January 8, 2020

Hello, and welcome to the 2020s!

In another era, the turning of a decade would be largely celebratory, filled with excitement about the future, but such hopes seem rather muted at this moment, replaced with anxiety about the state of the world. Some of this anxiety is very intentionally manufactured by those who benefit from it. This week, we’ll see troubling survey data showing how white evangelicals have been sold of a falsehood: that atheists and progressives intend to strip their basic rights away.

How could they believe something so demonstrably false? Because people in positions of great power and influence have convinced them of it—people like Attorney General William Barr, who has made his utter disdain for secular government and secular people frighteningly clear. We’ll learn more about how he has worked to promote a kind of Christan-nationalist authoritarianism by fomenting fear among believers that the godless are coming to get them.

This is only one example of the susceptibility of the American psyche to fabricated claims and fearmongering. In a special video from CSICon 2019, Kurt Andersen, bestselling author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, recounts a national history of falling for cons and giving in to unjustified paranoia.

But some fears are more than justified. At a time when we are witnessing the destructive force of climate change, science and research are being sabotaged from the halls of power. We’ll learn about the efforts of the White House to dismantle science in the federal government and its directives to pretend climate change doesn’t exist.

We will not rest in despair, though. Our own Richard Dawkins was recently a guest on Dax Shepard’s popular podcast, bringing the mission and the message of the Center for Inquiry and the Richard Dawkins Foundation to new audiences; people who, like us, would rather spend the 2020s lighting candles than cursing the darkness.

And even a brief glance back shows us the wealth of scientific discoveries made during the 2010s, from the smallest units of life itself to the farthest reaches of the cosmos. These achievements remind us that there is so much to look forward to in the decade just begun. We just have to work for it.

The Top Stories

Evangelicals Think We’re Out to Get Them

The secular movement has been fighting an increasingly uphill battle to stop the religious right from enshrining Christian privilege into law and keep them from stripping away the rights of nonreligious, non-Christian, and LGBTQ Americans. Frustratingly, it turns out that most white evangelicals are motivated by their (mistaken) belief that the opposite is true, that atheists and progressives are trying to take their rights away. Research by Paul A. Djupe and Ryan Burge shows that a sizable majority of evangelicals are under the impression that atheists intend to prevent Christians from exercising their rights to speak, assemble, and run for office. None of this is true, of course, which Djupe and Burge’s data bears out.

Photo: Victor Moussa (Adobe Stock)

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Bill Barr: Fearmonger-in-Chief

One of the reasons that evangelicals are so convinced atheists are out to get them is that people like Attorney General William Barr keeps telling them so. In a powerful piece at the New York Times, Katherine Stewart (familiar to many readers for her book The Good News Club) and Caroline Fredrickson explain what Barr sees as his mission: “to foment the sense of persecution and paranoia of a collection of conservative religious groups that see themselves as on the cusp of losing their rightful position of dominance over American culture.” While stoking fear, Barr and his allies pursue their twisted version of “religious freedom,” or as the authors put it, “the freedom of people of certain conservative and authoritarian varieties of religion to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove or over whom they wish to exert power.”

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Dax and Dawkins

Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert has become a breakout star in the vast galaxy of podcasts now saturating the internet, with a recent New York Times feature that speculated that he might be the next Howard Stern or Terry Gross. Luckily for us and Armchair Expert’s many listeners, one of his recent interviews was with our own Richard Dawkins. In a wide-ranging conversation, Dawkins expressed particular pride in his foundation’s educational resource, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES), as well as the Translations Project, which provides free downloads of his books translated into the languages of the Muslim world. After the interview, Shepard said that he regretted not talking more about the Richard Dawkins Foundation, so he’ll just have to bring Richard back as soon as possible.

Photo: Armchair Expert Podcast

Listen Now

NEWS: Trump Tells Federal Agencies to Ignore Climate Impacts

At the end of 2019, the New York Times reported how the Trump administration has sidelined science and research on a massive scale, cancelling federal studies and projects, ignoring the advice and warnings of government scientists, and even denying the truth of the government’s own scientific findings. As a dystopian case in point, the Times reported last week that the administration plans to propose new rules concerning how the federal government assesses the environmental impact of major infrastructure projects. According to this proposed change, climate change no longer counts as an “environmental impact,” so if it goes into effect, when the government evaluates how projects like highways and pipelines might affect the environment, impact on the climate can be totally ignored.

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SCIENCE: A Decade of Wonder

While the previous decade saw the aggressive rise of “alternative facts” and pseudoscience, it was also a period of incredible scientific discovery. During the 2010s, New Horizons visited Pluto close up and Cassini revealed the wonders of Saturn. We learned more about our prehistoric ancestors than ever before, and CRISPR allowed the editing of genes. We saw our first pictures of a black hole and even found out how colorful the dinosaurs were! Take a look at this roundup from Smithsonian Magazine, celebrate the discoveries of the 2010s, and let it inspire you for what we might find in the 2020s.

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VIDEO: Kurt Andersen on How America Went Haywire

From CSICon 2019, Kurt Andersen, author of the bestselling book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, connects the dots that explain Americans’ national susceptibility to fantasy and how our journey has brought us to where we are today. From the wishful dreams and make-believe fears of the country’s first settlers, the madness of the Salem witch trials, the fantasies of Hollywood, the anything-goes 1960s, the gatekeeper-free internet, the profusion of reality TV, and all the way up to (and most especially including) President Donald Trump.

Watch Now

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