07 June, 2017

Ten Common Self-Refuting Statements to Avoid

Some visitors to my blog have noticed my references to self-refuting ideas in the past, but what exactly are they? Simply put, a self-refuting claim is a claim that contradicts the idea that it is supposed to advance. A self-refuting statement sounds reasonable on the surface, but as soon as you apply the claim to itself, it collapses under its own weight. My infamous "Fallacious Politics" post has thus far received a lot of positive responses, and just as fallacies have political implications, so too do self-refuting statements… and just like fallacies, self-refuting statements in politics are almost exclusively left-wing.

1. "There is no truth"

You might think that leftists care a lot about truth — or at least they claim to. I mean, they're marching for it all the time. But do they? Some leftists, especially left-wing atheists and/or secular humanists, will often attempt to cop out of debates with Christian apologists like Frank Turek, Sean McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, and myself by making this statement. So, how is this statement self-refuting? You can find out by simply asking "Is that true?" If the person says "yes" then at least one truth exists and therefore the claim is false. If the person answers "no" then they admit that their claim is false. Either way, it is false.

2. "Truth is subjective"

Another claim that is almost exclusive to left-wing ideologies like secular humanism is this one. The claim that truth is subjective actually has its roots in Marxism and other forms of Communism — that's why the official newspaper for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was called "Правда", the Russian word for "truth": they believed the ultimate source of truth to be the Communist Party, not objective reality. So, how is this claim self-refuting? Simply ask someone who makes it the question "Is that truth subjective?" If the person answers "yes" then the claim that truth is subjective is itself subjective; if so, then why should the recipient believe it? If the person answers "no" then there is one objective truth out there — namely, the claim that truth is subjective — and thus, the claim that truth is subjective is false.

Trying to cop out of this claim by tacking "and that's the only truth" onto the end of it only makes the self-refuting nature of this claim more obvious. How? Because that addition is an assertion that "truth is subjective" is an objective truth. Truth cannot be both subjective and objective at the same time, yet that's exactly what people assume to be the case by making the "truth is subjective and that's the only truth" claim. I had to block someone who messaged this to me on Twitter because I have absolutely no time for this stupidity.

3. "That's true for you but not for me"

Is that claim also true for the claimant but not for the recipient? If so, then it's false for the recipient; if not, then it's false, period. Either way, it is false. But wait, doesn't the Bible claim that something can be true for the believer but not for the skeptic in Romans 14:22? I recently got into an argument on Twitter about this, but the answer, if examined closely, is no. Anyone who makes this claim commits the quote mining fallacy. The words "these things" in that verse are a reference to Romans 14:20-21, in which Paul makes a reference to Jewish dietary laws. Romans 14:22 is about food, not belief.

4. "It depends on perspective"

Does that depend on your perspective? If it does, then isn't it false for everyone but you? If it doesn't, then it violates the law of noncontradiction, which states that A cannot be both A and non-A at the same time, and is therefore false. Either way, it is false.

5. Any variant of "truth is unknowable"

Is that truth unknowable? Can you know that truth? Do you have that truth? If these statements are what they are, then the person who makes them cannot know that the statements in question are true and therefore does not have grounds to make them. If the person on the other hand answers in the negative, then they again violate the law of noncontradiction and therefore this is a false statement to make. Either way, the claimant is stuck.

6. "Only true if I believe it"

Is that claim only true if I believe it? If the person answers "yes" then the recipient can choose not to believe that claim. If the person answers "no" then they violate the law of noncontradiction. Again, the claimant is in a dilemma.

7. "Only science can yield truth"

Can you test the claim that only science can yield truth using the scientific method? No. The claim that only science can yield truth is philosophical and not scientific in nature. If only science can yield truth, therefore, then the assumption that only science can yield truth would be false because it's philosophical, and if science is not the only thing that can yield truth, then this claim is also false. Either way, it is false.

8. "Don't judge"

Isn't that a judgment? Why are you judging me for judging? Any statement that attempts to convict someone of some perceived injustice is a judgment, and the judgment to not judge falls into that category. Alas, just as Romans 14:22 is often mined out of the context that the previous two verses place it in, so too is Matthew 7:1 mined out of the context that the following 4 verses place it in. The commandment by Jesus to "not judge lest you be judged" is, per Verses 3-5, about hypocrisy, not about judgments in general.

9. "The real world cannot be known"

If you cannot know the real world, then you cannot know that the claim that you cannot know the real world is true either. How can you? Again, this claim violates the law of noncontradiction, and any claim that violates the law of noncontradiction is false for everyone.

10. "You're just playing word games"

Is that a word game that the claimant is playing with the recipient? If the claimant answers in the affirmative, then he or she just implicated not only the recipient but also himself or herself. If the claimant answers in the negative, then the claim itself is falsified and therefore no one is playing any word games.

People who make claims like these almost invariably make them because they would rather react than think critically. What they don't realize is that by being as defensive as they are, they are only showing off the very stupidity that they constantly project onto us. Hopefully this cheat sheet will make it much easier to expose this attitude for the folly that it is.