In This Issue:
African Americans for Humanism will hold a conference at the Center for Inquiry/Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C., on May 16, 2010. The office is located at 621 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, 20003. The theme of the conference is “New Directions for African American Humanists.”
Speakers will include Campus Field Organizer Debbie Goddard and columnist Sikivu Hutchinson. The event will be hosted by Melody Hensley, director of the Center for Inquiry/Office of Public Policy. Topics will include African American humanists in history, how to attract African Americans to organized humanism, Black women and humanism, the Black clergy’s influence on African Americans, and other subjects.
Registration is $45 for the general public, $35 for Friends of the Center, and $15 for students. To register, e-mail Melody Hensley at email@example.com, or call (202) 546-2332 (Ext. 111).
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Leo Igwe of the Center for Inquiry/Nigeria is hard at work organizing the center’s annual Darwin Day celebration. Last year, Igwe traveled to Kenya to help the Center for Inquiry/Kenya carry out their first Darwin Day celebration.
Igwe has had an especially difficult year. He has been leading humanists and skeptics in the Center for Inquiry’s anti-superstition campaign in Africa, initiated last May. He has also been involved with Nigerian humanists in trying to bring an alleged rapist to justice. As a result of his heroic work, he has been sued by a Nigerian witch hunter, Helen Ukpabio, and he and his father had been arrested and accused of murder by supporters of the accused rapist. (He and his father have since been released from jail on bond.)
Igwe’s work shows how dangerous organized humanism can be in Africa. With very meager resources, African humanists courageously fight for humanist principles and against dangerous superstitious ideas and practices. Indeed, they are the quintessential role models for organized humanism worldwide.
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The Association of Secular Humanists of Malawi have made secular humanism part of a national discussion. Aided by resources and coaching from the Center for Inquiry, George Thindwa, the group’s executive director, engaged in a written debate in a national newspaper with a Christian minister in Malawi. On December 27, 2009, the two engaged in a formal debate aired on national radio and featured in the national press. The topic: “What is Good for Malawi: Secular Humanism or Christianity?” The debate generated many responses, and many Malawians expressed great interest in learning more about secular humanism.
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Secular humanism continues to make impressive strides in Africa, especially among young people. The Center for Inquiry/Kenya has been featured in the Kenyan Times. They are planning essay competitions and organizing debating competitions. They are involved in the anti-superstition campaign and are combating homophobia. In partnership with another group, the Kenyan Humanist Movement, they have drawn up a petition calling for an International Day against Witchcraft Violence.
And so it goes. Organized humanism marches on and impressive strides continue to be made.
Norm R. Allen Jr. is the Executive
Director of African Americans for Humanism
The United Nations General Assembly has handed yet another victory to Islamic states in their push to curtail freedom of expression out of "respect" for religious beliefs. On December 18 the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution combating the so-called "defamation of religions." The resolution, sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Conference, was adopted with 80 votes in favor, 61 votes in opposition, and 42 abstentions. (Similar measures have been adopted for the past five years in a row. Last year 86 member states voted in favor of the resolution.)
The Center for Inquiry (CFI), a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism, was active in campaigning and lobbying against the resolution through its Mission to the United Nations in New York City. (Read CFI's statement in opposition to the resolution.)
The "defamation of religions" resolution is both unnecessary and misguided. It subverts longstanding principles of human rights law by empowering governments and clerics who seek to silence or intimidate religious dissidents, religious minorities and nonbelievers. Existing international law already protects individuals from discrimination and from expression constituting incitement to violence. UN experts agree that the concept of "defamation of religions" is an improper legal instrument for addressing the problem of discrimination based on religion. Asma Jahangir, the United Nation's outgoing special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, has cautioned that resolutions targeting "defamation of religions" can be used to legitimize anti-blasphemy laws that "punish members of religious minorities, dissenting believers and nontheists or atheists."
Fortunately, the General Assembly resolution is non-binding against U.N. member states. Yet defenders of religious liberty and freedom of expression should not dismiss the resolution as meaningless. A movement is afoot at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva to incorporate the "defamation of religions" concept in binding international treaties. In addition, the General Assembly's resolution gives cover and comfort to governments that stifle freedom of expression. Pakistan's blasphemy laws, for instance, carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, and are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect. Ireland passed a law earlier this year imposing a €25,000 fine for "blasphemy" and empowering authorities to raid publishers suspected of harboring copies of "blasphemous statements." Earlier this year the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the group backing the "defamation of religions" resolution before the General Assembly, incorporated the language of Ireland's anti-blasphemy statute verbatim in a UN ad hoc committee resolution that would add the "defamation of religions" concept to binding international treaties. The UN General Assembly's non-binding resolution lends a patina of respectability to these and other anti-blasphemy measures.
CFI will continue to fight further attempts to stifle dissent from, and criticism of, religious beliefs. The General Assembly has passed similar resolutions each year since 2005. The Center for Inquiry will be there to fight this resolution in 2010, both at the General Assembly in New York and at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Derek C. Araujo is Vice President and
General Counsel of the Center for Inquiry, director of CFI's
legal programs, and CFI's Representative to the United Nations.
Council for Secular Humanism Wins Victory in Case Challenging Faith-Based Prison Programs
The Council for Secular Humanism won an important victory on December 15 in its case challenging the use of Florida taxpayer dollars for faith-based substance abuse transitional housing programs in Florida prisons. CSH alleges that the faith-based component of the taxpayer-funded programs include Christian religious indoctrination. The decision by the Florida First District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling that dismissed CSH's lawsuit entirely. The case, titled Council for Secular Humanism v. McNeil , may now proceed to discovery and trial before the lower court.
CSH and co-plaintiffs Richard and Elaine Hull initially filed suit in Leon County Circuit Court challenging the legality of statutes authorizing government payments to faith-based organizations for social services. The two faith-based organizations in question, Prisoners of Christ, Inc. and Lamb of God Ministries, Inc., have contracted with the Florida Department of Corrections to provide faith-based services to individuals with substance abuse problems. Richard and Elaine Hull, two associate members of CSH, are Tallahassee residents and Florida taxpayers.
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Federal Appeals Court Reviews Mt. Soledad Cross Case
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held a 45-minute hearing last week in the Mount Soledad cross controversy. Observers report that it was hard to determine how the court would ultimately decide.
The three-judge panel is reviewing a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns, who ruled last year that the 29-foot-tall cross can remain on public land. The Jewish War Veterans had sued to remove the cross, arguing that its presence on public land is an impermissible endorsement of religion by the state. The cross site is a federal war veterans memorial, seized from the city in 2006 by an act of Congress. Judge Burns held that the cross is part of a larger war memorial that sends the message not of government endorsement of religion, but of honoring the service of all veterans, regardless of their faith.
December was a productive month for the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy. (The Center is a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism.) As Congress wrapped up its debate on healthcare, the OPP fought hard alongside our allies to ensure that individual rights—such as adequate access to abortions—are preserved in the final version of healthcare reform. Representatives of the OPP helped to host a lobby day on December 2 organized around preventing the Stupak-Pitts language that had been added to the House of Representatives’ healthcare reform bill from being added to the Senate’s version. During this event, we met with representatives from the offices of Sen. Nelson (D-FL), Sen. LeMieux (R-FL), Sen. Voinovich (R-OH), and Sen. Levin (D-MI) in order to impress upon them the importance of preserving women’s fundamental right to access legal medical procedures. We are proud to report that our efforts, along with the efforts of countless others, culminated in a rejection of the Stupak-Pitts language in the Senate. We are now working hard to ensure that the language remains out of the final bill as the House and Senate move to merge their versions.
Another top issue on the OPP agenda during December was climate change. As soon as the healthcare debate reaches resolution in January, Congress will most likely begin work on climate and energy legislation. Therefore, throughout December we began laying the groundwork for a Congressional briefing in late January or early February to present the results of our Credibility Project to members of both the House and Senate. The goal of our briefing is to reassure members of Congress that the science behind climate change is sound, and that despite reports to the contrary there is considerable agreement among credible scientists that anthropogenic greenhouse gasses are the primary driving force behind global warming. We hope that our report will allow the members of Congress to spend their valuable time focusing on what should be done to solve the climate crisis instead of debating whether or not climate change exists at all.
In December we also became involved in the fight to restore funding to the Office of Technology Assessment. The OTA, which was defunded in 1995, once provided non-partisan information to Congress on all technology-related issues; much like the Congressional Budget Office does on issues of cost. Unfortunately, funding was cut due to the desire in the mid 1990’s to balance the federal budget. Now, Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) is leading the charge to get at least some level of funding restored. A scientist himself, Rep. Holt sees that an institution such as the OTA would provide excellent knowledge to Congress in areas that it often knows little about—science and technology. Representatives from the OPP met with staffers from Rep. Holt’s office, who explained to us that he strongly supports a reinvestment in the OTA and will fight during every fiscal year for funding.
Finally, members of the OPP and CFI staff and volunteers conducted our first of several meetings discussing our 2010 Civic Days, which will take place from April 24–27. We began to lay the groundwork for what will hopefully be our best Civic Days yet! While we do not have any more concrete information at this time, we should have at least a tentative schedule available next month. If you would like more information on Civic Days, feel free to e-mail Matt Separa at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, it is not too early to make hotel reservations. We have booked ten rooms at the luxurious Donovan House for only $119 per night! To make a reservation, please contact Marilyn Matthews with Meeting Solutions at 202-507-7120. Just mention that you wish to book a reservation for CFI’s Civic Days, and she will be happy to take care of you. Alternatively, you can also book directly with the Donovan House at 202-737-1200 or 800-383-6900. Be sure to use the group code Center for Inquiry to get our special group rate. We will be sending out more information as soon as we finalize details, so Stay tuned to the monthly OPP update and be sure to check the Website for updates!
Center Stage, the Center for Inquiry podcast/radio series that presents stimulating lectures and events from CFI facilities nationwide, will premier eight new episodes during January and February, 2010. Each will debut on Monday morning, Eastern time. For the month of January:
For summaries of each broadcast, please visit the
Center State Website at
By happenstance, the year that marked the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species (and the 200th anniversary of the birth of its author, Charles Darwin) saw an unprecedented wave of psycho-sociological studies exposing the true socioeconomic foundation of mass religiosity and its frequent consort, creationism. Across the ages, a host of pet theories has been offered to explain why religion remains popular and powerful, including the following:
These unsubstantiated ideas all share the underlying false impression—still a disturbingly common one—that religion is universal across human communities. Secular humanists are coming to know better as popular piety continues to implode in most first world nations—and as the dependence of this phenomenon upon social and economic conditions grows better understood.
The voluntary abandonment of religious faith among Westerners offers social scientists a gold mine of data, because it provides the information critical to understanding the real reasons religious supernaturalism has been popular in the past—and is becoming less so today. The core insight is summed up in the title of one of the first studies to document it, "Secularization as an Economic and Cultural Phenomenon": it is not theology but, in a broad sense, personal finance that drives the gradual abandonment of faith. (The study, by Verweii et al., appeared in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion in 1997). The year 2004 saw the appearance of the now-classic book-length study Sacred and Secular by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart. In the same year Anthony Gill and Erik Lundsgaarde published their "State Welfare Spending and Religiosity" in the journal Rationality and Society. For one reason or another these seminal works went little noticed. The following year I published a broad comparison of societal conditions and religiosity in the Journal of Religion and Society that was provocative enough to garner press attention. Zuckerman published his fascinating investigation of irreligious Europeans, Society without God, in 2008.
In the summer of 2009, Evolutionary Psychology
carried my paper on the economic foundations of
(I discussed some of this research in a popular article in the December 2008/January
2009 Free Inquiry). The analysis includes the first comprehensive comparison of socioeconomic conditions across all first world countries, the Successful Societies Scale. Rather to my surprise, the Journal of Religion and Society published a nice analysis by Tom Rees on how personal insecurity contributes to religiosity (surprising because the journal had declined to consider my follow up paper on the subject in 2006).
As the November anniversary of Darwin's book approached, Phil Zuckerman's summary of the research on religion and societal conditions appeared in Sociology Compass. Also announced was a paper by S. Ruiter and F. Tubergen in the American Journal of Sociology.
Replication of results is a basic means of verifying scientific findings, and the surge of 2009 academic papers means that the scientific study of the decay of mass supernaturalism is firming up. A growing body of studies agrees that religion is not universal and is never broadly popular when the middle class majority is sufficiently secure and prosperous that its members feel no need to seek the aid and protection of transcendent powers. Under such conditions the population abandons the churches in droves. This widespread loss of faith in general drives creationism (i.e. the belief in a supernatural creator) to minority status.
The studies also concur that the most secular democracies enjoy the best overall societal conditions. (In fact the arrow of causation goes the other way: under current theory religious piety is low and secularity is high because social conditions are favorable). Meanwhile the United States, exceptional as the most devout First World nation, exhibits exceptionally high levels of social ills. Again, I would argue that high levels of social pathology help to explain America’s disproportionate religiosity. In any case, this relationship flatly contradicts the self-serving claims repeatedly made by believers that deity worship is good for a society. The common accompanying claim, that atheistic cultures are bound to fail because they lack piety, is wholly unsupported by the facts.
Along the way, the accumulating research is exposing an important irony that remains too little noticed: the conservatives who most vocally oppose Darwinian science tend to be social Darwinists, content to minimize provisions for civic welfare and make life for millions a matter of survival of the fittest!
Equally notable, while peer-reviewed papers using statistical analyses to support the theory that improving social conditions foster secularism have proliferated, peer-reviewed papers purporting to show otherwise have so far failed to appear. This would suggest that the preponderance of real-world evidence demonstrates that religion cannot produce superior social conditions—because instead, benign social conditions consistently suppress mass religion.
My Evolutionary Psychology paper may present the furthest-reaching data. From it I conclude that religion is much less powerfully genetically or neurologically determined than other behavioral variables such as language, that theism or nontheism is only superficially held by most persons, and that traditional explanations such as a fear of death or a desire for social community have little or no statistical connection to religious behavior.
This new research is changing the way members of the pro-secular, pro-science community address the problems of religion and creationism. One vivid example can be found by viewing minutes 41–48 and 54–57 in this video of Jerry Coyne. As important as education and advocacy are, they are far from sufficient in securing the victory of rationalism over irrational beliefs. In the end defeating belief in a creator as a majority opinion will require that democratic societies (especially the United States) become less socioeconomically Darwinistic and more progressive and egalitarian (though not so much so that those aspects of private enterprise that create prosperity are negated), which is a good idea in and of itself.
While on the subject of academic papers of 2009, I published in Philosophy and Theology a study that disproves the existence of a good God. The analysis demolishes the classic free will and best of all possible world apologetics by examining the massive loss of immature humans, which precludes free will for most people. Because there is no moral creator, the idea that people must believe in one for the good of self and society is further undermined. For some reason this work did not receive attention from religion writers.
Independent scholar Gregory S. Paul has been labeled “public enemy number-one” of the churches by MSNBC
While world leaders convened in Copenhagen to discuss reducing the emission of green house gasses in order to curb the trespassing of biophysical and ecological planetary boundaries, in Utrecht a group of concerned citizens gathered to participate in the CFI/Low Countries eco-humanist symposium. This was the first time that CFI/Low Countries digressed from its standard humanist topics of secularism, atheism, and skepticism to widen the scope of humanism. But what is eco-humanism? Can there be a special brand of humanism concerned with the human/nature and human/animal relationship?
The symposium started with an impressive and overwhelming presentation by submarine photographer and “ambassador of the seas” Dos Winkel (www.dos-bertie-winkel.com). Winkel is a renowned photographer, and his work appears in many magazines, including National Geographic. During his lifetime Winkel has witnessed the rapid decline of fisheries and in the quality of aquatic systems. Alarmed by what he has seen, he collected scientific data about fishing and pollution and became an activist. In 2009 he published his beautifully illustrated but alarming book What’s the Catch with Fish? Winkel draws attention to the message of distinguished Canadian marine biologist Daniel Pauly, who calculates that if we continue fishing as we do now the oceans will be completely depleted by 2050. This is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Nobody owns the seas, and therefore anyone can grab as much as he can even if it means we will end up with empty oceans. This is also the message of film The End of the Line (2009) based on the book of the same title by environmental journalist Charles Clove. What can be done? There is a hard solution and an easy solution. The hard solution is to try to reform fishing and make it sustainable using quota. The easy way is for people to stop eating fish completely (with the exception of subsistence fisherman in developing countries).
Joop Boer demonstrates with his lifestyle that it is possible to live a sustainable, climate neutral, animal friendly, ethical life style within a materialistic society preoccupied with consumption and accompanying waste production (including CO2). Boer, an eco-vegan, fills only two garbage bags per year. His inspiring talk showed that it is possible. He is not an ascete but is rather a healthy, vital, and lean man. He has some farmland on which he grows his own vegetables without using any animal products. According to him, it is possible, and sustainable, to grow food in a vegan way (vegan farming). Joop Boer is a role model for all who take seriously (and we all should) the multifaceted ecological crisis. It should not be the rich and famous, who live their lives producing waste and CO2, who should be role models but the Joop Boer types. We should be aware that there is a scale of ethical and ecological living with people like David Beckham on the one hand people like Joop Boer on the other. Most of us are somewhere in between. The message is that we should do our best to move toward Joop Boer’s lifestyle, even if we have the means to go in the opposite direction. This is the concept of voluntary simplicity. The bonus is that a simple lifestyle seems to bring health, meaning, and happiness to one’s life.
Floris van den Berg presented his book Philosophy for a
Better World (in Dutch). He gave the first two copies to
Winkel and Boer, who both play a role in the book. In his
lecture Van den Berg reminded the audience about the Club of
Rome Report Limits to the Growth. The analogy is that
we are all aboard the Titanic heading for the iceberg—and
we know that we are heading toward the iceberg. Van den Berg
takes seriously the alarming reports from environmental
scientists about CO2 emissions and climate change being only one
aspect of a plethora of anthropogenic environmental problems.
But Van den Berg is an optimist. He thinks that if we strive to
optimize those who are worst off (maximin), including animals
and future generations, then the world would be a better place.
It still has a long way to go. In the tradition of the
Enlightenment and taking inspiration from contemporary
philosophers like Peter Singer and Martha Nussbaum, we should
broaden our scope and rethink the human/human, human/animal and
human/nature relationship. Van den Berg pleads for less
suffering and more happiness.
Humanists all over the world can take the lead in ecological and animal-welfare activism in order to make the world a better place.
Floris van den Berg is a philosopher and co-executive director of Center for Inquiry/Low Countries (email@example.com).
The Center for Inquiry (a supporting organization of the Council for Secular Humanism) has created a Secular Celebrant Program to train and certify secular celebrants to perform weddings, memorials, and other "milestones of life" ceremonies. Reba Boyd Wooden, Executive Director, Center for Inquiry Indiana and Jim Underdown, Executive Director, Center for Inquiry Los Angeles have been named co-directors of the program. The first training was held at Center for Inquiry Indiana on December 5. The trainees represented nine states (Missouri, New York, California, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Illinois) and the District of Columbia. Six of the trainees were from Indiana. Training sessions will be held at other locations in the future.
Persons who are not affiliated with any religion constitute 16% of the US population. Unfortunately, the choice of persons to conduct ceremonies for marriages, same sex commitments, memorials, and other rites of passage is usually between religious clergy and civil officials.
For a nonreligious person this can be a traumatic experience.They may be required to go through religious counseling and/or have religious references in their ceremony. They may be prevented from having their choice of music or readings as part of the ceremony. The local minister called on to conduct a funeral/memorial may preach a “come to Jesus” sermon or otherwise use religious references that are not in keeping with the worldview of the person being memorialized.
Additionally, civil officials are usually not available to do marriage ceremonies at the place and time of the couple’s choosing, but only in a government setting such as an office or the courthouse. Furthermore, these officials are typically personally unknown to the couple. Wedding ceremonies, memorials, and other life passages are extremely important events - they are life’s milestones - and CFI thinks that people should be able to have these ceremonies conducted in a manner and by a person of their choosing. Because Center for Inquiry is not a religious organization, Indiana law does not allow CFI Secular Celebrants to “solemnize” a marriage-- that is legally sign the marriage license. This must be done by a state approved religious or civil official.
While some people of the secular worldview do not see a need for rituals and ceremonies of any kind, many feel that having a way of marking life passages is important. CFI feels that this is a personal choice and that secular ceremonies - and persons to conduct these ceremonies - should be available to those who want them.
If you are in need of a Secular Celebrant to officiate at a ceremony, contact Reba Boyd Wooden, Executive Director, Center for Inquiry Indiana. 317-423-0710 or firstname.lastname@example.org