“There is no truth!”
How many times have you heard that before?
In their book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, authors Norman Geisler and Frank Turek provide one of the most valuable tools and tactics a clear-thinker needs to master and have in their arsenal:
“If someone said to you, ‘I have one insight for you that absolutely will revolutionize your ability to quickly and clearly identify the false statements and false philosophies that permeate our culture,’ would you be interested? That’s what we’re about to do here. In fact, if we had to pick just one thinking ability as the most valuable we’ve learned in our many years of seminary and postgraduate education, it would be this: how to identify and refute self-defeating statements.”(i)
What is a self-defeating statement? A self-defeating (or self-refuting) statement is one that fails to meet its own standard. In other words, it is a statement that cannot live up to its own criteria. Imagine if I were to say, “I cannot speak a word in English.”
You intuitively see a problem here. I told you in English that I cannot speak a word in English. This statement is self-refuting. It does not meet its own standard or criteria. It self-destructs.
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The important thing to remember with self-defeating statements is that they are necessarily false. In other words, there is no possible way for them to be true. This is because they violate a very fundamental law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. This law states that A and non-A cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. For example, it is not possible for God to exist and not exist at the same time and in the same sense. This would violate the law of non-contradiction. So if I were to say, “God told me He doesn’t exist” you would see intuitively the obvious self-refuting nature of this statement.
How do you expose self-defeating statements? Simple: you apply the claim to itself. This is what Geisler and Turek call the Road Runner Tactic and what Greg Koukl refers to as The Suicide Tactic (see chapter 7 of his book Tactics).
Below is a list of self-defeating statements that are commonly repeated in our culture today. The goal should be three-fold: (1) recognize self-defeating statements, (2) expose them for what they are, and (3) avoid being caught off guard and taken in by them. Below each self-defeating statement is an explanation of why it commits suicide along with suggestions on how you can respond. If this is your first time dealing with self-refuting statements you may need to read them a couple times. Stop and reflect on what the statement is saying and then see if you can identify its self-refuting nature…
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