Steven Weinberg

Dr. Weinberg at the 1999 Freedom From Religion Foundation annual convention Dr. Weinberg at the 1999 Freedom From Religion Foundation annual convention

On this date in 1933, Steven Weinberg was born in the Bronx, N.Y. He received his undergraduate degree in physics from Cornell University in 1954, which he attended on a scholarship. There he met and fell in love with another Cornell student. Louise Weinberg is now his wife and a professor of law at the University of Texas. Weinberg began his graduate study at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen (now the Niels Bohr Institute). He completed his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1957. In 1979, Weinberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics along with Abdus Salam and Sheldon Lee Glashow, “for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current.” This was one of the most significant scientific advances in the second half of the 20th century. He has received many other prestigious awards for his scientific work, including the national Medal of Science in 1991. He is also a foreign member of the Royal Society of London. Known for his writing, Weinberg received the Lewis Thomas Prize, which is awarded to the researcher who best embodies “the scientist as poet.” Weinberg has written hundreds of scholarly articles and textbooks such as The Quantum Theory of Fields (three volumes: 1995, 1996, 2003) and Cosmology (2008); the more popular works The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977) and Dreams of a Final Theory (1993, which contains a chapter called “What About God?”). His collections Facing Up: Science and its Cultural Adversaries was published in 2001, and Lake Views: This World and the Universe in 2011.

Weinberg is outspoken about his lack of religion and encourages other scientists to be more vocal in their opposition to religious ideas. He has said, in reference to the conflict between religion and science, “As you learn more and more about the universe, you find you can understand more and more without any reference to supernatural intervention, so you lose interest in that possibility. Most scientists I know don't care enough about religion even to call themselves atheists. And that, I think, is one of the great things about science — that it has made it possible for people not to be religious” (quoted in Natalie Angier, “Confessions of a Lonely Atheist," The New York Times, Jan. 14, 2001). On the subject of religion, Weinberg told The New York Times: "The whole history of the last thousands of years has been a history of religious persecutions and wars, pogroms, jihads, crusades. I find it all very regrettable, to say the least.” In 1999, Steven Weinberg became the first official recipient of FFRF's “Emperor Has No Clothes” award, a golden figurine reserved for public figures who make known their dissent from religion. He began his acceptance speech by saying, "I enjoy being at a meeting that doesn't start with an invocation!" He said, “Nothing has been more important in the history of science than the work of Darwin and Wallace pointing out that not only the planets but even life can be understood in this naturalistic way.” More excerpts from his acceptance speech can be found here.

"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."

—Steven Weinberg, in an address at the Conference on Cosmic Design, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, D.C., April 1999

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

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