Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Georg Buchner , William Anders and John Wilkes
Georg Buchner

Georg Buchner

On this date in 1813, playwright and poet Karl Georg Buchner was born in Goddelau, Germany. The eldest child of the Buchner family, his siblings included freethinkers Alexander and Ludwig (and Louise, Mathilde and Wilhelm). He studied medicine in Strasbourg and Gissen. An intense student of Spinoza's writings, Buchner earned a doctorate in philosophy and lectured in natural history in Zurich, Switzerland. Having developed a passion for radical politics, for a short time he edited Der Hessische Landbote, a pamphlet with the well-known Revolutionary-era slogan: "Peace to the Huts and War to the Palaces." In spite of living only until age 23, Buchner gained a reputation as a powerful playwright and, though he only wrote one, novella author. He wrote the play "Leonce and Lena" (1838) and part of a play called "Woyzeck" (published posthumously in 1879). Some of his other plays have been lost, but "Danton's Death" (1835), was a well-received play that depicted an atheistic Thomas Paine (whom he called "Payne"). "Danton's Death" was written about two years before his own death and, by the author's claim, was completed in less than five weeks.

George Seibel wrote of him: "Buchner, in the brief span of his life, manifested much of that spirit of Thomas Paine which stalked through Germany during centuries, which has thrust into the flesh of theology the thorn of higher criticism . . . " ("Thomas Paine in Germany," in The Open Court, Vol. 34, edited by Paul Carus, January 1920). "There is no God . . . God cannot have created the world," said Buchner's "Payne" in "Danton's Death." While a political refugee in Zurich, he died of typhoid fever. His death devastated the Buchner family, as partially recalled by Ludwig: "Who could describe the grief? The scenes I then lived through cast the first, but a deep and abiding, shadow on my young heart..." (quoted in Alexander Buchner's "Introduction" to Last Words on Materialism and Kindred Subjects, 1901, p. xxvii). In 1923, Buchner's hometown of Darmstadt, Germany, created the Georg Buchner Prize for literature, which is still one of the most prestigious awards in the country. D. 1837.

Mercier: But what about morality?
Payne: First you adduce morality as a proof of God, and then cite God in support of morality. You reason in a beautiful circle, like a dog biting his own tail.

—-Buchner's "Payne" in "Danton's Death"

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

William Anders

William Anders

On this date in 1933, astronaut William Anders was born in Hong Kong. Anders became one of the first three people to travel to the moon when he served as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 8 with Frank Borman and James Lovell in 1968. They were the first persons to leave earth's orbit and see the entire earth from space. One of Anders' roles during the flight was to take photographs of the back of the moon, something no person had ever seen before. The most famous picture he took, of the earth rising behind the moon, called earthrise, was made into a U.S. postage stamp. Anders, who was raised Catholic, reconsidered his religious beliefs of a god creating humans in his own image when he saw how insignificant earth is from space.

He became an astronaut for NASA in 1964. He also served as the backup pilot for both the Gemini XI and Apollo 11 flights. Anders earned his undergraduate degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1955. He earned his master's in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1962, and completed the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program in 1979. Anders worked for the federal government for 26 years, which included time spent as the Executive Secretary for the National Aeronautics and Space Council. His duties involved creating policy around research and development. He then became a member of the Atomic Energy Commission, where he was the lead commissioner for the research and development of both nuclear and non-nuclear power. He later worked as the general manager of GE's Aircraft Equipment Division. Anders also served as the American ambassador to Norway and the CEO of General Dynamic Corporation. Anders received numerous awards, including Distinguished Service Medals from the Air Force, NASA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Anders has six children and has been married to his wife, Valerie Hoard, since 1955.

 

"Are we really that special? I don't think so."

——William Anders in an interview with Seattle Times writer Ron Judd, Dec. 7, 2012.

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Wilkes

John Wilkes

On this date in 1727, Lord Mayor of London John Wilkes was born in England. He studied at Leyden University with fellow student Baron d'Holbach, who became a leading encyclopedist and rationalist. During a decade of social exploits as a member of the Hell-Fire Club, Wilkes was known for his witticisms, once announcing before a card game: "I am so ignorant that I cannot tell the difference between a king and a knave." Wilkes became High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1754. He was elected a member of Parliament for Aylesbury in 1757, where he agitated for Parliamentary reform. He founded the periodical, North Briton, in 1762, to campaign against the king and his prime minister. Wilkes was prosecuted for seditious libel for an article appearing in April 1763. He was sent to the Tower but was released under parliamentary privilege. His Essay on Woman (1763), which was both bawdy and blasphemous, was burned by the hangman. Parliament voted to repeal the privilege of arrest for seditious writings, and Wilkes escaped arrest by fleeing to France, where he was welcomed by d'Holbach and Diderot. After Wilkes returned to England, he was elected Member of Parliament for Middlesex in 1768. A crowd of 15,000 assembled at the prison where Wilkes was detained, chanting "Damn the King." Troops opened fire and killed seven in the Massacre of St. George's Fields. Wilkes, sentenced to 22 months in prison, was expelled from the House of Commons. Voters nevertheless kept returning Wilkes. He was released from prison in 1770 and founded the Bill of Rights Society. After a long fight, he was seated. The Deist made a campaign for religious toleration a priority. When the House tried to bar London newspapers from publishing House debates about freedom of the press, arresting two of Wilkes' printers, Wilkes took quick action. His printers were released, there was a triumphant parade and British freedom of the press was secured. Wilkes was a supporter of Americans in the War of Independence. He became Lord Mayor of London in 1774. His popularity waned toward the end of his life as he became more conservative. D. 1797.

Compiled by Annie Laurie 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.

If you would like to be placed on the "Daily Freethought" e-mail list to automatically receive the calendar notice, log in and edit your email settings (My Membership). Or, email  and include your first and last name with your request for verification purposes. This email service is limited to members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation or subscribers to Freethought Today. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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