Recently I found an interesting non sequitur posed to an “atheist and freethinkers” Facebook group I belong to. Interesting because it’s an argument I’ve seen before. I commented that it was a non sequitur, and the OP didn’t know what that is. (Neither did I until recently, but Google is my friend.)
So what is a non sequitur? It’s Latin for “does not follow”. Very simply, it’s a bad logical argument where a conclusion is drawn that is not derived from the arguments presented. There are many different kinds of logical fallacies that result in non sequitur statements, but they do seem to follow a basic pattern, which is that some inference happens between the arguments and the conclusion; there’s a disconnect and some sort of implicit assumption going on, which is unstated.
For example: The sky is blue. My pen is blue. Conclusion: Who wrote the sky?
See what I did there? If I’d written, “The sky is blue. My pen is blue. Therefore the sky is written”, that would have been an example of a questionable cause fallacy. (Specifically, it’s one where correlation incorrectly implies causation – cum hoc, ergo propter hoc in Latin.) To create the non sequitur, I assumed that the correlation implied causation, and then went on to make a conclusion about the written sky. So there’s a gap between the conclusion I leapt to and the arguments I presented.
I chose my contrived and obviously logically broken example, for a reason. Besides being really clearly wrong, it’s also very similar to the actual argument I read recently. (This is not the only kind of non sequitur. Sometimes the conclusion may be completely unrelated to the argument or previous statement.)
His argument, which I must confess I did not read properly because I saw the non sequitur straight away, went something like this: DNA is a language. Then several lengthy and verbose paragraphs about the structure of DNA and how it couldn’t have evolved, including some gross misunderstanding of what evolution actually is, with some scientific jargon thrown in for
good measure red herring value. Conclusion: Intelligent design.
Can you see how this illogical argument is similar to my example? Firstly, it starts with a metaphor. I’m not a geneticist, but I know that DNA is not a language. Whether you use a metaphor or a simile, what you have there is a comparison. So the argument goes off the rails from the start. DNA, when modelled by us and when explained or framed a certain way, has some characteristics of language. But it also doesn’t. You can arrange letters in virtually any order, while the parts involved in DNA only go together a certain way. So the language comparison imposes grammar rules on DNA, comparing the rigidity of its structure with the way we define rules and form words out of letters. One could also say that DNA has some characteristics of Lego blocks, and this would in some ways be superior to the language comparison. But regardless, the comparison is not with actual DNA, it is with the way we model it. His argument then makes a logical leap that is completely unstated: Man designed language. DNA is like language. Conclusion: Who designed DNA?
To conclude, the common argument that there must be an intelligent designer because DNA is a language is a really poor one. It creates a statement that is a non sequitur. Simply put the idea that there is a god because everything is so complicated does not follow.