Defending the Faith Part 11: Why the “Suicide” Tactic Works

| Saturday, August 20, 2011 | |
by Greg Koukl

The suicide tactic works because it trades on a fundamental rule of logic: the law of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction states that two contradictory statements cannot be true at the same time: “A” cannot be “non-A” at the same time in the same way. All suicidal views express or entail contradictions. They make two different claims that are at odds with each other. The contradictions “A is the case” and “A is not the case” may be explicit or implicit.

Explicit contradictions are usually obvious:

“I never, never, repeat a word. Never.”
The contradiction: I don't repeat a word. I do repeat a word.

“There are no absolutes. Absolutely.”
Contradiction: There are no absolutes. There are absolutes.

“This page intentionally left blank.”
Contradiction: This page is blank. This page is not blank.

“I used to believe in reincarnation. But that was in a former life.”
Contradiction: I don’t believe in reincarnation. I do believe in reincarnation.

“I'll give you three good reasons you can't use logic to find truth.”
Contradiction: You want to use logic to disprove logic.

Implicit contradictions often are hidden and require further reflection to see:

“My brother is an only child.”
Contradiction: My brother has a sibling (me). My brother is an only child.

“I never tell the truth.” (Now what?)
Contradiction: It’s true that I never tell the truth.

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.” Yogi Berra

“Ask me about my vow of silence.”

Sometimes suicide is more subtle:

Radio caller: “You shouldn’t be correcting Christian teachers on the radio.”
(Then why is he calling this radio program to correct me?)

“You shouldn’t force your morality on me.”
(Why not? Are you telling me it’s wrong to say that other people are wrong?)

The Suicide and Columbo tactics work well together. As you pay attention to a person’s viewpoint and notice that his or her view commits suicide, point it out with a Columbo question.

In order to recognize a point that commits suicide first, identify the basic premise, conviction, or claim. It's not always obvious. Next, determine if the claim undermines itself. Does the statement satisfy its own requirements? Is there an internal contradiction? Can the idea be stated in the form “X is the case” and “X is not the case” at the same time? If so, it commits suicide.

Next time: Taking the Roof Off

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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