Self Defeating Arguments

Sometimes we spend ages trying to defend against views that are quite happy to shoot themselves in the foot. Quite often people will use certain catch phrases and not even understand that the view they’ve just put forth is self defeating. Why do we put so much effort into defending against these views when it is quite possible to expose them with a simple question to check the plausibility of their argument.

Examples of Self Defeating Arguments
The following list of examples are partly from Greg Koukl’s book “Tactics” and my own thrown examples thrown in as well:

  • “I only believe in that which can be proved by science” (Can you scientifically prove that view?)
  • “There is no truth” (Is this statement true?)
  • “There are no absolutes” (Is this an absolute?)
  • “No one can know any truth about religion” (And how, precisely, did you come to know that truth about religion?)
  • “Don’t push your beliefs on me!” (Is it your belief that beliefs shouldn’t be pushed on others?)
  • “You can’t know anything for sure” (Are you sure about that?)
  • “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, do you?” (How do you know you’re on the right side of history?)
  • “Talking about God is meaningless” (What does this statement about God mean?)
  • “You can only know truth through experience” (What experience taught you that truth?)
  • “Never take anyone’s advice on that issue” (Should I take your advice on that?)
  • “You just think you’re right” (Do you think you’re wrong?)

The Impracticality of a Self Defeating Views
These are examples of the logical fallacy called “the law of non-contradiction.” It is the idea that both statements cannot be true at the same time.

Still, there are other views which simply fail to be lived out practically. On this topic, C.S. Lewis wrote:

“Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “it’s not fair”… A nation may say treatises do not matter; but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if…there is no such thing as Right and Wrong… what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one?”

Nobody really lives as though truth and morality don’t exist. It is an idea which is often thrown around metaphorically speaking, but I have yet to come across a sound and consistent relativist. The above examples go to show that it is illogical to hold such positions but also impossible to live out such positions as well.

Don’t be taken in by the trick of self defeating arguments. People are often quick to throw out ideas which they themselves know can’t be lived out practically. Not only are these views not liveable but they are not even rational on the grounds of logic and reason. Sometimes a simple question can expose these and we need not spend hours and hours debating a view which will quite happily shoot itself in the foot.

God Bless,
Tyson Bradley

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