Paul Kurtz, a leading American philosopher who devoted his life to fighting prejudice against people who reject belief in a god and and promoting a non-religious stance in life, has died at the age of 86, websites reported on Monday.
The secular humanist Center for Inquiry (CFI), which he founded in 1991, said the one-time Buffalo university professor - who as a young soldier helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in 1945 - died in Amherst, New York, at the weekend.
“He was one of the most influential figures in the humanist and sceptical movements from the late 1960s through the first decade of the 21st century,” said an obituary issued by CFI -which he had left over a succession dispute in 2010.
In Geneva, he was hailed by Roy Brown, chief representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) which Kurtz co-chaired from 1986-1994, as “a giant of our movement”.
Brown, a former IHEU president, said Kurtz was especially important for founding in 1969 the not-for-profit publishing house Prometheus Books that issues works critical of religion that many other publishers are reluctant to handle.
In recent years, the U.S.-based Prometheus has brushed aside threats to publish studies on the origins of Islam that question the traditional history of the faith, and on the situation of atheists and agnostics in Muslim countries.
Kurtz, born into a New York Jewish family in 1925, wrote or edited more than 50 books on ethics without religion, critiques of religion and the paranormal, and on skepticism, or the challenging of received wisdom.
When receiving a lifetime award for his work in 2007, he declared: “I am a secular humanist because I am not religious. I draw my inspiration not from religion or spirituality but from science, ethics, philosophy and the arts.”
His last book, “What is Secular Humanism?”, appeared in 2006. 30 years earlier he founded the journal “Free Inquiry” which circulates widely in U.S. universities and is credited with driving a shift from religion among younger Americans.
Kurtz is widely seen as the forerunner of what is sometimes dubbed the “New Atheist” movement - represented by figures like British biologist Richard Dawkins, French philosopher Michel Onfray and U.S. professor Daniel Dennett.
He is also known for inventing the term “eupraxsophy” to describe philosophies of life like secular humanism that reject supernatural belief and emphasise the importance of living an ethical life based on reason, logic and science.
His “Center for Inquiry” - aimed at fostering a secular society based on those principles - spawned a movement that spread from the United States across the world from the 1990s, and today has offshoots in Asia, Africa and Latin America.