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: Alan Turing , Daniel Henry Chamberlain and Joss Whedon
Alan Turing

Alan Turing

On this date in 1912, Alan Turing was born in London, England. He graduated from Cambridge with a degree in mathematics in 1934 and earned a Ph.D. in mathematical logic from Princeton University in 1938. Turing was a mathematician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist who studied cognitive science and artificial intelligence, among other fields. He was especially influential in the field of computer science.

In 1939, Turing began working for the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS), which successfully broke the complex code used by the German military to encode their radio communications. This feat was accomplished thanks to Turing’s help designing a revolutionary code-breaking machine called the bombe, which was essential to the Allies throughout World War II. The bombe allowed the GCCS to decode up to 84,000 German messages per month.

Turing is also known for the creation of the Turing Test, a reliable method of testing artificial intelligence, and for proposing the Turing Machine, a multi-purpose thought-experiment computer that would function similarly to modern computers.

In 1952, Turing was convicted of homosexuality and denied further access to the GCCS. Turing chose chemical castration over jail time as his sentence. In 1954 he died of cyanide poisoning in what was determined to be suicide by the authorities. Only a few years later, in 1956, the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act under which Turing had been convicted was repealed.

Turing lost his faith as a young adult and became a materialist after a classmate whom he loved died of tuberculosis. Turing’s work with artificial intelligence also influenced his freethought views. “God has given an immortal soul to every man and woman, but not to any other animal or machine. Hence no animal or machine can think. I am unable to accept any part of this,” he wrote in “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” in 1950. D. 1954

“I am not very impressed with theological arguments whatever they may be used to support. Such arguments have often been found unsatisfactory in the past.” 

—Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Mind (1950)

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Daniel Henry Chamberlain

Daniel Henry Chamberlain

On this date in 1835, Daniel Henry Chamberlain was born in West Brookfield, Mass. He graduated from Yale with honors in 1862 and became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He was elected attorney general of South Carolina (1868-72) and served as governor from 1874-77. Chamberlain was elected during a period of waste and corruption in state government and high taxation, abuses which his administration, regarded by history as honest, temporarily ended. Chamberlain was to be the last Republican to fill a high office in South Carolina until the late 1960s.

The gubernatorial election of 1876 was marked by irregularities on both sides. The votes of two counties had not been counted. Wade Hampton, Chamberlain's rival and a war hero, claimed victory. Two state governments were in effect for about a year while Chamberlain refused to leave office. When President Rutherford B. Hayes removed all federal troops from the South, Chamberlain left office. Chamberlain was a planter, lawyer, author (writing Charles Sumner and the Treaty of Washington) and professor of constitutional law at Cornell University. His rationalist views were not well-known, but he wrote an article for the North American Review, later reprinted in The Freethinker, describing himself as "a Freethinker." D. 1907.

Public domain photo: South Carolina Department of Archives and History

“I reject the whole Christian religion [and] a presiding or controlling Deity.”

—Chamberlain, North American Review article reprinted in The Freethinker (Nov. 15, 1908)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon

On this date in 1964, writer, producer and director Joseph Hill "Joss" Whedon was born in New York City, where he grew up. Whedon attended Winchester College in England before graduating from Wesleyan University in 1987. He worked as a screenwriter in the early 1990s and wrote the Oscar-nominated script for “Toy Story” (1995) before creating the hit television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003). Perhaps best known for his work on television, Whedon went on to create and produce “Angel” (1999-2004), “Firefly” (2002) and “Dollhouse” (2009-10). In 2008, he released the Emmy-winning live-action musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” exclusively over the Internet.

In addition to screenwriting and directing, Whedon has written extensively for comics, including Marvel’s “Astonishing X-Men” (2004-07), as well as comics based on his television and other properties. With the “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight” (2007-11) comics, he took on the role of executive producer to retain control over the series without writing each issue himself, an unusual model in comics. More recently hen landed directing duties on "The Avengers" (2012) and "Much Ado About Nothing" (2013). 

Whedon identifies as an atheist with an existentialist and absurdist philosophy and in 2009 accepted the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy’s Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism. (Acceptance speech available here.) He has explored religious themes from many perspectives in his work, including creating strong nonreligious and humanist characters. The title character of the supernatural show “Angel,” set in modern-day Los Angeles, is a vampire who strives to be human and embodies a humanist philosophy. Although the character is a traditional hero and plays an important role in a war between the forces of good and evil, he resists seeing himself as a soldier for good, telling a friend, “I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer as they do. Because if there's no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world” (“Epiphany,” aired Feb. 27, 2001).

In the space western show “Firefly,” set in the year 2517, the protagonist, Mal Reynolds, is portrayed as a Christian in a flashback and an atheist in the present day in the pilot episode “Serenity” (Dec. 20, 2002). The show also features a preacher, Shepherd Book, who causes conflict over whether to say grace at dinner (“Serenity”) and a schizophrenic genius teen girl, River Tam, who systematically defaces Shepherd’s bible. She explains, “Bible’s broken. Contradictions, false logistics — doesn’t make sense.” (“Jaynestown,” aired Oct. 18, 2002). Perhaps most subversive is “Dollhouse,” set in twenty-first century Los Angeles. Its premise is that a company has developed a way to “imprint” people with personalities not their own. Genuine religious belief is programmed on a computer and a miracle is manufactured in order to infiltrate a gun-running Christian cult (“True Believer,” aired March 13, 2009). 

"Faith in God means believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. We are the true believers."

—Joss Whedon, accepting the Harvard humanist chaplaincy (April 10, 2009)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo by S-Bukley, Shutterstock.com

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