Thomas Alva Edison (1999)
by John Patrick Michael Murphy
Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) recognized no power greater than Nature, and spent his life investigating the nature of Nature. His ability to concentrate may have been enhanced by a childhood accident. As he raced for a moving train where he sold newspapers, a conductor helped him aboard by grabbing him by his ears. The young Edison felt a snap inside his head that left him hearing impaired for life. He would secure well over a thousand patents for his inventions, but that story is well known. His truculent agnosticism is not generally known, but it resulted from his investigation into the alleged supernatural.
He had only three months of formal education in his entire life and that occurred when he was a young child. His Port Huron, Michigan schoolmaster told his mother the lad was just too thick to be educated. She snatched him from school and gave him a love of knowledge. He spent hundreds of hours at the Detroit Public Library while he had a daily seven-hour wait for his return train. He studied Thomas Paine's Age of Reason before he was 12, and said the "flash of enlightenment that shone from its pages" never left him.
Only after he had left for New York, and later New Jersey, did he speak about his investigations into the alleged supernatural. It caused a lot of commotion at the time. He called religion a "damned fake...Religion is all bunk...All bibles are man-made." His shareholders trembled every time he spoke about religion but he refused to be muzzled. When President McKinley issued a public prayer of thanks for victory in the Spanish American War, Edison claimed, "But the same God gave us yellow fever, and to be consistent, McKinley should have thanked him for that also."
His first wife, Mary Stilwell, died of typhoid when he was 38 and he ascribed the cause to Nature, not some god who decided to punch her ticket. He married Mina Miller a few years later and here his agnosticism met with resistance. She was the devout daughter of a Methodist minister who tried to convert him into a Christian. She failed but the marriage survived after he was subjected to 6 Methodist bishops who came to his home to convert him at the request of Mina. He listened to the bishops for a while, until they started interrupting him, and one another, in the discussion. That was it. He departed with the statement, "I'm not going to listen to anymore of this nonsense." He and Mina never again discussed religion and their marriage blossomed.
He had a lifelong love of children. His own father was brutal. His father once gave public notice in Milan, Ohio that his 6-year-old son would be whipped openly for burning down the family barn during one of his early experiments. Edison spoke about the unfairness of steeping children in superstition before they have a chance to think for themselves-"The great trouble is that the preachers get the children from six to seven years of age, and then it is almost impossible to do anything with them. Incurably religious-that is the best way to describe the mental condition of so many people. Incurably religious." He claimed, "I do not believe that any type of religion should ever be introduced into the public schools of the United States."
Edison investigated the supernatural as he did the natural world and said, "I have never seen the slightest proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God...If there is really any soul, I have found no evidence of it in my investigations." In 1910 he told the New York Times, "No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life-our desire to go on living-our dread of coming to an end as individuals. I do not dread it though. Personally, I cannot see any use of a future life."
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"Thomas Alva Edison" is copyright © 1999 by John Patrick Michael Murphy.
The electronic version is copyright © 1999 Internet Infidels with the written permission of John Patrick Michael Murphy.