Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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There are 3 entries for this date: Charles Knowlton , Jonathan Edwards and Ariel Durant

Charles Knowlton

On this date in 1800, Charles Knowlton, M.D. was born in Massachusetts. Freethinkers pioneered the movement to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and Knowlton was one of the earliest of the freethought reformers. He earned his medical degree from Dartmouth College in 1824. As a medical student, Knowlton was jailed for two months for exhuming a corpse for anatomical studies. He became an ardent foe of the influence of Christianity, writing Elements of Modern Materialism (1829), in which he identified himself as an "infidel." Fruits of Philosophy; or, the Private Companion of Young Married People (1832), tackled the subject of birth control before that term existed. Knowlton dispassionately made the case for preventing conception, and promoted a syringe-administered douche. The first edition was anonymous. The book was published in nine U.S. editions, and was reprinted by subscription by a group of doctors at Harvard Medical School in 1877.

Dr. Knowlton was prosecuted and fined at Taunton, Mass., in 1832, and was sentenced to three months' imprisonment at hard labor in the House of Correction in Cambridge in December 1832. He went directly from jail upon his release to a freethought society in Boston run by Abner Kneeland, where he delivered "Two Remarkable Lectures," referring to superstition as the "moral monster." He was unsuccessfully prosecuted in Greenfield, Mass., at the instigation of a minister. Knowlton's groundbreaking work was reprinted in England by various freethought publishers. British atheists Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant republished it in 1877 to challenge the Obscene Publications Act. They were prosecuted and tried, narrowly avoiding jail. The case shot the book's circulation from a thousand a year to a quarter million in England. Besant rewrote the dated text into Law of Population in 1879, which became a bestseller and helped to hasten the birth control movement worldwide, but lost her custody of her daughter. Knowlton was considered one of the leading freethinkers of his era. He was a delegate at the Convention of the Infidels of the United States, meeting in New York City in 1845. D. 1850.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

On this date in 1966, Jonathan Edwards was born in London, England. Edwards became a born-again Christian as a teenager. He decided to pursue a career as a track and field triple-jumper starting in 1987. Edwards competed for many years, retiring after the 2003 IAAF World Championships. He is the most successful medal-winning athlete in British history, having won the gold in the Olympics at Sydney in 2000, at the Commonwealth games in 2002 at Manchester and the World Championships in 2001 at Edmonton, among many awards. Since 1995, he has held the world record in men's triple jump, with the record holding steady at 18.29 meters as of March 2011. During his athletic career, Edwards was very public about his Christian faith. In 1991, he even refused to compete in the World Championships because the triple jump meet was held on a Sunday. After retiring from competition, Edwards worked as a presenter for a BBC television program on faith, "Songs of Praise," during which time he lost his faith, as he announced publicly in 2007. Since leaving his religion behind, Edwards has offered some insight into the psychology of athletes' prayers for success, telling The Times of London, “I was always dismissive of sports psychology when I was competing, but I now realize that my belief in God was sports psychology in all but name” (June 27, 2007). Edwards has also stated that he held onto his faith so long as an athlete because until then he never felt the need to question his preconceived notions. Edwards and his wife Allison have two sons, and they reside in Derbyshire, England.

“If there is no God, does that mean that life has no purpose? Does it mean that personal existence ends at death? They are thoughts that do my head in. One thing that I can say, however, is that even if I am unable to discover some fundamental purpose to life, this will not give me a reason to return to Christianity. Just because something is unpalatable does not mean that it is not true.”

—Jonathan Edwards, The Times, June 27, 2007 

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ariel Durant

Ariel Durant

On this date in 1898, Ariel Durant (neé Chaya Kaufman) was born in Proskurov (now Khmelnitsky), Ukraine. (However, May 10 may not be her actual birthday. While immigrating to the United States, Durant and her four sisters were all registered as being born on May 10.) She moved to New York in 1901 along with her large family to meet her father, who was already living in the U.S. and working as a newspaper vendor. She began attending the Ferrer School in New York when she was 13 years old, where she met teacher Will Durant. They were married in 1913, when Durant was 15. She later changed her name from “Ida” to “Puck” and then “Ariel,” two nicknames that her husband called her because she reminded him of Shakespeare’s sprites. Will and Ariel Durant co-wrote the extensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–1975), a collection of influential books that document Western history. The popular books won two prizes: a Pulitzer Prize in 1968 for Rosseau and Revolution (1967), and the Huntington Hartford Foundation Award for Literature for The Age of Louis XIV (1963). In 1965, Durant was named Woman of the Year by The Los Angeles Times. Durant had one daughter, Ethel, and an adopted son named Louis.

Durant was raised in a Jewish family, but she and her siblings gradually lost their faith. Her uncle Maurice was not religious, and his views influenced Ariel. In A Dual Autobiography by Ariel and Will Durant (1977), Ariel wrote: “We never deserted our faith for any other, but we lost most of it as we rubbed against a harsh and increasingly secular world . . . my Uncle Maurice helped to free me from such nonsense, and awoke in me a desire to read books and enter the world of thought.” D. 1981

“Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.” 

—Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968).

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Freethought of the Day

Would you like to start your day on a freethought note? "Freethought of the Day" is a daily freethought calendar brought to you courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, highlighting birthdates, quotes, and other historic tidbits.

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