Faith in Action Blog
A professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05) has published an article in The Public Discourse, arguing that Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species fails the “eye test.” That is, he says, elements of the theory of evolution contradict what we can perceive with our own eyes. Dr. Seagrave writes:
“Darwin is clearly aware — and bothered by the fact — that his theory of evolution through natural selection is not only unsupported by, but actually contradicts, the reports given to us through our senses, as well as the ‘common sense’ we gain from these reports over time. So he argues, in response, that this common sense is founded on mere ‘imagination’ rather than ‘reason,’ and with a Kantian determination he asks that we repress our ‘empirical’ impressions in favor of our abstract theoretical convictions.
“Yet why, we can ask, should we trust Darwin’s theory more than our own eyes? As persuasively as this theory explains many phenomena of nature and archeological discoveries, is its acceptance worth having to admit that the world is actually nothing like our experience of it? If a theory that the earth rests on the shell of a giant sea turtle explained enough phenomena, would it similarly command our assent?”
That article, perhaps not surprisingly, generated some controversy, leading Dr. Seagrave to issue a follow-up:
“The sort of ‘eye test’ I have in mind, and which I believe poses an underappreciated challenge to Darwinian evolutionary theory, involves much more than simply ‘looking’ or physically seeing; it is, rather, precisely what Aristotle describes as ‘the originative source of scientific knowledge’ in his Posterior Analytics. According to Aristotle, all scientific knowledge must build upon previous knowledge, leading to the problem of knowledge’s ultimate origin. This origin lies, according to Aristotle, in a process of induction or intuition whereby sense impressions become memories, and memories become ‘experience.’
“This experience is defined by abstraction — we human beings experience the world in terms of stable and defined universal concepts, and these concepts in turn form the building blocks of all subsequent knowledge. Our experience in this special Aristotelian sense, for example, tells us that elephants are different in kind from human beings, and not in degree, however large this degree may be. Our experience, on its own and apart from whatever scientific education we may possess, tells us that human beings are separated from elephants by rationality — not by millions of years of differential development.”
Meanwhile, one of Dr. Seagrave’s classmates, Greg Pfundstein (’05), has also published a story in The Public Discourse, based on a recent comment from kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart. Miss Smart remarked that, when she was sexually abused, she thought her life had “no value” — because one of her teachers had once compared those who were no longer virgins to a “chewed-up piece of gum.” That recollection quickly inspired a rash of denunciations of school-based abstinence programs from a wide range of critics, including some Christian conservatives, who argued that such programs present a warped, even dehumanizing, image of sexuality.
Not so fast, says Mr. Pfundstein. A board member of the National Abstinence Education Association (as well as the president of the Chiaroscuro Foundation), Mr. Pfundstein has co-authored an article for The Public Discourse, in which he argues that the sort of messages that Miss Smart received are not representative of most Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) programs:
“While no one can vouch for every abstinence program that has been used by well-intentioned presenters over the last two decades, we can confidently say that the sort of demeaning messages received by Smart and others are outside the mainstream of state-of-the-art abstinence-education programs.
“Perhaps most relevant to the current controversy is the fact that the SRA approach is the only one that believes in ‘another chance’ for any individual who has made unhealthy decisions in the past. Far from being ‘used up,’ teens are given renewed hope for starting over. ‘Renewed abstinence’ is an articulated goal of SRA programs, and there is some evidence that it is easier to get young people to choose renewed abstinence than to get them to use condoms.”
With the HHS mandate thrusting the issue of contraception into public conversation, three alumni authors have recently addressed some of the myths — and realities — that shape the debate.
First, in the Washington Times, Catherine Short (’80) questions the rationale for the mandate, namely that “free” contraception will improve the health of women. The legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, Mrs. Short and her co-author, Dorinda C. Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund, have filed an amicus brief (PDF) in some of the lawsuits seeking to overturn the mandate. Their article describes how the HHS has oversold contraception’s purported benefits while ignoring its documented dangers:
For more than four decades, federal and state governments have been pouring money into “family planning” programs … Our brief informs courts of empirical evidence showing the result: a 40 percent increase in unplanned pregnancy, including among teens and low-income women, the very demographic targeted by these programs. Quite predictably, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases have also skyrocketed in these groups, as the false security of abundant birth control leads to riskier sexual activity by teens and young adults. …
[A] 2009 study showed a 320 percent increase in the risk of triple-negative breast cancer, the deadliest form of breast cancer, in women taking oral contraceptives. Long-acting contraceptives — such as one major implant rod, Implanon — increase risk of ectopic pregnancy, pulmonary emboli and strokes. Implanon is the product that replaced Norplant, which is no longer on the market in the United States after more than 50,000 women filed lawsuits — including 70 class actions — over the severity of its side effects. Injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera puts women at double the risk of HIV infection.
What about the other oft-repeated argument for more widespread distribution of contraception — that it would reduce the number of abortions? Journalist Peter Baklinski (’04) debunks that claim in LifeSiteNews. Citing data from Spain, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, Mr. Baklinksi demonstrates that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, higher use of contraception correlates with higher rates of abortion. He quotes two prominent champions of legalized abortion who concede as much:
“Most abortions result from failed contraception,” admitted Joyce Arthur, founder and executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, earlier this year.
Arthur’s statement parallels a prediction made in 1973 by Dr. Malcolm Potts, former medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, who said: “As people turn to contraception, there will be a rise, not a fall, in the abortion rate.”
Given the abundance of empirical evidence to refute the claims that widespread contraception improves women’s health and reduces abortion, why do these myths endure? Because, says Peter Kwasniewski (’94), a professor of theology at Wyoming Catholic College writing for Truth and Charity Forum, the demand for contraception stems not from medical need, but spiritual poverty:
Better health coupled with an unbounded desire to share God’s gifts of love and life should naturally have led, in modern times, to larger and healthier families than in the past. The fact that this has not happened indicates the dark side of the motivation behind the development of modern technology. Contraception means spiritual death, the death of the natural “love affair” with life.
In the battle over marriage, procreation, and the defense of life, we must realize that we are up against a combination of metaphysical nihilism and spiritual egoism vastly more powerful than any human army or political system — a demonic corruption of mind and heart, which sound education and the example of a life well lived can prevent from spreading, but which ultimately will refuse to be driven out except by prayer, fasting, and martyrdom.
Sobering words — and a call to prayer!
After 15 years in the home-inspection business, Philip Halpin ('97) has joined the StoryTel Foundation, which produces Catholic documentary films about people and organizations who answer God’s call to “restore the sacred.” In that capacity, he has co-produced, co-written, and edited Where Heaven Meets Earth, a documentary about St. Peter's Church in Omaha, Neb. — a once-failing urban parish transformed by a young priest who was determined to embrace the whole of Catholic tradition.
The documentary, the trailer of which is available above, recently appeared on EWTN. DVDs are available via the StoryTel website.
The above video is a trailer for Diary of a Country Mother, a new book by Cynthia (Six ’77) Montanaro that chronicles the life of her beloved son Tim, with the liturgical year and changing seasons as a frame. The book reflects a yearlong journey of prayer and meditation, begun about six months after Tim’s death in 2005 at the age of 15. Written in diary form, it includes Scriptural, religious, and literary quotations, as well as beautiful photographs of Tim captured by his dad, Andrew Montanaro (’78).
“I envisioned an extended period of time in which to record, before memory failed me, all of the little humorous and profound incidents that made up my son Tim’s short life,” says Mrs. Montanaro. The result is a work that is replete with the love of a mother. That love is also on display in Mrs. Montanaro’s blog.
Writes Dr. Thomas Howard, author of Chance or the Dance and Hallowed Be This House, “Cynthia Montanaro have given us the story of a splendidly faithful Catholic household. … The word ‘contemplative’ is the key to this memoir … and the quiet pace belongs to its essence.… Every chapter (or meditation) entails some concrete, softly-textured, domestic narrative, all of it bespeaking both Tim’s inner man, and the household in which the Lord placed him to pass his brief time here on this earth.”
“Like Our Blessed Mother’s sorrow,” says fellow alumna author Suzie (Zeiter ’87) Andres, “Cynthia’s sadness is illuminated and shot through by the light of the resurrected Christ. This book is in no way depressing. Instead, Cynthia’s diary entries record time and again the peace that passes all understanding, the beautiful hope that only true faith can give, and most of all, love elevated and fulfilled by Love.”
A worthy read for the Easter season, Diary of a Country Mother is available via Amazon.com.
Frederick DouglassA professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05), has written a thoughtful article for The Public Discourse about the present state of the pro-life movement:
In a manner similar to the case of slavery as outlined by Douglass, there are two simple points that, once admitted, join to condemn clearly the practice of abortion: (1) the embryo is a human being from the moment of conception, and (2) all human beings have a natural right to life.…
The problem is that the younger and less developed the embryo is, the less it excites what some have called our “moral sense,” our sympathy with it as another human being like us. And as Hume correctly notes, human beings tend to be moved more by their passions and feelings, including the so-called “moral sense,” than by their intellectual understanding of the world when determining their actions. Even if our reason and common sense tell us clearly — as they undoubtedly do — that the embryo is a human being with the right to life, our moral sense or sympathy lets us off the hook.
So where does this leave pro-life advocates? How can we bridge the Humean — and human — gap between intellectual understanding and actual practice in our nation? The answer lies in the parallel between the issue of abortion and those of slavery and subsequent civil rights. The pro-life movement needs to model more closely in its organization and practices the antebellum abolition movement and the civil rights movement in order to achieve similar success in ending the evil of abortion.
The entire article, Abortion and Our “Moral Sense,” is available on The Public Discourse website, published by The Witherspoon Intstitute.
Sean Fitzpatrick (’02),a frequent contributor to Crisis, has a new column that looks ahead to what we may expect from our new Holy Father, named for St. Francis of Assisi. The article begins …
As the newly elected pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s papacy has already been historical. His is a part of the world no other pontiff has hailed from. His is an order no other pontiff has claimed. His is a name no other pontiff has taken. Even from this, it may be fair to expect that the pontificate of Pope Francis will be one to break with precedents and blaze new paths for the faithful. If ever there was a saint that did such a thing, it was his namesake. If ever there was a time that the Church would welcome a Francis, it is now.
… and it proceeds by looking at the life of St. Francis and the life of Pope Francis. See the whole story: Pope Francis — The Journey Begins.
Writer, illustrator, and educator Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has a new story for Crisis magazine about the Pope’s surprising resignation, The Radical Return to Ratzinger. Long billed as a “radical” the Holy Father’s abdication, argues Mr. Fitzpatrick, is his first truly shocking act:
“For being such a radical Pope, the rest of the world can now truly say that Benedict came around to their meaning of the word. His resignation was, in a sense, the first radical thing this radical Pope ever did. If it is nothing else, it is at least surprising. But surprises are to be expected from those who follow Christ.”
Mr. Fitzpatrick is becoming something of a regular in Crisis, having penned two literary columns in December about fiction for the Christmas season.
Although many pro-lifers cheered Time magazine’s recent cover-story pronouncement that abortion champions have “been losing ever since” their 1973 triumph in Roe v. Wade, ethicist and theologian Dr. Pia de Solenni (’93) is less sanguine. Writing for the National Catholic Register, she observes:
Framing the abortion movement as in decline is particularly interesting, since the story was published just days before Planned Parenthood released its annual report marking a record number of abortions: 333,964.
The family-planning organization also received $542 million in government funding, possibly an all-time high, and had $87.4 million in excess revenue, with $1.2 billion in net assets. It seems that, for Planned Parenthood, business is booming.…
Noting Time magazine’s unflinching support for legal abortion, Dr. de Solenni suspects that political calculations are at the root of its assessment about the state of the abortion wars:
In Washington, D.C., it’s widely accepted that the party or issue that loses a political race inevitably gets a windfall in donations. After all, there’s nothing like a political loss to prove to supporters how desperately their cash is needed to advance this very important cause just before it’s defeated forever.
On the flip side, it’s much harder to create a fundraising urgency when people think that a particular issue is succeeding and well-supported by government policies. There’s no evidence that their donations are needed, at least not nearly as much. After all, they’ve reached the goal for which they donated, whether it’s getting a candidate elected or putting a policy in place.
Nevertheless, a well-placed article — let’s say, on the cover of Time — making the case that major advances are about to be lost creates a great sense of urgency for the supporters of that allegedly about-to-be-lost cause.
Dr. de Solenni (’93) discusses the matter further on “Register Radio” with host Tim Drake, audio of which is available online on the Register’s website.
Writer, illustrator, and educator Sean Fitzpatrick (’02) has reviewed two Christmas-season classics for “The Civilized Reader” feature in Crisis magazine. First is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which, he warns, “is no Hallmark affair to be taken lightly, much less dismissed as tacky and trite”:
A Christmas Carol is a preparation, and the process it initiates is not an easy one. Everyone knows in his or her own way that it is a steep path fraught with difficulty. But, as the ghostly mentors of Scrooge held up a mirror to him rigidly, relentlessly, and sometimes reluctantly, so too must we face our own inward conversions and cleansings, looking to don a garment worthy of the Bridegroom’s coming. Alongside of Scrooge, groveling in the shadows of our own tombstones, all are beckoned to declare themselves not the men they were but for the holy intercourses of the Advent season prompted by this wonderful story. Many hearkening to this call, swear to lead a changed life, an altered life that will honor the spirit of Christmas in their hearts, and try to keep it all the year, living in the past, the present, and the future.
Next, Mr. Fitzpatrick revisits The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter:
The Tailor of Gloucester is a tale that keeps alive the belief that there are ordinary things in the world that can accomplish extraordinary things. With God all things are possible. This is the principal theme of Christmastime, making it a time to faithfully hang our stockings by the fire with care in the hopes that elves will soon be there — because they are there, under the wooden wainscots, (“though there are very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say.”)
Those looking to purchase these works may want to do so by way of the College’s Amazon Gateway. Meanwhile, when the Christmas season is past, be sure to see Mr. Fitzpatrick’s review of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes.
A film critic, a cultural commentator, and a regular blogger at Patheos.com, Joseph Susanka (’99) recently participated in a bloggers’ roundtable on Relevant Radio with host Sheila Liaugminas. The discussion, which broadly covered current issues of faith, culture, and media, is available in both streaming and downloadable formats.