Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 65
October 7, 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
Defending Dissent and Saving Lives for Blasphemy Rights Day
Last Friday was International Blasphemy Rights Day, and the Center for Inquiry took the whole week leading up to it to get people informed and active in the fight for free expression. Then on the big day itself, the Freethought Emergency Fund was re-launched as a new, official program of CFI: Secular Rescue.
The fundamental right to criticize and question even the most sacred beliefs is at the very core of CFI’s mission, the foundation upon which almost all of the organization’s work rests. CFI established International Blasphemy Rights Day in 2009 as a way to show solidarity with those who have faced persecution or violence for expressing their dissenting ideas—even and especially when those ideas are perceived as offensive. It is also a day to stand in opposition to the global crackdown on free expression, which can take forms ranging from legal restrictions (“blasphemy laws”) to mob violence.
Starting Monday, September 23, new action items were posted to the website of the Campaign for Free Expression each day, providing simple ways to become educated on the issues and to begin to make a difference. CFI social media circulated memes featuring powerful quotes from all manner of inspiring leaders and heroes who support free expression and the importance of dissent.
On September 30, International Blasphemy Rights Day, Secular Rescue was formally established. As expressed in this short introductory video, Secular Rescue aims to bring to safety those secularist writers and activists whose lives are under threat from religious militants. Bangladesh has been a cauldron of terror for freethinkers, as several have been viciously slaughtered in the streets for their public critiques of fundamentalist religion or expressions of nonbelief. Several others have already been relocated to safety thanks to this fund, and now much more can be done.
The program was launched with a generous matching donation from Douglas Kinney and another donor who wishes to remain anonymous, and as of this writing, Secular Rescue has raised over $32,000 since the announcement. But we can and must do even more. So do your part and help save some lives by giving to centerforinquiry.net/secularrescue. Remember, a donation to Secular Rescue is not a gift to CFI in general—every penny that goes to Secular Rescue is used for relocating those in danger so that these writers, teachers, students, activists, and other freethinkers can continue to work, speak, and live.
Interestingly, the greatest interest in the press for International Blasphemy Rights Day came largely from Christian media, and the coverage was largely very favorable, particularly from Rev. Mark Woods at Christian Today, who wrote that Christians should be outspoken in their support of blasphemy rights, concluding, “God can take care of himself.” However, Bill Donohue, the forever-aggrieved chief complainer of the Catholic League, called Blasphemy Rights Day a “farce,” and said that CFI is “committed to hate speech.”
CFI will of course defend Mr. Donohue’s right to say that.
Dawkins Tour Selling Fast + Josh Zepps Added to Philly Event
Tickets are moving very fast for “An Evening with Richard Dawkins,” presented by the Center for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. It’s not yet too late to secure your chance to get enlightened and inspired by Richard Dawkins in person, but time is running out. The first Los Angeles event with Sam Harris sold out so quickly that a second appearance with the two of them was added…which also sold out! Also just sold out is the Portland, OR event with Charles Simonyi, the technologist and philanthropist who endowed Prof. Dawkins’s chair at Oxford University.
Luckily, tickets are still available in three other cities! Act now to get your seats for Richard’s appearances in Grand Rapids with actor and comedian Julia Sweeney; in Indianapolis, also with Sweeney; and just announced last week, Prof. Dawkins’ appearance in Philadelphia will feature Point of Inquiry cohost Josh Zepps!
And don’t forget, Richard Dawkins will also be among the many skeptic luminaries at CSICon Las Vegas.
Benjamin Radford, Clown Whisperer
2016 has been an unusual year, to say the least. One can certainly get the impression that things have gotten, well, weirder. Considering the ongoing strangeness of this particular trip around the Sun, it seems quite fitting that this year would be a time for the rise of evil clowns. Why not? Well, it just so happens that CFI employs an expert on evil clowns. Skeptical Inquirer Deputy Editor Benjamin Radford recently published a book on the subject, Bad Clowns, and he has been sought out by a number of media outlets to lend his skeptical perspective to the odd phenomenon.
Sightings and photos of “creepy clowns” have been cropping up in several places over the past few months, becoming a social media craze and spawning more sinister activity. Ben went on NPR’s On the Media to talk to Bob Garfield about what’s going on: what’s real, what’s imagined, and some of the history behind clowns panic. But you don’t need to be too scared. As Ben told People magazine, “The fact is, to date, there are no confirmed reports of any clowns actually abducting, harming, killing [or] molesting kids. There just aren’t. There are zero.”
Ben has also written pieces on scary clowns for Utne Reader, Seeker, and of course, a special report for Skeptical Inquirer. Outlets such CNN.com, Reason, National Post, and UPROXX have also spoken to or cited Ben on the topic.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Women in Secularism 4: Lively Discussion about What Matters
The first three Women in Secularism conferences “have been mighty,” said CFI’s Debbie Goddard at the opening of the fourth in the series, on September 23 in Arlington, VA. “They have been some of the most challenging, exciting, and impactful conferences that the freethought movement has seen in many years.” Women in Secularism 4 lived up to that and more.
This conference was a remarkable event, filled with presentations and discussions that both inspired and challenged attendees and speakers alike. Passionate cases were made for a wide range of crucial issues: free expression and safe spaces; the challenges women face in science, technology, and even in the secular movement; and even what it means to know that one’s life and ideas simply matter. There was not always agreement, and indeed it was the moments of disagreement—respectfully and thoughtfully expressed—that truly made this conference stand out.
If you weren’t able to be there in person, browse through the posts at CFI Live, where a session-by-session blog provided insight and analysis of the event. It was a conference to be proud of, and one that, like its predecessors, will live on in the conversations and ideas it sparks for years to come.
CSICon Las Vegas and Picking Up the TAM! Tradition
Susan Gerbic will not rest until she has seen to it that every last CSICon Las Vegas speaker has been interviewed! Or at least, that’s how it seems, because she has valiantly added two more CSICon stars to what is now a library of interviews leading up to the big event October 27–30.
Susan has a really delightful conversation with Jay Diamond of Reason 4 Reason, who has been taking the scientific skepticism route to fitness. “It was a combination of historical research, calculation, and critical thinking,” he says. He’ll be among the presenters for “Sunday Papers,” where speakers get fifteen minutes to discuss their research and big ideas, a tradition being picked up from the TAM! conferences. He also predicts that the Halloween party will be the highlight of the whole event. Isn’t it always?
Picking up on the subject of TAM! and Sunday Papers is Cal State-Fresno professors Ray Hall and Katie Dyer. Hall, a physicist, says he was the first to deliver a Sunday Paper presentation back in 2001 and observes how “James Randi exemplifies where non-academic credentials are valuable to the skeptic movement.” Dyer, a social scientist, tells Susan what their own presentation will be about, explaining, “As a teacher, I wonder pretty much constantly why some students seem to ‘get it’; and others don’t. I wonder what I can do to help move everyone into the group who embraces learning eagerly.”
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.
Point of Inquiry Comes to Grips with the Past and the Future
On the latest Point of Inquiry podcast episodes, the future is bleak and the past never really happened. Alright, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but they do explore the uncertainty about our memories of the past and the questions about our prospects for the future.
Psychological scientist Julia Shaw returns to Point of Inquiry, joining host Lindsay Beyerstein to discuss the subject of her new book, The Memory Illusion. It is a topic that skeptics may know something about: the unreliability of human memory and how our brain’s eagerness to “rewrite history” can strike at the very root of our identities and who we believe ourselves to be. Dr. Shaw appeared on Point of Inquiry last year, talking about how our memories can be falsely manipulated to make us believe we’ve committed crimes that never occurred.
Looking ahead to our maybe-imminent doom, Josh Zepps talks to Phil Torres of the Future of Life Institute and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Of course, life can’t have a future and technologies can’t emerge if civilization collapses, and Torres has researched the myriad ways in which the apocalypse might come about. His new book is The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Apocalypse, and he recently wrote about the potential existential threat of terrorism for the current Free Inquiry cover story.
Mathematical Physicist Tells CFI–L.A.: Capitalism Can’t Solve Global Warming
At the bimonthly “Feed Your Brain” lecture at the Center for Inquiry’s Hollywood branch on Sunday, Prof. David Klein first demonstrated through statistics and climate history how global warming has been scientifically proven. That was not a controversial position for this audience, but what did create a stir among the attendees was his argument that a capitalistic system will be unable to reduce global warming sufficiently because it inherently requires economic growth. Klein, a mathematical physicist and professor of mathematics at California State University, Northridge, then suggested a replacement economic system might be one that is currently termed “ecosocialism.”
Klein’s talk is based on his ebook, Capitalism and Climate Change: The Science and Politics of Global Warming, which he has remarkably made available free of charge. Also, making it exclusively available online helps cut greenhouse gases by reducing the number of trees cut down to make printed books.
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● Tamar Wilner, writing for CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, considers the impact of conflicts of interest on how scientific studies are covered and discussed. They may not be as pernicious as believed, but, she writes, “To argue that conflicts of interest are an unavoidable evil shows a paucity of imagination and ethical ambition.”
● In Free Inquiry, Russell Blackford argues that the word “tragedy” is insufficient to characterize the atrocities of terrorists and religious militants, as they “disrupt and traumatize entire communities and societies, creating environments of fear.”
● “Ear candling” is a thing, and Harriet Hall is a bit exasperated by a New York Times Magazine article extolling the virtues of the troubling practice. “Part of me understands why [the writer] does this, but another part of me wants to scream at her.”
● David Koepsell considers the thorny issues that will need to be confronted now that a baby has been born with three biological parents via in vitro fertilization.
● 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 looks into the mystery of the “Paulding Lights” in Michigan, which some think is the result of “a ghost with a lantern endlessly looking for someone who is lost.” It’s probably cars, though.
● Shadia Drury in Free Inquiry offers part one of her take on “the Foxification of American democracy,” writing, “Far from intimidating enemies, [Fox News] emboldens, enrages, and inspires them.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● David Karowe joins CFI–Michigan to speak about the threats of global warming.
● Screening of To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine at CFI HQ in Amherst.
● CFI–Indiana hosts a Secular Celebrant training.
● CFI–Los Angeles hosts a two-day workshop on leaving and recovering from cults.
● CFI–Austin hosts Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network on the “weaponization” of religious freedom in Texas.
● Megan Donahue joins CFI–Michigan to speak about the accelerating universe.
● CFI Institute workshop in Los Angeles: “Beyond Reductionism - Confronting Both Religious Fundamentalism and Scientism to Be Better Freethinkers”
● Richard Dawkins in conversation with Julia Sweeney in Grand Rapids, MI.
● Richard Dawkins in conversation with Julia Sweeney in Indianapolis, IN.
● Richard Dawkins in conversation with Josh Zepps in Philadelphia, PA.
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.