January 29 in freethought history…

antonchekhovJanuary 29, 1860 - Russian physician and playwright Anton Chekhov is born in Taganrog, Russian Empire. He is largely attributed with originating the concept of “Chekhov’s Gun”; i.e. that every element in a dramatic work should be essential to the story. (“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”) An atheist from an early age, he said that when he and his brothers sang in church as children, they “felt like little convicts.” He died in 1904, aged 44.

January 29, 1875 – Physiologist Anton Julius Carlson is born in Sweden. Carlson emigrated to the United States in 1891, eventually earning a doctorate in physiology from Stanford. He served as president of the American Physiological Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a signer of the original Humanist Manifesto in 1933. The American Humanist Association named him the first Humanist of the Year in 1953. Carlson died in 1956, aged 81.

January 29, 1935 – Particle physicist, skeptic and atheist Victor Stenger is born in Bayonne, New Jersey. He was an active leader or member of several skeptical organizations, including the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Center for Inquiry. He wrote thirteen books for general audiences, including God: The Failed Hypothesis and The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. Stenger died in 2014, aged 89.

Janary 29, 1956 – Journalist H. L. Mencken dies in his native Baltimore, aged 75. He was well-known for colorful, curmudgeonly cultural commentary in which he spared no one and nothing. He wrote dozens of books, most notably his essay collection Prejudices (seven volumes) and Treatise on the Gods. Mencken famously covered the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. Mencken has been accused of misogyny, racism and anti-Semitism, although the truth is more complex: Mencken was an equal opportunity destroyer, a provocateur who criticized all races and creeds.

January 29, 1960 - Neurologist Charles Judson Herrick dies, aged 91. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1918, and named Humanist of the Year in 1956 by the American Humanist Association.

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