Of Liars and Truth-Tellers

(Hidden tribute to the late David Bowie here)

I used to really love logic puzzles when I was a kid. I’ve mentioned the professional logician Raymond Smullyan a few times as a big influence of mine, and I highly recommend his puzzle books. Here’s a complete list of what Amazon carries, and I’ll highlight some, roughly in order of personal preference:

Also noteworthy is his book of philosophical essays, The Tao Is Silent. Smullyan, like fellow mathematician Bertrand Russell, dabbles in philosophy a bit, and this book is a westerner’s perspective on eastern religion. I’m sure it takes a lot of liberties with the subject matter, and I imagine if I reread the whole thing now I’d find I agree with him a lot less than I used to in my teens and twenties. But still, his style is playful and entertaining, and there are a couple of essays in that book which I love to reference: “Is God a Taoist?” and “An Epistemological Nightmare.” The first is one of my favorite speculations I’ve ever read on the nature of the “god” concept.

But I digress. I wanted to talk for a minute about Smullyan’s logic puzzles in order to illustrate a point about religious arguments.

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Why don’t I find Kalam Cosmology compelling?

That was the question asked by a caller that took up most of the show discussing Kalam last week. And as anyone who watched the show saw—or more likely already knew—there are 1,001 ways to approach problems or issues with this argument. But my main point of contention with Kalam was one that caller failed to understand. And it may have been my fault for not doing the best job of communicating it. During a three-way conversation with one party on a phone over a loud speaker, communication efficiency may not be at its peak.

But let me say there are a few issues that are problematic with a majority of apologetic arguments, that, to me, undermine their efficacy, and result in a situation where the premises of the argument become red herrings. I was trying to point this out, and early in the call I actually leaned over to Russell to say “Wait…he’s answering his own question.”

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