Posted by: aboutalbion | November 26, 2012

Paul Kurtz (1925-2012)

Reading the tributes to Paul Kurtz over the weekend, I regret that I have not encountered his thought until now.

I read that he was a leading light of sceptic philosophy in the US.  Although a professor of philosophy for many years, and although writing against commercial religious beliefs and bogus science, it was his lot to see faith-healing, astrology, re-incarnation, and fortune-telling flourish in the US during his life-time.  “It is frightening that what was once considered fringe thinking has now entered mainstream thought” is a comment from 2000.

He believed that a free inquirer is dubious of five of the claims of commercial religion: “1. that God exists; 2. that he is a person; 3. that our ultimate moral principles are derived from God; 4. that faith in God will provide eternal salvation; and 5. that one cannot be good without belief in God.”

I particularly like the following passage from one obituary.  “He preferred to make his points by reasoned argument and had a knack for making his opponents like him; he approached debates with tact and moderation.  He never compromised, but had respect for theists and maintained always that ‘humanism is tolerance and liberty of belief and non-belief’.”

What I appreciate is his generous usage of the contested word humanist.  After all, his thinking was formed in the US by a culture which accepted Charles and Clara Potter’s 1930 book that humanism was ‘a new religion’.  Kurtz seems to be have been free from the binary virus that affects some of the people who have come after him.

Just time for one more quote…  Kurtz declined to style himself an atheist and expressed a preference for free inquiry.  “The concept of inquiry contains an important constructive component, for inquiry leads to scientific wisdom – human understanding of our place in the cosmos and the ever-increasing fund of human knowledge.”


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