Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 39

September 4, 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

04_RG copy.jpgCFI Honorary Board Member Goldstein to Be Given National Humanities Medal

This week we were greeted with the wonderful news that philosopher and author Rebecca Newberger Goldstein will be given the National Humanities Medal in a ceremony with the president at the White House on September 10. Goldstein is an honorary member of CFI’s Board of Directors (along with Lawrence Krauss and Susan Jacoby), and recently headlined the Reason for Change conference in Buffalo. Goldstein is a humanist, and this marks the first time that, by all accounts, this award has been bestowed upon someone who identifies as humanist. In our official statement congratulating her, CFI President and CEO Ron Lindsay said, “Few writers are as gifted as Rebecca Goldstein is in fiction, or as insightful as she is in nonfiction. Her wide-ranging body of work is philosophically compelling, richly rewarding, and deeply humane, engaging both our intellect and our emotions, and in the process making us laugh, cry, sigh ... and think.” We will be cheering her on as she receives her medal from President Obama next week!


cfi pakistan banner 170.jpgWelcome to the Community, CFI–Pakistan

This week, we were delighted to announce the founding of a CFI branch that some of us thought couldn’t happen: CFI–Pakistan. With Centers for Inquiry in countries around the world, including Kenya, Canada, China, Poland, the United Kingdom, and Uganda, this latest outpost marks a real milestone for global freethought and is a true act of courage on the part of its founder, Emanuel Enoch (a pseudonym, for obvious safety reasons). Pakistan can be an extremely hostile place for secularists, and indeed for anyone who does not subscribe to the majority faith, and it has been gravely dangerous for those who exercise their right to free expression and dissent. This is why we’re so excited about CFI–Pakistan, which represents a chance to infuse reason and critical thinking in a country beset by theocracy and superstition. 

With big ambitions for the future, we can’t wait to see how Emanuel and CFI–Pakistan carry out our shared mission. They have our support and our best hopes for their safety and success.


Dardis with winning check & Jim #1- Cafe -8-26-15 (1).JPG‘No God But Funny’ Contest Winners Announced!

Earlier this year, CFI partnered with the Freedom from Religion Foundation to sponsor the No God But Funny contest, headed by Pamela Koslyn, where we asked talented freethinkers to create a sitcom featuring a likable atheist lead character, as a means to begin to undo the stereotypes of nonbelievers in popular entertainment as grouchy, amoral, or hopelessly lost. On August 24, we officially announced the winners, and they’re really great!

The winners in the category for best TV pilot script for a prize of $15,000 were Rachel Lewis and Daniel Beecher of Salt Lake City for Thank God I’m an Atheist, where two young atheists in love, Holly and Matt, are about to be married but have to contend with Holly’s devoutly Mormon parents, who have very different plans for them. And in the category of best fully produced “webisode,” for a prize of $25,000, was John Dardis of Los Angeles for Earth Angel, a documentary-style story of a witty young woman named Angel who, on her eighteenth birthday (which is also Christmas Day, of course) must find a way to come out as an atheist to her quirky and very religious family. Hemant Mehta declared that he would gladly binge-watch a full season of this show. 

On August 26, CFI–Los Angeles presented a screening of Earth Angel, and John Dardis received his $25,000 award check from Jim Underdown and took part in a Q&A session. 

Congratulations to all our winners!


si deadalus.pngSolving Sea Serpent Secrets in Skeptical Inquirer

For generations, the mystery of the “sea serpent” witnessed by the captain of the HMS Daedalus in 1848 remained unsolved. But in the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer, new evidence points to a definitive answer: No monster or dinosaur, but a particular kind of surface-skimming whale. Evolutionary biologist Gary J. Galbreath brings to bear all that we now know about marine life, along with eyewitness accounts and drawings recently unearthed. What he finds is that the crew almost certainly saw a sei baleen whale. 

Also in the September/October 2015 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, we have skeptics’ takes on the pope’s climate change encyclical, the false “maverick-rebel” mantle often sported by the purveyors of pseudoscience, and a look at the long-term mission of CFI from Ron Lindsay. Look for it on newsstands, or subscribe in print and on the major mobile app platforms!


News from HQ and the CFI Community

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 11.28.07 AM.pngBringing Secularism and Skepticism to Religion Reporters in Philadelphia

Last weekend, CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo represented the organization at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Philadelphia. The RNA conference is an annual meeting of journalists whose reporting and analysis focus on religion, faith, and values, as well as exhibitors from groups seeking to build connections with those journalists. The event this year was heavily focused on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church, due to the pope’s coming visit to the U.S. (Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York) this month, and included new findings from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life on the current state of Catholicism in the U.S. (Among their findings, 77% of former Catholics who were raised in the faith say they do not believe they will ever return to the Church.) Journalists such as the New York TimesLaurie Goodstein, Religion News Service’s David Gibson, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Peter Smith won first-place awards for their work. 

Paul says that the event was remarkably productive and enlightening for him, as he established new connections and built on existing ones, and noted the unexpected areas of agreement and overlap with journalists and exhibitors from all manner of faith perspectives. 


Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 11.30.39 AM.pngEugenie Scott on Point of Inquiry; Plus Katrina Ten Years Later 

If you’re a fan of Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast, you probably already know and love Eugenie Scott. Our special guest on the show last week, Scott had a lively and illuminating conversation with host Lindsay Beyerstein on a range of subjects from the appeal of cryptozoology (things like Bigfoot and Loch Ness monsters), the implausibility of human-alien hybrids, and anthropological views on race. Be sure to check out this truly delightful episode.

On a more grave note, Point of Inquiry marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with a conversation with the New York TimesGary Rivlin. He and host Josh Zepps take a hard look at the real cause of what is often called a “man-made disaster” in New Orleans, and why the city has still so far to go to recover from the disaster. It’s a conversation that upends many of the myths about the chaos that ensued both before and after the storm.


y450-293.pngDawkins 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 InquiryBut 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.


CFI in the Media and on the Web


●   In Skeptical Inquirer, Stephanie Savage recounts her experiences, real and imagined, of falling into a coma for six weeks. While her brain was remarkably resilient, her near-death experience was sans-afterlife. Also, CFI–DC’s Simon Davis interviews Savage about her experience for VICE.

●   Tamar Wilner posts a special web article that has proven to be quite popular and useful, a review of online tools for skeptical activism.

●   David Koepsell considers the various political strains of thought within humanism, where left-liberalism is strongly represented but does not hold a monopoly.

●   Ben Radford explores the “filedrawer effect,” in which researchers ignore or omit information that doesn’t support an expected outcome, and how it relates to the unreliability of eyewitness reports. 

●   Ben also tries to make headway with someone who seems to really believe they have “dowsing” powers and looks at recent attempts to search for Bigfoot using satellites

●   In Skeptical Briefs, Joe Nickell takes a look at the pseudo-medical phenomenon of “bitters,” which he calls “a window into an earlier era of quackery.” 

●   CFI’s Michael De Dora offers commentary in a Voice of America piece on the flight of Bangladesh’s secular bloggers from danger.

●   Aaron Bayes of the Fraser Valley Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists recounts his experiences at July’s CFI Leadership Conference, calling it “an event that has had a very positive and lasting effect on me.”

And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.


Upcoming CFI Events


September 6:

●   Filmmaker Monica Richardson presents her documentary The 13th Step followed by a Q&A, at CFI–Los Angeles

September 9:

●   Earle Canfield brings a humanist perspective to the massive project of third-world development in a presentation for CFI–Michigan.

September 12:

●   CFI–Tampa Bay takes part in the Tampa Bay Skeptics triennial meeting.

September 15:

●   Randall J. Roper visits with CFI–Indiana to discuss Down Syndrome and the progress toward treatment.

September 16:

●   TED Fellow Lucianne Walkowicz speaks to CFI–Indiana about the virtues of getting outdoors and exploring to better understand why we need to protect the natural environment. 

September 20:

●   The documentary Merchants of Doubt is screened at CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County, joined by the coauthor of the book that inspired the film, Erik M. Conway.

September 23:

●   Musician and comedian Roy Zimmerman performs his The Faucet’s On Fire! show for CFI–Indiana.

●   Tony Ortega, author of The Unbreakable Miss Lovely and editor of Raw Story, speaks to CFI–Northeast Ohio.

September 24:

●   Wissam Charafeddine, founder of the Muslimish Support Network, speaks to CFI–Michigan about “the curse of blasphemy in Islam.”

September 27:

●   Donna Smith of Compassion & Choices in DC and Maryland comes to CFI–DC to discuss death with dignity legislation. 

September 30:

●   Rap artist Baba Brinkman performs at CFI–Los Angeles his “Rap Guide to Religion.”


Thank you!

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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