Calculating God

Roughly a year ago, I wrote & posted a 2-part article on my other blog (i.e., “A View from the Right”) called “Calculating God”, titled after the novel that I talk about within. As I say below, it’s the first time I’ve ever quoted from a work of fiction to support a real-life theory. In particular, some of the fine-tuning aspects of modern Intelligent Design Theory are explained and defended by an extraterrestrial arachnid. (When was the last time you heard/read that?!) Much of the evidence & reasoning used is true in real-life, too. The alien even takes the argument a step further and extrapolates from the exquisite design that there is a “God”.

Curious? Give it a read….

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If you have followed this blog for very long, you know that it’s not uncommon for me to cite from, or at least refer to, various books on the topics of science, politics, and religion. Non-fiction stuff. But, I also read, watch, and listen to a lot of fiction, as well. As it turns out, much of my fictional reading touches on the same topics, sometimes directly and other times indirectly. Science fiction, in particular, is known as a vehicle for examining real-life issues (e.g., philosophical, theological, socio-cultural, ethical/moral, political, scientific, etc.) in unusual, sometimes fantastical, contexts and circumstances. So, today, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before — cite a fictional novel in support of a non-fictional position.

calculating godRecently, I “discovered” a popular, award-winning Canadian science-fiction author named Robert J. Sawyer. After reading a recommendation (I forget by whom), I sampled Sawyer’s writing in a selection of his short stories. Now, I just finished my second Sawyer novel — Calculating God (2000). From what I understand, Sawyer is a strong proponent of evolution, rationalism, and, I believe, an atheist. In what I’ve read so far, his “religious” characters are unfortunately, laughably stereotypical “fundamentalists”/creationists (even the real-life ones he mentions). Aside from that, he doesn’t come across as entirely antagonistic toward “religious” folk. In fact, just prior to finalizing this post, I read an interview in which he mentioned having met and “work[ed] with some really intelligent, thoughtful, scientifically literate, socially aware, well-read people, from across the faith spectrum —- Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, and more. These were guys I respected, in most cases, and they believed in something I didn’t believe (and still don’t). That made me want to understand religion not in the straw-man sense that you so often hear it dismissed, but in the sense that can and does attract great thinkers.”

I find Sawyer’s writing enjoyable (including the many pop-culture references), the situations and characters very “human”, and he addresses both philosophical and socio-political (e.g., healthcare) issues in a way I find interesting, even if I disagree with the more liberal/skeptical positions he takes via his primary characters.

In Calculating God, the central character is a strongly Darwinian, atheist paleontologist who meets an alien species which, shocker of shockers, believes in God! Not the God of the Bible, of course. Not even a personal God. But, a “God” nonetheless. And, the central alien character argues for a form of design-centered theistic evolution. (Yes, that’s right. They recognize design in nature via scientific exploration, then, acknowledging the philosophical & theological implications, posit the existence of God. Amazing!) So, we have the ironic phenomenon of a non-theistic, Darwinist author (Sawyer) making the case for Intelligent Design Theory via an octopedal extraterrestrial (the Forhilnor scientist known as “Hollus”) to a fictional, non-theist Darwinist (“Dr. Tom Jericho”):

“I know, I know — I probably should have let it alone. But, dammitall, it had been keeping me up nights ever since Hollus mentioned it. “How do you know,” I said to him at last, “that the universe had a creator?”

Hollus’s eyestalks curved to look at me. “The universe was clearly designed; if it has a design, it must therefore have a designer.”

“It looks random to me,” I said. “I mean, it’s not as if the stars are arranged in geometric patterns.”

“There is a great beauty in randomness,” Hollus said. “But I speak about a much more basic design. This universe has had its fundamental parameters fine-tuned to an almost infinite degree so that it would support life.”

I was pretty sure I knew where he was going with this, but I said, “In what way?” anyway; I thought maybe he knew something I didn’t — and indeed, to my shock, that was precisely the case.

“The strengths of [the fundamental] forces have wildly varying values, and yet if the values were even slightly different from their current ones, the universe as we know it would not exist, and life could never have formed. Take gravity as an example: were it only somewhat stronger, the universe would have long since collapsed. If it were somewhat weaker, stars and planets never could have coalesced.”

“‘Somewhat,'” I echoed.

“For those two scenarios, yes; I am talking about a few orders of magnitude. You wish a better example? Very well…..”

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OK, that’s enough of a teaser. But, if you want the entire post, continue reading here: “Calculating God (Part 1)“, and then on to Part 2. It really is quite interesting….

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