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Talking science, religion and philosophy

Author Steven Gimbel will present lecture on February 20

In a video about his work at Gettysburg College, Professor Steven Gimbel, quoting a friend, explains what he does this way: “If you ask ‘why?’ once, you’re a scientist…. If you ask more than once, you’re a philosopher.”

He is a philosopher who manages to keep his feet planted in both worlds and often brings the two disciplines together as he makes connections between scientific evidence and philosophical examination.

On Wednesday, February 20, at 5:30 p.m., he will bring his creative sense of inquiry to Wheaton during his lecture in the Holman Room in Mary Lyon Hall.

Gimbel, chair of the philosophy department at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, is the author of Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion (Johns Hopkins University Press, April 10, 2012). The book not only provides an analysis of Albert Einstein’s philosophy of science but also inquires about whether the influence of politics and religion alters the construction of scientific questions and the dissemination of scientific answers.

The scholar’s lecture on the multifaceted book fits perfectly with Wheaton’s focus on interdisciplinary study, noted Associate Professor of Philosophy John Partridge, who invited Gimbel to speak. The two became acquainted when they were both students at John Hopkins University.

“Professor Gimbel's book is fascinating,” said Partridge. “From the standpoint of our curriculum, his talk is all about ‘Connections.’ The fact that it also examines Einstein's Jewish identity and the Nazi dismissal of his work as ‘Jewish science’ also taps into the infusion part of our curriculum.”

The book was a finalist for two awards, the Gerrard and Ella Berman Memorial Award and 2012 National Jewish Book Award. It also recently received favorable reviews in the New York Times and other publications. According to New York Times reviewer George Johnson, “Gimbel is an engaging writer. In demonstrating the obvious, he takes readers on enlightening excursions through the nature of Judaism, Hegelian philosophy, wherever his curiosity leads.”

Gimbel’s non-academic interests illustrate just how many different places his curiosity has taken him. For example, he edited The Grateful Dead and Philosophy: Getting High Minded about Love and Haight (Popular Culture and Philosophy). He also has written about the philosophy of humor in light of his experiences as an amateur stand-up comedian.

He double majored in physics and philosophy as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He later went on to receive a master’s degree and Ph.D. in philosophy at John Hopkins University.

A recipient of the best professor award, he holds the position of Edwin T. Johnson and Cynthia Shearer Johnson Chair for Distinguished Teaching in the Humanities. His courses list includes “Einstein in Wonderland: Physics, Philosophy and Other Nonsense, “Bad Science, Wrong Science and Pseudo-science,” and “From Aristotle to Einstein: Philosophical Revolutions in the History of Space.”

Partridge invited him to Wheaton after learning Gimbel was looking for opportunities to give talks about his book. As vice president of Phi Beta Kappa, Partridge helps coordinate visiting speakers and other events. Phil Beta Kappa is sponsoring Gimbel’s lecture, in partnership with the Physics Club, Philosophy Club, Hillel, and the Office of Service, Spirituality, and Social Responsibility.