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: Carl Sagan , Ivan Turgenev and Robert Dale Owen
Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

On this date in 1934, scientist Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. After earning bachelor and master's degrees at Cornell, Sagan earned a double doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1960. He became professor of astronomy and space science and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, and co-founder of the Planetary Society. A great popularizer of science, Sagan produced the PBS series, "Cosmos," which was Emmy and Peabody award-winning, and was watched by 500 million people in 60 countries. A book of the same title came out in 1980, and was on The New York Times bestseller list for 7 weeks. Sagan was author, co-author or editor of 20 books, including The Dragons of Eden (1977), which won a Pulitzer, Pale Blue Dot (1995) and The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark (1996), his hardest-hitting on religion. With his wife, Ann Druyan, he was co-producer of the popular motion picture, "Contact," which featured a feminist, atheist protagonist played by Jodie Foster (1997). The film came out after Sagan's death, following a 2-year struggle with a bone marrow disease. Sagan played a leading role in NASA's Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to other planets. Ann Druyan, in the epilogue to Sagan's last book, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (published posthumously in 1997), gives a moving account of Carl's last days: "Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever." D. 1996.

“If some good evidence for life after death were announced, I'd be eager to examine it; but it would have to be real scientific data, not mere anecdote. As with the face on Mars and alien abductions, better the hard truth, I say, than the comforting fantasy. And in the final tolling it often turns out that the facts are more comforting than the fantasy.”

—Carl Sagan,

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Ivan Turgenev

Ivan Turgenev

On this date in 1818, Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev was born in Oryol, in the Ukraine, Russia, to a noble family. His mother never spared the whip with Ivan or their 5,000 serfs. Ivan was educated at the universities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Berlin. He published poetry and short stories, then Papers of a Sportsman (1852), whose empathetic rendering of the plight of serfs reportedly influenced the czar to liberate them. Turgenev spent a month in detention for writing Letter on Gogol, then was exiled to his estates for 18 months. He and Tolstoy had a tense but longterm acquaintanceship, with rationalist Turgenev spurning Tolstoy's "charlatanism," convinced that Russia's salvation lay in its industry, not its mysticism. Turgenev's stories and novellas increasingly employed realism. The hostile reaction to his novel Fathers and Sons sent Turgenev into exile. After living in Germany and London, he spent the rest of his life in Paris. Turgenev coined the word nihilist: "A nihilist is a man who does not bow to any authorities, does not take any principles on trust, no matter with what respect that principle is surrounded." Rationalism pervaded his works. "[Turgenev] was a Freethinker, and detested the apparatus of religion very heartily," according to Pavlovsky's Souvenirs sur Tourgenief, (1887, p. 242, cited by Joseph McCabe, Encyclopedia of Modern Rationalists.) D. 1883.

“Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: Great God, grant that twice two be not four.”

—Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons, 1861

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Dale Owen

Robert Dale Owen

On this date in 1801, Robert Dale Owen, oldest son of Robert Owen, was born at New Lanark, Scotland, his reformer father's settlement. When his father bought a town in Indiana for �30,000 to experiment with a model community, Robert accompanied him to New Harmony, where he edited the New Harmony Gazette, with strong freethought overtones. Although the community failed, it introduced Turkish trousers for women (later dubbed "bloomers"). His father returned to England, and Owen became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He worked with Frances Wright on many reforms and enterprises, including abolition, women's rights, pacifism, editing The Free Enquirer, and founding the Workingman Party. In 1835, Owen was elected to the Indiana State Legislature, and in 1843-1847 served in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he played a key role in founding the Smithsonian Institute and promoted public education. Owen represented the United States as a diplomat in Naples for several years. On Sept. 17, 1862, Owen wrote President Lincoln urging him to use his power to end American slavery. Five days later, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. To the concern of fellow freethinkers, Owen toyed with the spiritualism movement but was eventually disillusioned by it. His books include several on abolitionism, and his autobiography, Threading My Way (1874). D. 1877.

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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