Framing Science

In a report on the 2007 activities of the Center for Inquiry, chair Paul Kurtz adds further to how he differentiates a positive and life affirming secular view of the world from the arguments of the so-called New Atheists. Here’s what Kurtz writes:

The new atheism, so-called, provoked widespread discussion because of the publication of several new books denying the existence of God–by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Victor Stenger–all contributors to Free Inquiry. Their views were not new to readers of Center for Inquiry or Prometheus Books publications; but for the first time they were presented to a broader public. They were praised by supporters and were criticized by conservative commentators who believe that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, blaming secular liberals, notwithstanding the fact that the number of pro-God books published far exceeds those by unbelievers.

The new secularism, launched by Free Inquiry, is likewise skeptical of the claims of theistic religion, though it has a more comprehensive agenda for people who do not practice religion. It focuses primarily on: (1) the separation of church and state; (2) the secularization of ethical values; and (3) inspiration drawn from science, reason, philosophy, literature, and the arts–rather than from the books of Abrahamic religion. It appeals to large numbers of the unchurched worldwide who prefer secular, rather than otherworldly, values and who are indifferent to religion.

Although the new secularism emphasizes the methods of science, including skepticism, it offers affirmative humanist ethical values as an alternative to ancient creeds.


  1. #1 El Christador
    January 16, 2008

    Seems a little vague on what the difference actually is. Sounds like the New Secularists don’t differ in any concrete way from the New Atheists other than having less of a chip on their shoulders and having vague warm fuzzy feelings towards people in general.

  2. #2 decrepitoldfool
    January 16, 2008

    Don’t underestimate the value of vague warm fuzzy feelings – Americans spend $41bn a year on their companion animals. My understanding of human psychology is that most people are less apt to listen to you if they sense you scorn them as idiots.

    As atheists it wouldn’t hurt us to try to put ourselves in the religious person’s shoes for a moment before we open our mouths. Unless we just like hearing ourselves talk, that is. And it’s just beside the point if they think WE are idiots, or sinners, or whatever. A little self-control goes a long way.

    That said, Dawkins, et al, DO affirm humanist ethical values in preference to ancient creeds. You just have to read their books before criticizing, something their critics seem not inclined to do.

  3. #3 Samuel Skinner
    January 16, 2008

    Telling people there beliefs are insane doesn’t endear you to them. Unfortunately religious beliefs actually are insane. I don’t know how to break it gently and neither do the New Atheists. Trying to be nice when your opponents are nuts make you look like the Democrats-wimpy.

  4. #4 Dunc
    January 17, 2008

    There is no “New Atheism”, nor is this “the first time [these ideas] were presented to a broader public”. It’s just a media storm.

  5. #5 decrepitoldfool
    January 17, 2008

    I don’t think it’s a matter of ‘breaking it gently’ or even being nice. If we could stick to addressing their beliefs without casting personal insults it would help a lot.

    Leaving the other person no room to save face guarantees intractability.

  6. #6 Molkien
    January 17, 2008

    Addressing their beliefs is exactly like a personal insult, the two are one in the same to many Christians, Evangelicals and “Moderates” alike.

  7. #7 decrepitoldfool
    January 17, 2008

    Sure, and that’s been discussed ad nauseum. Some are just going to be unreachable no matter what we do. But only some.

  8. #8 Dave Briggs
    January 18, 2008

    Don’t underestimate the value of vague warm fuzzy feelings – Americans spend $41bn a year on their companion animals. My understanding of human psychology is that most people are less apt to listen to you if they sense you scorn them as idiots.

    LOL! Well, put! As I just pointed out on another post, Christians are supposed to love everybody. As a Christian I have been hearing for decades the way it is supposed to work is hate the sin but love the sinner. We are all supposed to agree with the fact that we are, the Christians, are nothing but people saved by grace, which is unmerited favor. We didn’t earn or deserve it cuz we are so great.
    When I ask people at church about this kind of stuff they are sincerely agree. I tell people at church that I deal with scientists all the time and they need to stop throwing stones. So, hopefully there will be a few less coming over the fence! LOL!
    People staying calm and cool enough to work on problems and have love and compassion towards all fellow human beings is a big key. I think the warm fuzzy factor and respect for your fellow people can go a long way in helping us straddle the fences, to everyone’s benefit.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  9. #9 anna smith
    January 23, 2008

    Secular humanism
    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 pseudoreligion) 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.

    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.

    In 1999 Kurtz was given the International Humanist Award by the IHEU.

    Kurtz is the publisher of over 650 articles or reviews and has authored and edited over 40 books.

    Kurtz believes that the nonreligious members of the community should take a positive view on life. Religious skepticism, according to Paul Kurtz, is only one aspect of the secular humanistic outlook. Kurtz coined the term eupraxsophy (originally eupraxophy) to refer to philosophies or lifestances such as secular humanism and Confucianism that do not rely on belief in the transcendent or supernatural. A eupraxsophy is a nonreligious lifestance or worldview emphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logic, observation and science (rather than faith, mysticism or revelation) toward that end. The word is based on the Greek words for “good practice and wisdom.” Eupraxsophies, like religions, are cosmic in their outlook, but eschew the supernatural component of religion, avoiding the “transcendental temptation,” as Kurtz puts it.

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