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 2 entries for this date: Alan Alda and John Baskerville
Alan Alda

Alan Alda

On this date in 1936, Alan Alda (né Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo) was born in Bronx, N.Y., to actor Robert Alda and Joan Browne Alda. He began acting at the age of 16, a hobby that he continued during his time at Fordham University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English in 1956. After graduating, he spent time performing at the Cleveland Playhouse and on Broadway. Alda’s best-known acting role is starring as surgeon Hawkeye Pierce on the television show “M*A*S*H” (1972-83), for which Alda wrote and directed numerous episodes.

Alda has acted in numerous movies, including “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) and “The Aviator” (2004), for which he was Oscar-nominated as Best Supporting Actor. He has also written and directed films such as “The Four Seasons” (1981) and performed in Broadway plays, including “QED” (2001-02), in which he portrayed Richard Feynman. In 2019 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. He has written two books, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed (2005) and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (2007).

Alda hosted the television shows “Scientific American Frontiers” (1993-2007) and “The Human Spark” (2010). He was awarded a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Male Actor in 1975 and won an Emmy in 2006 for his portrayal of a Republican senator on “The West Wing” (2004-06). Alda's character, Sen. Arnold Vinick stopped going to church and often battles the Religious Right in his own party. 

He married photographer Arlene Weiss in 1957 and they have three daughters: Eve, Elizabeth and Beatrice.

Alda is open about his lack of belief but prefers to identify simply as a nonbeliever rather than as an atheist or agnostic. He told the Edge Foundation, “I still don't like the word agnostic. It's too fancy. I'm simply not a believer. But, as simple as this notion is, it confuses some people. Someone wrote a Wikipedia entry about me, identifying me as an atheist because I'd said in a book I wrote that I wasn't a believer.”

“For a while in my teens, I was sure I had it. It was about getting to heaven. If heaven existed and lasted forever, then a mere lifetime spent scrupulously following orders was a small investment for an infinite payoff. One day, though, I realized I was no longer a believer, and realizing that, I couldn’t go back.”

—Alda, "Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself" (2007)

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor and Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

John Baskerville

John Baskerville

On this date in 1706, John Baskerville was born in Wolverley, Worcestershire, England. At age 17 he was engraving tombstones and at 20 started an engraving business. At 32 he took up the then-popular lacquering process known as japanning that made him wealthy. Baskerville was an early mentor to Matthew Boulton, who built Watt's steam engines. He was also a good friend of fellow printer Benjamin Franklin, who visited him when he was U.S. ambassador to France.

In his early 40s he started applying his engraving skills to printing and typography and produced the first of the Baskerville fonts. Cambridge University Press hired him as its printer and there, in 1763, he printed his great masterpiece: "After five years' labor, he produced what might have been the most beautiful Bible yet made," wrote John H. Lienhard, University of Houston emeritus professor of engineering and history. "The contradiction was that Baskerville was an atheist! And he was no closet unbeliever. He was an outspoken iconoclast."

Francis O’Regan of the Birmingham (UK) Skeptics isn't so sure, writing in June 2011: "There is no doubt he was Anti-clerical and he obviously had little respect for revealed religion but those confirmed facts don’t necessarily support the idea he was an Atheist. It is just as likely that he was a Deist like his beloved Voltaire."

He instructed that he wished to be buried in unconsecrated ground and composed his own freethinking epitaph. By interesting coincidence, the typeface used for many years by FFRF's publication Freethought Today is Baskerville Times. D. 1775.

Stranger
Beneath this cone in unconsecrated ground
a friend to the liberties of mankind
directed his body to be inhumed.
May the example contribute to emancipate thy mind
from the idle fears and superstitions
and wicked arts of priesthood.

—Baskerville's self-composed tombstone inscription (1775)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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