Monday, 29 October 2012

Paul Kurtz, Arch Skeptic

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Paul Kurtz
BornPaul Winter Kurtz
December 21, 1925
Newark, New JerseyUnited States
DiedOctober 20, 2012 (aged 86)
Amherst, New York
Alma materNew York University
Columbia University
Known for
Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Council for Secular Humanism
Institute for Science and Human Values
Spouse(s)Claudine Vial
ChildrenJonathan Kurtz, Valerie Fehrenback, Patricia Kurtz and Anne Kurtz
Paul Kurtz (December 21, 1925 Newark, New JerseyU.S.A – October 20, 2012[1][2]) was a prominent American skeptic and secular humanist. He has been called "the father of secular humanism".[3] He was Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, having previously also taught at Vassar, Trinity, and Union colleges, and the New School for Social Research.
Kurtz published over 800 articles or reviews and authored and edited over 50 books. Many of his books have been translated into over 60 languages. They include The Transcendental TemptationForbidden Fruit: The Ethics of SecularismThe Courage to Become, and Multi-Secularism: A New Agenda. His published bibliography of writings from 1952 to 2003 runs over 79 pages.[4] Barry F. Seidman, producer of naturalistic humanist radio program Equal Time for Freethought, interviewed Kurtz for a "Legacy Interview" on WBAI-NY radio on April 23, 2011.[5]
Kurtz founded the publishing house Prometheus Books in 1969. He was also the founder and past chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)), the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry. On May 18, 2010, he resigned from all these positions.[6] Moreover, the Center for Inquiry accepted his resignation as chairman emeritus and board member, the culmination of a years-long "leadership transition", thanking him "for his decades of service" while alluding to "concerns about Dr. Kurtz's day-to-day management of the organization".[7] Kurtz renewed his efforts in organized Humanism by founding The Institute for Science and Human Values and its journal The Human Prospect: A NeoHumanist Perspective in June 2010.
At the Council of Secular Humanism's Los Angeles conference (7–10 October 2010), tension over the future of humanism was on display as Kurtz urged a more accommodationist approach to religion while his successors argued for a more adversarial approach.[8] He was editor in chief of Free Inquiry magazine, a publication of the Council for Secular Humanism.
He was co-chair of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) from 1986-1994.[9]He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Humanist Laureate, president of the International Academy of Humanism and Honorary Associate ofRationalist International. As a member of the American Humanist Association, he contributed to the writing of Humanist Manifesto II.[10] He was an editor of The Humanist, 1967-1978. The asteroid 6629 Kurtz was named in his honor.[11]



[edit]Early years

Kurtz was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Sara Lasser and Martin Kurtz.[12] Kurtz received his bachelor's degree from New York University, and the Master's degree and Doctor of Philosophy degree from Columbia University.[13] Kurtz was left-wing in his youth, but has said that serving in the United States Army in World War II taught him the dangers of ideology. He saw the Buchenwald andDachau concentration camps after they were liberated, and became disillusioned with Communism when he encountered Russian slave laborers who had been taken to Nazi Germany by force but refused to return to the Soviet Union at the end of the war.[14]

[edit]Secular humanism

Kurtz was largely responsible for the secularization of humanism.[3] Before Kurtz embraced the term "secular humanism," which had received wide publicity through fundamentalist Christians in the 1980s, humanism was more widely perceived as a religion (or apseudoreligion) that did not include the supernatural. This can be seen in the first article of the original Humanist Manifesto which refers to "Religious Humanists" and by Charles and Clara Potter's influential 1930 book Humanism: A New Religion.
Kurtz used the publicity generated by fundamentalist preachers to grow the membership of the Council for Secular Humanism, as well as strip the religious aspects found in the earlier humanist movement. He founded the Center for Inquiry in 1991. There are now some 40 Centers and Communities worldwide, including in Los Angeles, Washington, New York City, London, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Moscow, Beijing, Hyderabad, Toronto, Dakar, Buenos Aires and Kathmandu.
In 1999 Kurtz was given the International Humanist Award by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. He had been a board member of IHEU between 1969 and 1994 and in a tribute by former colleague at both IHEU and Council for Secular Humanism Matt Cherry, Kurtz was described as having "had a strong commitment to international Humanism – a commitment to Humanism beyond US borders never seen matched by another American. He did a lot to expand IHEU as a member of the IHEU Growth and Development Committee (with Levi Fragell and Rob Tielman) and then when he was co-chair, also with Rob and Levi. He always pushed IHEU to be bigger and bolder." [9]
In 2000 he received International Rationalist Award by Rationalist International.
Kurtz believed that the nonreligious members of the community should take a positive view on life. Religious skepticism, according to Paul Kurtz, is only one aspect of the secular humanistic outlook.
On 18 May 2010 the Boards of Directors of the Council for Secular Humanism, its supporting organization, the Center for Inquiry, and another supported organization, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, issued a statement announcing that it accepted Dr. Kurtz's resignation as chairman emeritus, as a member of each board, and as editor in chief of Free Inquiry.

[edit]Critique of the paranormal

Ray Hyman, Paul Kurtz, James Randi, and Ken Frazier at TAM8, July 2010, Las Vegas after their session on the history of the modern skeptical movement.
Another aspect in Kurtz's legacy is his critique of the paranormal. In 1976, CSICOP started Skeptical Inquirer, its official journal. LikeMartin GardnerCarl SaganIsaac AsimovJames RandiRay Hymanand others, Kurtz has popularized scientific skepticism and critical thinking about claims of the paranormal.
Concerning the founding of the modern skeptical movement, Ray Hyman states that in 1972, he, along with James Randi and Martin Gardner wanted to form a skeptical group called S.I.R.(Sanity In Research). The three of them felt they had no administration experience, "we just had good ideas" and were soon joined byMarcello Truzzi who provided structure for the group. Truzzi involved Paul Kurtz and they together formed CSICOP in 1976.[15][16]
Kurtz wrote:
[An] explanation for the persistence of the paranormal, I submit, is due to the transcendental temptation. In my book by that name, I present the thesis that paranormal and religious phenomena have similar functions in human experience; they are expressions of a tendency to accept magical thinking. This temptation has such profound roots within human experience and culture that it constantly reasserts itself.[17]
In The Transcendental Temptation, Kurtz analyzes how provable are the claims of JesusMosesMuhammad as well as the founders of religions on American soil such as Joseph Smith and Ellen White. He also evaluates the antics of the most famous modern psychicsand what he believes are the fruitless researches of parapsychologistsThe Transcendental Temptation is considered among Kurtz's most influential writings.[18]
On 19 April 2007, Kurtz appeared on Penn & Teller's television show Bullshit! arguing that exorcism and Satanic cults are merely "hype and paranoia".[19]


Kurtz coined the term eupraxsophy (originally eupraxophy) to refer to philosophies or lifestances such as secular humanism andConfucianism that do not rely on belief in the transcendent or supernatural. A eupraxsophy is a nonreligious lifestance or worldviewemphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logicobservation andscience (rather than faithmysticism or revelation) toward that end. The word is based on the Greek words for "good", "practice", and "wisdom". Eupraxsophies, like religions, are cosmic in their outlook, but eschew the supernatural component of religion, avoiding the "transcendental temptation," as Kurtz puts it. Although critical of supernatural religion, he has attempted to develop affirmative ethical values of naturalistic humanism.[20]

[edit]The Paul Kurtz Lecture Series

In June 2010, the State University of New York at Buffalo announced the establishment of the Paul Kurtz Lecture Series. The series will bring notable speakers to the University's campus in Amherst, New York to speak on topics relevant to the philosophy of humanism and philosophical naturalism. Kurtz made the bequest and charitable gift annuity to the University, where he taught from 1965 to 1991, to help aid the development of critical intelligence of future generations of UB students. On November 5, 2010 the University announced that cognitive scientist Steve Pinker would inaugurate the new Paul Kurtz Lecture Series on December 2, 2010.

[edit]Institute for Science and Human Values

Paul Kurtz conceived of the Institute for Science and Human Values in 2009 as yet another branch of the umbrella group, the Center for Inquiry. Upon his resignation from the Center for Inquiry he launched the Institute for Science and Human Values as a separate entity.[21][22] In ISHV's first press release Kurtz said ISHV hoped to "rehumanize secularism" and "find out how to better develop the common moral virtues that we share as human beings."[23] Kurtz was editor-in-chief of ISHV's journal, The Human Prospect: A NeoHumanist Perspective.[24]


[edit]See also


  • Madigan, Timothy J. (ed.). Promethean love: Paul Kurtz and the humanistic perspective on love. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006. xii, 327 p.


  1. ^ Friendly Atheist - post about Paul Kurtz' passing on Oct 20, 2012, posted on Oct 21 2012
  2. ^ "Paul Kurtz, 1925-2012". Center For Inquiry. 22 October 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  3. a b "Paul Kurtz - The New Atheism and Secular Humanism". CFI. September 14, 2007.
  4. ^ Sandhu, Ranjit, and Matt Cravatta. (2004). Media-Graphy: A Bibliography of the Works of Paul Kurtz Fifty-One Years, 1952-2003. Amherst, NY: Center for Inquiry, International. ISBN 978-1-59102-273-2.
  5. ^ "Show 383: Paul Kurtz: Humanist "Equal Time for Freethought. April 23, 2011.
  6. ^ See his open letter of resignation on his personal website.
  7. ^ Center for Inquiry. "CFI Board accepts Paul Kurtz's resignation." Center for Inquiry. 18 May 2010. (accessed May 18, 2010).
  8. ^ See the LA Times article reviewing the exchange titled"Religious Skeptics Disagree on How Aggressively to Challenge the Devout". For the LA conference in question, see
  9. a b "Paul Kurtz an extraordinary proponent of Humanism, 1925-2012". International Humanist and Ethical Union. 22 October 2012. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  10. ^ "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  11. ^ "6629 Kurtz (1982 UP)"NASA.
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Weber, Bruce (October 24, 2012). "Paul Kurtz, 86, Humanist Publisher, Dies". The New York Times. pp. B19. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  14. ^ Smith, Dinitia. "A Vigorous Skeptic Of Everything but Fact; His Target: The Paranormal on TV and in Film". New York Times. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  15. ^ "Ray Hyman - The Life of an Expert Skeptic, Part 2"JREF. 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  16. ^ Hyman, Ray. "IIG Award:Ray Hyman 2011". Retrieved 2012-09-30.
  17. ^ Quarter Century of Skeptical Inquiry, Paul Kurtz (Skeptical Inquirer July 2001)
  18. ^ Paul Kurtz to Receive Award From Univ. of Buffalo
  19. ^ "Episode 5: Exorcism"Bullshit! ( 19 April 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2007-05-22.
  20. ^ Cooke, Bill. Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism, & Humanism, Prometheus Books, 2006, page 175. "Eupraxsophy stands for 'a set of convictions and practices offering a cosmic outlook and an ethical guide to life'."
  21. ^ "Board Members". ISHV. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
  22. ^ Oppenheimer, Mark. [2] "Closer Look at Rift Between Humanists Reveals Deeper Divisions"]. Retrieved 10/27/2012.
  23. ^ "Apologia". Retrieved 2012-10-22.
  24. ^

[edit]External links

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