Freethought of the Day

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There are 4 entries for this date: William Godwin , Ira Glass , Sir Edward Herbert and Brian Cox
William Godwin

William Godwin

On this date in 1756, William Godwin was born in England, the son and grandson of strait-laced Calvinist ministers. Strictly-raised Godwin followed in paternal footsteps, becoming a minister by age 22. His reading of atheist d'Holbach and others caused him to lose both his belief in the doctrine of eternal damnation, and his ministerial position. Through further reading, Godwin gradually became godless. He promoted anarchism (but not anarchy). His Political Justice and The Enquirer (1793) argued for morality without religion, causing a scandal. He followed that philosophical book with a trail-blazing fictional adventure-detective story, Caleb Williams (1794), to introduce readers to his ideas in a popular format. Godwin, a leading thinker and author ranking in his day close to Thomas Paine, was enormously influential among famous peers.

He and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, secretly married in 1797. She died tragically after giving birth to daughter Mary in 1797. Godwin's loving but candid biography of his wife, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), further scandalized society. Godwin, caring not only for the baby Mary, but her half-sister Fanny, remarried. He and his second wife opened a bookshop for children. Godwin, out of necessity, became a proficient author of children's books, employing a pseudonym due to his notoriety. His daughter Mary, at 16, famously ran off with poet Percy Shelley, whose Necessity of Atheism was influenced by Godwin. Mary's novel Frankenstein also paid homage to her father's views. Godwin's life was marked by poverty and further domestic tragedies. Influenced by Coleridge, Godwin became more of a pantheist than atheist, but his prized manuscript attacked the Christian religion and was intended to free the mind from slavery. The Genius of Christianity Unveiled: in a Series of Essays was published only many years after his death. D. 1836.

“. . . sweep away the whole fiction of an intelligent former world and a future state; . . . call men off from those incoherent and contradictory dreams, that so often occupy their thoughts, and vainly agitate their fears; and . . . lead them to apply their whole energy to practical objects and genuine realities.”

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—William Godwin, Political and Philosophical Writings IV, 417. Source: Philip, Mark, "William Godwin", 004/entries/godwin/

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ira Glass

Ira Glass

On this date in 1959, radio personality Ira Glass was born in Baltimore, Md. When he was still in college, he interned at National Public Radio, where he worked after graduating from Brown University with a degree in semiotics in 1982. Glass worked as a production assistant for “All Things Considered,” and later worked as a reporter for NPR, spending a year in a high school and a year in an elementary school reporting on education. In 1989, Glass moved to Chicago and co-hosted a show called “The Wild Room.” In 1995, the radio program, “This American Life,” which Glass executive produces and narrates, went on the air for the first time. From 2007 to 2009, the staff of “This American Life” produced a television show (of the same title), with Glass again playing a dual role as executive producer and narrator. Though Glass was raised Jewish, he says that his family was always secular, and that he stopped believing in God soon after his bar mitzvah at age 13: "I found I just didn’t believe in God." (Ira Glass, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 14, 2000)

"When you have one picture of the world which includes God and one that doesn’t, the one where there is no God just emotionally felt more right to me. It is like knowing that you are in love with this person not that person, and reason or arguing about it won’t change that."

—Ira Glass in an interview with Paul Raushenbush

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Sir Edward Herbert

Sir Edward Herbert

On this date in 1582, Edward Herbert, later 1st Baron Herbert of Chirbury (sometimes spelled Cherbury), was born in Shropshire, England. His father, Richard Herbert, was the Sheriff of Montgomeryshire as well as a Member of Parliament. Herbert studied at University College, Oxford, from 1595 to 1600, at which time Herbert moved with his wife and children to London. In 1603, he was knighted by James I. In 1608, he traveled to the Continent, where he fought and studied in France, the Low Countries, Italy, and Geneva, returning to England in 1609. He was made ambassador to France from 1619 to 1621, and was given the Irish peerage of Castle Island in 1624. In 1629, Charles I raised him to the English peerage as Lord Herbert of Chirbury. Towards the end of his life, Herbert chose to side with Parliament during the English Civil War, so that he could keep his library; he did not live to see the monarchy restored. Herbert left behind much diverse writing, including a light-hearted autobiography, a history of the reign of Henry VIII, a collection of Occasional Verses, and a collection of lute music including some original compositions. He also contributed many philosophical works, either metaphysical or on religious themes, including De veritate (On Truth), and Religio laici (The Religion of the Laity).

Herbert is considered to be the father of English deism, as well as a founder of the field of comparative religion. According to R.D. Bedford's The Defence of Truth, Herbert was strongly influenced in his philosophy by Continental deists, atheists, and others of a rationalistic bent who were not widely read in England in the 17th century. Herbert was interested in the problem of finding a rational form of religion, rather than a revealed one. In his De religione gentium (Pagan Religions), published posthumously in Amsterdam in 1663, and in England in 1705, he discussed what he saw as five important propositions common to pre-Christian and then-modern religions: “I. That there is one Supreme God. II. That he ought to be worshipped. III. That virtue and piety are the chief parts of divine worship. IV. That we ought to be sorry for our sins, and repent of them. V. That divine goodness doth dispense rewards and punishments both in this life and after it.” Later chapters in De religione gentium include “Why so many various appellations were formerly given to God, and what they were,” “Of the worship of the Moon, and its different names,” and “Of the most sound parts of the religion of the heathens.” D. 1648.

“Now when I perceived that they [modern divines] resolved the causes of eternal salvation or damnation only to the good pleasure of God, and the death of Christ; I found that their opinion was grounded not on reason, but some peremptory decrees, which no body did pretend to know, and I could not think that they were so privy to the secret counsels of God, as to be able to establish any thing for certain; wherefore I left them, as entertaining mean, base, and unworthy thoughts of the most good and great God, and mankind in general."

—Edward Herbert, De religione gentium (1663), trans. 1705 by William Lewis The Antient Religion of the Gentiles

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Brian Cox

Brian Cox

On this date in 1968, Brian Edward Cox was born in Lancashire, England. After completing his secondary education, Cox joined the rock band Dare as a keyboardist. Following the band’s breakup, Cox enrolled at the University of Manchester to study physics. He continued his career in music, playing with the pop band D:Ream, while receiving his B.Sc. and M.Phil degrees. D:Ream had several hits in the UK charts, including “Things Can Only Get Better,” a number one hit. In 1998, Cox received his Ph.D. from Manchester University based on research in high-energy physics done at the HERA particle accelerator. Cox is a professor at the University of Manchester, where he is a member of the high-energy physics group. He is also a member of the ATLAS research group at CERN in Geneva and a fellow of the Royal Society.

Cox is best known for his science outreach to the general public. He has appeared as a presenter for numerous BBC television and radio programs on scientific subjects, including “Wonders of the Solar System” and “Wonders of the Universe.” Since 2009, Cox has co-hosted the BBC Radio 4 program “The Infinite Monkey Cage” with comedian Robin Ince. The show features a rotating panel of scientists and entertainers discussing topics, as well as an occasional “Stand-up mathematician.” Cox and Ince are strong advocates for a rational point of view. Some episodes have directly tackled the topic of science versus the supernatural. Cox also lectures widely, has given several TED talks, and has co-authored several books about physics, including 2009’s Why Does E=mc2? (And Why Should We Care?). Cox is a strong advocate for science education and government funding of scientific research, and seeks to actively combat scientific ignorance and anti-scientific attitudes. Cox told the Guardian (Mar. 7, 2010), he had never believed in God, saying, “I was sent to Sunday school for a few weeks but I didn't like getting up on Sunday mornings.” He lives in Manchester with his wife Gia Milinovich and their children.

List: How interested are you in debating the other side of the argument with all those God-type folks?

Brian Cox: . . . The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it. The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!

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.

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  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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