February 15 in freethought history…

galileoFebruary 15, 1564 – Astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei is born in Pisa, Italy. He is best known for his discoveries by use of the newly developed telescope, including the four largest moons of Jupiter. Galileo was infamously convicted by the Roman Inquisition for teaching (contrary to church doctrine) that the earth revolved around the sun. He died under house arrest in 1642, aged 77.

February 15, 1988 – Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman dies in Los Angeles, California, aged 69. He shared a Nobel Prize in 1966 for his work in the development of quantum electrodynamics. Although raised Jewish, he resisted such ethnic identifications, believing that it “open[ed] the door to all kinds of nonsense on racial theory.” He identified as an atheist from his youth. Feynman was also well known for his amusing memoirs, including Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman and What Do You Care What Other People Think? In later life, he served on the presidential commission on the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

February 15, 1990 – Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), in a speech (oddly titled “The Crisis of Faith in Science”) at Rome’s La Sapienza University, appears to defend the Roman Inquisition in its conviction of Galileo for heresy in 1633. Quoting various philosophers, Ratzinger asserted that the Church was more reasonable than Galileo because “it also considered the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s views.” He implied that the choice of heliocentrism over geocentrism lies “solely in the fact that it offers us greater ease of calculation.”

February 15, 2013 – Bangladeshi blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider is hacked to death outside his home by Islamist extremists for his online comments about religious fundamentalism. The next day, 10,000 supporters carried his coffin through the streets in protest. Haider’s murder is part of an ongoing campaign by fundamentalists against secular activists, several of whom have been assassinated, gravely injured or forced into exile in recent years.

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