How to Recognize and Dismantle Self Defeating Statements


by Rob Lundberg

Over the years that I have been blogging, you may have found posts on truth, and maybe a response to a self defeating statement here or there. But in recent days,  I have been involved in leading a small group adults looking be equipped on the top questions Christians need to be able to answer.  This week, we are going to be discussing the subject of truth; and will be sharing how they can dismantle what is called a “self-defeating statement.”

What is a self-defeating statement you might ask?  It is simply a statement that essentially refutes itself and that fails to meet its own standard. In other words, it is a statement that cannot live up to its own criteria. Imagine if you were to read, “I cannot speak a word in English”; obviously you would see a problem with that statement.

What is that problem?  I told you in English that I cannot speak a word in English.  This is a demonstration of a statement that is self-refuting. It does not meet its own standard or criteria. It self-implodes.

The important thing to remember with self-defeating statements is they are false. There is no way for them to be true. This is because they violate a very fundamental law of logic, the law of non-contradiction.[1]

In this post, I want to walk you through a handful of statements that people make and share with you how you can answer EACH one of them. It may give you some ideas as you read a response, how you can take ownership of them.

Before we go on, let me share with you a couple of assumptions that need to be brought to the table which get into the psyche, and that are often forgotten and that we need to take into consideration. 

Assumption #1 is that just because something is sayable, it does not make the statement true. I could say, “Square circles exist” or that 7 X 13= 28. Obviously these are sayable, but if we look at definitions and (humorously) the absolute math values, it does not mean that these statements true. I will expound on this more when we look at the self defeating statements.

Assumption #2 is that those who make self-defeating statements, believe them to be true the moment they make the statement. Think of this for just a second. Whenever we open our mouths, there is some thought to what we are saying, whether the thinking is sound or unsound. Something stated without “relevancy” is absurdity if it is not thought out.

Remember these two assumptions as we now jump into looking at these self-defeating statements.  The main sources for everything I will be sharing in what follows,  come from three great books you need in your library,  I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl, and  Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl. 

How do you identify self-defeating statements?

In order to identify a self-defeating statement, one has to listen to the words that people are saying.

As we listen to the statement, and recognize that there is a contradiction, we need to find a way to apply the claim to itself.  You can find a lot more on this from the books I mentioned moments ago.

So what are examples of some of the popular self-defeating statements that people assume to be true? Let’s look at some of the most common self-defeating statements you and may hear.  So if you hear someone say. . . 

1. “There is no truth.”

If the statement that “there is no truth” than this statement being believed to be true by the one making it cannot be true. Therefore, truth exists. This statement is an un-affirmable. You cannot deny truth without affirming it. If someone makes the claim, “there is no truth,” you might respond with, “Is that true?” or “How can it be true that there is no truth?”

Many of the statements that follow are much like this one. Let’s cruise through them

2. “No one has the truth.”

The person making this statement is claiming to have the truth, while claiming that no one has the truth. If no one has the truth, then the statement “no one has the truth” is false!  You could respond to this claim by asking the person, “Then how do you know that is true?”

3. “You can’t know truth.”

Again this follows suit to the preceding examples.  If you can’t know truth, then you would never know that “you can’t know truth.” But since we can know truth, this statement totally self-implodes.  A simple response to this one could be, “Then how do you know that (to be true)?”

4. “There are no absolutes.”

I had someone tell me this not too long ago where I work. Looking at this statement, this statement is an absolute statement which claims there are no absolutes. This is the classic blunder of violating the law of non-contradiction. A simple response might be, “Are you absolutely sure about that?”

If you have someone say “yes” to our response, then you might want to take a different direction in the conversation or let the conversation be. The reason is that there are times when people just don’t want the truth at that moment. Pray for them and move on.

5. “All truth is relative, or everything is relative.”

If all truth is relative, then this statement itself is also relative. Some people who believe this might hold that since everybody’s truths are rooted in perceptions (subjectivity) there is nothing that is absolute. You might respond with, “Is that a relative truth?”

And if they say yes, you might want to take a different direction in the conversation or let the conversation be.[2]

6. “It’s true for you but not for me.”

This statement self-implodes because it claims that truth is relative to the individual and yet at the same time implies it is objectively true for everybody.  So your response might be, “Is that true for everybody?”[3]  

7. “Only science can give us truth.”

This is one that you will hear from those who think that science and faith are opposite one another and that science is the only source for knowledge. If you hear this, remember that science does not say anything, but scientists do.  And this statement itself cannot be proven scientifically (along with other things).  So your response to this one could be, “How do prove this statement to be true by using the scientific method”?

8. “You shouldn’t judge or the dreaded judge not!”

This one here abuses one of the most well-known verses in the Bible, Matthew 7:1. When someone makes a statement of judgment, that it is wrong to judge, ask them, “if it is wrong to judge, then why you judging me for making a judgment?, Stop judging me!”

9. You shouldn’t force your morality on people.

This is another statement where a person is forcing their moral point of view, by saying that it is wrong to force a moral point of view. You can counter this, remembering that the person making this claim believes they are right. You might respond with, “Then don’t force your morality on me by stating that it is wrong to force my morality.”

Can you see the hypocrisy in these relativistic self-defeating statements yet?

10. It is arrogant to claim to have the truth.

The claim that “it is arrogant to claim to have the truth” makes an arrogant claim that they have the truth that is it wrong to claim to have the truth. Did you get that?  The best way to counter this is to turn the claim on itself by saying, “It is awfully arrogant of you to claim that you have the truth that it is wrong to claim to have the truth!”

Conclusion

Each of these statements can be grouped into categories and warrant their own post. But since we recorded our podcast and gave a presentation for a small group last night on the Roadrunner tactic, and taught how to turn a claim on itself, I thought this post might reinforce that thoughts presented here, the podcast and last evenings small group meeting.

All me to suggest, for a better understanding, the three sources previously mentioned in this post. Learning how to turn the claim on itself take a little time (no much, it is like “Krav Maga” for the gospel). It takes time and practice through role play and getting out there to put into practice. At the same time, learning to listen will make you more proficient, and able to share with confidence your faith. As you grow, you will find that as the confidence builds, you will soar to the point of talking to anyone about any subject. Practice makes perfect and builds confidence for you to share with gentleness and respect as you go out and give em Heaven.

Notes

[1] This law states that A and non-A cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Sorry I told you this may be confusing, bear with me.  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.

[2] This is not giving up on the person or the conversation. It is knowing when there is a point where you can go no further in the conversation, and the only thing is to pray for the person, that the conversation and their contradictory reasoning will be a “sharp stone in their shoe” that they will have to think about before they close their eyes that night or for the last time.

[3] Frank Turek, in his talk “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist,” likes to use the example of someone not believing in absolutes going to the bank and asking  for $100,000.00. The bank teller notifies the person that they have $1100.71 in their account but the relativist presses the teller to give the money. The teller then tells the relativist, “your account does not have that amount available.” That is when we can look at the person and say, “that may be true for you but not for me.” Again, something cannot be true for one person and not the other!

 

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