Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 73

January 27, 2017

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

IMG_1073 copy.JPGA Global March for Equality, Reason, and Freedom 

It’s impossible to say just how many people took part in the Women’s Marches in Washington and around the world, but many estimates by academics and experts easily place the number in the millions, such that over 1% of the U.S. population took to the streets on January 21.

The Center for Inquiry was proud to be one of the dozens of partner organizations supporting the march. In Washington, CFI–DC coordinated with the Secular Coalition for America to join the hundreds of thousands who gathered there, and members of other CFI branches took part in their cities as well. Even in places where there was no “official” CFI presence, our friends and volunteers were there.

Reba Speech at Women's Rally 2017.jpg

And rightly so, for among the issues raised by demonstrators were those that CFI has always championed: women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, defending and supporting science and its findings, the advancement of reason and evidence-based thinking, the rejection of conspiracy theories and “alternative facts,” opposition to religious imposition into government and people’s lives, and of course the freedom of expression.

CFI–Indiana Executive Director Reba Boyd Wooden addressed the crowd at the march in Indianapolis, and she spoke out strongly for the values we fight for:

Our tax money should go to support public schools which serve everyone not to private for-profit schools or to religious schools that promote a particular religion. Public schools should be neutral on the subject of religion so that students of all religions and no religion feel welcome. … We will stand up for equality for all, freedom for individuals to practice the religion of their choice including the freedom to not practice any religion, freedom of expression in speech, press, peaceful assembly, and public policy based on the best science available.

Thanks to all who took part in this historic event. Now, we keep moving, putting these values into action.


Donald_Trump_&_Mike_Pence_(29302369541).jpgTrump Resurrects the Antiabortion “Gag Rule” 

President Trump began his first week on the job with some very bad surprises, including attempts to silence the EPA, National Parks, and USDA from speaking to the public, promoting unfounded conspiracy theories about nonexistent mass “voter fraud,” and the removal of information about climate change from government websites. Among the most galling of his actions was his reinstatement of what’s known as the “global gag rule.”

The global gag rule, more officially known as the Mexico City Policy, is a rule established in 1984 by Ronald Reagan that bars any federally funded organization doing family planning work outside the United States from providing any abortion counseling or services—the very subject is forbidden topic under this rule.

It is an incredibly harmful imposition of ideology that harms millions of women around the world, and CFI has always staunchly opposed it as harmful to women’s health, as antiscientific, and as a violation of free expression rights. At every step we have worked against its reemergence. Each Democratic president has rescinded the rule, and each Republican president has brought it back, as has just happened.

The difference this time is that the rule has not just been reinstated but expanded. No longer limited to family planning–specific work, the rule now applies to all health related work. Whether an organization is working to combat HIV/AIDS or providing maternal health services, references to abortion are now prohibited.

CFI is standing once again against this terrible policy, joining with over 130 allied organizations in opposing its reinstatement. A joint statement by this coalition reads in part:

The U.S. has been a leader when it comes to promoting democracy, women’s health, and human rights around the world. U.S. foreign aid should never be used as a tool to limit women’s access to health care or to censor free speech. Organizations should not be disqualified from receiving U.S. assistance because they use their own funds to provide health services and information that are legal in their home country and legal in the U.S. Supporters of global health and development, women’s rights, gender equality, and free speech oppose the harmful global gag rule and reject efforts to undermine the health and rights of women around the world.

We will continue to work for change on this issue, and of course, the many, many other vital issues that are just beginning to emerge.


rbLatestCover-1.jpgThe Meaning of Mattering with Rebecca Goldstein in Free Inquiry 

Can CFI’s Free Inquiry, the leading secular humanist magazine, provide us with the meaning of life itself?

No, of course not. But it can come pretty close thanks to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author of Plato at the Googleplex and winner of the 2014 National Endowment for the Humanities Medal from President Obama. Goldstein, a philosopher and novelist, has been cultivating a theory of “mattering” since she introduced the topic in her 1983 novel The Mind-Body Problem, and today it has blossomed into a full-fledged area of philosophical study.

In the latest issue of Free Inquiry, Goldstein walks us through the basics of “mattering theory,” a way of understanding what it means to live a human life with meaning and with no need for a higher power or supreme being to provide it. “When you assert your own mattering,” writes Goldstein, “you’re asserting that your existence presents circumstances that ought to motivate an attitude of appropriate attentiveness on the part of others.”

Then, philosopher Andy Norman picks up on mattering theory to explore “ideological derangement” and how religion and other forms of dogmatic ideology can skew a person’s sense of mattering and distort priorities. Humanism, on the other hand, can center this sense of mattering in a constructive way.

In a tumultuous time for many of us, this issue is a wonderful chance to reexamine what it means to be human and to live a life with purpose. Subscribe to Free Inquiry today.


News from HQ and the CFI Community

DanielCDennet.jpgDeep Thinking and Deep Reporting on Point of Inquiry

Point of Inquiry recently welcomed back to the show a voice very familiar to the freethought movement philosopher and founding “new atheist” Daniel C. Dennett. His work on consciousness has put him among the most influential philosophers of our time, and he discusses his ongoing work with host Lindsay Beyerstein—who happens to be a former student of his at Tufts University. Dennett’s new book is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds.

This week, Lindsay also spoke with Ted Donovan, a journalist renowned for his approach to deep reporting, not merely by investigation but by living the lives of the subjects he covers. Donovan has walked many miles in the shoes of a wide variety of people whose stories are seldom told, including Mexican migrants, prison guards, and even USDA meat inspectors. He discusses his intensive approach to journalism and his new book Immersion: A Writer’s Guide to Going Deep.


waaaathy.jpgGod as “Supernormal Phantom” Explained at CFI–L.A.

In a “Feed Your Brain” lecture on January 15 at CFI–Los Angeles, San Diego computational biologist John C. Wathey explained to a full house his hypothesis that the feeling of the presence of God is an illusion in the brain caused by “retaining an innate model of mother.”

“In light of ethology and neuroscience,” Wathey explained, “God is a supernormal phantom, not a supernatural spirit.” He went on to say that his hypothesis of an innate model of the mother—with God’s presence as an illusion in the “high-order association cortex” in the brain—leads to testable predictions.

His new book is The Illusion of God’s Presence: The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing. He has been a senior applications scientist for Biosym Technologies (now named Biovia), a company that develops molecular modeling software for the pharmaceutical industry. In 1996, he founded his own business, Wathey Research, and since then has conducted scientific research funded by NIH grants. Wathey is currently writing a follow-up work that explores in detail the neurobiology of religious emotion and behavior.


Highlights from CFI on the Web


  • For Skeptical Inquirer’s 40th anniversary issue, the one and only Neil deGrasse Tyson takes a global view of skepticism and science, summing up the scientific method: “Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.”
  • In that same special issue, Lawrence Krauss celebrates all that Skeptical Inquirer has accomplished, writing, “The example it has set for the past forty years should encourage all of us.”
  • Steven Novella tries to boil down the mission of the skeptical movement and how it has and had not changed over the decades.
  • CFI Senior Research Fellow Ronald Lindsay writes in Huffington Post that comparisons of Donald Trump to fascists aren’t quite right. A better analogy, Ron says, is Warren G. Harding.
  • It wasn’t so long ago that something called “Pizzagate” had driven some people to rage and violence over the fakest of fake news. “Conspiracy Guy” Robert Blaskiewicz unpacks the whole sordid tale with some lessons for journalists.
  • Joe Nickell looks at the enthusiasm for holy relics within Catholicism and the incredible and at times horrifying ends some have gone to acquire objects or even body parts of saints.
  • Benjamin Radford interviews the author of horror story The Bye Bye Man, which has been adapted for the screen and is now in theaters. 
  • Stephen Law’s delightful “Evil God Challenge” animated video gets tapped as a “Staff Pick” at Vimeo.

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


Upcoming CFI Events


February 8:

February 11:

  • CFI–Indiana holds its 2017 Civic Day with guest speakers including CFI’s Nick Little, Americans United’s Erin Taylor, former Indiana Assembly member Christina Hale, Jesse Kharbanda of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Julia Vaughn of Common Cause, The Midwest Eagle Editor Rick Sutton, NOW’s Emily O’Brien, and Tim Skinner of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education.
  • CFI–Austin’s Darwin Day Celebration with a day full of talks and activities.
  • CFI–Michigan celebrates Darwin Day at “Charlie’s Evolution Emporium.”

February 12:

  • Biological anthropologist Amy Parish speaks to CFI–L.A. about what primate societies can teach us about our own with “Sex, Bonding & Dominance in Bonobos.”

February 20:

  • Matt Dillahunty discusses magic and skepticism with CFI–Austin

February 22:

February 24:

April 22: 

May 13: 


Thank you!

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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