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.
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.
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.