Monthly Archives: January 2011

A guide to Jehovah’s Witness anti-science propaganda part 2

In part 2 of my inside look at the anti-science of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we discover how they use biased selection of information to misconstrue what the actual state of the scientific evidence is.

Perhaps the smoking gun of intellectual dishonesty in ideological texts is the dismissal of valid information and the promotion of misinformation in its place.

It is possible to think of a counter argument to any established fact and find enough resources, quotes and the odd scientist who agrees with you. Believe it or not, there are groups dedicated to discrediting Galileo by claiming he was wrong to say the Earth revolves around the sun.

The example below is an example of flagrant, blatant quote mining by Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower Tract organisation) to support a conclusion that doesn’t add up. There are several other examples in the Watchtower brochures of quote mining and also the promotion of bad sources as good. However, this entire investigation has taken a while and besides, I just want to open the door to further exploration by the readers of this blog. The next post will deal with some specific claims in the Watchtower brochures.

The ‘disquieting’ fact of common descent

As evidence against common descent, the Watchtower authors pull these words from a sensationalist and irresponsible New Scientist article entitled “Uprooting Darwin’s Tree”.

Recent research continues to contradict Darwin’s theory of common descent. For example, in 2009 an article in New Scientist magazine quoted evolutionary biologist Eric Bapteste as saying: “We have no evidence at all the tree of life is a reality.” The same article quotes evolutionary biologist Michael Rose as saying: “The tree of life is being politely buried, we all know that. What’s less accepted is that our whole fundamental view of biology needs to change.

The article quoted by Graham Lawton was roundly criticised by scientists and skeptics because the headline and preamble are misleading. The story was essentially about Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) – the fact that some evolution takes place because of viral transfer of genetic material from unrelated species.

Darwin’s tree, plus a few extra branches

On page 39, the very last page of the article by Graham Lawton states:

While vertical descent is no longer the only game in town, it is still the best way of explaining how multicellular organisms are related to one another – a tree of 51%, maybe. In that respect, Darwin’s vision has triumphed: He knew nothing of micro-organisms and built his theory on plants and animals he could see around him.

So this story isn’t fatal to common descent after all? Funny, that’s not the impression one gest from reading the Watchtower texts, which leaves the story in limbo with the first quote above. As an avid reader of evolution news, Lawton’s entire analysis was criticised by Scientists and science bloggers. The role of HGT in evolution is a factor but the 51% estimate for the branching ancestry of common descent is ridiculous (Lawton pulled that number from thin air and it is far from accurate – HGT plays a minor role). Darwins tree lives!

Darwin didn’t know stuff we know now

So, the story, incorrectly titled “Darwin was wrong” should have been called “Darwin didn’t know everything, but he was damn accurate considering what knowledge he had available”. Okay, so it’s not a tree but more of a “bush” basically a tree but with some branches out the sides.

Jason Rosenhouse of Evolutionblog fame points out that:

“It is not exactly news to say that Darwin was wrong. He was wrong about all sorts of things. How could it be otherwise with someone writing a century and a half ago, knowing essentially nothing about genetics and microbiology?”

It is astounding that Darwin got so much of it right, despite not being aware of basic science we take for granted today such as the age of the Earth, transitional fossils, DNA and so forth.

Conclusions

Jason Rosenhouse, author of the Evolutionblog says:

If the article, by Graham Lawton, had some real news to report that would justify such a headline, then that would be one thing. In reality, though, the article has only the yawn-worthy old-news that horizontal gene transfer among single-celled organisms means that the metaphor of a tree of life must be modified. Scientific American published a far more informative version of the same article back in February of 2000.

The Evolutionary Novelties blog prophesised the following:

I think this headline [Darwin Was Wrong], and the spin of the article in general is a rather extreme over-simplification, and more importantly, it is subject to misinterpretation by anti-evolutionists.

The selective quote mining from an article known to be dubious in its presentation reveals a lot about the standards of evidence the Watchtower authors employ in their texts.

Anyone reading the “Uprooting Darwin’s Tree” article discovers:

  • Common descent is not in question, and
  • The story and the scientists accept that evolution is a fact

The failure of the Watchtower authors to point this out is a smoking gun for intentional deception on their part. They’re banking on you not going that extra step and actually reading beyond the quotes they pulled from the article.

By cherry picking to give the impression of an anti-evolution stance, the Watchtower authors reveal their hand – they don’t care about what’s true, only that evolution is painted in such a way as to convince you they’re right. Of course, a little digging shows the Jehovah’s Witness accounts are both wrong in their conclusions and in their methodology. More on both of these in the next post.

*Further resources on the Lawton debacle can be found on the Science blog: A Blog Around The Clock.
*Someone has deconstructed the Watchtower Origin of Life brochure further. This article outlines the blatant quote mining in the brochure.

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A guide to Jehovah’s Witness anti-science propaganda — part 1

What do Jehovah’s Witnesses have against the theory of evolution? And more importantly, can we determine whether they’re genuinely interested in the truth at all?

I was going to call this post “Why I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness” but in truth the traditional theistic, philosophical problems and logical contradictions would be enough for me to reject the idea.

So, in the next few posts, I examine the anti-science claims in two Jehovah’s Witness (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society) propaganda brochures: “The Origin of Life – Five Questions Worth Asking” and “Was Life Created?”


Both of the aforementioned Watchtower brochures expose why the JW worldview is incompatible with evolution and other theories of science. Their internal turmoil is partly because their brand of belief relies heavily on the authority of the Bible. JWs accept the claims of the Bible with a few twists and plot detours that give their theology a unique perspective. From this starting point, it is unsurprising JWs are unsettled by scientific theories such as evolution by natural selection.

Keep your science away from my Bible

Jehovah’s Witnesses bend over backwards to ensure the Bible is off limits from falsification, as this would undermine their central assumption, that the Bible is literally true. However, they interpret the Genesis myth of creation as allegorical in places – preferring to think of a creation ‘day’ as a long period of time. JWs are therefore old earth creationists.

To a committed JW, they have the truth. Internally, they have all the validation they need and any valid scientific objections you might bring up are likely to fall on deaf ears. One glimpse at Watchtower materials about the origin of life and evolution will reveal much about what goes on in their heads. When you apply an external standard, i.e. logic and evidence, JW claims about evolution dissolve rapidly.

Taking on science — a losing strategy

It always puzzles me why some theists attempt to take on science. It’s one thing to make unfalsifiable claims about supernatural entities, another to step into the arena of science (make falsifiable claims) and try to compete. It is a losing battle trying to square observations of nature with supernatural speculation. You cannot infer knowledge from ignorance. The inference of design and designers is therefore unjustified logically and empirically.

The history and failure of supernatural claims as explanations for any phenomena should give creationists pause for thought. Gods, demons and other hypothesised beings have long been credited for anything where a good explanation did not exist – lightning, floods, crop failure, comets, disease, pestilence, eclipses of the sun…

Human progress is a maturation process of replacing supernatural ideas with workable, testable and therefore practical theories. The endeavour of science contributes to real knowledge whereas ideas born of superstition, such as creationism, are merely placholders for our present ignorance (or denial of truth).

Why JWs feel so incensed by evolution

JWs feel that conceding that evolution happened would dissolve the central importance of human beings and therefore, we have no basis for ‘ultimate’  justice. Essentially, they claim humans that evolved from simpler forms are without purpose. In this, they are partially correct. Evolution doesn’t appear to have a set direction, a purpose or teleology. Evolution by natural selection is a blind process emerging as a result of natural laws. As they explain:

If ultimate meaning in life were nonexistent, then you would have no purpose in living other than try to do some measure of good and perhaps pass on your genetic traits to the next generation. At death, you would cease to exist forever. Your brain, with its ability to think, reason, and meditate on the meaning of life, would simply be an accident of nature.-“Was Life Created” Watchtower Society 2010, page 29.

Wow – what a sales pitch for evolution! But seriously, does any of the bleak picture painted above have anything to do with the acceptance of evolution? Is this an accurate description of what life is like if there is no ultimate purpose?

From a philosophical stand point, if there is no predestined purpose, is life not worth living? Is the meaning of life really about events before your birth and after your death? Many people, myself included, derive their purpose from the people, relationships, causes and values they have within this life – the only life anyone can truly be certain exists.

Our actions have consequences in this life and it is therefore of the utmost importance that we make the best decisions. Having no belief in an afterlife, or at least operating on the assumption this life is all we get, seems to add more meaning and value to life. If this is all we get then wouldn’t it make sense to ensure the best life possible for ourselves and others?

Of course, the fact that a scientific theory makes some people feel uneasy about our existence is not a valid reason to deny said theory. As Bertrand Russell explained in his essay“An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish”, we ought be skeptical of any idea that appeals to our self importance and vanity. Many of our false beliefs stem from this desire to massage our own egos.

Atheistic science?

The question has to be asked, what reason does the scientific community have to be so convinced of the truth of evolution? The JWs have an answer: scientists are biased!

Consider the following quote:

If you are to accept the teaching of macroevolution as true, you must believe that agnostic or atheistic scientists will not let their personal beliefs influence their interpretations of scientific findings. – “Was Life Created” Watchtower Society 2010, page 22.

This is a strange assertion given the number of biologists and other scientists who profess to have faith in God. Kenneth Miller is perhaps the poster boy for theistic evolutionists – he is but one of a number of scientists who can happily separate science from their personal feelings and beliefs. This seems to be the best approach for a theist to take as it requires less of a collision with reality (and less mindbending suspensions of logic and reason).

News flash for confused JWs: Atheism has nothing to do with science and nothing to do with evolution. Science tends to appeal to atheists, primarily because it is a method based on evidence. Note that it is atheists that choose to embrace science and that scientists are not required to be atheists (many aren’t). Besides, science itself is merely a method of inquiry and therefore takes no position on the existence of untestable beings – be they gods, angels or leprechauns.

In science, we are not at liberty to insert our personal supernatural prejudices because this would be by definition biased. Following the evidence where it leads and not endorsing untestable, unobserved speculation is the central point of science. This is what JWs feel is bias.

Furthermore, the scientific method is specifically designed to eliminate biases and personal agendas. Can the same be said of the Watchtower Society and the Jehovah’s Witness religion? No.

Stay tuned…

In the next post, I will go into some of the specific claims JWs make in their brochures about the origin of life and further demonstrate why the Watchtower resource materials cannot be trusted.

P.S. If you want to be prepared for a verbal sparring with a JW on your doorstep, read this entertaining post by the guys at the Atheist Experience.

Ab Circle Pro: Deceptive marketing in action

Does your New Year’s resolution have to do with losing weight or achieving super fitness? If you’re thinking of succumbing to the hype and buying an Ab Circle Pro, please read this post first. There’s something the marketers of the Ab Circle Pro don’t want you to know.

I normally don’t pay attention to infomercials. The cheesy American hype and formulaic, gimmicky presentations make me question why TV has degraded that much over the years. But, I have been bombarded by the Ab Circle Pro advertisement for months now and today I finally cracked – my bullshit detector can take no more of it.

There is much to be learned from a skeptical, consumer advocacy perspective in dissecting the claims about the Ab Circle Pro so let’s get started. Below are the main claims that arouse suspicion, but they make dozens of claims that could also qualify here.

Nonsense claim #1: “With the Ab Circle Pro System, we guarantee you’ll lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in just 2 weeks”.
The deception is laid quite neatly in this phrase “Ab Circle Pro System”. “Ab Circle Pro” is used more than 20 times throughout the infomercial, effectively conditioning the viewer to associate “Ab Circle Pro” with the Ab machine in question.

However, they pull a fast one on you with the specific claim that you’ll 10 pounds in 2 weeks by adding “System” to the name of the machine. It is likely that most people won’t notice that and assume the claimed 3 minutes on the “Ab Circle Pro” will yield these results. Don’t be fooled by this, the “Ab Circle Pro System” is not the “Ab Circle Pro” machine. The system involves a reduced calorie diet as well as a workout DVD, meaning it requires more than 3 minutes a day to be effective.

It may seem like semantics and it is, but it is subtle enough that technically they’re not lying, they’re just not telling the full story.

Nonsense claim #2: “…it’s fun and easy, and takes just 3 minutes a day”
Now we know from the points raised above that this is not true. The 3 minutes a day is really just a smokescreen designed to get you excited about not putting too much pressure on yourself in getting fit. It is doubtful 3 minutes a day will do much of anything for your fitness, waist and weight loss, especially on what appears to be a low-impact machine like the Ab Circle Pro.

The formula to rememember for weight loss is simple:
To lose weight your calorie output must exceed your calorie input.

Don’t be deceived – to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks you will be required to more than 3 minutes on a low-impact machine. The marketers know this and hence, the “Ab Circle Pro System” requires more than 3 minutes of further exercise along with calorie restriction.

Nonsense claim #3 – “These machines burn fat but won’t flatten your abs!”
If you want to lose fat on your waist and abs, working out your midsection is not the answer. There is a common misconception that you can lose weight by spot reduction – the idea that working a bodypart leads to fat loss from that area.

The body does not lose weight by spot reduction, the body sheds fat systemically. In other words, a calorie deficit will lead to fat loss from all parts of the body. Regardless of what exercise you do, any fat loss you experience will be throughout the body (including internal fat stores).

One further point – the infomercial shows ab exercises in gyms that require a lot of exertion. This is a clue as to which exercises will work best to stimulate muscle growth and lose fat. The greater your exertion the greater the muscle adaption and the more calories you will burn.

Nonsense claim #4 –  “In fact, 3 minutes on the Ab Circle Pro is equal to over 100 sit-ups!”
What?! This doesn’t even make sense. What exactly are we comparing here? Calorie burning? If that’s the case, I call bullshit on it. Firstly, do 100 sit ups and then honestly ask yourself whether the calories you expend from that would be inferior to 3 minutes on a low-impact machine such as the Ab Circle Pro.

Anyone who has done 100 sit ups will tell you that it is hard work. This is agood thing, despite the marketers telling you that this exertion is a bad thing.

Conclusion
Therein lies the problem with both keeping resolutions and with quick fix marketing gimmicks like the Ab Circle Pro. Who wouldn’t want great result for little effort and time? Unfortunately, the reality of the matter is that toning, weight loss and fitness generally requires exertion for a set period of time.

20-30 minutes of exercise done at a reasonable intensity for at least 3 days per week is a prescription for fat loss. Cool thing is, you can do this effectively for free – no rubbish gimmicks required. If you want a powerful midsection, there are plenty of great exercises out there that can be done in your home, office, garage or yard.

Best of luck with any fitness endeavours and your other new years’ resolutions.