Robert J. Sawyer calculates God

The notion that the universe has a designer, that it didn’t occur entirely as the result of blind cosmic forces, is not one that gets a lot of attention from the media. Many people assume that all reputable scientists dismiss the notion out of hand.

Many reputable scientists do–but not all. There are actually strong scientific arguments to be made that the universe in which we live does show evidence of a guiding intelligence. In fact, one can make the argument that it is intellectually far easier and satisfying to believe in a designed universe than in one that occurred by chance.

During my recent visit to Chicon 2000, the 58th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, I interviewed Robert J. Sawyer, a Canadian science fiction author who has won every major award around for his work.

His most recent book is Calculating God. In it, a spacecraft lands just outside the Royal Ontario Museum. An alien emerges and says, “Take me to your paleontologist.” Much to the paleontologist’s chagrin (he’s one of those atheistic scientists mentioned earlier), the entire reason for the alien’s visit is to look at Earth’s fossil record for evidence of the creator the aliens are already certain exists.

Sawyer didn’t draw many of the book’s arguments in favor of a designed universe out of thin air. He attends a lot of scientific conferences, he says, and a lot of scientists are talking about the evidence for a designer. Those discussions simply aren’t filtering down to the press. “I think there is a legitimate debate going on,” he says. “It’s not fringe stuff, and it’s not creation science.”

This column is far too short for me to describe in detail the evidence Sawyer presents in his book (for that, you need to read the book). It isn’t evidence for a created-in-seven-days-out-nothing kind of universe, but rather a universe whose every aspect has been tweaked to allow for the appearance and evolution of life.

For instance, we know of four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force); they all have wildly different strengths, but if the strengths of any of them were even slightly different, the universe would not exist and life could not have formed. (One example Sawyer gives is that if the strength of gravity were different by as much as one part in one times 10 to the fortieth power, stars such as our sun would not exist–they’d all be blue or red giants, neither of which could support planets like Earth.)

A more familiar example is the way water behaves. It is the only element we know of that expands when it freezes, which is why ice floats. If, like every other element, water shrank when frozen, ice would sink to the bottom of lakes and oceans, and eventually all bodies of water would be frozen, with only a thin layer of water on top–and life could not exist.

As well, water has the highest surface tension of any element except liquid selenium. If it did not, it would not be drawn into cracks in rocks, where, by freezing (and expanding) it eventually turns those rocks into soil.

Again, if water were more viscous, our blood would be too thick for any conceivable biological mechanism to pump–and we couldn’t exist.

Those are just a few examples. Sawyer gives many more (although, since the book is, after all, a work of science fiction, he also makes up a few based on the aliens’ knowledge of the rest of the galaxy).

The response, says Sawyer, has been remarkably positive (at least, positive from everyone except those at the polar ends of the debate). For instance, Tom Harper, the Toronto Star’s religion columnist, wrote a column around the book.

On the other hand, several religious fundamentalists, however, have taken Sawyer to task–while also insisting they will never read the book!

Certainly the God uncovered in Calculating God is not a God Christians, Jews or Muslims would recognize. But that’s fine with Sawyer. “It is science fiction, it’s about speculation,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is to reinforce people’s preconceptions.”

“I think controversial themes make science fiction relevant,” he added. “By writing science fiction that focuses on controversial themes, I try to show the public that science fiction is very much of the here and now.”

Read Calculating God and see for yourself.

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