Today, we’re going look at five common claims that can often stump Christians who are trying to be faithful to Christ in conversation.
If you talk about your Christian convictions, I almost guarantee you that you will have heard or you will hear one of the objections we’re going to look at today. Before we look at these arguments, I want to quickly teach you two things. The first is what a self-refuting statement is, and the second is how to spot arguments or positions in the person you’re talking with that prove too much.
Self-refuting statements: Simply put, a self-refuting statement is a statement that applies to itself and contradicts itself. For instance, if I were to tell you I can’t speak a word of English, that statement contradicts itself by its very existence. I am telling you in English that I can’t speak in English, or I could tell you that there are no English sentences longer than two words, but that’s an English sentence longer than two words. That’s how we spot a self-refuting or self-contradictory statement. It’s a statement that applies to itself and contradicts itself. You could say something like, “My wife is single.” Well, there’s another one. To be a wife is to not be single. That’s our first tool, the way to look at self-refuting statements.
The next thing I quickly want to teach you is something called “taking the roof off” or taking an argument or position to its logical conclusion. Some people will make statements that, on the face of them, sound pretty good, but if you actually consistently applied that, it would do far too much. It would actually do more than the person intends to do. What we’re going to do is determine the claim the person is making. We’re going to distill that claim down, and then we’re going to see where does the claim leads. It’s kind of like a car. Let’s hop in the car, take it for a test drive. How far can we go?
For example, people who want to say with regards to marriage that “love is love,” we shouldn’t restrict who can get married. Well, the question I would ask (if we’re going to apply this idea of getting in the car and seeing where this view actually take us) is what about groups of 10, should they be able to get married? What about your neighbor and your two year old daughter, should they be able to get married? What about your wife and myself, should we be able to get married? Love is love, right?
You see that principle goes way too far. It opens the door to way too much and, in fact, much more than the person who’s using that principle actually intends or would even agree to. We distill down what they’re saying to a principle, and see what all we can apply that principle to to find out if it’s a good principle, if it’s a principle that can be consistently applied.
“What a man says doesn’t matter on abortion.”
With those two tools, let’s look at some common assertions today. Some people will say, especially feminists, that men can’t speak out about abortion. Their opinion does not matter because they’re not a woman, because they don’t have a uterus. The question is: is this a good point of view?
The first thing to point out is that we should really judge what people are saying based on their ideas, not their gender, or the color of their skin, or things like that, but, more than that, arguments don’t have genitals. Arguments don’t have genders. A point is valid because of what the point is, or it’s not valid because of what the point is. It has nothing to do with who makes the claim.
More than that, to apply our second little tool we looked at (getting in the car, taking it for a test drive) if men can’t say what women can do with their bodies and they can’t speak about abortion, then should Roe v. Wade be overturned? It was decided by the majority of male judges? It seems like if we’re saying men can’t speak about abortion, men can’t say what women can or can’t do with their bodies, then the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, should be tossed out. That’s how we can consistently apply what this person is saying.
That’s a bad line of argument. They need to find a different way to make their case. They can’t just say that women are in a privileged position to be able to speak to what women should be able to do. It’s not just the woman that’s involved. There is an actual alive human being that’s involved in this. But, more than that, there isn’t some secret knowledge that a woman has that allows them to speak here, and when we take their argument to its logical conclusion, we see that it actually proves much more than they would be in favor of it proving. That’s how we can address the claim that men can’t or shouldn’t speak about abortion.
“White people can’t speak about racism.”
What about people who make a similar claim when they say white people can’t speak about racism? Let’s use our Supreme Court example again. Should Brown v. The Board of Education be overturned? That was decided by white justices. Should we get rid of that? If white people can’t speak about racism and race and what policies should be in place, should we get rid of that decision? Obviously not.
Once again, this same type of claim is made as the abortion one, that there’s some secret type of knowledge you have because of a characteristic about yourself, your race, your skin color, your gender, something like that, that makes you innately more equipped to talk about something, and that’s simply false.
That actually perpetuates a type of race distinction where we’re saying, “You can speak about this because of your race,” which actually sounds fairly racist, in the same way that saying only a certain sex can speak about a certain issue actually sounds sexist. That’s a similar type of claim, and we can handle it in a similar way as the abortion claim.
“You can’t have certainty about religious claims.”
Moving on to religious issues, what about people who say “you can’t have certainty about religious claims? You can’t really know religious things.“ Didn’t they just claim to have certainty about a religious claim? Didn’t they claim to know with certainty that you can’t know with certainty religious claims? That falls prey to the first tactic we looked at. This is a self-refuting claim. This actually applies to itself and it contradicts itself. The person is claiming to know something they’re telling you you can’t know.
This claim appears all over the place. “There is no truth.” Really, is that true? How do you know that? Those types of claims are patently self-refuting.
It can take a little bit of training for us to be able to spot those, but I guarantee you, once you learn this tool, once you get sensitized to this type of thing, you’ll be able to spot it much more frequently, and people won’t be able to take you captive in conversations with these lines that sound good, but are ultimately bankrupt and self-contradictory in their meaning.
Let’s talk about this idea of religious pluralism, this idea that all roads to God are equally valid. Life is like a wheel, and God, or enlightenment, or something special (it’s not really clear all the time) is at the center, and religions are different spokes to God, and so we all take different spokes, but we all get to the same place. Different spokes for different folks, something like that.
It’s interesting that most individual religions do not claim this, and so it’s only generally westerners in academic institutions who believe they’re enlightened enough to know that everyone else is not enlightened enough. Isn’t that interesting? I mean this isn’t necessarily a formal logical fallacy or something like that, but it seems that the westerners think that they’re in a position to tell everyone else they’re wrong. “It’s not your individual way. It’s all ways”, and by saying it’s all ways, they’re saying every individual religion is actually wrong about the fact that it’s the only way. That’s one problem with this type of thing.
But there’s another problem, because it’s just logically extremely problematic to say that all individual religions are equally true. Christianity claims that salvation is only found through Jesus and Jesus alone. “No man comes to the father but through me,” Jesus says in John 14:6. You either do come through Jesus alone, or you don’t come through Jesus alone. If religious pluralism is true, you don’t have to come through Jesus alone, which means Jesus was wrong. If religious pluralism is true, Christianity is false, because it makes a distinctive claim really that it’s the only way.
If all ways are true, all the individual ways that claim that they are the only way are false. If religious pluralism is true, Islam is wrong. If Islam is right, religious pluralism is true. If Islam is right, Christianity is wrong. These things are mutually exclusive, because they make contradictory and competing claims. They can’t all be right. You can’t be in your car, and in your house, and in your boat, and on the lake all at the same time. It can’t be raining outside and not raining outside at the same time in the same place. That just doesn’t work. It’s one or the other. Jesus is the only way, or Jesus is not the only way, but it can’t be all ways are equally valid.
We see that this idea of religious pluralism is self-contradictory, but, also, it goes a little too far, because what the modern “enlightened” person is trying to say, is that they see the world more clearly than everyone else. It’s not these individualistic ways. It’s all ways, and so they’re saying that they’re more enlightened, but isn’t it interesting they’re, also, claiming to be the only one who understands it? They’re claiming to be the only one who sees that it’s all ways, and these other people are wrong about it being individualistic. Far from being more exclusive, they’re pretty much telling everyone else that they’re wrong, but they cloak it in exclusivism. That’s another problem with pluralism.
“Determinism is true / There’s no free will”
The last interesting idea we’ll look at today is the idea that there’s no free will. In other words, that materialistic determinism is true. What this view would say is that human beings are really just “meat machines,” and if you knew all of the states of the atoms and molecules in our body and in the universe, you could predict every single thing that would ever come from us after that.
The universe on this view is just one big billiard table with a bunch of pool balls hitting each other, bouncing off and causing reactions, and bouncing into other balls and causing other things. This is the view that there is no free will, and so when someone makes this claim, I think it’s helpful to ask, “How did you decide this? Does your decision have meaning,” because what this person probably doesn’t realize is if they’re claiming there’s no free will, it means they had no choice in coming to the decision that there was no free will. It’s just the result of billiard balls hitting each other, and random processes do not create information. They don’t make decisions. They don’t analyze data. They’re just random deterministic processes. You don’t suddenly get information from a random process. Information is the result of a mind, something like you or me.
When someone claims that there is no free will or that determinism is true, they’re undercutting their own ability to even know if determinism is true. Because if determinism were true, you could never know it, because there’s no knowledge on a deterministic view of the universe. If no one ever has a choice in what they come to see, or believe, or analyze—it’s all just billiard balls— then there’s no actual knowledge. There’s no information.
That last point about determinism and free will you may want to read to a few times. I’ll be honest with you, when I first started looking into and learning about these things, that point took me a little while to understand: if determinism is true, there’s really no such thing as knowledge. There’s no such thing as free will. There’s no such thing as doing science well. If everything is just determined, who is analyzing the data? What does it even mean to analyze the data? People had no choice, except to come to the conclusion they came to.
This view that everything is determined, really neuters science, too, and discovery, and exploration. Like I said, that can take a little bit of thinking on to come to understand. That’s not a problem. I think that’s how it is for most people.
To briefly recap, we’ve seen that there are two tools we can use to find faulty points of view. We can find statements that apply to themselves, and thus contradict themselves. That’s a self-refuting statement, and we can, also, find statements where we’ve distilled the principle down to what the bedrock of it is, what it’s trying to teach, and then we can pretend that that’s a car and take it for a drive, and see where it takes us. What all does this claim apply to?
This can be a helpful tool that we can use to find bad points of view, and, of course, when we find a bad point of view, we don’t just want to slam someone over the head with it. We want to use questions to illustrate that: “have you considered, for instance, that if men can’t speak about abortion, then should we get rid of Roe v. Wade? It was decided by men. What do you think about that?” We can offer those questions up for discussion, and, also, in a less threatening way, make a point.
I hope this has been helpful, and I’ll talk with you next week on Unapologetic.