Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 82

May 31, 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

schedule-joust logo.jpgAll Evidence Points to an Amazing CSICon 2017 

Have you registered for CSICon 2017 in Las Vegas, taking place October 26–29? It’s shaping up to be the biggest and best skeptics’ event of the year. That’s a pretty bold prediction, but the evidence is overwhelming.

First, there’s the incredible lineup of speakers. Rarely have so many leading lights of science and reason been part of the same event. A veritable constellation of skeptic luminaries will be presenting at CSICon 2017, representing the sciences, grassroots activism, journalism and media, the arts, and more. James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Richard Wiseman, Cara Santa Maria, Lawrence Krauss, and Lindsay Beyerstein are just a small sampling of the dozens of skeptic leaders coming to CSICon.

Then there’s the entertainment and social events, because it wouldn’t be CSICon Las Vegas without plenty of fun. Taking place in the fantastical Excalibur Hotel, get ready for the Tournament of Kings Joust Dinner, a magic show by Banachek, special lunch events with skeptic stars, a Halloween 70’s Disco Party, and more. Plus, all of CSICon’s ceremonies will be mastered by comic-musician George Hrab. The full schedule has now been posted online.

aacarousel-konnikova.jpgThat’s not all. It was just announced that New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova will receive the 2016 Balles Prize in Critical Thinking for her book The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time, a book that exposes the tricks of the con artists’ trade and explains why all of us are vulnerable to being taken in, including skeptics. Konnikova will be at CSICon to accept her prize and to deliver yet another fascinating presentation.

Need more? To give you an idea of what’s in store for CSICon 2017, take a look back at CSICon 2016 on CFI’s web series Reasonable Talk. The current season is featuring some of the best presentations from CSICon 2016, with Maria Konnikova’s talk and Jamy Ian Swiss’s conversation with Richard Dawkins available to watch right now, with more on the way.

We think we’ve made our case. But to make it all come together, we need you! Register now, come together with the skeptic community, get inspired, and have a blast at CSICon 2017. See you in Vegas.


20170524191212-Dawkins-Coyne.jpgThousands Inspired by Richard Dawkins and Friends 

Richard Dawkins has just completed a successful tour of four U.S. cities, delighting, challenging, and inspiring the minds of the thousands who came out to see him in conversation with truly special guests—and all to support the work that you help make possible with the Center for Inquiry.

In Los Angeles, Dawkins took the stage with satirist Adam Felber, best known for appearances on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and as a writer for shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher. Nearly 900 people filled the Alex Theatre, aided by the great team at CFI Los Angeles.

DAm59iFWAAAkCpW.jpgNext up was Boulder, Colorado, where the audience was charmed by the conversation between Dawkins and special guest Annabelle Gurwitch, a bestselling author, TV personality, and the latest celebrity to tell her story for the Openly Secular campaign. You can see from the picture on the right, there was one young lady who was particularly excited to see Richard Dawkins in person. Gurwitch took the picture and tweeted, “Hope for the future!”

Then it was off to the nation’s capital, where CFI DC hosted Dawkins and fellow evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, bestselling author of Why Evolution Is True. CFI board member Brian Engler performed his valuable service, taking a set of excellent photos of this meeting of two great scientific minds.

While in Washington, DC, Dawkins was invited to have a conversation on NPR’s Weekend Edition with host Scott Simon, in which the two discussed recent news, perceptions of atheism, and even CFI’s crucial Secular Rescue program, which works to bring secular writers and activists to safety when their lives are threatened in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The last stop was Miami, where attendees were presented with a pairing that almost no one could have predicted: Richard Dawkins and the Pulitzer Prize–winning humorist Dave Barry. What a treat it must have been to be in the room for this exchange of insights and observations.

Thanks so much to all who came out to see Richard Dawkins this fall. He’ll be back for CSICon 2017 in Las Vegas.


News from HQ and the CFI Community

1a495722305699-IMG_2016-Winter-close-up.jpgAmanda Knox, Nick Little, and Religious Privilege 

You probably know Amanda Knox as the woman imprisoned for years in Italy for murder, for which she was exonerated by the Italian Supreme Court. Today, she is a journalist and activist for the wrongfully convicted, and she recently wrote a major report for VICE in which she exposes the use of religion in prisons as the only available path to rehabilitation, which manipulates inmates into indoctrination.

For a legal perspective, Knox sought the insight of CFI’s General Counsel Nick Little. Nick describes how prisons are predisposed to allow access to prisoners by all manner of faith-based figures but frequently put up barriers when it comes to secular influences. “[Prison officials] know that they have to allow all prisoners access to a Bible and to the Quran. But they never consider that prisoners who aren’t religious may want access to a non-religious book in the same way,” Nick tells her. “It’s a problem that a Catholic who wants someone to talk to never faces. They always have access to somebody of their faith background. And that’s not available to humanist prisoners.”

nicholaslittlelittleheadshot2.jpgMeanwhile, wholly by coincidence, Nick’s commentary was also featured by another writer at VICE, Gabby Bess, who reports on a case in which doctors in Michigan who performed female genital mutilation procedures on seven-year-olds are using religious liberty as a defense.

Nick explains that there exists no constitutional right to be exempt from generally applicable laws because of one’s religious beliefs, but that the Hobby Lobby case and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act have blurred the lines. “However,” adds Nick, “this would be a major step further, to allow direct harm to a child.”


Michigan Secular Celebrant Class--May 2017 (1).JPGSecular Celebrants Trained in Michigan

A group of nine enthusiastic and community-minded freethinkers successfully completed their training as Secular Celebrants on May 13, when CFI Michigan hosted Reba Boyd Wooden, director of CFI Indiana and head of the CFI Secular Celebrant program.

The trainees will now be expected to complete some additional requirements, and once they do, they will be officially certified to represent the Center for Inquiry as Secular Celebrants, authorized to perform marriages and officiate at many other milestone events in which it is desired that the secular humanist life stance be represented.

After two recent groundbreaking court victories, CFI Secular Celebrants are now able to solemnize marriages in Indiana and Illinois, and earlier this month, the state of Oregon enacted a new law authorizing the same. You can listen to CFI Portland’s Dani Tofte discuss this issue on Jefferson Public Radio.

CFI continues to seek out opportunities to change state laws that prevent those who wish to be married by an officiant who shares their secular worldview from having that opportunity. For example, CFI Northeast Ohio is supporting legislation in that state, introduced by State Sen. Michael Skindell.

Eight of the class were Michigan natives, and one came all the way from Ohio. Congratulations to all. Click here if you’re interested in becoming a CFI Secular Celebrant yourself!


CFI Highlights on the Web and in the Media

  • whale whale.jpgIn a special report for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Benjamin Radford looks into the “moral panic” over what seems to be a wholly fictional phenomenon: The “Blue Whale Game,” which is alleged to instruct teenagers to commit suicide.
  • Major advancements in life-enhancing and life-extending biotechnology bring with them difficult ethical questions we are obligated to address. In a new essay at HuffPost, CFI’s Ronald Lindsay says religious morality is not equipped for this task.
  • In the Sun-Sentinel, Rabbi Barry Silver discusses his opposition to the National Day of Prayer and support of the National Day of Reason as an alternative, noting CFI’s role in its creation.
  • What the heck is a “globster”? Joe Nickell explains what’s behind “great decaying masses” that wash up on shores and seem to be horrible sea monsters.
  • Joe also discusses his investigations about sightings of moa, an extinct New Zealand creature that resembles a kind of monster-ostrich.
  • Bertha Vazquez updates us on the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES) program, with new workshops coming in Nebraska and North Carolina, new teacher corps members, and more.
  • For Skeptical Briefs, Ben Radford provides a rumination on the desire to unearth something truly paranormal in a piece about his investigation of an old “haunted” hotel.
  • Ben is also the guest on The Folklore Podcast, discussing the mythical chupacabra.
  • Mick West looks at the usefulness and pitfalls of crowdsourced UFO investigation.

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


Upcoming CFI Events

happypride.jpgJune 10:

June 11:

June 13:

June 17:

June 18:

524405aaaa8689_40035996f2.jpgJune 19:

July 14–16:


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 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