A passage from Paul’s Epistle to Titus leaves us perplexed. The passage is this
One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”
This statement is strange, not only because it is self-referencing (i.e., it claims something about itself) but it is self-contradicting (it implies about itself that it is not true). Indeed, if ALL Cretans are liars, then so is the one who stated this fact, therefore it is not true that they are liars. But then, he may not be a liar, which means that he might have been right, therefore all Cretans are liars, so he is actually lying.
There are other such self-contradicting sentences, some famous, which I will analyze below.
In a very pure form, a self-referencing / self-contradicting statement may look like this:
“This statement is false.”
You have to chose if the statement is true or false. If it is true, then it is false, as it states. If it is false, then it is true.
There are self-referencing statements which are clearly true and not self-contradicting, like, for example,
“This statement has less than 1000 characters.”
I will analyze here three famous self-contradicting statements.
1. A CRETAN SAID, “CRETANS ARE ALWAYS LIARS.”
There is some ambiguity in this statement regarding what “liar” means. There is no such a thing as “pure” liar, whose statements are always false. If such a liar would exist, he would not be a liar at all, as one can simply reverse each of his statements to the opposite and easily find the truth. If he says, “My name is Robert,” one will immediately know that his name is not Robert. It is as if the “liar” uses a simple encryption mechanism which could be easily decrypted.
I remember a discussion with some friends, in which we tried to establish a theory of lying. As the act of lying is usually seen as one with the purpose to deceive, we concluded that any predictable lie is not a good way to deceive. The only effective way to lie is to make the statements randomly true or false. This technique is often used in propaganda, which mixes truths with falsehoods meant to deceive and manipulate. Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, would not always lie. In 1945, as the Russians approached Berlin, he would say, “There is very heavy fighting on the Eastern front. Our soldiers are pushing the Russians back.” The first sentence was true, giving him some credibility. The second sentence was a lie. Real lying is always a mixture of truth and falsehood. Beware, war propaganda is always such a mixture.
I conclude that in general, as well as in this particular case, “liar” does not mean “one whose every statement is false.” A successful liar is simply a deceiver who occasionally lies.
Apostle Paul does not state: “A Cretan said that every statement made by a Cretan is false.” This would make the sentence self-contradicting. Instead, he means to say: “A Cretan said that Cretans are deceivers.” In this latest formulation, the statement is not necessarily self-contradicting, as a deceiver may mix truths with falsehood. The statement MAY be true and obviously Apostle Paul looked at it as being true.
2. SOLA SCRIPTURA
It looks to me that the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture only) is self-contradicting, and thus unsustainable.
Wikipedia states this doctrine as follows:
Sola scriptura, meaning by scripture alone, is a Christian theological doctrine held by some Protestant Christian denominations, in particular the Lutheran and Reformed traditions of Protestantism, that posits the Bible as the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice.
From the beginning, we must notice that Sola Scriptura does not claim that the Scripture is the only truthful source of knowledge, and all others are false. Instead, it claims that it is the only infallible source of authority. Even so, I still believe it is self-contradicting and thus defective.
The question comes to this: “Is Sola Scriptura authoritative?” To be authoritative, according to its own principle. it must either appear explicitly or implicitly in the Scripture. If not in the Scripture, it is not authoritative, and thus it may be false. We cannot rely on it.
It remains to see if Sola Scriptura appears in the Scripture. Some Protestant friends believe this to be the case.
One of the problems with finding Sola Scriptura declared in the Scripture is that it can never be applied to the whole Scripture. What is now the Christian Scripture was written by different authors at different times. Yes, the authors of the New Testament books may have referred to the Old Testament, but not to the books of the New Testament, which were still in the process of being written. The only way to include the New Testament in the authority of the Scripture would have been if the last written verse of the New Testament ended with a list of the authorized books (New Testament Canon) and a statement that they are authoritative. This is not the case.
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
(1 Corinthians 4:6, KJV).
In some translations we find the words “beyond that which is written.” Besides the problem of not knowing what Scripture means here, it appears that Ap. Paul statement has a very narrow context, which refers to how “to think of men.” It is not a general declaration about the authority of the Scripture.
Another text is in 2 Timothy 3:16,17:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
Does this passage affirm Sola Scriptura? It cannot be. It was written by Apostle Paul around 65 A.D., but it is believed that the Gospel of John was written close to the year 100 A.D, so much later. Most probable Paul is referring to the Old Testament, although a cannon of the Old Testament was not yet clearly defined in his time.
The text affirms that Scripture can make the “man of God” perfect, but this “perfect” apply not to the Scripture, but to those that follow it. Even if referring to the Scripture, there is no inference that the Scripture is the only source of authority. Something may be “perfect” while not excluding something else to be perfect.
As Sola Scriptura excludes from authority all that is not Scripture, it is in fact excluding itself.
3. ONLY SCIENTIFIC TRUTHS ARE ACCEPTABLE
This statement may appear in various forms, such as “We only accept science” or “Science is the only guarantee of truth.” I suggest that all these are self-referencing and self-contradicting.
At the center of this discussion is the definition of science, which is understood to be based on the scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experiment, inference, and conclusion. This methodology creates a certain rigor, such that the conclusions and resulting theories are well founded. The scientific method gives us a guarantee that the truths discovered are solid, not just products of our imagination or some faulty logic. Science should be employed in the search of truth when this is possible.
However, not all assertions are of a scientific nature. Consider the following examples:
- “The history of society is the history of class struggles.” (Communist Manifesto)
- “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 9:10
- “Matter and energy are the ultimate reality.”
Such statements may be true or false, depending on your faith or philosophy, but they do not fall under the domain of science. There are no simple and clear facts from which they derive. We cannot run tests to verify them. They are not at the conclusion of a chain of rational inferences.
One may reject all the statements above since they cannot be subjected to the rigors of the scientific method. The rejection is not based on their true or false value, but on their nature. A modern way to express this is to say that they are unfalsifiable, i.e. they cannot be proven false by any scientific method, just as they cannot be proven true. However, not being falsifiable does not mean that they are not true. For myself, I believe that statement (2) is true, the others are false, but I did not come to this conclusion by scientific methods.
Let us now look at the statement under study, which claims that only scientific truths are acceptable. Is this statement scientific? The answer is no. It does not reflect facts, it cannot be tested, it cannot be the subject of research and it does not follow some irrefutable logic. According to its own claim, it should be rejected. It is, in fact, self-contradicting.