Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 7
May 30, 2014
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
Women in Secularism III Makes a Powerful Impact
What a great conference! Women in Secularism III raised the bar on skeptic-atheist events, filled with rich, eye-opening substance, gut-punching stories of bravery, and scintillating discussion and debate on a wide range of topics. Leading women activists, scholars, and writers from the worlds of social justice, academia, journalism, and media confronted some of the most important challenges facing our movement: from the benefits and pitfalls of multiculturalism, to strategies for activism online and in person, to the onerous burden gender biases place on speech and leadership opportunities.
Of particular interest to the media were the stories of women escaping from fundamentalist religion. A major story by Mark Oppenheimer in the New York Times used the conference as a springboard to profile women who make the treacherous journey out of Islam and into nonbelief. Christine Scheller at Huffington Post noted the narrative power of leaving a fundamentalist religion versus a more moderate one and wrote of those women who have declared themselves atheist, “Their stories are intrinsically valuable.” And indeed they are.
We’re looking forward to more reactions and recaps of the conference. In coming weeks, we’ll have video of the discussions and presentations. In the meantime, check out this set of conference portraits by Amy Davis Roth and great event photos by Brian Engler and Bruce Press.
Come to Western New York for Two Days of Freethought History
This August 16 and 17, the Council for Secular Humanism presents a chance to be immersed in freethought history with a two-day conference and tour celebrating “The Great Agnostic” Robert Green Ingersoll and the rich reform legacy of New York’s Freethought Trail. Day One at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY, will be filled with presentations on major freethought figures like Ingersoll, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Frederick Douglass. Delivering these talks will be renowned experts like Sally Roesch Wagner, Susan Jacoby, our own Tom Flynn, and other special guests. Day Two features a fantastic tour of key Freethought Trail locations in Dresden and Seneca Falls, such as the Ingersoll Museum, the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, the Wesleyan Chapel, and the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Plus, a motor coach showing of the documentary American Freethought and dinner at the Belhurst Castle and Winery. Register now, because space is extremely limited, and this is not to be missed.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Big CFI Summer Events Hone Skills and Open Minds
There’s great opportunities for people of all ages to hone their skills in activism, investigation, and critical thinking, while having a heck of a lot of fun.
The 2014 Leadership Conference is coming July 24–27 in Amherst, NY, where we’ll deliver some of the best leadership and activism training available in the secular movement. We’ll bring together student and community activists from across the continent for four days packed with workshops, networking, educational presentations, and more. No immediate payment is required for students to register; stay tuned for information on travel grants if you need assistance. So if you’re a freethinking student, go sign up now! (Non-student community leaders, we’ll have registration info for you soon.)
For the even younger set, Camp Inquiry gets in gear August 3–9, and this year, “CI is DIY”! We know that kids already have the essentials for discovery and inquiry, with their boundless curiosity and imagination. Camp Inquiry, held in Holland, NY, will give them hands-on learning experiences and guidance from some of today’s brightest minds, with the skills they’ll need to apply rationality, creativity, and critical thinking to the world they’ll be running before we know it! Find out more by visiting CampInquiry.org.
While that’s going on, on the other side of the country, folks get to flex their investigative muscles with top-notch expert workshops at the 2014 Skeptic’s Toolbox, August 7–10 in Eugene, Oregon. This year’s event is centered on using model cases to better deal with dubious claims, and it’ll do that with hands-on training alongside experts like Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Loren Pankratz. Register now and reserve your spot in the toolbox!
CFI Says No to Prayer Plaque at WWII Monument
Last week we joined forces with a coalition of secular and religious groups from across the theological spectrum urging members of the U.S. House to reject a bill that would add a plaque bearing a prayer to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. Noting the importance of the United States’ religious diversity, our letter to Congress says that this bill “endorses the false notion that all veterans will be honored by a war memorial that includes a prayer that proponents characterize as reflecting our country’s ‘Judeo-Christian heritage and values.’” An article about our efforts appeared in The Washington Post, emphasizing our work alongside religious groups. We’ll keep you updated as this issue develops.
Islamic Extremism and Capital Punishment Tackled on Point of Inquiry
Our flagship podcast Point of Inquiry featured two guests who are asking tough questions about two extremely difficult topics:
- Many people were shocked by the botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett last April. Lindsay Beyerstein brings on Slate’s legal expert Dahlia Lithwick to unpack all that is going wrong—and getting worse—about capital punishment in the U.S.
- There is a great deal of heated discussion about the role of Islam in violence and extremism and what does and does not constitute “Islamophobia.” Josh Zepps’ guest is Pakistani-Canadian political scientist Farzana Hassan, a practicing Muslim who nonetheless takes seriously the idea that the doctrines of Islam are factors in terrorism and violence that cannot be ignored.
Welcome Ben and Max, Our New CFI Outreach Interns!
Working to make the world safe for science and reason is a tough job, so we’re lucky to have two brand new outreach interns to bring their energy and talent to the cause. Everyone at CFI is delighted to welcome Ben Cook, a political philosophy and ethics major at American University and outreach coordinator of the American University Rationalists and Atheists; and Max Nielson, a political science and economics major at the College of Charleston in Charleston, where he is also the president and founder of the school’s Secular Student Alliance. As always with our outreach interns, we ask a lot of them, we expect big things, and with Ben and Max, we know there’s a lot to look forward to.
Science Denial and Science Fiction at CFI–Los Angeles
Speaking to a full house of 85 attendees with CFI–Los Angeles last Sunday, Prof. Donald Prothero, a well-known L.A.-area geologist and author, criticized science deniers, from creationists to climate change “skeptics.” Prothero, who appeared on a recent episode of Point of Inquiry, also signed copies of his book Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future. CFI–Los Angeles also held a special screening of the new film The Perfect 46 with the film’s writer and director Brett Ryan Bonowicz. The movie portrays the personal, professional, and social consequences that arise when a geneticist creates a website that pairs an individual with an ideal genetic partner for children.
CFI in the Media
● Fox News cites CFI’s reaction in its report on Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy, who has just given birth to her second child.
● CFI’s public policy chief Michael De Dora is featured in Catholics for Choice‘s magazine Conscience [page 15 in this PDF], which highlights his participation in the group’s symposium on religious liberty. They quote Michael talking about the misuse of religion as an excuse to avoid following the law: “Whether it is seeking an exemption from a law, such as with the contraception mandate, or a proactive law like an anti-blasphemy law, the result of both is the same. Demanding a religious exemption from following a generally applicable law can be as harmful as actively seeking to dictate the laws via religious belief.”
● One of the first of the Women in Secularism III reflections to hit the web came from Jim Newman at Skeptic Money with this enthusiastic recap.
● The Akron Beacon Journal has a piece on new atheist billboards, and cites CFI–Northeast Ohio as part of the growing freethought communities in the state.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● CFI Board member Barry Kosmin’s Free Inquiry cover story explaining his research findings about college-age Americans is up, with fascinating insights into the rising secular generation.
● Right wing guardians of theocracy the American Center for Law and Justice play both sides on blasphemy laws, opposing them in Islamic countries and backing them in Russia. CFI communications director Paul Fidalgo takes them to task.
● In Skeptical Inquirer, Stanley Stepanic works to clarify the definition of “demonology” as a study of myths, not a belief in them.
● CFI’s international programs director Bill Cooke evaluates the conflict in Ukraine and highlights religion as a major factor. Bill also looks at the recent elections in India and how the rise of Narendra Modi may have consequences for secularism.
● Sharon Hill goes into the belly of the beast by attending a conference for paranormal enthusiasts and comes out with a deeper understanding. “It’s impossible to get that deeper concept if you are prejudiced against the field entirely.”
● Tim Binga, as CFI’s director of libraries, knows something about information, and here he recommends The Information, a wonderful book by James Gleick.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Save the Date! Upcoming Events
• Author William Poundstone comes to CFI–Los Angeles to talk about a strange ESP phenomenon experienced by millions over the radio in 1937, and his new book Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody.
• The Suncoast Readers Theatre Troupe presents “A Slight Comedic Allergy,” where, says CFI–Tampa Bay, “Our actors will regale attendees with singularly droll stories, highly animated witticisms, and other peripatetic paroxysms of puffery intended with a solely therapeutic purpose.”
• CFI’s legal director Nicholas Little comes to CFI–Indiana to discuss the religious right’s exploitation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
• Musician and author Kurt Ellenberger joins CFI–Michigan for a presentation on music and the science behind its power.
• CFI–DC hosts a screening of the documentary The Contradictions, about the black community’s dedication and commitment to the church and religion, as well as a Q&A with its director Jeremiah Camara.
• Linda LaScola of The Clergy Project joins project alumnus Jerry DeWitt in conversation for an event at CFI–DC.
• Florida State University religion and history professor Amanda Porterfield presents on “The Rise of the Nones” to CFI–Tallahassee.
• Bob Blaskiewicz presents to CFI–Los Angeles on his and other skeptics’ efforts to expose the truth about Stanislaw Burzynski and his dubious cancer cures. (Read his article on this topic at Skeptical Inquirer.)
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 and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.