Showing posts with label Paul Kurtz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Kurtz. Show all posts

Paul Kurtz On Why Eupraxsophy Matters

[In the wake of the death of Paul Kurtz I'm republishing this review I wrote of his last book].

Eupraxsophy (pronounced yoo-PRAX-so-fee) is a term Paul Kurtz introduced in 1988 to characterize a non-religious approach to life, which literally means "good practice and wisdom." In a newly released collection of Paul Kurtz's essays, Meaning and Value in a Secular Age: Why Eupraxsophy Matters,edited by Nathan Bupp, we read Kurtz at his best. To read up on Kurtz's many accomplishments see his Wikipedia page. Kurtz is presently the Chairman of The Institute for Science and Human Values. So you can imagine how I felt when my blurb for this book by a giant of a man was placed on the back cover, which reads:
With his pioneering spirit and relentless efforts Paul Kurtz has done more to advance a positive image for a secular society devoid of religion than any other person in our generation, and perhaps in history. In an era like ours of angry atheists he is a breath of fresh air. Eupraxsophy does matter if we want to change our world. This may be his most lasting contribution, so it's wonderful to have all of these essays spanning his career together in one volume.

Michael Shermer on Paul Kurtz's Role in the Modern Skeptical Movement

There has been some debate (and much quibbling) about who gets what amount of credit for the founding of the modern skeptical movement...Regardless of who might be considered the “father” of the modern skeptical movement, everyone I have spoken to (including the other founders) agrees that it was Paul Kurtz more than anyone else who actually made it happen. All successful social movements have someone who has the organizational skills and social intelligence to get things done. Paul Kurtz is that man....For 20 years now I have been at the head of the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, and as such as much as I admire Randi, Gardner, and the other public faces of skepticism, I have come to respect more than ever before what Paul Kurtz has done for our movement. He may not be as prolific and famous a writer as Martin Gardner, or as public and visible an activist as James Randi, but in terms of the day-to-day grind of keeping a movement afloat through the constant battering and assaults that come from variegated sources, there are few that can be compared with Paul Kurtz....R.I.P. Paul Kurtz. We all owe you a great debt of gratitude for making the world a better place. You will be missed. Link.

Paul Kurtz, a Great Man, a Visionary, a Pioneer, Has Died

Paul Kurtz, founder and longtime chair of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry, has died at the age of 86. He was one of the most influential figures in the humanist and skeptical movements from the late 1960s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. Among his best-known creations are the skeptics’ magazine Skeptical Inquirer, the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry, and the independent publisher Prometheus Books. Link.
I had a great deal of admiration for him. He will be missed.

In Admiration of Paul Kurtz

Paul Kurtz has resigned from CFI. His letter of resignation can be read here. His hand picked board of officers wanted to take the organization that he started in a different direction than he wanted it to go. Apparently the board wanted to go in the direction of the new atheists with a more forceful attack against religion, whereas Paul wanted to include all secular-humanists in a vision for the future, many of which are liberals. Apparently this was a deal breaker with no room for an agreeable compromise between them.

Richard Carrier Reports on the Amherst Conference Concerning The Jesus Project

You can read his detailed report right here. I want to highlight some of his statements, make some comments on what he wrote, issue a caution to him, and make a suggestion or two. Get ready. Here we go again.

About Paul Kurtz's speech, Carrier said that
" was so full of historically naive or inaccurate statements that it seems to have embarrassed some of the scholars.” “I know it's impolitic to speak ill of the Grand Lord of Humanism (legend has it his wrath is reminiscent of Ruper Murdoch on a bad day), but I'm a suicidally honest man, and I honestly have to say there was no reason for this speech other than to please the Kurtz fans in the audience. Since that's where the money comes from, I suppose this was a practical tactic, though that's generally not how scholarly conferences are oriented.
I have to respect someone like Carrier who is a true freethinker and willing to offend Paul Kurtz, whom I have nothing but respect for at 80 plus years old and going strong. I've heard Paul speak too, and he does ramble. He seems disorganized as well. But he's probably done more for skepticism than any other living person. As far as I know he committed the funds for the conference in the first place. The organizers merely honored him by asking him to speak. He deserves that honor. [Last I read from Paul Kurtz he thinks Jesus existed. See his 1991 book, The Transcendental Temptation. He wrote: “[I]t seems to me that some such man lived, most likely in Palestine in the first half of the first century, that he was crucified or hanged, and that a sect of Christians developed proclaiming his divinity. We know very few authentic facts, however, about Jesus beyond this bare outline.” (p. 114)]

About Robert Price, Carrier said:
“...though most of the scholars I found were unhappy with Price, finding him a bit of a kook, I found him funny and erudite and generally right.”
*Ahem* Richard, that means most of the scholars there would think you are a kook too. [I'm not saying you or Bob are kooks. I'm only commenting on what you yourself said]. As I have said before, do not become marginalized as a scholar. Your scholarship is too good for that to happen to you. Make sure that your book contains convincing arguments. I have no reason yet to suspect it doesn't do this. I wish you the best and I will read your book. What typically happens is that someone writes on a topic of interest and when scholars call the author a kook he will write a response in order to save face. And if this isn't convincing he will devote his whole life to defending himself. If this happens to you let it drop. Move on to other more important topics. You have so much to say about so many things. Say them. Make your statement and move on to these other topics if that happens.

About Ronald Lindsay, Carrier reported:
“He...used Plato's dialogues as an example of the rapid fabrication of sayings and conversations of a historical person (it is generally acknowledged that these are not a verbatim record, and often not even true at all, of what Socrates said), proving two points in one: that rapid fabrication of unchallenged legends is not improbable but in fact routine, and that such fabrication does not entail the non-historicity of the speaker.”
I believe this is the honestly respectable position, and I applaud Lindsay for this.

About Frank Zindler, Carrier noted that
"...he is somewhat infamous for excessive skepticism.”
Yes he is. Frank sent me a copy of his opening statement. As a scientist he's asking us to do history just like we do science. He wrote:
"The crucially important difference for us to note today is that for all claims of existence, science presumes the negative. It will ignore all affirmative arguments if they are not supported by evidence and facts." "[T]he problem is that we have not even been trying to use the scientific method in the field of religion studies." And later reiterates his point by saying: "For the last time I shall remind you that we must always remember that in science it is not necessary to prove a negative. Science assumes the negative. If no one can provide convincing positive evidence that Jesus of Nazareth once lived, we must then resort to the tried-and-tested, successful methodology of science to account for the origins of Christianity....Any hypotheses that survive rigorous tests can then be elevated to the rank of theory. In time, one of the rival theories will predominate and gain the scientific consensus." [Emphasis is his]
My claim is that if we treat the historical past according to these rigorous scientific standards then there will not be much for historians to write about. He's demanding that the paucity of evidence found in the historical past should shoulder the burden of proof when it comes to the existence of an end times apocalyptic prophet like Jesus is depicted to be. Prophets like these were Legion in those days. My claim is also that how someone views the past is guided by control beliefs which must additionally be defended. There are several different philosophies of history that must be defended as one looks at the evidence of the past. The historian looks at the past with his particular outlook on life and it's probably impossible to do otherwise.

If one reads Carrier carefully we see that Gerd L├╝demann, Robert Eisenman, Dennis MacDonald, and Bruce Chilton all think there was a man behind the mythic traditions. I think it's important to add that G.A. Wells used to argue Jesus didn't exist, but has since changed his mind. It should also be noted that Bart D. Ehrman, one of skeptics best scholarly friends, thinks Jesus was an apocalyptic end times prophet, as I do.

Having said this it's an interesting question to me, but the money could be spent on better things. It seems as though skeptics have long ago concluded that religion is "bullshit" (ala Penn and Teller) and have now moved beyond that question to investigate other topics of interest to them. Most of them come from a scientific background, too. Since these other topics are interesting questions to them they focus on them. Having already debunked religion, including Christianity, they are looking for other things to debunk (why beat a dead horse, right?). The problem I see with such worthy interests is that there are still a great number of Christian believers in the world who will not seriously consider the possibility that Jesus did not exist. I would like to know if any Christian has walked away from his faith because of these arguments. I dare say that no one ever has (although this might change, I cannot say). It might be the equivalent of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. No one has ever become a believer from that argument that we know of (Bertrand Russell flirted with belief because of it but eventually rejected it).

Given our recent poll on the question of who Jesus is/was, an overwhelming number of skeptics think Jesus was a mythical fictional character. Some of the skeptical voters have not been reading my arguments of late. They came here just to vote because of a request to chime in on our poll, which was posted on a very popular skeptical website. They came, they voted, and they left. Still it's good they did. It shows what most skeptics believe.

There are many topics that are of interest to me, while there are only a few that I'm concerned about. The question of The Jesus Project is of interest to me, but I'm not concerned about the results. I think Christianity fails whether Jesus existed or not. I base my arguments on Jesus's existence not unlike how St. Aquinas based his arguments for the existence of God on the eternality of the universe. He thought if he could show God existed based on the eternality of the universe, then how much more so can he show God exists if the universe did come into existence at some point in time. I can do that in reverse. Even if Jesus existed then Christianity still fails.

Where can the money be better spent? I need grant money to continue my work. There is a donate button in our sidebar that helps me stay alive in these hard economic times. I need your help. I need people who are willing to donate on a regular basis, a monthly commitment if you can. Unless more money comes in I’ll be forced to get a second job. Spinoza ground lenses during the day and researched at night. What if he had to have two jobs? I’m no Spinoza by a long shot, but what if Spinoza never had to grind lenses for a living and could research and write all day long? How much better would his arguments be?

Call me arrogant if you will, but I am one person who has the arguments that can be the undoing of Christianity. [BTW, Keith Parsons emailed me recently and said: "Humility is a Christian virtue. Be proud of your accomplishment!"] I’d like for CFI and Paul Kurtz to send me on a speaking tour, allow me to revise my book one more time (if I had time I could condense it and make it more accessible to the masses), fund me to debate some high profile Christians, make me a research scholar for the CFI institute. These requests have been made by me to them, with one important person who is advocating on my behalf, and maybe some or all of these requests will pan out in the near future. But my goal is not just to understand the world, as Marx said, but to change it.

Skeptics, yes, we need to move on to other issues and be on the cutting edge of them. Let's just never forget what our common goal is and how daunting the task is. We must major on the majors and minor on the minors and know the difference between which is which.

Why I Am a Skeptic About Religious Claims, by Paul Kurtz


Paul writes about this topic here: Why I Am a Skeptic about Religious Claims. Below is the text of what he wrote:

Unbelievers have debated the proper way to describe their position. Some scientists and philosophers-notably Richard Dawkins and Daniel C. Dennett-have recently been sympathetic to the use of the term bright. Proponents thought it a clever idea, hoping that bright would overcome the negative connotations that other terms such as atheist have aroused in the past. Many find this to be an attractive advantage. Critics of the use of bright have commented that it is presumptuous for us to suggest that we are "bright," i.e., intelligent, implying that those with whom we disagree are dull-witted or dumb. Clearly, many people have been turned off by the term atheism, which they perceive as too negative or dogmatic. Others may seek refuge in some form of popular "agnosticism," which suggests that they are simply uncertain about the god question-though this may simply enable them to resort to "faith" or "fideism" as an artful dodge.

I would like to introduce another term into the equation, a description of the religious "unbeliever" that is more appropriate. One may simply say, "I am a skeptic." This is a classical philosophical position, yet I submit that it is still relevant today, for many people are deeply skeptical about religious claims.

Skepticism is widely employed in the sciences. Skeptics doubt theories or hypotheses unless they are able to verify them on adequate evidential grounds. The same is true among skeptical inquirers into religion. The skeptic in religion is not dogmatic, nor does he or she reject religious claims a priori; here or she is simply unable to accept the case for God unless it is supported by adequate evidence.

The burden of proof lies upon theists to provide cogent reasons and evidence for their belief that God exists. Faith by itself is hardly sufficient, for faiths collide-in any case, the appeal to faith to support one's creed is irrational in its pretentious claim based on the "will to believe." If it were acceptable to argue in this way, then anyone would be entitled to believe whatever he or she fancied.

The skeptic thus requires evidence and reasons for a hypothesis or belief before it is accepted. Always open to inquiry, skeptical inquirers are prepared to change their beliefs in the light of new evidence or arguments. They will not accept appeals to authority or faith, custom or tradition, intuition or mysticism, reports of miracles or uncorroborated revelations. Skeptical inquirers are willing to suspend judgment about questions for which there is insufficient evidence. Skeptics are in that sense genuinely agnostic, in that they view the question as still open, though they remain unbelievers in proposals for which they think theists offer insufficient evidence and invalid arguments. Hence, they regard the existence of any god as highly improbable.

In this sense, a skeptic is a nontheist or an atheist. The better way to describe this stance, I submit, is to say that such a person is a skeptic about religious claims.

"Skepticism," as a coherent philosophical and scientific posture, has always dealt with religious questions, and it professed to find little scientific or philosophical justification for belief in God. Philosophers in the ancient world such as Pyrrho, Cratylus, Sextus Empiricus, and Carneades questioned metaphysical and theological claims. Modern philosophers, including Descartes, Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant, have drawn heavily on classical skepticism in developing their scientific outlook. Many found the "God question" unintelligible; modern science could proceed only by rejecting occult claims as vacuous, as was done by Galileo and other working scientists-and also by latter-day authors such as Freud and Marx, Russell and Dewey, Sartre and Heidegger, Popper and Hook, Crick and Watson, Bunge, and Wilson.

The expression "a skeptic about religious claims" is more appropriate in my opinion than the term atheist, for it emphasizes inquiry. The concept of inquiry contains an important constructive component, for inquiry leads to scientific wisdom-human understanding of our place in the cosmos and the ever-increasing fund of human knowledge.

In what follows, I will outline some of the evidence and reasons many scientists and philosophers are skeptical of theistic religious claims. I will focus primarily on supernatural theism and especially on monotheistic religions that emphasize command ethics, immortality of the soul, and an eschatology of heaven and hell. Given space limitations, what follows is only a thumbnail sketch of the case against God.

Succinctly, I maintain that the skeptical inquirer is dubious of the claims

1. that God exists;
2. that he is a person;
3. that our ultimate moral principles are derived from God;
4. that faith in God will provide eternal salvation; and
5. that one cannot be good without belief in God.

I reiterate that the burden of proof rests upon those who believe in God. If they are unable to make the case for belief in God, then I have every right to remain a skeptic.

Why do skeptics doubt the existence of God?

First, because the skeptical inquirer does not find the traditional concept of God as "transcendent," "omnipotent," "omnipresent," or "omnibeneficent" to be coherent, intelligible, or meaningful. To postulate a transcendent being who is incomprehensible to the human mind (as theologians maintain) does not explain the world that we encounter. How can we say that such an indefinable being exists, if we do not know in what sense that being is said to exist? How are we to understand a God that exists outside space and time and that transcends our capacity to comprehend his essence? Theists have postulated an unknowable "X." But if his content is unfathomable, then he is little more than an empty, speculative abstraction. Thus, the skeptic in religion presents semantic objections to God language, charging that it is unintelligible and lacks any clear referent.

A popular argument adduced for the existence of this unknowable entity is that he is the first cause, but we can ask of anyone who postulates this, "What is the cause of this first cause?" To say that he is uncaused only pushes our ignorance back one step. To step outside the physical universe is to assume an answer by a leap of faith.

Nor does the claim that the universe manifests Intelligent Design (ID) explain the facts of conflict, the struggle for survival, and the inescapable tragedy, evil, pain, and suffering that is encountered in the world of sentient beings. Regularities and chaos do not necessarily indicate design. The argument from design is reminiscent of Aristotle's teleological argument that there are purposes or ends in nature. But we can find no evidence for purpose in nature. Even if we were to find what appears to be design in the universe, this does not imply a designer for whose existence there is insufficient evidence.

The evolutionary hypothesis provides a more parsimonious explanation of the origins of species. The changes in species through time are better accounted for by chance mutations, differential reproduction, natural selection, and adaptation, rather than by design. Moreover, vestigial features such as the human appendix, tailbone, and male breasts and nipples hardly suggest adequate design; the same is true for vestigial organs in other species. Thus, the doctrine of creation is hardly supported in empirical terms.

Another version of the Intelligent Design argument is the so-called fine-tuning argument. Its proponents maintain that there is a unique combination of "physical constants" in the universe that possess the only values capable of sustaining life, especially sentient organic systems. This they attribute to a designer God. But this, too, is inadequate. First because millions of species are extinct; the alleged "fine-tuning" did nothing to ensure their survival. Second, great numbers of human beings have been extinguished by natural causes such as diseases and disasters. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 that suddenly killed over two hundred thousand innocent men, women, and children was due to a shift in tectonic plates. This hardly indicates fine tuning-after all, this tragedy could have been avoided had a supposed fine tuner troubled to correct defects in the surface strata of the planet. A close variant of the fine-tuning argument is the so-called anthropic principle, which is simply a form of anthropomorphism; that is, it reads into nature the fondest hopes and wishes of believers, which are then imposed upon the universe. But if we are to do this, should we not also attribute the errors and mistakes encountered in nature to the designer?

Related to this, of course, is the classical problem of evil. If an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibeneficent God is responsible for the world as we know it, then how to explain evil? Surely, humans cannot be held responsible for a massive flood or plague, for example; we can explain such calamities only by inferring that God is malevolent, because he knew of, yet permitted, terrible destructive events to occur-or by suggesting that God is impotent to prevent evil. This would also suggest an unintelligent, deficient, or faulty designer.

The historic religions maintain that God has revealed himself in history and that he has manifested his presence to selected humans. These revelations are not corroborated by independent, objective observers. They are disclosed, rather, to privileged prophets or mystics, whose claims have not been adequately verified: there is insufficient circumstantial evidence to confirm their authenticity.

To attribute inexplicable events to miracles performed by God, as declared in the so-called sacred literature, is often a substitute for finding their true causes scientifically. Scientific inquiry is generally able to explain alleged "miracles" by discovering natural causes.

The Bible, Qur'an, and other classical documents are full of contradictions and factual errors. They were written by human beings in ancient civilizations, expressing the scientific and moral speculations of their day. They do not convey the eternal word of God, but rather the yearnings of ancient tribes based on oral legends and received doctrines; as such, they are hardly relevant to all cultures and times. The Old and New Testaments are not accurate accounts of historical events. The reliability of the Old Testament is highly questionable in the events and personages it depicts; Moses, Abraham, Joseph, etc. are largely uncorroborated by historical evidence. As for the New Testament, scholarship has shown that none of its authors knew Jesus directly. The four Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses but are products of oral tradition and hearsay. There is but flimsy and contradictory evidence for the virgin birth, the healings of Jesus, and the Resurrection. Similarly, contrary to Muslim claims that that religion's scriptures passed virtually unmediated from Allah, there have in fact been several versions of the Qur'an; it is no less a product of oral traditions than the Bible. Likewise, the provenance of the Hadith, allegedly passed down by Muhammad's companions, has not been independently confirmed by reliable historical research.

Some claim to believe in God because they say that God has entered into their personal lives and has imbued them with new meaning. This is a psychological or phenomenological account of a person's inner experience. It is hardly adequate evidence for the existence of a divine being independent of human beings' internal soliloquies. Appeals to mystical experiences or private subjective states hardly suffice as evidential support that some external being or force caused such altered states of consciousness; skeptical inquirers have a legitimate basis for doubt, unless or until such claims of interior experience can somehow be independently corroborated. Experiences of God or gods, or angels or demons, talking to one may disturb or entrance those persons who undergo such experiences, but the question is whether these internal subjective states have external veracity. This especially applies to those individuals who claim some sort of special revelation from on high, such as the hearing of commandments.

Second, is God a person? Does he he take on human form? Has he communicated in discernible form, say, as the Holy Spirit, to Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammad, or other prophets?

These claims again are uncorroborated by objective eyewitnesses. They are rather promulgated by propagandists of the various faith traditions that have been inflicted on societies and enforced by entrenched ecclesiastical authorities and political powers. They are supported by customs and traditions buried for millennia by the sands of time and institutional inertia. They are simply assumed to be true without question.

The ancient documents alleging God's existence are preliterate, prephilosophical, and, in any case, unconfirmed by scientific inquiry. They are often eloquent literary expressions of existential moral poetry, but they are unverified by archeological evidence or careful historical investigation. Moreover, they contradict each other in their claims for authenticity and legitimacy.

The ancient faith that God is a person has not been corroborated by the historical record. Such conceptions of God are anthropomorphic and anthropocentric, reading into the universe human predilections and feelings. "If lions had gods they would be lionlike in character," said Xenophon. Thus, human Gods are an extrapolation of human hopes and aspirations, fanciful tales of imaginative fiction.

Third, the claim that our ultimate moral values are derived from God is likewise highly suspect. The so-called sacred moral codes reflect the socio-historical cultures out of which they emerged. For example, the Old Testament commands that adulterers, blasphemers, disobedient sons, bastards, witches, and homosexuals be stoned to death. It threatens collective guilt: punishment is inflicted by Jehovah on the children's children of unbelievers. It defends patriarchy and the dominion of men over women. It condones slavery and genocide in the name of God.

The New Testament consigns "unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's"; it demands that women be obedient to their husbands; it accepts faith healing, exorcisms, and miracles; it exalts obedience over independence, fear and trembling over courage, and piety over self-determination.

The Qur'an does not tolerate dissent, freedom of conscience, or the right to unbelief. It denies the rights of women. It exhorts jihad, holy war against infidels. It demands utter submission to the Word of God as revealed by Muhammad. It rejects the separation of mosque and state, thus installing the law of sharia and the theocracy of imams and mullahs.

From the fatherhood of God, contradictory moral commandments have been derived; theists have often lined up on opposite sides of moral issues. Believers have stood for and against war; for and against slavery; for and against capital punishment, some embracing retribution, others mercy and rehabilitation; for and against the divine right of kings, slavery, and patriarchy; for and against the emancipation of women; for and against the absolute prohibition of contraception, euthanasia, and abortion; for and against sexual and gender equality; for and against freedom of scientific research; for and against the libertarian ideals of a free society.

True believers have in the past often found little room for human autonomy, individual freedom, or self-reliance. They have emphasized submission to the word of God instead of self-determination, faith over reason, credulity over doubt. All too often they have had little confidence in the ability of humans to solve problems and create a better future by drawing on their own resources. In the face of tragedy, they supplicate to God through prayer instead of summoning the courage to overcome adversity and build a better future. The skeptic concludes, "No deity will save us; if we are to be saved it must be by our own efforts."

The traditional religions have too often waged wars of intolerance not only against other religions or ideologies that dispute the legitimacy of their divine revelations but even against sects that are mere variants of the same religion (e.g., Catholic versus Protestant, Shiite versus Sunni). Religions claim to speak in the name of God, yet bloodshed, tyranny, and untold horrors have often been justified on behalf of holy creeds. True believers have all too often opposed human progress: the abolition of slavery, the liberation of women, the extension of equal rights to transgendered people and gays, the expansion of democracy and human rights.

I realize that liberal religionists generally have rejected the absolutist creeds of fundamentalism. Fortunately, they have been influenced by modern democratic and humanistic values, which mitigate fundamentalism's inherent intolerance. Nevertheless, even many liberal believers embrace a key article of faith in the three major Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism: the promise of eternal salvation.

Fourth, we are driven to ask: will those who believe in God actually achieve immortality of the soul and eternal salvation as promised?

The first objection of the skeptic to this claim is that the forms of salvation being offered are highly sectarian. The Hebrew Bible promises salvation for the chosen people; the New Testament, the Rapture to those who have faith in Jesus Christ; the Qur'an, heaven to those who accept the will of Allah as transmitted by Muhammad.

In general, these promises are not universal but apply only to those who acquiesce to a specific creed, as interpreted by priests, ministers, rabbis, or mullahs. Bloody wars have been waged to establish the legitimacy of the papacy (between Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy), the priority of Muhammad and the Qur'an, or the authenticity of the Old Testament.

A second objection is that there is insufficient scientific evidence for the claim that the "soul" can exist separate from the body and that it can survive death as a "discarnate" being, and much less for the claim that it can persist throughout eternity. Science points to the fact that the "mind" or "consciousness" is a function of the brain and nervous system and that with the physical death of the body, the "self" or "person" disappears. Thus, the claim that a person's soul can endure forever is supported by no evidence whatever, only by pious hope.

Along the same line, believers have never succeeded in demonstrating the existence of the disembodied souls of any of the billions who went before us. All efforts to communicate with such discarnate entities have been fruitless. Sightings of alleged ghosts have not been corroborated by reliable eyewitness testimony.

The appeal to near-death experiences simply reports the phenomenological experiences of persons who undergo part of the dying process but ultimately do not die. Of course, we never hear from anyone who has truly died by any clinical standard, gone to "the other side" and returned. In any case, these subjective experiences can be explained in terms of natural, psychological, and physiological causes.

Fifth, theists maintain that one cannot be good unless one believes in God.

Skepticism about God's existence and divine plan does not imply pessimism, nihilism, the collapse of all values, or the implication that "anything goes." It has been demonstrated time and again, by countless human beings, that it is possible to be morally concerned with the needs of others, to be a good citizen, and to lead a life of nobility and excellence-all without religion. Thus, anyone can be righteous and altruistic, compassionate and benevolent, without belief in a deity. A person can develop the common moral virtues and express a goodwill toward others without devotion to God. It is possible to be empathetic toward others and at the same time be concerned with one's own well-being. Secular ethical principles and values thus can be supported by evidence and reason, the cultivation of moral growth and development, the finding of common ground that brings people together. Our principles and values can be vindicated as we examine the consequences of our choices and modify them in light of experience. Skeptics who are humanists focus on the good life here and now. They exhort us to live creatively, seeking a life full of happiness, even joyful exuberance. They urge us to face life's tragedies with equanimity, to marshal the courage and stoic forbearance to live meaningfully in spite of adversity, and to take satisfaction in our achievements. Life can be relished and is intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake, without any need for external support.

Though ethical values and principles are relative to human interests and needs, that does not suggest that they are necessarily subjective. Instead, they are amenable to objective, critical evaluation and modification in the light of reason. A new paradigm has emerged that integrates skepticism with secular humanism, a paradigm based on scientific wisdom, eupraxsophy, and a naturalistic conception of nature. Thus, the skeptic in religion, who is also a humanist in ethics, can be affirmative and positive about the potentialities for achieving the good life. Such a person can not only live fully but can also be morally concerned about the needs of others.

In summary, the skeptical inquirer finds inconclusive evidence-and thus, insufficient reason to believe-that God exists, that God is a person, that all ethical principles must be derived from God, that faith in divinity will enable the soul to achieve eternal salvation, and that ethical conduct is impossible without belief in God.

On the contrary, skepticism based on scientific inquiry leaves room for a naturalistic account of the universe. It can also recommend alternative secular and humanist forms of moral conduct. Accordingly, one can simply affirm, when asked if he or she believes in God, "No, I do not; I am a skeptic," and one may add, "I believe in doing good!"

Paul Kurtz on "What is Secular Humanism."

In this 56-minute-long video, Paul Kurtz, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism answers the question "What is Secular Humanism?" Explaining this robust system of ethics for those who are seeking alternatives to religion, Paul Kurtz shows how many people in the world agree with Secular Humanist values and ethics, but do not realize it. This is very good!