Paul Kurtz, founder and longtime chair of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry, has died at the age of 86. He was one of the most influential figures in thehumanist and skeptical movements from the late 1960s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. Among his best-known creations are the skeptics’ magazine Skeptical Inquirer, the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry, and the independent publisher Prometheus Books.
….In 1980, in response to the conservative religious movement the Moral Majority, Professor Kurtz founded the journal Free Inquiry. In its inaugural issue he drafted another statement, “A Secular Humanist Declaration,” in which he warned that “the reappearance of dogmatic authoritarian religions” had become a threat to intellectual freedom, human rights and scientific progress. The statement, signed by 61 scholars, directed its objections toward “fundamentalist, literalist and doctrinaire Christianity; a rapidly growing and uncompromising Muslim clericalism in the Middle East and Asia; the reassertion of orthodox authority by the Roman Catholic papal hierarchy; nationalist religious Judaism; and the reversion to obscurantist religions in Asia.”
Not surprisingly, Professor Kurtz and the secular humanist movement drew the wrath of the religious.
“Humanism is basically Satan’s philosophy and program,” the evangelist H. Edward Rowe wrote in a 1976 book, “Save America.” “Certain features of it may sound reasonable, but it always leads to tragedy, simply because it ignores the guidance of God.”
Humanists in general and Professor Kurtz in particular have also been criticized by some atheists as not aggressive enough in opposing the credibility of religious myths. But Professor Kurtz wrote that humanists, who “may be agnostics, atheists or skeptics,” believed that their obligation was to go beyond deriding religion. In 2009, he resigned from the board of the Center for Inquiry, in part because he felt it was on too contentious a path.
“If religion is being weakened, what replaces it in secular society?” Professor Kurtz said in an interview with The New York Times in 2010. “Most of my colleagues are concerned with critiquing the concept of God. That is important, but equally important is, where do you turn?”…Among his books on humanism is “Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism” (2008), a prescription for living a happy, productive life free of religious dogma.
He was without question a remarkable visionary and the scope of his accomplishments is truly staggering,” said Nathan Bupp, who was mentored by Kurtz before going on to work for him, currently at the ISHV. “His lasting legacy will be as a builder of institutions and a purveyor of ideas. … He had an intense interest in the power of ideas and how ideas came to permeate and influence the culture at large.”..
A compilation of Kurtz essays published by Bupp in June describes Kurtz’s theory of eupraxsophy, which he first envisioned in 1988 as a secular moral alternative to religion that met some of the social needs served by religions without the supernaturalism or authoritarianism of traditional faiths.
At a January UNESCO conference in Paris, Kurtz spoke on “neo-humanism” and the positives of unbelief. Kurtz wasn’t anti-religious, Bupp said, but nonreligious.
“Neo-humanists do not believe in God, yet they wish to do good. But if this moral outlook is to prevail, then neo-humanisms need to concentrate on improving the things of this world rather than simply combating the illusions of supernaturalism,” Kurtz said at the conference.
A prolific author, Kurtz in 1973 drafted what came to be known as Humanist Manifesto II, in which he updated a 1933 document by addressing issues that the earlier tract, which was largely a critique of religion, had failed to address, among them nuclear arms, population control, racism and sexism. The document was signed by 120 intellectuals including Andrei Sakharov, Francis Crick and the novelist Isaac Asimov. In its best-known dictum, it declared: “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”
In 1980, in response to the rise of the religious Right, Kurtz founded the journal Free Inquiry. In its first issue he warned that “the reappearance of dogmatic authoritarian religions’’ had become a threat to intellectual freedom, human rights and scientific progress. Most traditional religions, he observed, have their origins in pre-urban nomadic and agricultural societies of the past and are not appropriate to the modern age.
In Eupraxophy: Living Without Religion (1989) Kurtz envisioned a secular moral alternative that met some of the social needs served by religions without the supernaturalism or authoritarianism of traditional faiths…He maintained that it was not only possible but easy to live a good life without religion . In a revised Humanist Manifesto 2000, endorsed by, among others, nine Nobel Prize winning scientists, Kurtz called on humankind to form a planetary system of government, including a World Parliament elected on the basis of population, a transnational environmental monitoring agency and a transnational system of taxation….