CFI-NYC eBulletin - January 2009

Upcoming Lectures

Truth Uncorked: Wine and Conversation with Maggie Jackson, Author of "Distracted," Thurs., Jan. 15

CFI's next Truth Uncorked wine and conversation event will take place on Thursday, January 15 with Maggie Jackson .   Jackson is an award-winning author and journalist known for her penetrating coverage of U.S. social issues. She writes the popular "Balancing Acts" column in the Sunday Boston Globe , and her work has also appeared in The New York Times , Gastronomica and on National Public Radio.  Her latest book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (Prometheus Books, 2008) details the steep costs of our current epidemic deficits of attention, while revealing the astonishing scientific discoveries that can help us rekindle our powers of focus in a world of speed and overload.  A former foreign correspondent for The Associated Press in Tokyo and London, Jackson has won numerous awards for her coverage of work-life issues, including the Media Award from the Work-Life Council of the Conference Board.

Cosponsored by the Dactyl Foundation for the Arts & Humanities.

Thurs., Jan. 15, 6:30 p.m. at the Dactyl Foundation, 64 Grand Street.

Space is Limited; RSVP recommended . $20 includes admission and wine. To RSVP, call (212) 504-2935 or e-mail nyc [at] centerforinquiry [dot] net.

The 2009 Annual Thomas Paine Memorial Lecture featuring Joe Conason, Wed., Jan. 21

CFI-NYC's 2009 annual Thomas Paine Memorial Lecture —always one of the highlights of our year—will be delivered by author and columnist Joe Conason. Conason, the author of numerous books and a regular contributor to The New York Observer and Salon.com , is an investigative reporter and outspoken political commentator in the tradition of Paine.  His most recent book, It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush , is now available in paperback.  His talk, which is scheduled for the day after the presidential inauguration, will provide a broad view of Paine's political and economic ideas and their relevance to American society, politics and government today.

Wednesday, January 21, 6:30-8:00 p.m.

General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen, 20 W 44th St.

Advanced registration is recommended. Lecture admission is $10 (free for Friends of the Center; call 212-504-2935 to RSVP). You may purchase in advance by credit card (call 212-504-2935), or by check (made payable to the Center for Inquiry-New York City; mail to 80 Broad St, 5th Fl., New York, NY 10004). Alternatively, you may pay at the door by cash, check, or credit card.

NYC Skeptics Present Donald R. Prothero - Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters, Sat., Jan. 10

Join the NYC Skeptics on January 10 for a presentation by Dr. Donald R. Prothero on Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters .  Evolution is under attack as never before, and creationists have been particularly strident in claiming that the fossil record does not support the fact of evolution. In fact, none of the creationists has appropriate training to even talk about fossils, and most of their claims are quoted out of context, or reflect a simplistic reading of kiddie books. In this lecture, Prothero will review what the fossil record REALLY shows about the evidence for evolution, and the incredible wealth of "transitional fossils" or "missing links" that have been discovered, especially in the past few decades. We will explore the implications of the creationist attack not only on evolution, but also on science literacy and the future of our technological society.

Saturday, January 10, 1:00 p.m.
University Settlement
184 Eldridge St. (at Rivington St., two blocks south of Houston)

Admission is free and open to the public.

Community Events

Brooklyn "Philosophy and Fries" Meetup: Tues., Jan. 13

Join CFI's Brooklyn Meetup for the next installation of Philosophy and Fries .  What do we know about belief? As it stands, we still have not gathered why exactly our brain takes some propositions as true, and others as false. Yet this does not mean belief is a pointless topic of discussion.

One definition for belief we can use here is given by author Sam Harris in his 2004 book End of Faith . Harris states that "beliefs are attempts to represent states of the world." So, for instance, I would believe a proposition such as "the wine glass in front of me is empty" if I could indeed see the wine glass in front of me, and see that it is empty. My belief is thus a consequence of the way the world is.  This, Harris argues, must leave a person open to new evidence. Therefore, wine being poured into the glass must change my belief about the amount of wine in that glass. This means that "if there were no conceivable change in the world that could get a person to question his beliefs, this would prove that his (Harris argues religious, in this case) beliefs were not predicated upon his taking any state of the world into account. He could not claim, therefore, to be representing the world at all."  Is Harris right? Are beliefs "attempts to represent states of the world"? Or is there another, better definition? What sorts of beliefs exist in the world today? Must they be falsifiable? Must they logically cohere? And where does knowledge -- defined by ancient Greeks as "justified true belief" -- come into play?

As you can see, there is much more to discuss. In the coming weeks, I will post a lengthier essay on belief to help us prepare for the discussion. Then, on Jan. 13, armed with evolutionary biologist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, we will discuss all of this, and more. This will be the second meeting of Philosophy and Fries, one event of many from CFI-Brooklyn.

The Park Plaza Restaurant is a Brooklyn Heights-located diner with lots of space, fairly priced food, and beer, wine and cocktails. To get there:

Park Plaza Restaurant, 220 Cadman Plz W
A or C to High Street
2 or 3 to Clark Street
4, 5, M or R to Court Street, Borough Hall

Learn more here:
http://www.meetup.com/cfibrooklyn/calendar/9114853/

Book Club: “Spirituality for the Skeptic” by Robert Solomon, Thurs., Jan. 22

The jointly sponsored Center for Inquiry / Secular Humanist Society of New York Book Club will meet on Thursday, January 22, 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. in the Muhlenberg Library, 209 West 23rd Street (at 7th Ave.), 3rd Floor, to discuss Robert Solomon's Spirituality for the Skeptic Philosopher Robert Solomon explores what it means to be spiritual in today's pluralistic world. Prof. Solomon has no sympathy for New Age spirituality or any traditional religious practice. But he has also grown weary of academic philosophy's tendency to "clever paradox and puzzle-solving" and "often cynical obscurantism." "Philosophy," he reminds us, "is a spiritual practice." He looks to Hegel and Nietzsche for the tools to pursue a naturalized spirituality as "the thoughtful love of life."

Join us even if you haven't finished reading. The CFI/SHSNY Book Club is open to all ... and free! Every CFI/SHSNY Book Club Meet is a Book Swap, too. Bring the books gathering dust on your shelves and take your pick of other readers' castaways. The leftovers? Donated to the Muhlenberg.

Directions to the Muhlenberg Library, 209 West 23rd Street (at 7th Ave.): 1 train to 23rd St. & 7th Ave., F or V to 23rd & 6th, C or E to 23rd & 8th; #23 or #20 bus to 23rd & 7th. Parking garages at 170 and 101 West 23rd. The library has an elevator to the 3rd floor Community Room.

Movie Night: Mon., Jan. 26

Join us for another installment of the jointly-sponsored CFI-NYC / Secular Humanist Society of New York monthly Movie Night.

Monday, January 26, 7:00 p.m.

Stone Creek Bar & Lounge

140 E 27th St. (Lex-3rd Aves)

There is no room-rental charge at Stone Creek Lounge, but management expects us each to spend the equivalent of a "one drink minimum." Check out the menu and prices at http://www.stonecreeknyc.com . For more information, contact John Rafferty: john [at] rafferty [dot] net.

Announcements

CFI Launches Blog: Free Thinking Now Live!

On December 16, 2008, the Center for Inquiry launched its front-page blog , "Free Thinking."

Consistent with CFI's mission, the blog  will offer uninhibited, unsparing, and provocative observations and insights on a variety of topics of interest to CFI and its supporters—including the supporters of CFI's two principal affiliates, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism.

Bloggers are, at present, members of the staff of CFI (and CSI and CSH) and will include Joe Nickell, Ben Radford, Tom Flynn, D.J. Grothe, Lauren Becker, Debbie Goddard, John Shook, and Derek Araujo.  Although all the bloggers will be posted together, they will also be searchable and sortable by individual, so if at this time next year you want to review a collection of Tom Flynn's best puns over the past twelve months, you will be able to do so (why you would want to do so is another question—but, hey, that's your choice).  Other staffers will appear frequently with guest posts, and thoughtful commenting is encouraged.

After the initial launch, CFI will be entering into arrangements with experienced bloggers outside of CFI to share news, commentaries, videos, and so forth.  Our goal is to bring you the best and the most timely discussions and observations on science, skepticism, critique of religion, church-state controversies, humanist communities, and secular values.

Now for some unavoidable legalese: As indicated, we want our bloggers to be opinionated and candid.  To ensure frank and open discussion, the content of the blogs will not be discussed with the management of CFI, CSI, and CSH prior to posting.  Accordingly, the viewpoints expressed on "Free Thinking" are the viewpoints of the individual blogger only and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of, nor should they be attributed to, CFI, CSI, or CSH, or any of their directors or officers.  CFI, CSI, and CSH disclaim any responsibilities for statements set forth in the blog .  Similarly, any comments posted by visitors to the blog are solely and exclusively the responsibility of that visitor.  CFI, CSI, and CSH disclaim any responsibility for such comments.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, CFI, CSI, and CSH do reserve the right to remove comments that are considered obscene or potentially defamatory, under prevailing legal standards.

Free your thinking!  Check in on our blog and register your own views .  You may be pleased or annoyed—but we don't believe you will remain indifferent.

On Human Rights Day, the Center for Inquiry Works to Uphold the Universality of Rights.

December 10, 2008: Today we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and above all its affirmation of the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and expression.

At the United Nations General Assembly meeting in Paris in December 1948 at which the Declaration was adopted, Eleanor Roosevelt told the assembled delegates: “As we bring to fruition our labors on this Declaration of Human Rights, we must at the same time rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task which lies before us.” That task was to make the Declaration “a common standard of achievement” for humanity, and it remains unfinished.

Combating "blasphemy" prohibitions at the United Nations

The Center for Inquiry is appalled that at its current session the U.N. General Assembly is adopting a resolution to combat the “defamation of religions,” which urges member states to curtail freedom of expression out of respect for religious belief, particularly Islamic belief. Since 2005, such declarations have been pushed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

In a forthcoming editorial, the editors of Free Inquiry magazine write, “The U.N. should be doing everything in its power to stamp out criminal prohibitions of blasphemy and apostasy in Islamic states, not lending them its moral authority.”

At the Human Rights Council’s ninth session in October, CFI participated in the debate over “defamation of religions” and released a position paper titled, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations.”  On December 12-15, CFI's Representative to the U.N., Dr. Austin Dacey, will be in the Netherlands for public discussions on the future of freedom of expression in Europe, which are already making news in the Dutch press .

Campaigning for one law for all in Britain

On December 10, CFI senior research fellow Ibn Warraq will be at the British House of Lords to participate in the launch of a campaign concerning the operation of Islamic Sharia courts in the United Kingdom.

The courts, which arbitrate civil matters such as divorce, financial disputes, and even domestic violence, now operate in five major cities. The courts are voluntary, but powerful tradition and lack of information conspire to leave no real choice for many, particularly young people and women. The purpose of the campaign is to lobby for legislation outlawing the use of religious courts to determine family law and inheritance matters, and to undertake an information campaign informing Muslim women of their family law rights under UK law.

The One Law for All Campaign against Sharia law in Britain has already received widespread support from AC Grayling; Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Bahram Soroush; Baroness Caroline Cox; Caspar Melville; Deeyah; Fariborz Pooya; Gina Khan; Houzan Mahmoud; Homa Arjomand; Ibn Warraq; Joan Smith; Johann Hari; Keith Porteous Wood; Mina Ahadi; Naser Khader; Nick Cohen; Richard Dawkins; Shakeb Isaar; Sonja Eggerickx; Stephen Law; Tarek Fatah; Tauriq Moosa; Taslima Nasrin and others.

The Center for Inquiry , which recently opened a branch in London , is among the many organizational supporters.

To get involved in the campaign, please visit the campaign website, email  onelawforall [at] gmail.com , or call 07719166731.

CFI announces Positively Secular : a special winter 2009 educational session in Los Angeles, CA

CFI/Los Angeles, January 7-11, 2009

What is the naturalistic alternative to religion? How is scientific inquiry relevant to day-to-day life? How can secularism be protected and expanded? These questions, representing issues central to CFI’s mission and message, will be thoroughly explored, especially as they relate to today’s culture wars, when the Center for Inquiry brings its Institute to Los Angeles for a special winter January 2009 session .

The courses offered January 7-11, 2009 are organized around the theme “Positively Secular,” and will explain skepticism, scientific naturalism, constitutional secularism, and the replacement of religion by humanist ethics.

The sessions include Day, Evening, and Weekend modules. Attend all three modules for an integrated and in-depth understanding of the worldview of secular humanism. The Center for Inquiry will award a Certificate of Proficiency in Humanist Studies for attendance of all three modules.

Featured classes and instructors:

  • “Why There Really Is No God” — Eddie Tabash
  • “Defending Science Against Its Cultured Despisers” — John Shook
  • “Why Be Rational? Applied Critical Thinking in Everyday Life” — James Underdown
  • “Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking: What Skeptics Need to Know” — Carol Tavris
  • “Being Good without God: The Ethical Life in a Natural World” — John Shook
  • “Skepticism and Extraordinary Claims: A Paranormal Investigator Looks at Miracles” — James Underdown
  • “It’s Only Natural: What Is Philosophical Naturalism?” — John Shook
  • “Taking Secularism to the General Public” — Eddie Tabash
  • “Separation of Church and State” — Eddie Tabash
  • “Secular and Planetary Ethics: How Humanism Can Save the World” — John Shook
  • “An Unusual Look at the Ten Commandments” — James Underdown
  • “The Monkey and the Milky Way: Hope in the Midst of Battle” — Lauren Becker

To register, or for more information, please visit www.centerforinquiry.net/winter

or contact:

Michele McNerney
mmcnerney [at] centerforinquiry [dot] net
(716) 636-4869 ext. 408

or

Aek Eisenhauer
aeisenhauer [at] centerforinquiry [dot] net
(716) 636-4869 ext. 229

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2009 from the staff of the Center for Inquiry-New York City.

CFI-NYC Launches Capital Campaign

CFI-NYC's current rented space at 80 Broad Street has many limitations. We have barely enough room for staff to function efficiently. We have no room for skeptics and secular humanists to gather. The next step of CFI-NYC's development is to take its place as a leading cultural institution. To this end, we are seeking to purchase a 5,000+ square-foot property in Manhattan (hopefully with room for expansion) to serve as the headquarters for our growing staff and to become a permanent home for reason, science, and secular values in New York.

We are challenging our friends - humanists, skeptics, and freethinkers in the New York area - to help us exceed our goal of raising $6.25 million. Our goal is based on the amount considered necessary to purchase and renovate a building that will suit our needs.

Our capital campaign brochure is available for download on our website at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/nyc/news/capital_campaign .To request a hard copy of our brochure, or to inquire about making a contribution, call Sherry Rook, Vice President of Development, at (800) 818-7071.

Show Your Commitment to Reason, Science and Secular Values

In the contemporary marketplace of ideas, one can find responsible, objective, and evidence-based information on everything from foreign policy to hormone replacement therapy. Yet when it comes to some of our most fundamental questions--about human values, the transcendent, or the borderlands of science--one often only hears from partisans of traditional religion, New Age practitioners, or anti-science movements.

With its network of scientists and other thinkers, its grassroots advocacy and public education organizations, and its popular and scholarly publications, the Center for Inquiry fills this gap, lending a credible voice to critical inquiry and the scientific outlook.

Help CFI promote and defend science, reason, and freedom of inquiry by becoming a Friend of the Center. Friends of the Center receive:

  • Free or discounted admission to CFI events
  • 10% discount for national events sponsored by CFI and its affiliates CSH and CSI
  • 15% discount on selected Prometheus Books titles
  • A colorful CFI vinyl decal
  • An enamel CFI lapel pin (Contributor level or higher)
  • Invitations to special events and private receptions (Benefactor level and donors of $1000 or higher)

Join the Center for Inquiry by becoming a Friend of the Center.