In 1946, the Navy conducted Operation Crossroads on the Bikini atoll in the Pacific, testing nuclear bombs.
I was there for the first test (Able)—and the first 25 minutes of this attached video reminded me of what I had seen.
Our ship was 30 miles from the center of the explosion, and we then anchored at one of the atoll openings to monitor radiation in the outflowing currents. That same afternoon, we were in a radioactive rainstorm. Much later the Navy finally ruled that my ship had been the "only" one encountering sufficient gamma-radiation to damage humans.
My subsequent kidney cancer made me a disabled veteran. But Crossroads had brought home to me what people do to each other, as well as to our shared world, when we engage in war. That had a profound effect on my subsequent ideology and activism.
After World War I, our international pacts made killing innocent civilians a war crime. Both sides engaged in this, however, during World War II, and in subsequent victor-trials the bombing of cities and the sinking of passenger ships were not viewed as crimes.
Over time, better history displaces official explanations. Japan was already about to surrender, via the USSR. Many scientists and military leaders urged demonstration of the new bomb’s destructiveness on some uninhabited island, making the point more effectively—and more morally. We claimed Hiroshima would end the war and save American lives—when we had already killed millions of Japanese with fire-bombings. We then bombed Nagasaki 3 days later to “test" an even more destructive plutonium bomb. The bombings did keep the USSR from declaring war on Japan and thus increasing its power in that part of the world.
Historians differ on whether WWII should be termed a Good War, but are almost completely agreed that victories are absent in subsequent wars — and that violence inevitably produces more violence. But trials of war criminals have been few — and none of those brought to trial have come from large countries.
Neither of our political parties even today dares to recognize these elephants in the room. Our expanding militarism, our nuclear warheads, our drones, and our saber-rattling are too sacred.
Paul Kurtz, interviewed by D.J. Grothe, December 2008
[Editor’s note: In this interview, Paul Kurtz outlines his ideas on how science informs secular morality, and explores why a secular, pro-science morality trumps religious morality when it comes to issues like abortion and gay rights. It was transcribed and edited here for publication, and originally occurred on the Point of Inquiry interview program, which can still be heard online:http://www.pointofinquiry.org/paul_kurtz_-_forbidden_fruit/]
D.J.: Paul Kurtz started it all at the Center for Inquiry, founding the Council for Secular Humanism almost thirty years ago, CSICOP with Carl Sagan and James Randi and others before that, many other organizations. He’s really the leading figure in the organized, humanist and skeptics movements. He’s tireless in his defense of reason and humanism, author of over 40 books. His newest is Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism. Welcome back to Point of Inquiry, Paul Kurtz, and happy birthday in a couple days!
Paul Kurtz: Well thank you – Sunday I’ll be 83 – I hate to admit it because I feel as young and as optimistic as ever. But time marches fine. I’m delighted to be here, and also to congratulate you as you enter the fourth year of Point of Inquiry, what an achievement! And the many radio stations that pick up Point of Inquiry, so, very happy to begin with you the fourth year!
D.J.: Well yes, it’s very exciting that increasingly campus and community radio stations are rebroadcasting the show and we’re getting a lot of support from college students in that regard. You know, to my way of thinking, Point of Inquiry is an example of you encouraging your staff — we really have the best and the brightest in the humanist and skeptics movements working here at the Center for Inquiry. You’ve always encouraged them to be creative in the way they reach out to advance these beloved causes.
By James A. Haught
One of my history-minded friends has a long-range political view summed up in three words: Liberals always win. Complex social struggles may take centuries or decades, he says, but they eventually bring victory for human rights, more democratic liberties, a stronger public safety net, and other progressive goals.
Look how long it took to end slavery. Generations of agitation and the horrible Civil War finally brought triumph for liberal abolitionists and defeat for conservative slavery supporters.
Look how long it took for women to gain the right to vote. In the end, liberal suffragettes prevailed, conservative opponents lost.
Look at the long battle to give couples the right to practice birth control. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was jailed eight times for the crime of mentioning sex - but she eventually transformed U.S. society. A Supreme Court victory in 1965 struck down contraceptive bans for married couples, and a follow-up victory in 1972 struck them down for unwed ones. Liberals won, conservatives lost.
In the 1920s, conservatives imposed Prohibition of alcohol on America, but they eventually lost, and booze flowed freely again.
by Paul Kurtz
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
State University of New York at Buffalo
Founder, Institute for Science and Human Values
I have been interested in moral questions for as long as I can remember. I became keenly aware of the need for social justice, as an adolescent growing up during the Great Depression when so many people suffered hardship. I even flirted with utopian visions of a perfect world—though I eventually became disillusioned with this quest. I enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Second World War in order to combat fascism. I was horrified by the devastation that I witnessed—the Nazi Holocaust, Soviet tyranny, and the brutal bombing of open cities by all sides, including the Allies. As a GI in the European theater of operations, I was appalled by the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, but I could find few soldiers who agreed with me. They cheered the allied victory and wanted to get home.
I began reading books on ethics, beginning with Plato’s Republic, and was especially impressed by the Socratic quest for knowledge and virtue. Later, studying at NYU and Columbia, I was influenced by American pragmatic naturalists, John Dewey and Sidney Hook, who thought that the method of intelligence was the most reliable guide for resolving moral problems. I also read the logical positivists, whose scientific philosophy and critiques of metaphysics and theology I accepted—though I took exception to their defense of the emotive theory of ethics, which proclaimed that ethical statements were “subjective” (expressive and imperative) and could not be verified. I took a course with AJ Ayer, the leading English exponent of the emotive theory; and as a smart alec undergraduate argued with him and insisted that “ the killing of innocent people was wrong;” but I was uncertain at that time about how to justify that judgment. I was so intrigued by such moral questions that I resolved to devote my life to moral philosophy. I now consider myself to be an eupraxsopher, being interested not simply in the love of wisdom (meta-ethics), but in the practice of wisdom. Philosophers from Aristotle to Kant have defended the autonomy of ethics as a field of inquiry, independent of theology. I believe that there are moral truths and that these can be drawn from ethical reflection.
(February 25, 1944 to March 15, 2015)
The Simple Humanist
Don Libey, The Simple Humanist, lived in Ocala, Florida. He was a retired Intermediary and author of seventeen books, including two in which he edited and organized the orations of Robert Greene Ingersoll into prose, book format. Fifteeen years ago he experienced total liberation and freedom from religion and spent five years studying the writings of Dr. Paul Kurtz, ultimately finding a satisfying life in humanism and atheism.
A view of holy wars as seen by a simple, regular guy and Humanist who considers both the terms “holy” and “war” to be insane concepts. This article examines the origins of holy wars from mythology and the emergence of religion and mind control by shamans, priests, imams, and ministers. The simple Humanist solution to this insanity can only be found by turning away from the lies of supernatural belief systems to the truths of Reason, Science and Humanism.
The Simple Humanist is an average person and does not consider himself a philosopher or a scholar of Humanist thought and writing. He is just a regular guy who thinks about things with a Humanist outlook, probably like most of the invisible Humanists who live and think quietly in most towns and cities of the world. We are, perhaps, a very large—yet unknown and unheard—portion of the humans alive today.
It seems that the terms “war” and “holy” are both descriptions of insanity. But, the insanity ratchets up to absolute insanity when the terms are combined into “holy war.”
Holy wars are prevalent in all of our cultures and histories, regardless of ethnicity, geography, or time. They have been with us since humans evolved and began living in societies. The phenomena of Nature, being unknown and frightening, gave rise to supernatural explanations—almost always attributed to a god or super being—and we, as a species, were off to the races.
by Toni Van Pelt
It is with a heavy heart I read of the Ferguson grand jury’s decision today. I did not expect a different outcome when I learned of the makeup and racial divide of the jury.
Racism lives within all Americans. We must learn to live together and see each other as human beings, not as others. As racism was called out and desegregation of the schools by busing and other steps were taken to remedy discrimination, some overt racism ended.
With the ascendancy of the tea party and those they have worked to elect and put in power racism has, once again, become more openly expressed and demonstrated. From the unveiled attempts to destroy the public school system (please view Frontline’s piece “Separate and Unequal” July 15, 2014), the school to prison pipeline for black children, voter suppression, the incarceration for drug charges, the stop, risk, arrest and murder of members of the black community by the law enforcement community, to the denial of the restoration of voting rights and citizenship rights for felons who have served their time, the list of racist practices and tactics goes on in today’s America.
Last night I spoke at USF Women’s Empowerment Club and shared the privilege exercise I discovered online recently. I recommend you find one on-line and do the exercise yourself and share it with a group. All we can do is to keep on, keeping on until we become truly all Americans, as President Obama calls us to be.
by Paul Kurtz
What I think is rather unique about humanism today as a first principle is that “we are citoyen du monde;” that is, citizens of the world community, members of the human species over beyond our gender, national, racial,, or religious affiliations, which all to often have separated human beings in the past.
We are planetary dwellers before we are Americans or Russians, Chinese or Africans, ancients or moderns. We are not confined by our planet or solar system, but are capable of exploring galactic space. Our true identity is universal; we are not defined by the isms of the past, as Christian or Jew, Hindu or Muslim, non-believer or believer. Rather we are defined by our humanity, which is open-ended and as such we share a common set of obligations, to the planetary community of which we are each an integral part. Our humanity (human, not male or female per se) is what is our essential charactoristic. This entails the potetaility to actualize the highest potentialities of which we are capable for ourselves and our fellow and sister human beings, past present and future, our preservation abd fulfillment.
What is remarkable about the human species is our indefinability; our essence is not constrained by a fixed human nature; for we have the opportunity to define ourselves; and we have done so in every hostoric period, by means of knowledge and invention. We have the freedom to enter into the world and change it. We are best characterized by our creativity, which takes on new dimensions in every age, as Egyptians, Europeans, Asians, North or Soth Americans, artists or poets, architects or builders, scientists or philosophers, and whatever we will to become in future civilizations yet to emerge.
The key to understanding who and what we are is that our futures, as individuals, societies or cultures, are not fixed or pre-ordained by some hidden hand of God; that what will become of us depends in part on what we choose to become; that we need to shed the illusions of the past by the use of science, reason, and wisdom; that we need in every age to summon the courage to enter into the world boldly and to create new institutions and civilizations. These should be both intelligent and compassionate, recognizing both our limitations and the opportunities for achieving the good life for ourselves and our fellow human beings. thus we need to shed the false illusions of the past. We need to recognize that “no diety will save us, but that we must save oursselves.” (Humanist Manifesto II) We should always bear in mind that humans are not Gods and are capable of mistakes and errors. Yet with dedicated purpose and a willingness to change, we we can draw upon the discoveries of the past and resolve to build a better world in the future.
The human condition depends on whether we discover-whatever our time in which we live-what it is possible and impossible for us to achieve, and the recognition that what will be is not foreordained, but depends in part by what we resolve to do; by the choices we make, by our failures and successes, by the plans we forge and our willingness to change in light of circumstance. Our future as human beings depends clearly upon the knowledge we can draw upon. But it also depe4nds upon whether we have cultivated the capacity for good will and a positive outlook. This means that in spite of adversity and misfortune we are still able to express our conviction, that we can create a better life; for ourselves, for those we love and admire, for our neighbors, and for the diverse communities in which we live.
That is the faith of a reconstructed secularist and humanist, still believing in our capacity to live a significant life that we can share with others, This may at times be difficult, but it is one that can be meaningful and one that can be rewarding.
Paul Kurtz, interviewed
by D.J. Grothe, December 2008
James A. Haught
Toni Van Pelt