Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: John Dewey and Tom Petty
John Dewey

John Dewey

On this date in 1859, educator and philosopher John Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont. He earned his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in 1884. After teaching philosophy at the University of Michigan, he joined the University of Chicago as head of a department in philosophy, psychology and education, influenced by Darwin, Freud and a scientific outlook. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1904. Dewey's special concern was reform of education. He promoted learning by doing rather than learning by rote. Dewey conducted international research on education, winning many academic honors worldwide. Of more than 40 books, many of his most influential concerned education, including My Pedagogic Creed (1897), Democracy and Education (1902) and Experience and Education (1938). He was one of the founders of the philosophy of pragmatism. A humanitarian, he was a trustee of Jane Addams' Hull House, supported labor and racial equality, and was at one time active in campaigning for a third political party. He chaired a commission convened in Mexico City in 1937 inquiring into charges made against Leon Trotsky during the Moscow trials. Raised by an evangelical mother, Dewey had rejected faith by his 30s. Although he disavowed being a "militant" atheist, when his mother complained that he should be sending his children to Sunday school, he replied that he had gone to Sunday School enough to make up for any truancy by his children. As a pragmatist, he judged ideas by the results they produced. As a philosopher, he eschewed an allegiance to fixed and changeless dogma and superstition. He belonged to humanist societies, including the American Humanist Association. D. 1952.

" . . . have not some religions, including the most influential forms of Christianity, taught that the heart of man is totally corrupt? How could the course of religion in its entire sweep not be marked by practices that are shameful in their cruelty and lustfulness, and by beliefs that are degraded and intellectually incredible? What else than what we can find could be expected, in the case of people having little knowledge and no secure method of knowing; with primitive institutions, and with so little control of natural forces that they lived in a constant state of fear?"

—— John Dewey in "The Religious in Experience," chapter 20 of Intelligence in the Modern World; John Dewey's Philosophy (1939)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Tom Petty

Tom Petty

On this date in 1950, musician Tom Petty was born in Gainesville, Fla. Petty described his relationship with his father, an insurance salesman, as tumultuous, but he was close to his mother and his brother, Bruce. When he saw the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, he became focused on making his way as a musician. He dropped out of high school at 17 to tour with one of his early bands, Mudcrutch. The band moved to Los Angeles to pursue a record deal, but broke up and became known as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1975. In 1976, they released their first album, which included hit singles “American Girl” and “Break Down.” They continued to release a string of successful albums throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. In 1988, Petty joined up with rock star friends George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne to form the Traveling Wilburys, a successful side project that won a Grammy in 1990 for best performance by a duo or group with vocals. In 1989, Petty released his first solo album, “Full Moon Fever,” featuring singles, “Free Fallin,” and “I Won’t Back Down.” The album, “Wildflowers,” was released in 1994. Petty won his first Grammy in 1995 for “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”

Petty was married twice, first to Jane Benyo, with whom he had two daughters. The couple divorced in 1996. In 2001, he married Dana York and became a stepfather to her son. The three lived together in Malibu. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Tom Petty continued to record albums until the final years of his life, releasing his most recent album with the Heartbreakers in 2014. The album was somewhat controversial and contained a bonus track, “Playing Dumb,” that deals with the sex abuse epidemic and cover-up within the Catholic Church. When asked about the song during an interview with Billboard Magazine (July 29, 2014), Petty explained, “If I was in a club, and I found out that there had been generations of people abusing children, and then that club was covering that up, I would quit the club. And I wouldn't give them any more money.” Tom Petty was not religious, instead he referred to music as his religion. D. 2017. 


“A lot of people really struggle to find out what they want to do in life, but I knew as soon as I saw Elvis Presley, when I was 11. From that point, music became my religion, my nourishment.”

—Tom Petty, “No Backing Down,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 2, 2002

Compiled by Dayna Long; Photo by Steve White Photos,

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