January 20 in freethought history…

billmaher2January 20, 1956 – Comedian and talk show host Bill Maher is born in New York City. Maher is best known for his 2008 documentary Religulous, and for hosting (since 2003) HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Before that, Maher hosted the pioneering Politically Incorrect from 1993 to 2001 on Comedy Central and the ABC network. Politically Incorrect was infamously cancelled due to backlash over Maher’s disagreement with the common assertion that the 9/11 terrorists were cowards. Over the years, Maher has been increasingly outspoken about his atheism and his support for progressive causes like gay marriage and legal marijuana. Despite his irreligiosity, Maher has come under fire from fellow travelers in the skeptical community for his questionable opinions on the danger of vaccines and the safety of food and drugs.

January 20, 1993The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question? by Novel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman with Dick Teresi, is published by Houghton Mifflin. In this popular science book, Lederman nicknames the hard-to-detect Higgs Boson (a subatomic particle that enables other particles to have mass) “the God Particle.” The media have overused this term, much to the dismay of physicists, and its use by creationists and other religious apologists has increased confusion. Lederman later explained that he’d used the nickname to emphasize the centrality of the Higgs to modern physics, but confessed he would rather have called it “the Goddamn Particle” because of its elusiveness and the expense of its scientific pursuit.

January 20, 2009 – President Barack Obama mentions “non-believers” in his first inaugural address. In speaking of America’s religious and cultural diversity, he said, “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” This was the first time an American President had mentioned–directly or indirectly–atheists in an inaugural speech. Obama has subsequently mentioned “non-believers” in other major speeches.

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