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: Ariel Durant , Jonathan Edwards and Charles Knowlton
Ariel Durant

Ariel Durant

On this date in 1898, Ariel Durant (neé Chaya Kaufman) was born in Proskurov (now Khmelnitsky), Ukraine. However, May 10 may not be her actual birthday. While immigrating to America, Durant and her four sisters were all registered as being born on May 10. She moved to New York in 1901 along with her large family to meet her father, who was already living in the U.S. and working as a newspaper vendor. She began attending the Ferrer School in New York when she was 13, where she met teacher Will Durant. They were married in 1913 when Durant was 15 and he was 28. She later changed her name from Ida to Ariel, a nickname her husband called her because she reminded him of Shakespeare's sprite in "The Tempest."

The Durants co-wrote the extensive 11-volume The Story of Civilization (1927–75), a collection of influential books that document Western history. The popular books won two prizes: a Pulitzer in 1968 for Rosseau and Revolution (1967) and the Huntington Hartford Foundation Award for Literature for The Age of Louis XIV (1963). In 1965 Durant was named Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. Durant had one daughter, Ethel, and an adopted son named Louis, who was her sister Flora's child.

Durant was raised in a Jewish family but she and her siblings gradually lost their faith. Her uncle Maurice was not religious and his views influenced Ariel. In the Durants' A Dual Autobiography (1977), she wrote, “We never deserted our faith for any other, but we lost most of it as we rubbed against a harsh and increasingly secular world. ... [M]y Uncle Maurice helped to free me from such nonsense, and awoke in me a desire to read books and enter the world of thought.”

She died two weeks before her husband in 1981. They are buried in Los Angeles.

“Does history support a belief in God? If by God we mean not the creative vitality of nature but a supreme being intelligent and benevolent, the answer must be a reluctant negative.” 

—Will and Ariel Durant, "The Lessons of History" (1968)

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

On this date in 1966, Jonathan Edwards was born in London. Edwards became a born-again Christian as a teen. He decided to pursue a career as a track and field triple-jumper starting in 1987 and competed until retiring after the 2003 IAAF World Championships. He is the most successful medal-winning athlete in British history, having won the gold in the Olympics at Sydney in 2000, at the Commonwealth Games in 2002 at Manchester and the World Championships in 2001 at Edmonton, among many awards. Since 1995 he has held the world record in men's triple jump, with the record at 18.29 meters as of August 2019.

During his athletic career, Edwards was very public about his Christian faith. In 1991 he even refused to compete in the World Championships because the triple jump meet was held on a Sunday. After retiring from competition, Edwards worked as a presenter for a BBC television program on faith, "Songs of Praise," during which time he lost his faith, as he announced publicly in 2007.

Since leaving his religion behind, Edwards has offered some insight into the psychology of athletes' prayers for success, telling The Times of London, “I was always dismissive of sports psychology when I was competing, but I now realize that my belief in God was sports psychology in all but name.” (June 27, 2007.) Edwards has also stated that he held onto his faith so long as an athlete because until then he never felt the need to question his preconceived notions. Edwards and his wife Allison have two sons and live in Derbyshire.

“If there is no God, does that mean that life has no purpose? Does it mean that personal existence ends at death? They are thoughts that do my head in. One thing that I can say, however, is that even if I am unable to discover some fundamental purpose to life, this will not give me a reason to return to Christianity. Just because something is unpalatable does not mean that it is not true.”

—Jonathan Edwards, The Times of London (June 27, 2007)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo by Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Charles Knowlton

Charles Knowlton

On this date in 1800, Charles Knowlton was born in Templeton, Mass., to Stephen and Comfort (White) Knowlton. He earned his M.D. from Dartmouth College in 1824. As a student, Knowlton was jailed for two months for exhuming and dissecting a corpse for anatomical studies. Freethinkers like Knowlton pioneered the movement to prevent unwanted pregnancies and he was one of the earliest reformers. 

His Fruits of Philosophy; or, the Private Companion of Young Married People (1832) tackled the subject of birth control before that term existed. Knowlton dispassionately made the case for preventing conception and promoted a syringe-administered douche. The first edition was anonymous. The book was published in nine U.S. editions and was reprinted by subscription by a group of doctors at Harvard Medical School in 1877. Knowlton was prosecuted and sentenced to three months' hard labor when it became known he was the author.

Upon release he went to a freethought society in Boston run by Abner Kneeland, where he delivered "Two Remarkable Lectures" referring to superstition as the "moral monster." He was unsuccessfully prosecuted in Greenfield, Mass., at the instigation of a minister. British atheists Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant republished Fruits of Philosopy in 1877 to challenge the Obscene Publications Act. They were prosecuted and tried, narrowly avoiding jail. Besant rewrote the dated text into Law of Population in 1879, which became a best-seller and helped hasten the birth control movement worldwide.

Knowlton was a delegate to the convention of the Infidels of the United States in New York City in 1845. He died in 1850.

"But if you are a lover of truth (as all profess to be), and have been interested in perusing this work because you believed I was doing something to further the cause of it, you will be pleased, I think, to know a little more about me and how I came to be such as infidel as I am."

—Knowlton, "Elements of Modern Materialism" (1829)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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