The book I choose to write about is Calculating God by Robert J Sawyer. Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction author of 21 books, including the book FlashForward the ABC TV show (2009-2010) was based on. Similar to the natural philosophers we’ve studied, Sawyer often writes about how science and religion (or God) merge together according to his Wikipedia page. This is one of the main themes of Calculating God.
Calculating God is about a paleontologist, Thomas Jericho, who works in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Jericho is an atheist who just discovered he is dying of lung cancer, and is learning how to face his new circumstances. His life and work change when an alien named Hollus comes down to earth one day. Hollus is looking to work with a paleontologist, which is why he chose the ROM. He is specifically researching the five main mass extinctions and their turning points for the evolution of life on earth. Much to the surprise of Jericho, he asks to be treated like a normal visiting scholar and have access to the museum’s fossils and specimens. Jericho is also surprise by the alien’s understanding and speaking ability in English. The unexpected arrival of an alien of course triggers the museum, government and media to come together to learn more about the Hollus and his intentions.
Hollus is described as looking kind of like a large spider with six legs and two arms. “His torso was no bigger around than the circle I could make with my arms…[it] was covered by a long strip of blue cloth. But his hide was visible on the six legs and two arms. It looked a bit like bubble wrap, although the individual domes were of varying sizes.” Jericho determines that Hollus is endothermic, similar to mammals on earth. Hollus shares with Jericho that he and his fellow space companions traveled from the third planet of a star system known as Beta Hydri, which is 24 light-years away. He also tells them that earth is the second planet they have visited. The first was the second planet from the star Delta Pavonis, which is 20 light-years from earth and they brought with them some of the locals known as Wreeds.
After the initial shock and media spectacle dies down, the two begin discussing the extinctions and working together. The interest in the five mass extinctions is due to the fact that five similar extinctions occurred at roughly the same time on both the Beta Hydri and Delta Pavonis planets. It is also explained by Hollus that all three planets have roughly the same technological advances, give or take a few decades, and the same basic life needs. There is also the question of if another mass extinction could happen, and that is plot of the second half of the book.
For both the scientists of the two alien planets, they believe these coincidences are the work of a God or Creator. It is shocking to Hollus that a learned scientist like Jericho doesn’t believe in God and together they spend a good part of the book discussing if there is a God. Hollus uses examples from astrology, physics, biology, math and many other scientific disciplines and how their perfection is proof of a creator. His argument is that if one small mistake was made in the way the earth was formed, humans and indeed the world would not exist.
The arguments made in the book are compelling for the notion of a creator. Like William Paley’s argument of the watchmaker, Hollus believes that life and the worlds that support it are just to perfect for it to be random.