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Question to Weinberg: What About Scientific 'Inspiration'?

Gingerich: Steve Weinberg, what meaning if any do you see in the fact that many scientists see their own work, solutions to problems, as coming from outside themselves even having a religious dimension, perhaps?

Weinberg: I don’t think that’s true. In my experience, just talking to my fellow physicists at lunch, I think most of them have not only no religious faith but no interest in the issue. I am a little unusual in being interested in the question. I think again there is a selection effect. Scientists who do talk about supernatural influences on their work are the ones who are likely to get published and win prizes endowed by Mr. Templeton. But, I think the public is getting a rather misleading view. I think most scientists are not atheists to speak of because they don’t think about it enough to be atheists. There are scientists who are quite religious, my friend here and others, but I think they are thin on the ground.

Polkinghorne: Can I just briefly comment on that? I mean this is anecdote swapping. My impression is somewhat different. I certainly agree that the majority of scientists are not religious believers in some traditional sense. I think that the majority in my view, thinking of my friends, are people who can neither take religion or throw it away. They are slightly wistful in relation to religion. They’d like to think there is a deeper meaning and purpose behind things. But they’re wary of religion. They are wary of religion because they think religion involves accepting things on authority which is what someone said this morning, I think, in a question. I want to always say that religious belief isn’t shutting your eyes, gritting your teeth, believing six impossible things before breakfast because the Bible tells you that’s what you gotta do. It is a search for motivated belief. A difficult search and different people will reach different conclusions about it. But you don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to be a religious believer; otherwise I wouldn’t be one.

Contributed by: Sir John Polkinghorne and Steven Weinberg

Cosmic Questions

Was the Universe Designed? Topic Index
Steven Weinberg and John Polkinghorne: An Exchange

Question to Weinberg: What About Scientific 'Inspiration'?

Complete Dialogue
Question to Weinberg: What is the Point of Living in a Universe with no Purpose?
Question to Polkinghorne: Can we Prove that God does not Exist?
Question to Weinberg: On What Science Cannot Explain
Question to Weinberg: On Believing in Multiple Universes and Religious Faith


Steven Weinberg and John Polkinghorne

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