Paul Kurtz on the "Strategic Blunder" of the New Atheists

In 2007, I called attention to a Point of Inquiry interview with philosopher Paul Kurtz in which he expressed concern over the direction of the New Atheist movement while asserting the commonly shared values between secular humanists and many world religions. Kurtz at the time was not the only prominent humanist to voice such concern, as Philip Kitcher in a POI interview expressed dismay over the "unremittingly negative" rhetoric of New Atheist authors.The interview was one of the first volleys in an ever louder critique by Kurtz of the New Atheist movement, affirmed earlier this month in his release of a new statement on secular humanist principles and values. Yesterday, the Buffalo News ran a feature offering more insight on Kurtz's criticism of the New Atheist movement. The full article should be read, but below I have pasted a few key excerpts. This summer, I am hoping to return to this subject, elaborating on a blueprint for how secular humanists and the non-religious can engage with their local communities on commonly shared values and goals, promoting mutual learning and dialogue while improving the image of non-believers. From the Buffalo News:


Kurtz worries that, even worse, the momentum he helped build toward a less faith-bound world is now overly focused on attacking religion, at the expense of other goals."It's become fixated in recent years on atheism, the criticism of religion," he said. "And I think that's a strategic blunder. Not just a strategic blunder, but a philosophical and ethical one, as well."Don't misunderstand Kurtz, who hasn't had a change of heart in his advanced years. He has always viewed religions skeptically. "They were spawned during an agricultural, rural time," he said. "They don't apply to the modern world."He still doesn't believe in a god or an afterlife, because "there's no evidence for that."At the same time, he sees a place for believers in the broad spectrum of secular humanism -- in large part because, without them, any movement toward societies based on principles of humanism, rather than faith, will go nowhere."Let's say the atheists are successful, and religion continues to decline, so what do you have, a vacuum?" he said. "That's really the burning issue in America today: How shall I live? What should I strive for?"

[Note: A native of Buffalo, I worked at the Center for Inquiry between 1997-1999 before heading to graduate school. Lee Nisbet, quoted in the Buffalo News article, is my uncle.]

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less