Freethought of the Day

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There are 4 entries for this date: Joel Barlow , Robert Louis Heilbroner , David Suzuki and Harry Houdini
Joel Barlow

Joel Barlow

On this date in 1754, Joel Barlow was born in Connecticut. Educated at Dartmouth College and Yale, he served as chaplain in the revolutionary war. His edition of The Book of Psalms, issued in 1785, was widely used by the Congregationalists. Barlow left the ministry, and took up law, admitted to the bar in 1786. As a writer and poet, he was a member of the well-known "Hartford Wits," and made his name with "The Vision of Columbus," written in 1787. (His enduring work is the mock-heroic humorous poem, "The Hasty Pudding.") Barlow became a deist after traveling in France, according to C.B. Todd, who wrote the Life and Letters of J. Barlow, 1886. Barlow translated Ruins by Volney. Barlow's claim to freethought fame was as counsel to Algiers, when he secured the release of prisoners and negotiated the Treaty with Tripoli of 1796-97, which stated that the United States was not a Christian nation. It was written in Algiers in Arabic, and signed at Tripoli on Nov. 4, 1796. Barlow translated the treaty, which was ratified by the U.S. Senate on May 29, 1797, and proclaimed in Philadelphia on June 10, 1797. George Washington was president when the treaty was signed in Tripoli, but it was signed by Pres. John Adams. Barlow also befriended Thomas Paine, and was responsible for getting Paine's The Age of Reason published during Paine's imprisonment in Paris. Barlow became American ambassador at Napoleon's court in 1811, and died in Poland traveling to meet Napoleon during his retreat from Moscow. D. 1812.

“. . . the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion . . .”

—Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated and co-written by Joel Barlow, U.S. Counsel to Algiers, ratified in 1797

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert Louis Heilbroner

Robert Louis Heilbroner

On this date in 1919, distinguished economist and social thinker Robert Louis Heilbroner was born into such a wealthy New York City family that he told the New York Post in 1972: "I was reared during the Great Depression and never knew there was one." He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1940 with B.A.s in history, govenment and economics. His doctorate was earned from the New School of Social Research in 1963. In 1972, the New School made Heilbroner the first Norman Thomas Professor of Economics, named for the Socialist Party presidential candidate. Heilbroner served during World War II and was awarded a Bronze Star. The most famous of Heilbroner's 20 books on economics is The Worldly Philosophiers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (1953). Known for its inviting writing style and humanization of economics, the book has been translated into 20 languages, has sold 4 million copies, and is a topselling college textbook. According to Who's Who in Hell, edited by Warren Allen Smith, Heilbroner "has gone on record as being a nontheist." He died of a stroke at age 85. D. 2005.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

David Suzuki

David Suzuki

On this date in 1936, scientist and environmental advocate David Suzuki was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Suzuki earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Amherst College in 1958, and his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1961. He joined the University of British Columbia in 1963, where he spent much of his career and continues to be professor emeritus. He has been awarded 25 honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous other awards, including from the UN UNESCO, for his work in science, environmental activism, science writing and science broadcasting. Suzuki has written over 50 books including various children's books and the most widely used genetics textbook, "An Introduction to Genetic Analysis" (1976). His television work includes "The Brain," a Discovery Channel series; "The Secret of Life," a PBS/BBC series, and "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki." His more popular documentaries include "It's a Matter of Survival" and "From Naked Ape to Superspecies." He is a leader in the environmental movement and is co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, whose goals are listed as protecting nature and the climate, transforming the economy, reconnecting with nature and building community.

 

“Never mind that a long-term healthy economy depends on a healthy environment and that placing all our bets on non-renewable and polluting fuels is folly. These people [the religious right] want to ignore both the problems and the solutions for the sake of short-term and short-sighted benefits for a relatively small number of people. Whether they justify it with religion or political ideology, it still doesn't make sense.”

—--Excerpt from Suzuki’s blog, Science Matters. “Religious Right’s Rejection of Science is Baffling.” Mar. 29, 2012.

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; Photo by Art Babych, Shutterstock.com

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini

On this date in 1874, Erik Weisz was born in Budapest, Hungary. In 1878, his family emigrated to America. The family first settled in Appleton, Wis. before relocating to New York City in 1887. Harry Houdini chose his stage name because he admired the French magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Houdini began his magic career in 1891, initially performing traditional magic tricks but later focusing almost exclusively on escape acts. In 1894, Houdini married his wife Bess, a fellow performer. Houdini toured Europe beginning in 1900, and became well-known for an act where local police would restrain him in handcuffs which Houdini would then escape. Houdini toured America with variations of this act and other escape routines, including escaping from a straitjacket, and the famous Chinese Water Torture Cell, where Houdini would escape from a water-filled cell where he was hanging by his ankles. He served as the president of the Society of American Magicians from 1917 until his death

Although many magicians of the time claimed to have supernatural powers, or to be helped by spirits, Houdini never made any such claim. In the 1920s, Houdini began to focus on debunking psychics and mediums, using his training in magic to expose their so-called “supernatural” powers. He was able to replicate mediums’ effects, as well as observe tricks that had fooled scientists and academics. Houdini was part of a Scientific American committee that offered a cash prize for successful proof of supernatural abilities; this prize was never collected. Houdini died in 1926 of peritonitis and appendicitis, aggravated by punches to the stomach. (Houdini famously was asked by J. Gordon Whitehead if he could sustain punches to the stomach; after Houdini’s affirmative response, Whitehead immediately punched the magician, who was not prepared for the blows.) He was buried in a Jewish cemetery in Queens, but his gravesite pays homage to his career in magic rather than his Jewish heritage; in fact, a bust of Houdini was placed at the grave in 1927, although a “graven image” is not allowed according to Jewish law. D. 1926.

“How have so-called psychics been able to mystify representative scientists such as Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, William James, and the French physiologist, Charles Richet — men of supposedly straight-thinking, analytical minds? To say nothing of such eminent writers as the sincere, though deluded, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

“I believe the kernel of the matter is that scientists, philosophers, and psychologists live in circles where honesty is taken for granted. It is inconceivable to them that such gross deception could be practiced. They fail to realize that they're working hand in glove with members of one of the most unclean professions in the world.”

—-Harry Houdini

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© 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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