Paul Kurtz was the Chairman of CSICOP, the Founder and Chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism, and of Prometheus Books, the leading publisher of skeptical literature. He was also the Editor-in-Chief of Free Inquiry magazine and the President and Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism. He died in 2012.
Kurtz was deeply committed to a secular humanist ideology and one of its leading public proponents. He was against parapsychology, holistic cures for animal illnesses, alternative medicine, and organized religion. “We are the heroic defenders of science and reason,” he told The New York Times (June 19, 2002).
The Headquarters of CSICOP, the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York, is also Headquarters of the Council for Secular Humanism. Kurtz’s unflagging opposition to claims of the paranormal was part of a larger ideological agenda. He was not a scientist, but a philosopher, and saw the primary role of the Skeptical Movement as educative.
In his reflections on 25 years of CSICOP (Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 2001) he wrote, “The basic question that we need to ask is, Why do paranormal beliefs persist?” The one possibility that he did not consider is that some of the phenomena these beliefs concern, like telepathy, might actually exist.
Kurtz believed that skeptics and secular humanists have a duty to propagate a materialistic world-view. “It is incumbent on us to defend the naturalistic interpretation of reality, a materialistic not a spiritual-paranormal account. We need generalists of science to sum up what science tells us about the human condition in a Universe without purpose or design, yet who have the ability to awaken wonder and excitement about the scientific quest itself.”
Closer Look at Rift Between Humanists Reveals Deeper Divisions by Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times (October 1, 2010), revealed a deep division in the ranks of skeptics.
Photo credit: Paul Kurtz