- October 24, 2012 - 8:59 PM
Paul Kurtz, 86, a philosopher whose advocacy of reason ahead of faith helped define contemporary secular humanism, died on Saturday at his home in Amherst, N.Y. Kurtz taught philosophy at the University at Buffalo from 1965 until his retirement as professor emeritus in 1991. But his wider influence came as a publisher of books and magazines devoted to fact-based, rather than faith-based, solutions to human problems, and as a writer who, in more than 40 books and hundreds of articles, promoted an ethical system independent of religion. Kurtz founded the Center for Inquiry, which promotes evidence-based reasoning and opposes organized religion, and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which is dedicated to debunking pseudosciences. In 1973, as editor of the magazine The Humanist, Kurtz drafted what came to be known as Humanist Manifesto II, in which he updated a 1933 document by addressing issues that the earlier document, which was largely a critique of theism, had failed to touch on, among them nuclear arms, population control, racism and sexism. The document was signed by 120 religious leaders, philosophers, scientists and writers, including dissident Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov and novelist Isaac Asimov. It argued for a system of world law that would "transcend the limits of national sovereignty." "Traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species," the document said. In its best-known dictum, it declared, "No deity will save us; we must save ourselves."
The images are haunting: naked and emaciated children at Auschwitz standing shoulder-to-shoulder, adult prisoners in striped garb posing for police-style mug shots. One of several photographers to capture such images, Wilhelm Brasse has died at the age of 95. A Polish photographer who was arrested and sent to Auschwitz early in World War II, he was put to work documenting his fellow prisoners, an emotionally devastating task that tormented him long after his liberation. Jaroslaw Mensfelt, a spokesman at the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum, said that Brasse died on Tuesday in Zywiec, a town in southern Poland. Brasse, who was not Jewish, was sent to Auschwitz at 22 as a political prisoner for trying to sneak out of German-occupied Poland in the spring of 1940. Because he had worked before the war in a photography studio, he was put to work in the camp's photography and identification department. The job helped to save his life, enabling him to get better treatment and food than many others. Because he worked with the SS, the elite Nazi force, he was also kept cleaner "so as not to offend the SS men," he recalled in an Associated Press interview in 2006. After the war, he had nightmares for years of the Nazi victims he was forced to photograph. Among them were emaciated Jewish girls who were about to undergo medical experiments under the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.
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