By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
Anything self refuting is false and so I would imagine it is easy to see why being able to identify self refuting statements would be important not only to apologetics but clear thinking in general. Suppose a skeptic objects to Christianity, but his reasoning for doing so is logically incoherent. It would be very helpful to be able to identify the logical incoherency or self refuting nature of the objection and address it from a more logical standpoint. This would at least help the skeptic retract their objection and modify it in a more clear and logical fashion. If anything, this helps the conversation move forward.
In this article I want to help the reader be able to identify self refuting statements so that they can be more prepared as they share their faith with unbelievers. But please remember, the ability to identify self refuting statements goes beyond mere apologetics, the ability to do this is helpful to critical, logical, and clear thinking in general. Lastly, it is important as a side note that not all objections to Christianity are self contradictory, so if an unbeliever provides a non-contradictory objection to the Christian faith, one needs to be prepared to address it.
Logical contradictions are self refuting so it is very helpful to be able to identify when something is logically contradictory. A logical contradiction is the idea that a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way (or sense). An example would be: God is eternal and it is not the case that God is eternal. From the standpoint of many skeptics, they will often try to demonstrate a contradiction within the very nature of God by stating something like this: The existence of evil is logically incompatible with an all loving and good God. At this point, it is up to the believer to demonstrate that there is no logical contradiction in such an idea. Hence, the ability to identify logical contradictions is just as important as being able to show why a proposition is not logically contradictory.
Self Referential Statements
Self referential statements are statements that refer back to themselves. Such statements are false if they are true. An example of a self referential statement would be something like: All statements are false, or there is no truth. If both of these statements are true, then they are false. A good example within an apologetics context would be something like: “If a God exists, we could know nothing about him.” If this statement is true, it is false since knowledge of a God would be required to make such a statement. Namely, the person would have to know that if there was a God, he could not be the kind of God that can reveal himself such that we could have knowledge about him. To say we can know nothing of him says a lot about what the person thinks a God can or cannot do.
When a philosophy sets up conditions of meaning, rationality and/or truth that they themselves are unable to meet
This is the problem that linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had in his famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He admitted at the end of his book that the propositions within his book did not measure up to his own standards. Such a methodology is self refuting. A good philosophical example of this sort of self refutation comes when one thinks of the now debunked philosophical position known as Logical Positivism. This position stated that if a statement cannot be empirically verified it is useless. However, such a position is self refuting because the statement is not itself empirically verifiable. Hence, this position does not meet its own standard of meaningfulness. In other words, how would one empirically verify that only statements that are empirically verifiable are meaningful? What would be the observational evidence for this? Clearly, there is no empirical evidence to appeal to to tell us what the limits of knowledge are.
There are many more examples of self refutation but I think these examples are enough to equip someone with a proper context so as to recognize such fallacious reasoning in others while also seeking to avoid such thinking in ourselves.