Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Photo by Steven Pinker Photo by Steven Pinker

On this date in 1950, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Newberger was born in White Plains, N.Y. Rebecca was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household in White Plains and attended a Jewish high school for girls (or yeshiva) in Manhattan. At FFRF’s 2011 annual conference, when she accepted FFRF’s "Freethought Heroine" award (listen to Rebecca's speech here), she eloquently recounted the patriarchal limitations imposed in her strict Orthodox: “Modestly, or tznuit as it’s called in Hebrew, is the premier virue indoctrinated into Orthodox females. We were actively discouraged from going on to college. . . Far more invidious was the internal inculcation of female modesty, which meant doing nothing to attract undue attention to oneself, including in one’s very speech.” Overcoming her upbringing, she “was born into consciousness” at Columbia University and received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Barnard College, Columbia University in 1972, graduating summa cum laude. In graduate school she was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Fellowship. She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Princeton in 1977. She taught at Barnard College, and in the MFA writing program at Columbia, and the philosophy department at Rutgers. For five years, she was a visiting professor of philosophy at Trinity University in Hartford, Conn. In 1996, she was named a MacArthur Fellow, known as the “Genius Award." In 2005, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2006, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and Radcliffe Fellowship. Rebecca, who married very young, has two daughters, Yael and Danielle, with her first husband, Sheldon Goldstein. In 2008, she married Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker. They live in Boston and Truro, Mass.

Her novels and nonfiction writing have received many awards. Her first novel, The Mind-Body Problem, which addresses philosophical themes, was published in 1983. Other novels include The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind; The Dark Sister, Mazel, and Properties of Light: A Novel of Love, Betrayal and Quantum Physics. Her book of short stories is called Strange Attractors. In 1996, Goldstein was named a MacArthur fellow, the award colloquially known as the “genius grant.” In 2005, Goldstein wrote Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, and in 2006, Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew who Gave Us Modernity, a biography of the seventeenth-century thinker. In 2010, she returned to novel-writing with Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, a playful work with the timely theme of a protagonist who is author of a bestselling book on atheism. The book concludes with a debunking of 36 arguments for the existence of God. Her latest book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why philosophy won't just go away (2014), imagines Plato's take on the modern age with its technological wonders to argue that Plato's philosophy is still relevant today. She is a Humanist Laureate and was named 2010 Humanist of the Year. She is a Research Associate in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard, and currently Miller Scholar at Santa Fe institute, and will be Franke Visiting Fellow, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale Univerity and Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth in 2013. Goldstein was interviewed on Freethought Radio in January 2010.

“It was while I was studying philosophy that I came to understand. . . that it is no sign of moral or spiritual strength to believe that for which one has no evidence, neither a priori evidence as in math, nor a posteriori evidence as in science. . . . It's a violation almost immoral in its transgressiveness to shirk the responsibilities of rationality.”

—Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, h/convention/past-conventions/2011-convention-hartford-connecticut/

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski ; Photo by Steven Pinker

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