Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Center For Inquiry - a humanist organisation with an overriding emphasis on science

Center for Inquiry is a organisation that does not generally use the term 'humanist' or 'humanism' - but its founder Paul Kurtz has created several Humanist manifestos in the past. I've taken quotes from their website.

A Global Federation Committed to Science, Reason, Free Inquiry, Secularism, and Planetary Ethics

The Center for Inquiry is a daring new concept. Although modern world civilization is based upon the achievements of science and technology, until this time
there has been no authoritative and credible voice defending the scientific outlook
in examining religion, human values, and the borderlands of science. If the naturalistic outlook is to supplant the ancient mythological narratives of the past, it needs a new institution devoted to its articulation and dramatization to the public. The Center for Inquiry is that institution.

About Center for Inquiry

The purpose of the Center for Inquiry is

to promote and defend reason, science, and freedom of inquiry in all areas of human endeavor.
The Center for Inquiry is a transnational nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3)
organization that encourages evidence-based inquiry into science, pseudoscience, medicine and health, religion, ethics, secularism, and society.
The Center for Inquiry is not affiliated with, nor does it promote, any political party or political ideology.

Through education, research, publishing, and social services,

it seeks to present affirmative alternatives based on scientific naturalism.
The Center is also interested in
providing rational ethical alternatives to the reigning paranormal and religious systems of belief, and in developing communities where like-minded individuals can meet and share experiences.


There are many institutions that engage in scientific research in specific fields of inquiry; there are fine schools, colleges, and universities that offer a large range of science programs and degrees; and there are numerous science journals and magazines. Many communities sponsor science museums and/or planetariums, for the public is often fascinated with the many exciting discoveries on the frontiers of science.
But until the Center for Inquiry, there were no institutions dedicated primarily to promote and defend science, reason, and free inquiry in all aspects of human interest.
The purpose of the Center for Inquiry is to contribute to the public understanding and appreciation of science and reason, and their applications to human conduct.

Unfortunately, the general public does not fully appreciate the nature of science and its methods of inquiry, nor are many willing to explore the broader philosophical implications of scientific discoveries for society. Although there is undoubtedly widespread public support for scientific technology, and while vast investments in new products and industries have grown out of this (e.g., space technology, biogenetic engineering, medical research, and other fields on the frontiers of knowledge), polls have shown that

large sectors of the public remain scientifically illiterate, even regarding the most elementary scientific facts about our universe.
There is,
in the public mind, a vast confusion between genuine science and fringe or pseudoscience.
there is a large reservoir of antiscientific attitudes about the dangers of scientific research, and fear that scientists who tread in unknown domains are aping the work of Frankenstein.
The widespread apprehension about cloning research is reminiscent of the fear of nuclear physicists expressed only a generation ago, that in investigating elementary particles they have opened a Pandora's Box which will destroy humankind.
Many even insist that there are areas of human life that scientific inquiry cannot or should not enter.
The scientific revolution, which is now four centuries old, has made great progress in expanding the frontiers of knowledge in the natural, biological, behavioral, and social sciences; and this has led to enormous contributions to human welfare.
Witness, for example, the strides made in improving nutrition, health, and longevity, in enhanced travel and communication and the many goods and services available for human enjoyment and happiness. Yet
along with the advancement of the agenda of scientific inquiry, there persists a culture of mysticism and faith that resists it.
What would it mean to extend the scientific spirit to our most basic and cherished convictions?
It would be to embrace a thoroughly scientific outlook (an outlook referred to in the scholarly literature as scientific naturalism or philosophical naturalism). The naturalistic outlook is at once a method of inquiry, a cosmic world view, and a new form of ethical inquiry.

A Method of Inquiry

The naturalistic outlook is first and foremost a commitment to a distinctive method of inquiry. The term inquiry refers to the evaluation of belief claims, many of which are largely unexamined in contemporary society-particularly basic beliefs. Many modern thinkers have argued that we should examine our beliefs and theories carefully and assent only to those for which there are adequate grounds.
Wherever possible, inquiry should provide rational guidelines for thought and conduct[1].
Skepticism is an essential aspect in this process of inquiry, and it contributed to the development of reliable knowledge. It is used effectively within the sciences. The basic premise is that we need to question our beliefs, particularly those that are central to life, to see if they are well grounded by reason and evidence.
We do so in order to advance human knowledge and enhance life.
Bertrand Russell held "that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true."
He thought that this doctrtine appears to many people to be "widely paradoxical and subversive," for if consistently applied it would overturn some of the most cherished beliefs and sacred cows of society[2]. At the very least, one might agree with Russell's recommendations:
  1. we should not accept a belief as true if there is a preponderance of evidence against it, or if it is found to be rationally inconsistent with other well-founded beliefs, or both. To cling to beliefs for which there are abundant evidence and reasons to the contrary is irrational. Another application of this rule is reasonable, that is,
  2. that we ought not to accept a belief as true if there is inadequate evidence and insufficient reasons to do so, and conversely,
  3. we should accept a belief claim only if it is based on adequately justifying reasons and sufficient evidence. A corollary of this is that
  4. where we do not have adequate grounds for believing that something is the case, then we should, wherever possible, adopt the stance of the skeptic and suspend judgment. Reason also dictates that
  5. we should always leave the doors open to further inquiry; we should not censor or block the objective examination of truth claims, and any belief claim that is accepted on adequate reasons and evidence should not be insulated from further inquiry.


  1. The term "inquiry" was used by both Charles Peirce (1839-1914) and John Dewey (1859-1952), two leading American philosophers who maintained that it should be interpreted functionally by its relevance to the solutions of human problems. Both held that the methods of science are the most effective ways of fixing beliefs.
  2. Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays. London: Allen and Unwin, 1928, p. 11. W. K. Clifford, English mathematician and philosopher, in his influential essay, "The Ethics of Belief," makes a bolder statement: "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone," he said, "to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." This latter injunction of Clifford is no doubt too sweeping; for it is sometimes difficult in ordinary life, if not impossible, to examine all of our beliefs and to reject those that do not meet this rigorous criterion. W. K. Clifford, Contemporary Review, 1888. See his Ethics of Belief and Other Essays (London: Watts, 1947).

A Cosmic World View

As a broad picture of the cosmos, the naturalistic-scientific world view underlies modern technological civilization itself. And yet it faces numerous cultural competitors.
Paranormalists and antinaturalists maintain that we must go beyond the concepts and methods of science to probe transcendental realms beyond the normal or natural world.
The paranormal and antinaturalist paradigm, on the contrary, maintains that some things are “unknown” or “unknowable” and transcend the methods of objective scientific inquiry.
They hold “the doctrine of two truths”: the natural world is amenable to reason and experience, but the deeper reality of the supernatural spiritual universe is allegedly known only by faith and intuition. Naturalists are never willing to abandon their search for causal explanations; spiritualist-paranormalists are content to invoke occult explanations.
Theists have heralded their faith in a mysterious sacred reality beyond; naturalists have chosen to focus on understanding this world and our life within it.

Many scholars in the humanities and philosophy today offer highly sophisticated critiques, claiming that there are no possible standards of objectivity or meaning, that it is never possible to develop reliable knowledge, and that science is simply one “mythic narrative” among others. The postmodernists have attacked the Enlightenment, and they question any effort to progressively improve the human condition by means of scientific knowledge. Subjectivists maintain that all knowledge is irremediably private and that no claim to truth is any more warranted than any other. In the name of tolerance they insist that any one truth or virtue is as good as any other.

The naturalistic picture of the cosmos is based upon converging lines of inquiry of many scientific disciplines. What are its main outlines?
  1. First, mass/energy and physical/chemical laws are in some sense the basic building blocks of the physical universe. This allows us to develop concepts and hypotheses at various levels of inquiry—from the birth and death of galaxies, star systems, planets, and moons to the evolution of life on this planet and possibly elsewhere.
  2. Second, the universe is undergoing processes of evolutionary change.
  3. Third, Darwinian theories of evolution—natural selection, differential reproduction, genetic mutation, adaptation, etc.—provide more reliable explanations of the biosphere than those of creationists.
  4. Fourth, the human species is part of nature; there is no evidence for a mind-body dualism.
  5. Fifth, the claim that a separable “spirit” or “soul” has been reincarnated or that it will achieve immortality after the death of the body is unsupported by adequate evidence.
  6. Sixth, human civilization and culture demonstrate the courageous efforts of human beings to adapt to challenges posed in the natural and social environment. This includes the progressive development of reason and science and technology in order to realize and enhance human purposes and values.

Rational Ethical Alternatives

A vital question that is often raised is: If one rejects a spiritualist-paranormal universe and/or the creationist drama of human salvation,

can science and reason provide us with a significant body of ethical principles, and can these infuse sufficient commitment to replace the ancient systems of belief?
Can they answer the basic existential questions: "What is the meaning of life?" and "How ought I to live?" Can they provide a moral framework for people longing for significance and direction?
The Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Muhammad still inspire countless millions by their moral pronouncements and spiritual guidelines-
can naturalism provide equal role models that can inspire people, and yet not be rooted in spiritual mysticism?
Is it possible today to move beyond these orthodox systems of dogma, based upon faith, custom, authority, and emotion? And can we develop empirical and normative principles which are based on science and which draw upon rationality?

If the naturalistic account of nature is warranted -- and we believe that it is -- then the classical prop for ethics falls by the wayside. If our ethical principles have evolved in human civilization over a long period of gestation, then human beings are responsible for the kinds of moral principles and values that they adopt and hence in some sense for their own destinies. Thus, the key questions emerge,

"Is reason applicable to ethics?" and "Are values amenable to scientific treatment?"
Interestingly, the first question has been the central issue in philosophy from Plato and Aristotle through Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and John Rawls to the present, and the consensus of the philosophical debate is in the affirmative, i.e., that ethics is amenable to reason. To simply dismiss rationality in ethics is to ignore this extensive literature. In the 20th century, the effort to develop a science of value and valuation has also been a central problem for philosophers. This approach, which seeks to relate ethical theories to factual knowledge, is known as naturalistic ethics. Unfortunately,
the public has not been invited to participate in the vital intellectual enterprise of reconciling our values with the scientific worldview.

In sum,

society needs some general understanding of the common methods of rational scientific inquiry and the standards used by scientists to validate and corroborate their findings.
It also needs some comprehension of what the sciences tell us about the universe at large and the place of the human species within it.
The cosmic world view of the modern sciences is naturalistic, in that it involves a rejection of both the spiritual-paranormal paradigm and the subjective postmodernist forms of skepticism.
Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, and Carl Sagan, who were stalwart supporters of the Center for Inquiry, were able to popularize and interpret the sciences for the public at large, and to convey some of the awe and excitement implicit in modern scientific discoveries. The purpose of the Center for Inquiry in part is to continue in this grand tradition.

Program Areas

The Center for Inquiry's programs of public education focus on three broad areas.

Paranormal and Fringe Science Claims

Through its Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) , the Center for Inquiry evaluates claims of the paranormal (phenomena allegedly beyond the range of normal scientific explanations), such as psychic phenomena, ghosts, communication with the dead, and alleged extraterrestrial visitations. It also explores the fringes and borderlands of the sciences, attempting to separate promising research from irresponsible pseudosciences, such as "creation science" and astrology. The interdisciplinary research conducted by CSI has shown that such pseudosciences have not applied the methods of rigorous scientific inquiry and have often violated the standards of confirmation and corroboration.

For example, astrology is considered a pseudoscience because its claims are not clearly formulated in testable form, its theories are often internally inconsistent, and its results have not been empirically corroborated. CSI monitors and reports on the irresponsible promulgation of pseudoscience, hoaxes, and urban legends within the pages of its flagship publication, Skeptical Inquirer and associate newsletter, Skeptical Briefs.

Religion, Ethics, and Society

Matters of faith and values are not immune from the implications of the scientific outlook, and a conception of our selves and our place in the universe can never be intellectually viable while it resists integration with the best knowledge of the day. The Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) promotes naturalism and secular values to the public, and stimulates critical inquiry into the foundations and social effects of the world religions. The Council stands up for the dignity of those who dissent from today's reigning orthodoxies, and assists secular humanist community groups across North America. Different divisions focus on issues specific to the African-American and African experience, and to Islamic societies, with pioneering Koranic criticism and advocacy for separation of mosque and state. The Council's peer-reviewed journal of academic philosophy, Philo, specializes in the articulation and philosophical defense of naturalism in metaphysics, epistemology, and moral theory. The Council also keeps alive the history of nineteenth century American freethought through its Robert G. Ingersoll Memorial Committee, which operates a museum in Dresden, New York.

Medicine and Health

Western medicine and mental health practice have advanced alongside the advancements in natural science. Yet the widespread embrace of "alternative and complimentary medicine" and herbal and homeopathic remedies contemporary would sever this anchor to the naturalistic outlook. Meanwhile, dominant substance abuse recovery programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, invoke the reliance on "a Higher Power." The Center for Inquiry stimulates critical scientific scrutiny of New Age medicine via its Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health Practice (CSMMH) , publisher of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. CFI supports thoroughly naturalistic addiction recovery practices through Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS). Hundreds of SOS groups in North America convene weekly on and off Center premises; and the movement has spread to countries as far and wide as Great Britain, Israel, Italy, and Russia.

Research And Education


The Center has established a Research Institute to coordinate the research of distinguished scholars and social critics from around world, many of whom are appointed CFI research fellows or post-doctoral fellows. These include Professor Richard Wiseman, a parapsychological researcher at University of Hertsfordshire; Ibn Warraq, noted Islamic scholar; Professor Gerd Lüdemann, noted biblical scholar from Göttingen, Germany; Professor Richard Stenger, astrophysicist at the University of Colorado; and others.

Fellows of CSI include E. O. Wilson, Steven Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Leon Jaroff, Martin Gardner, Susan Blackmore, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Joe Nickell, and Steven Pinker.

Humanist Laureates appointed by the Council for Secular Humanism include Umberto Eco, Arthur C. Clarke, Betty Friedan, Arthur Schlesinger, Richard Rorty, Jurgen Habermas, Peter Singer, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Gore Vidal, Simone Weil, Thomas Szasz, and Lionel Tiger.

Publications and Libraries


The flagship magazines for the educated public published at the Center for Inquiry are CSI's The Skeptical Inquirer and the Council for Secular Humanism's Free Inquiry (with a combined readership of nearly 100,000).

Additional magazines at CFI are read in the U.S. (The American Rationalist), United Kingdom (The Skeptic), the Spanish-speaking world (Pensar), Perú (New Skepticism, and The Journal of Applied Philosophy), and Russia (Common Sense).

The Center's peer-reviewed academic journals include The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, and Philo.

There are a variety of electronic and print newsletters for associated membership organizations: Skeptical Briefs for members of CSI, Secular Humanist Bulletin and Family Matters for associate members of the Council, African-American Humanist Examiner for members of African-Americans for Humanism; Campus Inquirer for members of CFI's campus outreach program; and SOS International Newsletter for participants in Secular Organizations for Sobriety, as well as The Ingersoll Report, a bulletin of the Robert G. Ingersoll Memorial Committee.

The official newsletter of the Center for Inquiry-International is the CFI Report.

Center for Inquiry London

Executive Director and Company Secretary: Suresh Lalvani

Conway Hall,
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL


Welcome to Our London Website

The Centre for Inquiry London offers an opportunity to put your principles into practice by joining other rationalists to work for positive change in society. In addition, the London Centre sponsors social events for freethinkers as well as intellectual programming, and assists with campus outreach.

CFI provides an ethical alternative to religious and paranormal worldviews. In this time of rising religiosity, anti-intellectualism and political turmoil on ethical issues, it is

critical that rationalists and freethinkers join together to protect civil liberties, defend reason, and work toward increasing scientific literacy.

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