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Gordon Stein (1941-1996)

The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 16, Number 4.

A humanist memorial celebration of Gordon Stein's life was held at the Center for Inquiry, August 30, 1996. The following are quotations from two of the eulogies presented.


The entire secular humanist, rationalist, atheist, and freethought movement has lost a valued colleague and friend.

Gordon Stein had prodigious knowledge of the literature of the movement, and especially of its historical roots. As Director of the newly established Center for Inquiry Libraries, he assumed the task of "collecting the important materials ... and housing them in a secure environment where they will be treasured, protected, and used." In an article on "Preserving Our Freethought Heritage," published in Free Inquiry in the Spring of 1994, he indicated how important he and we thought that this venture was.

Although Gordon made a valiant start in this endeavor, unfortunately his untimely death prevented him from completing this important work.

We at the Center for Inquiry are intent to continue "preserving our freethought heritage."

It is fitting in this brief tribute to Gordon Stein that we excerpt from his Encyclopedia of Unbelief below.

Paul Kurtz

Senior Editor of Free Inquiry Gordon Stein died August 27, at Buffalo General Hospital after a brief illness. He was 55.

Gordon received a Ph.D. in physiology from Ohio State University in 1974. He later obtained a second master's degree in library science at University of California at Los Angeles. He taught at the University of Rhode Island. At the time of his death he was Director of Libraries at the Center for Inquiry. He was making excellent progress in amassing the largest collection of freethought and skeptical literature in the world.

In addition to his work for Free Inquiry, he edited the magazine American Rationalist. His books included Robert G. Ingersoll (1969), An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism (1980), and The Encyclopedia of Unbelief (1985).

Gordon was also a well-known authority on hoaxes and deceptions. For several years prior to his death he was a Technical Consultant to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, headquartered at The Center for Inquiry.

He was editor of the Encyclopedia of Hoaxes (1993) and, most recently, The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal (1996), published by Prometheus Books.

His two areas of specialty, humanism and hoaxes, combined to make him an authority on Spiritualism (the supposed communication with spirits of the dead) as well. He wrote and lectured extensively on that subject, and he penned a biography of the notorious spiritualist medium D. D. Home, called The Sorcerer of Kings (1993).

Just over two weeks before his death, although he was very ill (his cancer having progressed further than any of us knew), he insisted on accompanying a group who were attending the Center for Inquiry Institute on a trip to the Spiritualist colony at Lily Dale, New York. While his chemotherapy treatment caused him to tire quickly, he shared with everyone his vast knowledge of Spiritualism and helped make the outing especially educational.

Survivors include a former wife, Barbara (Laiks) Stein, and their daughter Karen. He is also survived by another former wife, Eve Triffo, and his only sister, Irna S. Jay.

In keeping with his wishes, his remains were cremated. Gifts to the Library Fund in memory of Gordon Stein will be gratefully received.

Joe Nickell

Atheism And Unbelief

Many of the innovations in science and philosophy have come from unbelievers, some of whom died for their "unbeliefs." Without unbelief, we might well be living in the Dark Ages or at least in the intellectual equivalent of that time.

In past centuries many theists savagely attacked atheists on the ground that someone without a belief in God must be a moral "monster," who would permit any action. This argument is rarely heard today, as the number of people who are openly atheists has become so large that its falsity is self-evident. Atheists do have a moral code to guide them. It is usually based upon the Golden Rule, plus a variety of utilitarian reasons, although there are a number of other possible systems. Rather than being immoral, most atheists are extremely moral.

There are a large number of people who can and do manage to lead decent upright lives with no use for a belief in God as a guide. Atheists do not care whether others believe as they do. They do ask, however, for the right to believe as they wish ....

From the Encyclopedia of Unbelief, edited by Gordon Stein

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