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Author Topic: Talking to skeptics about God  (Read 1866 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: September 13, 2010, 10:06:22 AM »

The biggest problem I have with talking to Western skeptics is that they are so focused on evidence, evidence, evidence in the scientific sense. Many times they will argue that even if God exists he has no perceivable affect on the world.

How does Orthodoxy respond to this?
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« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2010, 11:49:32 AM »

The biggest problem I have with talking to Western skeptics is that they are so focused on evidence, evidence, evidence in the scientific sense. Many times they will argue that even if God exists he has no perceivable affect on the world.

How does Orthodoxy respond to this?

I have not come across Orthodox theologians who try to prove the existence of God. However, C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity does contain arguments that may be useful in discussions with skeptics. You also have the hoary philosophical arguments but nothing specifically Orthodox in my limited readings. Finally, to counter their argument about God's effect on the world, I would recommend Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1985.  Yale U. Press) where he argues convincingly that Christianity has change the lots of women, children and slaves for the better.
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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2010, 02:16:55 PM »

I find it sadly humorous that they are always searching for evidence (science has been rewritten sooooo many times through the stuff they've proven and disproven and proven again and then found out that the data doesn't mean that at all and never has!)  The most convincing 'scientific' argument from and to this mindset was written by Einstein.  I don't know how you would search it, but his argument made a lot of sense on a lot of levels.  Since he is so respected they are much more willing to listen to another scientist . . .or scientifically minded person than anyone else.  

My husband is very empirical - but his arguments against are very weak - often it comes down to arrogance and fear of the 'what if I find myself falling on the 'crutch' of Christ? - How WEAK will everyone THINK I am??!."  The thought of social respect is so key for him and so many like him.  But how can I expect him to understand the willingness of those that have DIED for The Lord, Jesus Christ if His Spirit doesn't dwell within them?  That's an abstract they just cannot reach or get.  They have to hit their own bottom first.  

My husband and most others see the fear involved in their arguments.  The loss of 'control' is a very frightening thing for him. . .as well a many others I've talked to.

As for me. . .speaking for myself. . .we don't argue. . .I live as I am in Him, and let Him do all the talking for me. He's a lot better at it than I am.  
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« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2010, 02:26:05 PM »

The biggest problem I have with talking to Western skeptics is that they are so focused on evidence, evidence, evidence in the scientific sense. Many times they will argue that even if God exists he has no perceivable affect on the world.

How does Orthodoxy respond to this?

I have not come across Orthodox theologians who try to prove the existence of God.

There's at least Richard Swinburne.
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« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2010, 08:07:22 AM »

My husband is very empirical - but his arguments against are very weak
When there is no proof of existence, arguments against seem... unnecessary.  Wink
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« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2010, 08:30:35 AM »

My husband is very empirical - but his arguments against are very weak
When there is no proof of existence, arguments against seem... unnecessary.  Wink

When certain studies are presented to him - he completely dismisses them before even looking at the data, or even how the experiment was run.  The problem isn't whether there is proof or not. . .because proof can stare him in the face all day long - and yet it's ignorable. . .which is the same issue that's been plaguing man kind for centuries.  Before you get to the proof, you have to get to the hypothesis. . .but even that is negligible - so many are afraid or unwilling to seek it out - and those who are willing become quickly discredited.  That seems more political/cultural to me -  than scientific.

The (American) Christian Culture (Bible Belt, specifically) seems to have the same issue . . .on many fronts - not allowing science to bring a benefit of what is found verses the history of what was written, again, putting Him in a box.  So, for me, this isn't just a culturally scientific issue, but a human condition that branches over - atheistic or not.  It just presents itself in a different way.  It's still the same issue of not being able to see the possibilities and letting those possibilities face true trial.

Ok, I'm done being an egomaniac for the moment.  Pft.  **laughing**
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« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2010, 05:47:10 PM »

I remember a quote from Lee Iacocca about how good managers needed to look beyond what was in front of them and to be able to see where it lead. If you waited until all of the information was at hand, he said, then the decision would now be a foregone conclusion and you'd be left following the rest of the herd.

When people demand "evidence", what they are saying is that they want enough information that belief in God would be a foregone conclusion.

And the necessity of faith, so often mentioned in Scripture, would be meaningless. Wholly and utterly meaningless.

Perhaps their demand for "evidence" is simply their way of saying that they have no faith within them.
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« Reply #7 on: September 14, 2010, 07:15:56 PM »

When people demand "evidence", what they are saying is that they want enough information that belief in God would be a foregone conclusion.

And the necessity of faith, so often mentioned in Scripture, would be meaningless. Wholly and utterly meaningless.
But wasn't Thomas shown proof? Didn't Abraham hear God's voice? Didn't Moses encounter Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh? Those were real experiences, life-changing experiences, in other words, "evidence". I think skeptics are simply saying "Show me what you showed them, if you exist."
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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2010, 08:07:21 AM »

When people demand "evidence", what they are saying is that they want enough information that belief in God would be a foregone conclusion.

And the necessity of faith, so often mentioned in Scripture, would be meaningless. Wholly and utterly meaningless.
But wasn't Thomas shown proof? Didn't Abraham hear God's voice? Didn't Moses encounter Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh? Those were real experiences, life-changing experiences, in other words, "evidence". I think skeptics are simply saying "Show me what you showed them, if you exist."

I agree - when I talk to my husband, he always says that he's never 'experienced' anything that suggests that there's a God.  When I tell him of the things I've experienced. . . he shrugs and says, "You may have, but I certainly never have."  So sometimes I wonder if there isn't an underlying anger that other people 'experience' but he doesn't. 

I think of the statement Christ Jesus made when he said 'blessed are they that believe and have not seen."  A much harder thing to do.  I have friends that have never experienced Him, but still walk and believe - those people awe me. 
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« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2010, 11:55:40 AM »

But wasn't Thomas shown proof? Didn't Abraham hear God's voice? Didn't Moses encounter Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh? Those were real experiences, life-changing experiences, in other words, "evidence". I think skeptics are simply saying "Show me what you showed them, if you exist."
No, Thomas wasn't shown proof.

He asked to see proof, but when Christ asks Thomas to "look here", he immediately confesses Christ to be "my Lord and my God."

Ok, with that detail noted, let's move on to the point you actually raised. I believe these came to people who already had faith to some degree or another.

And I do not believe skeptics would accept these experiences as "evidence" since it cannot be examined and verified by a third-party after the fact.

But I believe the focus of what you've asked lies in the statement "Show me what you showed them, if you exist."

Bertram Russell once said something very much to the effect that he could not believe in God because God does not respond to such appeals.

I believe that asking the question reveals such a lack of humility as to prevent the person from ever having one of these life-changing experiences that you reference. Invariably, I believe they would declare the event as being insufficient to rise to the required level of "evidence" and that they would then continue on, even more resolute in their lack of faith.

Hmmmm, is it possible that I have grown cynical from my dealings with this sort of people?
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« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2010, 12:29:29 PM »

But wasn't Thomas shown proof? Didn't Abraham hear God's voice? Didn't Moses encounter Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh? Those were real experiences, life-changing experiences, in other words, "evidence". I think skeptics are simply saying "Show me what you showed them, if you exist."
No, Thomas wasn't shown proof.

He asked to see proof, but when Christ asks Thomas to "look here", he immediately confesses Christ to be "my Lord and my God."

Ok, with that detail noted, let's move on to the point you actually raised. I believe these came to people who already had faith to some degree or another.

And I do not believe skeptics would accept these experiences as "evidence" since it cannot be examined and verified by a third-party after the fact.

But I believe the focus of what you've asked lies in the statement "Show me what you showed them, if you exist."

Bertram Russell once said something very much to the effect that he could not believe in God because God does not respond to such appeals.

I believe that asking the question reveals such a lack of humility as to prevent the person from ever having one of these life-changing experiences that you reference. Invariably, I believe they would declare the event as being insufficient to rise to the required level of "evidence" and that they would then continue on, even more resolute in their lack of faith.

Hmmmm, is it possible that I have grown cynical from my dealings with this sort of people?
Perhaps you deal mostly with fanatical skeptics, whereas the "quiet" skeptics go un-noticed. Cool
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« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2010, 01:52:07 PM »

The biggest problem I have with talking to Western skeptics is that they are so focused on evidence, evidence, evidence in the scientific sense. Many times they will argue that even if God exists he has no perceivable affect on the world.

How does Orthodoxy respond to this?

I have not come across Orthodox theologians who try to prove the existence of God. However, C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity does contain arguments that may be useful in discussions with skeptics. You also have the hoary philosophical arguments but nothing specifically Orthodox in my limited readings. Finally, to counter their argument about God's effect on the world, I would recommend Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1985.  Yale U. Press) where he argues convincingly that Christianity has change the lots of women, children and slaves for the better.

C.S. Lewis's arguments are hardly convincing and will not be to anyone who is truly skeptical with a degree of critical thinking beyond the capacity of your typical 15 year old. They do have a sense of charm for those already sympathetic to the Christian faith.

Fr. Thomas Hopko argues that he simply won't discuss or try to prove the Christian faith to anyone until they begin to *do* certain things. His argument is that faith is fundamentally lived out and not thought. To put the latter before the former is folly.

Here is a blog post covering what Fr. Hopko suggests those interested in Christianity do:

http://everydayliturgy.com/how-to-know-god-a-talk-delivered-by-protopresbyter-thomas-hopko/

Here are is a series of podcast that are excellent in content if not sound fidelity. He argues passionately in them for the action before explanation route of sharing the faith with others:

http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/teaching_doctrine_in_the_world_we_live_in_today_part_1
http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/teaching_doctrine_in_the_world_we_live_in_today_part_two
http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/teaching_doctrine_in_the_world_we_live_in_today_part_three

The three podcasts together are about an hour. The points summarized in the blog post are covered primarily in parts one and two.

FWIW.

EDIT: Please let me add, that imperfectly following Fr. Hopko's advice has been something of a revelation. All the books, lectures, classes, and whatnot I've taken in over the years, nothing has been more provocative than following his simple if not easy suggestions.




Fr. Hopko's title prepended to his name to enforce forum policy that our clergy receive the respect due their priestly office  -PtA
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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2010, 03:03:43 PM »

Thanks orthonorm, I'll be certain to look into those.
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2010, 04:09:05 PM »


Here is a blog post covering what Hopko suggests those interested in Christianity do....
These are pretty good ideas people who are already Christians might find useful, too. Smiley
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« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2010, 04:10:48 PM »


Here is a blog post covering what Hopko suggests those interested in Christianity do....
These are pretty good ideas people who are already Christians might find useful, too. Smiley

Fr. Hopko makes this point and says some rather radical things about seminarians in particular. The podcasts are excellent. These I listen to weekly.




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« Reply #15 on: September 15, 2010, 06:36:46 PM »

Speaking of evidence, come and join our new discussion about the value of the Resurrection testimonies:

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,29895.new.html#new
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« Reply #16 on: September 16, 2010, 04:21:11 PM »

The biggest problem I have with talking to Western skeptics is that they are so focused on evidence, evidence, evidence in the scientific sense. Many times they will argue that even if God exists he has no perceivable affect on the world.

How does Orthodoxy respond to this?

I have not come across Orthodox theologians who try to prove the existence of God. However, C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity does contain arguments that may be useful in discussions with skeptics. You also have the hoary philosophical arguments but nothing specifically Orthodox in my limited readings. Finally, to counter their argument about God's effect on the world, I would recommend Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1985.  Yale U. Press) where he argues convincingly that Christianity has change the lots of women, children and slaves for the better.

C.S. Lewis's arguments are hardly convincing and will not be to anyone who is truly skeptical with a degree of critical thinking beyond the capacity of your typical 15 year old. They do have a sense of charm for those already sympathetic to the Christian faith.

Fr. Thomas Hopko argues that he simply won't discuss or try to prove the Christian faith to anyone until they begin to *do* certain things. His argument is that faith is fundamentally lived out and not thought. To put the latter before the former is folly.

Here is a blog post covering what Fr. Hopko suggests those interested in Christianity do:

http://everydayliturgy.com/how-to-know-god-a-talk-delivered-by-protopresbyter-thomas-hopko/

Here are is a series of podcast that are excellent in content if not sound fidelity. He argues passionately in them for the action before explanation route of sharing the faith with others:

http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/teaching_doctrine_in_the_world_we_live_in_today_part_1
http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/teaching_doctrine_in_the_world_we_live_in_today_part_two
http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/teaching_doctrine_in_the_world_we_live_in_today_part_three

The three podcasts together are about an hour. The points summarized in the blog post are covered primarily in parts one and two.

FWIW.

EDIT: Please let me add, that imperfectly following Fr. Hopko's advice has been something of a revelation. All the books, lectures, classes, and whatnot I've taken in over the years, nothing has been more provocative than following his simple if not easy suggestions.




Thank you for your post. Very helpful.
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« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2011, 12:21:41 AM »

The latest dialogue with one of our resident atheists has been moved to Religious Topics.

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,32493.msg518455.html#msg518455
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« Reply #18 on: October 21, 2012, 02:40:46 PM »

Skeptics from around the country will be in Nashville, TN, next week: "That’s right. It’s time to get empirical."

If they had said, "It's time to get physical," they could have had a double or even triple entendre.
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« Reply #19 on: October 21, 2012, 03:19:44 PM »

The biggest problem I have with talking to Western skeptics is that they are so focused on evidence, evidence, evidence in the scientific sense. Many times they will argue that even if God exists he has no perceivable affect on the world.

How does Orthodoxy respond to this?

Foremost, by talking to God about sceptics.

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain was a man of great prayer and love. He also received thousands of people--believers, atheists, anarchists, New Agers, etc. His heart genuinely ached for these people. He prayed for them all the time and God enlightened him on how to help them.

One day, three young men who were atheists came to visit the elder. They told him, "We want you to perform a miracle, Father. Then we'll believe in God."

"Hand me that axe over there," the elder told them.

"What are you going to do with that, Father?" they asked.

"I'm going to chop off each of your heads and miraculously put them back on. But please don't move around; I don't want to get you mixed up."

"We don't want you to do that miracle, Father."

The elder said, "God doesn't want us to believe in Him because of miracles or because He's all-powerful. He wants us to believe in Him because He is so kind."

There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God, but you can't see this evidence without faith. Even if one was presented with incontrovertible proof, one could still disbelieve because faith, though a gift from God, requires man's effort. If people were forced into belief because of evidence (not sure that that's ever happened to anyone with science even--it's still a choice), then what woud be the point of living that belief, of living as Christians? Christianity is not just assent to belief, but a way of life, a way of salvation. Faith, it is genuine, has an impact on one's life. We may not notice it, but it's still there.
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« Reply #20 on: October 21, 2012, 03:22:47 PM »

[If people were forced into belief because of evidence (not sure that that's ever happened to anyone with science even--it's still a choice)....
What about Thomas?
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« Reply #21 on: October 21, 2012, 04:59:22 PM »

Let's be honest, there is not a single piece of evidence at all in the world for the existence of the Christian God. At the very most, all we could find evidence for is a deistic God who created the world and perhaps set things in motion, but anything more than that is impossible. This is usually how I start with them. Moving on from this, I then go on to tell them how this is why scientific inquiry is insufficient when it comes to understanding God. If you really want to know who He is, then you have to participate in the Sacramental life of the Church.
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« Reply #22 on: October 21, 2012, 05:18:36 PM »

[If people were forced into belief because of evidence (not sure that that's ever happened to anyone with science even--it's still a choice)....
What about Thomas?

People often read St. Thomas at face-value, but if you look at the liturgics for Thomas Sunday, you'll get a deeper picture. It's not just that he wanted to see so that he would believe. What did he want to see? The marks of the Savior's suffering. Some of the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost. St. Thomas affirmed the indissoluble hypostatic union and the truth of the resurrection, even in his doubt. It's very deep.
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« Reply #23 on: October 21, 2012, 05:54:25 PM »

[If people were forced into belief because of evidence (not sure that that's ever happened to anyone with science even--it's still a choice)....
What about Thomas?

People often read St. Thomas at face-value, but if you look at the liturgics for Thomas Sunday, you'll get a deeper picture. It's not just that he wanted to see so that he would believe. What did he want to see? The marks of the Savior's suffering. Some of the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost. St. Thomas affirmed the indissoluble hypostatic union and the truth of the resurrection, even in his doubt. It's very deep.

You beat me to it.  Smiley
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« Reply #24 on: October 22, 2012, 05:07:49 AM »

Nobody can prove the existence of God because God is immaterial spirit and it is His choice to reveal Himself or not. Not even an Orthodox Christian can prove His existence. All an Orthodox can do is be light for the world, to be so loving and virtuous that those around him will have no choice than believe in God. This is why people believed in Christ also during His time on earth. They were not so moved by the fact that He was indeed visible and among them, as much as by His loving presence and virtue. So, indeed, it was their hearts that were so moved by Jesus, and not their intellects (or that they could prove He was there).

Which brings me to why God requires Faith, not proof. It is because He doesn't want so much that you believe He exists and that you worship Him, as much as He wants that you yourself become like Him, that you change (repentance), that you become loving and virtuous. So, He is after your own benefit, not His own. Otherwise, indeed, He would just "drop from the sky" and say, worship Me, give Me things.

It is a very low thing to ask for evidence. You only want to be satisfied right away, but you don't want to offer and work towards being worthy of God's revelation to you. You feel you are owed everything, but you don't owe anything in return. Worst of all, the fact that you could be loving, virtuous, patient, understanding, etc., without evidence does not really move you; all you want is things (proof). So, make no mistake, it is better to say that you don't know if God exists, but to love a God and to prepare yourself according to the absolute standards of such a God, than to say that there is no proof of God, therefore I will just do whatever. Or, another example: you can say you are not sure about Christ's Divinity, but believe that He really stood for and lived according to the highest level of virtue possible; therefore, you want to be virtuous yourself. Or, instead you say that I don't believe in Christ's Divinity, therefore I think His virtues were garbage? So, it's all about what you want for yourself, what you want to be yourself, not about what you give to God. Do you even believe that God is owed praise and gratitude? Or you really just want things from Him? Do you really love your neighbor, or it really doesn't matter to you since you can't prove God exists? See, God does not force you to do these things, they have to come from you.

Needless to say, proof of Him would ruin our own journey towards freely choosing to be virtuous. How great it is in the eyes of God the virtue of people who did not know He existed, but gave their lives away for their brothers, who raised children, who worked for their country, who did not blaspheme or unnecessarily questioned God's existence! You say there is no proof of God, but it's really how you want to see things. How much better it would be if people admitted the truth -- that they don't know if God exists. How much better it would be if they felt that regardless if they couldn't prove God's existence, they would so love it if He existed, that they could not picture a universe without Him.




« Last Edit: October 22, 2012, 05:32:55 AM by IoanC » Logged

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« Reply #25 on: October 22, 2012, 02:05:52 PM »

Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

The biggest problem I have with talking to Western skeptics is that they are so focused on evidence, evidence, evidence in the scientific sense. Many times they will argue that even if God exists he has no perceivable affect on the world.

How does Orthodoxy respond to this?

I was just enjoying some drinks at a family function yesterday and having a crazy discussion about why aliens couldn't have invented religion.  As absurd as it sounds, the cat was speaking rather intelligent stuff.  So really, he wasn't speaking that seriously about alien origins so much as pointing out intelligent criticisms of religion and theology.  The way I countered it and kept the conversation going positive and friendly and we all got involved is to be optimistic.  To address the skeptical questions head on by accepting those arguments, by pointing out the inherent limitations of religion and theology to scientifically prove anything, but then I take it step further.  You can never convince a skeptic let alone a cynic about Faith. They aren't thinking on the right wavelength to even remotely discern what you are even talking about! So you have to guide them into that direction, however you must do this subtly or they will back out.  So what I do is concede many of their points, even support a bit of what their saying with factual evidence and encourage them in that regard.  However, when they are smiling and feeling smug I take the conversation down a complete reversal.  I turn the skepticism in on itself, towards science.

 After conceding the inherent weaknesses of theology and religion, I then use the same positive tone and vibe which I supported their criticisms of religion to then criticize science.  Science is poetry, science is art, but being a human creation science is hardly the facts we think it.  In most situations, scientific criticisms of anything are as much speculation as any amount of faith.  So even yesterday, after agreeing about many limitations to religion, I got my friend there to being to understand that science and history and archaeology and all these studies are as filled with gaps, with assertions, with assumptions, with beliefs as any religion. So when we get to a mutual conclusion, it is to be skeptical about everything! Of course, what he didn't realize is by keeping it positive rather than argumentative, we left mutually curious like children ready to learn something new through a new experience. Previously, he was not willing to learn anything about faith, or even remotely think about such matters. Now..  the door is open.

stay blessed,
habte selassie
« Last Edit: October 22, 2012, 02:08:34 PM by HabteSelassie » Logged

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« Reply #26 on: October 22, 2012, 04:28:01 PM »

"The Center for Inquiry marks with great sadness the passing of Paul Kurtz, founder and longtime chair of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry, who died at the age of 86. A philosopher, activist, and author, Kurtz was for a half-century among the most significant and impactful figures in the humanist and skeptic movements.

Kurtz’s legacy includes the above organizations, the creation of the skeptics’ magazine Skeptical Inquirer, the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry, independent publisher Prometheus Books, and a library of books and scholarly articles that will continue to inform discussions of morality, ethics, reason, and religion for generations to come."
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