Essays On Calculating God

The book I choose to write about is Calculating God by Robert J Sawyer. Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction author of 21 books, including the book FlashForward the ABC TV show (2009-2010) was based on. Similar to the natural philosophers we’ve studied, Sawyer often writes about how science and religion (or God) merge together according to his Wikipedia page. This is one of the main themes of Calculating God.

Calculating God is about a paleontologist, Thomas Jericho, who works in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Jericho is an atheist who just discovered he is dying of lung cancer, and is learning how to face his new circumstances. His life and work change when an alien named Hollus comes down to earth one day. Hollus is looking to work with a paleontologist, which is why he chose the ROM. He is specifically researching the five main mass extinctions and their turning points for the evolution of life on earth. Much to the surprise of Jericho, he asks to be treated like a normal visiting scholar and have access to the museum’s fossils and specimens. Jericho is also surprise by the alien’s understanding and speaking ability in English. The unexpected arrival of an alien of course triggers the museum, government and media to come together to learn more about the Hollus and his intentions.

Hollus is described as looking kind of like a large spider with six legs and two arms. “His torso was no bigger around than the circle I could make with my arms…[it] was covered by a long strip of blue cloth. But his hide was visible on the six legs and two arms. It looked a bit like bubble wrap, although the individual domes were of varying sizes.” Jericho determines that Hollus is endothermic, similar to mammals on earth. Hollus shares with Jericho that he and his fellow space companions traveled from the third planet of a star system known as Beta Hydri, which is 24 light-years away. He also tells them that earth is the second planet they have visited. The first was the second planet from the star Delta Pavonis, which is 20 light-years from earth and they brought with them some of the locals known as Wreeds.

After the initial shock and media spectacle dies down, the two begin discussing the extinctions and working together. The interest in the five mass extinctions is due to the fact that five similar extinctions occurred at roughly the same time on both the Beta Hydri and Delta Pavonis planets. It is also explained by Hollus that all three planets have roughly the same technological advances, give or take a few decades, and the same basic life needs. There is also the question of if another mass extinction could happen, and that is plot of the second half of the book.

For both the scientists of the two alien planets, they believe these coincidences are the work of a God or Creator. It is shocking to Hollus that a learned scientist like Jericho doesn’t believe in God and together they spend a good part of the book discussing if there is a God. Hollus uses examples from astrology, physics, biology, math and many other scientific disciplines and how their perfection is proof of a creator. His argument is that if one small mistake was made in the way the earth was formed, humans and indeed the world would not exist.

The arguments made in the book are compelling for the notion of a creator. Like William Paley’s argument of the watchmaker, Hollus believes that life and the worlds that support it are just to perfect for it to be random.

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Calculating God

Robert J. Sawyer, Author Tor Books $23.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-312-86713-3
Sawyer (Flashforward; Factoring Humanity), a Canadian, is one of contemporary SF's most consistent performers. His new novel concerns the appearance at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto of a spiderlike alien paleontologist named Hollus. The alien has come to Earth to study the five great extinction events that have hit our planet over the eons, the best known being the asteroid collision that wiped out the dinosaurs. When the museum's head paleontologist, Tom Jericho, consults with the alien, he is shocked to discover that Hollus has proof that her own planet and that of another alien race suffered a similar series of five catastrophic events at virtually the same times as Earth did. More surprising still to a 21st-century disciple of Darwin like Jericho, both alien races see this synchronicity, along with other scientific evidence, as proof of the existence of God. Much of the novel is relatively cerebral, as Jericho and Hollus argue over the scientific data they've gathered in support of God's existence, but Sawyer excels at developing both protagonists into full-fledged characters, and he adds tension to his story in several ways: Jericho has terminal cancer, which gives him a personal stake in discovering the truth of the alien's claims, and lurking in the background are a murderous pair of abortion clinic bombers who have decided that the museum's Burgess Shale exhibition is an abomination that must be destroyed. Finally, there's the spectacular, if not entirely prepared for, climax in which God manifests in an unexpected manner. This is unusually thoughtful SF. (June) FYI: Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment won the 1995 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Mass Market Paperbound - 352 pages - 978-0-8125-8035-8
Paperback - 334 pages - 978-0-7653-2289-0
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-60812-850-1
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4299-1459-8
MP3 CD - 978-1-4805-2841-3
MP3 CD - 978-1-4805-2895-6
Compact Disc - 978-1-4805-2733-1
Compact Disc - 978-1-4805-2787-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-5318-8526-7

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