An alien shuttle craft lands outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Out pops a six-legged, two-armed alien, who says, in perfect English, "Take me to a paleontologist."
It seems that Earth, and the alien's home planet, and the home planet of another alien species traveling on the alien mother ship, all experienced the same five cataclysmic events at about the same time, including events exactly like the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Both alien races believe this proves the existence of God: i.e. he's obviously been manipulating the evolution of life on each of these planets.
Robert J. Sawyer is one of Canada's best known and most successful science fiction writers. He is the only Canadian (and one of only 7 writers in the world) to have won all three of the top international awards for science fiction: the 1995 Nebula Award for The Terminal Experiment, the 2003 Hugo Award for Hominids, and the 2006 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Mindscan. Robert Sawyer grew up in Toronto, the son of two university professors. He credits two of his favourite shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Search and Star Trek, with teaching him some of the fundamentals of the science-fiction craft. Sawyer was obsessed with outer space from a young age, and he vividly remembers watching the televised Apollo missions. He claims to have watched the 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey 25 times. He began writing science fiction in a high school club, which he co-founded, NASFA (Northview Academy Association of Science Fiction Addicts). Sawyer graduated in 1982 from the Radio and Television Arts Program at Ryerson University, where he later worked as an instructor.
Sawyer's first published book, Golden Fleece (1989), is an adaptation of short stories that had previously appeared in the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories. This book won the Aurora Award for the best Canadian science-fiction novel in English. In the early 1990s Sawyer went on to publish his inventive Quintaglio Ascension trilogy, about a world of intelligent dinosaurs. His 1995 award winning The Terminal Experiment confirmed his place as a major international science-fiction writer.
A prolific writer, Sawyer has published more than 10 novels, plus two trilogies. Reviewers praise Sawyer for his concise prose, which has been compared to that of the science-fiction master Isaac Asimov. Like many science fiction-writers, Sawyer welcomes the opportunities his chosen genre provides for exploring ideas. The first book of his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, Hominids (2002), is set in a near-future society, in which a quantum computing experiment brings a Neanderthal scientist from a parallel Earth to ours. His 2006 Mindscan explores the possibility of transferring human consciousness into a mechanical body, and the ensuing ethical, legal, and societal ramifications.
A passionate advocate for science fiction, Sawyer teaches creative writing and appears frequently in the media to discuss his genre. He prefers the label "philosophical fiction," and in no way sees himself as a predictor of the future. His mission statement for his writing is "To combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic."
In a bowling alley in the afterlife, Charles Darwin, Robert J. Sawyer, and The Dude sit drinking beer and discussing Sawyer’s book Calculating God.
Sawyer: So I wrote Calculating God not wanting to ridicule or dismiss those who have other ways of perceiving. We SF readers are supposed to want to explore alien minds; well, religious minds are alien to me, but I struggle to comprehend them.
Charles: So that alien idea really tied the book together.
Sawyer: Right, Calculating God was in response to the deaths of Sagan and Gould; famous atheists. Plus I was appalled by the rhetoric tricks coming out of a skeptical movement; no better than fundamentalists. Most Christians can reconcile science and faith; they’re not antithetical. But the scientific skeptical movement pretends otherwise.
Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
Sawyer: Opinion? Dude, I actually wrote the book, I’m explaining my intent for writing it, do you mind?
Dude: I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man
Charles: Shut the f*** up Dude, you’re out of your element!
Dude: I'm sorry I wasn't listening, can you repeat that?
Charles: You have no frame of reference, Dude, you’re not even a real person, you’re a construct of someone’s artistic expression.
Sawyer: Guys, I read a book called The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism And Intelligent Design and it seems the Darwinist bunch are guilty of the same Fascist fundamentalism they use to accuse their detractors. Darwinists have attacked anyone who even seeks a scientific critical analysis of evolutionary biology with McCarthyistic zeal. Don't think, just nod and obey!
Charles: That is so wild, a bunch of scientists, Scientists! For Christ’s sake who are closed minded. I cannot understand how my work continued to polarize science and religion. I consider it absurd to doubt that a man might be an ardent theist and an evolutionist
Dude: It’s like the scientists were acting like a bunch of fundamentalists, like Nazis almost.
Sawyer: I think some of Darwin’s critics, even my critics came closer to a nihilist worldview.
Charles: Nihilists! F*** me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.
Sawyer: Ultimately I wrote Calculating God as a graphic illustration that none of us have all the answers, which is really a very scientific way of approaching our existence.
Charles: FOUL! Yer over the line, Lovecraft!
Dude: Charles, ya know, it's Lovecraft, so his toe slipped over the line a little, big deal. It's just a game, man.
Charles: Dude, this is a league game, this determines who enters the next round robin. Am I wrong? Am I wrong?
Lovecraft: Yeah, but I wasn't over. Gimme the marker Dude, I'm marking it 8.
Charles: [pulls out a gun] Lovecraft, my friend, you are entering a world of pain.
Charles: You mark that frame an 8, and you're entering a world of pain.
Lovecraft: I'm not...
Charles: A world of pain.
Lovecraft: Dude, he's your partner...
Charles: [shouting] Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a s*** about the rules? Mark it zero!
Dude: They're calling the cops, put the piece away.
Charles: Mark it zero! [points gun in Lovecraft's face]
Charles: [shouting] You think I'm f****** around here? Mark it zero!
Lovecraft: All right, it's f****** zero. Are you happy, you crazy f***?
4.5 stars. Most of this book is a solid 5 star effort that I thought was incredibly well done. The central plot involves a representative from a highly advanced alien culture arriving on Earth to review our fossil records and demonstrating to an atheist anthropologist actual proof of the existence of God. It is a well written, deftly plotted and extremely clever spin on the "intelligent design" theory and was a lot of fun to read.
The story loses one star (or at least a half star) for a very clunky tacked on subplot involving "right wing" religious fanatics. It played no useful part of the story and I got the feeling that the author included it only to make sure that readers didn't think he was advocating a "creationist" point of view. It was completely unnecessary and distracted me from the main story which was so very engaging. Still, the subplot was not a huge part of the book and is easily skipped over so as not to significantly take away from the rest of the book which an absolute GEM. If you have never read Robert Sawyer, this is a great place to start. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!
Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2001) Nominee: John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (2001)
Sawyer challenges a lot of assumptions in this book. About god, about evolution, about astronomy and about paleontologists.
"Take me to your paleontologist." Once again, Sawyer does aliens in a way that makes them alien in such perfect ways.
This book goes to the edges of philosophy and beyond and it was a very interesting and challenging ride to be on. Wow.
It does at times read like a textbook to varying subjects, there's an awful lot of science and philosophy the reader needs to understand as the the main character makes his journey. However, there's a large dose of cultural context, from Carl Sagan to the skeptical inquirer to South Park. The character of Tom Jericho FEELS like he lives in the late 90s/early 00s, with all the things that a person of that era would know.
I'm very glad I finally got around to reading this. I think I thought I might have gotten a bit tired of the whole science vs. religion debate in modern SF, so when I read the blurb, I hesitated between wanting to read more of Robert's work or having to slog through one side or another of the Evolution vs. God kerfuffle.
But, again, I'm glad! It was nothing like a slog. :) In fact, it was rather refreshing to have rational science-type aliens visit Earth and insist that God exists to all the atheists here. Funny? Yep. And the whole novel ends making the best case I've heard for keeping an open mind.
You know... kinda like using the scientific method.
Of course, this novel couldn't have worked unless the aliens brought themselves and other aliens over and gave us certain proofs that genetics kinda works the same everywhere and that only life forms of a certain size are able to manipulate fire and there's a lot of archeology going on about aliens that have since passed on, lending yet more weight of proof to the whole idea that God exists.
I can't really put that aside. The novel couldn't have worked out like this without including these rational aliens.
But within the framework that Mr. Sawyer set up, I'm VERY happy with the results of the story. It's probably my favorite out of all his works. An easy read, lovingly rational, mixing tragedy with one of the basic desires we all have: questions. Curiosity. Speculation. A desire to know Truth.
In that respect, I think this is one of those great works. Keep an open mind. It might be that everyone is a bit right. :)
“ ‘A caring God,’ repeated Hollus.” I have also heard the phrases ‘a loving God,’ and ‘a compassionate God.’” His eyestalks locked on me.”I think you humans apply too many adjectives to the creator.”
Calculating God is an exploration of the idea of God through the lens of science and – more specifically – science fiction. You would not find many religious SF authors (perhaps Google can find a few but I can’t be bothered), certainly, the best known SF authors like Asimov and Clarke have no truck with religion. The only one I can think of, offhand is C.S. Lewis who wrote a sci-fi trilogy of called Space Trilogy, more of a Christian allegory with sci-fi trappings than actual sci-fi (some bad science in Out of the Silent Planet as I recall). Robert J. Sawyer, however, is a hard SF author, more often than not his sci-fi is backed up by known science. This makes the main theme of Calculating God much more interestingly handled than Lewis’ stab at sci-fi. Whether you are an atheist, an agnostic, or religious, if you keep an open mind this book should give you some food for thought. I doubt it will change your belief, I don’t think that is what Sawyer wants to achieve here. I don’t even know what Sawyer’s belief is.
The novel starts off in a lighthearted tone, with an amusing depiction of First Contact (or close encounter of the third kind) at the Toronto museum. The “Forhilnors” aliens wisely visit Earth as holographic projections rather than risking their backsides with the notoriously trigger-happy humans. Hollus, the first alien visitor to make contact, is looking for a paleontologist to help with a research project. Thomas Jericho is the man for the job, nice fellow, ardent atheist, who soon discovers he has terminal cancer. In a narrative where a man in his condition is visited by kind, civilized aliens from an advanced race, you would expect the protagonist to healed of cancer in a jiffy. Fortunately, this is not the easy route Sawyer takes. The most important aspect of the book is the discussion Hollus has with Jericho about God. Hollus’ race and “the Wreed”, another race of aliens who is also represented in Hollus’ spaceship, believe in God. I can imagine an atheist reading the review this far saying “Pfui!”, “What poppycock!” or words to that effect, but the novel has little to do with religion, it is more an exploration of how God or a God-like entity may exist and function within our universe. The aliens have no interest in worshipping this “God”, they cannot even imagine why “it” would want to be worshipped.
(No idea who to credit for this one, sorry).
So, yes if you are thinking of “intelligent design”, Sawyer discusses this idea at lengths, together with some rationalization both for and against the idea. This does not mean the author is a creationist, he has complete confidence in science and subjects the “intelligent design” idea to some scientific analysis. The result is inconclusive but interesting. For example:
“Take gravity as an example: were it only somewhat stronger, the universe would have long since collapsed. If it were somewhat weaker, stars and planets never could have coalesced.”
Did somebody tweak gravity so it is just right? No? It just happened? But it is not just gravity:
“The four fundamental forces you (humans) know about are gravitation, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. The strengths of these forces have wildly varying values, and yet if the values were even slightly different from their current ones, the universe as we know it would not exist, and life could never have formed.”
This proves nothing, and yet… Putting aside the “intelligent design” discussion, Calculating God also functions well as a work of fiction. Sawyer made a good effort to develop and humanize his protagonist, he even humanized (as opposed to alienize) the aliens (which is not necessarily a good thing but it works well here). There is considerable pathos in the novel and a sense of compassion which is a special ingredient that can elevate sci-fi if conveyed sincerely (see the works of Clifford D. Simak). This book is by no means perfect, there is a subplot involving terrorist fundamentalists that sticks out like a sore thumb in the narrative, and also a sudden epic cosmic crisis that comes out of nowhere (no momentum leading to it).
Calculating God is not a sci-fi thriller, and the parts intended to thrill are not particularly effective. However, even with these flaws in mind, I find to be a very good, thought-provoking read. I do like this book a lot, but it is probably not worth five stars as there are at least a couple of glaring flaws. However, I will rate it at five stars anyway, not really sure why, we all move in mysterious ways sometimes I guess.
Quotes: “We’re trying to protect the alien,” said the white CSIS man. “Like hell,” said a male museum patron. “I’ve seen The X-Files. If you walk out of here with him, no regular person will ever see him again.”
“How do members of your species reconcile the act of prayer with the reality that most prayers go unanswered?” I shrugged a little. “We say things like ‘Everything happens for a reason.’” “Ah, the Wreed philosophy,” said Hollus.
“Evolution is driven by struggles for dominance. I’ve heard it suggested that no herbivore could ever develop intelligence because it doesn’t take any cunning to sneak up on a leaf.”
“There is no indisputable proof for the big bang,” said Hollus. “And there is none for evolution. And yet you accept those. Why hold the question of whether there is a creator to a higher standard?”
“Surely simply creating life can’t be the sole goal. You must believe your putative designer wanted not just life, but intelligent life. Unintelligent life is really nothing more than complex chemistry. It’s only when it becomes sapient that life really gets interesting.”
Before reading this book, Robert Sawyer had been a borderline author for me. His SciFis are generally well researched, but his characters are too Middle-class-married-WASP-with-children for my taste. They obsess over themselves and their trite conceptions of "morality"- a theme Sawyer cannot leave alone, or do justice to. In "Calculating GOD", Sawyer finally shows his hand. And for me, he's no longer a borderline author - he's a card carrying foot soldier of the Christian Creationist far right. This book is a blatant plug for "Intelligent Design". Now I know why his previous books had the whiff of something rotten.
The new battlefront for the folk pushing Intelligent Design has shifted from evolution, to what is known as the Fundamental Universal Constants", the settings which make a sustainable universe possible. Mainstream science proposes a number of multiversal theories to account for the improbabilities that life exists (we are VERY lucky to be in one of the Universes where the constants stack up in our favour). Sawyer does away with the multiverse. Aliens say it doesn't exist, and the one universe was designed by a creator GOD who occasionally throws asteroids about to make conditions right for His/Her chosen people.
This is a very dangerous book. Sawyer uses a lot of science to justify his position, and the first person narrator is an atheist scientist, so he managed to keep me reading just to see where he was going to go. Time after time he writes a paragraph of science fact, then he slips in a distortion, exaggeration, or a blatant untruth. He does this so regularly he's either a dangerous fool - someone who knows a lot of information, but has missed the fundamental point about a topic- or he's a very cunning liar out to convert science fiction readers to the cause of Intelligent Design.
This book needs a warning notice on the cover "Danger Toxic Memes".
The premise is that an alien comes to earth and asks to meet with a paleontologist. The alien is devoutly religious, and the book is mostly a dialog between the two, with the religious alien trying to convince the atheist scientist of the existence of a god (or intelligent designer).
That wouldn't be so bad, necessarily, if it was an interesting argument that relied on facts on both sides, but because it's a work of fiction the author tips the balance in favor of the intelligent design argument by inventing facts in his fictional world—facts that would indeed convince a rational thinker that intelligent design is correct.
The story gives the impression of being a convincing argument for intelligent design, when in fact the intelligent design argument relies on certain suppositions from the fictional world that have no basis in reality, like a fifth fundamental force, simultaneous development of DNA-based life on multiple worlds, and simultaneous mass extinctions on multiple worlds.
The end of the book is particularly vexing, because after arguing for a deist (non-interventionist) creator for the whole book, the author has the creator directly intervene to cause a miracle.
Calculating God proposes the question "what if we make contact with aliens and discover that they are not rationalist-atheist scientists, but true believers?" It's a provocative opening and challenge to science fiction in general, which is often though not always written by rationalist, atheist authors who assume their readers and their imagined futures will share those values.
The problem is that Calculating God isn't a very good book on any level. The majority of its pages take the form of a dialogue between Hollus, an alien Forhilnor, and Thomas Jericho, an aging, cancer-stricken paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum. The aliens have come to Earth to conduct research, having determined that mass extinctions have occurred at the same points in the histories of three different inhabited worlds. Hence, they wish to speak with a paleontologist and not with the United Nations.
Sawyer's dialogue follows more the pattern of Galileo than that of Plato. It's a dialogue between straw men in which the hand of the creator (ironic, that) is never absent. There is no depth to the theology he places in his characters' mouths, which varies between absent-God Deism and a strange sort of scientist-theology of a God who intervenes only at cosmic scales. His science is equally poor: the aliens' proof of the existence of God is based on the anthropic principle, the well-known claim that the universe's structure and parameters have been "fine-tuned" to allow the existence of life. The anthropic principle is hardly new ground. Sawyer's aliens turn it into a "proof" of the existence of God via their discovery (but not explication!) of a Grand Unified Theory which conveniently shows that the "multiverse" answer to the principle — that ours is one of a multitude of universes with different physical constants — isn't true. The other major response, that the apparent fine-tuning is the result of an underlying order yet to be discovered, is mentioned but glossed over. Since the only remaining explanation is that (a) God intervened, say the aliens, clearly God exists.
Unfortunately for Sawyer and his aliens, that isn't how scientific proofs work. (It's also not how Occam's Razor, which the author repeatedly has characters invoke incorrectly, works). Proof by elimination must be coupled with a proof of the extent of the field — i.e., demonstration that an enumerated set of possible solutions is exhaustive — and with rigorous definitions. The ridiculous "proof" presented in Calculating God manages to insult science and religion. (This kind of deeply flawed reasoning is present throughout the book. Found an abandoned planet? Clearly, the vanished civilization uploaded themselves into a computer, says our protagonist. "Oh. Clearly. Why didn't I think of that eminently and indisputably a-priori correct explanation?" says the alien, and proceeds).
So the majority of the book is consumed in this very silly discussion, together with personal reflection and reminiscence from the dying protagonist. Then — surprise! — a couple of even sillier things happen. First, there's a ludicrous subplot featuring fundamentalist American terrorists destroying "lying" fossils, at the Royal Ontario Museum of all places. It's almost farcical, except that the author seems to be taking it seriously. Secondly...
Seriously, don't read this book. Read A Canticle for Leibowitz if you're in the mood for religious science fiction. This is tripe.
Caigo rendido desde el comienzo gracias al sentido del humor.
El 70% de la novela consiste en los debates que sostienen los dos personajes principales en torno a la consideración de la existencia de Dios desde un punto de vista científico: cosquillas en el cerebro, ganas tremendas de ampliar mis escasos conocimientos sobre evolución, genética, paleontología.
El 30% restante, dedicado a las relaciones personales y a la situación del protagonista, me parece narrado de una manera competente y amena, y con un calado mayor de lo que es habitual en el género.
Lem la odiaría por su discurso, estoy seguro, pero a mí —aun sin compartir sus conclusiones—, me ha parecido un ejercicio de pensamiento enormemente estimulante.
I quite looked forward to this book due to the intriguing concept, but It didn't live up to its potential. The book's premise, as I understood it, was a theistic alien and an athiestic palentologist debating the existence of God. The problem was that all the arguments he used for the existence of God were made up (examples being that every planet in the Galaxy has had 5 extinctions, and every race has the same DNA). The discussions become boring since they are entirely fictional in all the details and arguments used.
The characters as well were stereotypes some of which seemed as though they were brought in for no reason other than for the author to make his opinion known. The main character is an evolutionist athiest and portrayed as intelligent though somewhat stuck in his ways. His wife is a Christian but also somewhat more naive and less of a deep thinker. Meanwhile the only other Christians in the story think that dinosaur bones are a trick made by Satan. The only ones who get a large amount of time (rather than just cornering and yelling at paleontologists about Noah's Ark) blow up Abortion Clinics and break dinosaur bones. I'm not saying that he needs to include Christians or religious people in his book, but since he did than it would have been nice if it was a less condescending and insulting portrayal.
The third major problem is the amount of ideas he tried to put in this book. It had many interesting concepts but most of them are mentioned for less than a page. He spent very large amounts of time on science fiction references or numerous Canadian references but very little on the thoughts and ideas that the book could have explored.
A courageous novel that asks questions not normally posed in SF novels (or mainstream books, for that matter), such as: What is the nature of the being we can call "god"? What is the basis of our belief or unbelief in God - faith, science, or something else? How would such a being manifest himself/herself/itself and interact with us in this life and universe?
The book had a personal connection for me as its main character is dying with cancer at the time that my life partner also was. The process of dealing with the illness and facing the future resonated with what I witnessed. Though the faith aspects were polar opposites, the paths taken to acceptance and peace were achingly similar.
The back story is of an alien that visits earth and provides proof of the existence of God. This comes across as a bit hoaky. But it does set the stage for the many conversations between the main character and the alien on the god questions and different worldviews. Regardless of your own personal beliefs, there is enough here to find disagreement with. But the endearing feature of the book is that it still presents the positions and cases earnestly, perhaps not totally unbiased but with attempts at impartiality and cloaked in the principles of the scientific method.
This is not a typical SF story and is bound to produce extreme responses of like and dislike. For me, this was the right book to read at the right time of my life and in the right season. So I can ask, did God send me this book as a manifestation of benevolence and guidance, or was this all a probabilistic fluke?
So close to perfection and genuine insight. Yet so far...
It opens with an almost Pratchettian set-up, subtler than Pratchett (Sawyer is Canadian after all) but no less replete with humor and humanity. It's funny, insightful, touching, engaging, unputdownable. A remarkable work of satire and social criticism, reflecting on the hidebound rigidity and reactionary nature of much of modern scientific culture and its shocking betrayal of its own stated goals.
Then it hits the halfway mark and all of that goes down the drain. Stock plot "twists"; shallow characterizations; offensively and childishly stereotypical villains (comparable almost to Dickens' original vision of Fagin); attempts at religious arguments which only betray the author's own ignorance regarding the subject of religion... It'd be sad if it didn't come across as so obnoxious.
After the mini-climax involving the stereotypes and failed religious discussions, the novel picks up again, but it never quite recovers. In starts and fits, stutters and sputters, it staggers along to a conclusion that it didn't quite earn.
I'll give this 4 stars because it really does begin SO well and Sawyer really is a talented writer. The ending was ALMOST great. If he could only take his blinders off...
You had something special going there, Sawyer. Something unique and insightful and incisive which could have moved both sides to rethink their positions and open their minds -- but you sacrificed it at the altar of convention. Tragic.
Two and a half stars. 2 = I read it and wished I hadn't, 3=fine if you've got nothing better to do. So yeah, I feel mildly like I wasted my time.
Sawyer as an author takes the big idea and then sets up his characters to be affected by it. In this case the idea is really big: god.
Frankly, I find the whole god/not god argument rather tedious. It's mostly about just pushing people's buttons on one side or the other, and shooting stereotyped fish in a barrel with the obligatory stupid southern fundamentalist bad guys.
To his credit, Sawyer does try to reconcile the god/not god argument by suggesting a middle path between hardcore reductionist materialism and hardcore religion, suggesting that scientists have had to take too extreme an atheistic approach, more than the evidence really warrants, in order to defend reason against the ignorant religious hordes.
But this one small point of light requires reading through 2/3 of the book, after which it's on to a deus es machina ending. But what else did you expect when god gets involved?
Wow, a lot of both 1-star and 5-star reviews, and to tell the truth I can kinda see why. As a work of serious science fiction, the story here is deeply flawed (see further below), but as a serious discussion of some heady issues regarding the nature of the universe and our place in it - something more along the lines of The Screwtape Letters perhaps - I found it truly fascinating.
Early on, Sawyer presents a fairly convincing (at least to this non-scientific layman) argument in favor of a highly structured - if not outright designed - universe that just could not exist without a number of seemingly random variables coming together in exactly the right way, (in particular, see Chapter 5). And I found his concept of "planned/assisted extinctions" - while perhaps not good science if only applying to one planet (in the book they occurred simultaneously on at least three planets) - intriguing.
Basically, Sawyer's alien posits that each of the five major extinction events on Earth (and his own planet) were "necessary" in order to advance God's plans towards developing sentient life, much like complex recipes require different ingredients and processes to be added at various stages throughout the cooking process in order to end up with the desired result.
Very roughly, each extinction allowed for the rise of more advanced lifeforms - bony fish and sharks replaced trilobites; the relatively unsophisticated pareiasaurs disappeared and gave rise to the dinosaurs; and then finally the dinosaurs were wiped out which allowed for the rise of larger-brained mammals, bringing us to where we are today. But what I found most fascinating, is that Sawyer's progression doesn't end there.
As to the book's weaknesses - where to begin? Well, at the beginning, for one. ALIENS LAND ON EARTH...and within a day or two, life pretty much returns to normal; so much so that for the rest of the book we are just occasionally reminded that "oh right, there are aliens here now - that's weird." When the first group of "real" (i.e., non-holographic) aliens actually arrive, the museum's leaders - yes, government/security forces were no longer involved at all at this point - decide against taking even basic security precautions, since "simply keeping everything quiet made more sense." (And yes, I know the story takes place in Canada, but even Canadians aren't that chill.)
In addition, truly major events take place within mere days of each other - "oh look, we discovered another inhabited planet;" "oh look, terrorists;" "oh look, we're all gonna die..." - just zero attempt at placing the story in any sort of "real world" environment. And finally, as others have noted, the subplot involving some staggeringly offensive American caricatures is both unnecessary to the overall story, and guaranteed to piss off Sawyer's readers south of the 49th parallel, (although considering America's staggeringly offensive behavior over the past few years, maybe not).
But all that said, it is indeed the ideas presented here that more than overcome all of the deficiencies in logical storytelling, (including what IMHO was a generally WTF?? ending). And since I will be considering these ideas long after I've forgotten the goofy plot points; I'm giving it an overall 4+, if not quite worthy of the full 5.
(ENDNOTE: Having read and enjoyed both this and Sawyer's Flashforward, I checked out a number of his other books on GR, many of which our library has. However, turns out there wasn't a single one there that caught my interest - and so I'm probably done with Mr. S for now...unless someone out there wants to REALLY recommend something.)
This book is the author's private soap box for preaching creationist garbage like: * Gaps in the fossil record * Missing links * There's no proof of evolution, it's just a theory * Inadequacies in natural selection * We've never seen a new species form * Fine-tuning is evidence for a creator
The plot revolves around an alien who comes to Earth looking for got. He is shocked by human atheists, and tries to share the "the scientific fact of god". The "evidence" provided is something about the marvelous properties of water, and other discredited creationist nonsense. This isn't really a science fiction story, so much as it is a vehicle for spewing bogus, Intelligent Design arguments. I don't mind wacky premises, but the lame attempt to justify all this god bullshit with physics is downright offensive. That's not a "knee-jerk reaction", which the author warns against in the preface, but a perfectly normal disgust. The aliens share the same DNA as Earth life, which would imply a shared origin, and obviously doesn't serve the author's wish for it to be evidence for a creator.
The one redeeming idea in this story is the solution to the Fermi paradox, whereby sentient races build computer worlds to inhabit, turning introvert rather than exploring the galaxy.
I can't stress enough how unbearable this book is, for being the clear ravings of a lunatic, with a science fetish, but who's mind is stuffed full of ID/Creationist propaganda and lies. The book full of verbatim recitation of wrong-headed, paper-thin arguments, strait out of the anus/mouth of Darwin modern detractors.
The main character is painted with a smarmy air of wrongful persecution at the hand of cruel, smug neo-Darwinists. He is written to be free-thinking, open-minded individual, doomed to an untimely death by terminal illness, who reforms and repents his evil, scientific ways, praying on his knees for the first time. Any strong character worth his salt would have stood up, and Hitchslapped the everliving fuck out of that bozo the clown alien!
Here's a wonderful gem, a grand concession by the protagonist as he ponders the possibility of a god: "There is no indisputable proof for the big bang ... and there is none for evolution." Wrong, and wrong! You can't dispute the perfect black-body signature of the CMBR, and you can't dispute the fossil record of evolution. You can argue the details on these great topics, but not the fact of their existence, nor the uniqueness of these correct explanations.
"The simplest theory, the theory that proposed the fewest elements, has to be adopted. At some point, you have to stop demanding of this question, this one question, out of all the others, a higher degree of proof than required for any other theory." The one question being, does God exist. This is the central theme of the book, special pleading for the God hypothesis. The problem is, God's existence doesn't explain anything, and just adds another element: God! Who created God?! Turtles, all the way down! It's useless. The God hypothesis is terminally flawed, and every single paragraph in this book is like nails on a chalkboard to the reader with more than two brain cells to rub together.
It seems readers either loved or hated this book, all based on how they perceive Sawyer's treatment of religion (read: Christian viewpoint on religion) vs. atheism. I'm in the LOVED IT camp. Matter of fact, I've reread it 3 times. And I'll tell you why:
Sawyer takes the viewpoint of aliens who believe in a creator rather than the perceived human POV that when aliens (who are scientifically advanced enough to travel through interstellar space) finally arrive, they will OF COURSE be non-believers. Human scientists are for the most-part atheists, and hard science-fiction stories are scientific, after all, so we EXPECT our great scifi to be non-religious. But Sawyer turns it around, having the advanced aliens believe in a creator, and the human be the atheist. Great premise, and unique in the scifi world.
Personally I'm not religious, but I do hold that their "might" be a god. And for that reason, I enjoyed Sawyers take on the alien view of religion. For those reviewers who felt that Sawyer was pushing Intelligent Design, and that at heart he's really a religious nut, please reread the parts of Calculating God in which the alien espouses the stupidity of humans who believe in religion - the kind of religion that 1) has a god that WANTS to be worshiped; 2) treats god as a genie in a bottle who grants wishes to those who pray hard enough, 3) communicates with followers, 4) wants us to be "good" and 5) cares about individuals.
The creator in this novel does NOT want to be worshiped, does NOT grant wishes, could care less about speaking to people, does not care if we are on the Naughty or Nice list, and doesn't even know that individuals exist. Or at least doesn't give a crap. As I see it, this creator is so far above anything that we could even conceive of that it does not fit into ANY human religious scheme so far invented. This creator is also not omniscient, does not know the future, and is still trying out different grand schemes of arranging the universe so that maybe one of them will work (further info here would be spoilers).
If you are religious, read this book for a vastly different viewpoint on God. If you are an atheist, read this book and see how a creator might just (maybe) be possible. If you aren't sure what you believe, read this book. You might come away with a grand universal theory that makes you look at the world slightly different than before.
Whatever your views on "religion" ... I recommend reading Calculating God. You won't go wrong.
While it is true that science and religion often seem at odds in western culture, I have often experience much joy in science fiction genre that boldly deals with religious and philosophical thought. To illustrate I've posted a link to one of my favorite list on Goodreads.
Calculating God achieves near perfection in this area. Regardless of your worldview, you will appreciate the depth of thought in this entertaining story about an alien scientist, who is a theist and the growing friendship with a human scientist atheist. The story is as entertaining as it is thought provoking. Even though this is one of my all time favorite subject in science fiction (aliens and religion) I put off reading this, because I thought it would be a dry read. It turns out I was wrong. Robert Sawyer has created characters that come to life (both human and alien alike) and has told an engaging tale of discovery.
I've got to say something about the aliens without giving anything away. The ideal alien (IMHO) has to maintain a careful dynamic in science fiction. They need to be strange, something totally different, to which we have difficulty understanding. At the same time, we need to be able to relate to them on some inner level, weather they are good or bad aliens. He so nails this! The way he shows the effects of evolution on different life forms, from different star systems and how and why they turned out like they did is ingenious.
Ok a little bit more about the religion / science thing. This story allows both science and religion to be true to their mutual foundational goal, which is the pursuit of truth. The scientific discussion between human and alien absolutely delighted me.
The book is not just dialogue, there is an exciting plot that builds through out the book to a very satisfying conclusion. Didn't care to much for one of the subplots, but found it only a minor nuisance.
If you don't mind having your core beliefs challenged ( whichever side of the fence you may find yourself on and in the nicest way possible). If you enjoy character driven stories. If you like a little hard science, made easy and mixed in with some great fictional story telling. You'll enjoy this book.
Robert J. Sawyer just never quite does it for me. His ideas are fairly pedestrian, even if they are occasionally clever. This book was a thinly veiled argument that the universe was intelligently designed. I'm not sure why I read the whole thing, except I wanted to see if it was really that bad. and it was.
Additionally, there was a sexism problem. The protagonist meets an alien who is a scientist, like himself. He assumed the alien is a male. And when he finds out that he's a she, he decides not to thing of him as a her, because it's too confusing?!?! except then he finds out 25-30pgs later that the alien has children and is a mother, he switches to the feminine gender, chastising himself because "shes's a mother!!" W.T.F.? fail Richard J. Sawyer. I mean, yeah, the hominids sucks ass like this, but jay-sus.
This one is a very insightful, thoughtful, serious, and humorous look at intelligent creation and religion applied from a rigorously scientific methodological viewpoint. That sounds like a lot to swallow, no matter your personal beliefs, and it certainly is, but Sawyer pulls it off quite well in a challenging and thought-provoking manner. There are a lot of philosophical discussions and hard-science speculation broken up with humorous action bits that don't hold quite as well. It's one of those novels you can offer to people who say they don't like science fiction. See, the aliens land and say "Take me to your paleontologist," and it's non-stop from there.
Avevo già conosciuto questo autore canadese di romanzi di fantascienza quando ho letto Origine dell'ibrido (peccato che era il terzo di una trilogia!) e affrontava un tema particolare: un Homo Sapiens e un Neanderthal desiderano avere un figlio. In questo romanzo, invece, il nostro autore affronta una diversa tematica: l'universo è stato creato da una divinità? E soprattutto, perché ha deciso di estinguere periodicamente le forme di vita superiore su tutti i mondi abitati (come ad esempio i dinosauri?). A riflettere su questo affascinante quesito si troverà il protagonista del romanzo, un paleontologo ateo che un giorno incontra, nel museo dove lavora, un alieno di forma ragnesca e col quale stringerà una bella amicizia.
Devo ammettere che Robert Sawyer sa scrivere bene ed è piacevole perdersi nei suoi ragionamenti scientifici e, in questo caso, anche filosofici e teologici. Forse certe volte si dilunga troppo e questo ha reso la lettura certe volte più pesante/noiosa. Per il resto si lascia leggere.
I’m not rating this book, because it’s a BIG FAT DID NOT FINISH for me.
This book is very reminiscent of the Three Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous to me. And, if you don’t know what that piece of literature is, than you aren’t a philosophy student, and you are probably making more money than me, and are making a plethora of other, better life choices. Congratulations. Any ways, I also have a History and a Classics Major, and I do stand by those, but I digress.
The point being, this is a book where largely you have two heads, pretty static in any given scene, arguing the philosophies of science and religion. Normally I would be totally fine with that, but this book isn’t presenting any knowledge or arguments that I haven’t already heard. Understandably, it’s hard for an author to create with believable science that proves God, he wants it to be realistic, and he wants it to be accurate…. But that leaves the reader with a lot of information they’ve already come across if they’ve really thought about these things before.
So let me be frank. I believe in God because I chose (actively, on purpose, with thought) to believe in God. For a while, I didn’t, but I didn’t like the reality, and decided I wanted to believe in a Creator. I also adamantly believe in Science. I believe that God purposely created the Universe not in whimsical mysterious ways, but scientifically and logically, because like any good parent, God wants us to grow up and understand how things work.
In the end, because of that, and because I had looked into these things before, I found the book to be monotonous and boring. I can absolutely see how this book would be of interest to people. I personally, could not connect with the narrator at all, nor in the end, was I particularly interested in the story.
This book really surprised me. I picked it up as an Audible Daily Deal and was it a bargain! I thought the premise would be interesting, but I didn't realize how much this book would get my brain (and heart!) working.
The premise is this: what if aliens came and they believed in God and were talking to a scientist who did not? The Audible copy I had also came with an introduction by the author in which he said he was trying to discuss the issue of fundamentalism and how it's not just the religious who exercise these intolerant beliefs.
But the book was more than just a discussion of this idea. It had an incredible story and great characters. I found myself reaching for the Kleenex box on more than one occasion. It was deeply moving.
But it was also full of scientific facts and thoughts. I found myself ruminating about many of the facts and ideas he put forward on just how fortuitous life is in our universe.
I've always thought of myself as a follower of Christ (not Christian since so many Christians don't seem to be following Christ these days), but one who questions the world she has born into. However, this book seemed to be speaking of much larger truths. I really enjoyed it.
I highly recommend this for any person who questions science or questions God. It will stretch your mind and your heart.
I lucked out when I found Calculating God. It was one of those I’m-bored-and-I-have-nothing-to-read-so-I’ll-browse-the-shelves-and-randomly-pick-something finds.
I was in for a treat. Winner of the Nebula Award, Robert Sawyer presents an interesting thought experiment: what if Earth were discovered by an alien race, or rather, TWO alien races, and they informed us that, contrary to popular scientific belief, the universe and everything in it indicates that there is a god, a creator, a being greater than the laws of biology, physics, and chemistry, that this being had created the universe for a purpose, and we are all a part of that purpose.
The story itself is simple, and, as one reviewer put it, Sawyer is one of the more sympathetic sci-fi writers to the intelligent design community. An alien ship lands in front of the Royal Onterio Museum in Toronto and asks, not to “take me to your leader,” but to “take me to a paleontologist.” The paleontologist, of course, is an atheist, but confronted with his alien counterpart and investigating the concurrent histories of their races, begins a series of discussions about the laws of the universe. Are they mere coincidences, or is the alien correct.
Is there a “creator” behind it all?
I found the Calculating God intriguing, full of thought provoking dialogue. It’s not for the reader who is looking for escape in swashbuckle, laser swords, or space battles. Instead, it focuses on the science and the philosophy that might hold up a place for a rational mind behind the universe. In other words, God. What makes it work is Sawyer’s deft application and understanding of science and his relevant application to the thought experiment. While I am not myself a scientist, science has always represented a look at “how things work” for me, and never ceases to impress with explanations of the natural world, and Sawyer plays right to that interest.
Calculating Godwastes not time on complicated plot twists or sequences, but manages to deal with important questions as diverse as the purpose of life, the problem of pain, death, and loss of loved ones, all against a backdrop of the scientific laws upon which the universe depends. C.S. Lewis might find it interesting, even if a little outside his genre.
Sawyer’s main leaps, and creative license, is in a “fifth force” that he suggests is yet to be found by human scientists, but as far as I know we have not yet found, as well as the successful development of a grand unifying theory of everything. I believe this refers to a theory that will explain both gravity (forces of the very big) and quantum mechanics (forces of the very small). Our present understanding has neither, but both conveniently move his story along. This is Sawyer’s contribution, as well as his deus ex machina to finding the real deus in the universe.
If you enjoy this, you might also enjoy Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (P.S.) by Kenneth R. Miller, as well as Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge and The Diversity of Life (Questions of Science) by Edward O. Wilson (though the three do not necessarily agree with each other and all are non-fiction).
The first few pages were fantastic, but nothing much happens after that. Rather the book is a creative opportunity for the author to postulate on science and god. The alien visitors supposedly have scientific proof that God exists, however this is primarily based on their discoveries of a fifth universal force and other fabricated science (such as that big bang/contraction cycles could not have happened more than eight times)--I'm sorry but its not all that interesting to make up science and then use it as proof for non-sci-fi questions.
The book really falls apart when a second alien race is introduced as having moral superpowers. As evidence of these superpowers, the protagonist asks the alien a question suitable for Dear Abby and gets a generic Dear Abby-style response--not quite superpower-like yet. Worse, the protagonist then raises the issue of abortion and the answer is that everyone should just use birth control, problem solved. There was no recognition of the fallibility of birth control or the practical nature that everyone won't always use it. It really was silly.
This exchange was a great microcosm of the problem with this book--the author is addressing issues that don't have solid answers as if they do, and that these aliens happen to have all the answers proven beyond debate. They didn't, we don't, we can't--and that's okay.
There was plenty of interesting intelligent design discussion; however within the context of the book it is difficult to separate out which points are based on fabricated science and which are real scientific points--this made the discussion relatively useless to me.
I routinely skipped all the personal cancer stuff in the book, which is conveniently separated in the text, and I don't think I missed anything --I think this might be the best way to read this book. (I noticed that seemingly none of the reviews here even mention this aspect of the book.)
There are zero fresh or original ideas in this book. It's as if Robert J Sawyer (who in his extraordinarily condescending intro to the audiobook says only young earth creationists and people who aren't true scientists won't enjoy what this book has to say) decided to "write the controversy" and then at the end realized that he needed to get a little trippy (hint: ).
The 2nd half would have been interesting if it wasn't preceded by the first half of going through all the creationist arguments. The atheist scientist doesn't even make good attempts to refute them...because we all know, from the title and blurb, that he's going to give in and join the deist love circle, he does have cancer after all and we (Mr Sawyer at least) know that all dying people are religious.
I won't even get started on the C-plot villains who are southern US abortion-clinic-bombers here to show the aliens Jesus and destroy the devil's fossils. One of them is name Cooter.
If you want a scientific treatment of a highly implausible what-if, go pick up Anathem, twice as long, a thousand times more interesting.
Most novels, in my experience, seem to start out great and quickly fizzle... This one, started with a fizzle and then got great. If you liked the work of Arthur C. Clarke, you will probably enjoy this as it is an intelligently written, well thought out work, packed with grand philosophical ideas and decent interesting characterization. And most important, it is entertaining. I highly recommend it and wish there were more like it.
Usually, if I sense an alien coming, I run. In movies or books, anyway. Beasties with six legs and eyes on wands, flying saucers and such... not my thing. But good writing, in any genre, is always my thing. There is so much to learn and understand in solid reality that I wish no escapism, the latter wasting precious real time for matters of value and substance ... but when science fiction keeps enough of its six legs firmly planted in issues we face in substantiated reality, even as it waves its eye wands into the unknown ... then my interest is won.
Robert J. Sawyer is a familiar name to me, even without being a sci fi fan. The title, "Calculating God," locked into my lifelong fascination with the spiritual realm. I was intrigued to know how a sci fi writer of acclaim would approach the concept of God, that is, faith, grounded in a world of science, however speculative: he does it well and convincingly.
Hollus, aforementioned six-legged alien with waving eye wands, comes to Earth to research, well, life itself. And all that the concept of life and living encompasses. She enters a museum to find a paleontologist, thus meeting Tom Jericho, scientist who is facing the afterlife, like it or not, as a newly diagnosed cancer patient. The two have an ongoing dialogue about God and faith, which pretty much sums up the entire premise of this story, with few sidelines. Surprise! For it is the alien who believes in God, the human being who so mightily resists, even as he contemplates his fast approaching mortality.
I could complain that various scenes and plot twists in this book leave me unconvinced. I have a hard time buying the idea that people would accept so quickly and easily, almost to the point of being oblivious, an alien moving so casually among them, even if mostly in hologram form. The vandalism in the museum by religious fundamentalists is on shaky ground, potentially unnecessary, but with more solid plotting, might have been developed into a fascinating tangent of exploring religious fervor when it goes too far. Sawyer missed his mark here for what might have added a fine nuance to the story.
Yet, regardless, I found myself recommending this book to others even before I had finished it. Several times, the author brings out points in this dialogue on faith that made me "a-ha!" aloud in my reading, wondering, why had I never thought of that? He makes arguments, via Hollus, favoring the idea of intelligent design, that for all the proven evolution of one species over time in a myriad of ways and forms, never has science shown one species evolving into another species. A dog can, over time, become a great many other breeds of dog, but he will never become a bird. And this, after all, is the premise on which the idea of evolution is, must be, built. Cell becomes fish becomes reptile becomes primate becomes man... you know the lineage. Science has gaps in this area, requiring faith.
What Sawyer so masterfully brings to light in this story is that it is science that requires many leaps of faith ... *not* believing in God. Perhaps, in fact, much more so. With his alien voice, in various examinations of one scientific premise after another, he argues that God is rooted in science, that is, well substantiated in many forms of solid evidence, while the [godless] science we accept in the contemporary world is actually standing on the clay feet of irrational faith.
The literary value of this book, in terms of style and form, for me, is on the weak side. Its value as invitation for lively discussion, its courageous groundbreaking of the usual storylines of more typical sci fi fare, deserves high praise. Science fiction fan or not -- recommended reading.
I tried to finish the book, I really did. However, there really wasn't any 'there' there. It reads as nothing other than the ramblings of a man who learned sound bites about science so that he could convince thoughtful persons to purchase a book that he then uses as a soapbox for obsessive ravings.
I expected to find sound science to be the basis of the book, with some interesting theories on the possibilities of intelligent design. Some comparative paleontology, interesting theories on the development of life on other planets would have been quite welcome. Mostly I was looking for thoughtful reasoning of a scientific theory that included the possibility of an outside developmental force. What I found was the shouting of a man who apparently is so unsure of his own beliefs he has to scream loudly enough to drown out his own questions.
I am not opposed to the concept of intelligent design. The cosmos is, indeed, a wondrous thing. More wondrous, I believe, than even the most highly educated and thoughtful of us are psychologically capable of fully comprehending. The majority of human beings are, as a group, incapable of grasping the concept of a universe in which we are not the centre of attention. It was not all that long ago that humans were imprisoning or murdering anyone who had the audacity to suggest that the Earth wasn't the centre of the universe. The concept that there might actually be other planets that held intelligent life would have required burning at the stake or ripping apart by horses. Not only the person in question, but all their friends and family in all likelihood. The briefest study of the evening news would seem to indicate that there are numerous folk who still believe this way. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, in my estimation, as long as they don't cause harm to others in the dispensation of those beliefs.
From the evidence of all too recent holy wars, the majority of the population still believe that a cosmos consisting of, as Carl Sagan would say, `billions and billions of stars', stars which could contain hundreds of thousands or more of planets capable of supporting life, still revolves around this beautiful little blue speck on a distant arm of a more distant, insignificant galaxy in the hinterlands of the universe.
The author had an opportunity in this book to write something thought provoking, solid, and forward looking. It is a shame that he fell so far short of the goal we thought he was reaching for, and fell into a morass of pseudo psychobabble wearing a mask meant to mimic scientific thought.
Is it possible to calculate God? Can science demonstrate the existence, or absence, of God?
I'm a firm believer that science cannot prove or disprove the existence of "God" in the sense that most people use the word. The God of the Bible, the God of the Koran, the pagan gods of Greek legend – they are beyond the scope of science.
But maybe science could prove, or at least evaluate evidence for, the existence of an entity that is so advanced and so powerful that it might as well be a "god" from our perspective, even if that entity isn't, well, God.
They say there's no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole, and much the same about a man dying of terminal cancer. Well, cue the paleontologist, a respected museum curator, head of the vertebrates department, and a man dying of advanced lung cancer, who stubbornly maintains that there is no god. Then cue the alien, a visitor from Beta Hydra with a superficial resemblance to a giant spider, a respected paleontologist on his own world, a traveling scientist looking for evidence of god on Earth, who just as stubbornly maintains that there is a god whose existence is a proven scientific fact. Make them colleagues, then best friends, and watch what happens.
Some people have described this book as too preachy, or made complaints of similar substance. I don't get that at all. I think Robert Sawyer treats the various arguments on all sides of the debate with fairness and respect. He just wants you to think with an open mind. If you can do that, then it's a good story. A very human story. A little cheesy at times, a little dragging here and there. But good, with touches of thoughtful beauty, and it leaves you with plenty to think about … again, if your mind is open to seeing things from another perspective.