Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 37
August 7, 2015
Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible.
* * * BREAKING NEWS: As we prepared to send this message, we learned of the murder of Niloy Neel, the fourth secularist blogger to be killed by Islamic militants this year. See our official statement here, and we’ll have more on this at the CFI website and in the next edition of Cause & Effect.
The Main Events
CFI’s Leadership Conference Moves Secularism Forward…Way Forward
The annual CFI Leadership Conference took place this past weekend in Amherst, New York, at CFI headquarters, bringing together about seventy student and community freethought leaders, including CFI branch leaders, from across the U.S. and Canada. It was a fantastic opportunity for attendees of all ages and experience levels to sharpen their skills, network with fellow activists, and have eyes and minds opened by fresh perspectives. Hands-on training and workshops from experts such as humanist leader James L. Croft and union organizer Desiree Schell provided young seculars and skeptics with the fundamental tools they’ll need to effect change in their own states, communities, and campuses. CFI’s Nick Little provided an inspiring and clarifying perspective on the wisdom of legal battles, and Michael De Dora even organized an on-the-spot lobbying effort, getting all U.S. attendees to phone their U.S. senators and ask them to oppose the bill to defund Planned Parenthood!
It was also a weekend that provided everyone with a deeper understanding of how the movement can improve and what issues it ought to adopt. Discussions ranged from the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. to free expression crackdowns in the Muslim world. Political scientist Juhem Navarro-Rivera gave two rich presentations on secularism’s demographics and politics, and psychology and education expert Melanie Brewster delved into the real human impact felt by atheists and others in maligned minority groups and what can be done to foster a stronger sense of well-being. Ron Lindsay argued that the process of humanism, which relies not on authority but on listening to everyone, defines its purpose, which is not just to promote a secular society but a secular society in which all humans are entitled to equal standing in the community with the full panoply of civil, social, and economic rights. Indeed, the shift from a movement focused on what’s wrong with religion to one that focuses on how it can improve life for everyone was palpable, and everyone left better prepared and more inspired to act on that goal.
Congresswoman Gabbard Introduces Resolution for Human Rights in Bangladesh
This week, Tusli Gabbard, a U.S. Representative from Hawaii, introduced a House resolution that easily won the full backing of the Center for Inquiry. Rep. Gabbard’s resolution, H.Res. 396, calls upon the government of Bangladesh to act assertively to protect fundamental human rights such as the freedoms of belief and expression, and to curb the recent spasm of violence encouraged and perpetrated by religious extremists. Bangladesh is a country founded on secular principles, but it has nonetheless long been a center of sectarian violence. And in the case of nonbelievers, at least eight freethought writers and activists have been killed by extremists linked to Al Qaeda in the past eleven years, including CFI’s friend and ally Avijit Roy in February of this year.
Praising Rep. Gabbard’s resolution, CFI’s Michael De Dora said in a statement, “Bangladeshi government officials, as well the extremists seeking to impose their will on the country, need to know that the United States is watching, concerned with the situation, and will not hesitate to play a role in protecting basic human rights in the country.” We will of course keep you updated as this resolution progresses.
Effort to Cut Off Planned Parenthood Funding Fails, But More Trouble Is Ahead
Thanks in part to the actions of those of you who responded to our calls to action, religious conservatives in the U.S. Senate on Monday failed to push through a bill to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood. (And the mass of phone calls to senators coming from the Leadership Conference probably helped, too!) As you know, right-wing activists secretly filmed and deceitfully manipulated footage of Planned Parenthood staff, attempting to spread the false idea that the organization is selling fetal parts for profit. The fact is that fetal tissue is regularly and legally donated for research purposes as a matter of course, and often the costs required for doing so are covered. Profit and enrichment are not in the equation, but cynical abortion opponents have glommed onto this fake controversy to put Planned Parenthood, a crucial organization that provides a wide range of vital services for women’s health, in jeopardy.
The attempt to defund them failed to garner the required sixty votes in the Senate, but further attempts to cut off funds are in the offing, including a bill from Sen. Susan Collins that would cut off funding to any organization that is “compensated” for the donation of fetal tissue. The work goes on, and we will not let up in our defense of women’s health and reality-based policy.
Camp Inquiry and the Skeptic’s Toolbox Get Underway!
Camp Inquiry 2015 is going on right now! Just two days into its tenth anniversary session, campers are already exploring the ecosystem around camp, taking part in critical-thinking team-building exercises, and roasting s’mores. Of course, this being Camp Inquiry, they’re also talking about philosophy and working together to develop this year’s camp code of ethics. Campers even got a chance to hear a quick talk by Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of public policy and United Nations representative, who explained how the values of Camp Inquiry play out across the country and the world!
There’s of course much more to come this week. The theme for Camp Inquiry this year 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. Campers will get to learn from experts from several fields, including physicist David Willey, psychologist Michelle Morand, education innovator Michael Cardus, and CFI’s own Stef McGraw. It will certainly be a week to remember.
And kicking off tomorrow (August 6) in Eugene, Oregon, is the 2015 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.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Ta-Nehisi Coates Talks History, Racism, and Atheism on Point of Inquiry
In recent years, few writers have had such a deep impact on the national conversations about race and culture as Ta-Nehisi Coates, sparking heated debates and difficult soul-searching for a nation grappling with civil strife and racial tensions. Coates is our special guest on this week’s episode of Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast. Here, he discusses with host Lindsay Beyerstein how the conflicts of today are a direct result of a country and an economy built, as he puts it, “on black bodies.” He explores potential remedies for an intolerable status quo and ponders how his atheism informs his notions of justice and forgiveness. It is an episode not to be missed.
Also on Point of Inquiry, we have a sobering examination of another source of tension, wracked by a difficult history: the rise of ISIS. Harvard international affairs expert Stephen M. Walt talks to host Josh Zepps about what has brought us to this point of crisis and, most alarmingly, how the world may simply have to accept the Islamic State’s existence for some time. It’s a fascinating exploration of radicalism, revolution, and statecraft.
Tom Flynn Presents His “Radical View” to Michigan
Last month, Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of Free Inquiry magazine, brought his unique wit and insights on secularism and religion’s role in public life to audiences hosted by CFI–Michigan, with lectures in Farmington Hills and Grand Rapids. Tom’s lecture was titled “The Naked Public Square: A Radical View on Church and State,” and branch director Jeff Seaver reported back, telling Cause & Effect:
Tom Flynn set out to challenge everyone, ruffle feathers when needed, and push us to examine our beliefs about the best way to pursue separation of church and state in a diverse society with many competing religious views. Those attending found themselves at times nodding in agreement, and at others in strong disagreement. Several commented that it forced them to critically examine and articulate their own views on how best to maintain church/state separation, while protecting religious freedom, free speech, and free inquiry. It became clear that there is room for debate even within the secular community about the best path forward.
We expect nothing less from Tom. Thanks to all who came out, and to CFI–Michigan for hosting the events!
Dawkins Brings a Candle in the Dark to CFI Branches in October
Folks at the recent Reason for Change conference were treated to a fascinating interview with Richard Dawkins for Point of Inquiry. But if you live in Florida or the DC area, you now have another chance to see Dawkins in person, with your local CFI branch!
In September, Dawkins will release the next part of his memoirs, entitled Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science (a life in science for which he was just honored with CFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award), and will be discussing his book with two CFI branches this October.
On October 10, Dawkins will appear at an event with CFI–Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Coalition of Reason, where he will have a public conversation with Herb Silverman. Before the main event, Dawkins will appear at a VIP reception where each attendee will get an autographed copy of the book. See the full details here. On October 12, Dawkins comes to CFI’s Washington, DC branch for a main event and VIP reception beforehand, complete with signed books. His interviewer for the DC event will be Point of Inquiry’s own Josh Zepps. If you’re going to be close by to either of these events, don’t miss your chance to see Dawkins in person.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● CFI’s Center Stage podcast this week features Ron Lindsay delivering a presentation on “The Necessity of Secularism,” based on his recent book of the same name.
● Public Policy Director Michael De Dora is quoted at length in a Religion News Service piece on ISIS and whether its atrocities should be considered genocide.
● Bill Cooke, CFI’s director of international programs, witnesses the economic tumult in Greece over extreme austerity measures and notices one institution that seems to be feeling no pain: the Greek Orthodox Church.
● CFI–UK’s Stephen Law posts a kind of screenplay for an unproduced animated piece about thinking machines.
● Harriet Hall takes a critical look at a book claiming to take on the “myth” of safe pesticides, reminding us, “There is a danger to invoking the precautionary principle before ensuring that the alternatives are not worse.”
● Stuart Vyse at Skeptical Inquirer examines the claims of Lumosity, “the market leader in this brain training stampede,” and similar products, writing, “It is hard to think of a more dramatic case of contemporary pseudoscience than the brain training industry.”
● Along similar lines, CFI’s David Koepsell uses the hype over “EM-drives” to raise flags about pseudoscience and wishful thinking.
● Mark Aaron Alsip in Skeptical Inquirer takes on the many, many hypocrisies of “Food Babe” Vani Hari.
● Ben Radford, an expert on mysteries in New Mexico, eagerly reviews a book about, well, mysteries in New Mexico, and in some sections finds “errors on nearly every page.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Celebrate the birthday of Robert Green Ingersoll with an Inger-Hike with CFI–Western New York, along with picnicking and kayaking.
● G.K. Noyer presents on Voltaire and his role in establishing ideas of religious liberty, with CFI–Michigan in Lansing.
● Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State comes to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss his new book critiquing the religious right, God and Government: 25 Years of Fighting for Equality, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience.
● CFI–Michigan presents G.K. Noyer on Voltaire in Farmington Hills.
● The Indiana Fringe Festival features an original play by CFI–Indiana Advisory Board Member Matt Barron, I’m Not Gay, the romantic story of a conservative, anti-gay Senator, his loving wife, and his boyfriend.
● CFI–Michigan takes part in a blood drive at the American Red Cross as part of its Secular Service programming.
● Seth Andrews and Matt Dillahunty visit CFI–Austin for “an unholy event.”
● Robin Krieglstein of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab presents “Psychological Design: From Irrational Individuals to a Rational Society” with CFI–Austin.
● Constitutional law professor Dan Ray and Freethought Blogs founder (who recently moved to Patheos) Ed Brayton discuss the 2015 Supreme Court term at CFI–Michigan.
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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.