As I approached Millard North’s English hallway, I was greeted by a small dry-erase board which displayed the words of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius: Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. Being someone who enjoys understanding wise-sounding quotes, I thought about it more. In a few moments, the question popped into my head. “Is there really no such thing as fact or truth?”
This claim of no-truth is widely accepted in our postmodern culture, commonly expressed in statements such as: “There are no objective truths,” “You can’t know anything for sure,” “Truth cannot be known,” and “That’s true for you but not for me.” These lines of thought oftentimes echo through our classrooms and in the worldviews of many high school and college students.
The implications of these statements, if accurate, are far reaching into the inner workings of our beliefs about the world and how we relate to others. One of the results of adopting the philosophy of these statements is believing that no one worldview or religion is true, that there are simply multiple perspectives—all true to the individuals who believe them. If true, no one could call one belief system wrong and another right. They would simply all be true—a serious problem for religions that claim to hold the truth. Therefore, determining whether these statements of no-truth are logical is of unequivocal importance in our lives.
To test these claims, it is important to understand what a self-refuting statement is. It is a statement that falsifies itself by failing to meet its own standard. For example, if someone walks up to you and declares, “I cannot speak a word in English,” you would immediately see the folly in that statement, as what they said to you was spoken in English. Their statement refuted itself. Similarly, if someone argued that “air does not exist,” all the while breathing air to make their case, they would clearly be incorrect. Understanding this principle, let’s investigate the claims of no-truth one by one.
“There are no objective truths.” How does one argue with that? It seems to make sense; however, the simple question to ask someone who claims this is, “Is that an objective truth?” Immediately, the statement reveals its own folly. If there are no objective truths, then the claim that “there are no objective truths” is wrong because it is an objective truth claim. The statement refutes itself. If it’s wrong it’s wrong, and if it’s right it’s wrong.
The principle carries to the rest of the statements as well. “You can’t know anything for sure” (Do you know that for sure?). “Truth cannot be known” (How do you know that truth? ). “That’s true for you but not for me” (Is that truth true for you but not for me?) Each and every one of these statements fail to meet their own standard and are ultimately self-refuting. If they are wrong they are wrong, and if they are right they are wrong.
Although it seems like trickery, the simple way in which these claims are refuted, in the words of Dr. Frank Turek, Ph.D apologist and president of CrossExamined.org, “If someone makes a simple mistake, it only takes a simple correction to point it out.” Or this case, a simple question.
When we realize the absurdity of these claims, we can be confident that objective truth does indeed exist and it can indeed be known. Although our culture pushes these postmodern mantras on us, never be afraid to point out a self-defeating assertion.
Tyler J. Collins | Creator of Discover the Answer
First published in the Millard North Hoofbeat | Issue 2 | 2016-2017