Many students that catch wind of a lecture pertaining to either science or religion, or both in this case, would certainly start running in the opposite direction.
This past Monday evening Dr. Steven Gimbel, Chair of the Philosophy Department at Gettysburg College and author of Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion, stopped by Millersville to make his claim that religion has played a larger role in science than many of us think.
He began his lecture with a bit of background on Einstein, his life, and his theories on relativity. When Einstein published his theories he received unsurprising blowback from the Nazi’s and their scientists, labeling it “Jewish science.”
Gimbel went on to explain that almost everyone realizes that this phrase is used as a pejorative term in an attempt to discredit a Jewish intellectual in a society that is overtly prejudiced. Gimbel states “Einstein conceded that his theory was in fact “Jewish science” and even went as far to say that “you can tell Jews, not only by the way they look, but by their intellectual work.”
Einstein of course was not siding with the Nazi’s or approving of their ideals, so what was he really saying?
“Our first two major theories concerning gravity came from Isaac Newton and before that, René Descartes,” Gimbel told the audience. Descartes was a devout Catholic but also an intellectual of his time. When attempting to explain gravity and how it worked in the universe he had to mold his theory around Catholic scientific views. Newton was no different, as Gimbel pointed out. He was a radical Protestant and had to stay true to his religion while trying to make sense of the world and how it works.
Gimbels question then became, “Was Einstein any different?” In all honesty he wasn’t.
Dr. Gimbel gave a brief overview of Judaism for those unaware of its practices and methods. He placed sizable importance on looking at questions or problems from several different perspectives to help find a more suitable answer.
“If you get too stuck on your own perspective, you never know the whole truth,” Gimbel said. Gimbel explained that it is this line of thought that aided Einstein in coming up with a radical theory of gravity, giving validity to the label “Jewish science.”
Dr. Gimbel was able to relay his message to the audience that historically, religion and science have not been as polarized as many people think: they actually went hand in hand on major issues and discoveries. He was also able to tie in Einstein’s theories into a message that stresses the importance of multiple perspective in everyday life.
He ended his lecture saying, “ideas come from people, people who have limited perspectives, but who have something to teach us – no matter when or what they were saying.”