Paul Kurtz turned to reason, science and skepticism.
Kurtz was a pronounced humanist who did more to advance humanism, atheism and skepticism since the 1960’s than any one person ever has. Professor Kurtz founded the Center for Inquiry, an evidence-based organization that opposes organized religion, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and Prometheus Books. In addition, he created the two magazines Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry.
His goal was to create a place for people to turn if their faith failed them. He did his share of criticizing religion and the concept of God, but that was not his only goal.
“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?”
Kurtz was even criticized by certain atheists who believed he was not aggressive enough against the myths of religious belief. Eventually Kurtz resigned from the board of the Center for Inquiry partly because he felt it was “on too contentious a path,” according the a New York Times article.
Born on December 21, 1925, Kurtz was raised in New Jersey. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19 during World War II, eventually fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he went on to study philosophy under Sidney Hook, a protegé of John Dewey (a great American thinker in the humanist tradition). Hook’s teaching, derived from Dewey, greatly influenced Kurtz’s perception of religion and reason.
An exert from the Center for Inquiry obituary on Kurtz:
Kurtz consistently asserted that morality should be rooted in human flourishing and happiness, not on supernatural revelation. He attached high priority to individual liberty in a robustly democratic culture. His ethics were primarily utilitarian, but he tempered his utilitarianism with a strong commitment to basic liberties. As early as 1969 he had written that “there are two basic and minimal principles which especially seem to characterize humanism. First, there is a rejection of any supernatural conception of the universe and a denial that man has any privileged place within nature. Second, there is an affirmation that ethical values are human and have no meaning independent of human experience.” Repeatedly he characterized secular humanism less as a set of moral or philosophical prescriptions than as a process, a template for the conduct of ethical inquiry.
Since the 1960’s, as expected, Kurtz’s humanist work drew opposition from religious groups. The New York Times quoted one religious leader as saying:
“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.”
Kurtz died on Saturday October 20, 2012 at his home in Amherst, N.Y. He was 86. His final book will be published by Prometheus Books in March of next year. It is entitled “the Turbulent Universe” and is a discourse on how people all around the world can unite as one.