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Paul Kurtz dead at 86
October 23, 2012 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Paul Kurtz, noted secular humanist, has died. Kurtz was a philosophy professor who was instrumental in the founding of a number of skeptical and humanist organizations. These include the Committee for Scientific investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (publisher of Skeptical Inquiry), the Council for Secular Humanism (publisher of Free Inquiry magazine), and the Center for Inquiry.

He promoted secular humanism as an alternative to the more vocal atheism practiced by people such as Madalyn Murray O'Hair. In recent years this approach was criticized by the neo-atheists, eventually leading to a divide among atheists. (Commentary on previous link) Although this resulted in Kurtz leaving the organizations he had helped found, he remained an important figure until his death.

Kurtz previously on MeFi here; Wikipedia page here.
posted by TedW (27 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks, Mr Kurtz. Your efforts were key to my growing beyond faith.

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posted by 2N2222 at 11:25 AM on October 23, 2012


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posted by tykky at 11:30 AM on October 23, 2012


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posted by vorfeed at 11:30 AM on October 23, 2012


A thoughtful eulogy from R. Joseph Hoffmann.
posted by No Robots at 11:30 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by Kadin2048 at 11:31 AM on October 23, 2012


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posted by shakespeherian at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2012


I spent more time than I probably should have reading bound archived copies of Free Inquiry at my university library while an undergrad. Kurtz's work was one of several prominent influences on my transition from a vague deism and interest in forteana to an unashamed embrace of atheism, humanism and naturalism.

No mention of Kurtz is complete without a reference to his idea of eupraxsophy: "a nonreligious lifestance or worldview emphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logic, observation and science (rather than faith, mysticism or revelation) toward that end," which always struck me as an odd word, though I've never come across any better to describe the concept.

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posted by audi alteram partem at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 AM on October 23, 2012


Wow. Hadn't really heard of this fellow before - although I have heard of some of his organizations, especially the Center for Inquiry. Sorry to see him go, but he seems like he's left a lot of good work behind him.

eupraxsophy...which always struck me as an odd word, though I've never come across any better to describe the concept.

I think that's really what most adherents consider "secular humanism" to be, so - score one for Kurtz?
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:01 PM on October 23, 2012


"We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality." from Affirmations.

We've lost a brilliant thinker and are a lesser people for it.

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posted by Francis7 at 12:28 PM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by LobsterMitten at 12:36 PM on October 23, 2012


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posted by dlugoczaj at 1:33 PM on October 23, 2012


When I was a kid I read lots of books about the paranormal, UFOs and such. I put much stock in stories about telekinesis, ghosts, alien abductions, and that whole charlatan menagerie. Thanks to my ever-skeptical father, by 15-16, I had begun to turn away from such things, but it was vague and unformed, a feeling that this was all nonsense, but a part of me really wanted to believe, like X-Files, my favorite TV show of the time, put it. These stories plugged straight into the part of me that liked good yarns. So I kept reading these books, amid my majority science fiction reading diet.

However, I started in a new school when I was 16, and on my first independent exploration of the school library I came across a magazine with a picture of Mulder and Scully on the cover. It was called Skeptical Inquirer (not Inquiry, as the post has it). I had never heard of it. The magazine, for those who've never read it, mainly concerns itself with debunking various beliefs in the paranormal, UFOs and such. I was immediately hooked. Various supposedly unexplained phenomena were explained. Proofs of the supernatural were shown to be nothing more than wishful thinking. More than anything, the stories that I had found so satisfying were laid bare as poorly constructed mishmash. The magazine was nearly universally fair-minded yet tough, critical yet friendly. Over the course of that winter I read through all the back issues that my school library had.

I don't know if Skeptical Inquirer converted me per se, but the magazine gave my vague skeptical feelings solid form. I stopped believing in the supernatural and the paranormal. What it also taught me was that it shouldn't be enough that stories should merely feel satisfying, they should also have solid underpinnings. Skeptical Inquirer didn't merely teach me to see the world as it is, it also taught me to read better and more critically. CSICOP and its magazine had an enormous influence on me as a person, all for the better. For that I'm very thankful for Paul Kurtz' existence in this world. And I hope he looks down on all of us from Heaven with a smile on his face.
posted by Kattullus at 1:37 PM on October 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


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posted by brundlefly at 2:10 PM on October 23, 2012


I have the greatest respect for Mr. Kurtz and what he accomplished. The world has lost a real treasure.
posted by Palindromedary at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2012


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posted by NedKoppel at 2:31 PM on October 23, 2012


He was a dogmatic ideologue and a boring one at that. He kept village atheism alive after people got sick of Madalyn Murray O'Hair in the 1970s. Since he didn't have a magic act, he didn't have a big following.
posted by Yakuman at 3:08 PM on October 23, 2012


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posted by parmanparman at 3:10 PM on October 23, 2012


You may want to adjust your chakras there, Yakuman
posted by thelonius at 3:11 PM on October 23, 2012


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posted by quazichimp at 4:29 PM on October 23, 2012


It was called Skeptical Inquirer (not Inquiry, as the post has it).

I have subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer off and on for at least two decades (and remember the issue you describe) so that is pretty embarrassing. On the other hand, it can be viewed as a trivial example of the skeptical/scientific worldview, which acknowledges human fallibility and allows for correction.

Thanks to Kattallus and everyone else for your contributions
posted by TedW at 5:24 PM on October 23, 2012


Oh, I didn't mean it as a nit-pick, but rather so that people wouldn't be confused as to why I was bringing up some magazine unrelated to the post. Thanks for the post, TedW. I haven't thought much about CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer in recent years and these are good memories to revisit. Getting some more background on Kurtz was good.
posted by Kattullus at 5:40 PM on October 23, 2012


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posted by jaimev at 11:56 PM on October 23, 2012


I'll believe it when I see his body.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:29 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's in heaven now, with Kurt Vonnegut.
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posted by Cookiebastard at 8:24 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:57 AM on October 24, 2012


Oh, I didn't mean it as a nit-pick...

Don't worry, I didn't take it that way at all; I'm glad you thought it was a good post.

I'll believe it when I see his body.

Would a burial shroud suffice?
posted by TedW at 10:38 AM on October 24, 2012


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