Calculating God: A Novel
“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?” ― Robert J. Sawyer, Calculating God
The science fiction literature includes an immense variety of styles and approaches for the presentation of ideas. Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer is a philosophical science fiction novel that considers the nature of belief in the existence of god.
The novel uses the trope of contact with aliens to explore cosmological ideas that intrigue thoughtful persons whether or not they are interested in science fiction. It takes a contemporary setting (in Canada) and describes the arrival on Earth of sentient aliens. The bulk of the novel covers the many discussions and arguments on the reasons for their presence, as well as about the nature of belief, religion, and science. Calculating God received nominations for both the Hugo and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards in 2001.
The main plot is told from the point of view of Tom Jericho, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. As it begins Forhilnor, a spider-like alien from the third planet of the Beta Hydri system arrives on Earth to investigate Earth's evolutionary history. The alien, Hollus, has come to Earth to gain access to the museum's large collection of fossils, and to study accumulated human knowledge in order to gather evidence of the existence of God. It seems that Earth and Hollus' home planet, and the home planet of another alien species traveling with Hollus, all experienced the same five cataclysmic events at roughly the same time.
Hollus believes that the universe was created by a god, to provide a place where life could develop and evolve. Thomas Jericho is an atheist who provides a balance to the philosophical discussion regarding the existence of gods. There is also a subplot dealing with the illness of Jericho and his imminent death due to lung cancer. The author neatly connects that with the visit of the aliens with surprising revelations as well.
I enjoyed the philosophical and scientific discussions primarily due to the inventive approaches to questions that arose from the unusual views of the aliens. On the issue of the existence of gods the book presents some strange conundrums that make it rise above the average Science Fiction novel. Sawyer succeeds in describing the meeting with aliens in a way that held my attention through both its believable detail and its novelty. I found myself wondering about the thoughtful calculation of alien scientists and if they really could include god in that calculation.