The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement which began in seventeenth century Europe and espoused an optimistic project: an end to human ignorance and the slavish adherence to ancient text and dogma; the application of scientific principles to solving the world's problems; the elimination of inequality between the sexes; and, the advocacy of political rights for all citizens. Modern western society, with its democratic institutions and its reliance on science as the basis of technology and industry, is largely an outgrowth of Enlightenment ideals. Yet today the entire Enlightenment agenda is being challenged, not only by members of religious orthodoxy but also by a group of academics loosely described under the label of 'postmodernism'. Whereas the Enlightenment project has always been at odds with religious orthodoxy, which has traditionally been suspicious of efforts to achieve human progress without supernatural support, today it must deal with a very different type of attack from postmodernist intellectuals.
Critics of this school question the very ability of human reason to grasp objective reality, and they raise serious objections to the reliability and efficiency of the scientific method and the 'tyranny of democratic elites'. Is the Enlightenment project still worth pursuing? The distinguished members of the Academy of Humanism who have contributed to this volume are united in their conviction that the ideals of the Enlightenment must be preserved.
Paul Kurtz (1925-2012), professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was the author or editor of more than fifty books, including The Transcendental Temptation, The Courage to Become, and Embracing the Power of Humanism, plus nine hundred articles and reviews. He was the founder and chairman of the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He appeared on many major television and radio talk shows and lectured at universities worldwide. Timothy J. Madigan is an assistant professor of philosophy at St. John Fisher College and a member of the editorial board of Philosophy Now magazine. For many years he was editor of Free Inquiry magazine.