Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 47
January 8, 2016
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
Scientists and Experts Join CFI in Supreme Court Brief on Texas Abortion Restrictions
This year, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, which will decide the fate of the recent controversial restrictions placed on abortion providers in Texas. Very few clinics are able to meet the onerous requirements set down by the new law, meaning that most providers of abortion services in the state of Texas will have to close, leaving women in Texas with options that are literally few and very far between. Plaintiffs are arguing that this places an undue burden on women’s constitutionally protected right to end a pregnancy.
This week, the Center for Inquiry filed an amicus brief with the court on this case, with the backing of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, as well as over forty eminent scientists and experts, including Steven Pinker, Eugenie Scott, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, James Randi, Carol Tavris, and Jill Tarter, all as cosigners to the brief.
Though CFI is a staunch advocate of women’s abortion rights, the brief doesn’t directly address the legality of abortion but rather focuses on a key evidentiary issue in the case: the court’s inability to carry out its function as a defender of constitutional rights when presented with flawed, misleading, or pseudoscientific evidence. CFI argues that this is exactly what the court will receive from the state of Texas, as its testimony is being coordinated by the widely discredited anti-abortion partisan Vincent Rue. Bearing no relevant medical credentials, Rue has ghostwritten testimony for medical professionals in a number of similar cases, and each time his manufactured evidence has been rejected by the presiding court.
In our brief, CFI strongly urges the court to do so in this case as well. As CFI Legal Director Nicholas Little said in our statement, “This case will affect the medical well-being of millions of women, and it is unthinkable that the Supreme Court of the United States might make such a monumental decision based on such flawed testimony, that offers only misrepresentation and misdirection. … The Court has wisely rejected fabricated, pseudoscientific evidence in previous cases, and we strongly urge the justices to do the same here.”
Free Inquiry Takes on the Problem of Evil
The latest issue of Free Inquiry magazine focuses on what might be the most irksome thorn in the side of religious apologists: theodicy, also known as “the problem of evil.” How can there be a just, all-knowing, all-powerful God who allows the unspeakable suffering, pain, and misery that so many human beings endure? Natural disasters, terrorist atrocities, disease and starvation: How could a good god let this happen?
Free Inquiry brings together some of the leading lights of secular thought to not only refute the common religious arguments around the problem of evil but also to explore from a variety of angles the personal and cultural implications of the total implausibility of such a being. Susan Jacoby writes of the “moral challenge” theodicy presented to nonbelievers to “do right when we are strongly tempted to do wrong.” CFI Chair Edward Tabash tells movingly of his mother’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor and the impact that had on his faith. Anthony Pinn urges nonbelievers to move past theodicy and dive into what he calls “anthropodicy,” a critical look at ourselves, the human species.
And of course, there’s so much more, including pieces from Stephen Law, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, Mandisa Thomas and Ed Buckner, Tom Flynn and Judy Walker, and others. Look for the February/March 2016 issue of Free Inquiry on newsstands, or visit www.secularhumanism.org/fi.
Lindsay v. Scalia on Government’s Privileging of Religion
It is no secret that Justice Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving justice currently on the Supreme Court, is no friend of secularism. During his tenure, he has been a reliable vote for government giving special privileges to religion, from government-sanctioned prayer to giving employers the right to impose their religion on their employees. Earlier this week, Justice Scalia offered a particularly stark statement about his beliefs about the role of religion in the public sphere, saying in a speech to a Catholic school in New Orleans that there is “no place” for the idea that the state should be neutral toward religion and the lack thereof. “Where did that [idea] come from? To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another, but can’t favor religion over non-religion?” This is an argument he’s made before, but Justice Scalia also went on to cite “extraordinary” American victories in wartime as evidence that God has favored the United States when “we have done him honor.”
This spurred CFI President and CEO Ronald Lindsay to compose a response, which was published on Monday at the Huffington Post. “According to Scalia, the government must place its thumb on the scale and promote and advance religion over non-religion,” Ron points out. “So Scalia’s God is not only a God who craves worship, he’s also a God who doesn’t respect freedom of conscience and he wants the government to nudge, if not compel, atheists and agnostics into becoming believers.” Ron explains how attitudes such as Scalia’s have been—and are today in places such as Saudi Arabia—the motivation behind the imprisoning and persecution of nonbelievers and also that the insistence that God must be pandered to in order for humans to thrive dismisses the courage, skill, and determination of those who have achieved great things, and at great cost. Check out Ron’s piece at the Huffington Post.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Celebrating the Solstice with CFI Branches
It’s not a war on Christmas, but it is a celebration of friends, family, and one more trip around the Sun. At CFI branches across the country, communities of freethinkers gathered for Winter Solstice celebrations. Here’s a couple of great examples!
CFI–Northeast Ohio held their Solstice celebration on December 9, taking the opportunity to enjoy conversation, feast on “fine munchies,” and also do some important business, such as electing board members and getting set for their next Ohio Secular Summit!
CFI–Michigan had eighty-five members and friends attend their West Solstice Dinner on Wednesday, December 9th, and forty at their Southeast dinner on Saturday, December 12th, which added up to a 25 percent increase in attendance from last year. They took the opportunity to honor Robert Goodrich, a longtime member and donor, as the 2015 Freethinker of the Year for his ongoing work supporting liberal and secular organizations throughout Michigan and the United States. They also recognized Lukas Schroeder, former CFI intern and volunteer, for his outstanding work over the past year supporting CFI–Michigan’s programming and his tireless assistance in facilitating the success of the 2015 Secular Summer Retreat.
Following the awards, Ed Brayton, Advocacy Chair for the CFI–Michigan Advisory Board and author of the Dispatches from the Culture Wars blog, gave a talk about the fact that the secular movement must go beyond “just being atheists,” and put our humanist values into action to improve the lives of our local and international communities. He commended the work of CFI–Michigan as a prime example of a secular group going above and beyond to help others.
It’s a great message for what can often be an emotionally fraught season for believers and nonbelievers alike. Thanks to all who came out to celebrate the Solstice at CFI branches across the country.
Reason Rally #2 is Coming!
2016 is here, and that means it’s the year of the second Reason Rally! CFI is part of a broad coalition of organizations and individuals working together to make the 2016 Reason Rally an even bigger success than the first, which is a high bar indeed.
The 2016 Reason Rally, taking place June 4, 2016, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, will bring together atheists, humanists, and other members of the reality-based community for a joyous and inclusive celebration of reason, science, and critical thinking.
The rally will feature an array of brilliant speakers and performers, including Cara Santa Maria, Paul Provenza, Richard Dawkins, and many more still to be announced.To help bring Reason Rally 2016 to the next level, the Reason Rally Coalition hired widely respected freethought activist and organizer Lyz Liddell to lead the coalition as its new full-time executive director. You might know Liddell from her years as director of campus organizing at the national Secular Student Alliance, where she won the respect of colleagues, students, and the wider freethought community for her skill and devotion.
Reason Rally 2016 will be free to attend and will extend beyond the June 4th main event on the Mall, with a variety of activities taking place over several days from Thursday, June 2nd, through Sunday, June 5th. Sign up at the Reason Rally website to stay up to date, and stay tuned, because there are a lot of big, exciting announcements ahead.
Floodpath Author Looks Back at the Deadly 1928 Los Angeles Dam Disaster
For the “Feed Your Brain” lecture at CFI–Los Angeles, author and award-winning filmmaker Jon Wilkman gave the first talk on his newly published book exploring the cause of a little-known 1928 dam disaster outside Los Angeles that took the lives of 500 people. Wilkman’s book, Floodpath: The Deadliest Man-Made Disaster of 20th Century America and the Making of Modern Los Angeles, also traces the history of water in Los Angeles and looks at the career of William Mulholland, who designed the dam and has been mythologized in works such as the film Chinatown. The book also serves as a warning about the state of the country’s thousands of other dams. Attendees participated in a Q&A with Wilkman, who signed more than a dozen books afterward.
CFI in the Media and on the Web
● Ron Lindsay joined a HuffPost Live panel hosted by Point of Inquiry’s Josh Zepps, also featuring Hemant Mehta, Annabelle Gurwitch, and Pastor Jonathan D’Elia, all about how secular folks might (or might not) celebrate the Christmas season.
● Newsweek’s Lucy Wescott covers the plight of secularists in Bangladesh, calling 2015 a “deadly year” for them, and notes CFI’s relationship with the year’s first victim, our friend and ally Avijit Roy.
● Carrie Poppy delves into the famous Myers-Briggs personality test for Skeptical Inquirer and finds that while it is not without insights, “it’s an art not a science.”
● Hawker of baseless cancer treatments, Texas physician Stanislaw Burzynski, was back in court, and Robert Blaskiewicz updates us on his exploits as well as the latest attempts to seek justice.
● Joe Nickell reviews the new film Concussion about the scandal of head injuries plaguing the NFL and connects the subject matter to our work as skeptics, saying, “It is reminiscent of earlier instances of science denial.”
● CSI Fellow Mark Boslough takes to the Huffington Post to troll climate change deniers, betting them $25,000 that global warming is real. Certain, of course, that he is correct, he calls his proffered wager “a sucker bet.”
● At Ragan’s PR Daily, Kevin Allen says the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’s efforts (begun by Boslough) to get the AP to stop calling climate-change deniers “skeptics” was “one of the year’s most significant changes in the Associated Press Stylebook.”
● Tamar Wilner uses the Donald Trump political phenomenon as a lens through which to examine how anger and rage helps spread misinformation.
● After an important study showed just how many dangerous ingredients are often found in some traditional Chinese medicine treatments, Kylie Sturgess interviews Dr. Garth Maker about the very real risks involved with traditional Chinese medicine.
● Skeptical Inquirer gets a nod in a CNN piece about mysterious coincidences and why we are so quick to believe there’s something mystical about them.
● Stephen Law dismantles a review in The New Republic of Richard Dawkins’s An Appetite for Wonder, calling the review “embarrassingly awful.” He also posts the audio for an animated short on science and God that he’s collaborating on with Steph Hope.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Grand Valley State University philosophy professor Stephen Rowe speaks to CFI–Michigan about Socrates and the practice of the examined life.
● Bob Ladendorf, the chief operating officer of CFI–Los Angeles (and a big help for getting Cause & Effect made every fortnight) talks about his work doing a “citizen science” research expedition with the Earthwatch Institute at events for CFI–L.A. and CFI–Orange County.
● UT Austin history professor Bruce Hunt speaks to CFI–Austin about Charles Darwin and his views about—and impact on—religion.
● Grand Rapids City Historian Emeritus Gordon Olson speaks to CFI–Michigan about the centuries of immigrants to Michigan and what enormous challenges they had to overcome.
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.