January 1

There are 2 entries for this date: Phil Plait Hemant Mehta

    Hemant Mehta

    Hemant Mehta

    On this date in 1983, atheist blogger and activist Hemant Mehta was born in Chicago to a family that practiced Jainism. He abandoned his faith as a teen. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he formed the school’s first nonreligious group, Students WithOut Religious Dogma, or SWORD. He graduated in 2001 with degrees in math and biology and taught high school math for seven years before resigning to work full time on behalf of secular causes.

    Mehta decided in 2006 that he wanted theists to learn more about how religious institutions are viewed by the nonreligious. This led him to “sell his soul on eBay” by posting on the popular auction website that he would attend the highest bidder’s choice of religious institution. For every $10 the highest bidder gave him, he would attend one service.

    The winner, a Seattle minister, bid $504 and decided Mehta would go to a variety of churches and write about his experiences. This resulted in Mehta’s first book, I Sold My Soul on eBay (2007). He published The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide in 2012 and edited the 2017 book Queer Disbelief: Why LGBTQ Equality Is an Atheist Issue by Camille Beredjick.

    His popular blog Friendly Atheist highlights events, issues and people that are important to the nonreligious community. Mehta was a 2019 recipient of FFRF’s Nothing Fails Like Prayer Award, given to freethinkers who offer secular invocations before public boards. A transcript of his acceptance speech questioning whether atheism is still taboo in politics is here. A 26-minute video of the speech is here.

    He chaired the Foundation Beyond Belief, a nonprofit that raises money for people in need, and the Secular Student Alliance and was also spokesperson for the Chicago Coalition of Reason. Mehta is the co-host, with Jessica Bluemke, of the weekly Friendly Atheist podcast, which has produced over 270 episodes as of June 2019.

    “At age fourteen I was asking questions. When the answers failed to satisfy me, I searched elsewhere for different answers and found wisdom in atheism.”

    —Mehta, “I Sold My Soul on eBay” (2007)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; Ingrid Laas photo

    Phil Plait

    Phil Plait

    On this date in 1964, astronomer, blogger, and skeptic Phil Plait was born in Washington, D.C. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1994. He worked with the Hubble Space Telescope for 10 years, then got involved with astronomy education.

    Plait frequently gives talks that focus on astronomy and debunking myths and skepticism. The last slide of his presentation at TAM 6, a skeptic conference in Las Vegas, said, “The Universe is cool enough without making up crap about it.” His blog, Bad Astronomy, has won many awards and was named one of the 25 best blogs of 2009 by Time magazine. He became the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation in 2008 but left after a short stint to pursue television projects. He has been a part of many science documentaries, and the Discovery Channel featured him in the documentary “Bad Universe.”

    His books include Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World (2009) and Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing Hoax” (2002) and 27 Nerd Disses: A Significant Quantity of Disrespect (with Zach Weinersmith, 2013). He is married to Marcella Setter, with whom he runs Science Getaways based in Boulder, Colo., which provides vacation adventures.

    Erlend Aakre photo of Plait at TAM 9 in 2011. CC 2.0

    “How do you convince someone they’re not thinking clearly, when they’re not thinking clearly? What we’re actually saying is no magic, no afterlife, no higher moral authoritative father-figure, no security, and no happy ever after. This is a tough sell.”

    —Plait in a talk called “Don't Be a Dick” at The Amazing Meeting 8, a conference put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation ( July 2012)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano

Freedom From Religion Foundation