You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Paul Kurtz, 86, philosopher and skeptic

Paul Kurtz with John Dewey in 2010. Nonreligious not antireligious, Mr. Kurtz envisioned a secular alternative.

Doug Benz/New York Times

Paul Kurtz with John Dewey in 2010. Nonreligious not antireligious, Mr. Kurtz envisioned a secular alternative.

AMHERST, N.Y. — Paul Kurtz, who founded an international center devoted to debunking psychics and UFOs and promoting science and reason over what he viewed as religious myths, has died. He was 86.

The secular humanist philosopher died Saturday at his home in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst.

Continue reading below

His death was announced Monday by the Center for Inquiry, a group founded by Mr. Kurtz in 1991 that now has more than three dozen branches worldwide.

A prolific author and organizer, Mr. Kurtz also founded the not-for-profit Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Council for Secular Humanism, as well as the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer magazine, which takes on such topics as alien sightings, paranormal claims, and homeopathic remedies. Most recently, he formed the Institute for Science and Human Values.

‘‘He was without question a remarkable visionary, and the scope of his accomplishments is truly staggering,’’ said Nathan Bupp, who was mentored by Mr. Kurtz before going on to work for him, currently at the Institute for Science and Human Values. “His lasting legacy will be as a builder of institutions and a purveyor of ideas. . . . He had an intense interest in the power of ideas and how ideas came to permeate and influence the culture at large.’’

He died of natural causes, Amherst police said.

A compilation of Mr. Kurtz essays published by Bupp in June describes Mr. Kurtz’s theory of eupraxsophy, which he first envisioned in 1988 as a secular moral alternative to religion that met some of the social needs served by religions without the supernaturalism or authoritarianism of traditional faiths.

At a January UNESCO conference in Paris, Mr. Kurtz spoke on ‘‘neohumanism’’ and the positives of unbelief.

Mr. Kurtz was not antireligious, Bupp said, but nonreligious.

‘‘Neohumanists do not believe in God, yet they wish to do good,’’ Mr. Kurtz said at the conference. “But if this moral outlook is to prevail, then neohumanisms need to concentrate on improving the things of this world rather than simply combating the illusions of supernaturalism,’’

In 2008, Mr. Kurtz, then 82, was succeeded by Ronald Lindsay as president and chief executive of the Center for Inquiry and the other centers and was replaced as board chairman the following year. When philosophical differences led him to step down from all remaining positions in May 2010, he wrote, ‘‘it is merely a formality to divest myself of any pretensions that I have anything any longer to say within the organizations or magazines that I founded.’’

The Institute for Science and Human Values launched two months later.

A World War II veteran, Mr. Kurtz fought in the Battle of the Bulge and served in a unit that liberated the Dachau concentration camp, according to a biography provided by the Center for Inquiry.

He earned a doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University in 1952 and taught philosophy at several colleges, arriving at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1965 and ­remaining there until his retirement from teaching in 1991.

All the while, he was active in the humanist movement. He served from 1967 to 1978 as editor of The Humanist, published by the American Humanist Association.

He joined the board of directors of the International Humanist and Ethical Union in 1969 and served as cochairman of that organization from 1986 to 1994.

He founded what would become the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in 1976 and the Council for Secular Humanism in 1980.

Mr. Kurtz leaves his wife, a son, and three daughters.

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week