The Bookshelf: ‘Calculating God’

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

"Calculating God" by Robert J. SawyerWould we treat the truth differently depending on who tells it?

In “Calculating God”, authored by science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer (of “FlashForward” fame), a Canadian paleontologist is surprised to find he is the first human being asked for by the first extraterrestrial who visits Earth.

When Dr. Thomas Jericho meets Hollus, a Forhilnor from a planet in the constellation Hydrus, he is surprised to learn that the alien is also a scientist here for research. What startles him more is the alien’s research goal: to find God.

He is used to hearing it from other humans. Now the atheistic Jericho is forced to confront arguments for an intelligent designer of the universe from not just one, but two other species more scientifically advanced than humans.

He soon learns from the Forhilnors and the Wreeds (of a planet in the constellation Pavo) that all their races had developed—evolved—simultaneously, and that crucial cataclysmic events intervened in their history at the same times. What they don’t know is why.

Jericho faces his own beliefs about God as his interactions with Hollus deepen and he comes to terms with his own mortality.

The question of God’s existence is hardly a given in science. Often it is a personal matter and one supposedly confined to the realm of religion and opinion. In one of Hollus’ and Jericho’s early conversations, it is the alien’s turn to be surprised that a creator is not considered scientific fact here.

“There is no indisputable proof for the big bang,” Hollus told Jericho. “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?” Jericho knows no good answer.

Robert J. Sawyer navigates this search for God well—acknowledging it as a single person’s journey, yet never forgetting the global repercussions. He probes thought-provoking questions and puts in a backgrounder of the creation-evolution debate.

Artist James Beveridge's impression of the extraterrestrial Hollus and human Dr. Thomas Jericho from Robert J. Sawyer's novel "Calculating God"

Hollus and Dr. Jericho as drawn by artist James Beveridge.

More admirable are the well-thought-of details: how the aliens look like and how their minds work as a result of their biological makeup. Hollus even pokes fun at popular culture’s images of extraterrestrials and how they are hardly different from humans.

As Sawyer presents what seems to be the majority view of the scientific community against divinity, he also goes the other way. Jericho’s wife is a churchgoer whose belief in God is a source of comfort but is not overtly deep.

Sawyer devotes more space to the other end of the spectrum: “Christian” extremists who resort to bombing abortion clinics and even natural museums. To them, fossils are “tests”, deceptions created by the Devil.

One question undeniably comes up when reading—on which side does Sawyer lean? He ends up portraying a different image of God, which accompanies Dr. Jericho’s “see it to believe it” mindset.

Then again, Jericho’s thoughts also answer that by pointing to “Contact,” a novel by U.S. astronomer Carl Sagan. There the known atheist writes that an intelligence “antedates the universe”.

“Carl was no more obliged to believe what he wrote in his sole work of fiction than George Lucas was required to believe in the Force,” mused Jericho.

The God they find might not meet the expectations of those with a firm belief of the divine. For others, it may be as real as they expect it to get. The book is fiction, yet the question of what to do about God is the query of the ages.

It does seem that to the believer, no evidence will be necessary, and to the unbeliever, no evidence will be enough. But like the climax of “Calculating God”, the day will come that this question will be answered beyond any doubt.

Previous “Bookshelf” picks:

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2 comments on “The Bookshelf: ‘Calculating God’

  1. Pingback: The Bookshelf: Unwitting discoveries | PinoyJourn: Stories behind the Stories

  2. Pingback: Replays: PinoyJourn’s 2013 top posts | PinoyJourn: Stories behind the Stories

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