Everyone can benefit from a bit of skepticism. Making assumptions about something simply because of the absence of any competing data may sell McNuggets, but it doesn’t necessarily advance one’s life in a productive way. It’s on this truism that the Centre for Inquiry bases its existence.
An educational charity that bills itself as “Canada’s premiere venue for humanists, skeptics and freethinkers,” the CFI seeks to provide an alternative point of view on matters for which hard-line science provides no airtight definition. Along with aliens, Big Foot, spontaneous human combustion, the tooth fairy and leprechauns, religion ranks high among them.
This fast-growing, four-year-old organization does so via a range of avenues, including conferences, lectures (CFI was behind last year’s high-profile Dawkins-Hitchens atheist debate), potlucks (steer clear of the McNuggets), film screenings, an “atheist comedy show,” a surfeit of published materials (the group’s U of T-vicinity space serves as lending library to a vast stash of volumes that debunk all manner of well-loved truths) and various incendiary public relations efforts.
To wit, in a flashy followup to last year’s still buzzing “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life” campaign, the CFI has launched its “extraordinary claims” initiative. With this, the group employs transit ads, educational events and Web-based discussions in a bid to unseat well-entrenched beliefs about subjects over whose assumed legitimacy the centre’s proponents have long despaired. It launched late last year in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal (and will roll out to other cities early this year) with a call for evidence that substantiates the existence of Allah and Jesus Christ, among others. Summon it up and deliver it, CFI Canada executive director Justin B. Trottier has apparently invited, and “we’ll be happy to come along for the ride and endorse those beliefs.”
The CFI’s challenge is a poke with a stick to the faithful. The United Church of Canada responded in kind to the 2009 bus campaign, itself a Canadian spin on a Great Britain-based campaign promoting atheism, by publishing newspaper ads in response that offered, “There’s probably a God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
This year’s confrontational gambit is based around Carl Sagan’s hoary dictum that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” a stance that dovetails nicely with the CFI’s insistence on a critically interpreted worldview that’s rooted in observable physical proof.
The passionate product of its founder’s efforts to establish a north-of-the-border arm to its vigorous US counterpart, CFI Canada boasts a modest membership of which the GTA’s 400 account for about half of the country’s total CFI roster. But it’s growing. In the most recent census, the religion questions revealed that a full 23% of Canadians now consider themselves “not religious,” more than twice as many of those who checked the Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Jew box, combined.
Still skeptical? Check out the CFI’s extraordinary claims website (http://extraordinary-claims.com) and its evidence-based dismissal of such sacred cows as magnet therapy and mermaids. But steel yourself for disillusionment. These folks have really got it in for the Easter Bunny.