Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 70

December 16, 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

645x344-amid-tougher-stance-on-refugees-merkel-calls-for-burCFI Opposes German Chancellor’s Proposed “Burqa Ban” 

Despite the enormous strides civilization has taken toward equality and enlightenment, a sizable portion of the human population remains in thrall to religious beliefs and tenets, along with making unreasonable claims about reality that demean, subjugate, and oppress women. Perhaps the most glaring example of this to western eyes is the enforced wearing of veils in many Islamic societies. The degree of required body coverage varies from place to place and culture to culture, but the message is the same throughout: Women must hide themselves for the sake of men. It is irrational; it is a violation of fundamental rights to self determination and free expression; and for communities like ours that seek to advance secular and humanistic values, it is deeply frustrating.

But as much as the Center for Inquiry opposes a religion’s forced veiling of women, we also oppose a state’s prohibition against it. 

Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel told a conference of her political party that she supported a ban on full-face veils in Germany, saying, it “is not acceptable in our country.” This proposed “burqa ban” was greeted with great enthusiasm by Merkel’s audience, but the Center for Inquiry spoke out against it. In a statement, CFI’s Michael De Dora said, “We strongly oppose allowing religions to dictate oppressive dress codes on women, but change must come by freeing women to choose their own style of dress—not by imposing bans.” 

Michael suggested that supporters of a ban consider the effect such a thing would have on Muslim women in Germany (or anywhere else such a ban is implemented). “If girls are banned from wearing Islamic dress at schools, parents may keep those children home,” said Michael. “Observant Muslim women will be pressured to refrain from appearing in public. Muslim women and girls will be made to feel they are not welcome in their own country.” In other words, using the power of the state to control what women can and cannot wear will only further alienate those already living in oppressive conditions. CFI also acknowledged the need for faces to be visible in very specific areas of public life such as courts of law or airports.

It is understandable that many within the freethought community are sympathetic to Chancellor Merkel’s position (a position, it should be noted, she only recently came to after opposing such a ban). While people can have a wide variety of opinions about the burqa and its impact on individuals, it cannot be denied that its enforcement stems from unreasonable, supernatural beliefs meant to separate women and girls from the rest of the world. But CFI believes that a ban by the state would violate their rights and separate them from the world even further.


1549751481650009113.jpgSkeptical Inquirer on Stem Cells, Climate Change, and Science Under Siege 

It was not so long ago that the debate over the ethics of embryonic stem cell research was the most heated political and social issue in the country. The fire seemed to have died down somewhat since the mid-aughts, as a Republican administration opposed to the federal funding of that research passed the torch to a Democratic White House that supported it. What many may not realize is that the obstacles to fully harnessing the potential of this area of research are for the most part still very much in place. And the opposition to embryonic stem cell research remains based in religious ideas about personhood and the beginning of life, a kind of proxy war for the struggle over abortion rights. It is one glaring example of science—a potentially life-saving avenue of science—being rejected and denied at the highest levels.

The latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer takes a hard look at the pernicious resistance to science in several areas of public life with a cover feature by Raymond Barglow and Margaret Schaefer on the “influential religion-based political movement” that has kept embryonic stem cell research from getting the necessary resources from the federal government that would allow the field to break new ground. The paucity of funding it still receives, the authors say, is “unjustifiable.”

Of course, climate change is the science-denial issue of existential proportions. Climate scientist Michael Mann, cognitive scientist Stephen Lewandowsky, and psychologists Harris Friedman and Nicholas Brown, coauthor a fascinating—and also deeply troubling—piece on the often personal attacks they have suffered as a result of their science advocacy. They offer several points of advice, however, hoping that other courageous scientists can learn from their experiences. 

The January/February 2017 issue also features more wisdom and insight from Joe Nickell, Carrie Poppy, Benjamin Radford, Massimo Polidoro, Craig Foster, and many more. It’s available on newsstands and in mobile app stores now. 


News from HQ and the CFI Community

Screen Shot 2016-12-16 at 11.54.38 AM.pngA Nonbeliever’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

Whether or not you actually celebrate the holidays, one aspect of the season seems to be universal: stress. Of course there are the practical concerns regarding gift giving, money spending, traveling, weather, and perhaps coping with the more difficult members of one’s family. But for many people who are nonreligious, the holiday season can bring additional layers of conflict, guilt, and alienation. We are talking about nonbelievers during “holy”-days, after all.

Luckily, the Openly Secular campaign is here to help with some valuable tips, resources, and advice for navigating the season. What do you do when you’re the sole infidel in a religious family? What if you don’t want to celebrate but your partner does? How can secular people make the season their own? This toolkit for surviving the holidays can help answer these and many more questions. It may not be able to solve all of the stresses of the season, but


Czfx7hJW8AIcpT5.jpgNew Perspectives on Disability and History on Point of Inquiry

Michael Berube is the director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, an accomplished author and expert in cultural studies, and the proud father of Jamie, born with Down syndrome. On Point of Inquiry, Berube speaks to Lindsay Beyerstein about his journey raising Jamie, discovering the rich inner life of his son and those who also live with intellectual disabilities, and how we should all rethink our approach to disability as a society. He won acclaim for his first book about being the father to a child with Down syndrome, Life As We Know It, and now that his son is grown up, Berube has released Life As Jaime Knows It, where he tells of a young man who he describes as witty, inquisitive, and full of a love for life. 

This week, Lindsay was joined by George Washington University historian Andrew W. Cohen, who makes a surprising case for the significance of trade wars, smuggling, and embargoes in American history. This is the subject of his new book, Contraband: Smuggling and the Birth of the American Century, where he paints a picture of an early United States in which the struggle against illegally imported goods became a defining characteristic and helped build the foundation to the nation’s eventual rise to superpower status. Not everyone benefited from this posture, of course, as even today efforts to block contraband serve as excuses to engage in profiling and discrimination.


Marty with slide.JPGCFI–L.A. Talks Porn and Panic

CFI–Los Angeles hosted a double feature of “Feed Your Brain” lectures on December 4 hosted by Bob Ladendorf and kicked off by author and therapist Dr. Marty Klein. Klein discussed common myths about porn, which is the subject of his new book, His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic with Honest Talk About Sex. Klein’s article on this topic is featured as the cover story of the latest Free Inquiry magazine.

“Real sex doesn’t feel like porn looks,” said Klein. Porn is fantasy, he said, and Americans shouldn’t manufacture a moral panic over it. He did say there were several areas of concern, including that porn is sex ed for kids; that it establishes unrealistic expectations for young adults; that women and men may be comparing themselves to it; and that it’s part of the hyper-rich digital world. Klein also explained that while the availability of porn has greatly increased in the past fifteen years with the rise of the Internet, the social problems of sexual assault, divorce, and child sexual exploitation have gone down, according to government data. 

Dr. Darrel Ray, author of The God Virus, then lectured on the “Myth of Sex and Porn Addiction,” pointing out how religion is implicated in promoting the alleged addiction, then conveniently offers to “cure” it. He traced the history of the myth back to the early 1980s with the work of Patrick Carnes and Robert Weiss, who developed a faulty “Men’s Sexual Addiction Screening Test,” which Darrel passed around to attendees. The supposed addiction has never been recognized officially as a medical condition, Ray noted, and said that the sexual and porn addiction field is itself “a form of religion.”


Sylvia 170.JPGThe Myths of Pearl Harbor and a Visit from Someone Who Was There

To mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, CFI–Los Angeles’s Café Inquiry featured the documentary Pearl Harbor and a presentation on various myths about the attack, including the claim that the battleship Arizona was blown up when a bomb went down its smokestack, an astrologer’s claim to have predicted the attack, and the conspiracy theory that President Roosevelt knew about the attack beforehand. 

But the surprise of the night was the appearance of ninety-one-year-old Sylvia Straughter revealing for the first time, according to her sons who accompanied her, that she was a sixteen-year-old dancer in Honolulu and had just appeared the night before the attack at Schofield Barracks, the base north of Pearl Harbor featured in the James Jones novel and Oscar-winning film From Here to Eternity.

The documentary, introduced by Executive Director Jim Underdown, detailed how the Arizona was sunk when one bomb pierced the decks (not the smokestack) and hit the ammunition magazine, causing an instant explosion that sunk the vessel in nine minutes and killed nearly 1,177 American servicemen. Bob Ladendorf, who had just visited Pearl Harbor in October, then presented other myths about the bombing and moderated a discussion among the attendees.

As for Sylvia, she talked about living in Honolulu at the time of the bombing and the fear of further attacks by the Japanese. She said that they had to cover their windows at night so no lights appeared. Attendees asked her questions, then she brought out a few photos she had of herself at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media


  • Ronald Lindsay writes at Huffington Post about what he sees as the overwrought reaction to male circumcision (“agonizing over the loss of a foreskin is an unwarranted, excessive reaction”) and adds an addendum at the Free Thinking blog specifically for humanists, a group who “are supposed to proportion their beliefs to the evidence.”
  • Media Matters for America challenges the “false balance” in much of the reporting around the climate change positions of the incoming Trump administration and cites CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry on its distinction between “skeptics” and “deniers.”
  • Little Green Footballs recommends a Skeptical Inquirer subscription as a gift this holiday season. Who are we to argue? 
  • At the Arizona Daily Star, Gil Shapiro cites CFI Chair Eddie Tabash’s warnings about the fate of secularism and constitutional rights under a Trump presidency.
  • Susan Gerbic writes up an enthusiastic report on CSICon Las Vegas from the perspective of someone who wasn’t able to see many of the actual presentations but had a fulfilling time interacting with the speakers. “CSICon is so much more than lectures. I was there for the people.”
  • Stephen Law of CFI–UK offers up a “breezy” primer on the warning signs of woo. “I’d love to believe that crop circles are made by aliens, that there’s a monster in Loch Ness, and that people can bend spoons with their minds,” he says. “But, so far as I can see—and I’ve looked—none of these claims is scientifically credible.”
  • Joe Nickell gathers up some legendary “Herkimer diamonds” at a mine in New York State. They had no magical properties, as had been the myth, (nor were they actual diamonds) but they were still quite lovely.
  • For Skeptical Briefs, we also see a young Joe Nickell panning for gold in the Yukon, seeking the coin of an ancient civilization.
  • Scott Mardis evaluates the evidence of the existence of a crocodile-like monster is living in Lake Champlain and blows a pretty big hole in the idea: It’s too darn cold.

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


Upcoming CFI Events

December 17:

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January 17:

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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