Sunday, September 11, 2011

Steven Weinberg

I don't think Steven Weinberg is stupid. He's clearly a great deal more intelligent than I am by most, if not all, measures. He's a brilliant physicist. His contributions to science are immense. But Weinberg fails, along with several other notable figures, at being rational in his atheism.

In the first epistle of Peter, Christians are given the instruction to "always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you". I think this is a sentiment atheists can wholeheartedly support as well. Regardless of what you believe, it's important to know why you believe it. This "ready defense" is particularly vital for those taking the path of publicly defending their view--and how much more so for world-class academics! Experts of science, philosophy, theology, or history who attest to atheism ought to be held accountable to the highest standard of reasoning.

Unfortunately many such as Weinberg have failed. Weinberg is known for a pithy but misguided quote about good people only being capable of doing bad things through religion's influence. Aside from being oblivious to manifest counter-examples, the quote is philosophically flawed. Weinberg apparently shares a misconception of good versus bad people with religious fundamentalists. But that's a larger argument which I'll leave aside for now in favor of focusing on the following quote. In an interview with Jonathan Mills for BBC, Weinberg explains his reasons for publicly taking up the cause of atheism:

"Maybe at the very bottom of it I really don't like God. I mean, it's silly to say to say I don't like God because I don't believe in God, but ..."

But nothing! There's no excuse whatsoever for any atheist to ever sincerely say that he or she dislikes God. None. Period. It's absurd. Here is the failed excuse Weinberg uses to justify himself:

"... in the same sense that I don't like Iago or I don't like 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."


  1. Fictional or not, you can't compare a literary villain with the proclaimed diety at the heart of the two largest religions on earth. No one is claiming to receive divine revelation from Moriarty or Darth Vader.
  2. If God is not real then our aversion should be directed to such false claims and those who propogate them, not the subject of the claims. You can rationally have a negative opinion of the Church, the Pope, the Bible, pastors or Christians as a whole. But an atheist disliking God is as nonsensical as hating Santa Claus because a bizarre sect believes that Santa kidnaps children and eats their bones.
  3. God as a concept is not a single set of characteristics. He has been described by numerous authors who ascribe a medley of characteristics, often contradicting each other. So what does it even mean to dislike God outside of the perspective of a religious view? Disliking God even as a character makes no sense for an atheist.
  4. Disliking something doesn't make it untrue or even unworthy. I hate Stalin but I wont use that as a reason to deny his existence. I hate alarm clocks and taxes but I wont oppose their role in society.

Weinberg's contribution to the debate on religion is nothing more than a donation of ammunition to theists. He has played directly into the hands of theists who advance the stereotype of the angry atheist. Such an atheist is merely angry at God and copes by denying His existence. Christians will argue that hate directed at the diety rather than the religion betrays an inward belief in the diety's existence. I'm inclined to agree.