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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: André Breton , Nicolaus Copernicus and Svante August Arrhenius
André  Breton

André Breton

On this date in 1896, French poet and writer André Breton was born in Tinchebray, France. He wrote poetry early in life but formally studied medicine and later psychiatry. He met Sigmund Freud in 1921 and his later writings were inspired in part by Freud’s ideas. Breton is considered, along with Salvador Dalí and others, a founder of surrealism. His Surrealist Manifesto was published in 1924, and that same year he influenced the founding of the Bureau of Surrealist Research.

The French government in 1938 sent Breton on a cultural commission to Mexico, where he met Leon Trotsky, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Breton and Trotsky wrote a manifesto calling for freedom in art, “Pour un art révolutionnaire indépendent” (“Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art”). Breton joined the French Army medical corps during World War II, at which time the Vichy government banned his writings. He escaped to the United States in 1941. Upon his return to Paris in 1946, he became a strong proponent of anarchism and founded a new group of surrealists.

Breton was extensively published. Some of his works include If You Please (1920), The Magnetic Fields (1920), A Corpse (1924), Nadja (1928), The Second Manifesto of Surrealism (1920), The Automatic Message (1933), What Is Surrealism (1934), Manifestoes of Surrealism (1955) and The Magic Art (1957). In André Breton: Arbiter of Surrealism (1967), Clifford Browder noted: “Breton was unflinching in his rejection of mysticism, which he associated with the worship of a superior power outside the human mind; for him the Surrealist merveilleux contained no trace of religious mystery.”

Breton was married three times. He met his third wife while in exile in the U.S. He had one daughter, Aube, with his second wife. Breton died in 1966 at age 70 and is buried in Paris.

“Everything that is doddering, squint-eyed, vile, polluted and grotesque is summoned up for me in that one word: God!”

—Breton, "Surrealism and Painting" (1928)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus Copernicus

On this date in 1473, astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (né Nicolaus Koppernigk) was born the youngest of four children in Torun, Poland. He studied a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, Latin, Greek, mathematics, law, medicine and astronomy, at the universities of Krakow, Bologna, Padua and Ferrara. His uncle, a bishop, strongly encouraged him to pursue a career in the church since it would provide economic security, so he pursued a doctorate in canon law.

His uncle helped secure him the position of canon at Frauenburg Cathedral in 1497, which provided a comfortable income and did not require much work. This allowed Copernicus the freedom to pursue interests such as economics, medicine, law, diplomacy, art and astronomy. A bishop later threatened to take away his income unless he entered the priesthood but he continued to refuse. His opinion was so valued that the Fifth Lateran Council sought his views on calendar reform in 1514.

Around this time, Copernicus began circulating his Little Commentary, criticizing the Ptolemaic system that placed Earth at the center of the universe. Copernicus made astronomical observations without the aid of a telescope, which was not invented until 1609.

His most significant contribution to astronomy and science was "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium" (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). In it he postulated that Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun, in opposition to the church's universe, in which the sun and other planets revolve around Earth. He completed the book in 1530 and did not allow for its publication until 1541, at the urging of one of his admirers. Without Copernicus' permission, a preface was anonymously added right before publication, classifying the work as mere hypothetical speculation.

Copernicus supposedly received the published book just before his death. Even though Copernicus dedicated his book to Pope Paul III, who had a fondness for astronomy, in 1616 the book was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books (publications deemed immoral and impious by the Catholic Church). In part, Galileo was condemned to house arrest and Giordano Bruno was executed for the heretical "Copernican" view that Earth was not the center of the universe.

"The Copernican theory contains many absurd or erroneous assertions," wrote Christoph Clavius, a 16th-century Jesuit priest. It wasn't just Catholics who were upset. "The fool will upset the whole science of astronomy," complained Martin Luther.

Toward the end of 1542, Copernicus, who never married, was seized with apoplexy and paralysis and died not much later at age 70. (D. 1543)

"Perhaps there will be babblers who claim to be judges of astronomy although completely ignorant of the subject and, badly distorting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, will dare to find fault with my undertaking and censure it. I disregard them even to the extent of despising their criticism as unfounded."

—Copernicus in his original preface to "De Revolutionibus" (1543)

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Svante August Arrhenius

Svante August Arrhenius

On this date in 1859, physical chemist and Nobel Prize winner Svante August Arrhenius was born in Sweden. He studied at Upsala University, then under a professor in Stockholm. His 1884 thesis, on the galvanic conductivity of electrolyes, won him the first docentship at Uppsala in physical chemistry, a new branch of science. Arrhenius was also awarded a traveling fellowship and worked with scientists throughout Europe.

He was appointed a physics lecturer in 1891 at Stockholm University College. Arrhenius in 1896 was the first to identify the relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global temperatures, with a rise in the percentage of carbon dioxide tied to a rise in temperature. His work played an important role in the emergence of modern climate science.

He won the Nobel Prize for chemical research in 1903 for originating the theory of electrolytic dissociation, or ionization. He also investigated osmosis, toxins and antitoxins. He was offered the position of chief of the Nobel Institute for Physical Chemistry, founded just for him.

Arrhenius wrote classic textbooks in his field, which were translated into many languages, and popularized science for the general public with such books as The Destinies of the Stars (1919). His wide interests in science were exemplified by his contributions to the understanding of such phenomena as the Northern Lights. In 1914 he was awarded the Faraday Medal of the Chemical Society.

During World War I he worked to get the release of many German and Austrian scientists who had been made prisoners of war. According to freethought historian Joseph McCabe, Arrhenius was a monist. However, Gordon Stein in The Encyclopedia of Unbelief (1988) said he was "a declared atheist."

He was married twice, first to his former pupil Sofia Rudbeck (1894-96), with whom he had a son, Olof, and then to Maria Johansson (1905-27), with whom he had two daughters and a son. (D. 1927)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.