Raymond Smullyan, a retired distinguished professor of philosophy, has authored over twenty books. He has had a remarkably diverse sequence of careers-as a pianist, magician, mathematical logician, philosopher, and essayist. His widely known writings are on such varied topics as mathematical logic, retrograde chess analysis, stereo photography, Chinese philosophy, psychology, and religion. He currently resides with his musician wife Blanche in the Catskill Mountains of upper New York State.
Here is a book that manages, in relatively few pages and in a style that is consistently readable, to address provacatively and intelligently some of the central questions that men and women throughout time have pondered. Three basic areas are covered: (1) The existence of God, and more important, the "type" of God in whom one believes, (2) The question of whether God is unable or unwilling to grant eternal salvation to all and, (3) Whether we are evolving toward a higher level of consciousness -- a state of being "better described than defined." Smullyan, apparently, has led a colorful life, a significant fraction of which has been spent outside the halls of academia. Still,he is best known for his puzzles, particularly his wonderful puzzles concerning Knights (who always speak the truth) and Knaves (who never do). So, we are most fortunate that this magician/logician should turn his attention to the greatest puzzles of all: Does God exist, what are God's attributes and can we, or at least some people, know God? Countless volumes have been written on these questions. I have sampled not even an insignificant fraction of such work, but I'd bet good money that you could travel a long way in those jungles before finding a book as lucid and as accessible as "Who Knows?" One doesn't have to agree with Smullyan to go on the tour with him. Having read the library's copy, I purchased my own copy from Amazon and plan to take the trip again shortly.
Smullyan addresses important questions about religion in a charmingly non-dogmatic manner. At the same time, he makes clear his own deeply held belief, which I share, that no one deserves eternal punishment. I think he needs to say more, however, about his claim that morality is not necessary for someone who has attained a high stage of spiritual development. It makes sense that someone who is highly developed spiritually will not even be tempted to do the wrong thing, but clear thinking about morality could still be necessary in order to know what is the right thing to do in a particular situation. Smullyan's explanation of why he believes in an afterlife is thought-provokingly simple. He says that he can form no idea whatsoever of his own non-existence. This makes me wonder what form my existence might have taken before I was born. Other intriguing ideas that Smullyan advances include: that it is more rational to believe in an evolving God than in a perfect God; that whether the miracles reported in the Bible actually took place is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus is the incarnation of God; that it is more consistent with monotheism to suppose that no one is an incarnation of God; that the most plausible and promising religious, mystical, or metaphysical idea yet proposed is Richard Bucke's idea that humans who experience cosmic consciousness are evolutionary forerunners. His writing style is enriched with humorous anecdotes. I heartily recommend this entertaining and important book.
i find myself on page 75 with a sneaking suspicion that at some point RS decided to pick the subject of eternal damnation not because it is a serious subject for those wanting to come to terms with the fine line between faith and reason, but more for the fact that it's an easy subject to show off his mastery of logic. His logical debate with Calvinism, Jonathan Edwards, and what he colors as Hard-to-Ultrahard Christians, although lively, seem less than relevant in light of other possibilities (in the ever-lasting-life-or-not specifics) via more liberal, universal, interpretations of the New Testament message of God's infinite love and forgiveness.
So I will give RS the benefit of the doubt and finish his game because I love the question "Who Knows?" and I'm sure if I saw RS making oatmeal I would find something inspiring or thought-provoking.
And, and, and...In my next life I will have a front row seat at the debate between Raymond Smullyan and Robert Farrar Capon (one of my favorite writers on the "faith" side).
Philosophy as it should be done. Smullyan's writing and thinking in this book is witty, engaging, and subtle without being pretentious, dogmatic, and overly technical. He offers some refreshing analysis and independent options in the philosophy of religion.
This was a good, thought-provoking book. The emphasis on the notion of hell was a bit surprising to me, but I guess that's a major concern to a lot of people brought up in Christian households. Personally, I could never take the notion of hell seriously.
I liked the latter part of the book as well, highlighting exemplars of enlightment (my phrase, not his) Naturally any given individuals list will be different. Readers who enjoyed this book might also like to explore the philospher J.N. Findlay and his books on Rational Mysticism. That's just my opinion, the writer doesn't mention this philosopher.