Defending the Faith Part 10: The “Suicide” Tactic

| Saturday, August 13, 2011 | |
by Greg Koukl

Now that we have the Columbo tactic down, let’s learn another tactical tool. I call it the “Suicide” tactic. The Suicide tactic makes capital of the tendency many erroneous points of view have to self-destruct when given the opportunity. These self-destructive views are commonly called self-refuting statements. They commit suicide on their own, and all you need to do is point that out.

For example, consider the dialogue in a Peanuts cartoon.

Sally: “No!” That’s my new philosophy. I don’t care what anyone says, the answer is “No!”
Charlie Brown: That’s your new philosophy, huh?
Sally: Yes! I mean, No! [pause] You’ve ruined my new philosophy.

Statements that commit suicide have within them the seeds of their own destruction:

“My brother is an only child” cannot be true because “brother” entails the concept of siblings.
“I cannot speak a word in English” is self-refuting when spoken in English.
“There are no sentences more than five words in length” is a sentence that has more than five words.
“You can’t know anything for sure” is a truth skeptics are pretty sure about.

Philosopher J.P. Moreland points out that every statement is about something. For example, the sentence “Dogs have fleas” is about dogs. Sometimes statements include themselves in what they refer to. The statement “All English sentences are short” is about all English sentences, including itself. When a statement fails to satisfy its own criteria of validity, it is self-refuting. It can’t possibly be a true statement.

Suicidal statements have within them the seeds of their own destruction. They cannot satisfy their own standard. This is why the minute you utter them, they become false. Even when such statements initially appear true, they’re still false.

This holds true for all self-refuting statements. If the exact same reasons used against your view also defeat the reasons themselves, then the view is self-defeating; it commits suicide. The person using such arguments can’t even recommend his own advice. For example, when someone says “You shouldn’t make moral judgments,” he is making a moral judgment.

Sometimes people don’t see contradictions staring them in the face. When that happens, we simply point them out. Other times they miss a contradiction because they don’t have the information they need. For example, someone may not see the problem with pluralism because they don’t know Jesus claimed to be the only true way to the Father (John 14:6). In these cases, you'll have to give them the correct information before they’ll see the problem.

Even God Himself can’t make self-refuting statements true. These kinds of statements are irrational, and since rationality is part of God’s essential character, he cannot violate His nature and make contradictory statements true. This is not a limitation on God’s power in any way because power is not the relevant factor here: No amount of raw power can make a contradictory statement true. Suicidal ideas, therefore, are false of necessity. They can’t be true in any possible world.

Next time: Why the "Suicide" Tactic Works

For more extensive tactics training go to and look for Tactics in Defending the Faith Mentoring Series or STRi DVD interactive training in our online store or call Stand to Reason at 1-800-2-REASON.


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