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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- SEPTEMBER 2022


 
 

More Than One Idea

Reaching a naturalistic worldview probably has involved deciding about the presence or absence of divine agency. However, that matter is but one of the many issues that brights generally settle for themselves. They don’t escape the internal angst of being human.

Beyond the basics: Philosophers and sociologists recognize that, for any individual, many matters exist that extend beyond the core issues of living life (food, clothing, shelter and some measure of sexual satisfaction). Humans, as “meaning-seeking” creatures, have need of some understanding of reality that satisfies the heart and mind.

There are plenty of enigmas for which answers are desired.  (These ultimate concerns appear to be universal.)

Examples: Does my life have purpose? / Am I doing what I should in life?  / What happens to me at my death? / How far out does the universe go? / How did it begin, or did it? / What is good, and bad? / How can I tell? / Does my conduct matter in the long run? / How should I live my life? / How can I know? / How did humankind come about on earth, anyway? / How can I give more meaning to my life?

Such concerns seem not so much culturally imparted as integral to human existence. Each individual answers their angst in their own way and reaches their own conclusions. The personal meaning and interpretations of reality that they develop make up their worldview.

So, what about god(s)? Brights have developed or latched onto explanations that satisfy their ultimate human concerns. They do not have, if ever they did, any deity(ies) or divine source(s) of wisdom and guidance as integral to their thinking. Thus, no matter their cultural setting, brights just don’t personally look to supernatural or mystical elements for interventions. (Due to surrounding culture, they may or may not feel free to make their discernment known to others.)

Some brights have almost always held that divine agency (a god or gods) is unnecessary to answer their questions about life. Others have come to realize that the explanations offered earlier in life fail to mollify, or make no sense. Some few may remain “seekers” for something else, but as best we can infer as regards this constituency, registrants are at a point of general satisfaction. As Brights, their present conception of reality - regardless of the pathway to reaching it - appeases.

Unless views are so culturally proscribed as to endanger, participants in the Brights movement can -  to the extent and breadth that they wish - move well beyond “being godless” to positively share their discernment with others.

 

Expressing Your Kind of “Worldview”

Here at Brights Central, what defines a bright has two parts: (1) naturalistic and (2) worldview. Let’s take a closer look at each word separately

The naturalistic part:  A naturalistic worldview really doesn’t need to carry an “ism” label, like naturalism. Others may tell you that it does, but it doesn’t. The meaning – as we see it – is really humbler.

How so? If we can imagine anyone carefully inspecting your life stance (from the outside in), they’d find just naturalistic accounts. ("Nothing supernatural or mystical to see in there," any observer would report.) This doesn’t signify that you must therefore be holding onto some specific ideology or philosophy. (Maybe you do; maybe you don’t. But it is not for someone else to ascribe.)

Of course, many brights do conceive theirs to be a philosophical stance. They regard their view of life as appropriately matched to a definition of some form of naturalism. Fine. It may be something that they “think through” to discount the supernatural as false. Not everyone enacts that sort of process.

The worldview part: Listed here are several interpretations of the “worldview” part of the definition. They all basically come down to the same general notion. We each can express the gist of our particular [naturalistic] worldview in our own manner.

  • It is the overall perspective from which you regard and interpret the world.
  • It consists of the basic assumptions and images that deliver to you a more or less coherent way of thinking about the world.  (Note: it’s coherent, but not necessarily accurate!)
  • It is your personal collection of beliefs about life and the universe.
  • It is your own discernment, developed in part because you have sought some understanding of your own significance.
  • It is the very skeleton of concrete assumptions on which the flesh of your customary conduct is hung.
  • It is your personal insight about reality and meaning, often called a life stance.

You can go deeper with the slide presentation on the website, which discusses how you developed your worldview using 10 simple graphics with accompanying text.

 

More Evolution Posters Ready to Go (USA)

Schools have adjusted in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. They are enabling the highest level of in-the-classroom instruction to take place in the past two years.

So, now is as good a time as any to remind our subscribers that the Brights’ Net is doing what it can to help strengthen the teaching of authentic science instruction about evolution in American secondary education.

The U.S. notably does not yet educate its future citizens about evolutionary theory in the full scientific sense. (The subject remains divisive.) A large portion of the American public filters the subject through a lens of divine guidance.

We don’t want you to forget that this constituency has a project targeted to high school science teachers. Our ongoing priority is to augment efforts of those teachers who are teaching about evolution by way of our Evolution Poster Project.

With Brights’ support of this project, Brights Central can disseminate free to qualifying classroom teachers a 5 ½ foot classroom wall poster showing the evolutionary changes on earth (biological and physical/geological) across the time expanse from the big bang onwards. The poster has proved very popular with those teachers who apply and receive the poster.

If you are not yet familiar with this project, check it out on the website! Examine the poster image. See the application process teachers use. Consider teachers in your community who would benefit* from knowing about this project.

*Please note: Due to the intricacy of the image, the “free poster” supply is only for high school science teachers who are teaching about evolution. At that level, they and their students will be prepared to make suitably erudite use of this classroom tool. It is not intended as a decorative item. (Students and teachers at middle school level can rarely delve adequately into the details the poster is intended to illustrate.)

 

Pondering Religion and Science

Of possible interest to religion and science followers is yet another book by a noted religious scholar grappling with the emergence and potency of modern science.

God after Einstein: What’s Really Going on in the Universe?” by John F. Haught is his latest entry in the ongoing tugs of interpretation ballgame. Ian Barbour in his 1966 “Issues in Science and Religion” chronicled the up-and-coming subject at that time, but across the subsequent fifty plus years, the rounds of deliberations have continued apace. Haught’s new contribution (reviewed by Paul Allen 8/28/22) is simply the latest to explore the realms and borderlands.

When it comes to the relative attractions of science and religion, a naturalistic worldview brings most brights well toward the science side. (Only a minority of religions do not comprise supernatural elements.) And, one of the better explanations on the science roster came out a decade ago from the prolific Richard Dawkins, notably an Enthusiastic Bright.

What’s really going on in the universe” is the topic Dr. Dawkins expresses in his own way in many of his books, perhaps most delightfully in his “The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True.” He said that he wrote that book for children, but as a review from BC noted at the time of its publication, we think teens would be the better beneficiaries.

And since we are mentioning “teens” while speaking of the contemporary American educational situation, there may be no better time for American Brights to take on a personal project to strengthen the science available to teens within their own communities.

Perhaps ask yourself: Does my nearest public library or school library have a copy of this book (or some other favorite science work of yours) available? Would a local high school teacher (or someone else you know) benefit from it?  Educators today are under duress as conflicts abound in many communities, often driven by culturally contentious movements.

Do what you can to strengthen the science program where you are. Or join with us in support of disseminating our evolution posters.

 

Homeopathy / Pseudoscience

In the light of controlled scientific examination, many alternative health remedies fail to show their touted effectiveness. (Sometimes the effect they do show is simply a placebo effect). For Brights who find themselves wondering how so many people can favor and utilize such remedies, Dr, Edzard Ernst, author of Trick or Treatment, offers clues for consideration.

What does Dr. Ernst reveal?  From his remarks at the recent SkeptiCal 2022 conference, he approaches the issues of homeopathy and other pseudosciences from a decidedly opposite direction, one that is both entertaining and informative. In a 45-minute presentation Dr Ernst exposes certain strategies to look for. From the talk, we learn that it isn’t merely (or necessarily) human gullibility alone that creates alternative medicine’s appeal. There may be signs of a goodly measure of nefarious involvement.

The personal awakening to scientific skepticism that Dr. Ernst discloses in his talk is unique. His unusual pathway from a childhood under “the care” of a homeopathic doctor led eventually to a depth of scientific understanding - and criticism of pseudoscience - that few others share. Also, there’s a sense of humor that would play out in his devising a talk called, “How to Become a Charlatan” (a title since modified to “How to Become a Pseudoscientist”).

Unique career path: Growing up in Germany, Ernst survived all his childhood ailments being treated by a family doctor who practiced homeopathy. Eventually studying medicine, he realized that homeopathy wasn’t real medicine at all. Dr. Ernst moved past a first job at Germany’s only homeopathic hospital to becoming a conventional physician, ultimately establishing himself as a practicing scientist and researcher utilizing scientific method and critical thinking to the fullest.

Another of the talks at SkeptiCal 2022 (“Pseudoscience and the Law”) offers a useful clarification of pseudoscience with numerous examples delivered by a lawyer for the secular Center for Inquiry. Nick Little addressed how CFI is confronting the fact that the American government does hardly anything at all to reduce extant charlatanism. His presentation provides some valuable edifying information on homeopathy (he calls it “the Scientology of Pseudoscience”) as well as the general pseudoscience situation, and even scientific method itself.

 

A Morality Media Splash

One fairly recent research report coming out of Japan has drawn abundant media attention elsewhere. It piqued interest at Brights Central, too, because of the topic. BC continues to update members of the constituency on aspects of this still mysterious subject as interesting occasions arise. This summer (well, it is winter down under) has brought us an occasion we think worth noting.

Why? The new research casts glimmers of elucidation on a subject of longstanding interest to many Brights: “human morality.” Accounting for origins of morality without reliance on some supernatural agency or divine revelation explanation puts brights as nonconforming to what so many religions proclaim and many in the general population maintain.

Here are some places to go to read about an experiment with preverbal infants. It incorporates animation and measures “infant gazing” and sees babies making “moral judgments.” The study touches on the capacity of very young humans to punish antisocial behaviors of others.

Choose your media messenger (a mere sampling).

Third-party Punishment by Preverbal Infants (video)

Third-party Punishment by Preverbal Infants (published text of the study)

Are we born with a moral compass? (discussion text by the researchers; incorporates video)

Are we born with a moral compass? (Same title, different resource, science news)

Determining the origin of our moral compass (online science magazine)

Are we born with a moral compass? Even babies know to punish antisocial behavior (popular TV news, online section about children)

 

Looking Back a Bit

The prior segment about babies punishing antisocial behavior illustrates both (1) that research into the moral conduct of youngsters is ongoing, and (2) that contemporary results continue to back one of the four key conclusions from the Brights’ own “Reality about Morality Project.”

Ours was a serious three-year effort to help inform the public of what science at the time had to say about the “morality aspect” of what makes us human. You can find the process described and products created (pdf) on the website. The simple “helping” image shown here was produced in the Project.

One of our conclusions: “Young children and infants demonstrate some aspects of moral cognition and behavior that precede specific learning experiences and worldview development.” (#4)

The underlying purpose of the Brights’ study was to see for ourselves if scientific research about human morality was consistent with a naturalistic worldview. That is, did science validate the view that origins of morality do not require supernatural agency or revelation? It did.

How we got there: Volunteers on the task team had done a thorough exploration of prevailing research led by Ruban Bala, poring over available peer reviewed morality research and submitting their findings to a notable panel of morality researchers for authentication. The research at the time indicated, and today’s research continues to show, that humans have morality built into their DNA.

With the help of additional volunteers from our constituency worldwide, we were able to post on the website instructive information supported by peer-reviewed research and endorsed by notable morality researchers. We put key explanatory elements into an infographic with helpful clarifications available in 15 languages. We supplied links to contemporary database of peer-reviewed studies.

The extent of morality/immorality is simply part of what it means to be human. Infants, it appears, can evidence their built-in capacity quite early in life. If the Osaka study holds up to scrutiny and is replicated, it will likely spur even more investigations into the morality of babies.

 
 

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