Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 87
August 9, 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
Secular Organizations Tell Trump: Give Us Our Seat at the Table
In February of 2010, the Obama administration hosted a policy briefing between White House officials and leaders of the nontheist/secular movement. The Center for Inquiry was represented there by the Council for Secular Humanism. It was a history-making event, for after decades of being politically untouchable, this was the first time a presidential administration had welcomed the freethought movement for an exchange of views. While there were some crucial differences of opinion in policy and comportment between the secular movement and the Obama administration, the White House would become increasingly open to meaningful and substantive interactions with our community throughout the Obama presidency.
In 2017, the gates have been closed and the connections have been cut. The Trump administration has ignored all attempts at communication by the secular movement, wholly disregarding a joint letter welcoming the new president and inviting the administration to continue the previous administration’s record of engagement with the nontheist community.
More importantly, in the space of seven months the current administration has aggressively pursued a policy agenda bent on undermining church-state separation and placing religious belief (specifically Christian religious belief) above the law. The Trump White House has sought to turn churches into super-PACs for the religious right’s favored candidates, reinforce the false notion that patriotism requires a belief in God, create a de facto religious test for entry into the country, and severely roll back protections for vulnerable populations such as religious minorities and the LGBTQ community.
As a case in point, just two weeks ago President Trump declared (seemingly out of the blue) that transgender Americans would be banned from serving in the U.S. military “in any capacity whatsoever.” Like so many other moves, it was a blatant pander to the most zealous fringes of the religious right that make up the president’s base. (See our response to the ban here.)
Now that the Trump administration has shown itself to be carrying out the wishes of the evangelical right and to be hostile to nonbelievers and religious minorities, the Center for Inquiry has partnered with the Secular Coalition for America, American Atheists, and the American Humanist Association for a joint statement calling out the White House for its unwillingness to engage with the representatives of the largest “religious group” in the United States, the unaffiliated.
The statement includes important messages from the leaders of each of the represented organizations. Robyn Blumner, CFI’s president and CEO, had this to say:
In an attempt to respect the office of the presidency and work constructively with those with whom we may disagree, the secular community reached out to President Trump to open a dialogue. Rather than greet that gesture as an opportunity, Trump ignored it and has gone on to question the patriotism of nonbelievers. When fealty to the president is the only yardstick by which one’s patriotism is measured, as it is in this administration, we happily fail that test. The nonreligious, humanists, and atheists, make up a significant proportion of America’s citizenry. That Trump finds us unworthy speaks volumes about him.
While there may be little in the way of lines of communication between secularists and the current administration, the Center for Inquiry will continue to work passionately for policies based on reason, science, and humanist values, and we will remain open to working with the White House when and if they choose to join us in this cause.
We will not, however, be holding our breath.
The Many Lives of Joe Nickell
“He dreamed of becoming a lot of things, and he became most of them.”
For anyone, this would be a wonderful way to be described, and it should be no surprise that this characterization refers specifically to CFI’s own Joe Nickell in a lengthy and fascinating profile by the UK’s Daily Mail.
The article by Jordan Gass-Poore covers Joe’s formative years, from when he was eight years old and had turned his room into a crime lab, through his experiences as a magician and private detective, and into the field that has earned him worldwide renown, the scientific investigation of claims of the paranormal.
With a wealth of anecdotes from Joe’s adventures and a collection of delightful photos that span a colorful career, the piece makes an important point about Joe’s point of view as an investigator, saying, “Nickell has gained international attention for being a ‘fair-minded investigator.’” As Joe says in the article, “It’s not my job to explain that there’s no ghosts. I don’t feel like I have to wrestle someone to the ground and beat on them the scientific knowledge.”
Joe also recounts the long-standing resistance within skepticism to the investigation of religious claims. Said Joe, “I came along and said, ‘No, the Shroud of Turin, the weeping icons, the faith healing miracles—those are important to look at and they deserve to be criticized and examined in the same way that any other claim but you do it with respect.’”
(See an example of Joe’s work in this area with his recent post on new “research” on the Shroud of Turin.)
Do yourself a favor and check out this great profile of our favorite paranormal sleuth.
News from the CFI Community
Despite Cancellation, Dawkins Is Coming to the Berkeley Area
Berkeley, California, radio station KPFA sparked waves of outrage and debate last month when it suddenly cancelled a scheduled public event for Richard Dawkins, at which he would discuss his new book Science of the Soul. The organizers claimed to have just been made aware of Prof. Dawkins’s views on Islam (which were fairly well known to pretty much everyone else, and surely didn’t stop them from hosting a Dawkins event in 2015) and without warning or discussion with Dawkins, unceremoniously alerted ticket holders that the event had been scrapped.
Prof. Dawkins attempted to reach out to KPFA to no avail, many news outlets covered the controversy, and several high-profile scientists, scholars, and writers from across the ideological and theological spectrum spoke out against KPFA’s decision and in defense of Richard Dawkins.
The KPFA event was to take place August 9, the day this very issue of Cause & Effect reaches inboxes and web browsers. Happily, people in the Berkeley area will still be able to attend an event with Prof. Dawkins, as he will now be appearing tonight (August 9) at the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera, California. As of this writing, only standing room tickets remain available. Given all that has occurred, what was already going to be a fascinating event should now be all the more interesting and enlightening.
CSICon 2017: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
But it’s also really hard to have to wait so long for all the amazingly brilliant speakers, the ridiculously fun events, and all the wonder and weirdness of Las Vegas. Waiting for CSICon is enough to drive anyone CSICotic! (I’m so very sorry.)
Luckily, we’re filling those weeks with great video content from last year’s CSICon and brand-new interviews with many of this year’s speakers.
On CFI’s video series Reasonable Talk, social psychologist Carol Tavris delivers a presentation on the powerful cognitive dissonance everyone, including skeptics, experiences when forced to reckon with ideas that conflict with our beliefs.
Also on Reasonable Talk, parapsychology expert James Alcock discusses how humans have evolved to make associations between events with no actual connection (which manifests in the belief in the power of prayer, for example), and how critical thinking skills come very late into the picture.
Meanwhile, Susan Gerbic (who has been doing true yeoman’s work for this project) brings us five new exclusive interviews with CSICon 2017 speakers:
- Former naturopath Britt Hermes talks about what turned her away from fake medicine.
- Natalie Newell talks about her documentary Science Moms, which will premiere at CSICon.
- Conspiracy theory expert Robert Brotherton discusses his own “secret agenda” to help skeptics better understand conspiracy theories.
- Physicist Taner Edis brings a new perspective on pseudoscientific beliefs from the Islamic world.
- Kenny Biddle reveals some of the secrets of paranormal photography.
Now you should have plenty to keep you busy until October: planning your trip and enjoying all of this great skeptic insight. If you’re not already, get yourself registered, and we’ll see you at the Excalibur.
Celebrating Summer, Secularly
Beautiful sunny weather greeted the attendees of CFI Michigan’s 11th Annual Secular Summer Retreat in July. CFI members from across the Midwest enjoyed camping classics: s’mores, campfires, fantastic home-cooked food, and the wonders of the great outdoors while kayaking, biking, and hiking. Younger campers (as well as some “big kids”) thoroughly enjoyed making their own stomp rockets and salt paintings, which was followed by a camp-wide scavenger hunt. In the afternoon, the Water Challenge helped everyone cool off with plenty of water balloons for everyone.
Kahler Sweeney, who is interning with CFI Michigan for the summer, told us what it was like to be there. “It was amazing to see first-time attendees relish their ‘first contact’ as they were welcomed into the larger secular community, and to watch returning guests re-unite with friends from previous years,” said Kahler. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of the CFI Community!”
Congratulations on another successful retreat, Michiganders, and thanks to Kahler for the report from the field.
CFI Highlights on the Web
- In June, CFI sounded the alarm about a scheme in the U.S. House to kill the Johnson Amendment through the appropriations process, forbidding the IRS from investigating any potential violations. At ThinkProgress, Jack Jenkins thoroughly reports on the machinations behind the scenes, as Republicans look to turn churches into “dark money” campaign operations. CFI’s legal director, Nick Little, provides background and insight.
- Nick Little is also author of a new special report for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, titled, simply, “Homeopathy Is a Sham.” Nick makes clear that if manufacturers and retailers don’t adhere to regulations in the marketing of homeopathic fake medicine, CFI will be ready to take legal action.
- The good folks at CFI Michigan get coverage at MLive for their volunteer work with the Healthy Homes Coalition.
- International humanist activist Leo Igwe, looking for ways to promote critical thinking throughout Africa, introduces the concept of “iDoubt,” in which the “i” represents several “applications”: individual doubt, inspire doubt, inculcate doubt, inform doubt, and Internet doubt.
- SkepDoc Harriet Hall finds the many red flags for quackery within emails advertising a “lost Navajo remedy” for curing deafness.
- Essam Munir discusses the phenomenon of the “Feeling of Presence,” the sensation of being near someone when no one is there, and how science has revealed much about its neurological basis.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- Richard Dawkins appears at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA.
- Philosophy professor Mark Pestana speaks to CFI Michigan on the evolution of consciousness.
- CFI Western New York attends Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s performance of Macbeth.
- CFI Michigan takes part in a Secular Service project, canvassing with the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, meant to help those affected by the lead poisoning in the water supply.
- CFI Indiana hosts a Robert Green Ingersoll Birthday Celebration.
- CFI Austin welcomes David Oliverio for a presentation on his journey out of Pentecostalism and into atheist activism.
- CFI Pittsburgh holds its 9th annual CFI Canoe Trip and Shrimp Boil Picnic.
- CFI Portland takes part in a solar eclipse viewing party with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).
- CFI Austin hears from Mark T. Bedford of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on the topic of epigenetics.
- Constitutional law professor Dan Ray and Freethought Blogs founder Ed Brayton discuss the 2017 Supreme Court term with CFI Michigan.
- CFI Indiana hosts a presentation from the Women4Change Indiana Restructuring + Activism Task Force on the Vote by Mail initiative.
- CFI Western New York tables at the Elmwood Arts Festival.
- CFI Northeast Ohio holds its members-only summer picnic.
- CFI Austin hosts a presentation from a former member of the Christian Science church on their escape from the faith.
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 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.