Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 20
December 5, 2014
Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible.
The Main Events
New Book by CFI’s President, The Necessity of Secularism, Now Available
Just in time for the War on Christmas, CFI’s president and CEO Ron Lindsay has released a book that makes a powerful case for a cornerstone of our mission. In The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What To Do, Ron writes that only by fully embracing secularism can societies enjoy meaningful democracy and hope for peaceful resolution of disputes. With the world embroiled in religious conflicts, the book argues that secularism should be pursued by all parties, religious and nonreligious alike, to ensure equal protection and respect.
There’s some great early praise for the book from familiar luminaries within the freethought community. Ophelia Benson calls it “powerful and persuasive,” and says that the book is “needed now more than ever.” Phil Zuckerman says, “No, we can’t look to God to tell us what to do, but we can certainly look to Ronald Lindsay.” Rebecca Goldstein, who will keynote our upcoming Reason for Change conference, says, “No matter what one’s views on the existence of God, this is a unifying book. I can only hope that it will be read by all those for whom it is intended, which is, in a word, everyone.” You can get it now in paperback, ebook, or audiobook formats.
The Raif Badawi Case: CFI Gets a Rare Look into Saudi Injustice
CFI has been working to rally global action to pressure Saudi Arabia to free persecuted dissident Raif Badawi, an activist who has been sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes in public for the non-offense of “insulting Islam.” Recently we acquired a significant and disturbing document: the official court order from the Jeddah Criminal Court outlining the charges and punishments being levied at Badawi and the twisted, quasi-theological reasoning behind them. This rare glimpse into Saudi’s system of injustice was provided to us and translated by Badawi’s wife, the remarkable Ensaf Haidar.
Ron Lindsay said in our statement that this judicial opinion “is an example of theocracy at its worst, and reads like something out of the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials.” Michael De Dora, our UN representative, said, “We have been committed to working to secure Raif’s freedom, and pressuring the Saudi government to respect and protect basic human rights, and we will continue to do so until true justice is done.”
Skeptical Inquirer Explores Why People Believe in Gods and Conspiracies
Much to the frustration of skeptics like ourselves, it sometimes seems like no amount of evidence can convince people to abandon belief in things like gods, ghosts, and conspiracies. But why? The newest issue of Skeptical Inquirer explores the latest science and research behind the intractability of irrational beliefs. Clinical psychologist Gary M. Bakker explores belief in the supernatural, including many of the most frequently cited justifications, such as the fear of death, evolutionary advantage, and a yearning for meaning. Then Preston R. Bost takes on the all-too-common human inclination to perceive conspiracies where they don’t exist and looks at whether the propensity to believe in conspiracies has a genetic purpose, writing, “A person without the capacity for suspicion is a target for exploitation.”
All this, plus a look at the FBI’s investigations of (not with) the late “psychic” Sylvia Browne, and much more, in the January/February 2015 edition of Skeptical Inquirer.
REASON FOR CHANGE: CFI’s International Conference Coming This June!
In the last edition of Cause & Effect, we announced that our next major conference, Reason for Change, will take place June 11–15, 2015, in Buffalo, NY, with featured speakers that include Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, and Richard Dawkins, among a whole host of brilliant experts, activists, and thinkers. New developments about the conference are happening all the time, from events being added, new speakers joining the lineup, or additional details and information about the program. To keep up with it all, you can follow the Reason for Change website on Tumblr, where we will post new information and news as it comes in. This past week alone, we’ve added five new speakers, announcing the news right on the conference Tumblr. You can stay up to date with all the action by clicking the “+ FOLLOW” button on the upper right of the website.
And this just in, with good news for folks with offspring: Reason for Change will provide free child care for the conference!
And if you haven’t already, register right now!
News from HQ and the CFI Community
New Development Director Joins CFI
A new face joins CFI’s leadership team, as we welcome Martina Fern as our new Development Director. A native of Kassel, Germany (which happens to be the home of the Brothers Grimm), and living in the U.S. for twenty-five years, Martina has vast experience in both international private enterprise and in nonprofit administration. A proud atheist and skeptic, Martina’s been involved with CFI informally for several years. “CFI is a multifaceted organization, with many programs, campaigns, and initiatives, all of which require the resources to keep them strong and growing,” said Ron Lindsay in our announcement. “We think Martina is well suited to this challenge.” Welcome aboard, Martina!
Point of Inquiry on Alan Turing, Racial Anxiety, and Criticism of Islam
Cause & Effect is coming to you one week later than usual because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. That means we have not two but three new episodes of Point of Inquiry to tell you about!
As movie audiences take in Benedict Cumberbatch portraying the great Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Josh Zepps interviews Turing biographer Andrew Hodges, whose book Alan Turing: The Enigma served as the foundation for the film, introduced so many to the genius of Alan Turing, and provided a deeper understanding of his triumphant, tumultuous, and ultimately tragic life.
Lindsay Beyerstein spoke last month with Rachel D. Godsil, research director of the Perception Institute, about the problem of “racial anxiety,” and how the unconscious associations and attitudes that all of us have can cause us to behave in less than enlightened ways.
Josh also interviews Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, an Iraqi refugee turned atheist activist, who discusses life as an atheist under Saddam Hussein and after the U.S. invasion and his current efforts to honestly confront what he sees as the dangers of Islam.
CFI–Michigan Hosts Big Debate on the “Christian Nation” Question
Last month, CFI–Michigan hosted a debate between Freethought Blogs impresario (and CFI–Michigan board member) Ed Brayton and Dr. Tim Schmig of the Michigan Association of Christian Schools. The subject was whether the U.S. government was founded on the Christian religion, and you can probably guess where Ed came down.
Over 120 people came to witness the event, and both debaters (as well as the audience) were impressed with the civil and respectful tone. You can watch the whole thing online now.
Psychic Contestant Fails to Win $100,000 IIG Challenge
The Independent Investigations Group (IIG), headed up by CFI–Los Angeles Executive Director Jim Underdown, offers a $100,000 prize to anyone who can prove their paranormal abilities in a controlled experiment. On November 15, one challenger stepped forward to prove his psychic abilities. Alas, the challenger failed in his five-hour attempt to predict which of two colors of dice would be rolled out, at least 60 percent of the time. We’re glad he gave it a go, though.
The IIG also recently visited with the International Academy of Consciousness (that’s where Jim is in the picture on the left), which purports the existence of psychic projection and out of body experiences. Jim writes about his experience, concluding, “The volunteers we met at the IAC office were not evil. In fact, they seemed to be quite pleasant folks—seekers of some higher truth that either their religion or worldview wasn’t quite satisfying.”
CFI in the Media
● Ron Lindsay has two new pieces at Huffington Post. In one, he looks at the progress being made on the issue of physician-assisted dying and links its advancement to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, writing, “The moral arc of the last two centuries, despite some occasional setbacks, shows an unmistakable trajectory toward the enlargement of personal autonomy. (See also CFI’s Nick Little on the advance of related legislation in New Jersey at the Safe and Secular blog.)
● Ron also takes on religion’s real heavy-hitters, the prophets. He critiques the “prophet system,” saying “there is a rigidly hierarchical, cognitive class system inherent in revealed religion” that is entirely undemocratic and a poor basis for determining how we should behave.” These are the people who tell us what to believe and do,” he writes. “Then there are the billions of the rest of us, who just have to follow along.”
● The New York Times reports on a Chinatown “aura” business, with skeptical perspective from CFI’s Joe Nickell. Joe also tries to lend some sense to a report about cats who can predict death at The Epoch Times, and expresses his disappointment to the Detroit Free Press over “haunted tours” of a nineteenth-century Royal Oak house.
● CFI–Fort Lauderdale‘s Jeanette Medea is featured in a Sun-Sentinel article about an interfaith panel discussion on spirituality.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● The Fellows of CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry jointly release a statement to media asking that the word “skeptic” stop being used to describe climate change deniers.
● In Free Inquiry, CFI’s board chair Edward Tabash reviews Sam Harris’s nonreligious spirituality book Waking Up, and finds Harris’s arguments wanting, writing, “The ability to sit still for long periods of time does not, in and of itself, empirically validate any claim about what ultimate experiences mediation can yield.”
● CFI’s director of international programs, Bill Cooke, considers the debate as to whether the Islamic State constitutes “true Islam,” writing, “Western leaders need to take care not to alienate Muslim communities within their own borders. But if politicians have good reasons to say these things, that doesn’t mean they’re true.”
● Guerilla Wikipedian Susan Gerbic reports back from this past summer’s Skeptic’s Toolbox, writing, “Some days it might appear that critical thinkers are outnumbered in the real world, but we know our best asset is our people.”
● Video of former pastor and “atheist-for-a-year” Ryan Bell’s presentation to CFI–Los Angeles is now online.
● Penny Higgins at Skeptical Inquirer argues that the creature you’re consuming at Thanksgiving really could be considered a dinosaur.
● At the Course of Reason blog, we highlight the Furman University Society of Free Inquiry as our affiliate of the week.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Environmental advocate Paul Scott, cofounder of Plug In America, will discuss the need for electric vehicles at CFI–Los Angeles.
● CFI Public Policy Director Michael De Dora, in his capacity as president of the UN NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, will moderate a panel discussion on the economic benefits of religious freedom at the Bahá’í International Community United Nations Office in New York City.
● CFI–Michigan hosts a Solstice Dinner in Grand Rapids.
● Another Solstice Dinner for CFI–Michigan, this time in Madison Heights.
● CFI–Austin holds a holiday Saturnalia Celebration.
● CFI–Michigan holds a service day, helping out at the Kids Food Basket in Grand Rapids.
● CFI’s president and CEO, Ronald A. Lindsay, discusses his new book The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do at CFI-DC.
● Council for Secular Humanism Director Tom Flynn delivers his popular “The Trouble with Christmas” presentation at CFI headquarters in Amherst, New York.
● CFI–Los Angeles holds its Solstice Potluck Party and Raffle Fundraiser.
Everything we do at CFI is made possible by you and your support. Let’s keep working together for science, reason, and secular values. Donate today!
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Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry communications director.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.