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: John Searle , Jean Baptiste LaMarck and Paul D. Boyer
John Searle

John Searle

On this date in 1932, John Searle was born in Denver, Colo. He graduated from Oxford University in 1955 with a B.A., and returned to complete an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy in 1959. He has received honorary degrees from six other universities, including the University of Wisconsin, which he attended for three years before receiving his degree at Oxford. He is an accomplished philosopher and professor who currently teaches philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has published 22 books about various topics in philosophy, including Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969) and Mind, Language, and Society (1999). Searle has received numerous awards, including the National Humanities Medal in 2005 and the Mind and Brain Prize in 2006. His major areas of interest include the philosophy of language and the mind.

Searle is most famous for inventing the Chinese Room Argument, a rebuttal to the idea of artificial intelligence. In the Chinese Room Argument, Searle argues that computers do not have real intelligence, similarly to how a person who follows English instructions for writing in Chinese does not really understand Chinese. Searle’s Chinese Room Argument is still widely debated today, and Pat Hayes even defined the field of cognitive science as “the ongoing research program of showing Searle’s Chinese Room Argument to be false” (via Stevan Harnad’s 2001 essay, “Minds, Machines and Searle II: What’s Wrong and Right About Searle’s Chinese Room Argument?”). When Free Inquiry, a secular humanist magazine, asked Searle in 1998 if he believed in god, Searle replied, “I don’t.” In that interview, he calls himself “a kind of agnostic.”

Photo by Matthew Breindel under CC 3.0

“On the available evidence we have about how the world works, we have to say that we’re alone, there is no God.” 

—John Searle, interviewed in Free Inquiry, 1998

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Jean Baptiste LaMarck

Jean Baptiste LaMarck

On this date in 1744, Jean Baptiste LaMarck was born in France, and later educated at the Jesuit College in Amiens. He left the seminary to join the Army and fight in Germany. After five years of service, he was injured and turned to the study of botany. LaMarck was appointed Royal Botanist in 1781. He became professor of invertebrate zoology at the Natural History Museum in 1793, and was the first to coin the word "invertebrate." LaMarck wrote Philosophie Zoologique (1809), proposing an early theory of evolution, a now-discredited but thoughtful theory on the inheritance of acquired traits. Darwin and others eventually hailed LaMarck, who died in obscurity and poverty, for doing the "eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition." LaMarck was a Deist in the classical sense. D. 1829.

“All knowledge that is not the real product of observation, or of consequences deduced from observation, is entirely groundless and illusory.”

—-Jean Baptiste LaMarck, Systeme analytique des connaissances positive de l'homme, 1830 (posthumous publication)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Paul D. Boyer

Paul D. Boyer

On this date in 1918, Nobel Laureate Paul D. Boyer, a molecular biochemist, was born in Provo, Utah, the middle child in a family of six in a loving home. His mother’s death from Addison’s disease when he was 15 awakened his interest in studying biochemistry. Although Paul became a "deacon" in the Mormon church at age 12 and graduated from Brigham Young University, where he met his wife Lyda, his pursuit of science during graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison altered his perspective. He earned his doctorate in 1943. Moving to Stanford to do postdoctoral research in a war project, he and his wife ceased going to Mormon meetings. By the time he was 25, he had “slipped over from agnostic to atheist,” he told Freethought Radio, and Lyda, too, became an atheist. In 1955, he went to Sweden on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Dr. Boyer spent 17 years as a faculty member of the University of Minnesota, where, in 1956, he was appointed to the Hill Foundation Professorship. In 1963, he and his family, including two daughters and a son, moved to Los Angeles, where Dr. Boyer continued research into biochemistry at UCLA. In 1965, he became director of the newly created Molecular Biology Institute, where he taught chemistry and did research for over half a century, studying enzymes, the proteins involved in biochemical processes in the animal and plant cells. Dr. Boyer shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1997 with John E. Waller and Jens C. Skow "for their elucidation of the enzymatic mechanism underlying the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)." As The New York Times obituary put it, he shared the prize “for his contributions to understanding the way all organisms get energy from their environments and process it to sustain life and fuel their activities.” He discovered the underlying mechanism for ATP (adenosine triphosphate) formation. “The concepts of Boyer’s binding change mechanism helped to clarify the basic chemistry of life on earth, what makes life ‘go,’ ” according to the University of Minnesota at the time Boyer was awarded the Nobel.

Boyer has pointed out that, as might be expected, "belief in God and in a Hereafter dropped considerably as the level of scientific achievement increased." A recent survey shows that only ten percent of members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, representing "a pinnacle of achievement for American scientists," believe in a god. In his Nobel autobiography, Dr. Boyer referred to himself as a "devout atheist," and added: "I wonder if in the United States we will ever reach the day when the man-made concept of a God will not appear on our money, and for political survival must be invoked by those who seek to represent us in our democracy." He and his wife, Lyda, continued to travel widely in retirement. He became an advocate of death with dignity following the illness and death of his son, Douglas, in 2001. Paul D. Boyer was a Life Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation who spoke at FFRF’s 2002 national convention in San Diego and was interviewed on FFRF’s Freethought Radio on March 17, 2007. 

Paul, who lived to 99 years, died at home in Los Angeles. D. 2018.

“My views have changed from a belief that my prayers were heard to clear atheism . . . Over and over, expanding scientific knowledge has shown religious claims to be false.

None of the beliefs in gods has any merit.”

—-Paul D. Boyer, "A Path to Atheism," Freethought Today, March 2004

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; Photo by Brent Nicastro

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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