Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 54

April 22, 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

Nazimuddin-Samad.jpgCFI Blasts Bangladesh’s Shameful Response to Secularist Murders for CNN

The murder of secularists by Islamic extremists is an ongoing emergency in Bangladesh, one that the country’s government needs badly to address. Shamefully, what was once a mere tepid response to the killings has grown to outright hostility—not toward the killers, but toward the victims. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has condemned atheist writers for their “filthy words” and said that if their writings put them in danger, “the government wouldn’t take the responsibility.” After the latest killing, that of law student Nazimuddin Samad, Bangladesh’s Home Minister said that bloggers “should control their writing,” not hurt anyone’s religious feelings, and that part of the investigation into Samad’s murder would be “to see whether he has written anything objectionable in his blogs.”

This week, CNN published an op-ed by CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo and Public Policy Director Michael De Dora shining a light on the Bangladesh government’s appalling response to these murders. “One would expect in a civilized world to see the government stand up for the rights of its people and unify the country against this kind of violence based on religion,” they write. “But that’s not what has happened.” 

They point out Bangladesh’s obligations to international human rights agreements and the freedoms guaranteed in its own constitution, none of which are being honored by its condemnation of the victims. Paul and Michael write, “By reprimanding the victims of these attacks, and doing little to bring the killers to justice, the Bangladesh government is abandoning its commitments and implicitly encouraging the killings to continue.” 

You can read the entire piece at


shshe_006 copy.jpgY. Sherry Sheng Joins CFI Board

This week, the Center for Inquiry welcomed on to its board of directors Y. Sherry Sheng, a veteran advocate and activist for environmental preservation, sustainability, and strong communities. Sheng brings to CFI decades of experience in rejuvenating organizations to perform and building strong coalitions in support of important causes.

Sheng joins the CFI board at a most opportune moment, as the merger with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science is in progress and CFI expands its reach and visibility. She comes to CFI with the wisdom gained from her time as a naturalist, educator, policy expert, and organizational leader. (And she may be the first CFI board member to ever boast the official title of “Master Gardener,” as she does at Oregon State University.) 

“I see myself as an advocate for my causes—ranging from habitat and species conservation to community development,” said Sheng in CFI’s official announcement. “Although the audiences have varied from role to role, be they the general public, policy makers, or donors, the central part of my job has always been enlisting support for meaningful change.”

Everyone at CFI is proud to have her bring her leadership and insights to our mission.


CgVcFEtWIAE_T-s.jpgWu-Tang Members Make for a Musical Reason Rally 2016

Taking the stage at the 2016 Reason Rally will be an incredible roster of entertainers, activists, and scientists, all there to speak up for reason and nonreligious Americans. This week it was announced that this already impressive lineup will now include a mainstage performance from members of Wu-Tang Clan: GZA, Method Man, Cappadonna, and Raekwon. Wu-Tang affiliate member Killah Priest will also be at the rally, as previously announced.

For a rally that is largely focused on showcasing the power of the nonreligious demographic and advocacy for science and reason-based decision making, this will be quite a musical event. Also performing at the Reason Rally will be singer-songwriter Shelley Segal, fifteen-year-old songwriter Sophia Kameron, Beatles cover band the Fab Four, and the DC Gay Men’s Chorus.

With speakers ranging from Johnny Depp and Amber Heard to Caroline Porco and Bill Nye, it’s going to be quite an event. And of course, the Center for Inquiry, as a major sponsor, will be in the middle of it all, meeting as many attendees as possible. Go to right now to get all the details and plan your trip.


6ZKk72hl.jpgWomen in Secularism 4 Is Coming in September!

Few events in the freethought world have sparked as much conversation, debate, and inspiration as CFI’s Women in Secularism conferences. It’s been almost two years since the third such conference, and the time has come to reconvene on this pivotal topic. 

Women in Secularism 4 will be taking place September 23–25 in Arlington, VA, and there is a lot to talk about: The intrusion of religion into women’s lives in the U.S., including how it prevents access to abortion and contraception; violence against women around the world who are religious dissidents or who refuse to let dogma relegate them to second-class status; the role of “safe spaces” within a movement that champions free expression; and so much more.

Appearing at the fourth Women in Secularism conference are such brilliant speakers as Rebecca Goldstein, Julia Sweeney, Bonya Rafida Ahmed, Melanie Brewster, Wendy Kaminer, Kavin Senapathy, and many more. 

So don’t wait. Register for this highly anticipated conference now.


News from HQ and the CFI Community

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 11.48.59 AM.pngDr. Banjo Is Openly Secular, Tells Nonbelievers to Be True to Themselves

Openly Secular, which seeks to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance of atheists and other nonreligious people, got some twangy, bluegrass accompaniment this week, as musician Pete Wernick, aka “Dr. Banjo,” joined the campaign. In a new video, Wernick tells his personal story of losing his faith and the conflicts he’s faced as a nonbeliever working alongside musicians in a genre with many devout believers. 

Wernick tells of when he survived a terrible plane crash in 1989, which some people ascribed to God’s intervention, which “didn’t wash very well” with him, considering how many innocent people were not saved by God that day. 

Wernick encourages fellow nonbelievers to be open about who they are even when it’s tough. “Whatever risk is involved, sharing something that’s true about yourself is at least an honest act that can bring you closer to others.”


Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 12.05.14 PM.pngFalse Cures, Big and Small, on Point of Inquiry

Combating disease and regulating medical treatments are incredibly complex and thorny issues, and on the latest episodes of Point of Inquiry, two journalists discuss what can happen when science and reason are abandoned, either by a single rogue doctor, or by an entire law enforcement apparatus.

Those who have been around the skeptic community for a while will know the name of Stanislaw Burzynski, the Texas physician who has evaded regulation and censure as he dispenses false hope to the terminally ill through his baseless cancer treatments. Science journalist Tamar Wilner joins host Lindsay Beyerstein to talk about what it’s like to cover the Burzynski story and just how elusive “the truth” can be when a story is about so much more than one man and a quack treatment.

Meanwhile, a growing consensus is building around the irrationality of the global “war on drugs” and the best ways to deal with addiction. As the UN prepares to host a special session on drugs, called for by some nations with real urgency, Josh Zepps welcomes back to the show Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs


Richard Carrier170.jpgAt CFI–L.A.: Author Doubts Existence of Historical Jesus; Recent CFI Speakers Appear at LA Times Book Fest

Addressing whether the historical Jesus Christ ever really existed, Richard Carrier, author of the book On the Historicity of Jesus, engaged big crowds at CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County. He was introduced in L.A. by Eddie Tabash, chair of the CFI Board of Directors. Carrier, who has a PhD in ancient history from Columbia University and is the author of several books, explored the question as to why a figure such as Jesus, if he never existed, would have been invented in the first place. 

Of particular note, past and recent speakers at CFI–L.A. also headed or appeared on panels at the recent Los Angeles Times Book Festival at USC, including book prize nominees Prof. Mark Molesky (This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason), and David J. Harris (The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Other speakers included writers Reza Aslan, Michael Hiltzik, M.G. Lord, and Jon Wilkman. Author Susan Jacoby, who has previously worked for CFI and wrote the newly published Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, joined Aslan and another writer for the “Thinking about Religion in Today’s World” panel that was at times contentious. The winner of the LA Times Book Prize in Science and Technology was Andrea Wulf for The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, which is reviewed in the new issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.


CFI in the Media


National Geographic publishes a feature on the rise of the nonreligious, and highlights the CFI merger with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, and also quotes CFI’s Stephanie Guttormson who says, “Organizing atheists is like herding cats, but lots of cats have found their way into the ‘meowry.’”

 ● As Tennessee’s legislature fails to overturn its governor’s veto of a bill that would have made the Bible the official state book, ABC News seeks comment from CFI’s Michael De Dora.

● Michael also appears in a Fox 29 TV package on a recent religious freedom march (though he is uncredited and, yes, bearded).

● CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo is quoted in a CNN piece on Bernie Sanders’ religious beliefs, or lack thereof. 

● The Finger Lakes Times has dueling op-eds, of a sort, all about whether or not secular humanism, and CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism specifically, is espousing a “religion.” Marc Thomas says yes it is, Jim Crenner says no it’s not. 


Highlights from CFI on the Web

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.40.50 AM.png

● Carrie Poppy delves into the bizarre world of televangelism for CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as she tells the story of Crystal Sanchez, the woman who blew the whistle on Peter Popoff. And then Carrie attempts a face-to-face meeting with Popoff himself. 

● In Skeptical Inquirer, Matt Nisbet looks at the effect The X-Files has had on public attitudes toward the paranormal and finds that it hasn’t done as much damage as some skeptics feared back in the 1990s. 

● David Koepsell reconciles Drake’s Equation (how many alien civilizations are there?) with Fermi’s Paradox (how come we ain’t seen no aliens?) and skepticism (I doubt, therefore I am). 

● Ben Radford digs into the data on LGBT representation on scripted TV shows provided by GLAAD and Annenberg and considers what proportions constitute a success for diversity.

● Stephen Law attempts to assess the arguments about religious belief attributed to Ludwig Wittgenstein.

● Joe Nickell solves the “Brown Mountain Lights” mystery and investigates claims about Bigfoot and ghosts in Pennsylvania…on his anniversary vacation no less!

● Susan Gerbic and Mark Edward watch a lot of Tyler Henry’s psychic show on E! and pick apart his techniques.

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


Upcoming CFI Events


April 24:

●   CFI Legal Director Nick Little speaks to CFI–Northeast Ohio about the problems with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

April 27:

●   Biology professor Mike Henshaw talks to CFI–Michigan about the importance (and misunderstanding) of “kin selection” in evolution.

April 28:

●   CFI–Tampa Bay takes part in a discussion with the Tampa Bay Equality Connection on the fight against discriminatory anti-LGBT laws.

May 1:

●   Jamie DeWolf, great-grandson to L. Ron Hubbard, and former Scientologist Chris Shelton come to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss life in—and after—the Church of Scientology. 

May 4:

●   CFI–Michigan holds its second annual Civics Day.

May 11:

●   Dan Linford discusses why he believes in “humanocentric ethics” at CFI–Michigan.

May 13:

●   Atheist Experience host Matt Dillahunty comes to CFI–Transnational in Amherst, NY, to discuss the lessons he’s learned debating religious believers for over a decade.


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, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at