With the reminders of the 37th Anniversary and the March for Life coming up this Friday, I was in a bit of a somber mood and thinking that I would need to write something somber. Then I thought of Todd Summers’ (’87) pro-life speech his senior year. It was a great speech which, if I remember correctly, he outlined how much there was to do for pro-lifers. I think he used a line from a John Wayne movie in it. For sure it was clever, logical with some humor and well-delivered. It ended something like this: Saddle up cowboys, we have a long way to go. It was clearly the best speech at the district contest which involved a number of schools. I was stunned when he didn’t win. There were three judges, two of them had Todd’s as the winning speech. The third judge was the previous year’s winner, and he had Todd’s speech dead last because, he said, there was no place for humor in a speech about abortion. Let’s not critique the critique.
One of the most frustrating things we face in the pro-life cause is that we meet head on with seemingly intelligent people who have no concern for logic in their arguments. They embody what Pope Benedict has labeled as the “dictatorship of relativism”. I indirectly heard recently from three different people who have met with this dictatorship at college.
Carter Stevens is taking a college logic class. The teacher said that they would be doing debates and wanted topics. Carter suggested they debate the nature of truth. The teacher said that she didn’t like that word “truth”. Her substitution: mutual agreement.
Gage Arnold found he needed to name a new fallacy after a short time at college. He called it “Negating the Question”. People would answer a question such as “Why are you reading Marx?” with “Why not read Marx?”
A third person texted home after a college class with this description of what he had just endured – “Fallacy Festival”.
We must always know that it is truth, not mutual agreement, that we stand for; we must always be ready with clear answers when asked, in whatever form, why we are pro-life; and we need to be able to identify the errors in the arguments that we hear so often because they certainly are fallacy festivals.
It’s easy to forget the names of fallacies that we have learned. We know an argument is bad, but we can’t always name the fallacy. A couple years ago Mrs. O’Herron sent me a birthday card and asked me to analyze it for fallacies. I never got around to sending her the analysis, so here it is now.
The card had two dogs talking to each other with the moon in the background. The one dog was saying to the other “I do not know why, but if you howl at it all night it goes away by morning.”
Clearly this is a funny card, but its full humor can only be appreciated by someone who has studied logic. The non-logician would simply say something like, “Ha, ha, pretty dumb dogs.” Unless, of course he was a member of PETA, then he might say, “What precious, thoughtful co-sharers of our planet. If only we could understand their deep thoughts and intentions.”
Now for the analysis.
The humor in this card involves three fallacies. It is rooted in the main fallacy of a category mistake. We know that dogs cannot talk and reason, even poorly because they are non-rational, not irrational, non-rational. So we first chuckle a little realizing the absurdity of dogs discussing the appearance and disappearance of the moon.
But we now allow ourselves to consider the dogs as rational and look at their thought process. We see that the reasoning of the “wiser” dog is based on induction, but that he has done a poor job of it. He repeatedly howls at the moon at night and each time experiences the disappearance of the moon. He concludes that it is his howling that has been the cause of its disappearance. This is a clear example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. Detecting this fallacy prompts great laughter.
The third fallacy is the specific induction error that has led to the post hoc fallacy. This canine has not done his induction well. He has, we assume, many times howled at the moon, therefore, there is no problem with the # of examples he is considering – he has not committed the induction fallacy of hasty generalization. But look at the examples he has considered. Every one of them is of the same type. He has invariably howled at the moon when it appeared and continued howling until it disappeared. If he had decided some nights not to howl at the moon and then had seen that it still disappeared, he would have realized that his howling was not the cause. Thus, we can accuse the dog of selected instances – taking a non-representative sample to reach a conclusion. By the time we recognize this fallacy we are howling with laughter.
It is clear that a little logic greatly increases our sense of humor.
Pretty dumb dogs, huh?
Note: Todd graduated the year of the big March for Life Blizzard when 20 inches fell in DC. The busses didn’t run that year, but Mr. Purdy bravely drove a small band to the March: Helen Purdy (’88) and Sharon Lloyd (’88), Mr. and Mrs. Scheetz and their two month old Annie (’05), Dr. and Mrs. Carroll, Dr. Antus and me. The Vander Woudes drove their van and they had Kim Fejes (’87) with them. There might have been others who made it, but those are the ones Mrs. Carroll remembers.