BONUS AUDIO: Author Robert J. Sawyer explains how the creationism vs. evolution debate informed the writing of Calculating God.
©2000 by Robert J. Sawyer; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.
"Is Sawyer Canada's answer to Michael Crichton? Very possibly yes." (Montreal Gazette)
"Jonathan Davis...is one of our very best narrators and this is a fine performance. I was rapt the entire time, and even near tears at one moment in the book." (sffaudio.com; named an SFFaudio Essential)
"Jonathan Davis portrays a thoughtful and quietly introspective Jericho....As the conversation with Hollus continues, Davis keeps a steady pace and reflects the intellectual engagement of both characters. He presents the alien's speech as lightly studied, a fitting style for a non-English speaker who coordinates his speech between two mouths." (AudioFile)
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!
Literary graduate and published columnist turned glorified grease monkey.
I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was a bit sceptical at first but was quickly converted to an avid listener. I found myself sneaking away from work to continue the story. Sawyer manages to give both a subjective and objective argument on creationism versus evolution from the point of view of both a human AND an alien. I can understand there might be some ideas that could upset some people, but I loved the idea of an alien scientist bringing us some form of proof that God exists. And I'm an aetheist!!!
Yes very well written, and very well delivered.
A must read for all thinkers.
this was a very well researched and scientifically based exploration of what first contact might mean and the possibility of a "creator", but it's not the silly biblical mythology but a much more thought provoking debate about evidence and purpose on a universal scale, not a tiny earthly point of view. 2 other friends really liked that aspect as well and I've recommended it to a 3rd and will others. nice to think about these things intelligently and not superstitiously.
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).
Don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Trip's cool though. Use Audible to make gym-training sane... And rip my imagination.
Imagine an argument with great links missing from its logical chain. Then imagine simply inventing links of fact to fill the gaps... Links fit into place with welds blended and blurred by strong emotional distractions.
A deus ex machina is a literary or sophist trick... an ancient device that Wikipedia defines as a seemingly unsolvable problem which is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.
Robert J. Sawyer does that here in Calculating God... quite enchantingly. He "proves" the case for diesim by... well I use the word enchantingly in a couple of its meanings. It is much like a fascinating fairy tale that absorbs and charms you. And it is also a magical yarn that fits as well into the realm of fantasy as sci-fi. Indeed, it's an ingenious blend which proves nothing yet, seems to. Uh-huh, here the "calculations" and the "proof" are just like a guy suddenly and abruptly whipping a rabbit from a hat.
He does it so well, you forget that he's contrived to bring both a certain kind of hat, baggy-sleeved jacket, and well... his own unexpected rabbit.
Sawyer's good. And while you're enjoying this "calculatiion" ignore the man behind the curtain. There's nothing to see there... Just move along past :-)
Oh, and Jonathan Davis, or whoever... reads the book ... um... enchantingly.
Kneel Before Zod!!
Easily in my top 10 favorite books, possibly top 5 so far.
It's really hard to say because it's so original and thought provoking.
Hollus was my favorite
The conversation's between the alien and atheist about religion.
My favorite quote from the book was, "Honor does not have to be defended."
I do listen to it about once a year. Very engaging characters and it comes at an issues in such an unexpected way and treats most involved respectfully.
SPOILER alert When the protagonist realizes Hollis is female.
There are some books that take me a bit by surprise. Their beginning is not what I expected, and that is true for both of the books I have read so far by Robert J. Sawyer including this one. And I have liked the endings as well. A good sign!
The beginning of this book sounds like the beginning of a joke: An alien walks into a museum in Canada...
And yes, the book has its funny moments, but that's not the central theme. Instead, we get a different kind of perspective through the eyes of a human being, whose life changes when he's face to face with a visitor from another world – with a surprise or two. Fully enjoyable and very interesting.
Some SPOILERS below.
I read some reviews of this book before I read it myself and half expected it to be Intelligent Design propaganda or at least leading the reader to believe in a god. And yes, god and design are parts of the story, but not in a way that makes in unbearable. Rather, they made sense. The only thing that bothered me was the main characters refusal to see what was obvious, as if the author wanted to show us that atheists will not accept a proof of god, no matter how scientific it is.
Does there exist a god? Did he/she/it create the (current) universe? The book implies it, but it's not a god of the Bible or the Quran. So don't mistake this book as an advertisement for any particular faith.
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.
It's a good read and provokes thought in a direction I don't normally go
I enjoyed the variety of characters and dialects
Sure. It's a good topic to explore. But the whole end of the universe may be a challenge.
"A Thoroughly Good 'Read'"
I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. I found it to be well constructed, thought provoking, well paced with many unfolding layers and contexts. The story begins simply enough with an alien landing on earth to talk to a palaeontologist. The focus of the collaboration between alien and human is initially about whether or not God exists and the creation of the Universe. The early part of the story recounts the debates that develop between the two parties, each maintaining an opposite point of view. As the story unfolds however, the focus subtly and gradually shifts from this a discussion, to an exploration of the relationships between the characters in the book. We learn about the palaeontologist, his world and family, and about the alien's world and family. We witness the bond of friendship growing between both individuals. The story continues to expand, and weaves in as a part of the plot, some of the current forces which are occurring in our society. The development of the plot in this way adds a real thriller element to the story, as well as maintaining the interest and pace of the book.
Overall the book explores some fascinating hypotheses about life and it's existence, the rise and fall of species and civilisations, the structure and nature of civilisations depending on what their thought structure is based upon, life and death of an individual at a personal and an inter-relational context. It also throws in some fascination facts about the Universe in which we exist.
A most thought provoking, interesting and engaging "read". In essence it is a real 'human story' with an unexpected twist at the end. I still find myself thinking about some of the ideas, concepts and hypotheses presented in the story.
"a good, or is that god, thought experiment"
I really found the idea of this book interesting at first so decided to give it a go. If you have ever thought much about evolution and creationism I think you will find it entertaining. There was almost a retro feel to the aliens in this book, not sure why, but they just seemed like that? But for the price it was certainly worthwhile and really quite enjoyable. I will be getting a few more of these titles.
"Enjoyable read, but..."
Skip the first 2' 45'' or so. The authors introduction, in my opinion, takes away from the story.
"enjoyable, informative and makes you question"
I bought this after having listened to other books by this author.
If you try to explain the story to anyone they will think you are mad for listening to it and that it must be a boring book, but the story line is not only entertaining but also informative. Sawyer is very clever in the way he weaves true science into his stories and I find myself wanting to know and understand more about the science. At times I go back to listen to to certain areas again and I think I would now like to actually read the book.
I am writing this review before I have finished listening to the book, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I am enjoying the story, the science and the questions it makes me ask myself. It is based on creationism but Sawyer makes you question eveything and deosn't preach. I am enjoying the book so much that I bought the actual book for a friend who is a staunch catholic because I wanted her ideas to be questioned.
All I would say is listen with an open mind and try to follow the science rather than being put off. It is deffinately a book I will listen to many times and that is very unsual for me.
"I don't regret listening to it, but..."
The story is well written, and well read, and some of the details of alien biology / behaviour I thought were brilliant. I commend the author for writing this book, I am glad it exists, and would recommend it!
BUT, and for me this is a **massive** but, the main human character - the paleontologist - is rubbish at his job! He is likeable and quite a decent person, decently enough written etc, but he seems to not actually know much about evolution! I feel he is quite poorly researched, granted the book was written in 2000 and I am inclined to give the author the benefit of the doubt that the information we have at our disposal these days was not available to a lay audience back then... though I suspect I am just trying too hard to defend him, because I did like quite a bit about the book.
I think anyone armed with a copy of Dawkins' books, The Greatest Show on Earth, and God Delusion, would blow the vast majority of the arguments out of the water (see spoilers below for more detail) AND be left with a better knowledge of evolution than the protagonist!
And the early misuse of the Occam's Razor made me cringe!
Overall a good book, just seriously hindered by the author's research, or lack thereof
Potential spoilers below - but important clarifications
I said that Dawkins' books would blow the "majority" of the arguments out of the water, because some, indeed the only good ones are based on alien knowledge, ie the author's imagination.
Also the Paleontologist seems to have an intellectual crisis over whether or not evolution is true, even though what the alien tells him is compatible with evolution by natural selection! The 'god' the alien has 'proof' of is not one I recognise from any bible passage I have read ;)
I also suspect that the research regarding certain astronomical events is also lacking, but I know less about that area.
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