In this Edition of Critical Links:

March Dates of Interest

CFIC News and Events
  • Yasmine Mohammed: Unveiled Book Tour
  • Sponsorship Opportunity
  • Volunteers Wanted: Fact-Checker
  • Council and Board of Directors
  • Annual General Meeting
  • BAHACON 2020: Humanist Conference in Sarnia

Science Check
  • M-m-m-my Corona: Protecting Yourself from Coronavirus and its Misinformation

Secular Check
  • Twilight of the Golden Calf: A Denouement of the Dominant
  • Update: Raif Badawi Missing!

Think Check
  • “Draw Your Own Conclusions,” Mayor Says after Skeptic Turfed from Speaking at Conference
  • Keith’s Conundrums: Possible Fat Men in a Doorway
  • Sandra's Enigma: Solution

March Dates of Interest

March forth onto March fourth, which is National Grammar Day.

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). The Canadian IWD theme is #BecauseofYou. The UN’s theme for 2020 is "I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.”

March 2020 Trifecta: This year we can consecutively celebrate Friday the 13th, Pi Day, and the Ides of March!

After we have survived the Ides, we can celebrate Brain Awareness Week, March 16 to 22. Does your brain want to know more about itself?

March is nutrition month. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (staunch promoter of evidence-based bariatric medicine) asks why Health Canada is still allowing the sale of herbal supplements for weight loss, when systematic reviews and meta-analyses have plainly made the case that they do not work .
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
Yasmine Mohammed: Unveiled Book Tour

CFIC is sponsoring a book tour by Yasmine Mohammed, author of Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam .

Upcoming events include Toronto, April 3; Ottawa, April 4; Montreal, April 5; and Vancouver, April 23. We're also planning video presentations for additional locations.

Issues covered in Unveiled: How Western Liberals Empower Radical Islam :
• Growing up Muslim in the West
• Fundamentalist Islam and children
• Forced marriage
• Being married to an Al Qaeda operative
• Surviving abuse
• Failure of Western institutions to protect children in minority communities
• Forced hijab
• Feminism in the Muslim world

Purchase tickets here.
Sponsorship Opportunity
CFIC is offering sponsorship opportunities for our author tour: “Yasmine Mohammed: Unveiled .” The tour will make stops in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Vancouver, with upcoming video presentations at other locations.

Sponsorship starts at $100. We invite sponsorship from individuals, groups, and businesses. Tax receipts will be provided, and sponsors will be acknowledged at the event of their choosing.

We also offer customized sponsorship packages, including tickets to the talk, signed copies of Unveiled, the opportunity to attend a dinner or reception with the author on the day of the event, and reserved, preferential seating at the event.

For details please email Sandra Dunham , Executive Director of Development.
Volunteers Wanted: Fact-Checker

Those of you from Nova Scotia who woke up to a message from us saying that you did not have a holiday on February 16 will understand why we need a volunteer fact-checker. Our editorial team is quite small and while we do our best to provide accurate information, sometimes we make mistakes.

We need someone who will fact-check our information to help us to do a better job of avoiding misinformation. This position will have varied hours and may sometimes have a relatively short turnaround time. It is well suited to someone who has a background (either professionally, academically, or self-taught) in research and especially identifying reliable online sources of information. If you are interested in this or other volunteer opportunities with CFIC please complete a volunteer application form.
Council and Board of Directors

Are you interested in a leadership role at CFIC? We are seeking councilors and directors to start in March 2020. We’re looking for enthusiastic folks to help us in our mission to spread secularism and critical thinking.

Council members elect the board of directors and vote on significant organizational changes. Council membership is $60 ($30 of this is eligible for a charitable tax receipt). Anyone who is interested in a council membership but cannot afford the membership fee may request an earned membership. Earned council members are expected to contribute a minimum of six hours per month to CFIC.

Board members oversee the operations of CFIC. Board members are elected from the council members. They are expected to prioritize attendance at CFIC board meetings (once per month by teleconference) and to take on a leadership role within CFIC.

Being on the board or council is a significant and rewarding opportunity for someone who wishes to have input into the future of CFIC. If you would like more information about becoming a director or council member, please email Sandra Dunham , Executive Director of Development.

For more on council memberships please see the CFIC Bylaws.
Annual General Meeting

Hold the date! CFIC’s Annual General Meeting will be held (by teleconference) on Thursday, March 12, at 8pm EST. The meeting is open to all members of CFIC. Only council members are eligible to vote. Members will receive further information by email.
BAHACON 2020: Humanist Conference in Sarnia

Bluewater Atheists, Humanists, Agnostics (BAHA) is hosting a conference on July 24 and 25, as well as an optional event on the 26th. BAHA is proud to present an exciting all-star lineup of guest speakers from across North America, including Dan Barker, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Dave Warnock, Hemant Mehta, Bob Ripley, Gretta Vosper, and Marie D’Elephant. The conference is being held at the Sunbridge Hotel & Conference Center in Sarnia, Ontario. Come spend a weekend or a day in Bluewater Country and enjoy the beautiful beaches and a super conference with a stellar lineup of speakers, a great venue, and a reasonable registration fee.

Tickets go on sale April 2. Check out the BAHACON website for further information about the venue and speakers.

Science Check
M-m-m-my Corona: Protecting Yourself from Coronavirus and its Misinformation
Zack Dumont

Though tragic at the time, and still today, past outbreaks — such as SARS in 2003 — have taught the global healthcare community much about handling epidemics. Because of those outbreaks there exist sophisticated systems to detect, trace, contain, and stop the spread of epidemics. Thankfully, we’re seeing those systems in action right now with the novel (“new”) coronavirus, originally emerging from Wuhan province in China.

Unfortunately, we’re also witnessing some of the media playing into (and heightening) hysteria. Yes, there have been a number of deaths as a result of the coronavirus; yes, there are people who are quarantined; yes, the victims and others are impacted. But the media should not share these details without the required context to truly understand the situation. There are deadlier viruses around us all the time, and the quarantining is simply a necessary precaution for the vast, vast majority of those affected. Though most media outlets are working to inform, the sheer mass of them and their long reach may make it seem far worse than it is.

Worse than the worst of the media, however, are the con artists who are springing into action. They deserve no more airtime or attention, so to put it simply: It’s all bull$#%t. Even most natural and complementary health information source s are cautioning against anything other than hygiene-related measures : wash your hands, avoid touching your face, etc. There are dozens of studies currently underway which will test other treatments , such as HIV and malaria medications, but to my knowledge and understanding, there isn’t any tea or tincture or troche that will see the light of day as a legitimately effective strategy .

A few actually helpful or interesting tidbits:
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was actually born from the 2003 SARS outbreak and is evidence that we’re better equipped today than during past outbreaks.
  • The virus is now being coined COVID-19 (short for “coronavirus 2019,” which is when cases first started presenting).
  • At the time of writing this article, the spread in China is slowing.
  • For the best and most relevant source of facts on COVID-19, look no further than PHAC and Health Canada’s easy-to-find website — which collects information from the World Health Organization, the Centres for Disease Control, and others; includes useful Canadian context; and is updated daily.

UPDATE 2020-02-28: What a difference a week makes. When initially drafting the article above I attempted to write it from a balanced, if not neutral, perspective — as if to give readers a reason to think “Stay calm, and everything will be alright.” It was perhaps a noble effort, but alas, futile. My failure is not the result of the virus changing and becoming more deadly; nor has Canada suddenly become intensely threatened, while the virus continues to spread.

Rather, my article downplayed how many people are impacted, not by the virus itself, but by its “side effects” — e.g., further travel restrictions, additional quarantines increasing the likelihood you or someone you know is in isolation, and crashing financial markets. My sincere apologies if I came across as insensitive. Nevertheless, I must forge ahead with my mission to keep you up to date with information shaped by science, reason, and critical thinking.

Objectively, and without casting blame, the following is probably true today, tomorrow, and next week (though, there’s no way to truly know):
  • The media is sensationalizing. It’s kind of their job, and they’re very good at it. Little to nothing can slow them down. Staying silent, when their competition won’t back down, is not a viable option. The problem really is the sheer number of media outlets and how that creates an unrelenting tsunami of COVID-19 news coming your way.
  • Everyone, even non-media sources, feels compelled to speak to it — yes, even CFIC. This adds to the non-stop reminders you’re getting.
  • The number of cases outside of China is increasing.
  • The mortality rates reported thus far are likely an underestimate due to under-reporting of mild cases initially in China.
  • We know more about the virus today and have more possible solutions with each passing moment.
  • Your best bet is to ignore the lay press, and continue to flock to trusted sources like those noted above and below (e.g., Further, we aim to be a trusted source for you, have far less “skin in the game” to mislead, and we’re honest about our limitations — thus, our redirection to the experts in the area, whom Health Canada and PHAC are 100% integrated with.
  • Unless you’re really keen to stay on top of the ancillary effects of the virus, and probably only if you’re willing to stay constantly on your toes to filter the signal from the noise, I suggest the mainstream news will only lead to burnout. Don’t do it: Save your energy and strength.

Secular Check

Twilight of the Golden Calf: A Denouement of the Dominant
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Canadian society, since its inception, has placed faith-based organizations or religious institutions on a privileged or special pedestal, where the emphasis existed on the dominant Christian religion and the domineering denomination of Roman Catholicism followed by Protestantism. If you’re looking to question this dominant position and fundamental tenets in a critical manner, then you should be ready for predictable backlash and other consequences. These questions, of course, have been asked of the Christian faith in Canada over and over. Slowly and in increments — generation by generation — the hold of Christianity on the culture has attenuated.

Pew Research, on July 27, 2013, wrote, “Canada’s Changing Religious Landscape,” explaining an ongoing trend of the decline of religion in Canada. People question quietly; leave churches; and become more open in freethought and naturalistic perspectives on the world. The Globe and Mail describes this, rather dramatically, as a “battle for Christianity in Canada,” as if reading Professor Kenneth Miller’s argument for the “battle for America’s soul.”  

Nonetheless, the numbers tell the tale of a decline in the amount of believers in Canadian society as a proportion of Canadian citizenry. In fact, one of the stabilization forces for the numbers of faithful citizens in Canada, in spite of the declines, comes from the immigration of more religious people. In fact, in Christianity Today, Gary Nelson, President and CEO of Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, said that churches need to reintroduce themselves “as a place, as a possibility, and as a neighborhood impact, as opposed to a place people ‘attend’ or ‘go.’ ”

This attempt to rebrand stems from a worrisome decline in church numbers, leading to burdensome costs for maintenance. Over time, fewer Canadian dollars in the collection plates, and rising prices on fixing old buildings, forces churches to close down. The issue is finances and economics, spurred by what seems to be a lowering of religious devotion.  

In the next decade, the projection is that 9,000 churches will close because of the two-factor problem of fewer believers and rising costs. “As of 2009, there were 27,601 buildings for worship, training or promotion owned by religious organizations in Canada, a statistic found buried inside a Natural Resources Canada energy audit.” This places the 9,000 as an important comparative number.  

From a centuries-long perspective of the narrative of Canadian history, we live in the midst of a phase change in Canadian religious life and demographics with consequences for all facets of Canadian culture and political life because religion, Christian religion, “since its inception,” has pervaded every facet of the country.  

Times they change.
Update: Raif Badawi Missing!
Edan Tasca
As you may recall, in 2013 Saudi Arabia convicted dissident and activist writer, Raif Badawi , of “ insulting Islam through electronic channels .” Badawi had created the website Free Saudi Liberals , which encouraged the kind of cultural debate that is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Badawi’s sentence amounted to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of one million riyals (approximately $358,000 Canadian), a ban on media work and international travel for 10 years after his release from prison, as well as 1000 lashes. The website was shut down after Badawi’s conviction.
In an alarming turn of events, Badawi has disappeared. Until last month, Badawi had been in regular contact with his wife, Ensaf Haidar, who fled Saudia Arabia with the couple’s three children to Canada, where the family has been awarded citizenship. However, Ensaf reports that she has not heard from Raif in several weeks. His once-daily phone calls ended on January 14 of this year, with no explanation. The Saudi government has not been forthcoming. Ensaf is scared. Who can blame her?
The family is worried for Badawi’s safety. In particular, his health had been recently threatened by taking on two hunger strikes toward the end of 2019, to protest the poor living conditions in the Saudi prison. He has endured 50 of the 1000 lashes. The lashing was halted to allow Badawi to heal, and has not resumed, as far as anyone knows.
Despite efforts by the Canadian government and members of the U.S. Congress , to petition the Saudi government for leniency, Badawi remains behind bars. In 2015, in absentia, Badawi was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

See here for a more comprehensive treatment of Badawi’s case.

Think Check

“Draw Your Own Conclusions,” Mayor Says After Skeptic Turfed From Speaking at Conference
David Richards

Feb 18, 2020—Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said Patrick Moore — a skeptic about the existence of gravity — should have been able to speak at an upcoming physics conference in the city.

Moore will instead speak at a Rebel Media-organized event on May 19th at the Conexus Arts Centre, the day before the city's conference. Fougere will be attending.

[My attendance] sends a message that being open minded is really important, and not to be labelled is really important, Fougere told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Tuesday. Moore's appearance was cancelled after backlash. The former planetarium director disputes that there is a force of nature by which all things with mass or energy are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another.

A Rebel Media spokesperson has said that they are excited to have Dr. Moore speak on his belief that objects are actually held to the earth by billions of microscopic aliens who maintain this equilibrium in exchange for humans burning an enemy alien race that lives within carbon-based fuels.

Fougere doesn't dispute the fact that gravitational forces exist but said he wants to hear what Moore has to say.

Just listen to what people have to say and draw your own conclusions, what you think is right or wrong, the mayor said.

Well I'm not endorsing Rebel Media. I'm not endorsing Dr. Moore. I'm not endorsing the burning of oil and gas so that Glorillian microbes are destroyed in service to Terran attraction species 18,” he said.

I think that most people understand that distinction that I'm simply going to hear what he has to say. Fougere went on to clarify, I think it is irresponsible for a convention of some of the world's leading experts on relativity, who gathered to tackle real problems, not devote several hours of their limited time in Regina towards giving equal weight to Dr. Moore's theories, even if I say I don't personally believe them.”

[This satire is based on a true story .]
Keith’s Conundrums: Fat Men in a Doorway
Keith Douglas
About the last conundrum, in December’s issue , Seanna and Steve Watson caught a mistake! My request for further information should have mentioned “infinitely thin,” not “infinitely thick.” We had apleasant conversation about the nature of idealizations (and how finding advanced textbooks on the subject was hard) and that was that!
Moving on to this month’s puzzle , then. (Warning: This topic is far more technical than most of our previous entries.)
How Many Possible Fat Men Are in That Doorway?
The way of presenting this (family of) puzzle(s) is due to American philosopher and logician, W.V.O. Quine. It concerns possibilia. I will ignore the vagueness of “fat” and take “doorway” as understood. So, let’s take a look. People say things like:

A: Is X coming to the meeting?
B: I don’t know. It is possible, I guess.


A: A ball dropped will hit the floor and not fly off somewhere and turn feathered.
B: I don’t know. Maybe it is really possible, just unlikely.


A: God possibly exists.
B: Oh really?


A: Nothing goes faster than light.
B: Why not?
A: It is impossible!

and finally

A: It is impossible that there is a river of Coca-Cola elsewhere (not on Earth) in the universe.
B: Why is that?
A: Because Coke is necessarily made under license by a corporation based in the U.S. here on Earth, and as yet it has not licensed any manufacturing elsewhere.

So what do we see in these small dialogues? Many uses of “possible” and its negation, “impossible.” We also see “necessarily,” a related word. What’s the relationship between necessary and possible?

The conventional identity is that something is necessary if it is not possible that it is not. For example, let p be a proposition. Then p is necessary if it is not possible that not p .

The next thing to notice is our puzzle: What do all the uses of “possible” (including the one “embedded” in the use of “necessarily”) have in common? You can start by asking yourself what is the domain of the operator in question. Are they all the same? What does linguistic analysis tell you? What else might bear on this question? Once you have done that, you have done more work than found in a lot of discussions of possibility.

Then ask: How do you evaluate the truth value (if there is one!) of the propositions using “possible” (etc.), and what in the world would “truth make” that truth value? (What would the world have to be like for there even to be a truth value?) As one naïve example (not a theory of truth), “Electrons have charge (thus and so)” is true because (for example) electrons have charge (thus and so). Your answers to all these questions should answer Quine’s question, or “dissolve” it.
Recommended reading: Bunge’s Treatise on Basic Philosophy (Volume 3) and Armstrong’s A World of States of Affairs . Schaum’s Outline of Logic is a very easy way into the formal systems often used here, and yet also briefly addresses some of the philosophical topics as well. Pay attention to its discussion of the ontological argument (a fragment of which is in the third dialogue).
Sandra's Enigma Solved
Sandra Dunham

What has four letters, occasionally has 12 letters, usually has seven letters, but never has five letters...

The answer is ... yes! What does have four letters, occasionally has 12, usually has seven, and never has five. This is an example of the use-mention distinction, a foundational concept of analytic philosophy.
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