Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 67
November 4, 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
CSICon 2016 Lights Up Las Vegas
Can one be simultaneously dazzled and disabused?
Indulging in flights of fancy and grounded in reality?
Nostalgic and future-focused?
The evidence suggests the answer to all of these is yes. CSICon 2016, which took place last week in Las Vegas, contained multitudes.
There was a multitude of amazing speakers covering a multitude of enlightening and thought-provoking subjects. Just for a sampling, SETI’s Jill Tarter talked about the very real possibilities for life beyond Earth; Paul Offit took on the scourge of opioid addiction; Bertha Vazquez and Eugenie Scott pushed back against the resistance to evolution education; Maria Konnikova showed how con artists use storytelling to ply their trade; Kevin Folta and Kavin Senapathy fought antiscience fear-mongering in food and agriculture; Ron Lindsay reminded us why it remains so necessary to challenge Bigfoot and UFO beliefs; and Joe Nickell exemplified the conscience of investigative skepticism. And much, much more.
There was a multitude of deep thoughts and key insights. On two separate nights, two giants of skepticism, Richard Dawkins and James Randi, sat for what proved to be fascinating and intimate conversations about journeys of the past, challenges of the present, and hopes for the future.
There was a multitude of laughs, as George Hrab fully mastered all ceremonies with wit, music, and an infectious enthusiasm; folks bravely tried their hand at Weird Al’s craft with parody “skeptioke” performances; and Zombie Donald Trump threatened to invalidate the Halloween party.
One could go on. And CSICon is about more than the events themselves, more than the sum of its parts. It was hundreds of smart, friendly, curious, kind people getting together in a truly fantastical location, and connecting. CSICon was a great success, not just because of the conference itself, but because everyone left wiser, happier, and more enlightened than when they arrived.
For more summaries of many of the great talks, browse through CFI Live at CSICon.
Tom Flynn Tells Oklahoma: Don’t Tear Down That Wall!
This is the last edition of Cause & Effect before Election Day in the United States, and you don’t need us to tell you how important this year’s races are, up and down the ballot. We hope you make your voice heard and vote.
In Oklahoma, the voters will be deciding on a crucial question regarding just how strong the wall between church and state ought to be. If Oklahomans approve State Question 790 on the November ballot, it would repeal Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which states:
No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
The newspaper editorial board of The Oklahoman wrote an opinion piece strongly encouraging readers to approve this measure, calling Article II, Section 5 “an embarrassing relic of 19th-century anti-Catholic bigotry,” and accusing “anti-religious zealots” and “radical secularists” of trying to drive people of faith out of public life, even naming CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism among the aforementioned zealots and radicals.
Really, there was no way Council Executive Director Tom Flynn could not respond, and respond he did with his own counter-argument. To The Oklahoman’s credit, they ran it. In his piece, Tom explains how “proselytization” is more insidious and subtle than missionaries or street preachers, but that any service that is tied to a religious activity or propaganda is proselytizing. “Even if anti-Catholic animus played some role in their adoption, the fact is that forbidding public funding to religious institutions is a very good idea,” writes Tom. “No citizen should have to support with his or her tax dollars a religion in which he or she does not believe.”
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Dawkins and Harris Excite Sold-Out Crowds in L.A.
On the night the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, a sold-out crowd of 1,400 enthusiasts instead cheered for a very different kind of match-up, when two of secularism’s best-known thinkers, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, appeared at the Alex Theatre in Glendale near Los Angeles. Dawkins and Harris appeared for two nights in L.A., the second added because the first sold out almost immediately. (And then the second one sold out quickly as well.)
Emceeing both events was Jim Underdown, executive director of CFI–Los Angeles, introducing Robyn Blumner, CEO of the events’ sponsoring organizations, CFI and the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Blumner then roused the crowd into cheers and ovations when she called for science and reason-based policy in areas like education and health care.
Dawkins and Harris discussed a wide range of topics for an hour, followed by a Q&A session with the audience and a book signing. The enthusiasm of nearly 3,000 people from around the country, Canada, and even as far away as Qatar demonstrated the wide-ranging support for science and secularism, and testified to how Richard Dawkins has inspired and enlightened generations of people around the world.
“An Evening with Richard Dawkins” continues into November with stops in Portland (OR), Indianapolis, Grand Rapids, and Philadelphia.
Forteans, Fallacies, and Felines on Point of Inquiry
No one knows the paranormal like CFI’s Joe Nickell, probably the world’s most renowned investigator of extraordinary claims. As a special treat for Halloween, Joe was a guest on Point of Inquiry, where he chats with host Lindsay Beyerstein about where our modern conceptions of “the paranormal” come from. While humans have always believed in strange occurrences and attributed events to the supernatural, contemporary ideas about psychic mediums, UFOs, and cryptozoology mostly stem from a small number of individuals from the past century or so. It’s an eye-opening conversation, which Joe writes more about in his recent Skeptical Inquirer feature article.
(Oh, and at CSICon’s Halloween party, CFI outreach staffer Stef McGraw was a real hit with her Joe Nickell costume. Very authentic.)
Point of Inquiry listeners will also get to learn a lot more about another thing associated with Halloween: Cats! Smithsonian writer Abigail Tucker joins Lindsay to talk about the subject of her book Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World. We already know that cats believe they control the world. That may be more true than we realize, as Tucker explains how cats “domesticated” humans to serve their particular needs.
Reminder: Tell One Person on Openly Secular Day
Don’t forget to mark Openly Secular Day on 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.
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 alumnus Julia Sweeney, “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta, and FFRF’s Rebecca Market.
To take part, visit the Openly Secular website. Learn more about this celebration, and take the Tell One Person pledge.
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● Halloween is certainly a time of superstition and myth, so Benjamin Radford has rounded up some associated legends (such as the scares about razor blades in candy and the alleged Satanic connection to the holiday), and sifts fact from fiction. Ben is also cited in Business Insider and Popular Mechanics on stories about belief in ghosts.
● Speaking of belief in ghosts, we turn once again to Joe Nickell, who tackles paranormal claims in a number of outlets including the Wall Street Journal (in a piece about people charging homeowners to cleanse their houses of ghosts), The Baltimore Sun, and NBC’s Today.com.
● Hitler: Vegetarian? The question of the millennium is answered by the indefatigable Carrie Poppy, who then asks, “Why are we still talking about Hitler at the dinner table?”
● Do the titanium-treated necklaces manufactured by the company Phiten provide any emotional well-being like they promise? Craig A. Foster, Christopher K. McClernon, and Richard F. Reich tested these claims for Skeptical Inquirer.
● British Gymnastics suspends athlete Louis Smith over a leaked private video that showed him mocking Islam. Stephen Law says this is a bad move, writing, “I do not think there is anything ‘special’ about religious beliefs that requires we give them a privileged status that we don’t extend to other belief systems.”
● In Skeptical Inquirer, Matthew J. Sharps, Schuyler W. Liao, and Megan R. Herrera look at the role of “dissociation” (which they define as “a diminished critical assessment of reality”) in tendencies for paranormal beliefs. “These tendencies may best be countered by detail-specific, feature-intensive, scientific education.”
● Trick-or-treating and Las Vegas conferences don’t stop CFI’s advocacy efforts. See what’s been going on all October in the Office of Public Policy’s monthly update.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● 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.
● CFI–Tampa Bay presents Barry Silber discussing the science of psychology.
● Joe Nickell discusses investigating vs. debunking at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY.
● “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.
● CFI–Michigan’s 7th Annual Kids’ Food Basket Event.
● Marty Klein talks about “porn panic” and porn literacy with CFI–Los Angeles.
● CFI–Austin celebrates the Winter Solstice with a Saturnalia buffet and kids’ gift exchange.
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.