Paul Kurtz, the philosopher who used his intellectual prowess to create such entities as the Center for Inquiry, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Council for Secular Humanism died Sunday at 86 years old. The University of Buffalo professor passed away on October 21, 2012 of a cause as of yet unknown. Paul Kurtz spent his entire career fighting prejudice against those who had chosen to not believe in God or religion.
The Center for Inquiry released the following statement following news of Kurtz’s death:
“He was one of the most influential figures in the humanist and skeptical movements from the late 1960s through the first decade of the 21st century,”
Kurtz was born in Newark, New Jersey and served in the United States Army when he was 19. His service saw him fight in the Battle of the Bulge and being in the first unit to liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp.
Kurtz was one of the most influential figures in the humanist and skeptical movements of philosophy. He was the publisher of two of the movements’ best known publications, the Skeptical Inquirer the Free Inquiry humanist magazine, and Prometheus Books.
Kurtz graduated from New York University in 1948 and earned his PhD from Columbia University a short four years later. During his time at NYU, Kurtz studied under well known humanist philosopher Sidney Hook.
In 1965, Kurtz was recruited onto the faculty of the State University of New York, Buffalo where he held a professorship until his retirement in 1991.
During his time at SUNY-Buffalo, Kurtz used his time to focus primarily on methods of objective inquiry and the history of American Philosophy. He has been published in numerous scholarly journals including American Philosophy and The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. His best known scholarly work was Decision and the Condition of Man. He was also the editor of two major anthologies of American philosophy.
In the 60s, Kurtz got involved in promoting the Humanist movement, spreading the acceptability of a non-religious existence. In 1967, he was named editor of The Humanist published by the American Humanist Association (AHA). During this time, he is credited with moving a significant portion of American youth away from a more stringent religious life.
In 2005, worried about Kurtz’s advancing age, the various non-profit organizations that were founded by Kutz put a plan in motion for an orderly succession. In 2008, philosopher Ronald Lindsay succeeded Kurtz as president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Lindsay was Kurtz’s personal selection for the position. Kurtz continued to serve as board chair until June 2009 when Richard Schroeder was elected Chair and Kurtz assumed the new position of Chair Emeritus.
Late in 2010, Kurtz announced the founding of a new organization, the Institute for Science and Human Values. It released a manifesto-style document titled Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles and Values with more than 150 signers and announced a new quarterly journal, The Human Prospect.
In Geneva, Roy Brown, chief representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), which Kurtz co-chaired from 1986-1994, mourned the loss of “a giant of our movement”.