Freethought of the Day

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There are 4 entries for this date: Christian de Duve , Graham Greene , Sting and Wallace Stevens
Christian de Duve

Christian de Duve

On this date in 1917, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Christian de Duve was born in Surrey, Great Britain, to Belgian parents. He later moved to Belgium and during WWII he served as a medic in the Belgian Army. He received his PhD in chemistry in 1945 from the Catholic University of Leuven, the top university in Belgium at the time. His thesis focused on insulin, which is the chemical that regulates blood sugar and when not produced causes diabetes. His work focused on subcellular biochemistry, cell biology and the origin of life. De Duve became a professor at the Catholic University of Leuven in 1947, and in 1962 also joined Rockefeller University. He discovered two types of cell organelles: peroxisomes and lysosomes. He discovered peroxisomes, which perform metabolic functions, in 1967, and lysosomes, which break down waste in cells, in 1949. The research he did on cell biology helped create more knowledge about genetic disorders such as Tay-Sachs disease. His research also found new ways to examine cells, using centrifugal techniques. He wrote several books on science and cell biology. In the 1980s, de Duve became professor emeritus at both of the universities where he had conducted research. De Duve won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1974 with Albert Claude and George Palade for the work they did on cell structure, specifically for describing the roles of lysosomes and peroxisomes. The three scientists are recognized as the fathers of the field of modern cell biology. De Duve had four children: Thierry, Alain, Anne and Francoise. D. 2013.

Photo by Julien Doornaert Under CC 2.5

“It would be an exaggeration to say I’m not afraid of death, but I’m not afraid of what comes after, because I’m not a believer.”

——de Duve explaining his choice to end his life using euthanasia, in a New York Times article by Denise Gellene, May 6, 2013.

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Graham Greene

On this date in 1904, Graham Greene was born in Hertfordshire, England. He graduated with a B.A. in history from Balliol College in 1925, where he worked as an editor for The Oxford Outlook. After graduating, he became an editor for The Times. He left in 1930 to become a film critic for The Spectator. Greene was an esteemed novelist who wrote 24 novels, including The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948) and The Quiet American (1956). He gained inspiration for his novels partially from his travels in countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mexico and Vietnam. Greene also published short stories and screenplays including “The Third Man” (1949). Greene worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service during World War II.

Greene was an agnostic who converted to Catholicism in 1926, after becoming engaged to Vivien Dayrell-Browning, who was Catholic. In his autobiography A Sort of Life (1971), Greene wrote that his conversion was difficult: “I disbelieved in God. If I were ever to be convinced in even the remote possibility of a supreme, omnipotent and omniscient power I realized that nothing afterwards could seem impossible. It was on the ground of dogmatic atheism that I fought and fought hard.” Although Catholic, Greene questioned his faith. “When I became a Catholic and had to take another name, I took Thomas, after the doubter,” Greene is quoted as saying in part two of Graham Greene: On the Frontier (1988) by Maria Couto. After his conversion, many of his novels and stories included Catholic themes. However, in a 1987 interview, Greene said, “I've always found it difficult to believe in God. I suppose I'd now call myself a Catholic atheist” (quoted in The New York Times, 1991). Robin Turton, a politician and friend of Greene, said: “I think in my life I’ve never heard atheism put forward better than by Graham” (quoted in Graham Green: Fictions, Faith and Authorship (2010) by Michael Brennan). D. 1991

“I prefer to be an agnostic and think that the body itself produces its own miracle.”

—Letter to his publicist, Ragnar Svanström, on May 13, 1977, quoted in Graham Greene: A Life in Letters (2007) by Richard Greene.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Sting

Sting

On this date in 1951, composer, singer, musician, actor and environmental activist Gordon Matthew Sumner (Sting), was born to a milkman and hairdresser in Newcastle, England. Sumner took the name Sting after someone told him he looked like a bee wearing a striped sweater. Sting became a husband and father before turning 20, and then moved to London hoping to launch his musical career. He and two others started the hit band The Police, in 1976. Sting, the lead singer, wrote most of the music and lyrics. The group had early hits including "Roxanne" and "Message in a Bottle," but they struck musical gold with the 1983 smash hit "Every Breath You Take." Sting began acting in such films as "Quadrophenia" (1979), "Dune" (1984), and "The Bride" (1985). The Police broke up in 1984, and Sting released his first solo album the next year, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles," which was nominated for a Grammy. Sting's activism has persisted throughout his career. Since the 1980s, he has actively supported Amnesty International, and co-founded the Rainforest Foundation in 1989, in an effort to save the Brazilian rainforest. He has authored books including Jungle Stories: The Fight for the Amazon (1989), with co-author Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, and Spirits in the Material World (1994), with Pato Banton. In the CD booklet of his Winter Solstice album, "If On A Winter's Night" (2009), Sting twice identifies himself as an agnostic. 

" . . . if ever I'm asked if I'm religious I always reply, 'Yes, I'm a devout musician.' Music puts me in touch with something beyond the intellect, something otherworldly, something sacred."

—-Sting delivering a Berklee College of Music commencement address in Boston, May 15, 1994

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch, with help from Scott Grinstead; Photo by Jaguar PS, Shutterstock.com

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens

On this date in 1870, Wallace Stevens, a major American poet, was born in Reading, Pennsylvania. Stevens’ poetry has been described as whimsical in style, emulating the style of English romantics in its ability to provoke strong emotions and philosophical questions.

Stevens displayed a talent for writing in high school where he earned excellent grades and reported for his school’s paper. Stevens attended Harvard University from 1897 to 1900, where he studied literature, until a shortage of family funds forced him to disenroll. Stevens became the editor of Harvard Monthly student newspaper in 1900, often publishing his own work and proving to be a multitalented writer. After leaving Harvard, Stevens worked briefly as a reporter for the New York Evening Post. Stevens enrolled in the New York School of Law in 1901, and graduated in 1903. He was admitted into the New York bar in 1904. By 1908, he began working with an insurance firm. In September 1909, Stevens married Elsie Viola Kache. Stevens became associated with several influential writers and poets in Greenwich Village. He became involved in the artistic community where he developed a taste for modern paintings and Asian art. Under a pen name, Stevens sent a group of poems titled “Phrases” to Harriet Monroe for a poetry competition in Poetry magazine in 1914. Although he did not win, his poems were published in the magazine later that year. Stevens moved to Connecticut where he joined the staff of Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., in 1916. He worked at the insurance company for the rest of his life, becoming vice-president in 1934.

Soon after moving to Connecticut, Stevens began to earn a name for himself in the writing community. He published the prize-winning play, Three Travelers Watch a Sunrise, in 1916 and another play, Carlos Among the Candles, in 1917.

Stevens published a collection of over 50 poems into a single volume, Harmonium (1923). Key pieces to the collection included “Peter Quince and the Clavier” and “Sunday Morning” which are threaded with themes that challenge ideas central to Christianity and immortality. Harmonium was largely ignored by critics and Stevens’ writing fell of after, which he attributed to the birth of his daughter, Holly, in 1924. His second collection of poetry, Ideas of Order (1934), received more recognition, however his breakthrough book was The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937). Other volumes Stevens published include Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (1947), The Auroras of Autumn (1950), and The Necessary Angel (1951). Steven’s was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens in 1955.

In his poem “Sunday Morning”, Stevens explored the topic of death and the communion of the body back to nature. Dismissing faith in a spiritual afterlife, Stevens replaced scriptural myths of heaven with the holy and transformative powers of nature. It expresses a celebration of a spirituality that is founded on the glory of nature. In a book on Stevens’ poetry, Susan B. Weston called “Sunday Morning” the revelation of secular religions. D. 1955. (Source: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/wallace-stevens)

“Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measures destined for her soul.”

—Wallace Stevens, Stanza II of “Sunday Morning”, 1923

Compiled by Molly Hanson

© 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" email info@ ffrf.org. To become an FFRF member, click here.


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