Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Erich Fromm , William Smith and Richard Proctor
Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm

On this date in 1900, psychoanalyst and humanist philosopher Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Grandfathers on both sides of the family were rabbis. He earned his Ph.D in sociology in 1922 from the University of Heidelberg, and trained at the Psychological Institute in Berlin. By 1926, Fromm had rejected Orthodox Judaism. Fromm took the story of Adam and Eve and turned it into an allegory in praise of the quest for knowledge, the questioning of authority and the use of reason. He moved in 1930 to Geneva to escape Nazism, then emigrated to the United States in 1934. Fromm taught at Columbia University and became a citizen in 1940. His pinnacle work, Escape from Freedom, was published in 1941, followed by Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics (1947). Fromm moved to Mexico in 1950 to become a professor at the National Autonomous University, where he taught until 1965. The Art of Loving (1956) became an international bestseller. That was followed by The Sane Society (1955), You Shall Be as Gods (1966), The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973), and To Have or to Be (1976). Fromm began teaching in the United States again in the late 1950s, at Michigan State University and later New York University. He was a co-founder of several institutes, including the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology. As a critic of McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, he helped found the international peace group, SANE.

In The Sane Society, Fromm distinguishes "intelligence" ("thought in the service of biological survival") from "reason," which "aims at understanding." "In observing the quality of thinking in alienated man, it is striking to see how his intelligence has developed and how reason has deteriorated. . . . Even from the nineteenth century to our day, there seems to have occurred an observable increase in stupidity, if by this we mean the opposite to reason, rather than to intelligence." Those with "outstanding reason in our midst . . . think apart from the general herd thought, and they are looked upon with suspicion--even if they are needed for their extraordinary achievements in the natural sciences." Fromm called ethics "inseparable from reason." About conscience, Fromm wrote: "To the degree to which a person conforms he cannot hear the voice of his conscience, much less act upon it." Fromm eventually moved to Switzerland, where he died just before his 80th birthday. D. 1980.

“If faith cannot be reconciled with rational thinking, it has to be eliminated as an anachronistic remnant of earlier stages of culture and replaced by science dealing with facts and theories which are intelligible and can be validated.”

—Erich Fromm, Man for Himself (1947)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

William Smith

William Smith

On this date in 1769, William Smith, known as the "Father of Geology," was born in Oxfordshire, England. Smith, who trained as an apprentice surveyor, single-handedly produced the world's first geological map in 1815 (of England, Wales, and part of Scotland), spending 15 years on the project. Smith, "whose agnosticism was well known," according to biographer Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the World), produced a "map that heralded the beginnings of a whole new science . . . a map that laid the foundations of a field of study that culminated in the work of Charles Darwin. It is a map whose making signified the start of an era, not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed man at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about his own origins and those of the planet." [page 2] Winchester also noted: "For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity. A science . . . had now at last broken free from the age-old constraints of doctrine and canonical instruction." [page 139] Smith went bankrupt, spending weeks in a debtor's prison, and was denied membership in the Geological Society until he was old. His ideas were right, and his methods are still used today. He won the first Wollaston Medal, which is the "Nobel Prize" for Geology. (There is no Nobel Prize for Geology, an unfortunate oversight.) His fossil collection is currently housed in the Natural History Museum (formerly part of the British Museum) in London. D. 1834.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Richard Proctor

Richard Proctor

On this date in 1837, Richard Anthony Proctor was born in London, England. Proctor attended St. John's College, Cambridge, where he studied mathematics and theology, receiving his degree in 1860. Soon after graduation, he began making astronomical observations, as well as writing about astronomy for the general public. He became a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1876. In his popular writings, Proctor connected astronomical ideas to the religious and intellectual debate then current about the possibility of life on other worlds in order to pique the public's interest. He went on several lecture tours throughout the English-speaking world, including Australia and New Zealand, as well as the United States. In 1881, he and his family moved to the United States, where he lived for the remainder of his life. He wrote widely, including as many as 57 books, 500 essays and 83 scientific papers on astronomy.

Proctor was a Catholic from the time of his first marriage in 1860, but he later abandoned these beliefs for deism and, finally, agnosticism. Many of his later written works take a skeptical view toward religious and theological questions, such as the dismissal in his The Universe of Suns, and Other Science Gleanings of the possibility of the Star of Bethlehem being based on an astronomical event. Proctor was also unafraid to admit his own mistakes, and made a public announcement in The New York Daily Tribune about a change of opinion on the philosophical problems of astronomy, as well as “the supervision and control of the universe” — an oblique reference to the divine. Proctor's daughter Mary (1862-1959) followed in his footsteps as a popularizer of astronomy. She had worked with her father as an assistant and learned from him how to write for a commercial audience. The Mars crater called Proctor is named for Richard Proctor. The crater Proctor on the moon, however, is named for Mary. D. 1888.

Prof. Proctor thus explains the object of the Sunday course of lectures which he is to deliver in Boston: “I wish to indicate the relation of modern astronomy to the great questions at present agitating the scientific and religious worlds. It has perhaps become manifest to readers of my latest works on science that I view these questions differently now than a few years or even a year or two ago. The views I now entertain on such subjects as the plurality of worlds, cosmic evolution, the supervision and control of the universe, the infinities amid which we are placed, and so forth, are altogether unlike those which I indicated in my 'Other Worlds than Ours,' and others of my earlier works.”

—New York Daily Tribune, Nov. 5, 1875

Compiled 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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