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 4 entries for this date: Michel de Montaigne , Linus Pauling , Robin Cook and Daniel Handler
Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne

On this date in 1533, essayist Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born near Bordeaux. His mother's Spanish-Portuguese family had converted from Judaism to Protestantism and immigrated to France during the Spanish Inquisition. His Roman Catholic father, a well-to-do merchant, came from a titled family. Tutored at a tender age by his father, Montaigne spoke Latin fluently by the age of six. He completed his studies at the College de Guyenne at 13, then studied law, replacing his father as councilor of the Bordeaux court in 1555. After serving for 15 years, he resigned to commence writing essays, a term he coined himself from the French word "essai" (attempt), and which he defined as "the dialog of the mind with itself." Montaigne's well-known quips and observations include: "When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn't amusing herself with me more than I am with her?" Montaigne, at his father's request, had translated Spanish theologian Raimond Sebond's 1,000-page book on natural theology, which averred religious claims could be proved by scientific logic. When the first two volumes of his Essays were published in 1580, Montaigne's longest essay was "Apology for Raimond Sebond," which countered Sebond's claim, arguing religion could only be believed by faith.

Montaigne's observations on religion in Essays include: "How many things served us yesterday for articles of faith, which today are fables to us?" "Philosophy is doubt." "To know much is often the cause of doubting more." "Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know." During the bloody religious wars between French Catholics and Protestant Huguenots, Montaigne played the role of intermediary between King Henry III and the Huguenot Henry of Navarre. Montaigne was jailed briefly, first by the Protestants, then by the Catholics. He campaigned for the issuance of the Edict of Nantes, 1598, by King Henry IV, to restore religious toleration. Montaigne was Mayor of Bordeaux for four years, and completed his third volume of Essays in 1588. Essays were put on the Catholic church's notorious Index of condemned writings in 1676. Montaigne, nominally Cathoilc, noted, understandably, that he did not want to write "illegitimate and punishable" views. Freethought historian Joseph McCabe observed a "pervading disdain of things and doctrines ecclesiastical" (A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists,1920). Freethought historian J.M. Robertson (A Short History of Freethought,1957) considered Montaigne a humanistic Deist, who significantly rejected "the great superstition of the age, the belief in witchcraft." Montaigne's motto: Que sais-je? (What do I know?) D. 1592.

“Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a flea, and yet he will be making gods by the dozen.”

—Michel de Montaigne, Essays 1580

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling

On this date in 1901, Linus Pauling (né Linus Carl Pauling) was born in Portland, Ore. A popular figure, peace activist, humanitarian as well as scientist, Pauling is the only person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes: Chemistry (1954) and Peace (1962). He earned a degree in chemical engineering in 1922, and received his Ph.D from Caltec in 1925 in chemistry, with minors in physics and math. Pauling joined the Caltech faculty in 1927. His interest lay in the field of molecular structure and the nature of the chemical bond. He is considered the founding father of molecular biology. But his research was interdisciplinary, including human physiology and health (he is famed for recommending oral doses of Vitamin C). "The only sane policy for the world is that of abolishing war," Pauling said in accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace for 1962. The award recognized his 6-year campaign to persuade the United States, Great Britain and the USSR to sign an antitesting treaty. Minimizing suffering was the key to ethics, he believed. He was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 1961. The unorthodox and outspoken scientist was a Unitarian for many years. D. 1994.

“It is sometimes said that science has nothing to do with morality. This is wrong. Science is the search for truth, the effort to understand the world; it involves the rejection of bias, of dogma, of revelation, but not the rejection of morality.”

—Linus Pauling, Scientist for the Ages (oregonstate.edu)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robin Cook

Robin Cook

On this date in 1946, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook (né Robert Finlayson Cook) was born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom. Cook attended Aberdeen Grammar School, where he was nicknamed Robin, and graduated with an honors degree in English literature at Edinburgh University, where he was the features editor of the newspaper Student. After chairing the Scottish Association of Labour Students in the 1966-67 academic year, Cook became a lecturer with the Workers' Educational Association in Edinburgh. He served as secretary of the Edinburgh City Labour party in the early 1970s, and was elected to the Edinburgh Corporation at age 26, one of Scotland's youngest councillors. Since 1986, Cook held prominent posts in the Labour Party, including spokesman on economic affairs, shadow health secretary, Tony Blair's foreign affairs spokesman (in 1994), and Foreign Affairs Secretary in 1997, when Labour came to power. Cook quit his post in Blair's cabinet in 2003 because he had, according to BBC News, become "increasingly angry" about his failure to convince the prime minister to avoid war against Iraq. Cook died at the age of 59, after taking ill while walking in the Highlands of Scotland. At Cook's funeral service, Gordon Brown called him "the greatest parliamentarian of our time." Right Reverend Richard Holloway, who led the funeral service, "told mourners that as an avowed atheist Mr. Cook would have raised a 'quizzical eyebrow' at the service being held in St Giles Cathedral. But he said it was an 'entirely appropriate' venue because . . . Mr. Cook was a 'Presbyterian atheist' " (BBC News, "Mourners' funeral tribute to Cook," Aug. 12, 2005). D. 2005.

"Mr. Cook had been an avowed atheist, who would, in the normal course of events, have steered well clear of organised religion."

—Magnus Linklater, noting the irony of Robin Cook's funeral in a Christian church, "Labour Party at prayer salutes Cook the atheist," The Times (UK), Aug. 13, 2005

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Daniel Handler

Daniel Handler

On this date in 1970, Daniel Handler was born in San Francisco, Calif. Handler graduated from Wesleyan University in 1992. His first novel, The Basic Eight, was published in 1999. Handler is best known for his writing under the pen name Lemony Snicket, most notably the 13-book children’s series, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” In these books, Snicket is slowly revealed to be not only a pen name but an important character in the fictional world Handler created. The three protagonists of the series are orphans who live in a fictional world where they must continually battle against adversity and the efforts of various villains to steal their fortune. The first book of the bestselling series, The Bad Beginning, was published in 1999, and the last, The End, in 2006. During this time, Handler made many personal appearances and gave several interviews as Lemony Snicket’s personal assistant, claiming that Mr. Snicket had been unable to appear at the last minute. Since the conclusion of the series, Handler has written picture books and short stories under the name “Lemony Snicket.” He also continues to write for adults under his own name, writing the novels, Watch Your Mouth (2000) and Why We Broke Up (2011). Handler has also worked as a screenwriter and was involvedin the production of the 2004 film adaptation of the beginning of the series, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Handler lives with his wife, Lisa Brown, in San Francisco. They have one son, Otto Handler. Handler’s heritage is Jewish, but he describes himself as a secular humanist. He does, however, draw on his Jewish experience in the Christmas/Hannukah book, The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming (2007).

“The [Series of Unfortunate Events] books have drawn the ire and praise of fundamentalist Christians, some of whom believe the books to be Christian allegories and some of whom believe them to be long insults against Christianity. The thing is, the books are really neither.”

—Daniel Handler to CNN.com,

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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