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The Language God Talks: On Science and…
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The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion (edition 2010)

by Herman Wouk

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644186,178 (3.75)7
Member:DetailMuse
Title:The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion
Authors:Herman Wouk
Info:Little, Brown and Company (2010), Hardcover, 192 pages
Collections:Read in 2010, Read but unowned
Rating:***1/2
Tags:Science, Philosophy, Religion, Memoir, Writing, Richard Feynman, ARC, @T, BOYS10, 2010

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The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion by Herman Wouk

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What most impressed me about the book is Richard Feynman's "The stage is too big for the drama." Feynman's objection to religion is that the universe is too grand to be the backdrop for a struggle between good and evil. Herman Wouk never convinces me that he has a satisfactory response. Nonetheless, I enjoyed his brief history of certain scientists and learned things I hadn't know before. ( )
  raizel | Nov 21, 2013 |
This book purports to be on science and religion and how they can be reconciled, but I think a more accurate title and summary would be “Wouk and Remembrance” (which is a play on one of his outstanding works of fiction, War and Remembrance). To me, this book (which I listened to on tape) is more of a “chat” with Herman Wouk (writing at age 94!) about some significant moments in his lifetime and in his literature. (And I don’t contend this is a bad thing. Some of Wouk’s other books include The Winds of War, Marjorie Morningstar, and The Caine Mutiny, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize.)

Wouk does indeed start out by talking about Richard Feynman and a few other physicists, but the content in this section is dilatory, and it's not clear that Wouk is doing much more than providing a hook on which to hang his discourse. His main statement about science and religion in this part comes from his memory of Feynman's words to him: apparently, while meeting with Feynman at Cal Tech, Feynman asserted that “the language God talks” is calculus. Wouk never explains why Feynman believes this is so, but later charges (also without any argumentation) that Feynman was closing himself off to the possibility that God also speaks in the language of the Bible.

The central and largest part of the book mostly consists of somewhat disjointed ramblings about how Wouk came to be a writer and some seminal life experiences he had along the way. These are not by any means uninteresting, but they aren't on topic, either!

Finally toward the end of the book, Wouk returns to the question he seemingly has been arriving at all this time. Wouk avows that he strongly believes in God, but in rebuttal to scientists who shun faith, he only offers up two variations of one response. One variation explains the concept of teku, a Hebrew word used in Talmudic discussions, which occurs at the end of an inquiry when no definite answer is obtainable and means: the question remains undecided. (Or, as Ecclesiastes puts it, “…no man will find out the work of the Lord from beginning to end.” In the second variation, Wouk expatiates on the story of Job (in the guise of his protagonist of War and Remembrance, Aaron Jastrow), suggesting it is hubrus even to think we can know the whys and wherefores of God, and in fact, the worse off we are, and the less in life that makes sense, the more “heroic” it is to maintain faith. To me, all Wouk has shown is why an oppressed person or people needs a God, not a reason why there must be a God.

Evaluation: Although I was disappointed from the blurb “come-on” that there wasn’t more in this book about some of the great 20th Century physicists, and although I waited throughout the book in vain for some revelation about how Wouk reconciles science and religion, I had no quarrel with listening to Wouk talk about his work and his salient memories from a life well-lived. Or that is, I would have had no trouble listening to Wouk – the reader wasn’t too impressive. Some of the pronunciations on the audiotape are just egregious. I reluctantly accept that since so many people mispronounce “forte,” the mispronunciation has now become “accepted.” (It is correct to say it as if it were spelled "fort," not as if it were spelled "for-tay.") But there is no excuse for the rest of it. For example, the reader says soft-ten instead of soffen, oft-ten instead of offen, preeshent instead of presh-e-ent, and here’s the best one: swee generis (with a hard g, moreoever!) instead of soo-ee-jeneris. I strongly feel readers should do their homework before they embark on these endeavors.

The audio reader aside, fans of Wouk’s novels will appreciate this book, but for those interested in the ongoing debate about science and religion, I don’t think this particular book adds too much. ( )
2 vote nbmars | Jun 14, 2010 |
From My Blog...

I did not know what to expect when I began The Language God Talks by Herman Wouk and all I knew prior to beginning the book is that I enjoyed Wouk's earlier works and he not only met, but also quoted my all-time favourite physicist, Richard Feynman. I am pleased to report The Language God Talks exceeded my expectations. Wouk's book, while concise is filled with very large and abstract ideas. Those interested in mathematics and science will probably gain the most insight from The Language God Talks, after all, according to Feynman and others, the language is calculus. Wouk discusses the lengths he goes to talk to the great minds of the century in his quest for a deeper understanding of how religion and science fit together, piecing together history, literature and science. If one is looking for a straightforward answer, this book may disappoint. However, if one is looking for an intellectual book filled with many deep issues to ponder and then render one's own opinion, this is the book to read. Wouk's book, while deceptively trim and simple sounding, is a series of rather complex philosophical, ethical, and straightforward questions as well as his own reflections from serving in WWII. The book offers up no direct answers rather Wouk points the reader towards several relevant, and at times intellectual, examples or in the scientific world, proofs (not to be mistaken with the proof of something). I highly recommend The Language God Talks to anyone who is looking for an intellectual book that will make one think for oneself rather than turning out pat ideology. The Language God Talks would be a lively discussion group book. ( )
1 vote knittingmomof3 | May 23, 2010 |
From the epigraph:
"It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe […] can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil -- which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama." --Richard Feynman

In The Language God Talks, 94-year-old (!) Herman Wouk explores that cosmological stage and that human drama, and does it mostly through stories, including memoir.

He begins with science and the Big Bang, setting the enormity of the stage by recapping space exploration (including the race-for-space and the shuttle disasters) and the telescope's estimation/definition of the universe. He includes anecdotes about prominent scientists, including their theology (or not) -- particularly physicist Richard Feynman, who Wouk met while researching the Manhattan Project for his 1970s WWII novels (The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). Then he moves to the Small Bang (the birth of the mind, exemplified best through art, he says) and explores dramas in his own life through prompts from Tevya, Confucius, Job, and characters in his novels.

It’s a small book with an agile, imaginative voice that’s easy to read. But it’s not necessarily simple to understand -- vignette-ish and symbolic, with a whole-is-greater-than-its-parts feel that invites a re-read. I came to this book new to Wouk, and developed an admiration, even a fondness, for him, and an interest in his previous works. This book seems directed to pop-sci fans and religious believers, but I think philosophers and lovers of literature (especially those familiar with Wouk) will like it more.

(Review based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher.) ( )
2 vote DetailMuse | Mar 31, 2010 |
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Epigraph
It doesn't seem to metaht this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil---which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama. ---Richard Feynman
Remember, Herman Wouk, we are storytellers. Stories, pictures, people! No thoughts! ---S. Y. Agnon
Dedication
To the memory of our fathers ABRAHAM ISAAC WOUK MELVILLE FEYNMAN who emigrated from Minsk and gave us our lives in America
First words
More years ago than I care to reckon up, I met Richard Feynman. I was then out to write a sort of War and Peace of World War II, and early on in the moonstruck enterprise I realized that if I were at all serious about it, I had to learn something right away about the atomic bomb.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031607845X, Hardcover)

"More years ago than I care to reckon up, I met Richard Feynman." So begins THE LANGUAGE GOD TALKS, Herman Wouk's gem on navigating the divide between science and religion. In one rich, compact volume, Wouk draws on stories from his life as well as on key events from the 20th century to address the eternal questions of why we are here, what purpose faith serves, and how scientific fact fits into the picture. He relates wonderful conversations he's had with scientists such as Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Freeman Dyson, and Steven Weinberg, and brings to life such pivotal moments as the 1969 moon landing and the Challenger disaster. Brilliantly written, THE LANGUAGE GOD TALKS is a scintillating and lively investigation and a worthy addition to the literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:27 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Draws on stories from the author's life as well as key events from the twentieth century to address the eternal questions of why we are here, what purpose faith serves, and how scientific fact fits into the picture.

(summary from another edition)

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