Tuesday, 23 October 2012

American skeptic Paul Kurtz is no more

December 21, 1925 – October 20, 2012

Paul Kurtz, American skeptic, founder of modern secular-humanist movement and philosopher, passed away on 20 October 2012. He was 86 years old. He was Honorary Associate of Rationalist Internationaland also Honorary Associate of Rationalist Association (formerly RPA) of UK .  In 1999 Kurtz received International Humanist Award by the IHEU, and in 2000 he received International Rationalist Award by the Rationalist International.
He authored 50 books and nearly 800 articles. Many of his books have been translated into over 60 languages. They include The Transcendental TemptationForbidden Fruit: The Ethics of SecularismThe Courage to Become, and Multi-Secularism: A New Agenda. His published bibliography of writings from 1952 to 2003 runs over 79 pages.
Paul Kurtz was largely responsible for the secularization of humanism. Before Kurtz embraced the term “secular humanism," which had received wide publicity through fundamentalist Christians in the 1980s, humanism was more widely perceived as a religion (or a pseudo-religion that did not include the supernatural. This can be seen in the first article of the original Humanist Manifesto which refers to "Religious Humanists" and by Charles and Clara Potter's influential 1930 book Humanism: A New Religion.
In 1969, Kurtz founded the publishing house Prometheus Books. He was also the founder and past chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)), the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry. On May 18, 2010, he resigned from all these positions. .
He was editor in chief of Free Inquiry magazine, a publication of theCouncil for Secular Humanism. He was co-president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). He was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Humanist Laureate, Honorary Associate of Rationalist International,president of the International Academy of Humanism and Honorary Associate of Rationalist Association (formerly Rationalist Press Association) of UK.
As a member of the American Humanist Association, he contributed to the writing of Humanist Manifesto. He was a former editor of The Humanist, 1967-1978. The asteroid (6629) Kurtz was named in his honor.
Kurtz used the publicity generated by fundamentalist preachers to grow the membership of the Council for Secular Humanism, as well as strip the religious aspects found in the earlier humanist movement.
He founded the Center for Inquiry in 1991. There are now some 40 Centers and Communities worldwide, including in Los Angeles, Washington, New York City, London, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Moscow, Beijing, Hyderabad, Toronto, Dakar, Buenos Aires and Kathmandu. Following his resignation from the Center for Inquiry, Paul Kurtz launched the Institute for Science and Human Values as a separate entity.
Kurtz was Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, having previously also taught at Vassar, Trinity, and Union colleges, and the New School for Social Research
Kurtz was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Sara Lasser and Martin Kurtz. Kurtz received his bachelor's degree from New York University, and the Master's degree and Doctor of Philosophy degree from Columbia University. Kurtz was left-wing in his youth, but has said that serving in the United States Army in World War II taught him the dangers of ideology. He saw the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps after they were liberated, and became disillusioned with Communism when he encountered Russian slave laborers who had been taken to Nazi Germany by force but refused to return to the Soviet Union at the end of the war.
Sanal Edamaruku (President of Rationalist International and President of the Indian Rationalist Association) and Pekka Elo(President of the Finnish Humanist Union and Honorary Associate of Rationalist International) in a joint statement issued at Helsinki, Finland, have condoled the demise of Paul Kurtz.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Survey: One in five Americans has no religion

By Dan Merica, CNN 
Washington (CNN) – The fastest growing "religious" group in America is made up of people with no religion at all, according to a Pew survey showing that one in five Americans is not affiliated with any religion.
The number of these Americans has grown by 25% just in the past five years, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. 
The survey found that the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing even faster among younger Americans.
Thirty-three million Americans now have no religious affiliation, with 13 million in that group identifying as either atheist or agnostic, according to the new survey. 
Pew found that those who are religiously unaffiliated are strikingly less religious than the public at large. They attend church infrequently, if at all, are largely not seeking out religion and say that the lack of it in their lives is of little importance.
And yet Pew found that 68% of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God, while 37% describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” One in five said that they even pray every day.
John Green, a senior research adviser at Pew, breaks the religiously unaffiliated into three groups. First, he says, are those who were raised totally outside organized religion.
Second are groups of people who were unhappy with their religions and left.

The third group, Green says, comprises Americans who were never really engaged with religion in the first place, even though they were raised in religious households.
“In the past, we would describe those people as nominally affiliated. They might say, 'I am Catholic; I am a Baptist,' but they never went" to services, Green says of this last group. “Now, they feel a lot more comfortable just saying, ‘You know, I am really nothing.’ ”
According to the poll, 88% of religiously unaffiliated people are not looking for religion.
“There is much less of a stigma attached" to not being religious, Green said. “Part of what is fueling this growth is that a lot of people who were never very religious now feel comfortable saying that they don't have an affiliation.”
Demographically, the growth among the religiously unaffiliated has been most notable among people who are 18 to 29 years old.
According to the poll, 34% of “younger millennials” - those born between 1990 and 1994 - are religiously unaffiliated. Among “older millennials,” born between 1981 and 1989, 30% are religiously unaffiliated: 4 percentage points higher than in 2007.
Poll respondents 18-29 were also more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic. Nearly 42% religious unaffiliated people from that age group identified as atheist or agnostic, a number far greater than the number who identified as Christian (18%) of Catholic (18%).
Green says that these numbers are “part of a broader change in American society.”
“The unaffiliated have become a more distinct group,” he said.
Pew's numbers were met with elation among atheist and secular leaders. Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, said that the growth of the unaffiliated should translate into greater political representation for secular interests.
“We would love to see the political leaders lead on this issue, but we are perfectly content with them following these demographic trends, following the voters,” Galef said.
“As more of the voters are unaffiliated and identifying as atheist and agnostics, I think the politicians will follow that for votes.
“We won’t be dismissed or ignored anymore,” Galef said.
The Pew survey suggested that the Democratic Party would do well to recognize the growth of the unaffiliated, since 63% of them identify with or lean toward that political group. Only 26% of the unaffiliated do the same with the Republican Party.
"In the near future, if not this year, the unaffiliated voters will be as important as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party collation,” Green predicted.
Green points to the 2008 exit polls as evidence for that prediction. That year, Republican presidential nominee John McCain beat President Barack Obama by 47 points among white evangelical voters, while Obama had a 52-point margin of victory over McCain among the religiously unaffiliated. 
According to exit polls, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans who supported the Democratic presidential candidate grew 14 points from 2000 to 2008.
In announcing the survey’s findings at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Bethesda, Maryland, Green said the growing political power of the unaffiliated within the Democratic Party could become similar to the power the Religious Right acquired in the GOP in the 1980s.
“Given the growing numbers of the unaffiliated, there is the potential that that could be harnessed,” he said.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Einstein letter, set for auction, shows scientist challenging idea of God, being 'chosen'

Decades before atheist scientist and author Richard Dawkins called God a "delusion," one world-renowned physicist - Albert Einstein - was weighing in on faith matters with his own strong words.

“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends,” Einstein wrote in German in a 1954 letter that will be auctioned on eBay later this month. "No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”

Dubbed Einstein’s “God Letter” by the Los Angeles-based auction agency that's posting it online,  the original document will be up for grabs starting Monday. The opening bid: $3 million.
The letter provides a window into the famed genius's religious beliefs. Einstein wrote it to Jewish philosopher Eric Gutkind, one year before Einstein died, in reaction to Gutkind’s book, “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt.”
“I’ve been managing high profile auctions since 2005, and this is the most historically significant item to come up ... since I’ve been doing auctions,” said Eric Gazin, president of Auction Cause, the group that's organizing the eBay auction.
Einstein was “one of the most brilliant minds to ever live, but so much of what we know is scientific. … As related to God and Judaism, this is so significant. It really lends itself to further study,” Gazin told CNN. “No one even knew this letter existed till recently.”
But Diana Kormos Buchwald, a history professor at the California Institute of Technology and the director of the Einstein Papers Project, says that's not true.
She said copies of this letter, not to mention numerous additional writings reflecting similar sentiments, have been known to researchers and available for decades, both in the Pasadena-based Einstein Papers Project and The Albert Einstein Archives at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Einstein Papers Project recently published its 13th volume of Einstein’s collected papers.
Einstein, who was raised a secular Jew, was open about his religious views starting in the 1920s, when he became a public figure after winning the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, Buchwald said. And biographers, including Walter Isaacson, have documented Einstein’s faith journey.
“There are no revelations here,” Buchwald said of the so-called God letter. “But it is frank in the sense that there are other writings where he says he understands a need for religion and is not derogatory. … Here he makes his own position very clear.”
In the letter about to be offered on eBay, Einstein drove home his strong opposition to the idea that Jews, or any people, may be “chosen.”
Here’s part of what he wrote, according to the Auction Cause translation:
For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups … I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.
Buchwald, who has dedicated her life to making Einstein’s works available, believes any discussion of historic documents has value, but she is critical of how this letter is being presented.
There are word choices in the translation that she, as a German speaker, would tweak. She also doesn’t get why it’s said to be written on Princeton University letterhead, when a blown-up image shows it wasn't. Einstein wasn’t even employed there, she pointed out; he was with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, not at Princeton.
Though she views such incongruities as "a bit muddy," she said she wishes the auction agency and seller luck. "It's just hype. ... I don't have a horse in this race."
The letter first became fodder for public discussion and mass fascination when the original sold at a London auction in May 2008 and “poured gasoline on the culture wars between science and religion,” The New York Times reported. Back then, it fetched a mere $404,000. Among the bidders who reportedly lost out that time around: big-name atheist and author Richard Dawkins.
Gazin of Auction Cause, which pairs marketing with charities, said the 2008 anonymous buyer sought his group out for the Einstein letter's sale after noting the agency's other successes. Topping the list: the $2.1 million raked in for an October 2007 letter from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and signed by 41 other Democrat leaders, demanding an apology from Rush Limbaugh.
"More than a few” potential buyers have gotten prequalified to enter this upcoming Einstein letter bidding war, Gazin said. He described those expressing interest so far as people in the technology and atheist communities, as well as university and public museums.
At the current owner’s request, Gazin said, an unspecified portion of the letter's proceeds will go to cancer research.
For those not interested in such heady materials, Auction Cause is offering some less profound items on eBay this month: the dress Maria Menounos wore to the Emmys; shoes from Kourtney Kardashian's closet and time with Howard Stern in the shock-jock's studio.
By  - CNN Writer/Producer

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