Monday, May 04, 2009

More on Internal Consistency

A few years ago I wrote a post about internal consistency. Even if I disagree with the position stated I tend to take it more seriously if the logic in the argument agrees with itself. One of the examples that I brought up was a talk show host who will grasp at any position that goes against Al Gore’s position on global warming. However, sometimes he defeats his own argument. Will point to a Solar survey that says the Earth is hotter because or changes in the sun. So he admits that it is getting hotter on Earth but shifts the blame to the sun rather than to Human causation. This is a respectable position that many have taken. But to his detriment he goes on to point to colder temperatures on Earth and then suggest that it’s not getting hotter here after all. Although at first glace these claims do both go against Al Gore’s position, they also contradict each other. It’s hard to take them seriously together. It seems obvious to me that the host here was just taking every fact that supported a position other than his opponent’s and assuming that they would, by default, support his position. Or more likely he knew his argument was self contradictory but just hoped that his audience would ignore it.

I had a similar internal consistency issue with a lesson that we had in church last week. All the adults and youth over 12 were called together for a special meeting to discuss internet pornography. I have some issues with the format that was used but none the less I admit it’s an issue that needs to be discussed. Most of the presentation was in the form of an audio file over a PowerPoint presentation. Both were a companion file to a book. The author of the book gives several statistics and then goes into the neuroscience of why teenagers are more prone to have negative effects from pornography. He makes the claim that there are fewer connections in teenage brain between the logical section and the emotional section. Without these connections it’s harder for teenagers to gauge risk and to respond logically to situations. Using neuroscience he very effectively showed how teenage brains can be more adversely affected by pornography than more mature brains.

Up until now his argument has been consistent and rather well thought out. However later on in the presentation he cautions adults from viewing this material too. For the record I don’t condone it either, but this is where his logic goes south and become internally inconsistent. He asked the rhetorically questions, “Why do you think you are any stronger than those teenagers? Do you think your brain is better equipped to handle those images?” To answer his question, I don’t think that. But he does. He effectively explained an hour earlier how a teenage brain is more fragile. By also explaining how the connections between the logic centers and emotional centers are more developed in an adult he made a strong case against his own point that adults should stay away from these images too. He should have just left off the rhetorical challenge and his arguments would have been much stronger. I wish he had gone with a “lead by example” analogy rather than defeat the initial point. I think that this author just knew his audience and felt that most would take any argument against pornography as valid and was counting on them not connecting the dots to see if the arguments were consistent. For the most part I’m sure that is exactly what happened. But he’d have gained more points with at least one audience member if his arguments had all been internally consistent.


As always when I criticize someone’s logic I run the risk of coming across as a supporter of what they were arguing against. Nothing in this post should be construed as condoning the viewing of pornography in any form by adults or teenagers.

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