I read all the time, or nearly. I always have, I guess, since I was very young ... and now, getting older, more audio than any other medium.
Robert Sawyer, the avowed and usually stridently atheistic author, reverses his previous position and writes a book proving that a theory of "intelligent creation" is not incompatible with a belief in evolution and science ... a position I have always held. I know that today's political climate demands that you take one side or the other, but I have never felt that the two positions were inherently antithetical. And so, reversing his position 180 degrees, Sawyer puts forth a fine case for intelligent creation.
I would have given it five stars, but the end of the book seemed a bit out of left field to me ... and didn't feel like it "fit" with the rest of the story. But I'm picky and maybe it won't bother you.
Regardless, I really enjoyed this a lot. It's much more of a personal essay as science fiction than any of his other books, but I loved his reasoning, his characters -- human and alien. Make sure to listen to the author's introduction.
No matter which side of the God-Versus-Science you are on, this is a thought-provoking and well-written book. Agree or disagree, it's definitely worth your time!
Avid book lover and listener. Nuff said for this purpose.
I really liked this book. It's the first Sawyer book I've listened to and was pleasantly surprised. Being a scientist myself and familiar with gene sequencing, DNA, evolution and the master design theories, etc. I have to say Sawyer did a great job.
Add the Aliens to the mix and you have a great vichyssoise!
If you are a 'thinker' or let's say are able to think for yourself that which others think you should think similarly, you too will enjoy it. If you are a steadfast follower of some ideology that leaves no room for personal interpretation I suggest you don't bother.
It makes a nice change to have a science fiction book written as an antithesis to most others in this genre and do so without imposition. The book isn't trying to change your mind or for that matter your beliefs, it simply offers a rather unique viewpoint between people of Earth and other planets, and not one that one might think initially.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wasn't crazy about Jericho's illness...that bit was sad but also part of life isn't it. But it worked for this book. Sawyer is somehow in the stew pot with Crowley, Hawking, Darwin, and Pope Francis. It's up to you to figure how what you think of the taste. Me? I thought he got all the condiments just about right.
I believe I will now try another of his dishes: Hominids!
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The alien, looking like a giant spider and speaking English stereophonically out of his two leg-mouths, arrives at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto and asks to see a paleontologist. The alien explains to Dr. Thomas Jericho that his name is Hollus, that he is a Forhilnor from the third planet of the star Beta Hydri, and that he came to the museum to study earth fossils like the ROM's current special exhibit of the Burgess Shale fossils from the Cambrian period. Hollus is "a visiting scholar" traveling through space with a handful of fellow scientists and seeking intelligent species on other worlds, not to prove the existence of god (which they've already done to their satisfaction), but to find out why he/she/it has been tinkering with sentient life forms in the universe.
Hollus shares plenty of "evidence" for the existence of god. The fact that the five mass extinctions of species in earth's history have occurred on Hollus' world and that of the Wreed, another sentient species the Forhilnors encountered before arriving at earth, all at the same relative times in the histories of their worlds, is too unlikely to be coincidental. Moreover, each of five forces (gravitation, electromagnetism, weak nuclear forces, strong nuclear forces, and repulsion over distance, the fifth one that humanity has not yet discovered) is necessary just as it is for stars, planets, and life to exist. Hollus tells Jericho that the chances of the chain of parameters all happening just right in just the right order are less likely than winning the lottery every day for a century. So someone has fine-tuned the universe. Indeed, Hollus has trouble understanding why Jericho is so stubbornly set in his atheism. That said, the Forhilnor believe that god takes no interest in the doings of any particular individual, so they have no religion and do not pray.
The novel consists of Jericho's first person journal covering his time spent with Hollus discussing things like the history of the universe, evolution, life, and the existence of a "master designer." Into this Jericho interweaves his relationships with his wife, adopted son, and fossils in the context of his treatment for terminal lung cancer. Into all this Sawyer (or whoever is editing Jericho's journal into the book we're reading) introduces a pair of fundamentalist Christian abortion clinic bombers who would like to introduce the aliens to the Son of God: "The aliens may believe in God, but they haven't yet found Christ."
Calculating God is a novel of ideas. For one thing, there is the conundrum as to why sentient species in the universe at a certain technological stage of development tend to destroy themselves or abandon their home worlds. For another, the Wreed have no concept of mathematics because they have 23 fingers, a prime number, unlike the human ten and the Forhilnor six. The Wreed believe that God has been calculating the future of each individual in the universe by photons, like playing chess several moves ahead, spend half of their lives trying to communicate with him/her/it, and base their morality on intuition rather than on logic. They also believe that because cancer is part of the fabric of life in the universe, it must be part of God's plan, whatever that is.
But Calculating God is more than a debate between designers and evolutionists and more than a tear-jerking cancer story, because it packs plenty of humor. Sawyer satirizes the dumbing down of contemporary culture via the ROM, which has become ever more "user-friendly," to the degree that the museum is promoted as being "run by an eight-year old," which means closing the planetarium, producing Star Trek events, and making hands-on displays. More comically, Hollus's experience with American TV shows about aliens leads him to appear on earth as a holographic projection while his real body remains safely aboard the Forhilnor star ship, to joke about not capturing humans for anal probing, and to humorously prevent a pair of Canadian FBI equivalents from taking him into custody for interrogation etc. Also amusing are Jericho's many popular culture references: The Day the Earth Stood Still, X-files, Star Trek, Star Wars, Inherit the Wind, and so on.
In his preface, Sawyer mentions that his novel has upset both atheist evolutionists and fundamentalist creationists, and I can see why that is. His god-believing advanced alien species whose worlds and DNA share so much with earth and humanity may seem like too much designer deck-stacking, while his exposure of Stephen J. Gould's theory of evolution by "punctuated equilibria" as a slick play on language may seem off-putting, and his focusing on "intelligent" life forms to prove intelligent design may seem exclusive. On the other side, devout Christians may not want to be linked to clinic-bombing, museum-hating ignoramuses, and may not appreciate Sawyer setting up "god" as a super alien without any connection to Jesus. Finally, while I enjoy the play of ideas in the book and like Hollus and his relationship with Jericho, I feel that Sawyer spends too much time on the crazy creationists plot strand, which at one point turns Jericho's journal into a suspense-action movie.
Jonathan Davis gives his usual professional and appealing reading of the novel, doing cool alien voices (the Wreeds' voice via computer translator is particularly neat).
Calculating God does what good sf does, explore what it means to be human (here, to be fragile), and it has interesting things to say about language, morality, and love. People who like Star Maker and Childhood's End would probably like this book (though those books are more affecting and less humorous).
As a student of theology and philosophy, I appreciated all the various views on the subject of God. I couldn't imagine a novel on the topic, and while I come to a different conclusion than the author, Sawyer pulls it off... and it was enjoyable! Sawyer creates an environment inside the story that is safe for all the beliefs about God to be expressed and tested. The back and forth between characters regarding their views was nicely done. Although the story is 100% sci-fi, the ideologies discussed really exist. The story also forces you to consider death, what it means to really live and what is Gods role in it. I found a couple of things that I don't feel added to the story. There were some Southern religious right-wing characters named J.D. and Cooter (a reference to Dukes of Hazzard?) that didn't feel necessary to address the narrow mindedness issue. There was also an attempt to ground the eternal life issue by saying the other intelligent beings had uploaded their consciousnesses into a super computer program to pull it off. That wasn't a necessary item to me and it had a relatively small part in the novel. And the physical description of the creator also limited the imagination of the reader. That could've been left out. Over all, it is worth a credit if you like philosophy and theology and can enjoy various views on the subject without getting bent out of shape. The narration is well done and you can listen comfortably at 2X speed. Sawyer also has a book out on writing techniques that is good. Hope this helps. Later.
This novel wrestles with the issue of whether there is a God by having an alien who believes in God come to earth and argue for intelligent design. The novel's protagonist, and the sparring partner for the alien, is an atheist paleontologist. The intellectual exchange between the two is intriguing for those who are interested in these things. Thus, for the core elements of the book, this novel can be highly recommended. What seriously detracts from the novel is that Sawyer could not resist interjecting his own opinions on politics, movies, etc. all along the way. The novel is almost jingoistic in its "I love Canada" theme (like many Canadians, Sawyer revels in his love of Canada mostly by sneering at the USA). The book is cluttered with Sawyer's opinions on the policies of the former Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris (all of which makes the book about as relevant today as election campaign pamphlets from 1993). For modern readers, he might as well be commenting on the policies of Mackenzie King (a former Prime Minister of Canada). He also deals with Young Earth Creationism by interjecting into the novel a pair of yahoos (from the USA, naturally) who want to blow up museum fossils (something that these people, to my knowledge, have never done). It would have been better for him to deal with the issue intellectually, answering their arguments, instead of via this caricature. Sawyer plainly has the ability to do that, but he chose, it seems, instead to indulge his fantasies about what he would like to see happen to all such persons.
Don't think so.
Not at all
I was expecting a lot more, but all the book does is giving you hundreds of examples of argument from authority. The fictional alien believes in a God, therefore there must be one...
I stopped listening about halfway through, so maybe it got better, but I found it too boring to continue.
SciFi is often structured around mysteries. CG starts off with an interesting premise about implausible coincidences, but then quickly devolves (pun intended!) into a long-winded philosophical dialogue also involving quantum mechanics and morality. There's no real mystery- Sawyer seems to be spelling everything out. As I said, I didn't make it all the way through, but the side-plots seemed trite and derivative.
I didn't care at all about the protagonist- there's nothing interesting about him, no conflict, no background that makes you care about him. So he's dying of cancer and has an implausibly young kid. His character is paper-thin.
The philosophy is pure bunk- CG doesn't ever tackle to the hard epistemological questions, like "who created god?" which make theism so useless.
The physics is also worse than useless- why have characters spout-off physics nonsense for 5+ pages? Just have the authority say "it is so" and make your plot point.
The Morality discussion is also the worst sort of clap-trap. I don't need another scene where aliens are shocked (shocked!) at human-on-human violence. Please. It's the worst sort of kinderschool-style morality. Read Jon Haidt if you want to have a better understanding human morality.
The first few chapters are really good. The alien intro is really well done. The introduction of a core mystery showing evidence of an implausible coincidence is classic SF and also well done (if introduced a little abruptly). But from there it goes nowhere for 100+ pages.
We spend way too much time in a Socratic dialogue with the alien. A dialogue which introduces nothing more interesting than the original implausible coincidences.
I am not religious nor am I an atheist. But the book gave me much to think of within the constrains of it’s Universe.
A critical thinker gets all the “facts” he demand to question whether or not there is a God in Calculating God. I really appriciated the journey and the thought experiments.
I did not learn to read until I was in my twenties. Have not stopped since. The two most important things to learn are reading & chess.
When ever I like a book enough to buy the hard copy I give the book 5 stars. I bought three copies, one for my bookshelf, and one each, for my son and sister. The book is very thought provoking. I know it will cause us to have some good discussions.
The narration by Jonathan Davis was wonderful and easy listening.
Honestly, I have not read any science fiction before. I enjoy "Calculation God" so I researched Sawyer's other books. I just finished listening to his novel "Hominids". I believe he won the Hugo Award for this book. It is also very enjoyable.
Thanks to Sawyer I have become a fan of science fiction.
Davis also narrates Hominids and again it was very well done.