Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 35
July 10, 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
Supreme Court Strikes Down Bans on Same-Sex Marriage
A victory for love and equality was also a victory for secularism, as two weeks ago the Supreme Court struck down all bans on same-sex marriage throughout the United States. Back in March, CFI and the American Humanist Association partnered on an amicus brief to the Court for Obergefell v. Hodges, pressing the argument that the only real obstacle to marriage equality was religiously based aversions to homosexuality, with no secular, real-world justification. The 5-4 decision, written by Justice Kennedy, emphasized the constitutional demand for equal treatment for all and that sexual orientation should have no bearing on one’s access to the myriad federal benefits that come from marriage and the social recognition of a loving, committed relationship.
As CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay said in an official statement, “This decision strengthens American secularism and finally acknowledges what we have always known to be true: People who love each other should be free to marry, no matter what any church has to say about it. We happily welcome the Court’s acknowledgement of LGBT equality before the law.”
The decision sends a powerful message that religious beliefs cannot justify the restriction of anyone’s rights, but now that message must be carried to other areas of public life, as we at CFI will continue to fight for LGBT equality when many other attempts to justify discrimination are masked with cynical appeals to “religious freedom.”
Science Beats Misinformation as California Adopts Vaccine Law
Days after the monumental Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, a victory for science and evidence-based medicine was won in California, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 277, which invalidated most “personal belief” exemptions from children’s vaccination requirements. This bill faced enormous opposition from the science-denying anti-vaccine movement, which fought this bill with a religious fervor. CFI called upon supporters in California to speak out and encourage their legislators and the governor to resist the political pressure of the anti-vaxxers and come down on the side of public health.
California’s elected officials listened. Once the bill was finally approved in the State Senate, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law the very next day. Said the governor in his signing statement, “The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”
In our own official statement welcoming the news, CFI Public Policy Director Michael De Dora spoke of the need to see that this win is not an isolated event, saying, “To truly defend against outbreaks of preventable diseases, this new California law needs to be the rule, rather than the exception, across the country. We look forward to partnering with states to help make this happen.”
(No) Proof of Heaven: Free Inquiry on Afterlife Beliefs
The latest issue of Free Inquiry features two special essays on the myth of the afterlife, adapted from a new collection coedited by the late philosopher Michael L. Martin, who died in May of this year. Martin’s own essay is included, a disassembly of the Christian conception of Heaven, an idea that Martin shows is rife with irreconcilable contradictions, even for true believers. Also as part of this feature, Steve Stewart-Williams examines the evolutionary bases for belief in an afterlife. Rather than look at its biological basis, however, Stewart-Williams focuses on memes, on how the idea of a life after death perpetuates and adapts within and among the minds of humans.
The August/September 2015 issue of Free Inquiry is shipping now, and once you get hold of a copy, be sure to read the powerful essay by Rafida Bonya Ahmed, who survived the attack by Islamic extremists that killed her husband, Avijit Roy. A statement of defiance to her attackers, it is something you will not soon forget.
More Great CFI Events This Summer
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
CFI Programs Award Outstanding Works of Humanism and Skepticism
It has been highlighted that at last month’s hugely successful Reason for Change conference, CFI awarded Richard Dawkins and Susan Jacoby with richly deserved Lifetime Achievement Awards. But they were not alone among those honored by CFI and its programs, as major awards for outstanding published works were given at the Friday night banquet by the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry to some very worthy recipients.
A great deal of territory was covered by the Council’s presenting of two years’ worth of the prestigious Forkosch Awards, recognizing the best secular humanist books and Free Inquiry articles of 2013 and 2014. The Morris D. Forkosch Award for Best Book went to A. C. Grayling for The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism (2013) and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein for Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away (2014). Goldstein served as the conference’s keynote speaker to great acclaim.
The Selma V. Forkosch Award for Best Article for 2013 went to Luke Galen and Jeremy Beahan for their June/July 2013 Free Inquiry article “Does Religion Really Make Us Better People?”; and for 2014 went to Andy Norman for his October/November 2014 article “Reason Unhinged: The Religious Subversion of Civil Accountability.”
That night, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry presented the 2014 Robert P. Balles Annual Prizes in Critical Thinking to two outstanding works that promoted science, reason, and skepticism to the general public. The first award went to the creators, producers, and writers of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, for opening millions of viewers’ eyes and hearts to the wonders of science, the capacity of humanity for greatness, and the importance of evidence-based thinking. The second award was given to Dr. Joe Schwarcz for Is That a Fact?, a book that takes on all manner of popular misinformation about science and health, giving readers a firm grounding in reality and the tools to sort facts from fantasy.
Point of Inquiry Live Episodes with Heroes of Free Expression
Attendees of the Reason for Change conference were treated to three special episodes of our podcast Point of Inquiry, one of which we told you about in the last edition of Cause & Effect: Josh Zepps’s interview with Richard Dawkins. Over the past two weeks, we’ve posted the remaining two episodes, both hosted by Lindsay Beyerstein, featuring two incredibly brave and inspiring champions of freethought.
First up was Bangladeshi blogger Asif Mohiuddin, a friend and colleague of the late Avijit Roy and target for violence at the hands of Islamic extremists. Mohiuddin faced repeated persecution, attacks, threats on his life, and prison, and all the while managed to find ways to build bridges with his tormentors and continue his writing and activism. His is an inspiring interview.
Then Lindsay Beyerstein sat down for a revealing and moving interview with international human rights activist and writer Taslima Nasrin, who CFI recently helped bring to the United States after threats on her own life became too dangerous to ignore, spurring the creation of the Freethought Emergency Fund. Nasrin discusses her youthful skepticism in Bangladesh and her life in exile for her outspoken advocacy of women’s rights and secularism. These are both conversations that are not to be missed.
Fundamentalist “Good News Club” Targets Indianapolis
Every year, the Christian fundamentalist organization known as the Good News Club chooses one American city in which it executes a plan of proselytization aimed squarely at young schoolchildren, luring them with food and games in public places and filling their heads with frightening tales of hellfire for them and their loved ones. This year, the Good News Club has targeted Indianapolis, but that’s also where we have a strong and active branch of the Center for Inquiry.
CFI–Indiana alerted parents and others in the Indianapolis area about the Good News Club’s plans, letting them know what they should be prepared for and what their kids might encounter in playgrounds and other public areas. Said CFI–Indiana Executive Director Reba Boyd Wooden, “We’re very concerned about what these groups are up to, preying on children in the very places they should feel safe from folks with a radical religious agenda. … When a child comes home and tells their mom or dad that a friend invited them to this club, and that they would go to hell if they didn’t, that parent will be able to talk with their child about it, and tell them that they don’t need to be scared.”
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● CFI-UK’s Stephen Law demolishes the idea that belief in the Abrahamic God is somehow “reasonable” simply because so many millions of people do believe in it.
● Kylie Sturgess interviews oncologist Dr. Ranjana Srivastava about the great hoax played by Australian wellness guru Belle Gibson and the trouble with her disappointing cookbook.
● David Koepsell, obviously rejecting the idea that gods are necessary to police good behavior, is also skeptical of the absolute necessity of the Hobbesian Leviathan, the power of the state, to keep us playing nice.
● David Morrison reviews Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth by James Lawrence Powell for Skeptical Inquirer.
● At the CFI On Campus blog The Course of Reason, Ned Borinski highlights the humanist side of Thomas Jefferson and mounts a defense of “new atheism,” and Kristen Murdaugh gives helpful tips for college secular groups that want to keep their organizations alive over summer breaks.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
CFI in the Media
● Ron Lindsay takes to the Huffington Post to remind us our history is rife with problematic figures and symbols and that weeding out those symbols must not distract from the work of fixing things in the here and now.
● Calling out the Council for Secular Humanism for being “radical secularists” (why thank you), the editorial board of The Oklahoman unwisely calls for the repeal of the Blaine Amendment to the state constitution that firmly separates church from state.
● Bizarrely, the Times-News of Tennessee calls Bill Nye a “doofus” and then takes an awkward swipe at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Tony Ortega discusses his new book, cowritten with Paulette Cooper, as well as new developments at the Church of Scientology, with CFI–DC.
● Susan Sackett, former assistant to Gene Roddenberry, discusses humanism in Star Trek with CFI–Indiana.
● Learn more about the critters living in and on you with CFI–Austin and a presentation on “You and Your Microbiome.”
July 21 & 22:
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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.