December 20 in freethought history…

charleschiltonmooreDecember 20, 1837 – Freethought publisher Charles Chilton Moore is born near Lexington, Kentucky. Moore was a pastor when, as Moore himself told it, he invited a distant cousin to read and discuss with him a selection of books both for and against religion, in hopes of converting his cousin to Christianity through intellectual debate. In the end, the cousin embraced Christ and Moore became an “infidel.” He resigned his church position and began publishing the freethought newspaper the Blue Grass Blade.  The Blade, although sporadically published, was a sensation in Lexington, and attracted subscribers from around the US. Moore railed against religious bigotry, political corruption, and argued for the abolition of the “liquor trade.” In 1899 he was convicted under the Comstock Act of publishing “obscene” material (namely, articles and letters concerning birth control and “free love”). During his months as a federal prisoner at the Ohio State Penitentiary, he was well-treated by the warden and his fellow inmates. Moore’s sentence was commuted by President William McKinley, and his return to Lexington was celebrated at banquets and parties. Moore died in 1906, aged 68.

December 20, 1969 –  Philosopher Alain de Botton is born in Zurich, Switzerland. Although he has written many successful and highly acclaimed nonfiction books, he is best know to the freethought community for his 2012 book Religion for Atheists, in which he discusses ways that religious practices can be repurposed in a nonreligious context.

December 20, 1996 – Astrophysicist and science popularizer Carl Sagan dies in Seattle, Washington, aged 62. Aside from his peer-reviewed accomplishments as a scientist, he was a prominent speculator about the possibility of extraterrestrial life (he organized the creation of the plaques mounted to the Pioneer space probes and the so-called “Golden Records” mounted to the Voyagers, which theoretically might be found and deciphered by extraterrestrials, leading them to earth). He co-wrote and presented the groundbreaking TV science documentary COSMOS: A Personal Voyage, one of the most-watched public broadcasting productions of all time. He was also outspoken in favor of scientific skepticism, nuclear proliferation and other social issues. His only novel Contact was a bestseller adapted as a popular 1997 movie starring Jody Foster. His non-fiction books include The Dragons of Eden (which won a Pulitzer), The Demon-Haunted World and Pale Blue Dot.

December 20, 2005 – Judge John E. Jones III of the US District Court for the Middle District of PA rules on Kitzmiller v Dover (striking down the teaching of intelligent design in public schools).

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