I’ve begun to read a rather unusual book by computer science legend Donald Knuth, titled Things a Computer Scientist Rarely talks about. It’s essentially transcriptions from a series of six lectures he gave at MIT in 1999 on the topic of… theology and bible translation. True story. I have tried to tackle some of Knuth’s C.S. books in the past, but it is like trying to read Barth’s Church Dogmatics in German – pretty hardcore. This work though is a bit oddball and I’m hoping it turns out to be interesting.
From early on in his talk, he discusses the aesthetic cultural disconnect between modern evangelicism and much of the well-educated, (especially in the arts and sciences) population. He knows very personally that there is another side though and decided to try and take a stab at revealing some of it.
I’ve been concerned for a long time, in fact, about the lack of material about theology that is written for people like me. There are plenty of books for other kinds of people, it seems, but not very much for a computer scientist. I can remember once going into a large so-called Christian book store and realizing that almost all of my professional colleagues would find it extremely oppressive just to be in that room. I’m disturbed by the notions of religion that many of my academic friends have; but I understand that their notions have been formed quite naturally, in reaction to the things that they see in the media, aimed at different subcultures.
From my point of view, the way they perceive religion is strange and totally distorted from the kind of religion that I grew up with. Therefore when I was asked to give a series of lectures in the God and Computers program at MIT, my first reaction – “No way can I contribute anything of quality” – was tempered by second thoughts that maybe I could say a few things that might be helpful to some of the people in this audience because such things are so rarely discussed.
-Donald Knuth, Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, p.5