ cofounders Geisert and Futrell introduced the Tampa gathering to a fresh term for anyone having a wholly “naturalistic worldview”: a bright.  When presenting the award itself, Dr. Dawkins showed his superbly quick wit by creatively making abundant spoken use of the just-introduced neologism. Both men, Dawkins and Randi, registered as Brights immediately thereafter. Later on, both wrote a follow-up article. Randi’s focused on his personal worldview but included in his title, “… and Why I am a Dedicated and Vociferous Bright”.


Website Offers Favorite Bits of Wisdom

A sampling of favorite quotes sent in by readers of the Brights’ Bulletin has now been posted under the “People” tab on the Brights’ website.

We are grateful to all of you who sent in to Brights Central what “Best Quote” you might recommend folks keep topmost in mind while navigating a journey through life. You yourself are holding that message in mind as you journey “on the bright side of life.”

It appears that there are plenty of sayings or mottos or maxims that can help to frame a “just-one-life-to-live” mindset. Far too many to convey on a web page!  If your quote is not listed, we hope you will simply rejoice in those that are presented. (We wanted to keep the list to a reasonably scrollable size, while presenting at least enough diversity in the selection to show that Brights are clearly distinctive as individuals. The diversity is useful for new visitors to our website to know.) We each are guided by our own unique compass!

No looking to some supernatural entities or mystical agency at large calling the shots. Clearly, while living with a naturalistic worldview (bright) view of life, we can access—and mark as memorable—wonderful guidance for navigating our times alive on the planet. We can persevere productively without looking to faith or trusting to any such supernatural beings or agency.

To quickly survey the range of down-to-earth perspectives Brights offered in this activity, you can go to the newest website section – with content provided by Brights themselves – this way.


A Great Many Thanks, Folks!

We’d like to take some space here for a brief “bouquet of thanks” to recognize those of you who responded to the preceding Equinox funding appeal.

This message of gratitude goes to all who sent along a bit of monetary help to the nonprofit organization, The Brights’ Net. (You know who you are!) It is thanks to you that this internet constituency of Brights from across the world can have a central hub with Brights Central as a Web-based “home.” The website is “the place” where many persons “discover” that they are not alone in their naturalistic outlook on life. They are part of a constituency of like-minded others!  (Many who register pour out feelings of being isolated while they seem to be encircled by those whose worldviews embrace all sorts of mystical and supernatural elements.)

We also want to send a special thank you to the persons who have chosen the small recurring “Equinox subscription” donation option offered on the website’s donation page. However small, it is very welcome, as are the other types of regular ongoing support, whether by PayPal or credit card. Small donations from a large enough constituency will keep the lights on, so to speak. This base of support enables us to limit direct fundraising appeals to just twice a year and still engage in regular communications and pursue some educational projects.

If you continue to “support the Brights” in your mind but have not recently donated financially to The Brights’ Net nonprofit organization, please recall that it is a 501c3 organization and your contributions to it are tax deductible in the United States. Also, BC qualifies for matching by places of employment and arrangements through Fidelity, Network for Good, etc. So, as the year end approaches, don’t be shy!


Successfully Finding the Brights

The online signup form for The Brights’ Net nonprofit contains a question, “How did you hear about the Brights?

Briefly surveying the responses of 2021 registrants reveals a range of routes by which individuals reach the website and place their names and email addresses into the database. No further information is actually required, although most “new Brights” do indicate their geographical locations. (Most also offer further contact information.)

At Brights Central, we recently took a look at that “how heard” information. Most people, it seems, leave the answer blank. Others provide nebulous information ranging from “on the Web” or “Internet search” (without saying what they were searching for?). Still others simply name a social media platform. (Among the most mentioned names are Meetup, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Reddit). These are answers, but useless as far as providing any actual “route to the Brights” information. A bit more interesting, but similarly vague, are the more personal “from a friend” or “via my spouse” or “from my brother” answers that at least indicate, if you are a Bright, that your personal referrals do count.

Still, less than having been referred by someone, it seems people appear to be reaching our website spurred simply by their individual curiosity and perseverance. The ones who do say what conceptually prompted their online searching tend to say they were tracking information on some renowned Bright they had “found out was a Bright” and wanted to “know more about” that individual. Some far, far smaller proportion remark on their hunting for a nontheist (atheist or agnostic) group.

In the next Bulletin, we will share some specifics about what we learned from surveying the signups. For now, from the information provided so far this year, we can state that one of the most surprising findings is just how small a tidbit of information can lead a person in this direction.  Even a miniscule mention, down to a mere footnote in a book, can do the trick of guiding a person to the website!


Public Opinion:  Separating Religion and Government (USA)

The Pew Research Center reports that, in the United States today, there is far more citizen support than opposition for the separation of church and state. 

Despite the fact that some Americans clearly long for the United States to become a more avowedly religious and explicitly Christian country, the clear majority is not accepting of those views. Most Americans oppose declaring Christianity (or any religion) as the official faith of the U.S., and more than half express clear support for the principle of separation of church and state. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to want to secure an official place for Christianity in the national identity.

Briefly, excerpted from the report: “The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states that the country shall have no official religion. At the same time, Christians continue to make up a large majority of U.S. adults – despite some rapid decline in recent years – and historians, politicians and religious leaders continue to debate the role of religion in the founders’ vision and of Christianity in the nation’s identity.”


Beautiful “Bobbie” – Forthright Atheist, Kind Bright

In its obituary following the October 31 death of Roberta Kirkhart, the Los Angeles Times headline labels Bobbie “the matriarch of atheism in L.A.”  Well, she was indeed, but she was so much more.

Bobbie made friends all across the world. Probably many readers of this bulletin will recall having encountered her at some point, because, although a resident of L.A., she would travel just about everywhere in support of her atheist activism. If you knew Bobbie, do read in her full obituary about all of the many ways she showed her humanity and caring. Google for the many articles she has written, so often shining a beneficial light on the personhood of those who are nontheistic and, even further, having worldviews fully free of supernatural/mystical elements. (Although primarily assisting atheists to be viewed positively and engage fully in society, she didn’t at all shy away from “being a Bright”.)

Full obituary:

Personal Note From Brights Central:  We are just so sad about losing this mentor of so many of us in the freethought/atheist/bright movements. Such a generous person, Bobbie was, and a visionary as well. She made many friends here in Sacramento. Dr. Futrell was among them, and she says: “Bobbie and I saw each other at many conferences and events, more often years ago while I was so active in Atheist Alliance International and in my local group’s activism. But our friendship lived on, and if ever invited to fulfill some role or step into some capacity, Bobbie would do everything she could to say, ‘yes.’ She was the first to trek up to Sacramento to play a role in a freethought event, and whenever we crossed paths on the road at an event hotel, the first to invite me to dinner for personal and productive conversations. I will truly miss this marvelous woman.”


Two Brights Named at Freethought Day

California’s annual Freethought Day usually takes place at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, which quite handily is also Brights Central’s location. Last month’s gathering, however, was held virtually due to high community levels of Covid-19. Afterwards, most of the nearly 5-hour live-streamed event was uploaded to YouTube.

The aspect of most interest at BC is that two long-time Enthusiastic Brights were given awards for their freethought activism.

>> Margaret Downey, founder of the Pennsylvania-based Freethought Society, is one of the most active and passionate of contemporary American freethinkers. Few could hold a candle to Margaret, as she is well known in almost every root and branch of the nontheist movement. At this 20th Freethought Day, she was lauded for her community-building efforts, and true-to-form, she graciously credited in her acceptance remarks (2:25) the many people who have been working alongside her.

>>CFD’s first-ever “Lifetime Achievement Award” (2:19) went to Mynga Futrell for, among other things but doubtless most especially, her action in founding the outdoor freethought celebration twenty years ago. (When Dr. Futrell was president of her local Atheists and Other Freethinkers in Sacramento, which she also co-founded in 1993, she and a fellow AOFer together organized in 2002 the first Freethought Day as an outdoor educational festival; it grew into a state event in 2012 and became a separate California-based nonprofit in 2014.) Also pertinent to CFD specifically is that she was instrumental in establishing California’s Freethought Day’s “Gallery of Free and Independent Thinkers to educate about persons who in life made noteworthy contributions to society by their departures from conventional thinking. Per usual, her brief remarks at this event pressed for further evolution in freethought activism.


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The Brights' Bulletin

The Brights' Net
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