In this Edition of Critical Links:

November Dates of Interest

CFIC News and Events
  • Election Viewing Party in Ottawa Goes Dutch
  • CFIC Ottawa Presents the Evolution Revolution Pub Quiz
  • Volunteers Needed!

Science Check
  • 500 People Misrepresenting Climate Change
  • How the Climate Change Denial Movement is Funded

Secular Check
  • Presenting a Secular Perspective at a Catholic Conference
  • A Small Victory for Atheist Soldiers
  • LGBTQ Rights: Eyes on Brunei
  • Why Does it Matter?

Think Check
  • Keith’s Conundrums: Buridan’s ass, or how to be rational by being arbitrary
  • Sobriety, Addiction Treatment, and Secular Exclusion

November Dates of Interest
On November 3, Daylight Savings Time ends (except in most of Saskatchewan, which is smart enough to stay on Central Standard time all year round ).

November 8 (N-ov-8) is National STEM/STEAM day , the perfect day to celebrate and promote science, technology, engineering, arts, and math!

November 11 is Remembrance Day. This month’s Secular Check article “ A Small Victory for Atheist Soldiers" reminds us that there are atheists in foxholes.

November 18 to 24 is World Antibiotic Awareness Week .

November 23 (11/23) is Fibonacci Day .

November 24 is the 160 th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species .

If you celebrate any of these, or have any suggestions for upcoming celebrations or observances, please drop us a line or send a picture to .

CFIC News & Events
CFIC Ottawa Election Viewing Party Goes Dutch

CFIC Ottawa had some unexpected guests when we gathered to watch the federal election results in our regular room at the Fox & Feather Pub on October 21.

Two men and a woman came in, sat in the corner, and ordered Heinekens. We soon learned they were from the Netherlands public news broadcaster NOS . The group included Arjen van der Horst ( @arjenUSA ), the Washington-based correspondent covering North America for the Dutch current affairs television program Nieuwsuur (News Hour), who was visiting Ottawa for the first time.

Throughout the evening they asked us questions, including our personal opinions about politics in general and Justin Trudeau in particular. We had a chance to tell them about CFIC. We also enjoyed lively and thoughtful conversations on issues like Trump’s impeachment, climate change, and the role of religion in Dutch and Canadian societies.

The three were the last to leave the party as they headed to Parliament Hill to report on the election for the Dutch morning news programs. The next day Arjen posted a photo of the event on his Twitter feed, which will help us all remember the historic evening.
CFIC Ottawa Presents the Evolution Revolution Pub Quiz

On 24 November, 1859, Charles Darwin started the evolution revolution when he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection .
CFIC Ottawa will celebrate this groundbreaking accomplishment with a pub quiz. Teams of three or four will compete for bragging rights and prizes. You can come with a team, or join with others at the event. Come join the fun!

More information here .
Volunteers Needed!

Recently, CFIC learned that our online volunteer application had stopped working. We have replaced it with a new form and are ready to take applications. If you are interested in becoming a part of the CFIC volunteer team, please complete an application . If you previously tried our form and it didn’t work, please try again.

Science Check
500 People Misrepresenting Climate Change
Seanna Watson

In late September, a group of 500 “prominent scientists and professionals” sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General declaring that there is no climate emergency .

Several science groups have followed up on this. The Climate Feedback website provides an extensive scientific analysis . In summary, they found the scientific credibility of these claims to be low, characterizing the article as “biased, cherry-picking, inaccurate, misleading.”

The declaration made six main points:

1) Nature as well as anthropogenic factors cause warming.

One might argue about the relative contribution of anthropogenic vs natural factors, but this does not negate the fact of climate change, or the requirement to do what we can to reduce the human-caused component, as well as to prepare for mitigation of the effects.

2) Warming is far slower than predicted.

On the contrary: Warming is, in many cases, faster than had been predicted, as highlighted in a recent paper : "On average across Europe the number of days with extreme heat and heat stress has more than tripled and hot extremes have warmed by 2.3°C from the year 1950 to 2018. Over Central Europe, the warming exceeds the corresponding summer mean warming by 50 percent. Days with extreme cold temperatures have decreased by a factor of 2 to 3 and warmed by more than 3°C, regionally substantially more than global winter mean temperatures. Cold and hot extremes have warmed at about 94 percent of stations, a climate change signal that cannot be explained by internal variability."

3) Climate policy relies on inadequate models.

In fact, as pointed out by research scientist Twila Moon , the basic chemistry and physics of climate change and the greenhouse effect have been well understood for more than a century:

  • 1859 – John Tyndall discovers that some gases block infrared radiation. He suggests that changes in the concentration of the gases could bring climate change.
  • 1896 – Svante Arrhenius publishes the first calculation of global warming from human emissions of CO2: Doubling the CO2 in the atmosphere would raise the global temperature by some 5–6°C (9–11°F).
  • 1897 – Thomas Chamberlin produces a model for global carbon exchange including feedbacks.
  • 1938 – Guy Callendar argues that CO2 greenhouse global warming is underway, reviving interest in the question.
  • 1960s – Charles Keeling accurately measures CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere and detects an annual rise. The level is 315 ppm. Suki Manabe and Richard Wetherald make a convincing calculation that doubling CO2 would raise world temperatures a couple of degrees.
  • 1977 – Scientific opinion tends to converge on global warming, not cooling, as the chief climate risk in the 21st century.

4) Carbon dioxide is plant food, the basis of all life on Earth.

The dose makes the poison. For example, water is also essential for life, but too much of it in the wrong place can be deadly. And some recent studies of the effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on plant growth have yielded unexpected results — the improvement in growth was significantly less than predicted (which also means that the optimistic view of how much plants will be able to reduce the levels of CO 2 in the atmosphere needs to be revised).

5) Global warming has not increased natural disasters.

On the contrary, weather-related natural disasters have increased, both in North America and Europe .

6) Climate policy must respect scientific and economic realities.

The scientific reality is that the climate is changing. The economic reality is that if we don’t spend the money to take action soon, we will certainly pay much more later.

It’s also worth noting that a tiny minority (10) of the 500 signatories are climate scientists. Most of the scientists are physicists and chemists and geologists, and the group also includes engineers and health care professionals, as well as economists, architects, journalists, and business professionals. They may very well be competent experts in their own fields, but this group as a whole is hardly qualified to comment on the mechanisms of climate change, especially in view of the fact that many of the signatories have links to the fossil fuel industry.

Read more about the evidence for anthropogenic climate change here and here .
How the Climate Change Denial Movement is Funded
Sandra Dunham

While scientists have relentlessly researched and reported on the unmistakable impact of humans on climate change, an equally relentless counterargument has claimed that climate change does not exist, and/or that climate change is naturally occurring with no human effect. Have you ever wondered how people can persist in the counterargument in light of so much evidence to the contrary?

Recently, IFLScience’s Who Funds the Climate Change Denial Movement? shared the findings of Robert Brulle’s “ Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations .” Brulle reported that U.S. foundations made more than $558 million in grants and donations each year to fund the climate change denial movement. Unsurprisingly, many of the foundations have strong links and financial support from the fossil oil industry. Almost 80 percent of the foundations are charitable, meaning that their self-interested contributors receive a charitable tax receipts for their contributions.

Secular Check
Presenting a Secular Perspective at a Catholic Conference
Leslie Rosenblood

The Cardus Institute is "a non-partisan, faith-based think tank and registered charity dedicated to promoting a flourishing society through independent research, robust public dialogue, and thought-provoking commentary." Its employees are primarily Catholic, and its mission is to "translate the richness of the Christian faith tradition into the public square for the common good." In other words, though both CFIC and Cardus seek to improve Canadian society, our goals are diametrically opposed — CFIC supports reason, science, and secular values, while Cardus seeks to inject more Christianity into our culture. 

Last month Cardus held its third "Decretum Symposium,” and I was invited to be a speaker on the topic of human dignity, from a secular perspective. (If you're interested, you may read my prepared remarks and my summary of the meeting .) I felt, to borrow some Biblical imagery, a bit like Daniel thrown into the lion's den. Though I believe strongly in the mission of CFIC , it is not my profession, and it is one of several interests I pursue in my (relatively scant) free time. Attendees at this conference, however, put their faith (primarily Catholicism, though there were representatives from other religions present) foremost in their lives.

I was surprised at how defensive many people were — they felt that being a believer is taboo in Canada today, and that they are a small group of believers pushing back against a rising tide of secular practice and non-belief. It was an interesting parallel to some conversations I've had with CFIC members, who feel similar about being "outed" as an atheist.

Nonetheless, there is one key way in which CFIC and Cardus could not be more different: resources. While both are national organizations, CFIC depends entirely on volunteers to do our good works. Cardus has dozens of employees, including Andrew Bennett, former head of Canada's Office of Religious Freedom (with whom CFIC worked to ensure the rights of non-believers were respected alongside those of persecuted religious minorities) and Ray Pennings, whose name I first encountered nearly a decade ago when I started writing on secular topics (I rebutted a couple  of his published  articles ). CFIC operates on a shoestring budget, dependent on memberships and many small donations to keep the organization solvent; the symposium was held at the Rideau Club, one of Ottawa's most prestigious (and, I assume, expensive) locations.

I respect Cardus for inviting me to their conference. It was a good faith offer to give attendees the opportunity to learn about how secularists approach topics of morality and ethics from a considered, grounded philosophical worldview. And I thank the members of CFIC for their efforts to promote reason, science, and secular values. It will take our continued efforts to ensure these continue to be the basis of public policy. It is always worth remembering that intelligent, well educated, highly connected, and well-funded people and institutions are working diligently to promote a very different agenda.
A Small Victory for Atheist Soldiers
Major (Ret.) Tony Keene CD

The recent decision by the commander of 32 Canadian Brigade Group to end regimental church parades is to be lauded, not bemoaned. Christie Blatchford's recent column in The National Post gives the impression that Col. Dan Stepaniuk has ordered his soldiers to stay away from church. The outraged heading says so almost explicitly.

In fact, all he has done is tell his unit commanding officers that they can no longer make their troops attend imposed religious services. Surely this is something no right-thinking Canadian would want in their own workplace; why then should our service members have to do it?

Queen's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces, usually quoted simply as QR&O, expressly forbid commanders from forcing their troops to attend church services. Yet it is almost universally ignored, especially in the army combat units, especially in reserve regiments. These units almost all have official associations with Christian churches, official Christian prayers and grace at meals, and ceremonies and traditions which involve the ordered removal of headdress and imposed prayer.

When was the last time your boss at work ordered you and your fellow employees to pray with him? It happens regularly in the Forces, especially in the army.

The Forces are among the most diverse military organizations on Earth. Its members come directly or indirectly from all corners of the globe, so much so that 20 years ago the military chaplaincy almost completely re-invented itself to provide ministry to all faiths, and to those of no faith. And yes, large numbers of people in the Forces are not members of any faith group and would like to be left alone. Yet commanders generally have not changed their thinking and continue to expect their units to take part en masse in Christian worship.

And it is Christian in form, tone, and appearance, even though sometimes-puny attempts are made to be inclusive.

These things may be described as voluntary, but they are not. Peer pressure appeals to unit loyalty. Otherwise derision, insult, and threat are all used to ensure a large turnout. Believe me, I've been there many times.

The military is the only government agency in this country in which your supervisor at work can order you to pray with him, and if you decline, he can charge you, try you, convict you, and punish you. In 2002 a naval officer was court-martialed simply for not removing his headdress for imposed Christian prayer. He was convicted and heavily fined. His career was seriously damaged as a result. That case made it into public view; most others do not.

In my more than four decades in uniform as a reservist, I have suffered insult, derision, and contempt for my non-belief, and my wish not to take part in enforced religious ceremonies. Decades of loyal service, multiple overseas missions (four complete operational tours), and a rack of medals suddenly mean nothing. You become an instant target of sarcasm and threat. Consequences have ranged from the above-mentioned court martial to simple shunning and ostracism.

I have myself personally witnessed soldiers not only thrown off parade, but ejected from the building, for asking to be excused from command-imposed religion. I have seen teenage cadets ordered to be marched right out the gates of their summer camp, and held in close custody, because they asked not to attend what were in fact compulsory Christian church services.

Col. Stepaniuk's decision is completely in line with military regulations which have been in place for more than half a century. It is also in line with the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision on government and religion (Mouvement laique vs. Ville de Saguenay), and it is in line with common sense and decency.

Our troops are as free to worship, or not worship, as every other citizen. Col. Stepaniuk has made a step towards achieving this. I only hope that it is soon made Forces-wide, and all these imposed religious "traditions" will be put where they belong, in glass cases in a museum.

In such small incremental strikes does the Canadian tradition of decency and tolerance gain strength.
LGBTQ Rights: Eyes on Brunei
Scott Jacobsen

Under attack in the United States and elsewhere, LGBTQ rights will remain an existential issue for some time. Another nation noted for its discrimination and standard prejudice against the LGBTQ community is Brunei.

As Vice has reported , Brunei has recently imposed a new anti-LGBTQ law so brutal that it endorses the use of whipping and stoning. The ruling Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, also the Prime Minister of Brunei, continues to operate so as to impose Sharia Law on the citizenry of Brunei. He planned three phases :

  1. Jail time or fines for those who have a child out of wedlock, fail to pray on Friday, or promote religions other than Islam
  2. Whippings and amputations for crimes such as alcohol consumption and theft
  3. Possible execution for adultery, sodomy, or insulting the Prophet Muhammad

Previously, Brunei’s legal structure was based on British civil law. With the imposition of Sharia law, this would amount to explicit religious legal structures as the foundation of law in Brunei.

After the Sultan implemented the first phase, he received backlash from around the world. The final two stages were postponed. This year, the Sultan has plans to implement these phases. The goal is that “those found guilty of same-sex relations, adultery, sodomy, rape, and blasphemy, will be whipped and stoned to death,” Vice News stated. “Out of Brunei’s total population of 400,000, 67 percent are Muslim and therefore subject to the Sharia law. But since the first phase of Sharia law applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims, it looks like no one will be exempt from the rule.”

Amnesty International called for the immediate halt to the implementation of the law. Human Rights Campaign stated, “It's absolutely crucial that the international community speak out now and demand that the Sultan of Brunei stop these barbaric changes.”

So it goes.
Why Does It Matter?
Sandra Dunham

When I tell people that I am for secularism, friends often agree, but then ask, “Why does it matter?” Let’s be clear. I am happy for individuals to choose to belong to a religious group and I hope that they are comforted by their belief system and the people they meet in their faith community. However, I do not want their choices to cost me money…but they do!

Over the next year, CFIC, with assistance from some of our humanist and atheist friends, will be exploring the cost of religion in Canada. We start with an exploration of lost income tax revenues related to charitable tax credits. Think this number is insignificant? Think again. Our most conservative estimate puts this amount well in excess of $1.5 billion! Watch for Part One of the Cost of Religion coming soon to an inbox near you!

Would you like to help CFIC complete the Cost of Religion series? Please consider making your own tax-deductible donation to CFIC.

Think Check
Keith’s Conundrums: Buridan’s ass, or how to be rational by being arbitrary
Keith Douglas

In this column I will pose “funny problems.” Some will be paradoxes; some will be weird things to think through. Generally they will have a popular science and philosophy feel, though some are taken from undergraduate-level discussions as well. Feel free to write back with comments, questions, and any feedback you wish. You can email me at , or post a comment on the CFIC website . In each column, I will discuss the feedback and more details about the previous problem and introduce a new one. 

I finally saw an answer to the A Really Useful Machine conundrum from our September issue . The poster, “Youknowwho,” identified the “Turing machine halting problem” as the culprit — i.e., why you would not want to buy the machine as advertised. The sad thing is there are a lot of machines (or rather software packages) that try to do equivalent things in the security space. Caveat emptor .

In the case of A Puzzle About Measurements from last month’s issue , no answer has yet arrived. In this case, those who think that scientific instruments somehow “define” their corresponding properties (and not merely record or make it manifest) are stuck in a problem of their own making. This is not an idle problem; in the social and psychological sciences people often do claim that “IQ is what IQ tests measure” and that sort of thing. Rather than being instrumentalists, I would argue that one should instead adopt an epistemology of realism, albeit a critical one — i.e., it is possible that IQ tests do not, in fact, measure anything stable. Do they? Well, that’s another debate, but one cannot have it if one does not adopt the realist attitude.

On to the next conundrum.

Buridan’s Ass, or How to be Rational by Being Arbitrary

A donkey comes to two bales of hay, equally far from him and equal in size, quality, etc. He does not know how to decide between the two bundles of enticing food, and starves to death while vacillating endlessly between the two options.

What should the donkey have done?

Fields to think about: decision theory, probability, history of ideas.
Sobriety, Addiction Treatment, and Secular Exclusion
Christjahn Beck

Hi, my name is Christjahn Beck and I’m an alcoholic.

This very familiar greeting formula is the way that I introduced myself to rooms full of strangers for a short time in my life. I am also a recent transplant from the United States to Canada, the child of two ministers, and a baseball fanatic. But those parts of my life are a topic for another time.

I recently passed a milestone which had me doing some thinking, so I sat down to type out my thoughts. What follows is my reflection on my own addiction, the truly terrible system for treating substance abuse, and why that system leaves many secular people out in the cold.

While I am new to Canada, I have learned in my short time here that the substance abuse treatment system is, in many ways, quite similar to that in the U.S., and I know that there have been efforts at “secular sobriety” programs here that make this article germane. This topic isn’t going to be a real pick-me-upper, but it’s something that I have firsthand experience in. This experience comes both from my time spent trying to drink all of the alcohol in central Iowa, and from research on addiction treatment and its relation to public policy and administration in the U.S. that I did while I was working on my master’s degree. So relax, put down your favorite drink, and let’s kill some buzzes.

The end of last month marked seven years since I stopped drinking. Admittedly, seven years is not a sexy round number like five, 10, or 25 to celebrate, but for me it meant that I have now been sober for as long as I was effectively an alcoholic. The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21. I drank before that age (cue the gasps), but I didn’t really begin drinking in a way that I consider in retrospect to be problematic until after my 21st birthday, after which I was all in. During this time, with few exceptions, I drank every day, and I drank a LOT most days.

Although I was unquestionably an idiot during this time of my life, I was also very lucky in many ways. Among the things that made me lucky were that my family never gave up on me, though I have to imagine they were getting close. I never got into any legal trouble as a result of my drinking, which is (metaphorically) a miracle. I maintained full-time employment, though not as a particularly good employee. I even completed an associate’s degree, though not as a particularly good student. I was what some people call a functioning alcoholic, but barely.

During my last year of drinking, things started to spiral. I was physically ill almost every day. I was spending nearly all of my income on alcohol. I was also becoming more and more anti-social, even when I was surrounded by people at various bars and pubs. So, two weeks after my 28th birthday I decided (very hungover) that I was finally ready to stop drinking (fingers crossed). I did what any self-respecting (which I wasn’t) emotionally mature (yeah, right) 28-year-old man (debatable) does when they make a life-altering decision: I called my mom. So began a journey that allowed me to experience the American substance abuse treatment system from the inside, a system which, I discovered, made almost no sense, and which would infuriate me for years to come.

Substance abuse treatment in the U.S. is a train wreck. There are good programs, but they are few and far between, and they are often prohibitively expensive for most of the population. If you are financially vulnerable, which many addicts are (I certainly was), then the system is a train wreck compounded by an onboard nuclear bomb. Think Broken Arrow, that terrible ‘90s movie with John Travolta and Christian Slater. (Side note: Why is Christian Slater always squinting? Can someone dim the lights or get some sunglasses for that poor guy?!)

For financially vulnerable individuals, the most common option is some version of the 12-step model. The most common of these 12-step programs are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). There are many other programs that are modeled after AA and NA, though they may not be directly affiliated. AA is virtually synonymous with substance abuse treatment in the U.S. Even if you have never touched a drink in your life, I would bet the amount of all my bar tabs combined that you have still heard of AA.

In fact, 12-step programs are so common that in 2015 even a professional in the field, like Dr. Lance Dodes, the former director of Harvard’s alcoholism treatment unit at Boston’s McLean Hospital, has said , “Almost all residential treatment programs in the United States are 12-step based.” The wonderful thing about the 12-step model is that most (though not all) 12-step programs are free, relying almost entirely on voluntary donations. This makes them accessible to virtually anyone in need of help. The problems that I will focus on for the rest of this article are a) these programs are inherently crafted in favor of non-secular individuals and b) they simply don’t work.

Click here to read the rest of the article
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