Freethought of the Day

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There are 3 entries for this date: Edward Livingston Youmans , James Hutton and Rafael Nadal
Edward Livingston Youmans

Edward Livingston Youmans

On this date in 1821, Edward Livingston Youmans, freethinker and founder of Popular Science magazine, was born in New York state. A precocious scholar, he continued his studies and inventions even when he was afflicted with ophthalmia at age 13 and was blind for several years. He graduated from Vermont University with a degree in medicine, lectured from 1852 to 1869 on science in the lyceum system and was one of the first popularizers of evolution in the United States.

Youmans founded Popular Science in 1872. Freethought biographer Joseph McCabe called him an "indefatigable worker and comprehensive idealist [who] literally wore out his life in altruistic endeavor." Youmans' writings include The Correlation and Conservation of Forces (1864), Alcoholism and the Constitution of Man (1853), A Handbook of Household Science (1857) and The Culture Demanded by Modern Life (1863). Youmans also oversaw the U.S. publication of Herbert Spencer's books. D. 1887.

"He also expressed skepticism about miracles, as infractions of the order of nature requiring much more evidence to make them credible than has ever been produced."

—"Edward Livingston Youmans, interpreter of science for the people; a sketch of his life, with selections from his published writings and extracts from his correspondence with Spencer, Huxley, Tyndall and others," John Fiske (1894)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

James Hutton

James Hutton

On this date in 1726, James Hutton was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He enrolled at Edinburgh University in 1740 to study law but switched to medicine, earning his M.D. in 1749 in Leiden, in what is now the Netherlands. Hutton never practiced medicine, instead devoting himself in turn to the manufacture of ammonium chloride, the study of new agricultural methods and the construction of canals. Hutton became interested in geology in the 1750s, journeying through England, Wales and Scotland to study rock formations. 

One of Hutton’s major contributions to the field of geology was the discovery in 1785 that granite is an igneous, rather than sedimentary rock (formed from cooling magma, not from compacted sediments). Hutton is perhaps best known for the theory of Uniformitarianism, or the idea that the only processes that can have acted on the Earth’s surface are processes we see around us today — for example, erosion, deposition of sediments and volcanic activity. The prevailing 18th-century theory was Catastrophism: the idea that many great catastrophes, such as floods, caused relatively rapid rock formation and landform change. In England especially, geologists were eager to reconcile their theories with the biblical accounts of Genesis; theories that posited catastrophic floods remained popular because they fit well with the biblical story of Noah. Theories such as Hutton’s, which required vastly more time than the bible allowed, were seen as especially suspect.

Hutton was a deist, who believed that the world had been created for humans’ eventual emergence; however, he did not believe that God interfered in the world, so that the miraculous-seeming events of Catastrophism seemed impossible to him. Hutton explained his geological theories in Theory of the Earth, the first two volumes of which were published in 1795. The third was published posthumously in 1899. He was a famously abstruse writer, whose works were not much read, but John Playfair, his biographer, published Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth in 1802, which popularized Hutton’s difficult material.

Hutton never married, living with his sisters for much of his adult life. He did, however, father a child, also named James Hutton, during his student years. D. 1797.

“The past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now. No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle.”

—James Hutton, “Theory of the Earth,” in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1785

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

On this date in 1986, tennis star Rafael Nadal was born Manacor, Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. Nadal began playing tennis when he was 3 and is consistently ranked as one of the best tennis players in the world. A lefthander, he represented Spain in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and won the gold medal in men's singles. As of September 2019, he had won 19 Grand Slam events (Australian Open, U.S. Open, Wimbledon, French Open). Only Roger Federer, with 20, has more. He earned the nickname "the king of clay" because of his success on clay courts, including 12 French Open titles.

Nadal became the face for Emporio Armani Underwear and Armani Jeans in 2011. Shakira also featured Nadal in the music video for her hit song "Gypsy." Nadal is a soccer fan and his favorite teams are Real Madrid and RCD Mallorca. He married María Francisca (Xisca) Perelló, in October 2019 in Port de Pollença, Mallorca. They had been dating since 2005. He is an active philanthropist. He has helped plant trees in Thailand and has his own nonprofit, Fundación Rafa Nadal, which focuses on helping children in Spain, where he has supported the Special Olympics. The foundation also helped build a school in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

“It's hard to say, ‘I don't believe in God.’ I would love to know if God exists. But it's a very difficult thing for me to believe. … I say, ‘If God exists you don't need [to cross yourself] or pray.’ If God exists, he's intelligent enough to [do] the important things, the right things.”

—Nadal, in a Q&A with Sports Illustrated (July 16, 2010)

Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

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