Last modified on 1 May 2014, at 18:53

Steven Weinberg

The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things which lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

Steven Weinberg (born 3 May 1933) is an American physicist. He was awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics (with colleagues Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow) for combining electromagnetism and the weak force into the electroweak force. More recently, he has written some papers arguing that the smallness of the cosmological constant is due to the anthropic principle.

QuotesEdit

Elementary particles are terribly boring, which is one reason why we're so interested in them.
It seems that scientists are often attracted to beautiful theories in the way that insects are attracted to flowers — not by logical deduction, but by something like a sense of smell.
The god of traditional Judaism and Christianity and Islam seems to me a terrible character.
The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
  • Elementary particles are terribly boring, which is one reason why we're so interested in them.
    • "Elementary particles and the laws of Physics" in The 1986 Dirac Memorial Lectures (1987)
  • The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things which lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
    • The First Three Minutes (1993)
  • Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
    • Address at the Conference on Cosmic Design, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C. (April 1999)
    • This comment is modified in a later article derived from these talks:
Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God's will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.
  • One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.
    • Address at the Conference on Cosmic Design, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C. (April 1999)
  • If you have bought one of those T-shirts with Maxwell's equations on the front, you may have to worry about its going out of style, but not about its becoming false. We will go on teaching Maxwellian electrodynamics as long as there are scientists.
    • "The Revolution That Didn't Happen" in The New York Review of Books (1998) [1]
  • In trying to get votes for the Superconducting Super Collider, I was very much involved in lobbying members of Congress, testifying to them, bothering them, and I never heard any of them talk about postmodernism or social constructivism. You have to be very learned to be that wrong.
    • "Night Thoughts of a Quantum Physicist" (February 1995); republished in Facing Up: Science And Its Cultural Adversaries (2001)
  • It seems that scientists are often attracted to beautiful theories in the way that insects are attracted to flowers — not by logical deduction, but by something like a sense of smell.
    • Physics Today (November 2005) page 35
  • There are those whose views about religion are not very different from my own, but who nevertheless feel that we should try to damp down the conflict, that we should compromise it. … I respect their views and I understand their motives, and I don't condemn them, but I'm not having it. To me, the conflict between science and religion is more important than these issues of science education or even environmentalism. I think the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief; and anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilization.
  • If there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that—in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we're starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science and art for ourselves. That's not an entirely despicable role for us to play.
    • Quoted in Frankenberry The Faith of Scientists: In Their Own Words (2008), p. 336
  • The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.
    • Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature (1993), ISBN 0-09-922391-0.
  • A theorist today is hardly considered respectable if he or she has not introduced at least one new particle for which there is no experimental evidence.
    • "Particle physics, from Rutherford to the LHC," Physics Today 64, no.8 (August 2011), 29-33, on 30.

The Atheism Tapes (2004)Edit

Interview in 2003, broadcast as Episode 2
There is one constant that seems to be fine tuned...and that is dark energy.
  • Many people do simply awful things out of sincere religious belief, not using religion as a cover the way that Saddam Hussein may have done, but really because they believe that this is what God wants them to do, going all the way back to Abraham being willing to sacrifice Issac because God told him to do that. Putting God ahead of humanity is a terrible thing.
  • Maybe at the very bottom of it... I really don't like God. You know, it's silly to say I don't like God because I don't believe in God, but in the same sense that I don't like Iago, or the Reverend Slope or any of the other villains of literature, the god of traditional Judaism and Christianity and Islam seems to me a terrible character. He's a god who will... who obsessed the degree to which people worship him and anxious to punish with the most awful torments those who don't worship him in the right way. Now I realise that many people don't believe in that any more who call themselves Muslims or Jews or Christians, but that is the traditional God and he's a terrible character. I don't like him.
  • I have a friend — or had a friend, now dead — Abdus Salam, a very devout Muslim, who was trying to bring science into the universities in the Gulf states and he told me that he had a terrible time because, although they were very receptive to technology, they felt that science would be a corrosive to religious belief, and they were worried about it... and damn it, I think they were right. It is corrosive of religious belief, and it's a good thing too.
  • I'm offended by the kind of smarmy religiosity that's all around us, perhaps more in America than in Europe, and not really that harmful because it's not really that intense or even that serious, but just... you know after a while you get tired of hearing clergymen giving the invocation at various public celebrations and you feel, haven't we outgrown all this? Do we have to listen to this?

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