Constructing unrealistic, hypothetical dilemmas is a great way to start a long, drawn out debate but some mistakenly think that it is a good way to win one. It’s really not. Here is a great case study.

Any honest answer to a dishonestly posed question is going to be deemed dishonest by the questioner, especially if he’s the sort of person whose thinking hasn’t evolved past an imaginary, simplistic no-win scenario in 10 years.

“Simple” has many different definitions. One of them is appropriate in this case but I’m sure it’s not the one Tomlinson intended.

Like Ben Shapiro, I’d save the child.

Tomlinson will never get a “straight” answer to his crooked question though. In this case “crooked” means a question that is not asked with the intent to learn what others think, but rather with the intent to prove to yourself how right you are.

It’s a common form of questioning in politics. Choose A or B and then I ALONE WILL tell you why you chose A or B.

“Do you favor repealing Obama care?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you want poor children to die.” 

Tomlinson wants an honest answer to an arbitrarily (and unrealistically) constrained dilemma. He then declares you dishonest for recognizing that his question is an unfairly loaded one. You aren’t allowed to address reality because then his internal “gotcha” moment can’t happen. Tomlinson isn’t only forcing you to choose between two unrealistic options, he’s also demanding you admit that your choice indicates everything he says it does.

Calling it a “thought experiment” is far too charitable because Tomlinson forbids actual thought from being part of the answer.

“They will never answer honestly.” I’m sure he has seldom received a dishonest answer. More likely, he is equating honesty with tacit acceptance of his deeply flawed assumptions about what either answer indicates about your morality. His question is really just a slightly more intricate variation on “Yes or no, have you stopped beating your wife?”

Tomlinson’s hypothetical places you at the end of a series of morally problematic decisions made by others and demands that you—without any qualifying discussion—choose between only two options, both of which carry some moral compromise. Yet, your split second decision in his “simple” scenario is, to him, a flawless indicator of your moral philosophy about the nature and sanctity of human life. The very existence of the human embryos stored in a laboratory is the result of thousands of immoral decisions, but the onus is on you to balance the scales with one gut reaction.

Chesterton said that a maniac prefers a small scale logical consistency to the larger, more complex nature of the real world. I think it also applies to people who use gimmicks like the one Tomlinson does.

“The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way. I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument.”

Whether you’re talking to a birther, a 9/11 truther, or a run of the mill global warming alarmist, you’ll find that keeping the scope of the debate small and contained is how they—at least in their own mind—win an argument.

Disallowing all but a tiny amount of data to prove an assertion is not the sign of a deep thinker or someone who is truly confident in his position. When your opponent declares explanation to be against the rules in an argument, you’re being used by someone who is masturbating their own ego rather than debating ideas.