In this Edition of Critical Links:

CFIC and Canadian News and Events
  • August Dates of Interest
  • What’s Happening in our Branches
  • CRA Political Activity Ruling Overturned

Secular Check
  • There’s a New Televangelist in Town   
  • Saskatchewan Ruling on Catholic Schools: Implementation Delayed
  • Trinity Western University Decision Explained

Science Check
  • Hope, But Only Hope
  • CFI US sues CVS

Think Check
  • Factual Statements vs. Opinion: Harder than We Think to Distinguish?

Books and Authors
  • John Dewey's Creative Democracy
August Dates of Interest

August 6: The first Monday in August is a holiday for most Canadians. The exceptions are Quebec, Yukon, and Newfoundland and Labrador which do not recognize it as a holiday. In the remainder of the provinces and territories, it is a secular holiday as follows:
  • Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut all recognize Civic Day or Civic Holiday, which has been described as: “a public holiday that is not based on any particular historical or religious event. The intent of the Civic Holiday seems simply to be to 'not work'.”
  • Nova Scotians celebrate “Natal Days,” the “birthday” of their municipality.
  • In other provinces (you can guess which) it is known as British Columbia Day, Saskatchewan Day, and New Brunswick Day.

August 24: Pluto Demoted Day
August 25-26: International Bat Night

We note with dismay that Canada is not one of countries listed in the drop-down list. However, a bat night walk might be of interest to many of our members to raise awareness about bat conservation. Perhaps one of our branches will take up this cause and get Canada on the map (or at least the drop-down list).
If you celebrate any of these events, please drop us a line or send us a picture to
CFIC Branch Updates
Coming Events

Ottawa: Anyone in the Ottawa area on Sunday, August 26, is invited to march with CFI Ottawa in the Capital Pride Parade , followed by a BBQ .
Toronto: CFI Toronto will be hosting a series of book talks. The first will take place on Saturday, August 18, featuring author Ralph Lewis*, M.D., a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

Drawing on years of wide-ranging, intensive clinical experience as a psychiatrist, and his own family experience with cancer, Dr. Lewis helps readers understand how people cope with random adversity without relying on supernatural belief.

Can there be purpose without God? In his book, Dr. Lewis presents a compelling argument for how human purpose and caring emerged in a spontaneous and unguided universe. Dispelling illusions, and integrating the findings of numerous scientific fields, he shows how not only the universe, life, and consciousness but also purpose, morality, and meaning could in fact have emerged and evolved spontaneously and unguided.

Our conversation will look in to the unreliability of intuition and subjective perception in shaping our explanations and beliefs, and the neural basis of motivation and purposiveness.

We hope you will join us for a night with Ralph Lewis, M.D., for a scientific look into purpose in our random universe. Advance tickets available here.

* If this name sounds familiar, perhaps you recall reading about his book  Finding Purpose in a Godless World in our April Critical Links.
Past Events

Congratulations CFI Victoria on your First Year!

The Centre for Inquiry Victoria celebrated its first anniversary in early July. With over 100 members and guests, CFIV enters its second year with great pride.
In honour of this milestone, CFIV held a picnic on July 8 th at the beautiful oceanfront home of Pat and Byron Hill. The setting was magnificent, inspiring great conversation. The 20 in attendance brought a variety of wonderful dishes while Byron provided home cooked ham, locally brewed craft beers, and tasters of seal and moose meat from Newfoundland. 
Conversations were fascinating and we enjoyed an ‘entertainment potluck’, where everyone presented a joke, riddle, or anecdote, followed by a wonderful solo concert on cello by Margarita Benoit. The evening was capped off with a birthday cake celebrating both Canada’s 151st birthday and the inaugural year of our new group of friends and fellow travelers in life.
Toronto Leadership Team Meeting
After months of re-organizing and re-structuring, the Toronto Branch had its leadership team meeting to kick off its summer events planning. With a newly invigorated group, the Toronto branch aims to bring CFIC Toronto to new heights.

Stay tuned to the website, Facebook, and Twitter pages for information on upcoming events. They are also looking for active volunteers to help out. If you are passionate about critical thinking and secularism and would like to help your community and gain volunteering hours, please click here.
CFIC and Canadian News and Events
Political Action Rule Overturned:
One constant source of frustration for CFIC members has been our inability to advocate for science-based, non-religious decision making in government. Canada Revenue Agency has required that charities limit “political action” to 10% of their activity. For CFIC and many other charities this has been a difficult ruling as a big part of what we do is change ideas and that often happens through political action.
On July 16, the Supreme Court of Ontario eliminated the section of the Income Tax Act that imposed this limitation. What does this mean for CFIC? We will not be constrained by this ruling and therefore will be in a better position to convey our message about the importance of science and secularism in government.

Science Check
Hope, But Only Hope
For once, perhaps a good news story about vaccines’ unintended effects and potential new uses. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is used for the prevention of cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and throat. However, in a case study recently published in JAMA Dermatology, a 90-year-old woman’s active skin cancer was treated with the HPV vaccine and the cancer subsequently resolved.
There is, however, caution required. While this case, which alludes to a few other anecdotal cases, appears to be an endorsement for vaccines, it is indeed just one case. Yes, the vaccine was given and the cancer resolved. Post-hoc ergo propter hoc. It is this same logic that we deny when the outcomes aren’t favourable. As skeptics, we do not routinely accept that a patient receiving a vaccine and then subsequently developing a rare and unexpected adverse outcome as proof of cause and effect. And thus, we must hold ourselves to the same or higher standard.
For the 90-year-old described in this case, the temporal relationship is stark. It appears as though the cancer was otherwise unrelenting, and the quick turnaround in her condition was proximal to the administration of the vaccine, leading to even more assurance that a true effect may exist. This story has been picked up by some media outlets.

Before this has a chance at becoming a mainstream treatment, researchers will need to conduct multiple studies to determine if there truly is an effect, to ensure the treatment is not overly unsafe, and ultimately to compare the new treatment to current standard treatments in a randomized controlled trial. However, something else will be happening concurrently: The publication of the case mentioned above may be used as ‘license’ for other care providers to attempt treatment in difficult patient cases. We’re likely to end up with a series of case reports that may or may not contribute to the case for or against this treatment. Either way, it could be years before we know more.
If the evidence is inconclusive, why cover this story at all? For at least two reasons, and they are mutually dependent. One, there’s enough negative press about vaccines that some positive news is worth sharing. Two, it provides an opportunity for skeptics to demonstrate leadership – to show how single cases should be reported – with cautious optimism and unwavering critical thought. This leadership is essential in an age when the anti-science movement is surging ahead, on the internet and in the highest offices. News that the US will be rushing unproven medications to the market is an example of necessary steps being bypassed, and ultimately feeds false hope in individuals and poor decisions by the health care team.

We cannot rest and we should not lose hope. It’s perfectly acceptable to have hope, when the hope is informed and doesn’t negatively affect decision-making.
Center for Inquiry (US) Sues Drugstore Chain for Fraud

Our American CFI counterparts have launched a lawsuit against a large drugstore chain over the sale of homeopathic products. CFI USA claims that selling homeopathic preparations as medicine constitutes fraud. The lawsuit was filed in the District of Columbia, on behalf of the American public, against CVS Pharmacy, a subsidiary of CVS Health, the 7 th largest company in the US. CVS Pharmacy, the largest drugstore chain in the United States, sells homeopathic products in almost 10,000 stores across the country. Customers find these products, which are nothing more than water, inactive ingredients or sugar tablets, alongside legitimate medicines and assume they are equivalent. They are not. CFI Canada supports this action and we hope they are successful in bringing this breach of trust to the attention of the American public.

Secular Check
There’s a new Televangelist in Town

Looking for a bit of a laugh? Please enjoy John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. Warning! Do not send money!
Saskatchewan Ruling on Catholic Schools: Implementation Delayed

In April of 2017 a Saskatchewan court ruled that the Government of Saskatchewan must stop funding Catholic schools for non-Catholic students effective June 30, 2018. However, implementation of this ruling has been delayed pending an appeal by the provincial government.
This is just the latest delay in a long-standing legal action between the Good Spirit School Division No. 204 against the Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic Separate School Division No. 212 which began in 2005. The case arose from the closure of Theodore School due to lack of enrollment. The Catholic minority group in the community successfully advocated for the formation of St. Theodore School. However, when its doors opened in 2003 only 31% of the school’s 42 students were Catholic.
The public school division sued in 2005 and the case was finally decided in July 2016. The decision read “Section 17(2) of the Saskatchewan Act, which provides constitutional protection against discrimination in the distribution of moneys payable to any class of school, only protects separate schools to the extent they admit students of the minority faith.”
It appears that many more years will pass and much public funding spent, before this case is finalized and decisions are implemented.
You can follow this case on Facebook at
Trinity Western University Decision Explained
CFIC Council Member Leslie Rosenblood attended the TWU court case and carefully reviewed the 250-page decision and kindly spent many hours putting that massive decision in language that is accessible to all.
If you are interested in understanding what points were considered in ruling against TWU, why two Justices supported TWU, and what happens next, please visit Leslie Rosenblood’s blog “ Opinions and Questions.”

Think Check
Factual Statements vs Opinion: Harder than We Think to Distinguish?
Edan Tasca, CFIC Mental Health Chair

“Yeah, well, y’know, that’s just like your opinion, man.”
- The Dude, The Big Lebowski

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center ran a study in the U.S. about the abilities of news consumers to accurately distinguish between factual statements — i.e., those statements that are able to be confirmed or denied based on evidence — and those that reflect merely an opinion. This task might be harder than we think.

The study presented subjects with statements that were either clearly factual (e.g., “President Barak Obama was born in the United States”), clearly opinion (e.g., “Democracy is the greatest form of government”), or a combination of both categories, which the study called borderline (e.g., “Voter fraud has undermined our elections”). As a whole, the statements reflected a wide range of current events and political positions. They were balanced exactly between reflecting the political right and left for ideology.

The first step of the study asked subjects which of the three categories each statement belonged to. The second step asked subjects if the statements they considered factual were also true, and whether they agreed or disagreed with statements they considered opinion.

Statements thought to be factual were overwhelmingly considered accurate. Further, while subjects split relatively evenly on agreeing or disagreeing with statements they correctly considered opinion, subjects tended to disagree with statements they incorrectly considered opinion. (Just your opinion, man!)

The study also looked at the effect of the sources of these statements (e.g., Fox News vs. The New York Times), and effects of the party affiliations of the subjects. Interestingly, only Fox News seemed to have an effect as a source. Republicans were mildly more likely to correctly classify Fox’s factual statements than Democrats. Members of both parties were equally likely to properly classify statements from the other sources (NYT, USA Today, and no-source-given).

As CFI members, we pride ourselves on being freethinkers who excel at discerning fact from opinion. However, we should take a second or even a third look at something we believe every now and then, just to be sure we are correct. Indeed, that's largely how skepticism works!

Check out the study here:

If you would like to test your knowledge of fact vs. opinion, or if you would like a fun exercise to complete with your family and/or friends, check out the New York Times' Skills Practice: Distinguishing Between Fact and Opinion.

Books and Authors
Democracy, Education, and the Centre for Inquiry Canada
Gus Lyn-Piluso, CFIC President
Democracy is not just a political structure or a subject of study. It is the milieu in which active citizens learn about what is true and how to use such knowledge in the service of ethical action.
Our mission at CFIC is rooted in the long tradition of thought that employs humanist ethics and a rigorous process of inquiry rooted in the scientific method. Underpinning this is the view that democracy is required if our ethics and inquiry are to have a meaningful impact on the world. An exploration of what democratic practice means, then, is useful in helping us actualize our mission.

Our process of inquiry is an antidote to ‘bad’ thinking in all forms. Any received truths are subjected to validity tests in the real world. We seek to experience the consequences of truth claims for ourselves in a communal, neverending process of inquiry. If one of us experiences a result, we ask others to confirm it. The more such experiences are confirmed by others, the closer we come to an understanding of what is true. We recognize, however, that even our claims, replicated as they may be, are contingent truths. We know that our positions might change as new evidence emerges from our experiences. Our claims are formidable because they are nimble, flexible, and evolve as experience dictates.

Democratic practice is central to this method of inquiry because it invites wide participation. The more our contingent claims are subjected to experiences the more robust they become. John Dewey, one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 and a leading figure in philosophical pragmatism, expressed this as a collective intellectual effort toward “warranted assertability”. Such assertions are made without holding them as absolute or immutable, requiring a high degree of comfort with uncertainty since answers to such complex questions lead to more questions and a renewed process of inquiry.

It is ultimately a fallibilist, experimental, skeptical position that is always in search of more evidence and involvement of more people who have diverse experiences. Our knowledge claims are warranted because they have been repeatedly experienced by others who approach them from different perspectives. This wide democratic community of scholars does not supersede the structured scientific method of experimentation but supports the authority of scientific expertise by adding yet another layer to the process made up of active citizens. It is the scientific method at the level of the demos.

The democratization of inquiry inevitably tests the instrumentality of claims. That is, the consequences of our claims when they are tested in the complexity of the real world. Human reasoning needs to be employed in the project of solving real-world problems and democratic inquiry at the service of humanity to facilitate ethical action. A particular ethical supposition may seem coherent at first pass or in theory. Its consequences when tested in the real world will tell us of its validity. This appeal to consequences is the pragmatic ethics test and it informs future action. While it’s important to discover the truth about nature regardless of its implication, it is of vital importance that what we learn is applied to the serves of human flourishing and the health of the biosphere.

Our work at CFIC should not aim at cultural transmission as most formal education does, but at cultural transformation. This means a method of inquiry that asks Canadians to become active citizens and to investigate questions and issues thoughtfully and in dialogue with others. It is an invitation to explore theories, methodologies, and the process of evaluation and reflection. Ultimately this leads to a reworking of original questions and revisions of the plans to address the new question. The aim is to continually exercise the process of forming and testing ideas in order to enable growth in personal judgment, social intelligence, and ultimately social action.

In this type of educational process values are developed through thoughtful action within the democratic community. Democracy is not just a political structure or a subject of study but it is the milieu in which active citizens learn about what is true and how to use such knowledge in the service of ethical action. Education should democratize the scientific method and the “ownership” of its machinery. By helping Canadians learn the inquiry process (the "language of intelligence" as Dewey called it), and cultivate a democratic habit of mind, we empower them to become lifelong learners who are skeptical of fast and easy positions, ready to take action as informed citizens.

" Democracy as compared with other ways of life is the sole way of living which believes wholeheartedly in the process of experience as ends and as means; as that which is capable of generating the science which is the sole dependable authority for the direction of further experience and which releases emotions, needs and desires so as to call into being the things that have not existed in the past. For every way of life that fails in its democracy limits the contracts, the exchanges, the communications, the interactions, by which experience is steadied while it is also enlarged and enriched. The task of this release and enrichment is one that has to be carried on day by day. Since it is one that can have no end till experience itself comes to an end, the task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute. "

- John Dewey, Creative Democracy
Have you read a good book lately? One that made you think more critically? One that changed your outlook? Something that used science to call into question misinformation? Critical Links is looking for book reviewers to share their thoughts on books that other members will enjoy.

If you would like more information on the type of book reviews we are interested in, please email:
Centre for Inquiry Canada | 613-663-8198| |