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Center for Inquiry Launches Public Policy Office in Washington

News & Comment

Nathan Bupp

Volume 30.6, November / December 2006

The Center for Inquiry has opened an Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C. This initiative marks an unprecedented drive to bring a rigorous defense of science and secular values to policy makers located in the cauldron of America’s political and cultural battleground.

CSICOP and leading scientists have long argued that the public needs to be more scientifically literate. Paul Kurtz, Chairman of the Center for Inquiry and CSICOP, has pointed out that the foundations of our democratic society are now under attack. “The social and scientific progress we take for granted have been advanced by a basic scientific philosophical point of view: scientific naturalism,” said Kurtz. “The methods of the sciences, and the assumptions upon which they are based, are being challenged culturally in the United States today as never before. Despite its success in providing us with unparalleled benefits, religious fundamentalists seek to inhibit free inquiry and to misrepresent the tested conclusions of scientific naturalism. This is a highly charged political issue—both science and secularism are under political attack.”

Recently, several public-policy controversies have illustrated the public need for a broad expertise in scientific naturalism. President Bush’s blatantly political veto of Congress’s bipartisan bill to expand federal funding of stem-cell research illustrates vividly how both the will of the majority and scientific progress are under attack at the very highest levels.

The intelligent design debate culminated in the Dover, Pennsylvania, lawsuit, but continues through local and state attempts to dilute science curricula. It is not only a scientific dispute but a part of a broader cultural war on scientific naturalism and the values of the Enlightenment in general.

NASA became embroiled in another public controversy when a politically appointed spokesperson began insisting that references to the Big Bang be diluted with language indicating that NASA took no position on whether that event actually happened and that it is only a “theory.” Under intense criticism, that spokesperson resigned, but the incident calls attention to the dangers of mixing science, religion, and politics.

The Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy will draw on CFI’s relationship with leading scientists, academics, and public intellectuals, who all share the Center’s stated purpose and concerns. The office intends to develop relationships with sympathetic legislators in D.C.; provide experts to testify in legislative hearings; submit white papers, solicited from CFI’s and CSICOP’s impressive network of fellows and scholars; and work with legislators who care about science and reason to affect legislative responses to attacks on Enlightenment values. In sum, the Center for Inquiry is expected to become a full-fledged player in the public-policy arena, aspiring to the ranks of organizations such as Brookings, Heritage, and Cato, all of which serve as both think tanks and public-policy advocates.

The new office is located at 621 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C. 20003. The telephone number is (202) 546-2331. CFI DC’s website can be found here: http://www.cfidc.org.

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Nathan Bupp is vice president of communications for the Center for Inquiry and an associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He has studied intellectual history and naturalistic and humanist philosophy extensively. He considers humanism and skepticism the preeminent moral paradigm for the modern world. Among his philosophical heroes are Aristotle, Spinoza, John Dewey, and George Santayana, the leading luminaries of the naturalist worldview. Nathan spends his free time indulging his passion for music and nature.