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.”