The Brain Mutiny

May 5, 2010 • 12:42 pm

He’s 94, so what can you expect? With a title curiously close to Francis Collins’ The Language of God, author Herman Wouk produces the autobiography of an accommodationist.  Here he bedescribes him about the book:

Henrik Ibsen once wrote of the “life-lie” of authors, the resolve to create some day an enduring masterwork, the Big One that never gets written. For decades I harbored a title, A Child’s Garden of God, for a book telling of my religious faith in a frame of modern science, not necessarily a Big One, but a work I felt born to give the world. Not being a scientist at all, I was a fool to dream of accomplishing this, but novelists are fools whose dreams every now and then take form, see the light, and last. . .

. . . But what of A Child’s Garden of God, the title I cherished for so long? Well, when my almost infallible wife read the second part, she said, “Fine, but I don’t like your title. The book is about science and religion, and the title should say so.” I bethought me of my first meeting with Feynman, when he asked me if I knew calculus, and I admitted I didn’t. “You’d better learn it,” he said. “It’s the language God talks.” This casual remark by a towering scientist, an aggressively secular Jew, strikes the modern note with a resounding agnostic clang. The Language God Talks acknowledges my lack and offers something of what I have learned of His other language, which I know pretty well: the Bible.

If anybody has the kishkas to read this thing, report back.

32 thoughts on “The Brain Mutiny

  1. I would be willing to bet a steak dinner that Herman Wouk knows as much about the bible as he knows about calculus.

    He’s more likely to be the “cherry-picked-verses-to-make-you-feel-good-on-Sunday” type of theist.

  2. Henrik Ibsen once wrote of the “life-lie” of authors, the resolve to create some day an enduring masterwork,

    No, Ibsen didn’t restrict the ‘life-lie’ to authors, but made it applicable for everyone.
    Wouk has obviously not quite understood Ibsen’s drama, but what can you expect from someone who writes drivel with a title like The Language God Talks?

    1. Yes, he bought every collection of Tintin just to make sure he didn’t miss any Calculus.

        1. That’s because it *IS* wrong.
          Egregiously wrong.
          To steal, and then prostitute, profundity from an intellectual giant such as RPF, is very un-groovey.

  3. Hey, at least he is one to admit that he knows nothing of science. One would wish some other people would be that honest.

    1. He knows nothing of science, yet he has no hesitation writing a book subtitled, “On Science and Religion,” where presumably, half the book is on science. Typical religionist arrogance.

  4. Shouldn’t that be The Language God Speaks?

    I doubt he got that from Feynman. It would be “Tawwwks” in Brooklynese.

    I requested this book from my local library (I would certainly not PAY for it). I am number 1 in the queue for 6 copies checked out and one copy in cataloging.

  5. Regardless of whether Feynman actually said such a thing, this is just another reminder of how dangerous it can be to invoke a Spinoza-esque God, even as a metaphor. Somebody is bound to miss your whole fucking point.

  6. Thank you NEBob @ #8, I was going to make the same observation. We try to talk English good ’round here.

  7. I assumed Wouk was dead. Maybe he is. And yes, Jerry, Eamon is right – you missed your vocation as a tabloid sub-editor.

    1. Piling on a 94 year old? C’mmon now. Granted: age doesnt translate in scientific wisdom-why would it?- but Mr Wouk is a Pulitzer (for what it is worth)fiction writer that many enjoyed, a good citizen that went to war for your-our- freedom. As for the “accommodationist” tag, I wonder if he thinks-if he ever knows he is called this- is the same term used to qualify blacks “accomodating” to whites, in the late 1800, early 1900s. He also wrote the Caine Mutiny.

  8. I have to disagree with Mr Wouk’s wife: “A Child’s Garden of God” would in all probability have been closer to the book’s actual content. Talk about truth in advertising…

  9. The playwright Ibsen was an accommodationist? I guess Mooneyism must work then; I haven’t met many god-bothering Vikings (despite the fact that for a very long time after Olaf they’d kill anyone who didn’t worship the jesus zombie).

  10. “He’s 94, so what can you expect?”

    In general, yes, but just to prove there are a few geriatrics that don’t fall into that camp, I have a good friend who’s 89, saw action in the closing days of the Battle of the Bulge, ex park ranger, retired veterinarian, and author (history and sometimes history of science). He was a member of a church when his kids were growing up because he figured it would be a good influence on them, but is now absolutely four square on our side re. evolution and organized religion.

  11. From Amazon: “He finishes well, though, with an imaginary dialogue with Feynman that winningly binds him and the physicist as Jews and affirms the continuing viability of questioning God.”

    1. He concedes that questioning god is “viable?” How very big of him. [rollseyes]

      Notice he doesn’t say questioning god’s existence is viable (let alone the preferred option), only that it’s okay to have doubts. And because having doubts is part and parcel of the Jewish tradition, he attempts to reclaim Feynman from the atheist camp by relabeling him a doubtful Jew. Sounds like another intellectual dishonest theist.

      1. It’s like a reversed version of the No True Scotsman fallacy. It’s the “You’re a Scotsman Whether You Like It Or Not” fallacy.

  12. I have just finished reading it. It took me about 3 hours to read it (it’s quite a short book, running to 192 pages in the hardcover edition, I read the Kindle edition). It has a very rambling style of writing, with short sections cobbled together without any apparent connection. That said, for a non-devout believer, he managed to put the atheist case very well, and it’s mostly harmless, although I wouldn’t actually recommend it. His account of Edwin Hubble wasn’t bad, but a book I have read recently “the Day We Discovered the Universe” by Marcia Bartusiak does it much better. I intend to read “Winds of War” (it’s actually a primer for his two blockbuster novels of WWII).

    1. Is it apparent if has he read his bible all the way through?
      If he boasts about knowing this evil manual, it should shine through in his apologetics.
      (As to why, for instance, his particular God’s language is viciously perverse on many vital points, and one must reject his language entirely, and substitute with the words of a secular zeitgeist?)

  13. Given the verbal and intellectual incontinence that seems to have gone into the production of this oeuvre, perhaps it should have been published under the pseudonym “old yellowstain”.

  14. “It’s the language God talks”, my ass. That could happen only if you either go metaphorically on physics, in which case Wouk has outdone himself, or if you think against observation that proofs are non-heuristic. Chaitin for example would disagree.

    The other point is that Feynman, or more likely Wouk, is slightly off, however powerful calculus is. Physics is more broadly algorithmic, and not amenable to calculus wholesale.

    If anybody has the kishkas

    Guts, sausages? It’s all about what one can stomach on WEIT.

    1. Oops. Not Chaitin, Deutsch.

      [Chaitin has another problem with math not being quasi-empiric, which goes towards its “observed facts”. (He successfully uses random numbers to predict parts of constants used in computer science, who would otherwise be less well known.)]

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