Freethought of the Day

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There are 5 entries for this date: Marie Curie , Andrew Dickson White , Culbert Olson , Albert Camus and Joni Mitchell
Marie Curie

Marie Curie

On this date in 1867, two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie S. Curie, née Sklodowska, was born in Warsaw, Poland. She abandoned her family's Roman Catholicism to become an agnostic as a teenager. Marie moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne in 1891, got her degree in math and married Pierre Curie in a civil ceremony. The couple had two daughters. Marie broke many barriers for her sex, becoming the first European woman to earn a science doctorate, as well as the first to be awarded a Nobel Prize, when she and Pierre were jointly awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics for discovering polonium (named for her home country) and radium. Marie coined the very word "radioactive," and pursued its therapeutic properties. In 1906, Pierre was tragically run over and killed. Marie took over his professorship of general physics, winning another first for women. When she won the 1911 Nobel Prize for chemistry, she was the first person male or female to have received two Nobels. Yet that same year she was barred as a woman from the Academy of Sciences. She became director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute of the University of Paris in 1914. She spent much of the remainder of her life pursuing her humanitarian goal of "easing human suffering." Their oldest daughter, Irene, with her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1935 for work in artificial radioactivity. Marie died at 67 of leukemia. She became the first woman to be interred at the Pantheon on her own merits. Eve, in her memoir of her mother, Mme. Curie (1937), described all family members as rationalists. D. 1934.

“Pierre belonged to no religion and I did not practice any.”

—Marie Curie, What Do I Read Next (1924), a memoir of Pierre Curie.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Andrew Dickson White

Andrew Dickson White

On this date in 1832, Andrew Dickson White was born in Homer, N.Y. He graduated from Yale University in 1853 with a B.A., and returned for his M.A. in history in 1856. He became a history professor at the University of Michigan beginning in 1856, and was elected a New York State Senator in 1864. White co-founded Cornell University with Ezra Cornell, and became its first president (1866–1885). White was also the first president of the American Historical Association (1884–1886), president of the American delegation to The Hague Peace Conference in 1899, and U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1897–1902). He married Mary Outwater in 1859, who died in 1887. White was married to Helen Magill in 1890 and had four children.

Upon founding Cornell, White announced that he wanted the college to be “an asylum for Science—where truth shall be sought for truth’s sake, not stretched or cut exactly to fit Revealed Religion” (quoted in God and Nature by David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, 1986). He strongly supported science and secularism, lecturing about “The Battle-Fields of Science,” which he describes in his autobiography as a lecture about “how, in the supposed interest of religion, earnest and excellent men, for many ages and in many countries, had bitterly opposed various advances in science and in education” (Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White Vol. 1, 1904). In 1896, White wrote History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom, which further examines the tumultuous relationship between science and religion. He wrote: “In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and science.” D. 1918

“I simply try to aid in letting the light of historical truth into that decaying mass of outworn thought which attaches the modern world to mediaeval conceptions of Christianity.”

—Andrew Dickson White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 1896.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Culbert Olson

Culbert Olson

On this date in 1876, former California Gov. Culbert L. Olson was born in Fillmore, Utah. He attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, graduating at the age of 19. When he was 20, he became the associate city editor of the Daily Ogden Standard before moving to Washington, D.C., where he did secretarial work for congressional members. He then went back to school to earn his law degree at Columbian Law School (which is now George Washington University) and the University of Michigan. Following graduation, he moved back to Utah and practiced law in Salt Lake City.  It was there he met and married Kate Jeremy, and they had three children. In 1916 he was elected senator to the state Legislature in Utah. After serving four years in Utah as senator, he moved to California. In 1938, he became the first Democratic governor elected in California in 40 years.

According to news coverage, during his inauguration he refused to say, “So help me God.” Olson said, “I just told the member of the Supreme Court (of California) who came to swear me in as governor that there was no use to ask me to say ‘So help me God’ because God couldn’t help me at all, and that there isn’t any such person, and I will have to just say, ‘I will affirm.’ ” After his term as governor (he lost re-election), he campaigned against the proposal to make “In God We Trust” the official motto of California. “Such a motto is untrue,” he said. “We don’t trust in God. . . . The harm is that it is a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.” An activist with the United Secularists of America, he became the president of the organization in 1957 and remained president until his death on April 13, 1962. In 1959 the Commonwealth Club of California cancelled a speech Olson was scheduled to give on the subject of separation of church and state. In that prepared speech Olson wrote, “No god has ever shown himself. The thousands of gods that man has worshipped are myths born of his fears and his imaginations.”

“The emancipation of the mind from religious superstition is as essential to the progress of civilization as is emancipation from physical slavery.”

——Culbert Olson, in 1961, at age 84 after being asked if religion promoted social progress

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Albert Camus

Albert Camus

On this date in 1913, Nobel Prize-winning writer Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, to immigrant parents: a French father and a Spanish mother. After his father died during World War I in 1914, Albert's family was left in extreme poverty. Albert excelled in athletics and academics, and entered the University of Algiers studying philosophy, although a serious bout of tuberculosis cut short his studies. He joined the anti-Fascist communist party in 1934, but was soon after expelled from the Algerian Communist Party as a "Trotskyist." Camus wrote for a socialist paper in the late 1930s chronicling the plight of the poor. In 1940, Camus went to Paris, fled after the German invasion, returned to Algeria, was advised to leave, and at age 25, found himself back in Paris. Camus joined the Resistance, and after liberation was a columnist for the newspaper Combat. Major writings include the essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus," 1942, L'Etranger (The Stranger), 1942, La Peste (The Plague), 1947, which includes a priest character who insists a plague was sent as punishment from God, La Chute (The Fall), 1956, and L'Exile et le Royaume (Exile and the Kingdom), 1957, the year he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Camus was a pioneer of absurdist literature, a nonbeliever and a humanist. D. 1960.

“[Camus'] anti-Christianity is one of the most absolute of modern times.”

—Seymour-Smith, Who's Who in Twentieth-Century Literature (1976), cited by Warren Allen Smith in Who's Who in Hell

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor; photo by United Press International (public domain) via Wikimedia Commons.

© Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell

 On this date in 1943, Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was born as Roberta Joan Anderson in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, to Bill and Myrtle Anderson, a grocer and schoolteacher. When she was nine, her family moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where she contracted polio, later reflecting: “A great sorrow hath humanized me” (JoniMitchell.com, January 1998). An individual thinker from an early age, Mitchell had previously refused on occasion to attend her hometown church. “I left the church because I loved stories from an early age, but I liked them to have some logic,” she said. “And the story Adam and Eve didn’t make any sense, so I contested it. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. And Cain killed Abel, and then he married. Who did he marry? Eve? My Sunday School teacher’s response was to hurt my feelings in some way, and I took on a pouty attitude, and said, ‘I’m not going back there.’ ” (Quoted in the book Joni Mitchell, by Mark Bego, 2005). Mitchell recovered from polio although she was left with complications. Finding solace in singing, she returned briefly to the church, where she joined the choir.

After a year as a student at Alberta College of Art in Calgary, she moved to Toronto to become a folk singer. Mitchell became pregnant in 1965, when unwed pregnancies were scandalous, and ended up giving her baby daughter away. Working through the crisis via music, she began performing in coffee shops, accompanying herself on guitar. She moved to New York, then to Los Angeles, soon achieving success and fame, releasing 19 studio albums and winning nine Grammy awards. She is one of the most influential recording artists of the late 20th century. Her song, “Both Sides Now” (“It’s life’s illusions I recall/I really don’t know life at all”), was recorded by Judy Collins in 1967 and became a top-ten singles hit. Her album “Blue” (1971) became an instant success and is often referenced as one of the greatest albums of all time. In her song “The Priest,” Mitchell reflects on her ambivalence toward religion. “The Magdalene Laundries” remembers “Fallen women sentenced into dreamless drudgery.” “Holy War” condemns war waged in the name of religion. "Since religions have failed and politics have failed and the world is in a massive mess with nobody at the helm, the job of the artist becomes all the more important. You have to make some kind of an attempt, not to offend leaders and society, but to include and inspire them to be far-sighted," Joni Mitchell told the Ottawa Citizen, (October 7, 2006). Her 19th and last album, “Shine,” was released in 2007 to acclaim. Her title song “Shine” attacks the Catholic Church (“Shine on the Catholic Church/And the prisons that it owns/Shine on all the Churches/They all love less and less”). Mitchell has been married and divorced twice. She lives in Los Angeles.

“I’m interested in the prophets of all religions, but the religions themselves don’t make any sense to me.”

—Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 20, 2004

Compiled by Tolulope Igun

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