SFWRITER.COM > Novels > Calculating God > Opening Chapter
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
Hardcover: Tor, June 2000, ISBN 0-312-86713-1
Paperback: Tor, July 2001, ISBN 0-812-58035-4
I know, I know it seemed crazy that the alien had come to
Toronto. Sure, the city is popular with tourists, but you'd
think a being from another world would head for the United
Nations or maybe to Washington. Didn't Klaatu go to
Washington in Robert Wise's movie The Day the Earth Stood
Of course, one might also think it's crazy that the same director
who did West Side Story would have made a good
science-fiction flick. Actually, now that I think about it, Wise
directed three SF films, each more stolid than its
But I digress. I do that a lot lately you'll have to forgive
me. And, no, I'm not going senile; I'm only fifty-four, for
God's sake. But the pain sometimes makes it hard to concentrate.
I was talking about the alien.
And why he came to Toronto.
It happened like this . . .
The alien's shuttle landed out front of what used to be the
McLaughlin Planetarium, which is right next door to the Royal
Ontario Museum, where I work. I say it used to be the
planetarium because Mike Harris, Ontario's tightfisted premier,
cut the funding to the planetarium. He figured Canadian kids
didn't have to know about space a real forward-thinking type,
Harris. After he closed the planetarium, the building was rented
out for a commercial Star Trek exhibit, with a mockup of
the classic bridge set inside what had been the star theater. As
much as I like Star Trek, I can't think of a sadder
comment on Canadian educational priorities. A variety of other
private-sector concerns had subsequently rented the space, but it
was currently empty.
Actually, although it was perhaps reasonable for an alien to
visit a planetarium, it turned out he really wanted to go to the
museum. A good thing, too: imagine how silly Canada would have
looked if first contact were made on our soil, but when the
extraterrestrial ambassador knocked on the door, no one was home.
The planetarium, with its white dome like a giant igloo, is set
well back from the street, so there's a big concrete area in
front of it perfect, apparently, for landing a small shuttle.
Now, I didn't see the landing firsthand, even though I was right
next door. But four people three tourists and a local did
get it on video, and you could catch it endlessly on TV around
the world for days afterward. The ship was a narrow wedge, like
the slice of cake someone takes when they're pretending to be on
a diet. It was solid black, had no visible exhaust, and had
dropped silently from the sky.
The vessel was maybe thirty feet long. (Yeah, I know, I know
Canada's a metric country, but I was born in 1946. I don't think
anyone of my generation even a scientist, like me ever
became comfortable with the metric system; I'll try to do better,
though.) Rather than being covered with robot puke, like just
about every spaceship in every movie since Star Wars, the
landing craft's hull was completely smooth. No sooner had the
ship set down than a door opened in its side. The door was
rectangular, but wider than it was tall. And it opened by
sliding up an immediate clue that the occupant probably wasn't
human; humans rarely make doors like that because of our
Seconds later, out came the alien. It looked like a giant,
golden-brown spider, with a spherical body about the size of a
large beach ball and legs that splayed out in all directions.
A blue Ford Taurus rear-ended a maroon Mercedes-Benz out front of
the planetarium as their drivers gawked at the spectacle. Many
people were walking by, but they seemed more dumbfounded than
terrified although a few did run down the stairs into Museum
subway station, which has two exits in front of the planetarium.
The giant spider walked the short distance to the museum; the
planetarium had been a division of the ROM, and so the two
buildings are joined by an elevated walkway between their second
floors, but an alley separates them at street level. The museum
was erected in 1914, long before anyone thought about
accessibility issues. There were nine wide steps leading up to
the six main glass doors; a wheelchair ramp had been added only
much later. The alien stopped for a moment, apparently trying to
decide which method to use. It settled on the stairs; the
railings on the ramp were a bit close together, given the way its
legs stuck out.
At the top of the stairs, the alien was again briefly flummoxed.
It probably lived in a typical sci-fi world, full of doors that
slid aside automatically. It was now facing the row of exterior
glass doors; they pull open, using tubular handles, but he didn't
seem to comprehend that. But within seconds of his arrival, a
kid came out, oblivious to what was going on at first, but
letting out a startled yelp when he saw the extraterrestrial.
The alien calmly caught the open door with one of its limbs it
used six of them for walking, and two adjacent ones as arms
and managed to squeeze through into the vestibule. A second wall
of glass doors faced him a short distance ahead; this
air-lock-like gap helped the museum control its interior
temperature. Now savvy in the ways of terrestrial doors, the
alien pulled one of the inner ones open and then scuttled into
the Rotunda, the museum's large, octagonal lobby; it was such a
symbol of the ROM that our quarterly members magazine was called
Rotunda in its honor.
On the left side of the Rotunda was the Garfield Weston
Exhibition Hall, used for special displays; it currently housed
the Burgess Shale show I'd helped put together. The world's two
best collections of Burgess Shale fossils were here at the ROM
and at the Smithsonian; neither institution normally had them out
for the public to see, though. I'd arranged for a temporary
pooling of both collections to be exhibited first here, then in
The wing of the museum to the right of the Rotunda used to
contain our late, lamented Geology Gallery, but it now held gift
shops and a Druxy's deli one of many sacrifices the ROM had
made under Christine Dorati's administration to becoming an
Anyway, the creature moved quickly to the far side of the
Rotunda, in between the admissions desk and the
membership-services counter. Now, I didn't see this part
firsthand, either, but the whole thing was recorded by a security
camera, which is good because no one would have believed it
otherwise. The alien sidled up to the blue-blazered security
officer Raghubir, a grizzled but genial Sikh who'd been with
the ROM forever and said, in perfect English, "Excuse me. I
would like to see a paleontologist."
Raghubir's brown eyes went wide, but he quickly relaxed. He
later said he figured it was a joke. Lots of movies are made in
Toronto, and, for some reason, an enormous number of
science-fiction TV series, including over the years such fare as
Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict, Ray Bradbury
Theater, and the revived Twilight Zone. He assumed
this was some guy in costume or an animatronic prop. "What kind
of paleontologist?" he said, deadpan, going along with the bit.
The alien's spherical torso bobbed once. "A pleasant one, I
On the video, you can see old Raghubir trying without complete
success to suppress a grin. "I mean, do you want an invertebrate
or a vertebrate?"
"Are not all your paleontologists humans?" asked the alien. He
had a strange way of talking, but I'll get to that. "Would they
not therefore all be vertebrates?"
I swear to God, this is all on tape.
"Of course they're all human," said Raghubir. A small crowd of
visitors had gathered, and although the camera didn't show it,
apparently a number of people were looking down onto the
Rotunda's polished marble floor from the indoor balconies one
level up. "But some specialize in vertebrate fossils and some in
"Oh," said the alien. "An artificial distinction, it seems to
me. Either will do."
Raghubir lifted a telephone handset and dialed my extension.
Over in the Curatorial Centre, hidden behind the appalling new
Gallery of Earth Sciences the quintessential
expression of Christine's vision for the ROM I picked up my
phone. "Jericho," I said.
"Dr. Jericho," said Raghubir's voice, with its distinctive
accent, "there's somebody here to see you."
Now, getting to see a paleontologist isn't like getting to see
the CEO of a Fortune 500; sure, we'd rather you made an
appointment, but we are civil servants we work for the
taxpayers. Still: "Who is it?"
Raghubir paused. "I think you'll want to come and see for
yourself, Dr. Jericho."
Well, the Troödon skull that Phil Currie had sent over
from the Tyrrell had waited patiently for seventy million years;
it could wait a little longer. "I'll be right there." I left my
office and made my way down the elevator, past the Earth Sciences Gallery
God, how I hate that thing, with its insulting cartoon murals,
giant fake volcano, and trembling floors through the Currelly
Gallery, out into the Rotunda, and
I stopped dead in my tracks.
Raghubir might not know the difference between real flesh and
blood and a rubber suit, but I do. The thing now standing
patiently next to the admissions desk was, without doubt, an
authentic biological entity. There was no question in my mind
whatsoever. It was a lifeform
And I had studied life on Earth since its beginnings, deep in the
Precambrian. I'd often seen fossils that represented new species
or new genera, but I'd never seen any large-scale animal that
represented a whole new phylum.
The creature was absolutely a lifeform, and, just as absolutely,
it had not evolved on Earth.
I said earlier that it looked like a big spider; that was the way
the people on the sidewalk had first described it. But it was
more complex than that. Despite the superficial resemblance to
an arachnid, the alien apparently had an internal skeleton. Its
limbs were covered with bubbly skin over bulging muscle; these
weren't the spindly exoskeletal legs of an arthropod.
But every modern Earthly vertebrate has four limbs (or, as with
snakes and whales, had evolved from a creature that did), and
each limb terminates in no more than five digits. This being's
ancestors had clearly arisen in another ocean, on another world:
it had eight limbs, arranged radially around a central
body, and two of the eight had specialized to serve as hands,
ending in six triple-jointed fingers.
My heart was pounding and I was having trouble breathing.
And, without doubt, an intelligent alien. The creature's
spherical body was hidden by clothing what seemed to be a
single long strip of bright blue fabric, wrapped repeatedly
around the torso, each winding of it going between two different
limbs, allowing the extremities to stick out. The cloth was
fastened between the arms by a jeweled disk. I've never liked
wearing neckties, but I'd grown used to tying them and could now
do so without looking in a mirror (which was just as well, these
days); the alien probably found donning the cloth no more
difficult each morning.
Also projecting from gaps in the cloth were two narrow tentacles
that ended in what might be eyes iridescent balls, each
covered by what looked to be a hard, crystalline coating. These
stalks weaved slowly back and forth, moving closer together, then
farther apart. I wondered what the creature's depth perception
might be like without a fixed distance between its two eyeballs.
The alien didn't seem the least bit alarmed by the presence of me
or the other people in the Rotunda, although its torso was
bobbing up and down slightly in what I hoped wasn't a territorial
display. Indeed, it was almost hypnotic: the torso slowly
lifting and dropping as the six legs flexed and relaxed, and the
eyestalks drifting together, then apart. I hadn't seen the video
of the creature's exchange with Raghubir yet; I thought that
perhaps the dance was an attempt at communication a language
of body movements. I considered flexing my own knees and even,
in a trick I'd mastered at summer camp forty-odd years ago,
crossing and uncrossing my eyes. But the security cameras were
on us both; if my guess was wrong, I'd look like an idiot on news
programs around the world. Still, I needed to try something. I
raised my right hand, palm out, in a salute of greeting.
The creature immediately copied the gesture, bending an arm at
one of its two joints and splaying out the six digits at the end
of it. And then something incredible happened. A vertical slit
opened on the upper segment of each of the two front-most legs,
and from the slit on the left came the syllable "hell" and from
the one on the right, in a slightly deeper voice, came the
I felt my jaw dropping, and a moment later my hand dropped as
The alien continued to bob with its torso and weave with its
eyes. It tried again: from the left-front leg came the syllable
"bon," and from the right-front came "jour."
That was a reasonable guess. Much of the museum's signage is
bilingual, both English and French. I shook my head slightly in
disbelief, then began to open my mouth not that I had any idea
what I would say but closed it when the creature spoke once
more. The syllables alternated again between the left mouth and
the right one, like the ball in a Ping-Pong match: "Auf"
"Wie" "der" "sehen."
And suddenly words did tumble out of me: "Actually, auf
Wiedersehen means goodbye, not hello."
"Oh," said the alien. It lifted two of its other legs in what
might have been a shrug, then continued on in syllables bouncing
left and right. "Well, German is not my first language."
I was too surprised to laugh, but I did feel myself relaxing, at
least a little, although my heart still felt as though it were
going to burst through my chest. "You're an alien," I said.
Ten years of university to become Master of the Bleeding
Obvious . . .
"That is correct," said the leg-mouths. The being's voices
sounded masculine, although only the right one was truly bass.
"But why be generic? My race is called Forhilnor, and my
personal name is Hollus."
"Um, pleased to meet you," I said.
The eyes weaved back and forth expectantly.
"Oh, sorry. I'm human."
"Yes, I know. Homo sapiens, as you scientists might say.
But your personal name is . . .?"
"Jericho. Thomas Jericho."
"Is it permissible to abbreviate `Thomas' to `Tom'?"
I was startled. "How do you know about human names? And hell
how do you know English?"
"I have been studying your world; that is why I am here."
"You're an explorer?"
The eyestalks moved closer to each other, then held their
position there. "Not exactly," said Hollus.
"Then what? You're not you're not an invader are you?"
The eyestalks rippled in an S-shaped motion. Laughter? "No."
And the two arms spread wide. "Forgive me, but you possess
little my associates or I might desire." Hollus paused, as if
thinking. Then he made a twirling gesture with one of his hands,
as though motioning for me to turn around. "Of course, if you
want, I could give you an anal probe . . ."
There were gasps from the small crowd that had assembled in the
lobby. I tried to raise my nonexistent eyebrows.
Hollus's eyestalks did their S-ripple again. "Sorry just
kidding. You humans do have some crazy mythology about
extraterrestrial visitations. Honestly, I will not hurt you
or your cattle, for that matter."
"Thank you," I said. "Um, you said you weren't exactly an
"And you're not an invader."
"Then what are you? A tourist?"
"Hardly. I am a scientist."
"And you want to see me?" I asked.
"You are a paleontologist?"
I nodded, then, realizing the being might not understand a nod, I
said, "Yes. A dinosaurian paleontologist, to be precise;
theropods are my specialty."
"Then, yes, I want to see you."
"Is there someplace private where we can speak?" asked Hollus,
his eyestalks swiveling to take in all those who had gathered
"Umm, yes," I said. "Of course." I was stunned by it all as I
led him back into the museum. An alien an actual,
honest-to-God alien. It was amazing, utterly amazing.
We passed the paired stairwells, each wrapped around a giant
totem pole, the Nisga'a on the right rising eighty feet sorry,
twenty-five meters all the way from the basement to the
skylights atop the third floor, and the shorter Haida on the left
starting on this floor. We then went through the Currelly
Gallery, with its simplistic orientation displays, all sizzle and
no steak. This was a weekday in April; the museum wasn't
crowded, and fortunately we didn't pass any student groups on our
way back to the Curatorial Centre. Still, visitors and security
officers turned to stare, and some uttered various sounds as
Hollus and I passed.
The Royal Ontario Museum opened almost ninety years ago. It is
Canada's largest museum and one of only a handful of major
multidisciplinary museums in the world. As the limestone
carvings flanking the entrance Hollus had come through a few
minutes before proclaim, its job is to preserve "the record of
Nature through countless ages" and "the arts of Man through all
the years." The ROM has galleries devoted to paleontology,
ornithology, mammalogy, herpetology, textiles, Egyptology,
Greco-Roman archaeology, Chinese artifacts, Byzantine art, and
more. The building had long been H-shaped, but the two
courtyards had been filled in during 1982, with six stories of
new galleries in the northern one, and the nine-story Curatorial
Centre in the southern. Parts of walls that used to be outside
are now indoors, and the ornate Victorian-style stone of the
original building abuts the simple yellow stone of the more
recent additions; it could have turned out a mess, but it's
actually quite beautiful.
My hands were shaking with excitement as we reached the elevators
and headed up to the paleobiology department; the ROM used to
have separate invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology
departments, but Mike Harris's cutbacks had forced us to
consolidate. Dinosaurs brought more visitors to the ROM than did
trilobites, so Jonesy, the senior invertebrate curator, now
worked under me.
Fortunately, no one was in the corridor when we came out of the
elevator. I hustled Hollus into my office, closed the door, and
sat down behind my desk although I was no longer frightened, I
was still none too steady on my feet.
Hollus spotted the Troödon skull on my desktop. He moved
closer and gently picked it up with one of his hands, bringing it
to his eyestalks. They stopped weaving back and forth, and
locked steadily on the object. While he examined the skull, I
took another good look at him.
His torso was no bigger around than the circle I could make with
my arms. As I noted earlier, the torso 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. But they did seem to be
air filled, meaning they were likely a source of insulation.
That implied Hollus was endothermic; terrestrial mammals and
birds use hair or feathers to trap air next to their skin for
insulation, but they could also release that air for cooling by
having their hair stand on end or by ruffling their feathers. I
wondered how bubble-wrap skin could be used to effect cooling;
maybe the bubbles could deflate.
"A" "fascinating" "skull," said Hollus, now alternating whole
words between his mouths. "How" "old" "is" "it?"
"About seventy million years," I said.
"Precisely" "the" "sort" "of" "thing" "I" "have" "come" "to"
"You said you're a scientist. Are you a paleontologist, like
"Only in part," said the alien. "My original field was
cosmology, but in recent years my studies have moved on to larger
matters." He paused for a moment. "As you have probably
gathered by this point, my colleagues and I have observed your
Earth for some time enough to absorb your principal languages
and to make a study of your various cultures from your television
and radio. It has been a frustrating process. I know more about
your popular music and food-preparation technology than I ever
cared to although I am intrigued by the Popeil Automatic Pasta
Maker. I have also seen enough sporting events to last me a
lifetime. But information on scientific matters has been very
hard to find; you devote little bandwidth to detailed discussions
in these areas. I feel as though I know a disproportionate
amount about some specific topics and nothing at all about
others." He paused. "There is information we simply cannot
acquire on our own by listening in to your media or through our
own secret visits to your planet's surface. This is particularly
true about scarce items, such as fossils."
I was getting a bit of a headache as his voice bounced from mouth
to mouth. "So you want to look at our specimens here at the
"Exactly," said the alien. "It was easy for us to study your
contemporary flora and fauna without revealing ourselves to
humanity, but, as you know, well-preserved fossils are quite
rare. The best way to satisfy our curiosity about the evolution
of life on this world seemed to be by asking to see an existing
collection of fossils. No need to reinvent the lever, so to
I was still flabbergasted by this whole thing, but there seemed
no reason to be uncooperative. "You're welcome to look at our
specimens, of course; visiting scholars come here all the time.
Is there any particular area you're interested in?"
"Yes," said the alien. "I am intrigued by mass extinctions as
turning points in the evolution of life. What can you tell me
about such things?"
I shrugged a little; that was a big topic. "There've been five
mass extinctions in Earth's history that we know of. The first
was at the end of the Ordovician, maybe 440 million years ago.
The second was in the late Devonian, something like 365 million
years ago. The third, and by far the largest, was at the end of
the Permian, 225 million years ago."
Hollus moved his eyestalks so that his two eyes briefly touched,
the crystalline coatings making a soft clicking sound as they did
so. "Say" "more" "about" "that" "one."
"During it," I said, "perhaps ninety-six percent of all marine
species disappeared, and three-quarters of all terrestrial
vertebrate families died out. We had another mass extinction
late in the Triassic Period, about 210 million years ago. We
lost about a quarter of all families then, including all
labyrinthodonts; it was probably crucial to the dinosaurs
creatures like that guy you're holding coming into
"Yes," said Hollus. "Continue."
"Well, and the most-famous mass extinction happened sixty-five
million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous." I indicated
the Troödon skull again. "That's when all the dinosaurs,
pterosaurs, mosasaurs, ammonites, and others died out."
"This creature would have been rather small," said Hollus,
hefting the skull.
"True. From snout to tip of tail, no more than five feet. A
meter and a half."
"Did it have larger relatives?"
"Oh, yes. The largest land animals that ever lived, in fact.
But they all died out in that extinction, paving the way for my
kind a class we call mammals to take over."
"In" "cred" "i" "ble," said Hollus's mouths. Sometimes he
alternated whole words between his two speaking slits, and
sometimes just syllables.
"How did you arrive at the dates for the extinctions?" he asked,
ignoring my question.
"We assume that all uranium on Earth formed at the same time the
planet did, then we measure the ratios of uranium-238 to its end
decay product, lead-206, and of uranium-235 to its end decay
product, lead-207. That tells us that our planet is 4.5 billion
years old. We then "
"Good," said one mouth. And "good" confirmed the other. "Your
dates should be accurate." He paused. "You have not yet asked
me where I am from."
I felt like an idiot. He was right, of course; that probably
should have been my first question. "Sorry. Where are you
"From the third planet of the star you call Beta Hydri."
I'd taken a couple of astronomy courses while doing my
undergraduate geology degree, and I'd studied both Latin and
Greek handy tools for a paleontologist. "Hydri" was the
genitive of Hydrus, the small water snake, a faint constellation
close to the south celestial pole. And beta, of course, was the
second letter of the Greek alphabet, meaning that Beta Hydri
would be the second-brightest star in that constellation as seen
from Earth. "And how far away is that?" I asked.
"Twenty-four of your light-years," said Hollus. "But we did not
come here directly. We have been traveling for some time now and
visited seven other star systems before we came here. Our total
journey so far has been 103 light-years."
I nodded, still stunned, and then, realizing that I was doing
what I'd done before, I said, "When I move my head up and down
like this it means I agree, or go on, or okay."
"I know that," said Hollus. He clicked his two eyes together
again. "This gesture means the same thing." A brief silence.
"Although I now have been to nine star systems, including this
one and my home one, yours is only the third world on which we
have found extant intelligent life. The first, of course, was my
own, and the next was the second planet of Delta Pavonis, a star
about twenty light-years from here but just 9.3 from my world."
Delta Pavonis would be the fourth-brightest star in the
constellation of Pavo, the peacock. Like Hydrus, I seemed to
recall that it was only visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
"Okay," I said.
"There have also been five major mass extinctions in the history
of my planet," said Hollus. "Our year is longer than yours, but
if you express the dates in Earth years, they occurred at roughly
440 million, 365 million, 225 million, 210 million, and 65
million years ago."
I felt my jaw drop.
"And," continued Hollus, "Delta Pavonis II has also
experienced five mass extinctions. Their year is a little
shorter than yours, but if you express the dates of the
extinctions in Earth years, they also occurred at approximately
440, 365, 225, 210, and 65 million years ago."
My head was swimming. It was hard enough talking to an alien,
but an alien who was spouting nonsense was too much to take.
"That can't be right," I said. "We know that the extinctions
here were related to local phenomena. The end-of-the-Permian one
was likely caused by a pole-to-pole glaciation, and the
end-of-the-Cretaceous one seemed to be related to an impact of an
asteroid from this solar system's own asteroid belt."
"We thought there were local explanations for the extinctions on
our planet, too, and the Wreeds our name for the sentient race
of Delta Pavonis II had explanations that seemed unique
to their local circumstances, as well. It was a shock to
discover that the dates of mass extinctions on our two worlds
were the same. One or two of the five being similar could have
been a coincidence, but all of them happening at the same time
seemed impossible unless, of course, our earlier explanations for
their causes were inaccurate or incomplete."
"And so you came here to determine if Earth's history coincides
"In part," said Hollus. "And it appears that it does."
I shook my head. "I just don't see how that can be."
The alien gently put the Troödon skull down on my desk; he
was clearly used to handling fossils with care. "Our incredulity
matched yours initially," he said. "But at least on my world and
that of the Wreeds, it is more than just the dates that match.
It is also the nature of the effects on the biosphere. The
biggest mass extinction on all three worlds was the third the
one that on Earth defines the end of the Permian. Given what you
have told me, it seems that almost all the biodiversity was
eliminated on all three worlds at that time.
"Next, the event you assign to late in your Triassic apparently
led to the domination of the top ecological niches by one class
of animals. Here, it was the creatures you call dinosaurs; on my
world, it was large ectothermic pentapeds.
"And the final mass extinction, the one you have referred to as
occurring at the end of your Cretaceous, seems to have led to the
shunting aside of that type and the move to the center of the
class that now dominates. On this world it was mammals like you
supplanting dinosaurs. On Beta Hydri III, it was
endothermic octopeds like me taking centrality from the
pentapeds. On Delta Pavonis II, viviparous forms took over
ecological niches formerly dominated by egg layers."
He paused. "At least, this is how it seems, based on what you
have just told me. But I wish to examine your fossils to
determine just how accurate this summary is."
I shook my head in wonder. "I can't think of any reason why
evolutionary history should be similar on multiple worlds."
"One reason is obvious," said Hollus. He moved sideways a few
steps; perhaps he was getting tired of supporting his own weight,
although I couldn't imagine what sort of chair he might use. "It
could be that way because God wished it to be so."
For some reason, I was surprised to hear the alien talking like
that. Most of the scientists I know are either atheists or keep
their religion to themselves and Hollus had indeed said he was
"That's one explanation," I said quietly.
"It is the most sensible. Do humans not subscribe to a principle
that says the simplest explanation is the most preferable?"
I nodded. "We call it Occam's razor."
"The explanation that it was God's will posits one cause for all
the mass extinctions; that makes it preferable."
"Well, I suppose, if . . ." dammitall, I know I should have just
been polite, just nodded and smiled, the way I do when the
occasional religious nut accosts me in the Dinosaur Gallery and
demands to know how Noah's flood fits in, but I felt I had to
speak up "... if you believe in God."
Hollus's eyestalks moved to what seemed to be their maximal
extent, as if he was regarding me from both sides simultaneously.
"Are you the most senior paleontologist at this institution?" he
"I'm the department head, yes."
"There is no paleontologist with more experience?"
I frowned. "Well, there's Jonesy, the senior invertebrate
curator. He's damn near as old as some of his specimens."
"Perhaps I should speak with him."
"If you like. But what's wrong?"
"I know from your television that there is much ambivalence about
God in this part of your planet, at least among the general
public, but I am surprised to hear that someone in your position
is not personally convinced of the existence of the creator."
"Well, then, Jonesy's not your man; he's on the board of CSICOP."
"The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the
Paranormal. He definitely doesn't believe in God."
"I am stunned," said Hollus, and his eyes turned away from me,
examining the posters on my office wall a Gurche, a Czerkas,
and two Kishes.
"We tend to consider religion a personal matter," I said gently.
"The very nature of faith is that one cannot be factually sure
"I do not speak of matters of faith," said Hollus, turning his
eyes back toward me. "Rather, I speak of verifiable scientific
fact. That we live in a created universe is apparent to anyone
with sufficient intelligence and information."
I wasn't really offended, but I was surprised; previously,
I'd only heard similar comments from so-called creation
scientists. "You'll find many religious people here at the ROM,"
I said. "Raghubir, whom you met down in the lobby, for instance.
But even he wouldn't say that the existence of God is a
"Then it will fall to me to educate you in this," said Hollus.
Oh, joy. "If you think it's necessary."
"It is if you are to help me in my work. My opinion is not a
minority one; the existence of God is a fundamental part of the
science of both Beta Hydri and Delta Pavonis."
"Many humans believe that such questions are outside the scope of
Hollus regarded me again, as if I were failing some test.
"Nothing is outside the scope of science," he said firmly a
position I did not, in fact, disagree with. But we rapidly
parted company again: "The primary goal of modern science," he
continued, "is to discover why God has behaved as he has and to
determine his methods. We do not believe what is the term you
use? we do not believe that he simply waves his hands and
wishes things into existence. We live in a universe of physics,
and he must have used quantifiable physical processes to
accomplish his ends. If he has indeed been guiding the broad
strokes of evolution on at least three worlds, then we must ask
how? And why? What is he trying to accomplish? We need
At that moment, the door to my office opened, revealing
silver-haired, long-faced Christine Dorati, the museum's director
and president. "What the devil is that?" she said,
pointing a bony finger at Hollus.
An excerpt from Calculating God by Robert J.
Sawyer. Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights
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