November 7 in freethought history…

November 7, 1876 – Culbert Olson (who, as 29th governor of California, battled entanglement of the Roman Catholic Church in the state’s school system) is born in Fillmore, Utah. Raised by a Mormon family, he nonetheless decided he was an atheist as a child. After his exit from politics, he was president of United Secularists of America.

November 7, 1913 – Alfred Russel Wallace (co-discoverer, with Charles Darwin, of natural selection) dies in Broadstone, England, aged 90. His essay “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type” was the catalyst Darwin needed to finally complete his magnum opus Origin of Species. In later years Wallace made pioneering contributions to astrobiology, but also dabbled in spiritualism and came down on the wrong side of early anti-vaccination debates.

November 7, 1981 – Historian and philosopher Will Durant dies in Los Angeles, aged 96. He is best known for writing (with his wife Ariel) the 11-volume Story of Civilization and The Story of Philosophy (originally published as a series of Little Blue Books by the Haldeman-Julius Publishing Company). While Durant was respectful of religion, he criticized misguided attempts to reconcile Biblical creationism with the scientific understanding of evolution. While studying religion in college he discovered  “that Christianity was only one of a hundred religions claiming special access to truth and salvation.”

November 7, 1995 – Stanley Ann Dunham dies in Honolulu, Hawaii, aged 52. She was possibly the most influential atheist of the 20th century, being the mother of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. Obama’s civic commitment is clearly a product of her progressive parenting. He recalled her as a “a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism” and one who had “a healthy skepticism of religion as an institution.”

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