Although I don’t spend as much time in apologetic discussions as I used to, I do, on rare occasions, find the time to have a short conversation here and there. One recent encounter I had provided me with a text book example of the potential problem with making self-referencing universal statements; that is, statements which are unqualified in their extent, and are worded in such a way as to include themselves as referents.
By way of example, consider the statement “any assertion is a statement which implies its own truth”. Since the statement “any assertion is a statement which implies its own truth” is itself an assertion, and the statement refers to any assertion, it is ultimately self-referencing. In other words, the referent of this statement includes (but is not limited to) the statement itself. This entails that whatever the statement is asserting must also be true of the statement itself. Although this particular statement is self-referencing, it is not problematic.
Perhaps a more famous example is the statement “there are no absolute truths”. Since the statement refers to all truths by virtue of saying there are none (i.e. it is a universal negative), the truth of the statement itself must also, if true, not be true. In other words, the statement is self-refuting. If it is true, then it is false. This statement obviously is problematic.
I came across a different self-referencing, universal statement that turned out to be very problematic for the one asserting it. Following is a portion of our conversation:
BK: You assume that “data” is the only way to KNOW something.
Atheist: Yes, data is the only way to KNOW that something is true or that it exists.
BK: Then show me the data. Show me the data that data is the only way to KNOW that something is true.
If you don’t see the problem here, don’t worry – my opponent did not see it either, so I provided a more detailed response that I have also included here.
You made the following comment:
“Yes, data is the only way to KNOW……that something is true or that it exists.”
There are many claims that can be evaluated as to whether or not they are true. Consider some hypothetical examples:
– “Hell exists”
– “You exist”
– “It’s cold outside”
According to your claim above, we need DATA in order to know whether any of the aforementioned claims are true. That’s the reason you keep asking me to provide data for the existence of hell, after all.
Now, here is another claim that can be evaluated as to whether or not it is true:
– “data is the only way to KNOW that something is true”
Now, if I want to test the truthfulness of this claim (which seems reasonable), then according to you I must offer DATA to demonstrate it is true. If not, then your claim that “data is the only way to KNOW that something is true” is not a universal truth (although you implied it was by failing to qualify it as something less than universal). Therefore, it is only reasonable for me to ask you to offer data to demonstrate that data is the only way to KNOW that something is true. If this statement is true, then you could only KNOW it was true of you had data to show that is the case.
So, can you offer any data to support your claim?
At this point, there has been no data forthcoming.