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A Spirited Exchange

In response to:

Greetings from Far Away from the May 3, 1973 issue

To the Editors:

In regard to Martin Gardner’s review of our book Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked With the Dead in the May 3 issue, please let me reply for my collaborator, William Rauscher, and myself.

Since Mr. Gardner, whose intellect has won him fame as an authority on games and puzzles, confesses (in one of his dozen or so pop science potboilers) to “an enormous, irrational prejudice against ESP,” why, pray, is he reviewing the biography of a psychic? Isn’t that a little like asking a member of the American Nazi Party to review Fiddler on the Roof, or a eunuch to do an in-depth critique of a sex manual?

Mr. Gardner’s menopausal outburst tells more about him and his “irrational prejudice,” which has gotten worse with age, than about our book. We learn, for example, that he is bold in slithering to the attack when the victim is dead, as in his contemptuous remarks about Bishop James Pike.

Mr. Gardner appears to hallucinate quotations, or maybe he has ESP. At any rate, my collaborator and I nowhere say that we found in Arthur Ford’s files obituaries on “thousands.” We nowhere say that we found in his files obituaries of any purported communicators in the Pike television séance but one, that of Rt.Rev.Karl Morgan Block.

We nowhere say or imply that Bishop Pike had “a firm belief in life after death” at the time of his son’s suicide and therefore that he may have expected to receive a message. In fact, Pike had renounced publicly any such belief some time before his son died. When Mr. Gardner describes the notoriously skeptical James Pike as a man “thirsting for signs,” he is drawing on that vivid imagination evident throughout the review.

We nowhere say that Canon Rauscher, a priest of the Episcopal Church, is or ever has been a “Spiritualist”—an error almost as quaint as the suggestion that Martin Gardner is to be taken seriously as a reviewer of books on ESP.

We nowhere say or imply that the discovery of Arthur Ford’s mediumistic fraud did “not shake” our confidence in him. The fact that our confidence was shattered is made plain enough in the book for even a prejudiced reviewer, however irrational, to have noticed. We go on to explain, however, that a qualified belief in Ford’s extrasensory powers was rebuilt on the basis of hard evidence that he was—in spite of the sometime cheating—genuinely gifted psychically.

This evidence Mr. Gardner ignores, of course. Obviously the psychic who impressed a writer such as Aldous Huxley, a psychologist of the stature of William McDougall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist such as Upton Sinclair, and an astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, cannot pull the wool over the eyes of a wide-awake expert on games and puzzles.

Mr. Gardner is an expert in the art of the smear. He tortures prose to create the impression that my collaborator and I grudgingly disclose the unhappy facts about Ford’s cheating. We do “not conceal the facts” is the weasel way he puts it.

The truth is that Rauscher and I are the people who discovered the evidence of Ford’s cheating and we freely, without constraint, reveal it in the book. For your reviewer to have said simply that, however, apparently was too much for his “irrational prejudice.” Poor embittered old man.

Allen Spraggett

Richmond Hill,

Ontario, Canada

Martin Gardner replies:

It is typical of Spraggett that he would begin his attack with a fake quotation. A paragraph in my 1952 book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, begins: “There is obviously an enormous irrational prejudice on the part of most American psychologists—much greater than in England, for example—against even the possibility of extrasensory mental powers. It is a prejudice which I myself, to a certain degree, share.” The degree to which I shared it then, as now, is slight. ESP is, obviously, a possibility. Like most psychologists, I consider it an unlikely possibility.

Spraggett correctly says that he did not claim to have found thousands of obituaries in Ford’s files. I never said he did. On the contrary, I reported Spraggett’s statement that an unknown portion of Ford’s files had been destroyed by a secretary after Ford’s death. My assertion that “Ford kept obits on thousands” was based partly (not entirely) on Spraggett’s book. A former male secretary of Ford’s told Spraggett that Ford used the code name “poems” for his obits, carried them with him in a suitcase, and “kept his poems up to date by reading the papers constantly and cutting out obituaries from all over the United States.” Spraggett himself writes (p. 248): “Arthur Ford’s private files revealed that he had a marked propensity for clipping obituaries…” I do stand corrected on a trivial point. Only one obit (not several) contained evidential information on which Ford drew in his famous séance with Bishop Pike.

It is true that for a brief period before his son’s death Pike voiced doubts about immortality. They were short-lived. Two weeks after his son’s suicide, Pike was convinced that his son was trying to reach him from beyond the grave. In view of Pike’s long Christian ministry, his temporary doubts only deepened his hunger for hard evidence that his son’s soul had not utterly perished.

Now about that word “Spiritualist.” Canon Rauscher does not like to be called a Spiritualist because it implies that he belongs to a Spiritualist church. That I did not use the word in this sense is evident from the fact that I called Rauscher a “convinced Spiritualist” immediately after identifying him as an Episcopalian priest. The latest Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines spiritualism as “a belief that spirits of the dead communicate with the living, usually through a medium.” Canon Rauscher closes his introduction to Spraggett’s book by writing: “If, after reading this book…you were to ask me, ‘Do you believe that Arthur Ford talked with the dead?’ my answer would be yes.” I apologize if capitalizing “Spiritualist” misled some readers into supposing it meant anything more than Rauscher’s long-standing conviction that mediums do indeed talk with the dead.

Spraggett’s pity for those who do not share his adolescent enthusiasm for Protestant occultism is touching. In a way, one must envy him his ability to believe almost anything. In his book The Unexplained (Bishop Pike, in his preface, calls it a “thoughtful book,” and Norman Vincent Peale, on the jacket, says it is “just about the best book on the phenomenon of ESP that has appeared in many a day”) you will find Spraggett believing in astrology, teleportation, haunted houses, helping plants with prayer, Kathryn Kuhlman’s miraculous healing of a cancer victim (Spraggett later wrote an entire book about this lady faith-healer), Ted Serios’s ability to project thought pictures onto Polaroid film, and scores of even wilder miracles about which so many of us embittered old skeptics have our doubts.

One final point. Of the four men cited by Spraggett as “impressed” by Ford, only McDougall was a scientist. Although Spraggett quotes McDougall as saying that Ford had “supernormal powers,” he does not give the source of this quote, and on page 226 he states that the psychologist was “not unduly impressed” by a Ford séance. As for the other three, their capacity for uncritical belief is exceeded only by Spraggett’s. Huxley wrote an entire book to promote the worthless views of Dr. William (“throw away your glasses”) Bates (see Chapter 19 of my Fads and Fallacies), and until the day he died, Sinclair defended the nutty theories of Dr. Albert Abrams, this country’s funniest medical quack (see Chapter 17 of Fads and Fallacies). We’ll learn all about Mitchell’s views when Putnam’s publishes the book he is writing about psychic phenomena. Mean-while, he has been appearing on television shows testifying to his faith in Israeli magician Uri Geller’s ability to bend iron spikes by psychokinesis.

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