April 18 in freethought history…

clarencedarrowApril 18, 1857 - Attorney and civil rights activist Clarence Darrow is born in Kinsman, Ohio. He is best known for leading the defense in famous 20th-century cases like Leopold and Loeb and the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial. Darrow was active in freethought and human rights organizations, including the ACLU. In a famous speech titled “Why I Am an Agnostic,” Darrow said, “The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.” He died in 1938, aged 80.

April 18, 1955 - Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein dies in Princeton, New Jersey, aged 76. A patent clerk with an unremarkable academic past, Einstein went on to become one of the most influential scientists in history. In 1905 (Einstein’s “Annus Mirabilis”), he published groundbreaking papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity and matter-energy equivalence (E = mc2 ). In 1939, at the urging of fellow scientist Leo Szilard, Einstein signed the famous letter urging President Franklin Roosevelt to develop the atomic bomb. In later life Einstein campaigned for civil rights, for the State of Israel (although he turned down the presidency), and against nuclear proliferation. Einstein’s views on religion are still widely and often willfully misunderstood. He expressed appreciation of Spinoza’s “god,” but could not be considered a religious or even a Deist in any conventional sense. Einstein once wrote, “I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal god is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

April 18, 2008 – The documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, is released in US theaters. Hosted by actor Ben Stein, the film makes the claim that mainstream academia is engaged in a conspiracy to suppress so-called Intelligent Design in favor of godless Darwinian evolution by natural selection, and that evolutionary theory was a key inspiration for eugenics and the Holocaust. Cinema critics blasted the film for being boring, propagandistic and unscrupulous; the science community dismissed it as being unconvincing; and the pro-science interviewees (like PZ Meyers, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott and Michael Shermer) complained that they had been misled about the nature of the documentary and subjected to manipulative questioning. Despite the outcry, the film was popular among religious conservatives, earning nearly $8 million at the box office against a budget of $3.5 million.

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