Introduction of Professor Weinberg by Dan Barker (April 2000)

This introduction was delivered at the 22nd annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation in San Antonio, Texas, in November, 1999. Dr. Weinberg was the first recipient of the Foundation’s “Emperor Has No Clothes” Award for plain speaking on religious issues by a prominent person. I think the best way to combat superstition is with science. It happened in my life.

Back when I was a traveling Christian evangelist, I was interested in the world, reading some books, branching out. I was still a believer, but fascinated with the world of knowledge out there. One of the books I read in the late ’70s was The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg.

There was a big buzz about this book. It’s still in print and selling very well. The first recipient of the Foundation’s “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” is Dr. Steven Weinberg. Steven Weinberg is a professor in the physics and astronomy departments at the University of Texas at Austin. He’s the director of the Theory Group of the physics department there, which he founded. He’s well known for his development of the field theory that unifies the electromagnetic and weak nuclear forces, and for other major contributions to physics and cosmology.

He is a member of both the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and Britain’s Royal Society as well as the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Astronomical Union, etc. But to say that Weinberg is “well known” for this is quite an understatement. It’s like saying that Einstein was “well known” for thinking about gravity. Weinberg won the Nobel Prize for uniting the electrical and the weak nuclear forces into a single force called the electro-weak force; one of the most significant advances in the second half of the 20th century.

He authored The First Three Minutes and a book called Gravitation and Cosmology. He also wrote The Discovery of Subatomic Particles and Dreams of a Final Theory. His books have been translated into 22 foreign languages. Dreams of a Final Theory is a fascinating, accessible book.

I don’t think he would mind too much if you freethinkers jumped to the chapter at the end called “What About God?” He also wrote The Quantum Theory of Fields and over 250 articles on elementary particle physics, cosmology and other subjects. One of his articles is the most frequently cited paper on particle physics of the past 50 years.

In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books you can read Weinberg’s article, “A Designer Universe,” in which he debunks the “intelligent-design” and “fine-tuning” arguments. Professor Weinberg served as co-editor of the Cambridge University Press series of monographs in mathematical physics, is a founding director of the Jerusalem Winter School of Theoretical Physics, consulted at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, is a member of the board of editors of Daedalus magazine, the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress and many other boards and committees.

His work has been honored with numerous prizes including the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for the electro-weak force, which he shared with Sheldon Glashow and Abdus Salam. In 1991 he won the National Medal of Science. Weinberg was educated at Cornell, Copenhagen and Princeton. He also holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Barcelona, University of Chicago, City University at New York, Clark University, Columbia, Dartmouth, Knox College, University of Padua, the University of Rochester, Salamanca, Washington College, the Weisman Institute and Yale University. He taught at Columbia and Berkeley. It was when he was at Berkeley that he developed the electro-weak theory. He taught at MIT and Harvard, where he was the Higgins Professor of Physics before coming to Texas in 1982.

Not only is he a great scientist but he is a great writer. And he is quoted frequently by other science writers–you can spot Weinberg’s name in many indexes. It seems like the person to quote these days is Steven Weinberg. Weinberg is receiving the first “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” because of one especially significant, widely reprinted remark that he made about religion at a conference in April 1999 in Washington D.C.: “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.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation