Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 66
October 21, 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
We Can Meet the Quarter Million Dollar Challenge
You already know how important it is to advance science and reason, to promote critical thinking, and to advocate for the right to free expression. You also know that when you support the Center for Inquiry, you are part of the movement that fights for these crucial ideas. Now, thanks to the generosity of philanthropist Louis Appignani, your impact can be doubled.
Last week, we announced that Louis has agreed to match every single donation to the Center for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science all the way up to a quarter million dollars. If you give $10, it becomes $20. If you start a membership at the $120 level, you’ve just given $240. You get the picture. It’s an extraordinary opportunity for our community, a chance for our movement to reach a new level of effectiveness and strength.
So let’s not pass this up. Together, we are fighting for a world in which dogma and superstition have no sway over government and policy, a world in which people are free to dissent and question prevailing beliefs, a world in which facts and reason are valued more than conspiracy theories and magical thinking.
You can double your impact for this cause. We have until December 31, so let’s meet Louis’s quarter million dollar challenge. We can totally do this! Start now.
Secular Rescue Success Story: Tutul wins PEN Courage Prize
Through the new Secular Rescue program, the Center for Inquiry has been able to help over a dozen secularist writers and activists escape Bangladesh, where their lives were imperiled by Islamist militants. Too many freethinkers and progressives have already been slaughtered in the streets of Bangladesh, killed by terrorist thugs for their criticism of religion, for their identification as nonbelievers, or for other dissenting political beliefs. Those brought to safety with the help of Secular Rescue can now continue their work and, more importantly, continue their lives.
One such writer was honored last week for his work and his bravery, as celebrated author Margaret Atwood bestowed the PEN International Writer of Courage award on Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, better known to his readers as Tutul. With Secular Rescue’s help, Tutul and his family were safely relocated to Norway after he survived one attempt on his life. It’s a true privilege for CFI to have had a role in giving Tutul the chance to accept such an honor, one that his family could be with him to enjoy.
In a piece at The Guardian, Tutul said, “I am dreaming and thinking about how I can continue my job and my work in an alternative way.” You can see that by supporting Secular Rescue, he and others like him can continue to dream and think, helping to keep the light of reason shining bright even in very dark times. You can support Secular Rescue here—and each gift to Secular Rescue will count toward the Appignani Quarter Million Dollar Challenge!
Personal Journeys to Skepticism in Special 40th Anniversary Skeptical Inquirer
Skeptical Inquirer is not through with the celebration of its fortieth anniversary. The previous issue focused on the skeptic movement: its impact, its potential, and how it can improve. The newest issue gets personal, with a collection of today’s leading skeptics sharing their own stories, telling of their journeys into the world of skepticism.
A theme that runs through almost all of these personal odysseys (apart from the delight in discovering a magazine like Skeptical Inquirer) is how these skeptics found purpose not in proving others wrong for the sake of being right but in the power of critical thinking in all areas of inquiry. One doesn’t need to be a scientist to be a skeptic. As Harriet Hall writes, “One of the things I most love about skepticism is the opportunity to find out I was wrong about something.”
Also in the November/December 2016 issue: Daniel A. Vogel undertakes a bold exploration of the popular resistance to nuclear power, attempting to understand why common perceptions of its risks don’t line up with reality. Also, Massimo Polidoro looks back on the fascinating partnership between Harry Houdini and “Cthulhu” creator H.P. Lovecraft and the remarkable collaboration on a landmark anti-superstition book that never came to be. And much more, too.
Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands and in the Apple, Google, and Amazon app stores.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Tell One Person on Openly Secular Day
Mark your calendars for November 15, a day to celebrate the progress that secular Americans have made in overcoming prejudice and stigma and a chance to push that progress even further: Openly Secular Day!
The stigma felt by many nonbelievers remains real despite the great strides that have been taken in recent years. What can help to minimize that stigma is the simple act of speaking out and identifying as secular. So to mark Openly Secular Day, the campaign is asking for atheists, agnostics, “Nones,” and all who live without religion to choose at least one person they can safely open up to and speak honestly about their nonreligious identity. Even those who are already public about their nonbelief can take part by telling one additional person to raise more consciousness, continuing to chip away at stereotypes and misconceptions. Every new voice makes a difference.
There’s more! On November 15, the Openly Secular Day flagship conference will be held in Madison, Wisconsin, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, featuring Saturday Night Live alumna Julia Sweeney, “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta, and other noteworthy freethinkers.
To take part, visit the Openly Secular website. Learn more about this celebration, and take the Tell One Person pledge.
CSICon Las Vegas is Nigh!
It is no extraordinary claim to say that CSICon Las Vegas is going to be huge. Hundreds of skeptics will descend upon this desert city of illusions for what is going to be a truly unforgettable weekend.
Of course, you’ll have all the sights and sounds of Las Vegas and the Excalibur Hotel and Casino. And there will be fascinating talks. There will be enlightening workshops. There will be a Halloween party. There will be a Houdini séance. There will be a mind-bogglingly great lineup of speakers, including James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Elizabeth Loftus, Lawrence Krauss, Julia Belluz, Massimo Polidoro, Michael Mann, Jill Tarter, Lawrence Krauss, and many more. There will be George Hrab as your master of ceremonies.
There will even be jousting.
And it’s all happening very, very soon. The fun starts October 27, so there’s still time to register! So do it now, before it all disappears like a mirage.
Of Gods and Clowns on Point of Inquiry
The 2016 creepy clown craze shows no sign of abating, and there’s no one better to lend some sanity to the clown posse than CFI’s own Benjamin Radford, Skeptical Inquirer deputy editor and author of the new book Bad Clowns. He joins host Josh Zepps on Point of Inquiry, the flagship podcast of CFI, for some historical perspective on the phenomenon of the scary clown, and draws some smart comparisons between those spooking people as clowns and the anonymous trolls of the Internet. Ben explores the topic further in a CFI blog post on copycat clowns.
For more historical perspectives on a misunderstood group, Lindsay Beyerstein welcomes Leigh Eric Schmidt to discuss not clowns but atheists. Nineteenth-century atheists, to be precise. Schmidt, author of Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation, discusses how views about the connection between God and morality were even stronger in the 1800s then than they are today, leaving freethinkers with the difficult decision to either blend in or challenge the moral authority of the church.
CFI Board Chair Tabash Warns of an American Theocracy
At the bimonthly “Feed Your Brain” lecture at the Center for Inquiry’s Los Angeles and Orange County branches, CFI Board Chair Edward Tabash gave a stirring presentation in which he warned that this year’s presidential election could have a devastating effect on the Supreme Court and usher in what would for all intents and purposes be an American theocracy. Tabash, a deeply respected attorney and activist, has been sounding the alarm for two decades that church-state separation is in jeopardy if the Supreme Court adds one or more Justices who may pose a threat to the secular character of the U.S. government, which began with Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and was further affirmed through generations of Supreme Court cases.
Tabash also is Chair of the Legal Committee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He is a well-known atheist debater, representing the naturalist point of view against the supernatural in debates against prominent Christian philosophers.
Sounds compelling, right? Lucky for you, you can watch all of Tabash’s Los Angeles address online.
CFI–Los Angeles also recently hosted a two-day workshop titled “Leaving and Recovering from Cultic Groups and Relationships: A Workshop for Families and Former Members,” which was led by licensed therapist Rachel Bernstein.
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● Philosopher Stephen Law, provost of CFI–UK, releases a new animated short video on his thought-provoking “Evil God Challenge,” in which he asks whether a god that is all-evil is any less absurd than one that is all-good.
● Donald Trump has shown no signs of backing off of his claim that the presidential election, should he lose, will have been rigged against him. Benjamin Radford explores the irrationality of this conspiracy theory and why it’s dangerous.
● Bonya Ahmed posts the text of her address to Women in Secularism 4 at Mukto-Mona.
● Oxford University’s Cherwell interviews Richard Dawkins in a wide-ranging profile.
● Susan Gerbic eulogizes Robert Todd Carroll, creator of the Skeptic’s Dictionary and fellow of CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Kylie Sturgess posts a transcript of a 2011 interview with Carroll.
● Massimo Polidoro isn’t having it with Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium. “It all seems very silly, in the end, but it is quite distressing to look at the effect that banalities of this kind can have on the grieving.”
● Harriet Hall takes a look at a study on ear acupuncture for Skeptical Inquirer, writing, “What’s wrong with this study? Practically everything.”
● Joe Nickell talks to KLCC radio about Bigfoot sightings in Oregon, lending some much-needed skeptical perspective. Also, Joe investigates the alleged haunting of a tower in Brisbane, Australia, where convicted murderers were hanged about 175 years ago.
● GMO labeling on mainstream consumer food products may seem pointless, but Matthew Nisbet says that doing so may actually serve to reduce the anxiety about genetically modified foods that the anti-GMO crowd has tried to stir up.
● David Koepsell explores some of the ideas behind the upcoming CFI Institute workshop on moving “beyond reductionism,” writing, “In … reducing a concept like love or justice to analytical scrutiny, or scientific dissection, it seems likely we are missing some important element of the experience of such phenomena.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Megan Donahue joins CFI–Michigan to speak about the accelerating universe.
● Indian rationalist-in-exile, Sanal Edamaruku, visits CFI–Los Angeles’s Cafe Inquiry for a discussion on the global ambitions of the Christian right.
● CFI Institute workshop in Los Angeles: “Beyond Reductionism - Confronting Both Religious Fundamentalism and Scientism to Be Better Freethinkers”
● Richard Dawkins in conversation with Charles Simonyi in Portland, OR.
● Tom Flynn is the Anti-Claus for his “Trouble with Christmas” presentation at CFI–L.A.
● 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.
● “Cult-clinician” Rachel Bernstein visits CFI–L.A. to discuss how cults take over people’s lives and how they can break free.
● CFI–Austin hosts a presentation by Mary Kay Hemenway on SOFIA: the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
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.