Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 31
May 15, 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
Religiously Unaffiliated Overtake Catholics in U.S. to Reach Number 2 in Major New Survey
This week we lauded the “tectonic shift” away from traditional religion heralded by a massive new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, showing that the religiously unaffiliated, also known as the “nones,” now make up almost 23 percent of the U.S. population, overtaking Catholics as the second-largest group in the country. Amid the findings, based on a survey of 35,000 Americans, “nones” increased their share of the population by a whopping 6.7 percentage points since the last comparable survey in 2007, a jump unparalleled by any other group. Meanwhile, denominations such as Evangelical Protestants (currently the largest U.S. group), Catholics, and Mainline Protestants all saw slight to significant declines.
CFI was ready to lend its distinct perspective to the news, being perhaps the group that uniquely represents the constituency of the religiously unaffiliated, as an organization not exclusively of and for atheists, but of those who seek to advance secularism, science, and reason across all areas of public life. CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay was a guest for the hour on Wednesday’s Diane Rehm Show on NPR, lending his insight to a discussion of the reasons for this shift in America’s religious makeup and what it means for the future. He also spoke with WBFO in Buffalo. At CNN, Daniel Burke’s thoughtful and widely circulated reporting on the survey included commentary from CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo, who emphasized how positive it was that more and more Americans are rejecting traditional religious morality on crucial social and public policy issues. Sky News also led its coverage with CFI’s statement.
Bangladesh: Third Atheist Blogger Killed, Al Qaeda Claims Responsibility
The pain and shock we all felt from the murders of Bangladeshi freethought writers Avijit Roy (a friend and colleague of CFI’s) and Washiqur Rahman returned to the fore last week as a branch of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, followed by the slaughter of yet a third secularist Bangladeshi blogger, Ananta Bijoy Das, a crime also claimed by Al Qaeda. It is the latest in what is actually a lengthy campaign by Islamic extremists in the region to terrorize critics of fundamentalist Islamism and the nonreligious in general, which is being chronicled by CFI’s Michael De Dora in a newly published timeline of attacks that goes all the way back to 1999. These attacks are aided in large part by a Bangladeshi government that appears unwilling to take the necessary steps to uphold human rights, stand up to the murderers, and protect its people.
Michael said in a statement following the news about Al Qaeda, “By forming policy and taking actions designed to placate Islamic extremists—for example, making ‘blasphemy’ a crime punishable by prison or death, and arresting critics of religion and tradition—[governments] not only crush valuable dissent that could lessen extremism in the name of religion, but also perpetuate the lie that religious criticism is impermissible, thus emboldening violent extremists.”
CFI–Portland Champions Secular Celebrant Bill in Oregon
Couples in Oregon who wish to have their marriages solemnized, not by clergy or government bureaucrat but by a celebrant who shares their secular worldview, may soon have something to celebrate. This week, a new bill introduced by Oregon State Rep. Mitch Greenlick and lobbied for by CFI–Portland passed a key House committee and now heads to the House floor for a full vote. The bill (HB 3483) would add organizations “whose members subscribe to secular values, beliefs and practices” to the list of those currently authorized to officially solemnize marriages in the state. CFI is of course just such an organization, complete with its own program for the training and certification of Secular Celebrants. Last year, we made history with a major victory in federal court for Secular Celebrants in Indiana and as this latest measure gets closer to becoming law, we will continue to push for more such legislation and legal decisions in other states, fighting for the equal treatment of the nonreligious under the law.
If you live in Oregon, you can help make this a reality. The bill is likely to be voted on Monday, so don’t wait to contact your representatives now and tell them to support this bill.
A Summer of Big CFI Events!
The big Reason for Change conference is coming up fast, and there’s still time to register before special conference hotel rates expire on May 21. You don’t want to miss your chance to see such freethought luminaries as Richard Dawkins, Susan Jacoby, Rebecca Goldstein, and perhaps of particular interest in recent days, New Yorker journalist Michael Specter. As a bonus, we’ve just announced that the motorcoach tours of the Freethought Trail, historic Buffalo, and Niagara Falls can now be registered for separately for those who can’t attend the full conference.
But that’s only the beginning of a summer full of amazing CFI events!
July 30-August 3 brings the next CFI Leadership Conference, “Moving Freethought Forward,” to CFI headquarters in Buffalo. This incredibly inspiring program brings together student and community activists from across North America for four days packed with leadership training, workshops, networking, educational presentations, entertainment, and more. Registration is now open. Stay tuned for more details on speakers and schedule.
A few days after that, starting August 6 in Eugene, Oregon, we have the next Skeptic’s Toolbox, a weekend of hands-on workshops and training for the skeptically inclined. This year, the program will examine how framing information affects how it is perceived in journalism, medicine, politics, and other areas in which people have to choose to believe or reject dubious claims. Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Loren Pankratz will be on hand to sharpen attendees’ minds.
And of course there’s Camp Inquiry 2015, a weeklong adventure for kids emphasizing discovery, fun, and critical thinking at beautiful Camp Seven Hills in Holland, New York, taking place August 2–8. The theme for Camp Inquiry 2015 is “To Believe or Not to Believe,” and it will focus on looking at ways young people can deal with the barrage of information they consume day after day in the digital age, and how they can determine for themselves what’s true, what’s false, and what’s just noise.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Young Nonbelievers and the Science of Nutrition on Point of Inquiry
It’s hard enough to be a teenager without also grappling with existential crises about God’s existence or lack thereof. Addressing the particular concerns of young people confronting religious doubt is David Seidman, author of What If I’m an Atheist? A Teen’s Guide to Exploring a Life Without Religion, and last week’s guest on Point of Inquiry with host Lindsay Beyerstein.
This week Lindsay was back to clear up many of the myths about nutrition and weight loss with expert Marion Nestle, author of Why Calories Count. Nestle confronts much of the buzz language and pseudoscience that permeates the marketing and discussion of health and weight loss and gets down to science and the facts.
Free Inquiry on the Population Crisis and an Overburdened Planet
Of the myriad problems facing the planet and our future viability as a species, perhaps the greatest and least discussed is overpopulation. Hampered by fears of seeming “intrusive” in women’s childbearing decisions, experts have been wary of publicly confronting what might be the source of our global crises, such as climate change, mass extinctions, and depleting resources. The latest issue of Free Inquiry, however, takes the population crisis head-on with a collection of articles that diagnose a problem spiraling out of control (with some estimates showing Earth burdened with 17 billion people by next century), as well as some bold and controversial ways to address and reverse the explosion. It is a sobering issue to say the least, but one that offers badly needed clarity on an often-cloudy subject. The June/July issue of Free Inquiry is available now.
The Science Babe and Blasting Asteroids in L.A.
Yvette d’Entremont, also known as the “Science Babe,” drew an overflow crowd at CFI–Los Angeles on April 19 during her “Feed Your Brain” lecture on bad health science, devoting part of her talk to discussing her recent, well-publicized criticism of the pseudoscience peddled by Vani Hari, better known as the “Food Babe.” Featured in a Page 1 feature story in the L.A. Times just three days before her talk, d’Entremont has been trained as an analytical chemist and runs her “scibabe” website full-time, debunking health pseudoscience with a combination of humor and real science.
Also, Michael J. Poston, a post-doctoral fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech, presented spectacular images of planets, dwarf planets, and other objects in our solar system as he described a number of ongoing robotic spacecraft missions at CFI-L.A.’s monthly Café Inquiry, an informal gathering with a speaker on a particular topic. Poston experimentally simulates chemistry and physics that occur on the surfaces of bodies that lack atmospheres, and now spends a lot of time at JPL blasting simulated, distant, icy asteroid surfaces with electrons to stimulate changes in their chemistry and physics. Poston has authored several peer-reviewed articles in major scientific journals, as well as making numerous conference presentations and a guest blog for the Planetary Society.
More from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● At the Huffington Post, Ron Lindsay asks us to consider whether confinement to a supermax prison facility is really more humane than the death penalty.
● Gary M. Bakker at Skeptical Inquirer takes a deep look at why people believe in absurd things and why it’s not always “irrational” for them to do so.
● At Skeptical Inquirer, Stuart Vyse warns that the pseudoscience of “facilitated communication” is alive and well, perpetuated by “the strong pull of parental hopes combined with professional interests and cultural politics.”
● David Koepsell explores the difference between “top-down” morality dictated from above and the individual moral decisions we make one by one.
● We’ve got two new posts from CFI–UK’s Stephen Law: First a primer on “skeptical theism.” (“I can’t think of a reason why God would allow a certain evil, therefore there probably is no such reason.”) Then we get a little sketch, as it were, on a major discussion on whether God exists, according to the people of the planet Eth.
● Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier marks twenty-five years for the pioneering group New Mexicans for Science and Reason.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Phil Zuckerman discusses his book Living the Secular Life with CFI–DC.
● Raw Story’s Tony Ortega talks about his new book on the Church of Scientology’s campaign to destroy one of its earliest critics, Paulette Cooper. He’ll be with CFI–Los Angeles at 11 am, and CFI–Orange County at 4:30 pm.
● Journalist Neena Satija of the Texas Tribune talks to CFI–Austin about the water crisis in Texas.
● Luke Galen presents to CFI–Michigan on how one’s psychology impacts beliefs about politics and morality.
● Death-with-dignity activist Susanne Gaudin speaks to CFI–Indiana about compassionate options for the end of life.
● CFI’s own Michael De Dora discusses the ties between sectarian movements around the world and the push for theocracy here in the U.S. with CFI–DC.
● Actor Richard McNally performs his one-man show as Robert Ingersoll for CFI–Los Angeles.
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.