“The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion” by Herman Wouk: Herman Wouk makes a compelling argument against the existence of God, although that may not have been his intent.
In “The Language God Talks,” the Pulitzer Prize winner addresses the divide between science and religion. He considers arguments for and against the existence of God, but his defense of religion is roundabout and marginally persuasive while his defense of agnosticism or atheism is more stout.
Wouk is the author of “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.” Both tomes focus heavily on the Holocaust. Those events were so terrible, and Wouk’s emotional investment in his research so deep, that a nephew wondered aloud how Wouk could believe in a God who would allow the Holocaust to happen.
This book is part of Wouk’s response. In it he recounts his lifelong efforts to reconcile his deep faith with the logic of science.
The results are a pleasure to read. He digresses frequently, not quite rambling but occasionally lapsing into charming detours. Yet even when he’s off-topic, his writing is so elegant that readers will still enjoy being along for the ride.
Wouk’s argument for agnosticism begins with a simple but detailed look at the history of astrophysics. He traces a sequence of discoveries, each of which finds that the universe is much larger than previously thought.
Then he shares how the findings influenced the views of Richard Feynman, a feisty scientist who helped develop the atomic bomb.
Most religions suggest that God created the world so he could watch humans struggle with good and evil and judge accordingly, Feynman says. But if that’s true, the Nobel laureate adds, God would have made a universe just big enough to carry out that single purpose.
Instead we have an incomprehensibly huge universe with more worlds than we could ever know. As Feynman notes: “The stage is too big for the drama.”
The logic, as Wouk presents it, comes across as reasonable.
Wouk includes other thoughtful arguments as well. For example, he points out that dinosaurs ruled the planet for a quarter-billion years. If God’s only aim in creating life was to judge the morality of humankind, why would he even bother creating that whole other world?
As Wouk turns his attention to the side of religion, his writing becomes more enigmatic. He meanders into episodes of his life, recounted in rich detail, but their relevance to his overall argument is unclear. For example, he focuses heavily on how he came to write his other two books, in stories that have little to do with science or religion.
He leaves the balance of his argument to an afterpiece. It’s an excerpt from “War and Remembrance” in which a protagonist gives an impassioned sermon to fellow Jews who know they’re destined for concentration camps.
The sermon is Wouk’s writing at its best — chilling, eloquent, brilliant. But it’s also cryptic.
The protagonist recounts the parable of Job, speaking with such passion that he leaves his listeners entranced. But it may be less clear to Wouk’s readers how the sermon proves the existence of God.
While the book’s subtitle, “On Science and Religion,” suggests an academic discussion, the book is something else altogether. It seems to be a compilation of Wouk’s deeper thoughts in his 94-year lifetime, some touching on the main theme, some not.
There’s still quite the charm in that. Wouk’s writing is so captivating, still as elegant as ever, that readers will likely appreciate his frequent detours even if they’re marginally relevant.
“The Language God Talks” is a short, satisfying read. It may not add much to the science-versus-religion debate, but it demonstrates that Wouk hasn’t lost a whit of his storytelling genius.