Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 57
June 10, 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
Reason Rally 2016: Thousands Come to Celebrate and Change the World
And lo, the heathens and the heretics, the unchurched and the unholy, infidels and the apostates did descend upon the District of Columbia, and—behold!—they did rally. O! How they did rally.
Last week, Reason Rally 2016 brought together the reality-based community for an astounding variety of truly substantial events, including the Reason Rally itself, celebrated by thousands and thousands of freethinkers at the Lincoln Memorial. Despite the considerable heat and humidity of the day, a united and passionate crowd listened to inspiring speakers, danced to amazing musical performances, and laughed a whole heck of a lot.
Before the Rally, masses of civically minded secular Americans showed their strength and commitment with two Advocacy Days, meeting with Members of Congress, the Senate, and their staffs to make their voices heard on the issues important to them. The day after the Rally, attendees were enlightened and entertained at the (thankfully air-conditioned) mini-convention. And of course, there were lots of parties.
CFI was there for it all. The combined exhibitor presence for CFI, the Richard Dawkins Foundation (RDF), and Openly Secular was a massive hit, with lines stretching outside the exhibitor tent to spin the prize wheel, take fun Openly Secular photos, hobnob with staff and volunteers, and even record Openly Secular campaign video interviews.
On stage, Robyn Blumner, head of the merging CFI and RDF organizations, called upon nonbelievers to make themselves known as a powerful and vibrant political force. “There are millions and millions and millions of atheists in America,” said Robyn. “But we are invisible. We have no political power. We can be dismissed by politicians with utter impunity. We can be insulted, and we can be ignored, and there is no political cost for it. And why is that? Because we are too quiet.” Robyn implored the crowd to “make some noise” to ensure that people in power can no longer ignore the secular community.
Later in the day, CFI Board Chair Eddie Tabash firmly declared CFI’s aim to “strike fear in the hearts of anyone who wants to use religion or pseudoscience to manipulate or damage the scope of human freedom,” clearly showing how CFI’s vital combination of secular humanism and scientific skepticism is a force to be reckoned with. Richard Dawkins, who could not be there in person due to his doctor’s orders, nonetheless recorded a video message, saying the attendees come to “celebrate science and urge the retreat of superstition.”
Throughout the Rally and the mini-convention, the CFI Live team (Paul Fidalgo, Nora Hurley, and Matt Licata) kept both attendees and online spectators up to date with frequently updated news, commentary, sights, and sounds at centerforinquiry.live. Everyone was able to feel like a part of the action, no matter where they were. (And it’s still there, of course, so check it out!)
Reflecting on the Reason Rally, Paul wrote:
For me, and for CFI certainly, it’s never been just about raise-up-the-atheists. That’s part of it, but it’s more. It’s really making the world a better place using science and skepticism as our tools, humanism as our guiding values. … I think the 2016 Reason Rally got there. I think with the mix of speakers, and the wide breadth of messages and calls to action, we got there.
Congratulations to all who helped make Reason Rally 2016 a truly meaningful and unforgettable success.
The First Chair of Atheist Studies Endowed at a U.S. University
About 1,000 miles away, a different kind of history was made for the nonreligious, as the University of Miami announced that it will establish a chair for atheist studies at its College of Arts and Sciences. While several institutions have endowed chairs centered on various faiths, including chairs for Christian, Islamic, and Judaic studies, this is the first time such a position has been established specifically for the study of atheism and nonbelievers (and, no small thing, to have the word “atheism” in its name). The news was first reported in the New York Times on May 20.
Thanks to a $2,200,000 endowment from the Louis J. Appignani Foundation, the University of Miami will establish the Appignani Foundation Chair for the Study of Atheism, Humanism and Secular Ethics at the College of Arts and Sciences. The person who will hold the position of Chair will be a scholar whose focus will be the interdisciplinary study of atheism. Celebrating the news, CFI CEO Robyn Blumner said, “The University of Miami’s mission statement declares that it is ‘absolutely committed to freedom of inquiry—the freedom to think, to question, to criticize, and to dissent,’ and this endowment is a powerful affirmation of that mission.” The Independent picked up CFI’s response.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Conversions, Addiction, and Objectification: Three New Point of Inquiry Episodes
Since the last edition of Cause & Effect, three brilliant and fascinating women have been guests on CFI’s podcast Point of Inquiry, each one tackling difficult and sensitive topics through their powerful personal stories and perspectives.
Longtime friend of CFI Susan Jacoby, whose books include Freethinkers and The Great Agnostic, joined host Josh Zepps to discuss the subject of her new book Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion. Jacoby casts a critical eye on the notion that religious conversions are overwhelming spiritual and emotional experiences, showing how often conversion is merely an act of convenience or practicality and that any number of factors, both profound and banal, can tip one from one religious identity to another.
This week, Lindsay Beyerstein welcomed Jessica Valenti, whose new book Sex Object: A Memoir is garnering a great deal of buzz. Valenti discusses her motivations for writing such a revealing book, chronicling many of the painful realities of women’s day to day lives and offering her insights as to what the future may hold in the quest for gender equality.
Lindsay recently spoke with journalist Maia Szalavitz, who has made a specialty of covering addiction treatment and who is herself twenty years sober after a young life of her own addictions to drugs. Szalavitz, who considers addiction to be less a “disease” and more of an emotional learning disorder, sheds new light not only on addiction itself but the way the public perceives the treatment of addiction.
Women in Secularism 4 Carries on the “Millennia-Long Struggle” for Equality
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 are many things to talk about: The intrusion of religion into women’s lives; violence against women around the world 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.
Come to hear from an incredible lineup of speakers that includes Rebecca Goldstein, Bonya Rafida Ahmed, Melanie Brewster, Wendy Kaminer, Kavin Senapathy, Katha Pollitt, Soraya Chemaly, and many more.
At the Reason Rally, CFI Board Chair Eddie Tabash talked up the Women in Secularism conference saying that “the heavy hand of fundamentalist religious dogma” has too long been allowed to “hamper the millennia-long struggle for universal equal rights for women.” He said a change is “thousands of years overdue because of religion.”
So don’t wait. Register for this highly anticipated conference now.
CSICon 2016: An Oasis of Reason in the Desert
It’s time for skeptics everywhere to gather in a town full of magical thinking!
CSICon 2016, the year’s biggest skeptics’ conference, will take placeOctober 27–30 in Las Vegas! Get set to bring your critical mind to the City of Light, where you’ll hear from the icons of skepticism, such as the amazing James Randi, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, science education champion Eugenie Scott, memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, physicist Lawrence Krauss, climate scientist Michael Mann, The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova, and so many more.
The conference will take place in the stellar Excalibur Hotel and Casino and will feature amazing presentations, illuminating workshops, a Halloween costume party, and, being that this is the Excalibur, a joust dinner at the Tournament of Kings.
This is no illusion; it’s really happening. Investigate it for yourself, and register right now.
Ann Druyan Honored at Independent Investigations Group Awards Show
Writer and producer Ann Druyan was given the Houdini Hall of Honor Award at the 10th Annual Independent Investigations Group Awards show on May 22. Druyan is the cocreator of the Peabody Award–winning new Cosmos series, as well as of the original series with her late husband, Carl Sagan.
The show, which filled the Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry in L.A. was emceed by Jim Underdown, executive director of CFI–L.A. and founder of its Independent Investigations Group. Awards were presented to the best and worst TV programs depicting science. Presenters and performers for the show included actor Matt Walsh (Veep); podcasters Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy; comedians Jim Coughlan, Hannah Gansen, Ron Lynch, Glenn Plummer, and Eliza Skinner; and speaker Heina Dadabhoy.
Also at CFI–L.A., the monthly Café Inquiry explored the controversial topic of doubts about the authorship of William Shakespeare’s works. John Shahan, chairman of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, proposes that there is sufficient evidence for “reasonable doubt” that the man we think of as William Shakespeare authored the plays and poetry for which he is credited, but this claim has never been substantiated. In 2011, Joe Nickell documented for Skeptical Inquirer the many holes in the conspiracy proffered by the “anti-Stratfordians,” saying, “They reverse the standards of objective inquiry, replacing them with pseudoscience and pseudohistory.”
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● In a powerful piece at Religion Dispatches, Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the U.N., tells the story of the crisis of killings in Bangladesh, and what CFI has done to help, from his personal perspective.
● CFI President Ron Lindsay attends a conference on physician-assisted dying, which causes him to deeply reflect on difficult question of who exactly would qualify for a legalized right to die. Also, a letter to the editor in the Tribune-Review cites Ron’s work on this very topic.
● Matthew Nisbet in Skeptical Inquirer ponders ways the climate change crisis can be reframed so that everyday people see it as a personal concern, not just an abstract problem.
● Carol Delaney in Free Inquiry examines the notion of God as a human concept, one that she says is informed by misunderstandings about conception itself.
● CFI Legal Director Nick Little joins the panel on Science for the People to discuss the horrible consequences of “faith healing” when children are involved.
● Benjamin Radford solicits the input of David Koepsell and Eve Siebert for a collaborative post on the right to anonymity, online and elsewhere.
● Stephen Law wonders whether the advent of so-called “safe spaces” on college campuses is robbing students of the chance to learn resilience in the face of criticism or unpleasant ideas.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● CFI–Michigan represents at the Greater Grand Rapids Pride Festival.
● CFI–Austin’s own Steve Bratteng delivers a presentation on the truth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), both the good and the bad.
● CFI–Michigan kicks off its always-popular Secular Summer Retreat, now in its tenth year.
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 www.centerforinquiry.net.