Dear Social I.Q. Lady,
What’s the difference between “atheist” and “nontheist”?
Both words essentially mean the same thing: without belief. However, they each hold a different connotation to believers. To many believers, the word atheist carries along some extra “baggage” like “without morals”, “anti-religious”, or “devil-worshiper”.
Good communication requires learning to be both effective and appropriate with our words. Words mean nothing until we attach meaning to them and over time some words change meaning. We speak differently to children than we do to adults and differently to our friends than we do to our boss or a potential client.
Appropriateness refers to fulfilling social expectations for a particular situation. Effectiveness is the extent to which you achieve your goals in an interaction. We need to be both effective and appropriate if we want to become competent communicators. When deciding which word to choose think about what you want to achieve. If you’re talking to a religious family member that “hates” atheists and you want to foster a good relationship, which word should you use? While the word “atheist” is completely appropriate to describe someone without a belief in a god, it’s not effective if it shuts down further communication.
Sometimes people confuse the word “atheist” with “agnostic”. This is also because of connotation. Many people think the difference is a matter of degree of belief, but that’s not accurate. An atheist is someone without a belief in a god and an agnostic is someone without any personal knowledge that a god exists. One can be both! For example, I am an agnostic atheist. While it seems ridiculous that anyone would say he is a gnostic atheist or theist, there are those who feel very strongly that they either know or don’t know. As atheists, we must remember that although the statistics weigh heavily against the existence of any god, we cannot argue that one does not exist. Fortunately we don’t have to; the burden of proof lies with the theist.Social I.Q. Lady
Over thirty years ago, I walked into a group of people who call themselves alcoholics. Although I did then and do now, detest labels, I did have a problem with drinking so I stayed . One of the first of many oft-repeated phrases that I heard was people-pleasing. Most alcoholics are experts at it by the time they reach the recovery level. In that capacity we spend a great deal of time justifying ourselves and our actions to others. One of the first things we learn in this group is to stop pleasing people and concentrate on the one thing that will assure our continued life, even when it does not please others. That one thing is staying sober first and foremost.
It would seem that the people you are advising in your book of 52 Answers are little more than people pleasers. Rarely has anyone asked me about my religion or talked to me about god outside an AA meeting in years. Another phrase we learn in that outfit is there are no big deals. If someone does ask about my religious nature, I simply tell them I dont have one and walk away. It seems to me what you call social IQ is what I learned to see as people pleasing. Anyone who questions my life is not my friend. Those are mostly alcoholics and understand not to ask such personal questions. They also know that if I need guidance, I will ask for it. So who are these people who demand answers from my very personal depths and what right do they have to question my beliefs? I dont question theirs. Youd be surprised how many apologies Ive gotten and dismissed because they were left standing in the aisle or sitting at a table with egg on their face. I simply dont feel the need to justify me to them.
I do not completely see eye to eye with the beliefs that you espouse but hey, they are yours. I have no desire to change yours or mine.
Another aspect of the total atheist beliefs that I have heard and read centers on the deist view of science. My life span began before WWII and I have seen science with egg on its face so many, many times. World-shattering pronouncements of one day are completely reversed the next. Its laudable to be certain in your beliefs but science is an ongoing process, not a fount of indelible answers.
Maybe it would be better for a lot of us to learn to say, "This is what I believe but I dont know for sure. Except that religion will be the death of us all."
Enjoyed the book.
Dear Neal, Thank you so much for reading my book. I
agree with your assessment of "people pleasing". Too often it can fall
the way of being submissive and weak. That's not what I espouse. I help
people to communicate more effectively and appropriately. Do not confuse
responsiveness with submissiveness. Submissive communicators yield
their rights to others, more often going against their own best
interests. While responsive communicators are sensitive to the needs of
others, they also pay attention to their own needs and goals. Responsive
communicators recognize and consider the other person’s needs and
rights, but do this without sacrificing their own legitimate rights. When I
talk about science I talk about the scientific method. And that method
is a pretty good one. We have to be open to wrong answers and new
information. Science embraces that. We seek to understand the world and
to consistently learn new things. Sometimes, science gets it wrong, but
that's the beauty of it! It admits to not knowing everything and to the
possibility of being "wrong". Then more experiments are made and new
ideas are tested. It's ever evolving! I like to include the words "so
far" whenever I talk about what we know in science. I am excited at the
possibilities of new information. You say you are
rarely asked about your religion. Either you are so open about it that
it is obvious or perhaps you are surrounded by people who have little
interest in learning about your philosophy of life. That's fine. This
book is for those who do have people in their life that question them.
52 Answers is for those people to help them better answer back to their
friends and family members. The book isn't just about religion though. I
tackled superstitions and many false perceptions of history. Atheist
don't have any beliefs. The only thing they share in common is a lack
of belief in a god. That's it. Just like the only thing theists have in
common is a belief in a least one god. To belief in a god or not becomes
ones worldview. After that, each person follows their own philosophy of
life. I happen to be a Humanist. Other atheists are Buddhists, pagans,
Communists, Existentialists, or even Materialists. Some atheists even
believe in ghosts or reincarnation. To say one is an atheist is simply
to state what that person does NOT believe in - a god concept. I'm happy you enjoyed my book and I hope you'll keep in touch.
Thank you so much for reading my book.
I agree with your assessment of "people pleasing". Too often it can fall the way of being submissive and weak. That's not what I espouse. I help people to communicate more effectively and appropriately. Do not confuse responsiveness with submissiveness. Submissive communicators yield their rights to others, more often going against their own best interests. While responsive communicators are sensitive to the needs of others, they also pay attention to their own needs and goals. Responsive communicators recognize and consider the other person’s needs and rights, but do this without sacrificing their own legitimate rights.
When I talk about science I talk about the scientific method. And that method is a pretty good one. We have to be open to wrong answers and new information. Science embraces that. We seek to understand the world and to consistently learn new things. Sometimes, science gets it wrong, but that's the beauty of it! It admits to not knowing everything and to the possibility of being "wrong". Then more experiments are made and new ideas are tested. It's ever evolving! I like to include the words "so far" whenever I talk about what we know in science. I am excited at the possibilities of new information.
You say you are rarely asked about your religion. Either you are so open about it that it is obvious or perhaps you are surrounded by people who have little interest in learning about your philosophy of life. That's fine. This book is for those who do have people in their life that question them. 52 Answers is for those people to help them better answer back to their friends and family members. The book isn't just about religion though. I tackled superstitions and many false perceptions of history.
Atheist don't have any beliefs. The only thing they share in common is a lack of belief in a god. That's it. Just like the only thing theists have in common is a belief in a least one god. To belief in a god or not becomes ones worldview. After that, each person follows their own philosophy of life. I happen to be a Humanist. Other atheists are Buddhists, pagans, Communists, Existentialists, or even Materialists. Some atheists even believe in ghosts or reincarnation. To say one is an atheist is simply to state what that person does NOT believe in - a god concept.
I'm happy you enjoyed my book and I hope you'll keep in touch.
Dear Social I.Q. Lady,
Sometimes I want to give advice, but I don’t know if I should or if my friend even wants to hear what I have to say. Any advice?
Dear Nora Lee,
Whenever someone comes to us with a problem, it’s natural to want to offer some advice. This is appropriately called “advising”. As long as advice is given in a respectful, caring way it can be helpful. Unfortunately one’s helpful advice is often more unhelpful so here are some things to consider the next time you want to offer your advice.
Is the advice needed? If your friend has already taken a course of action, then telling him what you think he should do isn’t helpful at all.
Is the advice wanted? Women tend to vent about their problems without actually wanting to hear a solution. They usually just want to be heard. If you really think someone is looking for some help, ask him first if he would like some advice.
Is the advice given in the right sequence? When someone has a problem and is unloading it on you, first be sympathetic. Listen. Offer support and ask questions to better understand the situation. Only after the speaker believes you have a good understanding of his problem will he be in a better position to receive your advice.
Is the advice coming from an expert? If your friend is looking to purchase a new care and you are not that familiar with cars, don’t offer advice on which car to buy. Likewise, if your friend is having financial troubles and you can’t even balance your checkbook, keep your mouth shut and just offer your support. You get the idea.
Is the advisor a close and trusted person? Although we often seek advice from professionals we hardly know, in most cases we value opinions from those with whom we share a close and personal relationship.
Is the advice offered in a sensitive, face-saving manner? No one likes a bossy-pants and no one likes to be embarrassed. Imagine a friend revealing an embarrassing error in judgment. The last thing he wants to hear is how stupid he was. Remember, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it and any hidden meanings or agendas with which it is accompanied.
In the end, it’s probably best to work on being a supportive friend unless you’re asked for your advice or opinion.
Dear Social I.Q. Lady,
Why do people need to communicate?
Communication is so strong that without it we could die. Not having enough communication can affect our health and well-being. Communication helps us in three main areas of our lives that are key to our success as human beings. These needs are physical, identity, and social.
Our physical needs are met through communication. It is deeply ingrained in our psyche to need other humans. This does not mean to simply be near them; it means to communicate with them. Without human contact, babies die. Studies have demonstrated that those who lacked enough communication with others became less healthy. They became more susceptible to colds, developed coronary problems, and were more likely to die sooner. We need to physically be connected to others and we make those connections through communication.
We self identify through communication. We send out messages and gage the return responses. We learn to monitor who we are based on the communication we receive from others. If enough people tell us we’re smart, we start to believe we’re smart. It they say we’re talented; we will start to believe we have talent. Unfortunately, if you tell someone they’re stupid or worthless, even if it’s not true, that person will start to believe the lies because we identify through communication.
In one study the happiest 10% of people polled described themselves as having a rich social life. Partners who communicated with each other well reported happier relationships than those whose communication skills were lacking or struggling.
It’s human nature to want to be happy and healthy. The best way to achieve those goals is through communication and even better, through effective and appropriate communication.
Dear Social I.Q. Lady,
What's your take on the difference between a Cult and a Religion?
There are no definite distinctions between cults and religions upon which scholars can agree. However, there is a certain “unstableness” that seems to come with cults. I distinguish a cult from a religion mainly on the behavior of the group in three areas.
1. Isolation. This behavior of cutting off members from the rest of society is troublesome. It’s a matter of degree which is why no one can see eye to eye on the definition. There are some religious groups that do somewhat isolate their members. The Jehovah Witnesses, for example, aren’t allowed to stay in contact with former members, even if those members are family. Extreme isolation is recognized by the group working and living together to the exclusion of anyone else. The Branch Dividians are a perfect example of extreme isolation. Their leader, David Koresh, moved all of his followers to a compound in Waco, Texas. That didn’t end well, did it?
2. Charismatic Leader. When I say “leader”, I’m not talking about the Pope, or someone who is merely the figurehead of a religious group; I’m talking about one person who completely dictates every movement of the group. The leader of a cult is generally very charismatic, drawing people to him in an almost trancelike way. Notice I said, “Drawing people to HIM”. There are charismatic leaders in practically every religious group, but most tend to want to draw their followers closer to their idea of “god”. Like each “characteristic” of a cult, it’s about degree and how that personality is “used”. A leader of cult will contend that only he holds the “truth” and everyone else is “wrong”. Sorry to sound vague, but again, that’s why distinguishing between a cult and a religion can be so difficult.
3. Excommunication. When a member leaves a cult, he or she is considered “flawed”. There must be something wrong with them if they want to leave the group. I grew up in a non-denominational church. We used to attend many different styles of “Christian” churches just to check them out. Most “Christians” are free to leave their church without any repercussions. They can go from an evangelical group to a conservative one and friends and family remain intact. There are some churches that teach members not to associate with nonmembers, but again, it’s about degree.
There will always be some who consider any religious group other than their own to be a cult. Then there are those who think any religious group, based solely on the fact that the ideology of religion doesn’t allow for one to think for themselves, is a cult. Those are the two extremes of the definition. Most religious scholars agree that it’s not about the number of members or how much money they take in.
The best way to avoid joining a cult is to think for yourself. Ask questions, seek real answers.
Dear Social I.Q. Lady,
I think atheists shouldn’t be celebrating Christmas because it’s a Christian holiday. Do you think it’s hypocritical of atheists when they do celebrate Christmas?
I like to say, “Never should on people.” People are free to celebrate the holidays anyway they see fit providing of course that they are not harming anyone else in the process.
It’s true that “Christmas” is supposed to be about the “birth of Christ”, but even Christians throw in many pagan rituals left over from Saturnalia and other winter traditions. Christianity is after all just one more “face of paganism”. Let’s review.
The Yule Log began with the ancient Scandinavians to honor their god Thor.
The custom of decorating a tree began with Teutonic vegetation rituals. The Roman Saturnalia adopted this practice and made it their own by using pines or evergreens.
Holly and mistletoe came from Druid ceremonies. And the list goes on.
My opinion is that no one should celebrate anything that goes against their core beliefs. With that said, when atheists put up a tree, they don’t believe they are worshipping sun-gods that have turned into trees. They just like having a tree and decorating it. One of my atheist friends puts an angel on top of her tree because she says “it looks pretty”. Atheists, as per the definition, don’t believe in any gods so when we light a Yule log, display an angel (I put up ghosts on Halloween), or even decorate a tree, we don’t impart any supernatural meaning to them. They just become fun things to do.
I don’t like celebrating “Christmas” because the name itself turns me off. I don’t mind all the pagan rituals that go along with the holiday (gifts, decorations, parties, cards, eggnog) but I call it Solstice or Humanlight. The problem with celebrating “Christmas” then is with me. I have a personal aversion to it. At the same time, I can recognize that other atheists have no problem with it and that’s ok. It’s like a vegetarian being ok with someone else eating meat.
As for Christians, I’ve always (since understanding the history surrounding Christmas) found it “wrong” for them to include pagan god worship rituals into their “blessed” holiday. The bible says in Jeremiah chapter 10 not put up a tree like the pagans. It also says not to decorate it either. These are supposed to be the very words Christians claim to believe so I find it very hypocritical when they claim to believe every word in the Bible yet do it anyway. At the same time, mind you, I am not surprised. On the other hand, I know many Christians that don’t celebrate Christmas the way we imagine. These particular Christians have removed all pagan symbols and rituals and really do just celebrate the birth of their “savior”. Of course, then there’s the question of which “god” was really “born” on December 25.
In the end, I see no harm in atheists celebrating Christmas as a pagan holiday. I cannot do that and feel good about it. Some friends recently asked me what Humanlight was all about. I told them it was just like Christmas without the religious bullcrap. Fortunately, they laughed.
Whatever you call it, I do hope you’ll smile when someone says “Happy Holidays”. Winter can be so bleak and many of us could really use some “Yuletide” cheer.
I'm often told by Christians, "I admire your faith." I remind them that not believing in a god isn't a "faith", but they like to say, "it takes more faith to believe in nothing than to believe in a god." This reply belies the very meaning of the word "faith". Sigh. Then they add, "atheists need faith to believe in evolution." Again, it's not a question of faith,but a matter of scientific understanding.
Many atheists today grew up in religious families soaking up the stories from their “holy” books and learning all about their faith. They learned to defend creationism, the Flood story, and even the book of Revelation. Many “secrets” of the Bible or their church’s innermost rituals were kept from them. Things like “who actually wrote the Gospels and when”, what really goes on in the Mormon Tabernacle, or that “Scientology believes there is an alien ruler named Xenu.” Somewhere along their journey of discovery, these soon-to-be atheists began to question their beliefs. They began to study the origins of their religious customs. They began to THINK for themselves!
It’s one thing to abandon an obvious fairy tale for reality. It’s quite another to announce to the world that you embrace the exciting ideas of science – especially evolution which is quite contrary to the idea of creationism. I find that many atheists are just as clueless about evolution as Christians are of Creationism.
I am not a scientist. I still am fascinated by new discoveries and am dumbfounded to making sense of quantum physics. But I think it’s important to understand the basics of evolution and how the world works. We, as atheists, should be able to hold a simple conversation with creationists about the fundamentals of evolution. I found the questions below posed by a Creationist toward atheists. I concur that we should know these answers. I admit I had to re-read a few books to refresh my memory.
Before you engage a Creationist in a conversation about evolution, make sure you’re on the same page regarding the definition of the word theory. There are different senses of the word. Sense 1: A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed. Sense 2: A hypothesis proposed as an explanation; hence, a mere hypothesis, speculation, conjecture; an idea or set of ideas about something; an individual view or notion. When we talk about the theory of evolution, we are using Sense 1 just like we would with the Theory of Gravity or the Theory of Relativity.
So now it’s time to test your knowledge. How many of these questions can you answer correctly?
We had some fun with some of these questions on my Facebook page. You can click there and see the answers. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Social-IQ-Lady/137334366290905
For the rest of the questions, I leave it to you to go study and learn. Have fun making wrinkles in your brain!
Yesterday I answered the question “What is inductive reasoning”. Today allow me to explain deductive reasoning.
To sum up from yesterday, inductive reasoning is basically what we determine to be a patter or a rule based on examples that we see. We argue from specific cases to more general conclusions.
Deductive reasoning is essentially the opposite process, and entails moving from overall theories or generally accepted principles to conclusions about specific cases. There are two types of deductive arguments.
1. Argument from Sign. This type relies on certain attributes observable in specific cases to prove that it can be related to a generalization that is assumed to be true. For example: Charlotte is carrying around her Bible telling people they should believe in Jesus or they will go to hell; Charlotte must be a Christian. I deduced that Charlotte was a Christian based on observable attributes, but could I be wrong?
There are three separate tests that can be used in the evaluation of a sign argument. First, are the cited signs always indicators of the general theory being cited? In my example there were two distinct signs: carrying around a Bible and proselytizing. Some people who carry around a Bible are not Christians, they might just by studying it for reference sake so that alone would not “prove” Charlotte is a Christian.
Second, are there enough signs present to support the conclusion offered? Do other believers besides Christians proselytize about Jesus and hell? Is that enough “evidence” to conclude Charlotte is a Christian?
Third, are contradictory signs present, and if so, have they been carefully considered? Had I narrowed the example from “Christian” to “Protestant”, it would have been harder to “prove” given that other Christian sects also believe in Jesus and proselytize.
If you move too quickly from a limited number of signs to a conclusion you might be guilty of false reasoning by sign. If we suspect that this might be the case, it would behoove us to examine the argument more closely.
2. Argument from Causal Generalization. This is the direct counterpart of the causal correlation that I talked about yesterday. While the causal correlation argues inductively from specific cases to seek to identify a connection between these cases, the causal generalization argues deductively from some general principles that are assumed to be true to judgments about specific cases under consideration. Here is an example of causal generalization: Charlotte is bound to become a Christian because she was brought up in a strong Christian home. (Much like saying someone is bound to become a Muslim is he/she was brought up in a Muslim home.)
Like the Argument from Sign, there are three tests of Argument from Causal Generalization. First, is the cause that is identified sufficient to produce the effect? In my example, I would have to say no because I know plenty of persons who grew up in a “strong” Christian home who are atheist.
Second, might the cause result in other quite different effects? While most who grow up in a Christian home adhere to that religion, many have such negative recollections of their experiences (unanswered questions, lack of answers, contradictory evidence, etc.) that they will be especially motivated to avoid belonging to a church or religion. In fact, they may even become anti-theist.
Third, might intervening factors preclude the expected relationship between cause and effect? Do most people who were brought up as a Christian, become a Christian? This is a funny way of looking at it from an outsider point of view because when I myself was a Christian every child of a Christian was labeled a Christian even before they had the reasoning to understand the belief system.
Fallaciously reasoning from a known generalization to a specific case is called the fallacy of false reasoning by causal generalization and just like with other fallacies, you should always seek additional information before granting adherence to such a claim.
Dear Social I.Q. Lady,
What is inductive reasoning?
When it comes to arguing (debating an issue; not “fighting”), there are three separate elements involved in reasoning. First, you must identify the data or grounds that will be used to develop your claim. Second, you must reason from that data through logical induction or deduction. Third, you must offer a claim or conclusion that builds upon the data and that constitutes a new and original insight. The second step is all about the inductive and deductive reasoning process. (You didn’t ask, but tomorrow I’ll write about deductive reasoning to round out the process.)
With inductive reasoning, we argue from specific cases to more general conclusions. For example: “In every church I’ve been to, members dance in the aisles. The next church I go to will most probably have members dancing in the aisles.” What I’ve done is generalize to get to a conclusion. A hasty generalization is a logical fallacy and should be called out. Inductive reasoning uses three different types of arguments.
1. Argument by Example. In this case, I would have to have a significant number of examples to make my argument strong or convincing. If I’ve only been to a handful of churches and they were all on the south side of town that would be pretty weak. However, if I had just finished a ten year tour of thousands of churches around the United States, my argument would be much stronger. It’s important to note that with inductive reasoning, no matter how large my “sample” it never “proves” my conclusion; it merely strengthens it.
2. Argument by Analogy. “Members of churches attend each Sunday so they can dance in the aisles. It’s like they’re auditioning for God on a televised dance show. That is not what churches should be teaching.” Analogies can be compelling in an argument because they can create a vivid picture in the minds of the listener. When using analogies you have to keep in mind that they should be useful and meaningful in some way. If you start to compare apples to oranges then you’ve committed a logical fallacy called false reasoning by analogy. In such a case more information should be demanded.
3. Argument from Causal Correlation. This form is more sophisticated. It examines specific cases, classes of cases, or both, in order to identify an actual relationship or correlation between them. Most research in the scientific tradition adheres to the principles of the inductive causal correlation argument, or causal generalization. For example: Members of churches who dance in the aisles tend to also dance down the aisles of the grocery store. In causal correlation we simply apply a test to see if the argument holds water such as (1) is the association between dancing in church and dancing in a grocery store consistent? (2) Is our evidence strong? And (3) Does the movement of cause to effect follow a regular and predictable time sequence? Finally, we have to ask: Is the association between cause and effect coherent? Basically we would have to determine if there is a persuasive explanation for the relationship between cause and effect. When we encounter arguments that attribute causality without adequate rationale, we should seek additional information lest we be guilty of committing the post hoc fallacy.
Love is a Fallacy
by Max Shulman
Cool was I and logical. Keen, calculating, perspicacious, acute and astute—I was all of these. My brain was as powerful as a dynamo, precise as a chemist’s scales, as penetrating as a scalpel. And—think of it!—I only eighteen.
It is not often that one so young has such a giant intellect. Take, for example, Petey Bellows, my roommate at the university. Same age, same background, but dumb as an ox. A nice enough fellow, you understand, but nothing upstairs. Emotional type. Unstable. Impressionable. Worst of all, a faddist. Fads, I submit, are the very negation of reason. To be swept up in every new craze that comes along, to surrender oneself to idiocy just because everybody else is doing it—this, to me, is the acme of mindlessness. Not, however, to Petey.
One afternoon I found Petey lying on his bed with an expression of such distress on his face that I immediately diagnosed appendicitis. “Don’t move,” I said, “Don’t take a laxative. I’ll get a doctor.”
“Raccoon,” he mumbled thickly.
“Raccoon?” I said, pausing in my flight.
“I want a raccoon coat,” he wailed.
I perceived that his trouble was not physical, but mental. “Why do you want a raccoon coat?”
“I should have known it,” he cried, pounding his temples. “I should have known they’d come back when the Charleston came back. Like a fool I spent all my money for textbooks, and now I can’t get a raccoon coat.”
“Can you mean,” I said incredulously, “that people are actually wearing raccoon coats again?”
“All the Big Men on Campus are wearing them. Where’ve you been?”
“In the library,” I said, naming a place not frequented by Big Men on Campus.
He leaped from the bed and paced the room. “I’ve got to have a raccoon coat,” he said passionately. “I’ve got to!”
“Petey, why? Look at it rationally. Raccoon coats are unsanitary. They shed. They smell bad. They weigh too much. They’re unsightly. They—”
“You don’t understand,” he interrupted impatiently. “It’s the thing to do. Don’t you want to be in the swim?”
“No,” I said truthfully.
“Well, I do,” he declared. “I’d give anything for a raccoon coat. Anything!”
My brain, that precision instrument, slipped into high gear. “Anything?” I asked, looking at him narrowly.
“Anything,” he affirmed in ringing tones.
I stroked my chin thoughtfully. It so happened that I knew where to get my hands on a raccoon coat. My father had had one in his undergraduate days; it lay now in a trunk in the attic back home. It also happened that Petey had something I wanted. He didn’t have it exactly, but at least he had first rights on it. I refer to his girl, Polly Espy.
I had long coveted Polly Espy. Let me emphasize that my desire for this young woman was not emotional in nature. She was, to be sure, a girl who excited the emotions, but I was not one to let my heart rule my head. I wanted Polly for a shrewdly calculated, entirely cerebral reason.
I was a freshman in law school. In a few years I would be out in practice. I was well aware of the importance of the right kind of wife in furthering a lawyer’s career. The successful lawyers I had observed were, almost without exception, married to beautiful, gracious, intelligent women. With one omission, Polly fitted these specifications perfectly.
Beautiful she was. She was not yet of pin-up proportions, but I felt that time would supply the lack. She already had the makings.
Gracious she was. By gracious I mean full of graces. She had an erectness of carriage, an ease of bearing, a poise that clearly indicated the best of breeding. At table her manners were exquisite. I had seen her at the Kozy Kampus Korner eating the specialty of the house—a sandwich that contained scraps of pot roast, gravy, chopped nuts, and a dipper of sauerkraut—without even getting her fingers moist.
Intelligent she was not. In fact, she veered in the opposite direction. But I believed that under my guidance she would smarten up. At any rate, it was worth a try. It is, after all, easier to make a beautiful dumb girl smart than to make an ugly smart girl beautiful.
“Petey,” I said, “are you in love with Polly Espy?”
“I think she’s a keen kid,” he replied, “but I don’t know if you’d call it love. Why?”
“Do you,” I asked, “have any kind of formal arrangement with her? I mean are you going steady or anything like that?”
“No. We see each other quite a bit, but we both have other dates. Why?”
“Is there,” I asked, “any other man for whom she has a particular fondness?”
“Not that I know of. Why?”
I nodded with satisfaction. “In other words, if you were out of the picture, the field would be open. Is that right?”
“I guess so. What are you getting at?”
“Nothing , nothing,” I said innocently, and took my suitcase out the closet.
“Where are you going?” asked Petey.
“Home for weekend.” I threw a few things into the bag.
“Listen,” he said, clutching my arm eagerly, “while you’re home, you couldn’t get some money from your old man, could you, and lend it to me so I can buy a raccoon coat?”
“I may do better than that,” I said with a mysterious wink and closed my bag and left.
“Look,” I said to Petey when I got back Monday morning. I threw open the suitcase and revealed the huge, hairy, gamy object that my father had worn in his Stutz Bearcat in 1925.
“Holy Toledo!” said Petey reverently. He plunged his hands into the raccoon coat and then his face. “Holy Toledo!” he repeated fifteen or twenty times.
“Would you like it?” I asked.
“Oh yes!” he cried, clutching the greasy pelt to him. Then a canny look came into his eyes. “What do you want for it?”
“Your girl.” I said, mincing no words.
“Polly?” he said in a horrified whisper. “You want Polly?”
He flung the coat from him. “Never,” he said stoutly.
I shrugged. “Okay. If you don’t want to be in the swim, I guess it’s your business.”
I sat down in a chair and pretended to read a book, but out of the corner of my eye I kept watching Petey. He was a torn man. First he looked at the coat with the expression of a waif at a bakery window. Then he turned away and set his jaw resolutely. Then he looked back at the coat, with even more longing in his face. Then he turned away, but with not so much resolution this time. Back and forth his head swiveled, desire waxing, resolution waning. Finally he didn’t turn away at all; he just stood and stared with mad lust at the coat.
“It isn’t as though I was in love with Polly,” he said thickly. “Or going steady or anything like that.”
“That’s right,” I murmured.
“What’s Polly to me, or me to Polly?”
“Not a thing,” said I.
“It’s just been a casual kick—just a few laughs, that’s all.”
“Try on the coat,” said I.
He complied. The coat bunched high over his ears and dropped all the way down to his shoe tops. He looked like a mound of dead raccoons. “Fits fine,” he said happily.
I rose from my chair. “Is it a deal?” I asked, extending my hand.
He swallowed. “It’s a deal,” he said and shook my hand.
I had my first date with Polly the following evening. This was in the nature of a survey; I wanted to find out just how much work I had to do to get her mind up to the standard I required. I took her first to dinner. “Gee, that was a delish dinner,” she said as we left the restaurant. Then I took her to a movie. “Gee, that was a marvy movie,” she said as we left the theatre. And then I took her home. “Gee, I had a sensaysh time,” she said as she bade me good night.
I went back to my room with a heavy heart. I had gravely underestimated the size of my task. This girl’s lack of information was terrifying. Nor would it be enough merely to supply her with information. First she had to be taught to think. This loomed as a project of no small dimensions, and at first I was tempted to give her back to Petey. But then I got to thinking about her abundant physical charms and about the way she entered a room and the way she handled a knife and fork, and I decided to make an effort.
I went about it, as in all things, systematically. I gave her a course in logic. It happened that I, as a law student, was taking a course in logic myself, so I had all the facts at my fingertips. “Poll’,” I said to her when I picked her up on our next date, “tonight we are going over to the Knoll and talk.”
“Oo, terrif,” she replied. One thing I will say for this girl: you would go far to find another so agreeable.
We went to the Knoll, the campus trysting place, and we sat down under an old oak, and she looked at me expectantly. “What are we going to talk about?” she asked.
She thought this over for a minute and decided she liked it. “Magnif,” she said.
“Logic,” I said, clearing my throat, “is the science of thinking. Before we can think correctly, we must first learn to recognize the common fallacies of logic. These we will take up tonight.”
“Wow-dow!” she cried, clapping her hands delightedly.
I winced, but went bravely on. “First let us examine the fallacy called Dicto Simpliciter.”
“By all means,” she urged, batting her lashes eagerly.
“Dicto Simpliciter means an argument based on an unqualified generalization. For example: Exercise is good. Therefore everybody should exercise.”
“I agree,” said Polly earnestly. “I mean exercise is wonderful. I mean it builds the body and everything.”
“Polly,” I said gently, “the argument is a fallacy. Exercise is good is an unqualified generalization. For instance, if you have heart disease, exercise is bad, not good. Many people are ordered by their doctors not to exercise. You must qualify the generalization. You must say exercise is usually good, or exercise is good for most people. Otherwise you have committed a Dicto Simpliciter. Do you see?”
“No,” she confessed. “But this is marvy. Do more! Do more!”
“It will be better if you stop tugging at my sleeve,” I told her, and when she desisted, I continued. “Next we take up a fallacy called Hasty Generalization. Listen carefully: You can’t speak French. Petey Bellows can’t speak French. I must therefore conclude that nobody at the University of Minnesota can speak French.”
“Really?” said Polly, amazed. “Nobody?”
I hid my exasperation. “Polly, it’s a fallacy. The generalization is reached too hastily. There are too few instances to support such a conclusion.”
“Know any more fallacies?” she asked breathlessly. “This is more fun than dancing even.”
I fought off a wave of despair. I was getting nowhere with this girl, absolutely nowhere. Still, I am nothing if not persistent. I continued. “Next comes Post Hoc. Listen to this: Let’s not take Bill on our picnic. Every time we take him out with us, it rains.”
“I know somebody just like that,” she exclaimed. “A girl back home—Eula Becker, her name is. It never fails. Every single time we take her on a picnic—”
“Polly,” I said sharply, “it’s a fallacy. Eula Becker doesn’t cause the rain. She has no connection with the rain. You are guilty of Post Hoc if you blame Eula Becker.”
“I’ll never do it again,” she promised contritely. “Are you mad at me?”
I sighed. “No, Polly, I’m not mad.”
“Then tell me some more fallacies.”
“All right. Let’s try Contradictory Premises.”
“Yes, let’s,” she chirped, blinking her eyes happily.
I frowned, but plunged ahead. “Here’s an example of Contradictory Premises: If God can do anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He won’t be able to lift it?”
“Of course,” she replied promptly.
“But if He can do anything, He can lift the stone,” I pointed out.
“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully. “Well, then I guess He can’t make the stone.”
“But He can do anything,” I reminded her.
She scratched her pretty, empty head. “I’m all confused,” she admitted.
“Of course you are. Because when the premises of an argument contradict each other, there can be no argument. If there is an irresistible force, there can be no immovable object. If there is an immovable object, there can be no irresistible force. Get it?”
“Tell me more of this keen stuff,” she said eagerly.
I consulted my watch. “I think we’d better call it a night. I’ll take you home now, and you go over all the things you’ve learned. We’ll have another session tomorrow night.”
I deposited her at the girls’ dormitory, where she assured me that she had had a perfectly terrif evening, and I went glumly home to my room. Petey lay snoring in his bed, the raccoon coat huddled like a great hairy beast at his feet. For a moment I considered waking him and telling him that he could have his girl back. It seemed clear that my project was doomed to failure. The girl simply had a logic-proof head.
But then I reconsidered. I had wasted one evening; I might as well waste another. Who knew? Maybe somewhere in the extinct crater of her mind a few members still smoldered. Maybe somehow I could fan them into flame. Admittedly it was not a prospect fraught with hope, but I decided to give it one more try.
Seated under the oak the next evening I said, “Our first fallacy tonight is called Ad Misericordiam.”
She quivered with delight.
“Listen closely,” I said. “A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he replies that he has a wife and six children at home, the wife is a helpless cripple, the children have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, no shoes on their feet, there are no beds in the house, no coal in the cellar, and winter is coming.”
A tear rolled down each of Polly’s pink cheeks. “Oh, this is awful, awful,” she sobbed.
“Yes, it’s awful,” I agreed, “but it’s no argument. The man never answered the boss’s question about his qualifications. Instead he appealed to the boss’s sympathy. He committed the fallacy of Ad Misericordiam. Do you understand?”
“Have you got a handkerchief?” she blubbered.
I handed her a handkerchief and tried to keep from screaming while she wiped her eyes. “Next,” I said in a carefully controlled tone, “we will discuss False Analogy. Here is an example: Students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during examinations. After all, surgeons have X-rays to guide them during an operation, lawyers have briefs to guide them during a trial, carpenters have blueprints to guide them when they are building a house. Why, then, shouldn’t students be allowed to look at their textbooks during an examination?”
“There now,” she said enthusiastically, “is the most marvy idea I’ve heard in years.”
“Polly,” I said testily, “the argument is all wrong. Doctors, lawyers, and carpenters aren’t taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are altogether different, and you can’t make an analogy between them.”
“I still think it’s a good idea,” said Polly.
“Nuts,” I muttered. Doggedly I pressed on. “Next we’ll try Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.”
“Sounds yummy,” was Polly’s reaction.
“Listen: If Madame Curie had not happened to leave a photographic plate in a drawer with a chunk of pitchblende, the world today would not know about radium.”
“True, true,” said Polly, nodding her head “Did you see the movie? Oh, it just knocked me out. That Walter Pidgeon is so dreamy. I mean he fractures me.”
“If you can forget Mr. Pidgeon for a moment,” I said coldly, “I would like to point out that statement is a fallacy. Maybe Madame Curie would have discovered radium at some later date. Maybe somebody else would have discovered it. Maybe any number of things would have happened. You can’t start with a hypothesis that is not true and then draw any supportable conclusions from it.”
“They ought to put Walter Pidgeon in more pictures,” said Polly, “I hardly ever see him any more.”
One more chance, I decided. But just one more. There is a limit to what flesh and blood can bear. “The next fallacy is called Poisoning the Well.”
“How cute!” she gurgled.
“Two men are having a debate. The first one gets up and says, ‘My opponent is a notorious liar. You can’t believe a word that he is going to say.’ ... Now, Polly, think. Think hard. What’s wrong?”
I watched her closely as she knit her creamy brow in concentration. Suddenly a glimmer of intelligence—the first I had seen—came into her eyes. “It’s not fair,” she said with indignation. “It’s not a bit fair. What chance has the second man got if the first man calls him a liar before he even begins talking?”
“Right!” I cried exultantly. “One hundred per cent right. It’s not fair. The first man has poisoned the well before anybody could drink from it. He has hamstrung his opponent before he could even start ... Polly, I’m proud of you.”
“Pshaws,” she murmured, blushing with pleasure.
“You see, my dear, these things aren’t so hard. All you have to do is concentrate. Think—examine—evaluate. Come now, let’s review everything we have learned.”
“Fire away,” she said with an airy wave of her hand.
Heartened by the knowledge that Polly was not altogether a cretin, I began a long, patient review of all I had told her. Over and over and over again I cited instances, pointed out flaws, kept hammering away without letup. It was like digging a tunnel. At first, everything was work, sweat, and darkness. I had no idea when I would reach the light, or even if I would. But I persisted. I pounded and clawed and scraped, and finally I was rewarded. I saw a chink of light. And then the chink got bigger and the sun came pouring in and all was bright.
Five grueling nights with this took, but it was worth it. I had made a logician out of Polly; I had taught her to think. My job was done. She was worthy of me, at last. She was a fit wife for me, a proper hostess for my many mansions, a suitable mother for my well-heeled children.
It must not be thought that I was without love for this girl. Quite the contrary. Just as Pygmalion loved the perfect woman he had fashioned, so I loved mine. I decided to acquaint her with my feelings at our very next meeting. The time had come to change our relationship from academic to romantic.
“Polly,” I said when next we sat beneath our oak, “tonight we will not discuss fallacies.”
“Aw, gee,” she said, disappointed.
“My dear,” I said, favoring her with a smile, “we have now spent five evenings together. We have gotten along splendidly. It is clear that we are well matched.”
“Hasty Generalization,” said Polly brightly.
“I beg your pardon,” said I.
“Hasty Generalization,” she repeated. “How can you say that we are well matched on the basis of only five dates?”
I chuckled with amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons well. “My dear,” I said, patting her hand in a tolerant manner, “five dates is plenty. After all, you don’t have to eat a whole cake to know that it’s good.”
“False Analogy,” said Polly promptly. “I’m not a cake. I’m a girl.”
I chuckled with somewhat less amusement. The dear child had learned her lessons perhaps too well. I decided to change tactics. Obviously the best approach was a simple, strong, direct declaration of love. I paused for a moment while my massive brain chose the proper word. Then I began:
“Polly, I love you. You are the whole world to me, the moon and the stars and the constellations of outer space. Please, my darling, say that you will go steady with me, for if you will not, life will be meaningless. I will languish. I will refuse my meals. I will wander the face of the earth, a shambling, hollow-eyed hulk.”
There, I thought, folding my arms, that ought to do it.
“Ad Misericordiam,” said Polly.
I ground my teeth. I was not Pygmalion; I was Frankenstein, and my monster had me by the throat. Frantically I fought back the tide of panic surging through me; at all costs I had to keep cool.
“Well, Polly,” I said, forcing a smile, “you certainly have learned your fallacies.”
“You’re darn right,” she said with a vigorous nod.
“And who taught them to you, Polly?”
“That’s right. So you do owe me something, don’t you, my dear? If I hadn’t come along you never would have learned about fallacies.”
“Hypothesis Contrary to Fact,” she said instantly.
I dashed perspiration from my brow. “Polly,” I croaked, “you mustn’t take all these things so literally. I mean this is just classroom stuff. You know that the things you learn in school don’t have anything to do with life.”
“Dicto Simpliciter,” she said, wagging her finger at me playfully.
That did it. I leaped to my feet, bellowing like a bull. “Will you or will you not go steady with me?”
“I will not,” she replied.
“Why not?” I demanded.
“Because this afternoon I promised Petey Bellows that I would go steady with him.”
I reeled back, overcome with the infamy of it. After he promised, after he made a deal, after he shook my hand! “The rat!” I shrieked, kicking up great chunks of turf. “You can’t go with him, Polly. He’s a liar. He’s a cheat. He’s a rat.”
“Poisoning the Well ,” said Polly, “and stop shouting. I think shouting must be a fallacy too.”
With an immense effort of will, I modulated my voice. “All right,” I said. “You’re a logician. Let’s look at this thing logically. How could you choose Petey Bellows over me? Look at me—a brilliant student, a tremendous intellectual, a man with an assured future. Look at Petey—a knothead, a jitterbug, a guy who’ll never know where his next meal is coming from. Can you give me one logical reason why you should go steady with Petey Bellows?”
“I certainly can,” declared Polly. “He’s got a raccoon coat.”