Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer


Science FictionCalculating God by Robert J. Sawyer Calculating God
Robert J. Sawyer; Tor 2000

Aliens from another planet come to Earth. The first place they visit is the Royal Ontario Museum. They want to work with a paleontologist. Tom Jericho is the director of the vertebrate section of the ROM and is the first person available to meet the Forhilnor representative. Hollus wants to work with a paleontologist to compare the development of the third sentient species they know of in the universe. The other species, the Wreed, are up in the spaceship along with more Forhilnor.

Tom was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and only has a few months more to live. He is grateful for this chance to work with the Forhilnor. The work keeps him busy although it doesn’t help his fear and sadness of having to leave his wife and young son. With the Canadian health system the costs aren’t an issue. That doesn’t help with the emotional costs. Neither the Forhilnor nor the Wreeds can help him, either. They have cancer on their planets as well.

Once the Forhilnor are accepted, they have representatives visit different places on Earth. Hollus stays with Tom. One of the first things Hollus declares is their belief in God. Tom, a devout atheist, is appalled. Both the Forhilnor and the Wreed believe the only an intelligent designer could have created the universe the way it is. Tom listens to Hollus’ arguments but can’t accept them without a “smoking gun”.

Hollus and Tom study Earth’s fossils as well as the planetary changes. They discover many similarities in the history of all three species on their home planets. Tom and Hollus become close friends, debating the existence of an intelligent being, learning more about each other’s planetary history, learning about their families, and relating on many levels. They can’t foresee the explosions in their future.

Calculating God is a quite novel. It’s humorous, for example Tom’s thoughts about the Forhilnor appearing at the ROM instead of another museum or a government seat. Instead of “Take me to your leader” the alien basically says “Take me to your paleontologist.” There is some “hold on tight” action, but not much.

Robert J. Sawyer uses Calculating God to discuss the philosophy of religion and the existence of God. Most of the book is told in Tom Jericho’s first person narrative. The reader learns his thoughts and inner conflicts as well as the wonderment of meeting and working with an actual alien. Sawyer uses the characters to examine the different sides of the theories of evolution and creationism. While the Forhilnors and the Wreeds believe in God, He isn’t the Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or any other religion’s God. They don’t have a specific theology or necessarily believe in omnipotence but instead believe in a Creator with a specific design for the universe. Tom’s cancer is one of the focal points of the discussions. “If there is a God, how could He allows cancer?” Sawyer presents both sides of the argument without offending any specific religious belief.

Sawyer gives an unexpected ending, allowing Tom the chance to understand the other aliens’ beliefs. It is poignant and pulls Calculating God together for the reader to appreciation and enjoy. While not a fast read, for  an interesting presentation of a theological discussion and entertaining science fiction twined together, check out Calculating God.

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