Freethought of the Day

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There are 2 entries for this date: James A. Michener and Michael Martin
James A. Michener

James A. Michener

On this date in 1907, writer James Albert Michener was born in New York City. An orphan, he spent his first few years at the Bucks County Poorhouse in Doylestown, Pa, until adopted by Edwin and Mabel Michener. As Quakers, they believed in social activism and took in several orphaned children. The family was extremely poor, moving often during Michener's childhood. He felt that this gave him a strong sense of character, an acceptance of what life really looked like. In an interview by the American Academy of Achievement, Michener stated, "I think the bottom line ... is that if you get through a childhood like mine, it's not all bad. ... The sad part is, most of us don't come out." Michener credited his mother for reading to him every night. "I had all the Dickens and Thackeray and Charles Read and Sinkiewicz and the rest before I was the age of seven or eight." He also credits his good teachers: "[t]eachers who wanted to make kids learn."

Michener realized at a young age that there was a bigger world to see and, when he was 14, started hitchhiking around the U.S. with only 35 cents in his pocket: "I went everywhere, and I did it on nothing." This interest in the world lasted a lifetime. Michener received a scholarship to study at Swarthmore College, graduating with highest honors. He studied at St. Andrew's University in Scotland, returned home to teach, and then went on to become assistant visiting professor of history at Harvard University. At the onset of WWII, Michener joined the Navy and was stationed in the Pacific. In 1947, he wrote his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, relating some of his experiences in the Solomon Islands, for which he received a Pulitzer Prize. The story was subsequently turned into the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "South Pacific," which also received a Pulitzer.

Spending many years living abroad and writing, he thoroughly researched whichever culture he was living in before he started writing. Among his books: The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Sayonara, The Source (about religion), Hawaii, Chesapeake, The Covenant, Space, Poland, Texas and Alaska. Michener was also active in public service, was a member of the Advisory Council to NASA and was cultural ambassador to various countries. He considered himself to be a humanist, and during the 1960s spoke out, amid the concerns raised regarding John F. Kennedy's Catholicism: "I've fought to defend every civil right that has come under attack in my lifetime. ... I've stood for absolute equality, and it would be ridiculous for a man like me to be against a Catholic for President." (The Historian, 2001) Michener won several honors and awards, among them the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award. He was married three times — to Patti Koon from 1935 to 1948, when they divorced, to Vange Nord from 1948 to 1955, when they divorced, and to Mari Yoriko Sabusawa from 1955 to 1994, when she died. He died of kidney disease at age 90 in 1997.

“I decided (after listening to a 'talk radio' commentator who abused, vilified, and scorned every noble cause to which I had devoted my entire life that) I was both a Humanist and a liberal, each of the most dangerous and vilified type. I am a Humanist because I think humanity can, with constant moral guidance, create a reasonably decent society. I am terrified of restrictive religious doctrine, having learned from history that when men who adhere to any form of it are in control, common men like me are in peril. I do not believe that pure reason can solve the perceptual problems unless it is modified by poetry and art and social vision. So I am a Humanist. And if you want to charge me with being the most virulent kind — a secular humanist — I accept the accusation.”

—James Michener, interview, Parade magazine (Nov. 24, 1991)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Michael Martin

Michael Martin

On this date in 1932, renowned American philosopher and teacher Michael Martin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Martin was a respected academic promoter of atheism, penning several books examining the case against the existence of God.

Martin served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Korean War before graduating from Arizona State University in 1956 with a degree in business administration. He earned a master’s degree in philosophy in 1958 from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1962. That year, Martin began his teaching career at the University of Colorado as an assistant professor, joining the staff at Boston University in 1965, where he was a professor of philosophy until retiring.

The focal point of Martin’s research and writing was always the philosophy of religion and the defense of atheism. His best-known book was Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (1989), which has been considered one of the most analytical philosophical examinations against God’s existence. In its introduction he writes, “The aim of this book is not to make atheism a popular belief or even to overcome its invisibility. My object is not utopian. It is merely to provide good reasons for being an atheist. … My object is to show that atheism is a rational position and that belief in God is not. I am quite aware that atheistic beliefs are not always based on reason. My claim is that they should be.”

Additionally, Martin wrote and edited several other books, including Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (1990), The Case Against Christianity (1991), Atheism, Morality, and Meaning (2002), The Impossibility of God (2003), The Improbability of God (2006) and The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2006), along with numerous articles on atheism. He also engaged in a number of debates with Christian apologists. His philosophical interests extended to social science and law.

Martin was married to Jane Roland Martin, who spent much of her career as a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston focusing on education, gender and feminism. They married in 1962 and had two sons, Timothy and Thomas, and five grandchildren. D. 2015.

“Since experiences of God are good grounds for the existence of God, are not experiences of the absence of God good grounds for the nonexistence of God?”

—Michael Martin, "Atheism: A Philosophical Justification" (1989), pg. 170

Compiled by Molly Hanson

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