To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg - review by Patricia Fara

Patricia Fara

God in the Machine

To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science


Allen Lane 416pp £20 order from our bookshop

The eminent theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg has written several acclaimed books on the origins of the cosmos, but now he has ventured into the foreign country of human history. Defiantly rejecting historians’ shibboleths (his term, not mine), he declares that modern science was not invented, nor did it develop in different cultures over a long period of time; rather, science is a technique that works and has been lying around waiting to be discovered. Weinberg reveals that, as a practising scientist, he has a vested interest in showing how his own research fits into a grand tradition stretching back over many centuries – and he candidly admits that he has no qualms about narrating a story of science based on his personal opinions. He certainly lives up to that promise by passing some brisk judgements: Aristotle, he pronounces, can be tedious and wrong, but at least he is not silly, like Plato. 

Weinberg tells a linear story of progress with a straightforward plot: understanding grows when mathematics is introduced and religion is eliminated. That is a message many scientists like to hear, and they will also appreciate the last quarter of his book, which is devoted to ‘Technical Notes’ (Weinberg pays little

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