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: George Gershwin , Ivan Pavlov and Charles Bradlaugh
George Gershwin

George Gershwin

On this date in 1898, composer George Gershwin was born in Brooklyn, New York. Of the three boys in the family, only Ira, later George's lyricist, was subjected to a bar mitzvah. "This religious milestone apparently meant little to Ira himself. The fact that Rose and Morris never imposed it upon George and Arthur means that, by the time they became teenagers, the family had left their East European Jewish origins behind and were living a secularized existence in New York's cosmopolitan melting pot. . . . Rose made sure the living room curtains were drawn closed on the eve of sabbaths or festivals, so that her Jewish neighbors would be unaware she had not lit the ceremonial candles," according to Rodney Greenberg, in his biography, George Gershwin. Gershwin's named sources of "inspiration" were not gods or prophets but two other nonbelieving songwriters: Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern, according to biographer Edward Jablonski, Gershwin: A Biography. Self-taught as a piano-player, Gershwin began writing songs and musicals as a teenager, quickly advancing from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway musicals. Considered by many to be America's greatest song composer, Gershwin wrote memorable standard after standard, including: "Lady, be Good!" "Strike Up the Band," "Funny Face," "The Man I Love," "Embraceable You," "Somebody Loves Me" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me." His more serious work: Rhapsody in Blue (1924), Piano Concerto in F (1925), Porgy & Bess (1934-5), and Three Preludes (1926). At the height of his career, the ambitious 38-year-old, who had been sent to see a psychiatrist after complaining of debilitating headaches, collapsed from an undiagnosed brain tumor and tragically died during surgery. D.1937.

It Ain't Necessarily So

It ain't necessarily so, (repeat)
De t'ings dat yo' li'ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.

Li'l David was small, but oh my! (rpt)
He fought big Goliath
Who lay down an' dieth!
Li'l David was small, but oh my!

Oh, Jonah, he lived in de whale, (rpt)
Fo' he made his home in
Dat fish's abdomen.
Oh, Jonah, he lived in de whale.

Li'l Moses was found in a stream, (rpt)
He floated on water
Till Ole Pharaoh's daughter
She fished him, she says, from that stream.

It ain't necessarily so, (rpt)
Dey tell all you chillun
De debble's a villun,
But 'tain't necessarily so.

To get into Hebben don' snap for a sebben!
Live clean! Don' have no fault.
Oh, I takes dat gospel
Whenever it's poss'ble,
But wid a grain of salt.

Methus'lah lived nine hundred years,
But who calls dat livin'
When no gal'll give in
To no man what's nine hundred years?

I'm preachin' dis sermon to show,
It ain't nessa, ain't nessa,
ain't nessa, ain't nessa,
Ain't necessarily so.

—-Music by George Gershwin. Lyrics by Ira Gershwin. Copyright 1935 by Gershwin Publishing Co.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov

On this date in 1849, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born in Ryazan, Russia. He enrolled in Ryazan Ecclesiastical Seminary in the 1860s. In 1870, he dropped out in order to study natural sciences at the University of St. Petersburg. He graduated in 1875, and went on to attend the Academy of Medical Surgery. Pavlov became a professor of pharmacology at the Military Medical Academy in 1890 and director of the department of physiology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in 1891, where he studied the physiology of the digestive system, often using dogs as research subjects. He wrote books about his research, including Work of the Digestive Glands (1897), Psychopathology and Psychiatry (1962) and Conditioned Reflexes (1960). In 1904, he earned the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his work with digestive organs. Pavlov married his wife, Serafima, in 1881.

Despite Pavlov’s influential research on the digestive system, he is most famous for his discovery of classical conditioning: teaching an animal to associate a reflex with an unrelated stimulus. Pavlov made the discovery while researching the salivary glands of dogs, after he noticed that dogs salivated when they anticipated food in addition to when they began eating. This led Pavlov to condition the dogs to begin salivating when they saw or heard a variety of stimuli – most famously, bells. He accomplished this by ringing a bell every time he fed the dogs, making them associate bells with food.

Pavlov described himself as an atheist who lost his faith when he was a seminary student. “In regard to my religiosity, my belief in God, my church attendance, there is no truth in it; it is sheer fantasy,” Pavlov told his student Evgenii Mikhailovich Kreps in the 1920s, according to the article “Pavlov’s Religious Orientation” by George Windholz (published in Vol. 25 of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1986). He continued: “I was a seminarian, and like the majority of seminarians, I became an unbeliever, an atheist in my school years.” Windholz also quoted Pavlov as saying, “There are weak people over whom religion has power. The strong ones – yes, the strong ones – can become thorough rationalists, relying only upon knowledge, but the weak ones are unable to do this.” D. 1936

“Humans saved themselves by creating religion, which enabled them to maintain themselves somehow, to survive in the midst of an uncompromising, all-powerful nature. It is a very basic instinct that is thoroughly rooted in human nature.”

—Ivan Pavlov, quoted in “Pavlov’s Religious Orientation” by George Windholz (published in Vol. 25 of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1986).

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Charles Bradlaugh

Charles Bradlaugh

On this date in 1833, England's best-known proponent of atheism, reformer Charles Bradlaugh, was born in East London. Bradlaugh left school at age 11 to earn his living. When he announced his freethought views, he was forced to leave his family home, and found support among other freethinkers, including the children of oft-jailed publisher Richard Carlile. Bradlaugh worked as a coal merchant. After joining the army, he worked as a solicitor's clerk, learned the law and became a skillful attorney. He wrote and lectured about freethought under the pseudonym "Iconoclast." Bradlaugh briefly became editor of the freethinking bi-weekly periodical, the Investigator, in 1858. By the time he became co-editor of the National Reformer in 1860 he was a famed social reformer and orator, known in England and abroad. In 1866, he founded the National Secular Society. Bradlaugh had two daughters and one son with his wife, whose serious drinking problem broke up the family in 1870. Bradlaugh's challenge in 1868-69 of the Security Laws, inhibiting distribution of controversial periodicals, brought their repeal. He also championed land reform. In 1876, he and colleague Annie Besant were prosecuted for "obscenity" for republishing a birth control booklet, The Fruits of Philosophy, by American doctor Charles Knowlton. After a grueling trial, the pair were convicted and faced jailtime and fines, but were freed on a technicality. Bradlaugh was urged to run for Parliament in 1868, placing fifth. He ran several times before winning in 1880, but was refused seating because he would not take the religious oath. Bradlaugh was re-elected by loyal constituents four times before finally prevailing in his fight to be seated in 1886, a landmark for British freethinkers, but a legal fight that drained him financially. Bradlaugh persuaded Parliament to pass a bill permitting the right to affirm in 1888. Bradlaugh lectured three times in the United States in the 1870s, and was warmly received in India during his 1889 visit. His only surviving child, Hypatia Bradlaugh Bonner, took up the freethought/reform cudgels, also defending her father's reputation from numerous "death-bed conversion" fables. D. 1891.

“I maintain that thoughtful Atheism affords greater possibility for human happiness than any system yet based on, or possible to be founded on, Theism, and that the lives of true Atheists must be more virtuous--because more human--than those of the believers in Deity, . . .

Atheism, properly understood, is no mere disbelief; is in no wise a cold, barren negative; it is, on the contrary, a hearty, fruitful affirmation of all truth, and involves the positive assertion of action of highest humanity.”

—Charles Bradlaugh, "A Plea for Atheism," Humanity's Gain from Unbelief (1929)

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.

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