November 8

There are 3 entries for this date: Ben Bova Edmund Halley Bonnie Raitt

    Ben Bova

    Ben Bova

    On this date in 1932, science writer Ben Bova was born in Philadelphia. Raised Catholic in a working-class neighborhood, his first exposure to science on a planetarium field trip gave him hope for a better future for humanity. In a Freethought Radio interview on July 18, 2009, Bova said, “The Catholic Church teaches that faith is a gift from God, and it’s a gift I never received apparently. It always seemed kind of strange to me that we’re depending on this supernatural power and there’s no real evidence that it exists.”

    Attracted to science but fearing he lacked the math skills for it led him to study journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia (1954), which landed him a job as a newspaper editor. He then worked as a technical writer for an aircraft company and as a writer for educational films at MIT. He earned a master’s in communications from the State University of New York at Albany and a Ph.D. in education in 1996 from California Coast University. His increasing renown as a writer in the 1970s brought him the role for which he would be most acclaimed, editor of Analog, the popular science fiction magazine. As editor, Bova earned five consecutive Hugo Awards (1973 to 1977) and another in 1982 as fiction editor of Omni magazine.

    After his first novel (“The Star Conquerors” in 1959), Bova wrote 140 futuristic and nonfiction books. “Earth,” the 25th in The Grand Tour series, was published in 2019. He served as president of Science Fiction Writers of America and a science analyst on “CBS Morning News.” He taught science fiction at Harvard and film courses at other institutions. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation (2005), was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2001) and in 2008 won the Robert A. Heinlein Award “for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature.”

    Bova’s writings predicted solar power satellites, the discovery of organic chemicals in interstellar space, the space race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, stem cell therapy, the discovery of ice on the moon, electronic book publishing and the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). His novel “Mars Life” (2008) explored the clash between science, politics and religion. His 1980 article in Discover magazine, “The Creationists’ ‘Equal Time,’ ” became an inspirational classic among freethinkers.

    He was president of the Barbara Bova Literary Agency, founded by his wife in 1974. They had three children. She died in 2009 of cancer in Naples, Florida, where he also died at age 88. D. 2020.

    PHOTO: Bova in 1974; photo by Dd-B under CC 3.0.

    “When I started understanding how science works, it occurred to me that there just is no evidence that there is a God.”

    —Bova interview on Freethought Radio (July 18, 2009)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

    Edmund Halley

    Edmund Halley

    On this date in 1656, astronomer Edmund Halley was born in England. His father was a wealthy London soapmaker.  The Royal Society published a scientific paper by Halley when he was only 19. He cut short his college career to travel to St. Helena, the southernmost point of the British Empire, where he catalogued 341 stars, discovered a star cluster and made the first complete observation of a transit of Mercury.

    King Charles II conferred a degree from Oxford upon Halley without requiring an exam. At 22 he became one of the youngest members admitted to the Royal Society. He had worked with Royal Astronomer John Flamsteed at Oxford and Greenwich. Flamsteed became Halley’s enemy and blocked his appointment to Oxford on account of Halley’s rationalist views in 1691. He married Mary Tooke in 1682 and they had three children.

    Halley urged Newton to write his Principia Mathematica and published it for him. Halley remains famous for being the first to predict the return of the comet named for him, appearing every 75-76 years. After several posts, Halley finally secured a professorship at Oxford in 1703. When Flamsteed died, Halley became King George I’s astronomer in 1720. He was known during his day as “the infidel mathematician.” The Royal Society censured him for suggesting in 1694 that the story of Noah’s flood might be an account of a cometary impact.

    While not all his theories proved correct, Halley made many important discoveries, innovations and inventions, such as the diving bell. He died in 1741 at age 85.

    “That he was an infidel in religious matters seems as generally allowed as it appears unaccountable.”

    "Chalmers' Biographical Dictionary," cited by Joseph McCabe, "A Dictionary of Modern Rationalists" (1920)

    Bonnie Raitt

    Bonnie Raitt

    On this date in 1949, blues singer Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born in Burbank, Calif., the daughter of Broadway musical star John Raitt (Curly in “Oklahoma”) and pianist Marjorie Haydock (whose father was a Methodist minister and missionary). Raitt, who got her first guitar for Christmas at age 8, was raised as a Quaker and graduated from Oakwood Friends School before enrolling at Radcliffe College. She became friends with blues promoter Dick Waterman and moved to Philadelphia to start a music career, releasing her eponymous debut album in 1971.

    As of this writing in 2019, Raitt has recorded 20 albums (the latest, Dig in Deep” in 2016) and has received 10 Grammy Awards. Rolling Stone has named her one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. Her 2019 touring schedule included opening for James Taylor & His All-Star Band.

    Her commitment to social, charitable and political activism includes co-headlining with Jackson Browne and Keb Mo’ the 2004 “Vote For Change” tour, the Musicians United for Safe Energy campaigns against nuclear power and for disaster relief after the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdown in Japan, and the Bonnie Raitt Guitar Project with Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The project funds music programs in more than 200 clubs serving underprivileged youth.

    She co-founded the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which works to improve royalties, financial conditions and recognition for R&B pioneers. Raitt also holds seats on advisory and honorary boards of Little Kids Rock, Rainforest Action Network, Music Maker Relief Foundation and the Arhoolie Foundation, which preserves vernacular culture. She married actor Michael O’Keefe in 1991. They announced their divorce in 1999.

    Masahiro Sumori photo; CC 3.0.

    CBS INTERVIEWER: “I get a sense that gratitude is very important to you.”
    RAITT: “That’s true. I don’t think anybody’s ever mentioned that before. But I think it’s probably the closest thing to religion that I have, is just being grateful.”

    —CBS "Sunday Morning" (April 17, 2016)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation