Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 97
January 10, 2018
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
New Leadership for a New Year at Two CFI Branches
The new year begins with a new chapter for two of the Center for Inquiry’s vital and active local branches, as two dedicated members of the CFI family step into key leadership roles.
A decade ago, the Freethought Association of West Michigan had already been going strong for ten years when it merged with the Center for Inquiry, becoming CFI’s Michigan branch. At that time, CFI Michigan hired Jennifer Beahan as the assistant director, working with longtime Executive Director Jeff Seaver. Over the next ten years, CFI Michigan has hosted hundreds of lectures, organized civic events and family activities, and put their humanism into action with frequent “secular service” events.
At the end of 2017, Jeff stepped down from his position at CFI Michigan, now in its twenty-first year, and as Jennifer takes on the role of executive director of CFI Michigan. As Jeff wrote in a message to branch members, “I have full confidence in her as a talented and able leader who is personally invested and committed to CFI Michigan’s important work.” All of us at CFI share Jeff’s confidence in Jen.
“As I transition into the role of executive director, I look forward to leading the charge in our fight to defend science, reason, free inquiry, and humanist values,” wrote Jen in her own message. “I am honored by the continued support of our community and grateful for the countless hours Jeff Seaver … and all of our volunteers and members have devoted to building this community over the past twenty years.”
We turn then to the Center for Inquiry’s transnational headquarters in Amherst, New York, which is not only the base of CFI’s operations around the world, but also the home of our thriving and close-knit local branch for Western New York. Volunteer Program Director John Barrett transitioned to becoming chair of the branch’s advisory board on January 1. Stepping up to becoming the branch’s new program director and its first paid staff member is Stef McGraw.
Stef began as an outreach intern in 2012 and was hired as a full-time staff member in 2014. Her devotion and considerable communication and leadership skills were obvious from the beginning. Now, Stef will be dividing her time between her outreach duties for the national organization and running CFI Western New York.
“CFI Western New York became my community group for secular activism and skeptical conversation,” wrote Stef in a message to branch members. “Now, I’m excited to have the opportunity to make this group even stronger so that it can serve even more humanists and skeptics in our region.” We have no doubt she will do just that.
CFI Michigan Celebrates 20 Years at Solstice Awards Ceremony
CFI Michigan hosted their annual Solstice Dinners in Grand Rapids and Madison Heights (in the Detroit Area) on December 13 and 16 respectively, with 120 combined attendees, despite the terrible snow storm.
Eddie Tabash, CFI’s Board Chair, was the special guest at both dinners, and spoke about the dangers our movement and our country are currently facing and how supporting CFI is crucial to confronting those challenges. He also facilitated the “passing of the torch,” as mentioned in the above news item, honoring Jeff Seaver for twenty years of dedicated work building CFI Michigan. Eddie also expressed his confidence, and that of the national CFI leadership, in Jennifer Beahan as she takes on her new role as executive director.
The Advisory Board honored Jeff with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Freethinker of the Year Award was presented to longtime member and supporter of CFI Michigan, Carl Bajema. Carl was a professor of biology at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) for more than forty years, with visiting professorships and fellowships at several institutions including Harvard. He has been a member of the branch since the early days of the Freethought Association, was responsible for first bringing Richard Dawkins to Michigan to speak at GVSU in 1997, and was a vocal supporter of evolution when other biology professors at GVSU were advancing creationism. He was responsible for authoring the Michigan Science Standards for teaching evolution.
The Volunteer of the Year Awards were presented to the Shel Lynn Hawthorne and Dave Jensen, an inseparable pair who have volunteered together for several years. Jennifer noted, “It has been a pleasure to watch them go from quiet, introverted attendees who would sneak out before the Q&A was finished so that they didn’t have to talk to people … to becoming regular attendees at the information and sales tables at our regular meetings. Shel has been a dedicated volunteer to video tape our meetings, in spite of battling serious illness for the past year. Their dedication and perseverance has made them incredibly valuable volunteers.”
Was Jesus a Man or a Myth? A Heated Debate in Free Inquiry
The assertion that a historical Jesus once walked the Earth is obviously of monumental consequence to billions of Christians, and the question of the historicity of Jesus Christ, whether or not such a person ever existed, has been a matter of heated debate for centuries. Perhaps surprisingly, a great deal of that heat is generated from the arguments among nonbelievers! And the latest issue of Free Inquiry, the magazine of CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism, is practically ablaze from the disagreement between freethought factions as to whether Jesus was a real person or a myth.
This special cover feature is framed as a response to two previous articles by historian and Free Inquiry Senior Editor Bill Cooke, “Why Secular Humanists Should Abandon the Myth Theory of Jesus” (December 2016/January 2017) and “The Mythical Jesus Argument: What’s the Key Issue?” (October/November 2017) Representing the mythologist position for this issue are Biblical scholar Robert M. Price; David Fitzgerald, author of two books on the subject; and NASA engineer Michael Paulkovich.
These writers hold nothing back in their fervent assault on the historicity position. “Jesus myth theory is Kryptonite for Christians. They can’t even enjoy a relaxed agnosticism about the mere possibility of mythicism being true,” writes FItzgerald. “They need Jesus not to be a myth. Unfortunately, he is a myth.”
“If Jesus was as famous as the Bible claims,” writes Paulkovich, “somebody during the first century—outside of the authors of the New Testament fantasies—would have written about him.”
Cooke himself gets the chance to respond in kind, characterizing the mythologist position as a mirror image of evangelical Christianity’s conception of Jesus, adding, “Mythicist scholarship ... bears some uncomfortably close similarities to conspiracy theorist thinking.”
This issue of Free Inquiry also includes a moving essay from Lubna Ahmed Yaseen, a remarkable woman who escaped persecution in Iraq with help from CFI’s Secular Rescue program, and a personal story from Nigerian activist Leo Igwe on his journey toward humanism and the fight against deadly superstitious beliefs in Africa. Plus so much more.
Free Inquiry is available on newsstands, and by print or web subscription at secularhumanism.org/fi.
Latest Point of Inquiry Podcast is Non-Organic and Artificially Sweetened
Will sugar really kill you? Or will it be artificial sweeteners that do you in? Is it really better to eat organic, or is it more of a status symbol? Point of Inquiry host Paul Fidalgo is, like many folks, confused about all of the conflicting health and nutrition information swirling around. That’s why on the latest episode of CFI’s flagship podcast, he’s got two brilliant and hilarious guests to help sort through it all: skeptic activists and writers Yvette d’Entremont, also known as the “SciBabe,” and Kavin Senapathy, who also appears in the new documentary Science Moms.
These three spend an hour clearing up myths, discussing their own journeys into science and reason, and laughing at their own jokes. A lot. It’s a great way to kick off a year of critical thinking, so go get the latest Point of Inquiry now at Apple Podcasts, Google Play, TuneIn, or wherever you get podcasts.
CFI Highlights on the Web
Climate scientist Mark Boslough, a fellow of CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, has for four years in a row challenged climate change deniers to prove their case and put up $25,000 to make it interesting. He started in partnership with CFI back in 2015. No one has taken him up on the challenge yet, but Mark is at it again, as he explains at HuffPost.
New from Skeptical Inquirer:
- Jeffrey S. Debies-Carl uses the Pizzagate fake-plot as a lens through which to examine conspiracy theories and how they can be better understood as legends.
- Kendrick Frazier, editor of Skeptical Inquirer, looks back at seventy years of the Roswell UFO incident, pointing out how unremarkable the whole thing turned out to be at the time it was supposed to have happened.
- Eric Wojciechowski looks at why people with otherwise-impressive résumés and life stories feel the need to make up additional stuff about themselves.
- Amy Frushour Kelly addresses the necessity of critical thinking when it comes to care for a special-needs child, writing, “I’m literally a card-carrying skeptic, and even I had trouble discerning actual danger from what wasn’t dangerous. Can you imagine how much harder it is for the average special-needs parent?”
- Brett Taylor explores the myths about Hollywood “curses” surrounding films like The Exorcist and celebrities like Bruce and Brandon Lee, and how the studios take advantage of those myths to sell their movies.
- Bertha Vazquez, powerhouse leader of our Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, and Christopher Freidhoff present a kind of FAQ on evolution education.
Like so much else in our culture, the new year brings with it its own myths, particularly about dieting. Some of these are addressed and deflated by Benjamin Radford at the CFI Free Thinking blog.
- Ben’s work is also noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in a piece on how the white supremacist alt-right mythologizes itself.
Also at the blog, Joe Nickell shows off a new acquisition, a pre-Civil War bottle for Sands’s Sarsaparilla: “It purifies, cleanses, and strengthens the fountain springs of life, and infuses new vigor throughout the whole animal frame.” Sounds like it could be sold by Goop.
- Plus, Joe is held up as a prime example of how to go about investigation of the paranormal by RealClearScience’s Ross Pomeroy.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- January 15: A “Food for Thought” discussion on the wonderful world of animals, plants, and fungi in action.
- January 19: The first of CFI Austin’s Friday Night deLights classes.
- January 21: Joshua Richards discusses why Jesus would have made a good atheist.
- February 10: Darwin Day 2018, with keynote presentations, kids’ science activities, and more.
- January 10: Garry Beckstrom of the Beckstrom Observatory discusses a particular star that has baffled astronomers for over 200 years.
CFI Tampa Bay
- February 3: Participation in the first Meals On Wheels of Tampa 5K & Fun Run Music Fest.
CFI Western New York
- January 19: CFI’s new director of government affairs, Jason Lemieux, presents a talk on his experience as a congressional staffer and what it’s taught him about getting through to public officials.
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!
Fortnightly updates not enough? Of course they’re not.
• Follow CFI on Twitter.
• Like us on Facebook.
• Encircle us on Google+.
• Subscribe to us on YouTube.
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.