December 18, 2019


It is nearly impossible to look back on the events of 2019 without acknowledging one of the themes that dominated the news: division. In the United States, it’s competing realities over impeachment. In India, it’s massive protests over a law meant to marginalize the country’s 200 million Muslims. In the UK, it’s a rejuvenated movement to break away from Europe. These are just examples from the past week or so.

For our last newsletter of the year, we are exploring some of the divisions between nonbelievers and the religious, beginning with fascinating new data on whether millennials, now settling into adulthood, are gravitating back toward organized religion and what their choices mean for the generations coming after them. We’ll also take a closer look at attempts to scientifically measure the differences in intelligence and happiness between believers and nonbelievers. Can we be sure that one group is smarter or more content than the other?

We have an update on an important legal case from Canada, in which an atheist nurse was fired for refusing to take part in a faith-based addiction recovery program. The news is good and sets a new precedent for secular alternatives for those who need this kind of help.

It’s not all about division and divisiveness, of course. We have a special episode of CFI’s podcast Point of Inquiry in which our own Richard Dawkins expounds upon some of the subjects that truly move him, including the need to inspire young people to embrace curiosity and wonder. 13-year-old author Bailey Harris is the embodiment of those qualities, and you’ll see what we mean in her video about her experience at this year’s CSICon.

Bailey’s sense of wonder reminds us that, in the end, all of us are seeking meaning and a sense of belonging in a universe that is bigger and stranger than we can comprehend. And you can see that same longing in the earliest of human stories—literally. Newly discovered cave paintings show us how even 44,000 years ago, humans were fascinated by the creatures with whom they shared this planet and imagined what might be possible beyond their everyday experience.

We can learn from that. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year filled with wonder.


Robyn E. Blumner
President & CEO, Center for Inquiry
Executive Director, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

The Top Stories

Aging Millennials Not Feeling the Pull of Religion

While it’s been well established that millennials are far less religious than older cohorts, many have presumed that as members of this generation aged, they would gradually gravitate back toward some religious tradition. Well, the millennials are now grown up, and new survey data from the American Enterprise Institute shows that this return to religion isn’t happening. The study points to reasons such as a lack of previous ties to religion, relationships with other nonreligious people, and changing views on the role of religion and morality. “If millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background,” writes FiveThirtyEight in its report on the survey, “the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper.”

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Are Atheists Wiser But Sadder?

Some studies have suggested that those who are atheist or agnostic are, on average, of higher intelligence than religious believers, but by that same token, those with religious beliefs tend to be happier than those without. But is it really that simple? At Skeptical Inquirer Stuart Vyse digs into the myriad methodologies that have led to these generalizations. “According to the evidence,” he writes, “atheism appears to be a choice to be sadder but wiser, but, in fact, we are not justified in drawing that conclusion.” Read more to find out why.

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Richard Dawkins on Point of Inquiry

After helping to inaugurate the Center for Inquiry West’s new facilities in Los Angeles, which included the opening of the brand new Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan Theater, Richard Dawkins sat down for a conversation with Jim Underdown, host of CFI’s Point of Inquiry podcast, as well as executive director of CFI West. Richard answers questions on a wide range of topics, including the moral value of the Bible, the themes of his new book Outgrowing God, the need to recognize those science writers who awaken curiosity and inquiry, and whether he prefers the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

Photo: Siobhan Squire

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NEWS: Atheist Nurse Wins Discrimination Case in Canada

This past summer, we told you about the case of a nurse in Canada, Byron Wood, who had been fired for refusing to take part in a religiously based addiction recovery program when no secular alternative was offered. He brought his complaint to British Columbia’s Human Rights Tribunal, saying he had been discriminated against for his atheism. Last week, he reached a settlement with his former employer, Vancouver Coastal Health, which will not require those who object to the religious nature of Alcoholics Anonymous to go through its 12-step program.

“The 12 steps are a religious peer support group, not a medical treatment. They shouldn’t be imposed on anyone,” Wood told the CBC. “When you’re a medical doctor, and you specialize in only one condition, and the only treatment that you offer for that condition involves God, you shouldn’t be practising medicine.”

Photo: frankieleon (CC BY 2.0)

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SCIENCE: The 44,000-Year-Old Marvel

Some fancy the Bible as “the greatest story ever told,” and the epic of Gilgamesh is just about the oldest known example of great literature. But the writing of stories and the telling of tales go back much further than 4,000 years, and last week, archaeologists in Indonesia unveiled what they said is the earliest known piece of human artwork to convey a narrative. Estimated to be between 35,000 to 43,900 years old, the cave painting in question depicts what scientists say seem to be supernatural, human-like beings on the hunt, facing off against wild animals. One scholar said the human-like beings seem to be “flying or jumping,” which suggests that this might not just be the earliest known story ever told, but it may also be the first superhero comic book.

Photo: Vijay Tiwari (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Read More

VIDEO: Stardust Goes to CSICon

Let’s close out the year with a look to the future. 13-year-old skeptic activist Bailey Harris, author of the Stardust series of children’s books, was one of the biggest hits of CSICon 2019, and she recently took part in a special webinar for our TIES program, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science. (If you buy one of Bailey’s books at this link, TIES gets 50 percent of the proceeds!) Here, she tells of her experience in Las Vegas—both as a CSICon speaker and as a teenage kid having a great time. Thank you, Bailey!

Watch Now

Thank you!

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