A Self-referentially Absurd Statement

Not very long ago, my family and I went to lunch with some relatives. As is not uncommon in my family, the subject of church came up. Being an amateur apologist, I take more seriously than most Christians the fact that Christianity can be supported by evidence. My relative didn't agree. In the course of the conversation, he made the following statement. "You can never know anything for certain."

A Columbo type question immediately leaped to mind. I asked, "Are you certain about that?"

"Absolutely," he replied.

In the words of Greg Koukl, some statements "commit suicide." They are self-referentially absurd. This is one. Obviously, if you cannot be certain of any knowledge then you cannot be certain that you cannot be certain of any knowledge. Unless you are going to make an exception (e.g., "Except for this statement, you can never know anything for certain") which strikes me as the weakest of all possible arguments, when a statement includes itself in a way that disproves itself, there is certainly something wrong.

We need to point this out when people say things like "there is no truth" or "all religions are true." They are self-referentially absurd and we need to be prepared to say so with the appropriate gentleness the situation requires.


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