Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible.
The Main Events
Join Us in Buffalo for REASON FOR CHANGE: CFI’s 2015 International Conference!
Launch your calendar app right now. If you must, go get your physical paper calendar or date book and flip all the way to June 2015. Go find the dates June 11 to 15 and mark them as “busy” because that’s when we’re holding a major international conference at CFI headquarters in Buffalo, New York. We’re calling it “Reason for Change.”
We’ll be honoring three people who have done so much to do just that by transforming our world by their advancement of reason and science: keynote speaker Rebecca Goldstein, as well as Susan Jacoby and Richard Dawkins. We’ll have speakers and panelists from around the world and across the disciplines to enlighten, collaborate, and inspire. We’ll be commemorating anniversaries for Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer. We’ll be celebrating the enormous progress skepticism and humanism have made and confronting the challenges still before us. And we’ll do it all while enjoying all that Western New York has to offer, from the jaw-dropping natural spectacle of Niagara Falls to our movement’s deep historical roots waiting to be explored on the Freethought Trail.
And this is neat: If you use Tumblr, you can keep up with all of the news surrounding the event, including updated information on speakers, sessions, and surrounding activities by clicking the “+ FOLLOW” button on the upper right of the website.
So mark that calendar, be it in pixels or paper, and register now for Reason for Change. We can’t wait to see you here!
Halloween with the Skeptics: CSI Investigators on Ghosts and the Paranormal
Today is what we used to call All Hallows Eve, and that means there’s a lot of interest in things like ghosts and the paranormal. The recently released Chapman University Survey on American Fears had some discouraging news about what Americans purport to believe, including the fact that a majority of the U.S. population believes in things like the city of Atlantis, house-hauntings, and psychic powers, which far surpasses the minority that accepts true things like global warming and the big bang (which just edges out belief in Bigfoot).
Lucky for everyone involved, we’ve got the investigators of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry to lend some critical thinking to this spirit-obsessed time! Veteran sleuth Joe Nickell was the guest for a special “Halloween extra” episode of Point of Inquiry, where he and guest-host Nora Hurley attempt to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini and discuss the skeptical legacy of the most famous magician the world has ever known.
Joe also recently spoke at the Loren Trottier Public Science Symposium at McGill University in Montreal, where the topic at hand was “Are We Alone?”, an exploration of the facts and fictions about extraterrestrial life. In an interview with the McGill Reporter, Joe outlines some of his investigative philosophy, such as his tactics when checking out so-called “mediums,” saying, “Undercover work is sometimes the most effective means of getting close to and observing a suspected paranormal trickster.”
Joe was also called upon by the Richmond Times-Dispatch to weigh in on an alleged house haunting, where the owner is said to encounter “orbs” and “entities.” Joe displays his trademark empathy for those who believe they’re encountering real spirits but asserts, “There is no credible scientific evidence for ghosts. Scientists have not found any ghosts, not one.”
Shortly after being called “the Actual Ghostbuster” for a Fast Company magazine profile, CSI’s Ben Radford is dubbed “a real-life Ghostbuster” by the kids’ news site DOGO News, where Ben explains that his work “is not rocket science,” and that almost anyone can solve alleged paranormal mysteries if they truly examine the evidence. Ben also tempers the excitement about supposed hauntings in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the Journal-Gazette.
Ben’s also been addressing a slew of myths about the paranormal at LiveScience and Discovery News, giving the skeptical take on such topics as the existence of ghosts, Ouija boards, and books supposedly “dictated” from beyond the grave.
We at CFI hope you are having fun with your family and friends this Halloween, ghosts or no ghosts, and that everyone stays safe.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Celebrating Sagan with CFI Communities
Carl Sagan has inspired billions of people to fall in love with the cosmos, and he inspires so much of what we do here at CFI. Before the world lost him to cancer in 1996, CFI and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry had the honor of working with him as a Fellow of CSI, a contributor to Skeptical Inquirer, and as a speaker at several conferences. Carl Sagan Day takes place on November 9, Sagan’s birthday, and it’s a celebration of his (and our) commitment to science, skepticism, and public education. Many of CFI’s branches, campus groups, and community groups have great events planned for November to celebrate the big day. Maybe there’s a Carl Sagan Day event happening near you!
And to help celebrate online, you can share this image meme on your social networks!
Meet Nora Hurley, Point of Inquiry’s New Producer
This month we were delighted to welcome a new staff member to serve as CFI’s new media specialist and producer of our podcast Point of Inquiry, Nora Hurley. Nora’s already produced the last few episodes of the show and is doing a phenomenal job. She’ll also be in charge of the increasingly demanding trove of digital media at CFI, including video and audio editing and engineering. A recent graduate of SUNY Buffalo State, Nora recently interned for Comedy Central, where she maintained digital productions on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter for many of the network’s shows. We’re excited to have her on board. Welcome, Nora!
Wisconsin and Illinois Urged to Join Indiana in Allowing Secular Celebrants to Solemnize Marriages
This summer, we won a major victory for secularism and equality as the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Center for Inquiry’s Secular Celebrants, declaring that the state of Indiana was wrong to deny nonreligious couples the right to have their weddings solemnized by an officiant who shares their secular worldview. The chance for the state to appeal this ruling has now passed, meaning that the decision is now final and the law of the land for the jurisdiction covered by the Seventh Circuit.
That’s why we are now setting our sights on the states of Wisconsin and Illinois, two states within the Seventh Circuit that bar secular celebrants from solemnizing marriages. Our legal director Nicholas Little has written a letter to the governors and attorneys general of both states, urging them to work with CFI to ensure that their state laws reflect the ruling of the Seventh Circuit. Wrote Nick, “The Center for Inquiry is willing to bring suit in both Wisconsin and Illinois. The precedent as established by Judge Easterbrook [of the Seventh Circuit] is controlling, and leaves no doubt that such a suit would be successful.”
We’ll keep you updated as this develops.
CFI Tells Administration: Protect the Contraceptive Mandate
The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury will soon be making some major decisions regarding the accommodations they allow for employers who oppose contraceptive coverage on religious grounds. The debate is becoming more nuanced, but the gist of it is that after the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the federal government must come up with a working definition of “closely-held” for a for-profit corporation, a designation that such corporations could use to get out of the contraceptive mandate. At the same time, some nonprofits, which now need only fill out a form to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, are suing the federal government, arguing that even such a small thing is a violation of their religious freedom. Obviously, we don’t agree. We asked you to join us in submitting public comments to HHS, and we thank all those who took the time to do so. We’ve just submitted our official comments asking the HHS to craft the for-profit accommodations as narrowly as possible and to draw a line and refrain from further accommodations for nonprofit organizations.
CFI Asks Sec. Kerry to Urge Release of Bahraini Human Rights Activist
Bahraini activist Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and codirector of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), has been arrested by authorities for allegedly “insulting a public institution” on Twitter, and we are signing on to a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging him to publicly press the government of Bahrain to release and drop all charges against Rajab. “The arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders such as Mr. Rajab contradicts the Kingdom of Bahrain’s publicly stated commitments to reform and reconciliation,” the letter states. “We ask that you publicly call for the immediate release of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, in order to help build confidence across Bahraini society and to create an environment for meaningful dialogue necessary to resolve the ongoing crisis.”
Rajab was among the activists and dignitaries who attended the most recent session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, along with our own representative Michael De Dora.
CFI in the Media
● Publisher’s Weekly looks at a collection of new and upcoming books on the nonreligious life, including our own Ron Lindsay‘s forthcoming The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do. Ron’s book is available for pre-order now and will be released on December 1.
● CFI–DC’s Simon Davis has been very busy interviewing all manner of fascinating people for VICE. Most recently, he interviewed Katha Pollitt (who was just our guest on Point of Inquiry), as well as Dr. Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, about tough end-of-life questions.
● BBC looks at the life of the late skeptic pioneer and “puzzle master” Martin Gardner, who would have turned 100 this month.
● Joe Nickell brings the much-needed skeptical perspective to a piece on an alleged “horse whisperer” at the Ocala Star Banner.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● In a great new Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein talks to Katha Pollitt about her new book Pro: Reclaiming Reproductive Rights, and how pro-choice folks feel compelled to hedge their support of abortion rights, thereby ceding ground to the largely religious anti-choice movement.
● Stephen Law of CFI–UK kicks off a series of posts on creationism by looking at the mistake of thinking that having one’s belief “fit” the evidence doesn’t mean it’s confirmed. And it includes Douglas Adams, Ken Ham, and dogs that may or may not be from Venus.
● Kylie Sturgess interviews James Randi for Skeptical Inquirer about the new documentary about his life, and how he is a self-described “peculiar character.”
● CFI Legal Director Nick Little examines the implications for humanism and free expression in the horrific threats against Anita Sarkeesian.
● You’ve probably heard about the difficult choice made by Brittany Maynard, the twenty-nine-year-old woman suffering from stage 4 brain cancer. The Course of Reason blog features a post by Tess Keller about the religious response to her decision to end her life.
● In Skeptical Inquirer, Ryan Shaffer looks into the terrifying lives of those accused of witchcraft in India and how authorities seem powerless to prevent crimes committed against them.
● CFI Education Director David Koepsell considers notions of civility and tone in debates, writing, “Language matters, and the intentionally hurtful use of language, while fully within our rights, is antithetical to the proper purpose of debate.”
● Following the terrifying shooting attack at Ottawa’s National War Memorial, CFI–Canada (CFIC), which acts independently of the U.S. CFI, releases a statement, saying, “Secular Humanists and atheists join all Canadians in rejecting the violence and hatred promulgated by murders such as these.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Communications professor Peter Marston of California State University Northridge joins CFI–Los Angeles to talk about “The Rhetoric of Extraordinary Claim.”
● CFI–DC holds its Eighth Anniversary Celebration & Fundraiser, with Jeff Sharlet and Leighann Lord.
● CFI-Fort Lauderdale celebrates Carl Sagan Day with James Randi.
● CFI–Indiana celebrates Carl Sagan Day.
● CFI–NYC celebrates Carl Sagan Day at the Hayden Planetarium.
● Freethought Blogs impresario Ed Brayton debates Tim Schmig of the Michigan Association of Christian Schools on the question of whether the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation in an event with CFI–Michigan.
● Carl Sagan Day is celebrated by CFI–Tampa Bay with guests Dr. Jonathan Smith, Dave Dockery, Dr. Jack Robinson, and Jim Peterson.
● Former pastor Ryan Bell, who famously went on a one-year stint as an atheist, will speak about his experience with CFI–Los Ageles and CFI–Orange County.
● University at Buffalo physics professor Will Kinney comes to CFI HQ in Western New York for a lecture on our place in the universe and rejects the idea that it was somehow made “just for us.”
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 and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a
secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.