Herman Wouk and The Language God Talks

The American novelist Herman Wouk died May 17 2019 at the age of 103.  He was most famous for The Caine Mutiny (made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart) and the series The Winds of War, War and Remembrance (made into a television movie series, starring Robert Mitchum).   Wouk, who wrote the screenplay for the series, had the character Aaron Jastrow give a lecture to his fellow Jews at the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt.  Jastrow’s lecture was on the Biblical book of Job, that is, on the Problem of Evil: if God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all good, why does He permit evil in the world?

Wouk wrote in his later book The Language God Talks that his fictional character Aaron Jastrow’s view (TLGT, pp. 169-180) on Job and the Problem of Evil was his own view (TJGT, p. 142).  God tells Job out of a whirlwind that there is a reason for everything, including senseless evil, but humans are too stupid and ignorant to understand.  We simply have to accept that God’s reason is hidden.

The Language God Talks is mathematics, specifically calculus.  The book is a discussion of science and religion, and the title is a statement made to Wouk by the Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman.  When Wouk told Feynman that he did not know calculus, Feynman replied: “Better learn it.  It’s the language God talks.”

Later in the book, Wouk has an imaginary dialogue with Feynman, a dialogue in which I have a cameo role (TLGT, pp. 162-163) via The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, my book with the Cambridge University astronomer John Barrow.  Wouk suggests to Feynman that there is a “counter-culture” group of physicists, myself and Barrow for examples, who think that there is purpose in the universe.

Indeed we do, and with calculus you can prove it.  To start, let’s tackle the Problem of Evil.

Contra Wouk, God actually gives the solution to the Problem of Evil at the very beginning of His speech to Job.  God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? (Job 18:3)… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 18:7)?”  God is trying to tell Job that in spite of appearances, the entire universe is good (Genesis 1: 10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21, 1:25, 1:31).  Furthermore, understanding why there is good requires looking at the universe at the very beginning of its creation.

Remarkably, the solution to the Problem of Evil was given in 360 B.C. by the pagan philosopher Plato in his dialogue Timaeus: God, being all good, wants to maximize the amount of good in reality.  Therefore, since existence itself is a good, God will actualize all possibilities.  This solution to the Problem of Evil has been discussed at length by Arthur O. Lovejoy in his famous book The Great Chain of Being (also available online, see pp. 46-52 for Plato), but in Timaeus, the solution is described in passages 29, 30, 31a,b, 39c, 42e, 51a, and 92c, and also in Parmenides 130c, e.

But if all possibilities are actualized, then all possible universes are actualized.  Thus, there must be a universe -- ours -- in which Hitler murdered the Jews (it always comes down to Hitler, doesn’t it), and another in which he remained a painter of buildings.  Why should we believe that all universes are actualized?  Why should be believe there are any other universes?

Because physics says so, that why.  I once asked Stephen Hawking what he thought of this more-than-one-universe theory.  Hawking replied, “The Many-Worlds theory of quantum mechanics is trivially true,” meaning that no one knowing quantum mechanics could doubt the existence of parallel universes, universes like ours.  The three Nobel Prize physicists whom Wouk lists in TLGT as his go-to sources for answers in physics -- Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, and Steven Weinberg -- are with Hawking on the question of the existence of the parallel universes.  I’m on board, too.  See my 2014 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Warning: reading the paper requires knowledge of calculus!

I also think the existence of parallel universes is asserted in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is the King James translation.  But the original Hebrew is more subtle.  There is no “the” for the word “beginning.”  Rather, the passage should be translated “In a beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”  At least one modern rabbi has suggested that this refers to parallel universes.  If so, then this is why God told Job to consider the beginning of the universe.

In his Aaron Jastrow alter ego, Wouk recounts the ending of Job: “[God] restores Job’s wealth. Job has seven more sons and three more daughters.  He lives a hundred and forty more years, sees grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and dies old, prosperous, revered… Satisfied? A happy ending, yes?   …Are you so sure?  My dear Jewish friends, what about the ten children who died? Where was God’s justice to them?  And what about the father, the mother?  Can those scars on Job’s heart heal, even in a hundred and forty years?”

Here Wouk was speaking from the heart.  His first-born son drowned at the age of five in a swimming pool accident.  Wouk had another son and a daughter, but the scars in Wouk’s heart never healed.  He dedicated War and Remembrance to his dead son, with the words “He will destroy death forever (Isaiah 25:8).”

Christianity and Judaism require more than the actualization of all possible universes, the actualization of all good events, but also of all bad events.  Christianity and Judaism require that in the end, all the bad will be made good.  I have written a book, The Physics of Immortality, arguing that once again, physics will ensure this, that Isaiah 25:8 will come to pass.

Baruch dayan ha’emet, Herman Wouk.

Frank J. Tipler is Professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University.  Besides the books mentioned above, he is the author of numerous technical papers, mainly in cosmology and general relativity.