Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 26
March 6, 2015
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
A Progress Report for a Momentous Year
2014 was an outstanding year for CFI, with major victories and advancements for our mission. It was also a year of new and increasing challenges on a number of fronts, including global free expression, pseudoscience in medicine, and governments’ equal and fair treatment of the nonreligious. The story of our 2014 is one we’re proud to tell now with the release of our annual Progress Report: Winning Landmark Victories, Confronting New Challenges.
This report tells of the work that you helped make possible with your financial support, your activism, and your enthusiasm for the mission of CFI. It’s the result of a great collaboration between all areas of CFI, including communications, development, graphic design, and outreach. Take a look at it yourself and get a sense of the incredible breadth and depth of what you helped us achieve and what’s possible for 2015 and beyond.
Avijit Roy, Freethought Writer and Friend to CFI, Murdered in Bangladesh
The world reeled in shock last week as Bangladeshi-American freethought writer Avijit Roy was murdered by Islamic extremist assailants as he walked with his wife in Dhaka. A bold and eloquent critic of religion, Dr. Roy had long been the target of death threats by militants.
Dr. Roy’s murder is keenly felt here at CFI, as he was a friend, colleague, and ally of ours. He worked directly with our policy director and UN representative Michael De Dora to organize global protests and activism on behalf of the atheist bloggers arrested in Bangladesh in 2013. He wrote for our Free Thinking blog and twice published essays in our magazine Free Inquiry—coauthoring one piece with his daughter Trisha Ahmed and one final essay that will run in the April/May issue, appearing on newsstands in the next few days. (See the below section for more on that issue.)
In his final piece, Dr. Roy named one Farabi Shafiur Rahman, a known Islamic extremist, as someone who had been threatening him and other critics of Islam, and who had encouraged his followers to murder Dr. Roy. On Monday, Rahman was arrested as a suspect in Dr. Roy’s death.
Michael De Dora has been appearing on a number of news programs since the tragedy to talk about his friend and to give broader context to the threat to free expression posed by this kind of violent extremism and by governments’ crackdown on dissent. He twice appeared on CNN, here in a full-length interview and here briefly in another . He was among the panelists on BBC radio’s World Have Your Say and interviewed on Buffalo-area television and Atlanta-area radio, among others. News outlets covering CFI’s connection to Dr. Roy have included the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, the Baltimore Sun, Bloomberg, Reuters, AFP, BuzzFeed, and many more.
There will be much more to say and do in regard to Dr. Roy, the circumstances of his death, and in honoring his legacy. For now, we can say that he will be greatly missed, and that we offer our friendship and best wishes for a full recovery to his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonna.
Comedian Leighann Lord Spotlights the REASON FOR CHANGE Conference
At CFI we are busy gearing up for our big Reason for Change conference, happening June 11–15, 2015, in Buffalo, with featured speakers that include Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, Richard Dawkins, Phil Zuckerman, Michael Specter, and a whole host of other brilliant experts, activists, and thinkers. Among these luminaries will be the hilarious comedian and longtime favorite of CFI, Leighann Lord, who will be performing her stand-up at the conference’s Friday night awards banquet.
Point of Inquiry’s producer Nora Hurley had a chance to chat about comedy and skepticism for a special Reason for Change episode of the podcast, and it’s one you won’t want to miss.
We’ve been posting news about the conference, as well as showcasing particular speakers and events, at the conference’s official website. You can follow all of it, just like a regular blog, on Tumblr. You can stay up to date with all the action by clicking the “+ FOLLOW” button on the upper right of the conference website.
Don’t put off saving your place at this unmissable event! Register right now!
Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry on Hobby Lobby and Science Denial
The March/April issue of Skeptical Inquirer features rather unsettling research by University of Denver scholars Charles S. Reichardt and Ian A. Saari, showing that for those who believe the Bible is the word of God, higher education can actually hinder the acceptance of scientific fact. The more educated Bible believers are, the more likely they are to reject evolution and any concepts that conflict with their faith. The issue also features Kylie Sturgess’s interview with James “The Amazing” Randi, who just announced his retirement; Editor Kendrick Frazier looking back on the history of organized skepticism; and much more. The latest Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores now.
Arriving on newsstands in the coming days is the April/May issue of Free Inquiry, in which journalist and author Thomas Larson explores how Hobby Lobby president Steve Green isn’t satisfied with a major Supreme Court victory giving him religious control over his own employees; he believes himself to be commanded by God to fully align the United States under the authority of the Christian Bible and “remake the nation in God’s image” through the construction of a major museum in Washington, D.C., and the development of a Bible-based public school curriculum. Also in this issue, a heated debate among Free Inquiry contributors on the deadlock in the Middle East; Avijit Roy’s final essay, “The Virus of Faith,” (see the above section on Roy for more); and from CFI President Ronald A. Lindsay and Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn, we get a deeper understanding of the thinking that went into the merger of CFI with the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Look for this issue soon!
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Extreme Religious Conservative Group (Mistakenly?) Leaves CFI Off Its Enemies List
When the ultra-conservative Christian activist group the American Family Association released a list of groups it alleges “openly display bigotry toward the Christian faith,” we were livid. Not because they’d be so egregiously backward as to consider support of LGBTQ equality and church-state separation to be “bigoted” (well, not just because), but because we weren’t on their list! In response, we put together a tongue-in-cheek press release to vent our rage, which read in part:
“Of course, the Center for Inquiry is by no means anti-Christian, and we work to combat bigotry of all kinds, be it against atheists, Christians, or any other group,” said CFI communications director Paul Fidalgo, nervously, between gulps of overly sweetened coffee. “But come on. The AFA listed Americans United for Separation of Church and State, American Atheists, and, get this, the AARP! The AARP!”
“Come on!” added Fidalgo, who looked like he needed more sleep. “We ask…no, we demand that the American Family Association recognize that we are just as much a threat to their backward vision of a theocratic, Christianized America as any of these groups – certainly more than the AARP – and add us to their list.”
Be a CFI Intern! Application Deadline is March 16
If you’re a student, or you know a student who’s smart, curious, and skeptical, we’ve got a number of great opportunities to get involved in the freethought movement while getting some serious experience in leadership and organizing.
Our outreach team at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY, is looking for two summer interns who will be trained in campus outreach, grassroots organizing, event planning, management, and other skills useful in nonprofit advocacy.
In addition, CFI’s Office of Public Policy in Washington, DC, is looking for one intern to get experience in formal political lobbying, grassroots organizing, international relations, networking, event planning, and other related skills.
Finally, CFI–Michigan has no fewer than five exciting internship positions available in Grand Rapids!
Our previous interns have been truly stellar and continue to make our community proud. Come join us! Learn more about these internship programs here. The deadline is March 16!
CFI–Portland Organizes against Religion in Government
CFI–Portland Executive Director Brian Harvey organized a CFI-led coalition of eight local and regional freethought groups that mobilized opposition to a proposed display of the words “In God We Trust” in the public hearing room of the Clark County Commissioners. Brian was interviewed about the effort by the The Columbian newspaper and on KPAM’s popular Mark and Dave in the Morning show. The coalition was able to expose the origins of the proposal as having originated with an out-of-state special interest group pushing similar legislation across the country as part of a national movement to display the motto in public buildings.
Psychic Fails and Washington’s Faith at CFI–L.A.
A challenger tested his powers at CFI–Los Angeles in an attempt to claim the $100,000 Independent Investigations Group Challenge prize. Alas, he failed in all twenty attempts at remote viewing objects. The test was recorded by a TV production company that had met with CFI–L.A. Executive Director Jim Underdown, founder of IIG, about a possible reality show addressing claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience.
Also in L.A., Edward J. Larson, author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning book about the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” Summer for the Gods, discussed the faith of George Washington. Larson’s new best seller, The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789, includes his research into the religious views of the Founders, in particular Washington’s own balance between his lack of religious affiliation (having resigned from his own church) and his embrace of Unitarianism and Deism.
CFI in the Media
As we mentioned above, CFI was heavily cited in several news outlets reporting on and discussing the murder of our friend and colleague Avijit Roy in Bangladesh. Here are some additional media highlights from the past two weeks:
● NBCNews.com talks to Joe Nickell about an “iPhone ghost,” an apparition captured by someone’s smartphone camera, at England’s Hampton Court Palace. Joe gives his own thoughts at the Free Thinking blog.
● Americans United’s magazine Church & State quotes Tom Flynn in a critique of Pope Francis’s over-involvement in international diplomacy.
● CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo does his second stint as “international correspondent” for the AtheistAus Podcast, discussing belief in astrology, Obama and the Crusades, and of course Prince Charles.
● CFI is subject to the rare attack piece, here from Lorna Salzman at the New English Review, taking us to task for “respectful professional hostility” toward unproven claims and taking the position that “technology should not be questioned,” which of course is totally wrong.
● Dawn Darbonne at the University of Louisiana’s The Vermillion ponders atheism’s connection to the Chapel Hill murders, citing CFI’s response.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● CFI was among seventeen groups to endorse a letter signed by sixty-seven Members of Congress to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, calling for the immediate release of prisoners of conscience, including Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair.
● Ben Radford interviews skeptical comedian Ian Harris about how skepticism informs his comedy and how he’s on the “short list” to replace Jon Stewart at The Daily Show. Harris says, “Yes, that list is very short… as it is my list and I am the only one on it.”
● After weeks of lobbying by CFI and its partners in the National Coalition for Public Education, the House Committee on Rules last week rejected two amendments that would have funneled billions in taxpayer funding from public to private and religious schools. Michael De Dora fills us in.
● Kylie Sturgess interviews veteran skeptic and alt-med opponent Edzard Ernst for Skeptical Inquirer, on the occasion of his new memoir A Scientist in Wonderland: A Memoir of Searching for Truth and Finding Trouble.
● Stuart Vyse asks, “What do Bill Maher, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Rand Paul, and Chris Christie have in common?” Their politics may be informing their bad positions on vaccinations.
● David Koepsell considers the case of scientist Wei-Hock Soon (who denied the human role in climate change and was revealed to have been funded by the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $1,000,000) and writes about how scientists who shill for companies and fudge reality hurt the entire enterprise of science.
● Read as CFI–UK’s Stephen Law characterizes a philosopher’s quotation of Baudrillard thus: “a combination of a banal observation and a ludicrous falsehood, puffed up into an impressive linguistic soufflé and pretentiously topped off with a reference to Greek mythology.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Ron Lindsay talks about The Necessity of Secularism with CFI–Tallahassee.
● Holly Huber of the Michigan Association of Civil Rights Activists discusses church-state battles in Michigan with CFI–Michigan.
● Douglas E. Hill talks about pyramid and Ponzi schemes with CFI–Orange County.
● CFI–Austin hosts Kimberly Raab-Graham for a talk on the science of memory.
● Mandisa L. Thomas and Richard Peacock discuss African American humanism with CFI–Tampa Bay.
● CFI–DC hosts Dr. Paul Offit for a presentation on how religious belief can undermine modern medicine.
● Bridget Crutchfield, founder and president of Minority Atheists of Michigan, presents on diversity in the secular community with CFI–Michigan.
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.