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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B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner

On this date in 1904, behavioral psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, and grew up in what he called a "warm and stable" family. He was a child inventor who never lost his interest in invention. Skinner earned his B.A. in English at Hamilton College, New York, then went to Harvard for his Masters and doctorate in psychology (1930, 1931). Skinner moved to Minneapolis when offered a teaching position at the University of Minnesota, where he married and had two daughters. He became chair of the psychology department at Indiana University in 1945, then was recruited by Harvard, where he stayed the rest of his life. His wife, Yvonne, asked him to invent a "safe crib" when expecting their second child, something without bars. Skinner devised a "baby tender" for newborns, encased in soft Plexiglas, and wrote about the invention for a piece in the Lady's Home Journal, which dubbed the crib "Baby in a Box." The contraption later led to great confusion with the "Skinner Box" he had used as an early researcher with rats, but Skinner's daughters attest to having had a loving and normal childhood. Skinner was interested in "operant behavior" and wrote The Behavior of Organisms in 1938. His most famous book, Walden Two (1948), described an egalitarian, communal lifestyle. After sitting in one of his young daughter's math classes, Skinner became convinced that teaching methods should proceed by small steps, where students get feedback before advancing to the next level or question. He proposed a method comparable to tutoring children one-on-one. The Technology of Teaching (1968) has been adapted by some educators as the ideal system under computers and the Internet. Other books include Verbal Behavior (1975), Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), About Behavioralism (1974), and three autobiographical volumes. Not religious, the atheist was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. D. 1990.

“My Grandmother Skinner made sure that I understood the concept of hell by showing me the glowing bed of coals in the parlor stove. In a traveling magician's show I saw a devil complete with horns and barbed tail, and I lay awake all that night in an agony of fear. Miss Graves [a teacher], though a devout Christian, was liberal. She explained, for example, that one might interpret the miracles in the Bible as figures of speech. . . . Within a year I had gone to Miss Graves to tell her that I no longer believed in God. 'I know,' she said, 'I have been through that myself.' But her strategy misfired: I never went through it.”B.F. Skinner. Brief autobiography written for E.G. Boring and G. Lindzey's A History of Psychology in Autobiography (Vol. 5) (New York: Appleton Century-Crofts, 1967, pp. 387-413).

—B.F. Skinner. Brief autobiography written for E.G. Boring and G. Lindzey's A History of Psychology in Autobiography (Vol. 5) (New York: Appleton Century-Crofts, 1967, pp. 387-413).

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

On this date in 1828, Henrik Ibsen was born in Norway. The playwright, a social critic who in his later years pioneered realist drama, produced a roster of literary classics. His plays include "Brand" (1866), "Peer Gynt" (1867), "A Doll's House" (1879), "Enemy of the People" (1882), and "Hedda Gabler" (1890). Reportedly becoming freethinker as a teenager, Ibsen was later influenced by Georg Brandes and became a more passionate unbeliever, penning "The Emperor and the Galilaean" (1873). Its disillusioned protagonist sets out to overthrow Christianity. Ibsen once wrote: "With pleasure I will torpedo the ark." D. 1906.

“Bigger things than the State will fall, all religion will fall.”

—Henrik Ibsen, letter to Georg Brandes, quoted in Ibsen by biographer Aall, 1906

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Pamela Sargent

Pamela Sargent

On this date in 1948, science fiction writer Pamela Sargent was born. She earned her B.A. and M.A. from the State University of Binghamton. Sargent is the author of many science fiction books and short stories, and has edited several anthologies, specializing in female and feminist science fiction. Her books include: Women of Wonder: Science Fiction Stories by Women About Women (1975), Cloned Lives (1976), Bio-Futures: Science Fiction Stories about Biological Metamorphoses (1976), Starshadows: Ten Stories (1977), The Sudden Star (1979), The Alien Upstairs (1983), Alien Child (1988), The Best of Pamela Sargent (1987), and Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years (1995).

“Gore Vidal once wrote that, whatever most writers say, the books that influence them most are those read in childhood-before the age of twelve, say--presumably because childhood experiences are the most formative. Assuming he's right, the most influential books for me must be Bambi, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, Grimm's fairy tales, Bulfinch's Mythology, Walter Farley horse books like The Black Stallion (I read them all), The Cloister and the Hearth and other historical novels too numerous to list, Fred Hoyle's The Nature of the Universe, and The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, which my mother gave me, interestingly enough. Oh, and the Bible, believe it or not, even though I was brought up as an atheist. The Old Testament's full of good stories, my personal favorites being those of David and Esther. I never could get into the New Testament. ”

—Pamela Sargent, interview by Engel-Cox, Nova Express. http://www.engel-cox.org/sargent/interviews.htm

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

William Stewart Ross

On this date in 1844, William Stewart Ross ("Saladin") was born in Scotland. While preparing for the ministry at Glasgow University, Ross became a rationalist and gave up the church. Ross set up his own publishing company, W. Stewart & Co., in London. By 1880 he was co-editor of the Secular Review. Later becoming its sole editor and owner, he changed the name to The Agnostic Journal and Secular Review in 1889. Ross was not an admirer of the famous British atheist Charles Bradlaugh, and his journal and essays represented an alternative style. He wrote under the nom de plume of "Saladin" (the Muslim fighter who halted the Third Crusade). His books include God and His Book (1887) and Woman: Her Glory and Her Shame (2 vol., 1894). In 1879, he won a gold medal for writing the best poem to memorialize the unveiling of a statue of Robert Burns. D. 1906.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

The Woman Rebel Founded

On this date in 1914, Margaret Sanger's publication, "The Woman Rebel," with its motto of "No Gods - No Masters," debuted.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Carl Reiner

Carl Reiner

On this date in 1922, the great Carl Reiner was born in the Bronx, New York. His parents were Jewish immigrants. Reiner started his distinguished career in Broadway musicals and then broke into comedy in 1960 on “The Steve Allen Show.” Among his lifetime achievements in writing, directing, producing and acting for television and film, Reiner is probably most noted for creating, directing and frequently appearing in the hit series “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-1966). Other notables include directing “Oh, God!” (1977), starring George Burns, and directing and co-writing four Steve Martin films including “The Jerk” (1979), “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982), “The Man With Two Brains” (1983) and “All of Me” (1984). In 2007, the Director’s Guild of America honored him with an Honorary Life Member award. Over his career he won eight prime-time Emmy Awards in writing, directing and acting. Reiner also writes books, including NNNNN: A Novel (2006), featuring a “Jewish atheist” main character. In 1943, Reiner married Estelle Lebost, who died at age 94 in 2008. They had three children together including Rob Reiner, the famous actor and director. 

"I am an atheist. I have a very different take on who God is. Man invented God because he needed him. God is us."

—Carl Reiner in “Carl Reiner’s big break,” by Susan King in The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2009

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© 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  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  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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