The Center for Inquiry was established in 1991 by philosopher and author Paul Kurtz. It brought together two organizations: the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH). CSICOP and CSH had previously operated in tandem but were now formally affiliated under one umbrella.
By 1995 CFI had expanded into a new headquarters in Amherst, New York, and in 1996 opened its first branch office in Los Angeles, CFI West. In the same year, CFI founded the Campus Freethought Alliance, organizing college students around its areas of interest.
By 1997 CFI had begun expanding its efforts internationally through an association with Moscow State University.
Between 2002 and 2003 CFI opened two new branches in New York City and Tampa, Florida in addition to expanding its west coast branch into a new building in Hollywood, California. Located on Hollywood Boulevard, CFI West also became home to the Steve Allen Theater, named after the former Tonight Show host and CFI supporter. In 2004, CFI continued to expand into cities across the United States with the creation of a network of community organizations called CFI Communities.
In 2005 CFI once again expanded its Amherst headquarters with a new research wing. Additionally, CFI was granted special consultative status with the United Nations the same year.
Since 2006 CFI has been expanding rapidly with a series of new branches in cities across North America and around the world. These include new Centers for Inquiry in Toronto, London, Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Austin, Texas. The branch in Washington is headquarters to CFI's Office of Public Policy, which represents CFI's interests on Capitol Hill.
Their former affiliated organizations, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, ceased to exist as independent organizations, and have become programs of Center for Inquiry, since January 2015.
In January 2016, CFI announced that it was merging with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, with Robyn Blumner as the CEO of the combined organizations.
According to Paul Kurtz, in June 2009, being at odds with new CEO Ronald Lindsay, Kurtz was voted out as chairman. Kurtz has described the direction of CFI under Lindsay as "angry atheism" in contrast to his affirmative humanist philosophical approach. The Center for Inquiry Board Statement from 2010, thanks Kurtz for his "decades of service" and claims that "Much of CFI’s success is due to Paul Kurtz’s inspiration and leadership." The release states that with Kurtz's encouragement, new leadership was sought out, with the goal of transitioning Kurtz away from the CEO position. The Board according to CFI prior to 2010 had become concerned with Kurtz's "day-to-day management of the organization. In June 2008, the board appointed Dr. Ronald A. Lindsay president & CEO; in June 2009, the board elected Richard Schroeder chairman, with Dr. Kurtz moving to chairman emeritus." In May 2010, the Board accepted Kurtz's resignation from CFI.
Through the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, 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 strictly evidence-based research from pseudosciences.
CSICOP was, alongside magician and prominent skeptic James Randi, sued by TV celebrity Uri Geller in the 1990s over claims made in the International Herald Tribune. The case ran for several years with Geller ordered to pay costs and other charges, and was ultimately settled in 1995.
The Independent Investigations Group, a volunteer group based at CFI West, undertakes experimental testing of fringe claims. It offers a cash prize (as of 2014 this has a value of USD 100,000) for successful demonstration of supernatural effects. The IIG Awards (known as "Iggies") are presented for "scientific and critical thinking in mainstream entertainment". IIG has investigated, amongst other things, power bracelets, psychic detectives and a 'telepathic wonder dog'.
The Center promotes critical inquiry into the foundations and social effects of the world religions. Since 1983, initially through its connection with Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, it has focused on such issues as fundamentalism in Christianity and Islam, humanistic alternatives to religious ethics, and religious sources of political violence. It has taken part in protests against religious persecution around the world and opposes religious privilege, for example benefits for clergy in the US Tax Code.
CFI actively supports secular interests, such as secular state education. It organizes conferences, such as Women In Secularism and a conference focused on freethought advocate Robert Ingersoll. CFI has provided meeting and conference facilities to other skeptical organisations, for example an atheist of color conference on social justice.
CFI also undertakes atheist education and support activities, for example sending freethought books to prisoners as part of its Freethought Books Project.
CFI is active in advocating free speech, and in promoting secular government. It speaks against institutional religion in the armed forces.
It is the home of its affiliated organization, the Council for Secular Humanism, publisher of Free Inquiry magazine, a bi-monthly journal of secular humanist thought and discussion.
The results of research and activities supported by the Center and its affiliates are published and distributed to the public in seventeen separate national and international magazines, journals, and newsletters. Among them are CSH's Free Inquiry and Secular Humanist Bulletin, and CSICOP's Skeptical Inquirer, American Rationalist, as well as the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, The Skeptic in the UK and Philo, a journal covering philosophical issues.
CFI has produced the weekly radio show and podcast, Point of Inquiry since 2005. Episodes are available free for download from iTunes. Current hosts, as of 2014, are Lindsay Beyerstein and Josh Zepps. Notable guests have included Steven Pinker, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins.
The Center for Inquiry organizes an annual summer camp for children called Camp Inquiry, focusing on scientific literacy, critical thinking, naturalism, the arts, humanities, and humanist ethical development. Camp Inquiry has been described as "a summer camp for kids with questions" where spooky stories are followed by "reverse engineering sessions" as the participants are encouraged to determine the cause of an apparently supernatural experience. Camp Inquiry has been criticised as "Jesus Camp in reverse"; its organisers counter that the camp is not exclusive to atheist children and that campers are encouraged to draw their own conclusions based on empirical and critical thinking.
CFI On Campus (originally the Campus Freethought Alliance) is a program launched by the Council for Secular Humanism in 1996 by Derek Araujo and others in order to reach out to university and high school students. The Center for Inquiry On Campus provides funding, speakers or debaters, literature, and other promotional and educational resources to student groups that affiliate, and supports over 200 campus groups around the world.
Center for Inquiry On Campus is directed by Debbie Goddard, who is also the director of African Americans for Humanism. CFI on Campus employs a staff of organizers who help CFI student groups to advance their aims at their respective schools.
The Center for Inquiry Institute offers undergraduate level online courses, seminars, and workshops in critical thinking and the scientific outlook and its implications for religion, human values, and the borderlands of science. In addition to transferable undergraduate credit through the State University of New York (SUNY) system, CFI offers a thirty credit-hour Certificate of Proficiency in Critical Inquiry.
The three-year curriculum plan offers summer sessions at the main campus at SUNY-Buffalo in Amherst and the Skeptic's Toolbox workshop at the University of Oregon, Eugene.
The Center for Inquiry Libraries was opened on June 9, 1995 in Amherst by Steve Allen, Leon Jaroff, Herbert Hauptman, Stan Lundine, and Kendrick Frazier.
The Center for Inquiry Libraries is a consortium of four libraries in Amherst, New York. Operated by the Center for Inquiry, it is the largest library of its kind in the world. The building has special collections housing 70,000 volumes of works specializing in science, skepticism, freethought, humanism, and American philosophical naturalism, and includes a collection of Martin Gardner's books and papers, Steve Allen's manuscripts, and other special holdings.
The Center for Inquiry has an emergency fund, known as the Freethought Emergency Fund, to help freethought activists whose lives are under threat by Islamic radicals linked to Al Qaeda.
The Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health (CSMMH) stimulates critical scientific scrutiny of New Age medicine and the schools of psychotherapy. It supports naturalistic addiction recovery practices through Secular Organizations for Sobriety. CFI challenges the claims of alternative medicine and advocates a scientific basis for healthcare. CSMMH papers have covered topics such as pseudoscience in autism treatments and in psychiatry.
CFI also runs the Naturalism Research Project, a major new effort to develop the theoretical and practical applications of philosophical naturalism. As part of this project, CFI’s libraries, research facilities, and conference areas are available to scientists and scholars to advance the understanding of science’s methodologies and conclusions about naturalism.
Activities of the Naturalism Research Project include lectures and seminars by visiting fellows and scholars; academic conferences; and support CFI publications of important research. Among the central issues of naturalism include the exploration of varieties of naturalism; problems in philosophy of science; the methodologies of scientific inquiry; naturalism and humanism; naturalistic ethics; planetary ethics; and naturalism and the biosciences.
The Office of Public Policy (OPP) is the Washington D.C. political arm of the Center for Inquiry. The OPP’s mandate is to lobby Congress and the Administration on issues related to science and secularism. This includes defending the separation of church and state, promoting science and reason as the basis of public policy, and advancing secular values.
The OPP publishes position statements on its subjects of interest. Examples have included acupuncture, climate change, contraception and intelligent design. The Office is an active participant in legal matters, providing experts for Congress testimony and amicus briefs in Supreme Court cases. It publishes a list of bills it considers of interest as they pass through the U.S. legislative process.
In partnership with the Graduate School of Education at the State University of New York at Buffalo, CFI offers an accredited Master of Education program in Science and the Public, available entirely online. Aimed at students preparing for careers in research, science education, public policy, science journalism, or further study in sociology, history and philosophy of science, science communication, education, or public administration, the program explores the methods and outlook of science as they intersect with public culture, scientific literacy, and public policy.
The Skeptics and Humanist Aid and Relief Effort (previously the name began with the phrase "Secular Humanist") provides "an alternative for those who wish to contribute to charitable efforts without the intermediary of a religious organization in times of great need." As of January 2010, all funds are being directed to the group Doctors Without Borders to aid the survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Previous relief efforts have included aid for survivors of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the October 2007 California wildfires.
CFI is a nonprofit body registered as a charity in the United States. It has 18 locations in the U.S., and has branches or affiliated organizations in 20 other countries. The organization has Centers For Inquiry in Amherst, New York (its headquarters), Los Angeles, New York City, Tampa Bay, Washington, D.C., Indiana, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and Michigan.
CFI describes Communities as "groups of rationalists, skeptics, and humanists which sponsor local events, activism, lectures and educational programs". It has Communities in Northeast Ohio, Pittsburgh, Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, Long Island, Orange County and Portland, OR. These groups draw upon volunteers and Center for Inquiry members and supporters who are enthusiastic about CFI's efforts to advance the scientific outlook in our society and who wish to become active in the organization. In some cases CFI Communities have developed from established local activist groups which have affiliated with CFI.
CFI has branches, representation or affiliated organizations in countries around the world. It organizes its international activities under the banner Center For Inquiry Transnational. In addition, CFI holds consultative status to the United Nations as an NGO under the UN Economic and Social Council. The Center participates in UN Human Rights Council debates, for example a debate on the subject of female genital mutilation during 2014.
CFI Moscow operates an exchange program where Russian students and scholars are able to visit CFI headquarters in Amherst and participate in a summer institute each year. Additional international programs exist in Germany (Rossdorf), France (Nice), Spain (Bilbao), Poland (Warsaw), Nigeria (Ibadan), Uganda (Kampala), Kenya (Nairobi), Nepal (Kathmandu), India (Pune) (Hyderabad), Egypt (Cairo), China (Beijing), New Zealand (Auckland), Peru (Lima), Argentina (Buenos Aires), Senegal (Dakar), Zambia (Lusaka), and Bangladesh (Dacca).
CFI Canada (CFIC) is the Canadian branch of CFI Transnational, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Originally established and supported in part by CFI Transnational, CFI Canada has become an independent Canadian national organization with several provincial branches.
CFI Canada has branches in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Saskatoon, Calgary, Okanagan (Kelowna) and Vancouver. CFIC ran a prominent advertising campaign called the Extraordinary Claims Campaign.Centre for Inquiry Canada
Centre for Inquiry UK
Center for Inquiry Low Countries
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)
Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER)
Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health Practice (CSMMH)
Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society (ISIS)
CFI participates in media debates on science, health, religion and its other areas of interest. Its "Keep Healthcare Safe and Secular" campaign promotes scientifically sound healthcare. It has been an outspoken critic of dubious and unscientific healthcare practices, and engages in public debate on the merit and legality of controversial medical techniques. In 2014, CEO Ron Lindsay publicly criticized Stanislaw Burzynski's controversial Texas cancer clinic.
CFI campaigns for a secular society, for example in opposing the addition of prayer text on public property. The Center supports secular and free speech initiatives.
On November 14, 2006 the CFI opened its Office of Public Policy in Washington, DC and issued a declaration "In Defense of Science and Secularism", which calls for public policy to be based on science rather than faith. The next day the Washington Post ran an article about it entitled "Think Tank Will Promote Thinking".
In 2011, video expert James Underdown of IIG and CFI West did an experiment for "Miracle Detective" Oprah Winfrey Network which replicated exactly the angelic apparition that people claim cured a 14-year-old severely disabled child at Presbyterian Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. The "angel" was sunlight from a hidden window, and the girl remained handicapped.
During Richard Dawkins' October 2011 book tour, Center for Inquiry - the tour's sponsor - signed a contract with Wyndgate Country Club in Rochester Hills, Michigan, as the venue site. After seeing an interview with Dawkins on The O'Reilly Factor, an official at the club cancelled Dawkins' appearance. Dawkins said that the country club official accepted Bill O'Reilly's "twisted" interpretation of his book The Magic of Reality without having read it personally. Sean Faircloth said that cancelling the reading "really violates the basic principles of America ... The Civil Rights Act ... prohibits discrimination based on race or religious viewpoint. ... [Dawkins has] published numerous books ... to explain science to the public, so it's rather an affront, to reason in general, to shun him as they did." CFI Michigan executive director Jeff Seaver stated that "This action by The Wyndgate illustrates the kind of bias and bigotry that nonbelievers encounter all the time." Following the cancellation, protests and legal action by CFI against the Wyndgate Country Club were pursued. In 2013 this case was settled in favor of the Center For Inquiry.
In 2007, CSH sued the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) to block the use of state funds in contracts to faith-based programs for released inmates, claiming that this use is prohibited under the "No Aid" provision or Blaine amendment of the Florida constitution. The initial decision found in favor of the DOC but, on appeal, the case was remanded in 2010 on just the issue of the unconstitutionality of appropriating state funds for this purpose.
While this case was in progress, after the appellate finding, Republican legislators began an effort to amend the Florida constitution to remove the language of the Blaine amendment, succeeding in 2011 to place the measure on the 2012 ballot as amendment 8. The ballot measure failed.
In 2015, CHS (now CFI) and the state (along with its co-defendants) both filed for summary judgement. The court granted the state's motion in January, 2016, allowing the contested contracting practice to continue. After consideration, CFI announced in February, 2016, that it would not appeal.
A CFI representative was repeatedly interrupted and heckled whilst presenting the Center's position on censorship at the UN Human Rights Council. CFI advocated free speech, and opposed the punishment by Saudi authorities of Raif Badawi for running an Internet forum, whom they accused of atheism and liberalism. The Saudi delegation objected repeatedly to CFI's statement. CFI drew support from American, Canadian, Irish and French delegates.
Blasphemy Rights Day International encourages individuals and groups to openly express their criticism of or outright contempt for religion. It was founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry. A student contacted the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York to present the idea, which CFI then supported. Ronald Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry said regarding Blasphemy Day, "We think religious beliefs should be subject to examination and criticism just as political beliefs are, but we have a taboo on religion", in an interview with CNN. It takes place every September 30 to coincide with the anniversary of the publications of the controversial Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons.
Blasphemy Day and CFI's related Blasphemy Contests started (in CFI's own words) "a firestorm of controversy". The use of confrontational free speech has been a topic of debate within the Humanist movement and cited as an example of a wider move towards New Atheism and away from the more conciliatory approach historically associated with Humanism.