Multiple award-winning sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer created a masterpiece in 2000 with the release of his novel Calculating God. From the title alone, the reader can ascertain that an introspective discussion about the existence of God and faith in general is at hand. Sawyer delves deeply into this provocative subject and so much more.
The novel begins with the arrival of a six-legged alien named Hollus, who turns up on the doorstep of the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) seeking to meet with a paleontologist. Hollus is a Forhilnor from the planet Beta Hydri who has a specific agenda in mind with this earth visitation. The paleontologist who happens to be on duty at the time of Hollusí visit is Dr. Thomas Jericho. Although slightly apprehensive, Jericho agrees to meet with the alien and is instantly comforted by its command of the English language.
As they begin their discussion, Hollus makes it clear that her visit to Earth is a research trip to compare planetary histories. Specifically, Hollus is curious about the fact that both Earth and her home planet share similar mass extinction dates (five in total), events in which life on the planet was wiped out due to some specific occurrence followed by the emergence of new life. Jericho is engaged by Hollusís conversation, and they quickly begin to share facts and probe for information about each of their planetís histories and species.
One startling philosophical contrast between Hollus and Jericho is the fact that Hollus (and all inhabitants of her planet) believe in a creator or god and hold that all of their scientific research is an effort to study their godís work. Jericho is an atheist and a Darwinian (or evolutionist), and he tries to explain to Hollus that most of Earthís scientists are either atheists or agnostics. Jericho flatly denies Godís existence and indicates to Hollus that he is within the minority three percent of Earthís population that shares this belief. Hollus counters that God is a scientist, and all the events that have happened in the universe since the beginning of time are evidence of Godís existence.
As their discussions of creation and faith continue over many months, Jericho receives the unfortunate news that he is stricken with terminal lung cancer and may not have much time left to live. He pleads with Hollus to somehow intervene, but she cannot, as cancer also exists within their species and they have yet to find a cure themselves. Hollus later introduces Jericho to another alien race, the Wreeds, and their representative TíKna meets with them, also expressin a profound faith in God and an alarming non-understanding of basic math.
Robert J. Sawyer takes a novel that is primarily a discussion between an earthling and an alien and makes it consistently engaging. Not since Dr. Carl Saganís Contact has a work of speculative science fiction dealt so intensely with the theories of God, alien life, faith and existence. Thomas Jericho even refers at one point to Sagan by pointing out to Hollus that he went to his death a staunch atheist.
The novel is not all philosophical and religious debate; the end of the novel poses two great threats to the characters involved. The first is when a pair of religious creationists storms the ROM, taking Jericho, Hollus and several other human/alien beings hostage as they begin to destroy dinosaur artifacts that they feel are a lie and blasphemy to God. An even larger threat occurs when evidence of the super-star Betelgeuse going supernova is discovered. Such an event poses a risk of ionizing the atmosphere and killing everyone in several universes - Earth and Beta Hydri included. This would mark the sixth and final great extinction event, and there is no way to stop it.
Compelling to the final page, Robert J. Sawyerís Calculating God is not to be missed by fans of science fiction, religious history, philosophy or even thriller fiction, an intelligent and challenging work that is quite comparable to Saganís classic Contact.