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 5 entries for this date: A.A. Milne , Montesquieu , Peter Annet (Died) , Niall Shanks and James F. Crow
A.A. Milne

A.A. Milne

On this date in 1882, classic children's author Alan Alexander Milne, known as A.A. Milne, was born in England and brought up in London. With his brothers he attended his schoolteacher father's school, Henley House. One of his influential teachers there was H.G. Wells. Attending Cambridge on a mathematics scholarship, Milne was given the gift of 1000 pounds by his father upon graduation. He used it to move back to London and become a writer. Milne freelanced for newspapers, became part of "Punch's" staff, and wrote a book that flopped, Lovers in London. In 1913 he married Dorothy De Selincourt. In 1915 he volunteered in WWI, and, while serving, wrote his first play. His only child, Christopher, was born in 1920. When We Were Young was published in 1924, followed by Winnie the Pooh (1926), The House at Pooh Corner (1926) and Now We Are Six (1927). Milne subsequently wrote several plays, a detective novel and Year In, Year Out (1952). D. 1956.

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“The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.”

—A.A. Milne, cited in 2,000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Montesquieu

Montesquieu

On this date in 1689, political philosopher Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, was born near Bordeaux, France. Educated at Roman Catholic schools, Montesquieu earned his law degree at the University of Bordeaux in 1708. He inherited his father's estates in 1713. In 1716, he became a titled baron. He married a practicing Protestant woman and had three children, but immersed himself in work and scholarship. For about a decade he presided over the criminal division of Bordeaux' parliament, then sold his office and resigned in 1725. His irreverent spoof, Persian Letters, published anonymously in 1721, was banned by the Pope. The novel, pessimistic but amusing, was written as a correspondence between two Persian Muslims commenting on the peculiar customs of Europe. Aware of the identity of Persian Letters' author, Catholic officials attempted to bar Montesquieu from the Academie Francaise, but he was eventually admitted in 1728. Through 1731, Montesquieu traveled in Italy, Germany, Austria and England. His opus, The Spirit of Laws (1731), promoted a republican democracy, the separation of powers, specifying "three estates"--legislative, executive and judiciary, and called for the abolition of slavery and of religious persecution. The book has remained in print, and was a major inspiration to James Madison and the American founders, who adopted a Constitution closely patterned after Monesquieu's political philosophy. The most radical notion in his work was the omission of a role for clergy in government. The Spirit of Laws also found its way into the Index of Forbidden Books. A classical deist of the Enlightenment, Monesquieu believed only in a nature's god, not a personal deity. D. 1755.

“If triangles made a god, they would give him three sides.”

—Montesquieu, Persian Letters, 1721

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Peter Annet (Died)

Peter Annet (Died)

On this date in 1769, "blasphemer" Peter Annet died. Born in 1693, he became a schoolmaster in Liverpool. In 1739 he wrote and published a pamphlet, "Judging for Ourselves, or Freethinking the Great Duty of Religion," a strong criticism of Christianity. For writing this and similar pamphlets, he lost his position. Annet moved to London, where he became an outspoken member of the Robin Hood Society. Annet was convicted of publishing "blasphemies" in The Free Inquirer periodical, which he founded in 1761. At age 68, Annet was sentenced to the pillory and a year's hard labor. He later started a school and is known for inventing a system of shorthand.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Niall Shanks

Niall Shanks

On this date in 1959, Niall Shanks was born in Cheshire, England. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Leeds in 1979, his master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Liverpool in 1981 and his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Alberta, Canada, in 1987. Shanks taught philosophy, biological sciences, physics and astronomy at East Tennessee State University (1991–2005), and was the Curtis D. Gridley Distinguished Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Wichita State University (2005–2011). Shanks was especially interested in evolutionary biology, and wrote several books including God, the Devil and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory (2004) and Animal Models in the Light of Evolution (2009).

Shanks was a self-described atheist who strongly supported evolution education. In his article “Fighting for Our Sanity in Tennessee,” published in Volume 21 of Free Inquiry Magazine, Shanks described his experience of being a nonbeliever who taught evolution in the bible belt. He wrote: “I am an atheist for the same reason that I am an ‘asantaclausist.’ There is no convincing evidence to support claims about the existence of either alleged entity. Actually Santa may be the better off of the two, for the sincere testimony of small children is a tad more convincing than that of wily adults with sophistical arguments and axes to grind.” In his book God, the Devil and Darwin (2004), Shanks denounces the Intelligent Design movement. He wrote: “The real motivations of the intelligent design movement . . . have little to do with science but a lot to do with politics and power—in particular, the imposition of discriminatory, conservative Christian values on our educational, legal, social and political institutions.” Shanks continued: “While we in the West readily point a finger at Islamic fundamentalism, we all too readily downplay the Christian fundamentalism in our own midst. The social and political consequences of religious fundamentalism can be enormous.” D. 2011

“Of God, the Devil and Darwin, we have really good scientific evidence for the existence of only Darwin.” 

—Niall Shanks, God, the Devil and Darwin, 2004

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

James F. Crow

James F. Crow

On this date in 1916, world-renowned evolutionary biologist and population geneticist James Franklin Crow was born in Phoenixville, Pa. Crow grew up in Wichita, Kan. "The Quaker Church in Wichita was an interesting mixture. I grew up in it and was a regular attender. My father and mother both were very serious about their religion," Crow stated in the Oral History of Human Genetics Project. He received his bachelor’s degree from Friends University. In 1941, Crow earned his Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Texas. Crow began his teaching career at Dartmouth University, where he taught until 1948. He then joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, where he remained until his retirement. Crow’s research primarily focused on the field of population genetics. He also loved teaching, and authored two undergraduate textbooks on evolution. Crow met his wife, Anne Crockett Crow, when both were members of the student orchestra at the University of Texas (he played the viola, she played the clarinet). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Japan Academy, a member of the American Philosophical Society, the World Academy of Art and Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, where he has chaired several committees, including one to study forensic uses of DNA fingerprinting. That committee’s report helped legitimize use of DNA testing in court. In addition, he was a prolific researcher whose ideas strongly influenced biological science throughout his career.

The gentle Crow, beloved by his students, colleagues and his community, was a lifetime member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He spoke at FFRF’s 2010 convention in Madison, Wis., about evolution and religious belief: "My main personal reason for nonbelief is: Why would an all-powerful and especially benevolent creator permit so much sin and suffering?" He played viola in the Madison Symphony Orchestra for many years, performing a concert to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2009, the James. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution was established at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. D. 2012.

"He is one of the most respected evolutionary biologists in the world, but most importantly, he is also one of the most effective teachers of the subject." 

“For myself, I believe you don’t have to be a nonbeliever to be an evolutionist, but I think it helps.”

—Jim Coors' introducing Dr. James Crow at past-conventions/2010-madison/2010-convention-speakers/

Complied by Eleanor Wroblewski

© 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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