Friday, August 8, 2008

Another Atheist Fallacy: The non sequitur

A non sequitur is something that doesn't follow. It's Latin. It means "It doesn't follow."

Atheists often try to use the non sequitur as they do the ad hominem, tu quoque and straw man tactics -- to distract. These and others, such as the tantrum, the unanswered question, and many more, are what we call red herrings, rabbit trails, or diversionary tactics.

The non sequitur can be subtle, as when you say, "God is merciful," and the other person replies, "Well, then, what about Darfur?" In these cases you have a difficult choice. You can appear to dodge what might sound at first hearing like a rational response, and come out looking as if you don't care about Darfur. You can follow the red herring and get lost in a side discussion and never get the topic you brought up discussed. You can try to compromise and risk looking flustered. Or you can call it out. Say, "That's a red herring, and I want to talk about God's mercy." If the opponent can actually connect the topics, she will probably then try to do so. It helps to remember you're right. This keeps you free of the mistake of assuming equivalence. You aren't winning if you get out of talking about her topic and she gets out of talking about yours, any more than a robbery victim is winning if she gets to go home early tonight and so does the robber. It's not the same. You aren't trying to hide anything and you have no reason to avoid any topic at all. Forge forward. Only forward. But be aware where you are.

It can be screamingly upfront, as when you say, "God is Love." And your opponent says, "Oh, yeah? What about the different translations? Doesn't that prove there can't be a worldwide flood? I mean, didn't you drop out of high school and only go back and get your Master's in Ancient History last June? Doesn't that tell you I'm right?" That makes it easy. Ask what that has to do with what you said. Repeat your statement verbatim. Repeat as many times as it takes to get back on topic or win a default game when your opponent runs away.

That's today's look at the non sequitur, another favorite atheist debate tactic.




  1. I wouldn't exactly call the Darfur question a red herring. If you refuse to answer the question you will just look weak.

  2. I do advise answering the question -- briefly, unless the questioner can make the connection clear, and then in depth provided you don't lose the original topic.