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Calculating God

by Robert J Sawyer



Calculating God is not a Christian novel. Readers expecting a full, systematic defense of Christian theology will be disappointed. If I were forced to pin it down, I might call Calculating God a Deist novel, since it embraces the idea of the existence of a god of limited, though extensive, power who does not interfere with the individual lives of humans. It is tempting to refer to the god who is "calculated" in the novel as non-personal, but I'm not sure that's exactly right. It's more a matter of this god being uninterested in individual lives, though he/she/it does demonstrate an interest in life on the planet, probably even the life of the human species.


Though Calculating God  is not a Christian novel, I think it is a book that could be of real interest to a Christian readership. Like all good speculative fiction, it excels in raising questions. It does not necessarily offer satisfying answers, but it does raise the possiblity of a specific range of answers under certain circumstances. Will this satisfy the majority of Christian readers? Based on the critical response from some within the community that the novel has received so far, it's clear that it is not satisfying to some Christians. I do think it is a good read for those who are of a mind to explore some of the difficult questions often encountered, such as the relationship between science and Christian doctrine, and the harm that religious fundamentalism can do to the reputation of the broader range of Chrisitianity.


To me, the question raised by the novel has as much to do with calculating (or weighing) humanity and the individual human as it does with calculating God. The situations set up raise challenges that demand a response from the protagonist and his race, and I think Sawyer does a pretty good job of speculating about how people might respond if a race of aliens came to Earth, claiming to be certain that God does indeed exist and that their mission is to find him/her/it.


All of this addresses the theological content of the novel, without discussing the question of whether or not is is a good book. I think the theological take invites the greatest amount of consideration and discussion, but the literary merits are not negligible. Calculating God has been nominated for both the Hugo and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards in 2001. For me, I had some quibbles with various parts of the story, particularly the subplot, but I found the book compelling.  I did not want to put it down, and I cared about what happened to the characters. It was an engaging read, and kept me pondering the points it raised for several days after I'd read it.


 Reviewed by Shelly Bryant © 2015


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