Steve Weinberg's brilliant ignorance

By Razib Khan | January 18, 2007 12:36 pm

PZ and John have commented on a Steve Weinberg review of The God Delusion. This prompts me to offer up a cheap reflection which I’ve been meaning to air since watching Beyond Belief 2006, Steve Weinberg was, to my eye, the most ignorant and complacent of all the speakers and panelists, while at the same time being likely the most incandescently brilliant of them all. Weinberg is a great physicist, but having him review The God Delusion is like giving Leon Kass The Party of Death. On a related note, over at The Secular Outpost, Taner Edis wonders if Sam Harris shouldn’t know something about the religions which he criticizes. Now, mind you, I do not tend to value theology very highly. Unlike other Nevilles I tend to fault Dawkins et. al. more for their lack of psychological sophistication than philosophical depth. But the point stands.
Addendum: Let me add that I can’t but feel some joy that a brilliant man such Steven Weinberg is an atheist, one of “my kind.” But I have to admit that that joy is diminished watching him engage someone like Scott Atran, who though lacking in the mental acuity and raw firepower of a Weinberg, knows the lay of the land (religion that is) well enough to make the mighty seem like fallen fools.

  • Mustafa Mond, FCD

    Taner Edis (who doesn’t allow anonymous comments) seems to be missing a twist that Harris, use:

    It is true that, even though there is nastiness in the Q’ran, not all muslims are nasty. However, in being non-nasty, they are cherry-picking or deviating from their sacred texts. And by continuing to hold it up as a sacred text, even though they do not follow its precepts, they are enabling those who do follow it to extremes.

    To return to the western context, if Christians allow that genodice and slavery are immoral, they are deviating from their sacred text. If, at the same time, they claim their morality comes from the Bible, they are being self-contradictory.

    It does not appear to me that Mr. Edis has grasped this argument.

  • razib

    here is a twist: sacred texts are irrelevant.

  • Richard Sharpe

    Razib says:

    here is a twist: sacred texts are irrelevant.

    Well, they are and they aren’t.
    They are relevant in the sense that skilled demogogues can use them to achieve power by convincing others to support their (the demogogues’) actions.
    They are irrelevant in the sense that they really don’t add anything new that hasn’t already been said and thought about.

  • Alan

    Hey Razib –
    There’s a little on-line discussion between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris right now that you might find of interest:
    – Alan

  • RPM

    I was bothered by these statements:
    Yet religious toleration is rampant in America. No one who publicly expressed disrespect for any particular religion could be elected to a major office.
    That depends on how you define “major office”. Are there people who are outwardly hostile towards certain religious belief holding either state or federal office? Like those who want to deny another elected official the right to swear an oath on the Koran.
    Even though American atheists might have trouble winning elections, Americans are fairly tolerant of us unbelievers. My many good friends in Texas who are professed Christians do not even try to convert me.
    Great! Anecdotes…
    In general I agree with his points. He just gets sloppy and lazy halfway through.

  • Karen Lofstrom

    Many people think that that essence of religion is theology. The Zen master says, “MU!”

  • Mustafa Mond, FCD

    here is a twist: sacred texts are irrelevant.

    I will believe that when you burn a Q’ran on a busy street corner in downtown Tehran and live to blog about it.

  • razib

    I will believe that when you burn a Q’ran on a busy street corner in downtown Tehran and live to blog about it.
    the koran is the effect, not the cause.

  • jm

    After an effect has entrenched itself, it can become a cause.

  • razib

    After an effect has entrenched itself, it can become a cause.
    yes, but we know empirically that such tendencies need to “lock” indefinitely. it isn’t a stable state. the transition of fundamentalist christian sects (e.g., methodists) into a scriptural metopharicism is an example, and the existence of muslim groups who are far less textual is also another example (e.g., the ismaili).


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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