Saturday, March 17, 2012

Paul Kurtz: An Appreciation

Paul Kurtz, philosopher and founder of the Center for Inquiry, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly "CSICOP"), and the Council for Secular Humanism, is a living monument of the skeptical and humanist movements. He also founded Prometheus Books (whose philosophical and skeptical titles occupy my bookshelf).

Two years ago, however, Kurtz resigned from the boards of the Center for Inquiry and related organizations that he founded, partly in protest against the direction they'd taken toward embracing the "new atheism" at the expense of other more positive secularist goals. He simultaneously founded a new organization which he dubbed Neo-Humanist, the Institute for Science and Human Values. From his open resignation letter:

Unfortunately, the major emphasis of the Center had been on criticism of religious and paranormal claims--that is surely a key part of the agenda. But this has led to the neglect of another essential part of the vision that first inspired the creation of the Center for Inquiry; and that is the application of science and reason to ethical questions. The key question is whether secularists are able to develop secular ethical values that instill meaning and provide some basis for moral integrity.

Here is a two-hour program from the early 1980s of vintage Prof. Kurtz as he calmly debates Christian apologist and brow-beater Norman Geisler on what looked like an inadvertently interesting Christian talk show hosted by one flaxen-haired John Ankerberg. It's an overtly biased "debate." The supposed moderator and host, Ankerberg, transparently and repeatedly sides with and makes arguments for Geisler, but he at least gives Kurtz the floor on many occasions to articulate a coherent humanism:

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