In this Edition of Critical Links:

April Dates of Interest

News and Events
  • Unveiled Tour Postponed
  • Update on Omer
  • Annual General Meeting

Science Check
  • Virus Nonsense, Starting Early
  • CFIC Aims to Bring the “Social” Back to Social Distancing … From a Safe Distance of Course

Secular Check
  • A Seinfeldian Situation for Sex in Indonesia: Or, “No Sex for You!”

Think Check
  • Connecting Socially While Distancing Physically
  • Keith’s Conundrums

April Dates of Interest
If you are holed up in your home and starting to run out of ideas for what to eat, you may be interested to know that April 2 is Peanut Butter and Jelly day.

April 7 is World Health Day , marking 62 years since the founding of the World Health Organization, a group which these days is often on our minds as the backbone of the global fight against COVID-19.

April 22 is Earth Day . This year, many group events have been cancelled, postponed, or moved online, in compliance with physical distancing recommendations.

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for workers injured, killed, or made ill because of hazardous workplace exposure. Lately, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new threats of injury not only to workers and support staff in medical facilities, but also to retail workers, transit workers, and others. We remember those who have been killed or injured, and offer our support to those who continue to risk their health and lives for the benefit of others.

Click to find out more about provincial events and observances, e.g. Ontario and British Columbia .
If you celebrate any of these, or have suggestions for upcoming celebrations or observances, please drop us a line or send a picture to .

CFIC News & Events
Unveiled Tour Postponed

It will come as no surprise to our members that our author tour “Yasmine Mohammed: Unveiled ”, originally scheduled for April, has been postponed. We will be carefully monitoring the situation with COVID-19. We will reschedule events as soon as it is practical.
Update on Omer
Sandra Dunham

In January, we introduced you to "Omer" , a Pakistani refugee who has fled his home country to avoid persecution for blasphemy. Omer has suffered torture, been disowned by his family, and has been sought by the country’s police simply for expressing doubt about the teachings of the Muslim faith.

With assistance from the Center for Inquiry U.S. and a private donor, Omer fled to Nepal. Since then the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has recognized Omer as a refugee. CFIC is now providing financial aid for Omer’s living expenses in Nepal while he waits for word that Canada’s private refugee sponsorship program has approved him to come to Canada.

We asked you to donate to CFIC’s Secular Rescue program so that we could help Omer. We are very grateful to everyone who contributed. In total, we received just over $5,000 enough to keep Omer housed and fed for six months. On March 23, we sent Omer money for the second time. Thankfully, he picked up that money just hours before the Government of Nepal announced a one-week lockdown because of a case of COVID-19.

Given our experience, we anticipate he will be extended. We are hopeful that Omer will continue to have access to the money we send. For now, Omer is safe, has groceries, and has paid his rent for another month. As always, he is grateful for your support.

He has a message for us: “Thank you. I am good for now. I have Internet connection and books. Shops near my street will be open for two hours daily. I purchased almost everything I need for two weeks. Now we wait and see.”
Annual General Meeting

CFIC held its 2018/2019 Annual General Meeting on Thursday, March 12, 2020. This officially wrapped up the fiscal year ending September 30, 2019. Our AGM included a keynote presentation by Alex Kenjeev outlining our involvement with Secular Rescue, committee reports, and elections to our Board and Council. You can view the committee reports in the CFIC 2018/201 9 Annual Report .
Thank you for your involvement in CFIC. You help us to bring people together to promote critical thinking and evidence-based decision making to build a just, secular, and compassionate society.

Science Check
Virus Nonsense, Starting Early
Sandra Dunham

It is amazing that people truly believe that COVID-19 can be cured with tinctures or oils, can be prevented by gargling, or that it is a conspiracy of epic proportions. Nonetheless, this is the unfortunate case. Often, we even prefer not to share the ridiculous claims that we hear, for fear that we will inadvertently spread the false and dangerous information.

Obviously naturopathic and homeopathic remedies are not a cure for COVID-19. CBC News has called out some of this misinformation. However, the claims keep coming.

My email included the exciting headline “Miracle Virus Oil: Protection from Corona Virus with Immunity Oil”. A friend reported very confidently that gargling every 15 minutes with hot water would kill the virus. ( This is not true . ) My neighbour let me know that the whole COVID-19 issue is just a corporate scam to increase earnings. Apparently there are many conspiracy theories in circulation, all disproven by Snopes .

Even the good news is misleading. There have been numerous reports of the “Earth healing” as we stay in and stop travelling and spending money. While there have been reductions in air pollution, USA Today reports that these are unsustainable, and both USA Today and the National Geographic Society dispute claims that wildlife is returning.

So why do people get caught up in the lies? Because we want to believe in something, and we want to have some control. Some people desperately want to believe that there is a master plan in which this tragedy turns out to be preordained to have a positive outcome. Some people want to be able to blame someone for the events that are dramatically changing our lives. And some people want to believe that there is something magic that they can do to change the situation.

For the rest of us, there is something we can do. We can avoid being within two meters of other people, we can meticulously wash our hands and other surfaces we come in contact with, and we can avoid going out except for necessities.
CFIC Aims to Bring the “Social” Back to Social Distancing … From a Safe Distance, of Course
Zack Dumont

As everyone adjusts to the exceedingly rapid change and shocking disruption in the world in front of us, we wanted to take a break from the usual Critical Links format and provide only a brief update, with a promise of more to come. This gives our many volunteer authors the opportunity to focus on ensuring their safety and the safety of those around them; and further, allows us to highlight some of the tools and resources that CFIC already has in place for our staff, volunteers, and you.

Firstly, CFIC has already been conducting much of its business remotely and, therefore, it’s business as usual at CFIC HQ. Secondly, we’re encouraging all CFIC branches and groups to practice social distancing, which in the coming weeks may be more aptly coined physical distancing . This change in terminology is welcome for two reasons:
  1. The overwhelmingly positive evidence for social/physical distancing continues to mount; no one here expects miracles, so let’s do what we can and use evidence to drive our actions; social/physical distancing is no moonshot… it works.
  2. Swapping the term “physical” for “social” allows us to get back to being social, which was never dependent on physical co-location anyway.

One of the major strides that CFIC took over the last year, though coincidental, was the establishment of our Virtual branch. We anticipate that this branch can carry the load as our geographical branches adjust to no live in-person events or meetings for the time being. If you want to get social with link-minded people again — and we strongly encourage that! — please sign up for our virtual branch . There’s no need to be alone right now.

Lastly, in preparation for upcoming editions, we’re welcoming your COVID-19-related questions for which responses may be provided in upcoming issues of Critical Links. Please email us your questions here .

Secular Check
A Seinfeldian Situation for Sex in Indonesia:
Or, “No Sex for You!”
Scott Douglas Jacobsen

One of the most peculiar, and comprehensible, sources of moral opprobrium throughout human history is sex and sexuality, especially as regards female sexual functions and sexual pleasure. In Indonesia, the case remains much the same as in other parts of human history. Perhaps this can be seen as history as usual with an Indonesian flavour.

According to CTV News , Indonesia is hard at work trying to ban gay and premarital sex so as to reinvigorate the historical trend of condemnation of non-religiously sanctified sexuality and non-heterosexual sexuality. It’s important to note, as many of you probably know, Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population. Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said, “Indonesia's draft criminal code is disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians.”

Al Jazeera described the nature of the proposed bill as implying that those who have extramarital and premarital sex could face a sentence of six to 12 months’ imprisonment. The president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, thinks the proposed bill should have more review. Public outcry over the new penal code created the basis for Widodo proposing the delay of the parliamentary vote.

After hearing from various groups with objections to aspects of the law, I've decided that some of it needs further deliberation… The justice minister has been told to convey my views to parliament and that ratification of the criminal code should be postponed and not passed,” Widodo said in a televised press briefing.

Penalties under the proposed additions to the law could also be given for insulting the dignity of the president, for offering or even simply showing contraception to minors (those under the age of 18), and could also include four years in jail for an illegal abortion “in the absence of a medical emergency or rape.”

Papang Hidayat, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Research Manager,  stated , “This is a setback… Religious values as a source of lawmaking has now reached the national level — that's worrying.”

Think Check
Connecting Socially While Distancing Physically
Sandra Dunham

I hate the term “social distancing”. We’re not really being asked to distance ourselves socially from the people who matter most to us. In fact, I don’t recall a time when it was more important that we be socially connected. What is really being asked of us is that we physically distance ourselves. We all should be actively pursuing alternatives to our traditional ways of being together.

At CFIC we understand the need for community and want to engage our membership in suggesting ways they have discovered to be together, while maintaining at least two metres of physical separation. We are looking for your advice about how to connect. Please follow the links below and tell us how you are connecting with others.

Many of CFIC’s branches are offering their regular programming virtually, and CFIC’s Virtual Branch will be offering increased programming during this difficult time. We hope you will join us and offer suggestions for programming that provides improved social connectedness while we physically distance ourselves.

Many of us get together to play games with our friends and families. Now is the time to be bold and try to recreate those activities online. I play bridge with a group of friends. We have all joined an online bridge app and we teleconference while we play. The snacks are not as good, but it is wonderful to connect and play. Do you have online games you play remotely? Please share them here , along with a review.

Conference calling on cell phones is incredibly easy. Simply merge calls and have a great group chat. While this is the easiest way of connecting a small group of people, there are many free services available if you are looking for larger groups or different ways of interacting.

Video conferencing is another option for people who love eye contact while chatting. Although many of these tools are available for remote work, they are also a great alternative for friends and family who want to connect. Do you have other video conferencing tools to share ?

Going outside can be a safe activity. Take a walk or go on a bike ride with a friend. But please remember that the two metres of separation applies. Recently, many parks and conservation areas have closed because of overcrowding and people flouting the rules. If you are walking, riding, or just visiting with neighbours be very aware of the two-metre rule. To visualize two metres, remember that sidewalks are typically just 1.2 metres wide.

The rules of social distancing are currently fluid. Please follow the guidelines provided by your municipality and province. We welcome you to share ideas about how to stay connected to help others. Please join the conversation.
Keith’s Conundrums: Examining Randomness
Keith Douglas

Last month I asked about “possibility” and gave some exploratory exercises and thought experiments. Due to the COVID-19 situation I have not had time to analyze any answers, so I will leave this subject for now with an additional hint and come back to it later. (As usual, feel free to comment on any previous subject.)

Philosophers without a lot of background in logic often talk as if logical possibility were a property of propositions. This is fair enough, and seems reasonable. However, the consequences ahem! :) of this view have to be taken up in a way that is often forgotten.

There already (arguably) is a theory about the possibility of propositions that does not use the contentiousness that is the various modal logics. (For this contentiousness, simply read the debates historically on which one of many, many modal logics to use for various purposes.) This is just an ordinary (propositional, first-order, second-order, etc.) logic. There is also a way to split the difference: George Boolos’ “provability logic”, which has interesting properties.

Examining Randomness

Now on to something new . Over the years I have seen many people talking about randomness and random numbers. There is a lot to say on this subject, but I will start with the following: Consider the following three real numbers. I describe how to write each one down, and ask you — assuming you just saw each written down — how you would go about telling that they were generated by a random process, if you were to encounter them some other way. In every case, the number continues in some way or other, infinitely. Yet your analysis cannot be infinite, so I only give you some of the number to get you started:

1) 0.1592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944…

2) 0.10100100010000100000100000010000000100000000001000000000001…

3) Pick your favourite programming language and consider all the programs you can write in it that take a single integer as a parameter and return a single integer as the value. Convert all of those to a suitable text encoding and sort them all in alphabetical order. Now, imagine running them with 0 as the value of the parameter. Determine if 0 will make the first program stop or not, and so on, for each program in order.

If it does, write 1 for the relevant digit after the decimal point. If it does not, write 0. So for example, if the first 10 programs have the following stopping pattern {yes, no, yes, yes, yes, yes, no, yes, no, no} then the number begins 0.1011110100…

If you do not program, imagine instructions to do things that allow you to a) remember where you are in the process, b) perform grade school arithmetic, and c) perform any of the previous steps repeatedly (including this sort of step). Sort the collection of these instructions into alphabetical order and continue as in item 3.

Does it matter that I already told you how to write down (some of) the digits in each case? Suppose a friend gave you each instead? Does it matter that my numbers were between 0 and 1?
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