Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 94

November 29, 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 Top Stories

ARKualaLump.pngMalaysian Officials Endanger Atheists

Earlier this summer, we were stunned to hear a high official in the Malaysian government say that atheists needed to be “hunted down.” This person was responding to a photo being shared over social media of a gathering of nonbelievers in Malaysia and found the sight of those smiling secularists to be unacceptable. He called for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding this meeting, particularly into whether any Muslims (or ex-Muslims) were involved. Many in Malaysia called for the atheists’ imprisonment and even execution.

At the UN Human Rights Council last month, CFI President and CEO Robyn Blumner took the opportunity to shine the spotlight on this overreaction to an innocent meeting and Malaysia’s hostility to atheists. “There is no room for this kind of religious persecution in a world community that honors freedom of conscience,” she declared.

Last week, another gauntlet was thrown when Malaysia’s deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs, Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, went a step further, calling atheism a “threat,” “unconstitutional,” and even “seditious.”

“Anyone who tries to spread ideologies and doctrines that promote atheism and similar beliefs which tarnish the sanctity of other religions, can be charged under the Sedition Act,” said Asyraf to the Malaysian parliament.

When this issue first arose in the summer, Robyn told the United Nations that it constituted a “human rights situation.” If atheists and ex-Muslims are indeed “hunted down,” treated as threats to the nation, and charged with sedition, this situation will have grown into a full-blown crisis.

Tweeting in response to the words of the deputy minister, CFI board member Richard Dawkins said, “Words fail me. How do you deal with such prodigies of stupidity and injustice?” And it is indeed baffling but hardly unique. It may not be long before CFI’s Secular Rescue program is activated to begin relocating Malaysian atheists, just as it has done for those in Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

“We hear almost every day from atheists and secularists in majority-Muslim countries who are terrified for their lives, dealing with suffocating persecution and death threats, and we do all we can to help as many of them as possible,” said Robyn in our official statement. “The comments made by this Malaysian official have put innocent people in danger simply for raising legitimate questions about ingrained religious beliefs.”


Quarter-mail-6--A.pngLouis Appignani’s Quarter Million Dollar Challenge

Louis Appignani is back, challenging the supporters of reason and science to give our shared mission an end-of-year boost. But he’s not just asking; he’s participating. Louis has generously agreed to match every single donation to the Center for Inquiry all the way up to a quarter million dollars.

Louis will double the power of every contribution that comes in from now until the end of 2017. He’s giving all of us the opportunity to make a powerful impact in support of freethought, free expression, and free inquiry. With reality being twisted every day by the forces of superstition, conspiracy theories, and religious dogma, there’s never been a greater need for CFI to have the resources to confront these challenges.

Make no mistake; Louis Appignani is serious about this mission. For decades, he’s been a champion of secularism and the rights of the nonreligious.

Please don’t miss this amazing opportunity that Louis has presented. We can meet the Appignani Quarter Million Dollar Challenge and do more for our cause than ever before. Make your tax-deductible, matched donation right now.


News from the CFI Community

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 11.39.28 AM.pngConspiracies and Cults in CFI’s Flagship Publications

The November/December issue of Skeptical Inquirer centers on tall tales becoming several stories taller, as conspiracy theories, fake news, and wishful thinking spiral into myths and legends.

In the cover feature on conspiracy theories, sociologist Jeffrey S. Debies-Carl follows the infamous “Pizzagate” fake-scandal of the 2016 election, a right-wing conspiracy theory that asserted that the Clintons and their associates were operating a child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor.

“Legends, just like fake news, can lead to real-world consequences,” writes Debies-Carl, showing that Pizzagate is an example of a lie evolving into a full-blown legend, so much so that it led to “legend-tripping,” in which a person tries to enter into the legend itself. That’s just what happened when one of the legend’s adherents took it upon himself to grab an assault rifle and head to the pizza joint to “rescue” the fictional children.

This issue also includes Eric Wojciechowski on the phenomenon of already-accomplished people feeling the need to embellish their life stories into something fantastical; Bertha Vazquez and Christopher Freidhoff answering some key questions about the teaching of evolution; and Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier marking the 70th anniversary of the Roswell UFO incident…plus a lot more.

harmstondead_062813_0.jpgThe December 2017/January 2018 issue of Free Inquiry takes us from conspiracies to cults. Joanne Hanks escaped a life entrapped by the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days (TLC) seventeen years ago, and with the help of Steve Cuno muses on the properties of cults, which can range in destructiveness from Amway to Jim Jones. Primarily, Hanks offers a kind of tongue-in-cheek how-to for becoming susceptible to the call of the cult. “If your life’s dream is to become or to raise prime cult-bait, [this] is for you,” she says, clarifying, “I’m talking about the kind of cult that dictates your identity, what you will think, and how you will act, all to an absurd level of intrusion.”

This issue also features a remarkable and sobering look at the power of the John Templeton Foundation, which Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn reveals “cuts a mighty swath across fields from science to psychology, ethics to religion.” Documenting eighteen of the fund’s grants—which include projects having to do with diagnosing “what’s wrong” with nonbelievers, the “properties” of God, and critiques of scientific explanations for morality—Tom shows how “by its sheer scale, Templeton’s giving has a potentially pernicious effect on every field it penetrates.”

Also not to be missed is Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s call for a bond of friendship between science and philosophy, distinguishing philosophy as how we humans “get a handle on who we are.”

Subscribe now to Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry, or check out their digital versions: Skeptical Inquirer is available in app stores across mobile platforms, and Free Inquiry now offers web-only subscriptions.


CFI Highlights on the Web

photo_84555_landscape_650x433.jpgThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution seeks insight from CFI Legal Director Nick Little in a multifaceted piece on the Johnson Amendment and church politicking.

The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles philosopher and Skeptical Inquirer contributor Massimo Pigliucci on his embrace of stoicism.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has led a political movement that trades reason for ideology and erodes the nation’s secular foundations. In Free Inquiry, James Haught looks back on the now-threatened legacy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Joe Nickell looks at the phenomenon he calls the “Roswellian Syndrome,” in which mythmaking around conspiracies about aliens surround UFO incidents subsequent to the seventy-year-old legend. In this case, the foil used in weather balloons is taken to be of extraterrestrial origin.

babykiller003.jpgJoe also takes us back to the nineteenth century to see some of the popular treatments for babies’ teething pains, which came to be known as “baby killers” for including morphine sulfate among their ingredients.

Harriet Hall explores the ethical and practical pitfalls of sham surgeries as a way to scientifically determine the efficacy of a particular procedure. “One might just as well argue that not doing a sham surgery trial is more unethical, since it means that far greater numbers of patients will be harmed in the long run.”

In Free Inquiry, Shadia Drury tackles the particular problems of monotheism, writing, “Wittingly or unwittingly, monotheism divides the world into good and evil. The latter must be utterly destroyed if good is to prevail.”

Benjamin Radford uses the example of a construction worker and his gun-resembling tools to illustrate how expectations color our perceptions in a new piece at the Free Thinking blog.

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

Upcoming CFI Events

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CFI Michigan

  • December 9: Secular Service time, helping out the nonprofit Kids’ Food Basket as they address childhood hunger through their Sack Supper program.
  • December 13: Solstice Dinner in Grand Rapids.
  • December 16: Solstice Dinner in Madison Heights.


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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