Paul Kurtz, UB professor emeritus of philosophy and a leading figure in the secular humanism movement, died Oct. 20 in his Amherst home. He was 86.
Often referred to as “the father of secular humanism,” Kurtz was the founder and longtime CEO of the Center for Inquiry, an Amherst-based think tank that promotes skepticism and humanism. He left the Center for Inquiry in 2010 to establish a new nonprofit, the Institute for Science and Human Values.
Kurtz also was founder and past chair of the Center for Inquiry Transnational and its federated organizations, including the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism.
The New York Times called him “a skeptic of everything but fact.”
A UB faculty member from 1965 until his retirement in 1991, Kurtz founded Skeptical Inquirer magazine in 1976 to counter anti-science attitudes in society, such as belief in astrology and claims of Bigfoot sightings and faith healing. Four years later, in response to the Moral Majority’s heavy attacks on secular humanism, he started Free Inquiry magazine.
He was the author or editor of more than 50 books, many of which were translated into dozens of languages. He recently completed “The Turbulent Universe,” due to be published in March by Prometheus Books, the publishing company he launched in 1969.
After serving in the Army during World War II—he took part in the Battle of the Bulge and entered the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps shortly after they were liberated—Kurtz earned a bachelor’s degree from New York University and master’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy from Columbia.
He held academic positions at Trinity College, Vassar College and Union College before coming to UB.
Among his numerous awards and honors was the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, UB’s highest award.
A public celebration of his life will be scheduled.