September 1

Alan M. Dershowitz (1938)

It was on this date, September 1, 1938, that Harvard law professor and civil liberties lawyer Alan Morton Dershowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York. First in his class at Yale Law, he was appointed to the Harvard Law faculty at age 25 and became the youngest full professor in the school's history at age 28. His successful defense of Claus von Bülow on attempted murder charges, and his participation on the "dream team" of defense lawyers that acquitted O.J. Simpson on murder charges (Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case, 1996), made his name nearly a household word.

Dershowitz has written extensively on law and public policy. In his 1998 Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis, he claims that the Justice Department went overboard in prosecuting President Bill Clinton for what amounted to sexual indiscretions, and in his 2001 Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000 he maintains that the U.S. Supreme Court improperly awarded the presidency to George W. Bush. But he has suffered great criticism for approving torture of suspects in "ticking time-bomb" instances: situations in which "a captured terrorist who knows of an imminent large-scale threat refuses to disclose it."

A patron of many Jewish causes, Dershowitz says his Judaism is more cultural than spiritual. In his 1997 book, The Vanishing American Jew, he writes, "God is not central to my particular brand of Jewishness. ... Being Jewish, to me, transcends theology or deity."[1]

In a 1999 Free Inquiry article, Dershowitz says more:

I am a skeptic about everything, including God and atheism. I am not certain about issues of cosmology. ... I am more certain that the miraculous stories that form the basis of most religious beliefs are myths. Yet I respect the Bible and enjoy reading and teaching it. Indeed, I find it even more fascinating as a human creation than as a divine revelation. I consider myself a committed Jew, but I do not believe that being a Jew requires belief in the supernatural. ... Indeed, it is while praying that I experience my greatest doubts about God, and it is while looking at the stars that I make the leap of faith. ... If there is a governing force, He (or She or It) is certainly not in touch with those who purport to be speaking on His behalf.[2]

[1] Alan Dershowitz, The Vanishing American Jew. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1997, pp. 179-180. (Quoted from Celebrity Atheists.)
[2] "Taking Disbelief Out of the Closet" by Alan M. Dershowitz, Free Inquiry, Summer 1999, Vol. 19, No. 3. p. 7. (Quoted from Celebrity Atheists.)

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August Forel (1848)

It was also on this date, September 1, 1848, that Swiss physiologist Auguste-Henri Forel was born in La Gracieuse, near Morges, Switzerland. He was fascinated as a boy with insects of all kinds, but was persuaded to study medicine at the University of Zürich, 1866-1871. In spite of that, he published papers on insects and became a member of the Swiss Entomological Society. This culminated in his greatest publication, The Mental Capacity of Ants, in 1907, which was awarded the Academy Prize.

His work in human psychology and the anatomy of the brain influenced Sigmund Freud. He was appointed professor of psychiatry in 1879 at the University of Zürich Medical School and not only ran the Burghölzli asylum there, but continued to publish papers on insanity, prison reform, and social morality. His outspoken socialist views and rationalism perplexed his associates, but his 1908 publication, Vie et mort or Life and Death, describes his rationalist views. He describes his Agnosticism in the 1914 symposium What We Owe Ernst Haeckel.[1]

Forel suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side in 1912, but taught himself to write with his left hand and was able to continue his studies. In 1920 he became a Bahá'í, out of respect for it social work and because it lacked "dogmas or priests."[2] At age 83, on 27 July 1931, Forel died in Yvorne. It was Auguste-Henri Forel who, referring to ants, but extending the materialistic idea to humans, wrote, "Every act of thinking is identical with the molecular activity of the brain-cortex that coincides with it."[3]

[1] Auguste-Henri Forel, Was Wir Ernst Haeckel Verdanken (What We Owe Ernst Haeckel). Leipzig: Verlag Unesma GmbH] 1914, vol. I, p. 242.
[2] About his conversion, Forel said, "[I]n 1920, I first came to know of the supraconfessional world religion of the Bahá'ís, founded in the East more than seventy-five years ago by the Persian Bahá'u'lláh. This is the true religion of human social good, without dogmas or priests, uniting all men on this small terrestrial globe of ours. I have become a Bahá'í. May this religion live and prosper for the good of mankind; this is my most ardent wish." (Quoted from a Swiss Bahá'í Web site)
[3] Auguste-Henri Forel, Die psychischen Fähigkeiten der Ameisen und einiger anderer Insekten, mit einem Anhang über die Eigentümlichkeiten des Geruchsinnes jener Tiere. Vorträge gehalten den 13.8.1901 (The mental capacity of ants). München: Ernst Reinhardt, 1907.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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