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: Linus Torvalds , Maarten Schmidt and Wendy Kaminer
Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds

On this date in 1969, Linus Torvalds was born in Helsinki, Finland. He started using computers when he was about 10 year old, and soon began designing simple computer programs. Torvalds earned his M.S. in computer science from the University of Helsinki in 1996, where he was introduced to the Unix operating system. In 1991, Torvalds began creating the innovative Linux, an operating system similar to Unix. Later in the year, he released Linux for free as an open source operating system, allowing anyone to edit its source code with Torvalds’ permission. Linux’s open source nature has contributed to its popularity and reliability, since it is regularly updated and improved by dedicated users. For his work with Linux, Torvalds received the 2008 Computer History Fellow Award and the 2005 Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology. The asteroid 9793 Torvalds was named after him.

After developing Linux, Torvalds worked for Transmeta Corporation from 1997 to 2003. He appeared in the 2001 documentary “Revolution OS,” and authored an autobiography titled Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary (2001). He is married to Tove Torvalds, who also attended the University of Helsinki for Computer Science. They live in the U.S. and have three daughters, Patricia, born in 1996, Daniela, born in 1998, and Celeste, born in 2000.

In a Nov. 1, 1999 interview with Linux Journal, Torvalds described himself as “completely a-religious” and “atheist.” He explained his reasons for being an atheist: “I find it kind of distasteful having religions that tell you what you can do and what you can’t do.” He also believes in the separation of church and state, telling Linux Journal, “In practice, religion has absolutely nothing to do with everyday life.”

“I find that people seem to think religion brings morals and appreciation of nature. I actually think it detracts from both . . . I think we can have morals without getting religion into it, and a lot of bad things have come from organized religion in particular. I actually fear organized religion because it usually leads to misuses of power.”

—Linus Torvalds, Linux Journal, Nov. 1, 1999.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Maarten Schmidt

Maarten Schmidt

On this date in 1929, Maarten Schmidt was born in Groningen, the Netherlands. Schmidt became interested in astronomy at the age of 12, when he began building telescopes with help from an uncle, and he has maintained his passion for astronomy throughout his life. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Groningen University in 1949 and graduated from Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands with his Ph.D. in 1956. After graduation, he began working as an associate professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology until his retirement in 1996. Schmidt’s most influential achievement was discovering the first known quasar, a type of extremely massive and distant black hole, in 1963. Quasars, which harbor clues to early conditions of the universe, provided strong evidence to support the then-controversial big-bang theory of the origin of the universe. Schmidt continued researching quasars, along with x-ray and gamma ray astronomy, during his time at the California Institute of Technology. Schmidt has also worked as an administrator at the California Institute of Technology (1972–1979) and the director of the Hale Observatories (1978–1980). His numerous awards include the Rumford prize in 1968, the Bruce medal in 1992 and the first ever Kavli Prize in astrophysics in 2008, shared with six other scientists. Schmidt served as president of the American Astronomical Society (1984–1986). He and his wife, Corrie, were married in 1955 and they have two daughters.

Schmidt is a nonbeliever who grew up in a fairly nonreligious family and never attended church as a child, according to an Oct. 24, 1977 interview with Dr. Spencer Weart.

When asked he believed in God: “I don’t. No, no, no. And I imagine at our table [of California Institute of Technology faculty], the minority would.”

—Maarten Schmidt, Los Angeles Times (May 31, 2008).

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Wendy Kaminer

Wendy Kaminer

On this date c. 1950, Wendy Kaminer was born. She earned her undergraduate degree from Smith College in 1971 and went on to graduate from Boston University Law School in 1975. Kaminer worked as a criminal defense attorney for the New York Legal Aid Society (1977–1978), a staff attorney for the New York City Mayor’s Office, and a professor at Tufts University (1988–1990). In 1991, Kaminer switched her focus from law to journalism when she began working as a contributing editor for The Atlantic, although she often writes about legal issues. She is also a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, beginning in 1999, and the author of eight books including Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety (1999) and Free For All: Defending Liberty in America Today (2002). Kaminer was awarded the Extraordinary Merit Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1993 and a Guggenheim fellowship in 1993.

Kaminer is an outspoken agnostic who uses her journalism platform to speak up about atheism and state/church issues. Many of her articles discuss the harm of religion’s influence on politics, civil liberties, psychology and the law. In “The Last Taboo: Why America Needs Atheism,” published in The New Republic in 1996, Kaminer wrote about the stigma facing atheists: “Atheists generate about as much sympathy as pedophiles. But, while pedophilia may at least be characterized as a disease, atheism is a choice, a willful rejection of beliefs to which vast majorities of people cling.” She continued: “The magical thinking encouraged by any belief in the supernatural, combined with the vilification of rationality and skepticism, is more conducive to conspiracy theories than it is to productive political debate.” Kaminer was awarded FFRF’s 2000 Freethought Heroine Award.

“I don’t care if religious people consider me amoral because I lack their beliefs in God. I do, however, care deeply about efforts to turn religious beliefs into law, and those efforts benefit greatly from the conviction that individually and collectively, we cannot be good without God.”

—Wendy Kaminer, “No Atheists Need Apply,” The Atlantic, Jan. 13, 2010.

Compiled by Sabrina 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.

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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