Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 51

March 11, 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

CdRPCGvWoAAvof2.jpgBuilding Bridges at the UN Human Rights Council

This week, Michael De Dora, CFI’s public policy director and UN Representative, has been in Geneva at the 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council, working to advance CFI’s mission at the international level, defending and advancing free expression and freedom of belief. 

Fortunately, CFI has friends and allies in that fight. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt (in the image at left with Michael), said at a presentation before the Council that the freedoms of expression and belief are “twin rights,” pushing back against the idea that free expression somehow infringes on religious rights—an idea that is used to support blasphemy laws and other restrictions. Michael applauded this idea in his own address to the Council, saying, “The same set of rights which protects the atheist who wishes to live free of religion and criticize theological propositions, also protects the Muslim who seeks to live devoutly and pray in peace,” but also noting that interfaith efforts to support the rights of religious minorities must also include nonreligious minorities. 

Michael also held a joint event with allies from the International Humanist and Ethical Union on the subject of “Where Politics & Religion Meet,” cosponsored by Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, featuring Bielefeldt along with humanist activist Leo Igwe and MPV’s Ani Zonneveld and chaired by IHEU’s Elizabeth O’Casey.

According to Michael, discussion at the well-attended event focused on whether secularism is the best way to protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief, what form secularism should take, and whether the Human Rights Council should take an explicit position on the issue. Topics covered in this framework included the plight of secularist bloggers in Bangladesh, the struggle for progressivism in Islamic nations such as Tunisia and Malaysia, the impact of religiously based laws on the people of Nigeria, and much more.

Stay tuned, because there will be more to share from Michael and his experiences at this session of the UN Human Rights Council.


march_for_life-620x412.jpgCFI Salon Op-Ed Takes on Anti-Abortion Pseudoscience

The Supreme Court heard arguments last week in the landmark abortion rights case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which could determine whether or not women in Texas have access to abortion services—a guaranteed constitutional right—or whether mass closings of clinics will cut off women’s access almost entirely. At the center of it all is the dubious claim by the state that onerous restrictions on clinics will make abortions safer for women, and those claims are being supported not by facts and evidence but by carefully coordinated pseudoscience dressed up to look like the real thing. 

That’s why in January CFI partnered with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science (which will soon be formally merged with CFI) to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court, pointing out that the alleged expert testimony brought by the state is coordinated primarily by one man, Vincent Rue, a man with no medical credentials and who is known to have been the source of manufactured, ideology-driven testimony with no scientific backing. The CFI/RDFRS brief was cosigned by luminaries such as psychologist Steven Pinker, anthropologist Eugenie Scott, physicist Lawrence Krauss, social psychologist Carol Tavris, astrophysicist Jill Tarter, and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

A brighter spotlight has now been shined on the behind-the-scenes machinations of Rue, for on the day of oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Salon published an eye-opening op-ed by CFI’s vice president and general counsel, Nick Little. In his piece, Nick writes:

Vincent Rue is not a medical doctor, but, through surrogates, he has tried to play one in court. And in this role of a lifetime, he has masterminded the dissemination of pseudoscientific testimony in several state court cases—all in an effort to defeat women’s right to an abortion. His act is about to be reviewed by his most important audience yet—the United States Supreme Court.

Nick explains that Rue’s “laundering” of unscientific misinformation to advance the anti-abortion agenda points to an issue that goes beyond this single case—that of the veracity of scientific testimony:

Though rarely scientists, judges are frequently tasked with making decisions that are based on scientific facts. To uphold our foundational rights, judges must be able to rely on the accuracy of testimony from genuine experts in the relevant scientific fields. In Texas, as well as in other abortion restriction cases, fictions were presented as facts. But this is no stage play, and the audience, our Supreme Court, must not be fooled by this masquerade. There’s too much at stake.

Read Nick’s op-ed at Salon, and see the full CFI/RDFRS brief


Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.28.26 PM.pngSecularism Experts Look at What’s Next for “Nones” in Free Inquiry

For several years now, surveys of Americans’ religious identification have brought good news for the nonreligious. Last year, the religiously unaffiliated—or “Nones” as they are popularly known—overtook Catholics in the U.S. to become the country’s second-largest group at almost 23 percent, and with even greater percentages among the young. While swelling ranks are one thing, what to do with them is quite another. In the latest issue of Free Inquiry, some of the foremost experts in the sociological study of secularism tackle a question that the nonreligious now have the luxury to ask: “Now what?”

Barry Kosmin, a member of CFI’s board of directors and one of the originators of the term Nones, looks to the religious right as an example the secular movement can follow if it seeks to become a genuine political force; Juhem Navarro-Rivera recommends a concerted effort to reach beyond atheism’s typically white-male demographic; Christel J. Manning considers secular parents’ role in fostering nonbelief in children versus taking a hands-off approach to religion; Ryan T. Cragun recommends an emphasis on positive modernization to encourage secularism rather than focus on something to oppose. And Phil Zuckerman, a pioneer of secular studies, looks toward a future where secularization leads to increasing respect for reason, tolerance, and human rights.

And that’s not all, of course. This issue also features the first editorial from Robyn Blumner, CFI’s new CEO, discussing the enormous potential of the Openly Secular campaign; Ophelia Benson brings her trademark wit to expose the grim hypocrisies of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, comparing the brutality of the kingdom to that of the Islamic State; and Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn unloads on the book The Evolution of Atheism by Stephen LeDrew, calling it “marred by significant historical, analytic, and conceptual errors”—particularly its errors in regard to the history and mission of CFI.

Look for the April/May 2016 issue of Free Inquiry on newsstands, or visit


News from HQ and the CFI Community

IMG_20160210_123458176.jpgCFI Branches Empower Secular Citizens at Civic Events

While CFI’s advocacy work at the UN and in Washington are critical, it’s important to remember the importance of political and civic action at the grassroots. Especially at a time when many state and local governments are pushing hard to knock down the wall of separation between church and state or abandoning science and reason for policies based on religious ideology or pseudoscience. From reproductive rights to public prayer, from the right to be free from discrimination to autonomy at the end of life, the states are where so much of the policy action takes place.

That’s why it’s so important to inspire the grassroots community to take action on policy and to train them to better understand how to navigate and influence the legislative process.

Hearty congratulations, then, to the CFI branches in Indiana and Northeast Ohio, which last month held major civic events for their communities. CFI–Indiana held its 5th annual Civic Day on February 20, where seventy-five attendees joined representatives from the state’s top advocacy organizations—including Americans United for Church and State, Planned Parenthood, Common Cause, and others—for presentations and roundtable discussions. 

CFI–Northeast Ohio held its Secular Summit 4.0 on February 10, where attendees were brought up to speed on the big issues working their way through Ohio’s legislature. State Senator Michael Skindell discussed the secular celebrant bill he introduced with CFI–Northeast Ohio’s backing, and CFI’s Michael De Dora gave a workshop on lobbying. Then that training was put to work as attendees met with their representatives, looking for potential sponsors for bills supported by our community.


Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 12.16.25 PM.pngReason Rally 2016: A “Voting Bloc Party” with Star-Power

The 2016 Reason Rally is going to feature not only some of the brightest lights in science and secularism but also some major names from Hollywood and music. Confirmed speakers include superstar Johnny Depp, planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, Star Trek’s and Breaking Bad’s John de Lancie, comedian Margaret Cho, “Science Guy” Bill Nye, rapper Killah Priest, human rights defender Maryam Namazie, skeptic icon James Randi, Mexican diplomat Andrés Roemer, and many more. 

The Rally is being described as “a Voting Bloc Party to celebrate both the growing number of ‘nones’ and their willingness to speak up for reason, with entertainers … joining scientists … in a four-day extravaganza of lobbying, comedy, music, and serious discussion about how to impact this election.” The big event will take place June 4, 2016, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, and 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. 

Reason Rally 2016 will be free to attend, with paid ticketed events beyond the June 4 main rally on the Mall and a variety of activities taking place over several days from Thursday, June 2, through Sunday, June 5. Keep your eye on for all the details—and if you really want to be involved, sign up to volunteer!


asdf.pngDon’t Be Fooled, Check Out Point of Inquiry

On the latest episodes of CFI’s Point of Inquiry, two journalists reveal in very different ways how even the smartest among us can allow ourselves to buy into stereotypes or be tricked into trusting those with nefarious intentions. 

This week, co-host Lindsay Beyerstein welcomed New Yorker contributor Maria Konnikova, author of the new book, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for it Every Time. Konnikova exposes some of the tricks of the con artist trade, explaining how even those who consider themselves savvy and sophisticated can be gamed by fraudsters, and delves into what motivates con artists to go to such lengths to fool us.

Meanwhile, Jessica Davey-Quantick joins co-host Josh Zepps for a conversation that explodes some misconceptions about the culture and restrictiveness of the Islamic Gulf States. A former reporter and editor for Qatar Happening and Time Out Doha, Davey-Quantick experienced firsthand both draconian censorship and flagrant decadence (for those who could afford it), all dependent upon one’s gender, wealth, and even specific geographic location. (Can’t have fun in Saudi Arabia? Try a fun weekend in Bahrain!)


Ruiz autographing.JPGHistorian Discusses Renaissance Witch Hunts at CFI–L.A.

In a March 6 presentation at CFI–Los Angeles, distinguished UCLA professor of history Teo Ruiz told a packed house how in early modern Europe, 100,000 people—mostly elderly women—were burned at the stake or hanged as alleged witches in alliance with Satan to destroy Christian society.

Prof. Ruiz, who received a National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2012, told the audience that these so-called “witches” became scapegoats during Europe’s most productive period in cultural and scientific achievements as even scholars created a discourse of persecution and fear-mongering among the people. Following his talk, attendees bought copies of Ruiz’s book, The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization, which he signed before joining some for lunch and more conversation.


Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media


● Ron Lindsay watches the GOP presidential debates in dismay, as moderators and candidates alike asserted the absurd claim that Christians’ religious liberty is somehow under attack in America, and writes in the Huffington Post that they are missing the real threats to religious freedom—mortal threats—in places such as Bangladesh and at the hands of ISIS.

● CFI–UK’s Stephen Law offers up a brand new, free audiobook of his satirical take on C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, with his The Tapescrew Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Guru. Don’t let the embedded gif image frighten you.

● Stephen also challenges believers with his “New Problem of Evil” in the Forum for European Philosophy, asking readers to imagine if they could believe in “a god that is omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-malevolent.”  And at the CFI Free Thinking blog, he considers the dangers of a secular movement that polices itself for prejudice to the point of engaging in “witch hunts.”

● Susan Gerbic bores deeper into the sham of “grief vampires,” so-called psychics and mediums who claim to be able to communicate with the dead and make themselves celebrities as a result. 

● Stuart Vyse at Skeptical Inquirer sticks up for the miserable, surveying recent thinking about the importance of allowing oneself to be sad and the overreliance on happiness.

● David Koepsell advises us to watch out for the “false consensus effect” when staking out positions, especially on social media, saying that relying on the validation of our networks leads to “bad science.”

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


Upcoming CFI Events


March 13:

●   CFI–Indiana will celebrate its ninth anniversary with an ice cream social.   

March 20:

●   Science communicator and blogger Amy Shira Teitel visits CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange Countyto discuss the pre-NASA history and future of spaceflight. 

March 21:

●   Astrophysicist Craig Wheeler visits CFI–Austin to talk about a light topic, the future of humanity.

March 23:

●   CFI–Michigan will learn about new ways of helping the homeless with Audrey Chapman and Danny McGee from the organization Well House. 

Thank you!

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