Student club questions faith, looks for facts

By DerekKucynda

With a handful of groups on campus geared toward students who believe in God and religion, one organization called Inquire reaches out to non-religious students who are otherwise atheists and freethinkers.

The Columbia chapter of Inquire, a campus skeptic and freethought group that is part of the Center for Inquiry, started conducting meetings in September 2008. The group officially became a part of the Student Organizations Council this past summer. The group holds meetings every other Wednesday, where they engage in discussions and watch films based on the myths and truths behind topics such as religion, the paranormal and free speech, as well as other subjects. According to Inquire’s Web site, the group’s vision is to promote peace and progress through research and science.

An atheist since age 12, Hana Hawker, a freshman music major, said she attended Inquire’s first informational meeting hoping to find other like-minded students.

“I’ve been really interested in skeptic culture,” Hawker said. “Then I read Sam Harris’ book, The End of Faith, and I started thinking about [atheism] a lot more.”

Hawker said that being skeptical has taught her not to take knowledge for granted. She hopes that by being a part of Inquire, she can engage in intellectually stimulating topics that will challenge her beliefs about science and religion.

“I’m interested in all sorts of things,” Hawker said. “Obviously, religion and how it affects our country and our world culture, but also things like vaccine denialism and evolution.”

Inquire welcomes discussion about not only religion, but government, college, pseudoscience and superstition, among other things, said Abigail Stokes, junior poetry major and president of Inquire.

“We try to think about various issues that are going on in our lives through the lens of science and reason,” Stokes said. “A lot of people find science and reason to be really intimidating and we hope to take away some of that fear and make it fun because it can be really fascinating and it can be applicable to anyone.”

Unable to schedule any events with Critical Encounters, a college-wide initiative that aims to promote discussion around a socially or culturally pertinent theme, under this year’s theme of “Fact and Faith.” Stokes will make sure Inquire’s members are aware of the events that are scheduled. However, the group has various discussions and movies planned, as well as creating a billboard for Blasphemy Day, a day of protest against a U.N. resolution banning criticism of religion, which will take place on Sept. 30.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get on the boat for Critical Encounters this year simply because we don’t have a budget [or] any fundraising revenue, so it wasn’t in the books,” Stokes said.

Charlie Williams, an adjunct faculty member in the Music Department and faculty advisor for Inquire, said he understands both sides of a very contentious topic—religion. He said many individuals do not see eye to eye in terms of religion, and can get defensive. On one hand, religion can be a family tradition, passed down from generation to generation, but there are those who dismiss religion and stick with the facts.

“It could be just the idea that maybe this thing they were taught is subjective and has changed over time and is culturally contingent, that that can be really threatening,” Williams said. “Even modern religion still often tells people to stop asking questions. It would be inconceivable for religion to allow something to be disproved by science.”

Williams heard about the organization through Facebook in spring 2009, which has been the primary destination for those interested in joining Inquire. Lately, the organization has recruited members through word-of-mouth and by holding informational meetings at the start of the school year. For those interested in joining, Williams said he thinks Inquire will spark intellectual conversations about faith, science and reason.

“I think it could really open up a lot of dialogue, especially with Critical Encounters theme being “Fact and Faith” this year,” Williams said.” That’s a great opportunity for us to say, ‘What does that mean?’”

Inquire meets every other Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building, tentatively in Room 422. For exact dates and locations, please visit or e-mail