Christians Should be Aware of the Recent Defenses of Irrationality
The statement “I do not exist” is self-defeating, since the statement implies that I do exist in order to make the statement (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics).
Norman Geisler identifies self-refuting statements as “those which fail to satisfy their own criteria of validity or acceptability. They are called self-referential…self-destructive, and self-falsifying.” He finds applications for the apologist because the principle of self-refutation “is a handy apologetics tool, since most, if not all, non-Christian views involve self-defeating statements… The principle of self-falsification is not a first principle, such as the law of non-contradiction. Rather, it is based on the law of non-contradiction” (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics).
Various relativists have become proficient at offering refined defenses of self-disconfirming assertions. The Christian and especially the apologist cannot solely rest on approaches from the late 20th century. The level of scholarship available for atheists, new agers, and relativists to defend self-refuting notions has grown greatly. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy provides the following helpful definition:
An internal defect of an assertion or theory, which it possesses provided that (a) it establishes some requirement that must be met by assertions or theories, (b) it is itself subject to this requirement, and (c) it fails to meet this requirement. The most famous example is [atheistic] logical positivism’s meaning of criterion, which requires all meaningful assertions be either tautological or empirically verifiable, yet is itself neither. A possible example is found in [atheist] Hume, whose own writings might have been consigned to the flames had librarians followed his own counsel to do so with volumes that contain neither “abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number” nor “experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence” (The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy).
A statement is self-referentially incoherent when the statement is pressed on itself and it then refutes itself. When the truth-denier claims that “there is no truth,” he refutes himself. For the statement to be true, it must be false. It undermines itself by its own claims. Universal assertions that reject universal truth fall into irrationality. Declaring that “all knowledge claims are false” is a knowledge claim, and thus it defeats itself.
The most obvious objection to the old nihilist credo “nothing can be known” is that if it can be shown that the statement “nothing can be known” is valid, then it follows that the statement itself is something that can be known. Paradoxically, rendering the statement invalid (Tony Fahey).
Polished irrationalists often push back when Christians expose their self-refuting assertions. One philosophical forum contends: ‘“This sentence is false’ is considered to be an example of a self-referential sentence. However, such a sentence may not necessarily be referring to itself. It could be referring to a different sentence. Suppose the sentence was referring to an unstated sentence rather than itself. For example, if I were to point at a sentence from a list and state: ‘This sentence is false.’ I would not be making a self-referential statement that is both true and false. There is insufficient information to positively state that certain sentences are actually self-referential. Without such information are we justified in making such a claim” (http://forums.philosophyforums.com).
The Christian must prepare to guard truth and expose the weaknesses of irrational notions asserted by various unbelievers. The non-Christians are employing more intricate, yet entangled, arguments to defend incongruity as a cover for their errant lifestyles.
A self-refuting utterance is one which is shown to be false in the very fact of its being made, as when someone says: “I am not now speaking!”—“There are no words on this page,” or, more controversially, “I am asleep,” or “Words have no meaning” (Philosophy Dictionary).
J.P. Moreland asserts that a self-refuting statement has “three characteristics. (1) It establishes some requirement of acceptability for an assertion (or sentence, proposition, or theory). (2) It places itself in subjection to this requirement. (3) It fails to satisfy the requirement of acceptability that the assertion itself stipulates.”
Moreland offers important advice concerning identifying self-defeating statements: “We must exercise great care in making sure that the statement actually refers to itself, that it is a part of its own subject matter. For example, the claim that one cannot utter a word of English is not self-defeating if asserted in French. More importantly, the statement ‘There are no moral absolutes,’ though false, is not self-defeating. Why? The statement is a philosophical assertion about morality and not a claim of morality.”
I suggest that the apologist patiently express his words with care as he defines, exposes, and critiques self-defeating assertions and notions expressed by others. Does your interlocutor refute himself, nullify his own words, or stultify himself? Or did the converser merely speak a falsehood or convey an inaccurate opinion?
The Christian Apologist Should be Aware of the Recent Defenses of Irrationalists, New Agers, Secularists and Selected Atheists. See my new eBook that discusses this at length Defeating Relativism, Subjectivism, and Self-Refuting Statements HERE
This new book has perhaps the largest list of self-refuting statements in one source.