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Want to find what’s on the CFI/OPP blog? January 8, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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If you are using Internet Explorer, in the righthand column of the front page click on Feeds–Full.  You will be able to select by date and title. The posts will be arranged on the left.

Please note: this doesn’t work if you are using Mozilla Firefox. Sorry.

Toni Van Pelt on radio January 3, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Uncategorized.
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The Office of Public Policy’s director, Toni Van Pelt, can be heard on three radio programs taped during her fall speaking tours of Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. They are:

http://www.peoplepowerhour.com/show_archive.asp
Friday, October 17, 2008   Toni Van Pelt and the “Dangers of Free-Thinking Women”

Join the People Power Hour Friday as Toni Van Pelt, Vice President of the Center for Inquiry, talks with the gang. Van Pelt was in Central Florida delivering a talk entitled “The Dangers of Free-Thinking Women” in Daytona Beach and UCF Orlando, a look at how women were viewed over the centuries and the role of women in socio-political arenas today.

Youngstown, Ohio,  WYSU radio (88.5 FM).  Sherry Linkon is the host of the program, called Lincoln Avenue.  On the main page of the site, look to the right and click on Toni Van Pelt.

Here’s a link to a third radio talk: http://women-matters.dennisandjane.org/index-12-02-08.html. Toni was a guest on the program Women Matters, broadcast by WSLR 96.5 LPFM in Sarasota Florida.

Praise for Obama’s Science Choices January 3, 2009

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The Office of Public Policy was delighted by President-Elect Obama’s choices for the highest level science positions in his administration. Here is the letter the Office of Public Policy, sent to the President-Elect.

Dear President-elect Obama:

The Center for Inquiry/Office of Public Policy, which was created to further the application of science and reasoned dialogue to science-based public policies, commends you on your excellent choices for high-level executive positions in science-based areas. Drs. Steven Chu, John P. Holdren, and Jane Lubchenco will form a powerful team to face the combined challenges of providing adequate energy for the nation and minimizing the clear threat of global warming to the world’s climate.

Dr. Steven Chu, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997, is dedicated to your stated policy of addressing the global warming problem. Dr Chu’s current position as Director of the Berkeley Lawrence National Laboratory, where he supervised eleven other Nobel laureates, has led to an aggressive program to both improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases. Dr. Chu is the ideal person to counter the questionable arguments of the carefully assembled group of global warming skeptics, a large number of whom are not climate scientists and many of whom exhibit little understanding of the problem.

In his efforts to provide the nation with a sensible program for providing relatively clean energy while reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Dr. Chu will be supported in the Obama administration by an excellent group of experienced professionals. You have selected Harvard physicist John Holdren for the position of presidential science advisor. As chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, Holdren in 2007 oversaw the AAAS Board’s first statement on global warming, in which it is recommended that the nation “muster the political will for concerted action.” The science team includes marine biologist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both Holdren and Lubchenco have encouraged scientists to play a more active role in science-related policy discussions. Lubchenco in particular founded the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program to teach scientists how to participate in public policy debates.

We would like to point out that addressing the combined energy-climate change issues will be further advanced by Representative Henry Waxman, designated to become the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As current chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Waxman has already established his credentials as a strong supporter of action on global warming by taking to task the Bush administration appointees who tried to muzzle climate scientist James Hansen.

We look forward to active government under this administration, and stand ready to support the kind of strong science-based program we believe your chosen leadership will produce.

Sincerely,

Paul Kurtz on Morality Without Religion December 2, 2008

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Guest Voices

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Belief in God Essential for Moral Virtue?

A growing sector of world civilization is secular; that is, it emphasizes worldly rather than religious values. This is especially true of Europe, which is widely considered post-religious and post-Christian (with a small Islamic minority). Secularist winds are also blowing strong in Asia, notably in Japan and China. The United States has been an anomaly in this regard, for it has suffered a long dark night in which evangelical fundamentalism has overshadowed the public square, with its insistence that belief in God is essential for moral virtue. This is now changing and secularism is gaining ground.

The “new atheists” have attempted to balance the scales, for religious dissent until now has been largely muffled. They have appealed to science to criticize the unexamined claims of religion. This has shocked conservative religionists, who respond that atheists are “too negative.” Perhaps, but this overlooks the fact that there are varieties of unbelief and that secular humanists (the bete noire of fundamentalists during the Reagan years) define their outlook affirmatively in the light of positive ethical values, not by what they are against but what they are for.

Secular humanists are generally nonreligious, yet they are also good citizens, loving parents and decent people. They look to science, the secular arts and literature for their inspiration, not religion. They point out that religious belief is no guarantee of moral probity, that horrendous crimes have been committed in the name of God, and that religionists often disagree vehemently about concrete moral judgments (such as euthanasia, the rights of women, abortion, homosexuality, war and peace).

The ethics of secular humanism traces its roots back to the beginnings of Western civilization in Greece and Rome, through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the scientific and democratic revolutions of the modern world. Secular humanists today affirm that every person should be considered equal in dignity and value and that human freedom is precious. The civic virtues of democracy are essentially humanist, for they emphasize tolerance of the wide diversity of beliefs and lifestyles, and they are committed to defending human rights.

But, “how can you be ethical if you do not believe in God?” protests the believer. Perhaps such a person should enroll in an elementary course in ethics, where there is a rich philosophical literature dealing with this question. The good is usually defined as “happiness” though there are differences between the eudemonistic, emphasizing enriched self-development, and the hedonistic, particularly American, brand of intemperate consumption. Perhaps a harmonious integration of the two theories can be achieved. I would call it rational exuberance. Philosophers have emphasized the importance of self-restraint, temperance, rational prudence, a life in which satisfaction, excellence, and the creative fulfillment of a person’s talents is achieved. It does not mean that “anything goes.” Humanist ethics focuses on the good life here and now.

Secularists recognize the centrality of self-interest. Every individual needs to be concerned with his or her own health, well-being, and career. But self-interest can be enlightened. This involves recognition that we have responsibilities to others. There are principles of right and wrong that we should live by. No doubt there are differences about many moral issues. Often there may be difficulties in achieving a consensus. Negotiation and compromise are essential in a pluralistic society.

However, there is now substantial evidence drawn from evolutionary biology that humans possess a moral sense (see Marc Hauser, Steven Pinker, and David Sloan Wilson). Morality has its roots in group survival; the moral practices that evolved enabled tribes or clans to survive and function. This means that human beings are potentially moral. Whether or not this moral sense develops depends on social and environmental conditions. Some individuals may never fully develop morally–they may be morally handicapped, even sociopaths. That is one reason why society needs to enact laws to protect itself.

There is also of course cultural relativity, but there are, I submit, also a set of common moral decencies that cut across cultures–such as being truthful, honest, keeping promises, being dependable and responsible, avoiding cruelty, etc., and these in time become widely recognized as binding. Herein lie the roots of empathy and caring for other human and sentient beings. Such behavior needs to be nourished in the young by means of moral education. In any case, human beings are capable of both self-interested and altruistic behavior in varying degrees.

Secular humanists wish to test ethical principles in the light of their consequences, and they advise the use of rational inquiry to frame moral judgments. They also appreciate the fact that some principles are so important that they should not be easily sacrificed to achieve one’s ends.

To say that a person is moral only if he or she obeys God’s commandments–out of fear or love or God or a desire for salvation–is hardly adequate. Ethical principles need to be internalized, rooted in reason and compassion. The ethics of secularism is autonomous, in the sense that it need not be derived from theological grounds. Secular humanists are interested in enhancing the good life both for the individual and society.

Today, a new imperative has emerged: an awareness that our ethical concerns should extend to all members of the global community. This points to a new planetary ethics transcending the ancient religious, ethnic, racial, and national enmities of the past. It is an ethic that recognizes our common interests and needs as part of an interdependent world.

Professor Paul Kurtz is the chairman and founder of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, Editor-in-Chief of FREE INQUIRY magazine, and professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. For 40 years, Kurtz has remained the leading organizational and intellectual figure in the humanist and skeptical movement. His new book, Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism is published by Prometheus Books.

Flood of Comments on Proposed HHS Regulation October 19, 2008

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The Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy is proud that our Friends are among more than 200,000 people who sent individual comments to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt urging him not to implement his proposed regulation permitting reproductive health personnel to refuse their services on ideological grounds.(See “CFI Formal Comments Submitted,” below).
In addition to the individual comments, comments were written by 150 members of Congress; nine governors of the largest states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Illinois; 16 states attorneys-general; and a large number of associations and organizations, among them the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy. Particularly noteworthy were letters of comments from clergy members and religious groups, as well as a Clergy Advisory Board in Opposition to the Proposed Regulation.
What happens next? By law the Department of Health and Human Services is required to reply substantively to each of the comments and address the concerns raised. The sheer bulk of the responses, not to mention the sophisticated legal and medical arguments raised in lengthy comments from professional organizations, may make it impossible to issue a rule before the end of the Bush administration. If a rule is issued, it will probably be challenged in court.
Thanks, everyone who wrote comments. We all acted as good citizens should.
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U.S.Administration Withholds Contraception from African Countries October 7, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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Women in six African countries–Ghana, Malawi,Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe–will be denied birth control because the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is demanding that their governments terminate a British program, Marie Stopes International, that supplies contraceptives.
USAID erroneously charges that Marie Stopes International cooperates with the Chinese government on “coercive abortion and involuntary sterlizations.” This charge has been repeated over the years against organizations supplying birth control to needy women in developing countries and is both baseless and damaging.
Women in poor African countries face unintended pregnancy (often beginning early in their adolescence), unsafe abortion, childbirth injuries, and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS. Birth control can help with all these, as well as the gender inequities that exacerbate them. Restricting or removing access to contraception increases poverty, disease, and early death in these countries.
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CFI urges $15 billion for Health and Welfare Services June 30, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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The Center for Inquiry has joined 425 organizations in calling on the House Appropriations Committee (chair Rep.David Obey) to increase the allocation for the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Labor by at least $15 billion for FY 2009.

These funds would support programs and services in education, training, disability, public health, medical research, and child welfare. The money needed for these vital social services has been cut, eroded by inflation and stretched thin by the increasing numbers of needy people. Many programs are now funded below their 2005 level–some were even cut altogether.

The President’s FY 2009 budget request deepens cuts for these programs. But they represent vital investments in our national living standards, so CFI, along with our partners and colleagues who work with and care about the health and social well being of the nation, is urging Congress to ensure that they are funded at least to the 2005 level by adding $15 billion to the budget.

Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Filibustered in Senate May 5, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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On Wednesday, April 25, 2008 the Senate refused to pass the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (H.R. 2831). Although the bill received endorsements from women’s rights and civil liberties groups and was supported by a majority of Senators, the legislation was filibustered by a group of members in the Senate (see how your Senator voted here). Both members of Congress and civil rights leaders expressed disappointment with the filibuster. “[I]t is hard for me to understand how the Senate cannot support equal pay for equal work,” said Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).

However, the fight for fair pay is not over yet. Despite the filibuster, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act still has a chance to make it to the floor in the future. The Office of Public Policy has been meeting with Senate members and staff to emphasize that until this bill is not passed, work places across the nation can discriminate everyday on the basis of gender, religion, race, age, disability, or national origin.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which passed in the House in 2007, is named for Lilly Ledbetter, a former employee for Good Year Tire & Rubber, Co. Throughout her career as a Goodyear factory manager, Ms. Ledbetter unknowingly received lower pay than similarly situated male employees at the same factory. Soon after discovering that she was being discriminated against on the basis of her ender, Ms. Ledbetter filed suit against her employer and her case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Ledbetter v. Goodyear the Supreme Court ruled against Ms. Ledbetter. The Court decided that employees who receive disparate pay on the basis of gender must file suit within 180 days of the first discriminatory pay check whether or not the employee knows that she or he is being discriminated against.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter makes it difficult for people to file claims for gender, racial, religious, or age-based wage discrimination. People who are disabled, elderly, of various national origins, of particular religious faiths or none–and women–are all threatened by the underlying Supreme Court decision. Said Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), “That has to be altered. It has to be changed.”

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act corrects the Supreme Court’s decision by allowing an employee to file claims against her or his employers for up to 180 days after each discriminatory pay check. Under the act, employees will not be required to file nearly impossible claims and employers will be encouraged to provide similar pay for similarly situated employees.

You also can help pass this historic bill. Contact your Senators today to tell them to support the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act or thank them for their support (see if your Senator is a co-sponsoring here).

For more information on the Ledbetter bill and CFI’s letter to the Senate please visit the CFI homepage.

Declaration In Defense of Science and Secularism February 1, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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DECLARATION IN DEFENSE OF SCIENCE AND SECULARISM

We are deeply concerned about the ability of the United States to confront the many challenges it faces, both at home and abroad. Our concern has been compounded by the failure exhibited by far too many Americans, including influential decision-makers, to understand the nature of scientific inquiry and the integrity of empirical research. This disdain for science is aggravated by the excessive influence of religious doctrine on our public policies.

We are concerned with the resurgence of fundamentalist religions across the nation, and their alliance with political-ideological movements to block science. We are troubled by the persistence of paranormal and occult beliefs, and by the denial of the findings of scientific research. This retreat into mysticism is reinforced by the emergence in universities of “post-modernism,” which undermines the objectivity of science.

These disturbing trends can be illustrated by the push for intelligent design (a new name for creationism) and the insistence that it be taught along with evolution. Some 37 states have considered legislation to mandate this. This is both troubling and puzzling since the hypotheses and theories of evolution are central to modern science. The recent federal court decision in the Dover, Pa., case has set back, but not defeated, these efforts. Moreover, the resilience of anti-evolution movements is supported not only by religious dogmatism but also by the abysmal public ignorance of basic scientific principles. Consider these facts:

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