Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 64

September 23, 2016

Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible. Become a member today!

The Main Events

Cs-Q4_SWIAI-333.jpgWomen in Secularism 4 is Happening Now with CFI Live  

The fourth Women in Secularism conference is now underway in Arlington, Virginia, just outside of the nation’s capital. To help you keep up with everything that’s happening with real-time updates and analysis, it’s time to bring back CFI Live. In June, CFI Live at the Reason Rally was your source for on-the-ground information about that momentous event. And now CFI Live at Women in Secularism 4 is here to bring that same coverage for this important conference.

Yesterday, would-be wedding officiants came together before the conference to be trained as CFI Secular Celebrants. Proceedings were led by Reba Boyd Wooden, the director of the program and head of CFI–Indiana. This morning, dozens of attendees are reuniting with friends, making new connections, sharing stories, and getting excited about the start of this most meaningful of freethought events.

Everyone is looking forward to hearing from the incredible array of brilliant and courageous speakers, including Rebecca Goldstein, Katha Pollitt, Maryam Namazie, Lindsay Beyerstein, Bonya Rafida Ahmed, Sarah Haider, Wendy Kaminer, Emily Willingham, Kavin Senapathy, and many more, with everything being kicked off by Melanie Brewster of Columbia University. 

We can’t wait to hear what all of our speakers have to say, and we very much look forward to seeing what ideas and plans our attendees come away with when all’s said and done. Keep up with it all at (Yes, “dot-live”!)


11.01.16_Dawkins2016LA1000x600_UPDATED2_AsOf_08.24.16.pngAct Now to See Richard Dawkins on Tour 

It’s not too late to secure your chance to get enlightened and inspired by Richard Dawkins in person! A few weeks ago, we announced that Richard would be embarking on a tour of select U.S. cities in October and November, and the response has been tremendous. In fact, the first Los Angeles event with Sam Harris sold out so quickly that a second appearance with the two of them was added…which has also sold out! 

Buy tickets for “An Evening with Richard Dawkins,” presented by the Center for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, are still available in four other cities! Act now to get your seats for Richard’s appearances in Portland (OR) with guest Charles Simonyi, the technologist and philanthropist who endowed Prof. Dawkins’ chair at Oxford University; in Grand Rapids with actor and comedian Julia Sweeney; in Indianapolis, also with Sweeney; and in Philadelphia with a guest still to be announced.

And of course, Richard will also be among the many skeptic luminaries at CSICon Las Vegas!


Screen Shot 2016-09-23 at 8.59.50 AM.pngThe Threat of Terrorism Debated in Free Inquiry

Living in a time when the most recent terrorist attack is never very far in the past, it’s easy to despair that the threat posed by terrorism is an existential one. This is the question confronted by two of secularism’s top thinkers in the latest issue of Free Inquiry.

On one side, Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine and author of The Moral Arc, says that so far terrorists have proven incapable of coordinating anything so logistically difficult as a mass-scale attack such as a nuclear detonation. Nor can they seem to muster the ability to maintain a stable society of their own, and therefore they simply don’t have the wherewithal to be a true threat to civilization. 

On the other side, Phil Torres, author of The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Apocalypse, warns that jihadists’ devaluation of human life in favor of the afterlife makes them uniquely dangerous, and that as climate change and economic upheavals continue to destabilize societies, more people will have access to increasingly destructive technologies.

Also in this issue: Leah Mickens continues her exploration of humanists’ leading role in key social changes, focusing on the work of the Center for Inquiry; Russell Blackford looks for a language of terrorist atrocities that befits their impact on the human psyche; Ophelia Benson warns of an over-reliance on “rationality” from public scientific figures such as Neil deGrasse Tyson; Tom Flynn highlights what has been a banner year for giving the Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll, the place in history that he deserves; and much more.

Subscribe to Free Inquiry, in print or on the web, at


CFIMembership4 copy 2.jpgJoin CFI on Your Terms: Monthly Memberships Now Available 

Earlier this year the Center for Inquiry introduced a fully revamped membership plan that made being a part of CFI and its mission better and simpler than ever, with easy-to-understand membership levels and improved benefits that apply everywhere (including discounts to CFI events like CSICon and Richard Dawkins’s fall tour!). The response has been great.

But there is always room for improvement, so now it’s even easier to join the Center for Inquiry and sport one of those cool new membership cards. Last month CFI introduced monthly installments for memberships, in addition to yearly memberships, so anyone can choose the path to membership that suits them best.

CFI is working harder than ever to advance our shared mission, promoting critical thinking and the freedom of inquiry and fighting for secularism, science, and free expression. From the grassroots to the United Nations, from podcasts and videos to world-renowned publications and landmark international conferences, CFI is your advocate for a more enlightened world. 

Become a member now. Choose a “cosmic” membership level and pick from either yearly or monthly installments. Together we can make great things happen.


News from HQ and the CFI Community

csiconsquareish.pngCSICon Las Vegas: A Big Meeting of Very Big Minds

Not only is CSICon 2016 shaping up to be the biggest and best skeptic event of the year, it’s also become something of a publication unto itself! In the run-up to the big event, notable skeptics have been interviewing CSICon speakers about their work and what they plan to discuss at the conference, and now two more have been published, adding up to ten interviews!

Brand new this week: Carrie Poppy talks to Elizabeth Loftus, the authority on memory and its pitfalls. Loftus previews her talk at CSICon on false memories and notes that there are those who would like to put an end to her work on the subject: “The people who think that it’s just helping pedophiles come up with an excuse … discounting a victim’s—an accuser’s claim,” says Loftus. “Because … it’s certainly possible that guilty people will deny that they committed abuse and accuse the accuser of having false memories.” 

Also, Susan Gerbic speaks to science communicator and biotech enthusiast Kevin Folta, who explains how he became interested in sharing his love of science. “We have such a gap between the amazing stories of science and the public’s knowledge of them,” says Folta. “We need more scientists stepping into that space, working with journalists and other communicators to reach an audience that wants to learn and is looking for trusted answers.”

Check out all the other great interviews at the CSICon website. And don’t forget to register, so you don’t miss out on your chance to hear from these fantastic speakers, plus luminaries such as James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Elizabeth Loftus, Lawrence Krauss, Julia Belluz, Massimo Polidoro, and so many more.


Screen Shot 2016-09-23 at 9.04.34 AM.pngThere’s No Avoiding What’s on Point of Inquiry

The latest episodes of Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast, ask us to confront, and then accept, the inevitable. Not death and taxes, but death and climate change. Though maybe not in that order.

First, Josh Zepps talks to political scientist Andrew Stark, who has fashioned himself as something of a “death advisor,” finding solace in our inevitable nonexistence that is based on facts and logic as opposed to spirituality or sugarcoating. 

Then, Josh explores the implications of climate change from the perspective of geography and human populations with Barry Vann. They discuss the coming mass-migrations of human beings to safer climates as the planet heats up and how this might spur more decisive action on curtailing climate change’s effects.


20160917_132054.jpgCFI–Northeast Ohio Conference Seeks Secular Solutions 

Last weekend, CFI–Northeast Ohio held its biannual conference, a fascinating day of presenters from several disciplines, all speaking under the conference’s theme of “Humanist Voices: Secular Solutions for a Troubled World.” 

The day was led off by CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo, who focused on CFI’s international work and the global struggle for free expression, sharing the stories of the organization’s efforts to aid freethinkers in places such as Bangladesh and Indonesia, as well as the amazing and inspiring work of CFI’s international branches such as CFI–Kenya and its Humanist Orphans Project

David Niose of the American Humanist Association talked about how humanists can—and do—influence public policy; Sarah Haider (pictured here) of the Ex-Muslims of North America (as well as a speaker at Women in Secularism 4) discussed the challenges her organization faces in providing a safe means for former Muslims to find community; and terrorism expert Stephanie Danes Smith, formerly of the CIA, gave an enlightening (and at times surprisingly funny) presentation on several facts and fictions surrounding groups such as ISIS, and how terrorism-as-communication is too often overlooked.

Everyone at CFI–Northeast Ohio is to be congratulated for putting on such a successful and fulfilling day of programming.


Nick & Michael.JPGCFI Legal and Policy Chiefs Discuss Successes and Challenges in L.A. 

In two-for-one “Feed Your Brain” lectures at the Center for Inquiry’s Hollywood branch and in Costa Mesa for the Orange County community group, CFI Public Policy Director Michael De Dora and Legal Director Nick Little traced their histories in fighting the good fight for the separation of church and state in legislatures and in courtrooms, all under the kinds of resource restraints not faced by well-heeled religious organizations.

De Dora, who also serves as CFI’s representative to the U.N., discussed CFI’s efforts promoting human rights and free expression around the world, including a confrontation with Saudi Arabia over the imprisonment of Raif Badawi that saw several countries stand with CFI’s representative against the attempts of the Saudi delegate to shout down the representative at the Human Rights Council. 

Little cited successes and failures, such as the Hobby Lobby case, in fighting for church-state separation. In addition to overseeing the office’s litigation for numerous cases throughout the court system, Little provides advice on legal matters affecting the Center as its Vice President and General Counsel. He and De Dora followed their individual talks with a joint Q&A session.


Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media


● CFI’s Tom Flynn and Free Inquiry are cited in an Atlantic piece by Isaac Anderson on the need felt by many “nones” and nonbelievers to find a replacement for religious community.

 ● Deseret News once again seeks input from Michael De Dora on the Johnson Amendment and the surge in interest in its repeal from certain religious interests. 

● LaRae Meadows highlights some of the science communicators using social video streaming services such as Periscope to educate and inspire. 

● Susan Gerbic checks back in with the “grief vampire” Tyler Henry, the TV psychic who she says “does not need to Google people beforehand, because he just needs to throw out general statements and then remain silent while the sitter fills in the details.”

● Benjamin Radford reviews Oliver Stone’s new film Snowden, calling it “a passable fictional retelling of [Edward Snowden’s] journey.” Ben also casts doubt on the viral social media claims about an Alabama pastor that allegedly suggested killing those who didn’t stand for the National Anthem.

● Joe Nickell presents a bottle of Fink’s Magic Oil, which promised in the nineteenth century to cure “acne, asthma, boils, bronchitis, burns, coughs and colds, colic, cholera, deafness, earache, eczema, frozen feet, and so on through the alphabet, to poisons, rheumatism, ringworm, sore feet, water tetter, and much more.”

● David Koepsell considers how science is built upon a progression of useful failures and asks, “Can philosophy continue to fail upward with the sort of success that science has?” 

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


Upcoming CFI Events


September 28:

●   Justin Schieber of the Reasonable Doubts podcast talks to CFI–Michigan about the problems of the “fine-tuning” argument in the atheist/theist debate.

October 2:

●   Mathematical physicist David Klein speaks to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss scenarios for the future based on climate science and what solutions might exist to mitigate climate change.

October 5:

●   Aron Ra joins CFI–Los Angeles’s Cafe Inquiry to talk about his new book, Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism.

October 12:

●   David Karowe joins CFI–Michigan to speak about the threats of global warming.

October 26:

●   Megan Donahue joins CFI–Michigan to speak about the accelerating universe.


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