Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 100
February 21, 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
Evolution and Activism Celebrated in Darwin Day and Civic Day Events
CFI branches across the country have been celebrating Charles Darwin and his legacy. Two hundred and fifty people turned out to celebrate the life and legacy of Charles Darwin for CFI Austin’s annual Darwin Day event. The full day of presentations and activities included expert presentations on human evolution and adaptation as well as talks on primates, insects, biospheres, and even Darwin’s ideas as represented in the movie Avatar. Grown-ups also had the chance to show off their highly evolved brains with a trivia contest.
Kids probably had the best time of all, taking part in a fossil dig, a build-a-dino workshop, some useful training in how to walk like a dinosaur, microscopic looks at tiny creatures, arts and crafts, storytelling, and much more. And let’s not forget the cutting of the all-important birthday cake. Alas, Darwin isn’t around to enjoy it, so the kids happily took on that responsibility for him.
Attendees at CFI Tampa Bay‘s 16th Annual Darwin Day were engrossed by sociologist Jennifer Hancock, who discussed a key pillar of humanism: developing happiness in our lives. Secularism scholar Phil Zuckerman talked about his study of the secular populations of Nordic nations and how they are far happier and content than Americans overall, all without religion. Sociologist and professor Ryan Cragun served as master of ceremonies.
CFI Northeast Ohio held two events: in Cleveland they screened a selection of videos on evolution, and in Stow they heard a presentation from Lee Hall of Cleveland Museum of Natural History on sauropod dinosaurs. CFI Michigan heard a lecture on “Darwin and the soul” from Mark Reimers, Professor of Neuroscience and Biomedical Engineering at Michigan State University.
The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Studies also took part in the Darwin Day festivities. In a separate event in Tampa, Florida, TIES held a workshop for 45 teachers, facilitated by Kenny Coogan. In addition to Darwin Day activities, just last weekend TIES director Bertha Vazquez delivered a presentation on the program—“Evolution Education: A Success Story”— for the Central Florida Freethought Community. TIES also broke new ground with its first workshop in the state of Indiana at the Indiana Science Teachers Annual Conference in Indianapolis.
Speaking of Indiana, dire weather forecasts, slick roads, delayed flights, and rampant flu viruses could not stop CFI Indiana from carrying forward with its annual Civic Day, which boasted a truly impressive lineup of leaders, activists, and scholars, all with a mind to prepare attendees to make positive change in policy. (Don’t worry, the people with the flu stayed home.)
Held at the Indiana State Library, attendees of the event heard from experts representing organizations such as the ACLU of Indiana, Women4Change Indiana, the Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana Coalition for Public Education, and more, as well as CFI’s own legal director, Nick Little. After the presentations, folks headed to CFI Indiana’s headquarters for food and fellowship. Nature threw a lot at Civic Day 2018, but thankfully a truly meaningful and enlightening time was had by all.
Privileging Religion By Any Means
Amid the great tragedies and scandals of recent weeks, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress have gone under the radar to launch a flurry of new attacks on secular government by defending religiously based discrimination, taking cynical advantage of disasters, and undermining children’s education. Here are some of the issues CFI has been working on in February:
Religious Right Watchdogs at the DOJ: Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions established a new policy requiring each U.S. Attorney’s office to assign a staffer to monitor all cases involving “religious liberty,” which is code for those instances when a religious individual or organization wants the freedom to discriminate against anyone who does not conform to their beliefs.
Career attorneys are instructed to bring these cases to political appointees so they can advance their agenda of privileging religious belief over equality and rule of law. If a business refuses service to LGBTQ Americans, if women seeking contraceptive services are turned away, or a transgender person is denied the use of a public bathroom, the Justice Department will defend those responsible for the discrimination in the name of religious liberty. “All Americans, including those of all faiths and those of no faith, should be able to rely on fair treatment from the Department of Justice,” said CFI Legal Director Nick Little in our statement. “By this policy, Jeff Sessions has handed the keys to his Department to the religious Right.”
Passing the Collection Plate to FEMA: To aid in rebuilding after hurricanes and wildfires caused incredible damage in several states, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides grants to private facilities that perform essential social services for the general public, such as community centers, homeless shelters, and senior citizen centers. But in its Bipartisan Budget Agreement, the U.S. Senate has declared “houses of worship” to be eligible for FEMA grants as well, allowing churches to use taxpayer dollars to improve their facilities.
“Houses of worship are already eligible to get government grants to cover damages incurred when serving their community,” CFI Director of Government Affairs Jason Lemieux pointed out. “If churches want protection against damage from natural disasters, that’s what insurance is for.” Jason was cited in Emma Green’s article on this issue for The Atlantic.
Public Funds for Private Indoctrination: Also stuffed into the Senate’s budget bill was a provision that would siphon taxpayer money away from public schools receiving disaster relief and into a school voucher scheme, diverting $2.7 billion in badly needed public funds toward private schools, the vast majority of which are religious. Jason Lemieux called out the Senate for “[using] disaster relief as a cover to divert taxpayer money to vouchers for religious schools that can discriminate against LGBTQ, disabled, and nonreligious children.”
Days later, the White House followed suit. In its 2019 budget request, the Trump administration seeks to allot $1 billion in taxpayer funds for voucher programs—four times the amount requested in the previous year. CFI spoke out against the funding of schools that are free to discriminate. “This administration is falling over itself to please the religious Right,” said CFI’s president and CEO, Robyn Blumner, “and this time it is to encourage parents to remove their children from pluralistic and secular public schools to enroll them instead in schools designed to indoctrinate children into religious beliefs.”
CFI Highlights on the Web
February is Black History Month, the perfect opportunity to learn more about African Americans throughout history whose humanism and skepticism not only helped establish the foundations of our secularist movement, but fought for and inspired monumental progress for civil and human rights, science, and the arts.
Take the time to visit CFI’s African Americans for Humanism website, and rediscover some of these pivotal historical figures, such as Frederick Douglass, anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, poets and novelists James Baldwin and Langston Hughes, actress Butterfly McQueen, and others.
New on CFI’s Reasonable Talk video series:
Ross Blocher is cohost with Carrie Poppy of the Oh No, Ross and Carrie! podcast. In his CSICon 2017 presentation, Blocher explains how his experiences with believers of all stripes taught him that the best way to make progress for reason is to prioritize friendship and understanding with those who don’t think like us.
Also from CSICon 2017, Teresa Giménez Barbat, a member of the European Parliament, discusses her efforts to denounce pseudoscience and defend a secular society, as well as her theories about how secularism is the keystone for peaceful coexistence among people of varying beliefs.
Skeptical Inquirer, CSICOP.org, and more
From Skeptical Inquirer’s important recent issue on racism, Sam Scott profiles the work Jennifer Eberhardt whose groundbreaking research has revealed “the long, pernicious reach of unconscious racial bias,” and psychology professor Terence Hines looks at the pseudoscience upon which white supremacists hang their pointy hoods and tells us why talking them out of their racism is so difficult.
Harriet Hall wants you to know that despite some spooking from the media, copper won’t kill you, whether it be in bracelet form or as a mug for your beverage. One take-home lesson: “Copper is good for you in small amounts but bad for you in large amounts. (Which is true of a great many things, even water.)”
Jonathan Jarry brings more CSICon video interviews, this time with “skeptical dentist” Grant Richey, who takes on dental pseudoscience, and CFI’s own super-investigator Joe Nickell. Plus, check out Joe’s review of the film Winchester. (It doesn’t fare well.)
Commander-in-chief of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project, Susan Gerbic, chronicled her month-long skeptic’s journey through Europe…in a five-part series! Here are parts one, two, three, and four, and part five is coming soon.
At Free Thinking, Ben Radford says that the pearl-clutching over the Fifty Shades movies, and claims that they are somehow dangerous to society (for reasons other than being terrible movies), are insufficiently warranted and fail to give women enough credit for being able to distinguish between reality and fiction.
Upcoming CFI Events
- March 8: Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Studies (TIES) online workshop, with John Mead discussing the discovery of the species Homo naledi.
- March 16: TIES webinar with Kathleen McAuliffe, author of This is Your Brain on Parasites.
- March 4: Comic-musician Roy Zimmerman performs his “ReZist” show.
- March 19: David Fitzgerald discusses the historicity of Jesus.
- March 18: The first of a three-part event celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein.
- March 27: Discussion on Frankenstein and today’s technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloning, and genetic modification. Panelists include Indiana University health and humanities professor Emily Beckman, Saint Louis University ethics professor Jason Aberl, and Rufus Cochran of the Indiana Science Communication and Education Foundation.
CFI Los Angeles
- March 4: Take a tour of CFI L.A.’s new facilities and learn about the planned improvements.
CFI Tampa Bay
- February 24: Experts at the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) guide an exploration of the stars in a SkyWatch event.
- March 8: Robert A. Levy of the Cato Institute debates James Michael Shaw, Jr. of the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU on the Supreme Court case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
CFI Western New York
- February 23: University at Buffalo psychology professor Ken DeMarree discusses the science behind the mindfulness movement.
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.