Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 44

November 13, 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

ron uniformsa copy.pngRon Lindsay Visits CFI–Kenya

This week, CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay visited one of the most active and impactful of CFI’s many branches, though he had to fly over an ocean and avoid a curious warthog in order to get there. We’re talking about CFI–Kenya, a shining light for humanism and reason and a real point of pride for CFI’s international programs. This week, he helped officially launch their Humanist Orphans Center and spoke to the center’s students and a local campus freethought group about CFI’s mission and the importance of skepticism and critical thinking. 

George Ongere, CFI–Kenya’s executive director, has done an excellent job keeping us up to date on the group’s activities, and his reports are always inspiring. But they also remind us of the very different challenges humanists face in Kenya and other African countries, as opposed to what we generally confront here in the United States. One primary focus of CFI–Kenya is the problem of children being accused of witchcraft, originating from both long-held superstitions as well as a desire to avoid responsibility for unwanted children. This is why they launched the Humanist Orphans Project, an effort to educate, clothe, and protect these children. CFI–Kenya passed a major milestone this summer when they won official governmental certification, a credential which normally requires an organization to profess some sort of belief in “the supremacy of God.” 

In his report on Ron’s visit, George was especially encouraged to hear firsthand from Ron that CFI is committed to supporting their work and the work of other international CFI branches.

While visiting our Kenyan branch, Ron had limited access to the Internet, but he was able to tweet some photos (including the aforementioned warthog), and offer some of his thoughts. He noted how grateful the volunteers and the students were for the financial support provided by CFI–Transnational and correctly observed that “[Their] facility may be one of the smallest ones to bear the CFI logo, but its impact is huge.” And that it is.


Faisal-Arefin-Dipon.jpgPublisher Becomes Fifth Victim of Islamist Attacks on Secularists in Bangladesh

Two weeks ago, Islamist radicals in Bangladesh hacked to death their fifth victim this year in their campaign of terror against those promoting secularism and critiquing fundamentalist religion. Only this time, the man they killed was not himself a secularist writer. Faisal Arefin Deepan was a publisher of books that included the works of Avijit Roy, a friend and ally of CFI, and the first person murdered this year. Deepan was attacked in his office by assailants with machetes, as has happened now several times before. In a separate attack the same day at another publishing house three others were wounded.

Our official response to this latest attack reflects our very real exasperation. We called upon Bangladeshi authorities to, of course, do more to stop these attacks and to protect those who are known to be targeted. Michael De Dora asked in our statement, “How many more of the country’s bravest and brightest lights must be stamped out before the government takes definitive action to protect freedom of expression and the lives of brilliant writers, scholars, and activists?”

Michael was a guest on an excellent HuffPost Live panel of experts to discuss the emergency situation faced by freethinkers in Bangladesh, and Religion News Service published an op-ed by CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo, which calls upon U.S. religious organizations who claim to be concerned about threats to religious freedom to use their influence to have an impact here. Several other news outlets are taking note of this crisis gone wholly out of control, with publications such as Time, NPR, and the Dhaka Tribune noting our efforts. 

CFI has much more in store to address this unacceptable state of affairs in Bangladesh, and despite how hopeless it can sometimes seem, we will continue to do all we can to push for change and protect those whose lives are in danger for speaking their minds. You can help too by giving to the Freethought Emergency Fund


Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 10.33.11 AM.pngFree Inquiry Critiques a Changing Catholic Church

In the midst of scandals, challenges to its authority, and with a Pope that is a kind of international celebrity, the Catholic Church is struggling to remain influential and relevant in a rapidly changing world. The latest issue of Free Inquiry takes a critical look at the Church’s progress, in terms of climate change acceptance and environmentalism, as well as its stubborn regressions as a “moral authority,” with thought-provoking pieces from ethicist Daniel C. Maguire, religion scholar Leah Mickens, and World Bank economist Hector F. Sierra

The December 2015/January 2016 issue also features the last editorial by Ronald A. Lindsay as president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. In his final column, Ron chooses to focus on the subject of hope, contrasting the religious view that hope can only be found when we “turn our gaze upward” with the secular humanist view that encourages human beings to create the conditions for hope themselves, “a hope that is not based on fantasy but on the solid ground of human determination and achievement.”

Free Inquiry is available on newsstands; to subscribe, visit


News from HQ and the CFI Community

20151028_185659.jpgCarl Sagan Celebrated by CFI Communities

The CFI community has always had a special connection to the late astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan. He was among the original fellows of what was then CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which today is CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and he worked with us throughout his life. We are honored that Ann Druyan, his brilliantly accomplished wife, collaborator, and the cocreator of both incarnations of the Cosmos TV series, continues to work with us as a fellow on behalf of our mission. 

Sagan and his legacy continuously inspire us and our work, and CFI communities celebrate that fact every year on the occasion of Dr. Sagan’s birthday, November 9, for what we call Carl Sagan Day. 

This year was no different. Here are some highlights:


  • Over 60 people, including 20 children ages 5-15, had a great time learning about inertia, gravity, friction, and physics at CFI-Michigan’s Science Magic event celebrating Carl Sagan Day in Grand Rapids on Wednesday. “Purrfessor Science,” aka local astronomy and science educator Gary Tomlinson (pictured left), taught attendees a slew of really fun science “tricks” with balloons, buckets, and dishes (unbroken). Assistant Director Jennifer Beahan told us, “A lot of fun was had by everyone getting to try out the experiments, but the best part was the grand finale: a homemade hovercraft created out of a vacuum cleaner, wood and plastic!” Sounds amazing.
  • CFI–Pittsburgh hosted an address from Dr. Arthur Kosowski, professor of physics and Astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh, on evidence for the big bang, and some cosmic birthday cake was enjoyed.
  • CFI–Austin threw a pizza party, followed by a Sagan/astronomy trivia contest. Branch leader Steve Bratteng tells us: “We ran out of pizza, but we had lots of desserts.” Good thing.
  • Speaking of desserts, CFI–Indiana held a screening of several episodes of the original Cosmos series and of course served apple pie. (Which, as you know, requires the creation of the Universe.)
  • CFI–Toronto held an impromptu screening of Carl Sagan-themed documentaries and broadened their discussions to other topics such as the attacks of writers in Bangladesh. CFI–Halifax will host its own Carl Sagan dinner on November 23.
  • The Sagan Day festivities for CFI–Fort Lauderdale will take place this Saturday, with a daylong celebration featuring James Randi, science educator Alan Leipzig, and pianist and composer Bruce Lazarus. It’s quite a lineup, and the event will also include things like stargazing, rocket building, face painting, and even a robotics demonstration!

And online, Skeptical Inquirer marked the day with a special collection of articles both by and about Dr. Sagan. Read, enjoy, and join us in remembering this candle in the dark.


Sxxxcreen Shot 2015-10-16 at 12.07.27 PM.png“X-Phi” Conference Will Go to the Cutting Edge of Philosophy

Starting this weekend, the CFI Institute will host a truly unique conference, a weekend symposium on the topic of experimental philosophy, or “x-phi,” which is way more fun to say. In x-phi, data is gathered from surveys and questionnaires to inform philosophical inquiry into things such as free will, relativism, consciousness, morality, and other issues. Learn more about what it’s all about in this blog post by CFI Education Director David Koepsell.

Tonight and tomorrow, CFI–Transnational in Amherst, New York, will host “X-Phi: How Can We Use Science To Study Philosophical Questions?”—featuring lectures and workshops from some of today’s leaders in x-phi, exploring both the promise and shortcomings of this growing field. Speakers include Joshua Knobe of Yale University, James Beebe of the University at Buffalo, and Wesley Buckwalter of the University of Waterloo.

More details and registration information are available here.


rose2.jpgPoint of Inquiry Conjures Houdini’s Assistant + Explores a Drug War in Flux

As a special treat for Halloween, world-famous investigator Joe Nickell sat down with Point of Inquiry’s producer Nora Hurley for CFI’s annual Houdini séance. But Joe put a new spin on things this year, since Harry Houdini himself has been so reticent to contact us from the great beyond. This year, Joe and Nora also try to contact Houdini’s longtime undercover assistant Rose Mackenberg, the woman who truly enabled the exposing of frauds that Houdini championed. You’ll have to listen to the show to find out how it all went. 

On a completely different note, Point of Inquiry examines the latest developments in the drug war, specifically the new ruling from the Mexico Supreme Court that upheld a private group’s right to use marijuana. Josh Zepps talks to intelligence analyst Sylvia Longmire about what this news means and what might be the repercussions of Mexican drug legalization on cartels and drug policies in the United States.


CFI in the Media and on the Web


● BuzzFeed covers the FDA’s newfound scrutiny of homeopathic products with a substantive piece by Dan Vergano, which includes insight from our own Michael De Dora.

● Newsweek’s cover story this week is about the CIA and its alleged dabbling in experiments with psychics, which features some history of CSICOP, now CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

● At the Course of Reason blog, Florida State University student Sam Farooqui wisely distinguishes between fluency in science and inclusion in the freethought community and how the latter should not require the former.

● Carrie Poppy endures more suffering for the cause of skepticism, this time by ingesting something called “GorgeousPil,” which is not a pill but a revolting concoction marketed to make one more radiantly attractive. Be sure to see the accompanying video where Carrie actually consumes the thing.

● Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier‘s full report on this past summer’s Reason for Change conference is now available online, where he calls it “a stimulating conference that took us back to the founding roots of the modern skeptical movement.” 

● Ben Radford answers a sixth grader’s inquiry about the existence of dragons. While explaining the lack of evidence for them, he admits he would never mess with a red dragon. 

● Lifting the lid on an oft-opened can of worms, Stephen Law ponders the utility of “armchair philosophy when it comes to “revealing the fundamental nature of reality.”

● Rebecca Watson considers whether cats really have it in for us and notes that “it may very well be true that cats have never been truly domesticated.” But yet they still lick our faces sometimes.

● William M. London at the Skeptical Inquirer website exposes the “biologically implausible teachings” of the “toxin”-obsessed alt-med outfit, the Cancer Control Society. 

● Sadri Hassani deconstructs the foggy pseudoscientific claims of so-called “post-materialist” science for Skeptical Inquirer.

● CFI’s Paul Fidalgo performs international-correspondent duties for the AtheistAus Podcast.

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


Upcoming CFI Events


November 13 & 14:

●   X-Phi conference at CFI-Western New York (see news item above).

November 14:

●   CFI–Fort Lauderdale’s Carl Sagan Day celebration.

November 15

●   Freedom from Religion Foundation co-president Dan Barker speaks at CFI–Indiana.

●   SETI’s Jill Tarter (who was an inspiration for the main character in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact) visits CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County to discuss the potential for studying extraterrestrial biology.

November 16:

●   Historian Alberto Martinez talks to CFI–Austin about Giordano Bruno and the Inquisition.

November 21:

●   Skeptical Inquirer’s “Conspiracy Guy” Bob Blaskiewicz talks to CFI–Austin about efforts to stop Texas “cancer quack” Stanislaw Burzynski. 

December 6:

●   CFI–Los Angeles hosts a screening of Earth Angel and a staged reading of the sitcom script Thank God I’m an Atheist, the two winners of the No God But Funny contest.


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