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

  1. Well…..it seems to me that if a publication such as New Scientist strays from the party line, they run the risk of being labeled “sensationalist and irresponsible.” And that must have a chilling effect on the expression of new ideas.

    Look, Watchtower’s role is to defend and uphold the Bible. So if there are disagreements among the ranks of evolutionists, they are apt to point that out. There’s nothing dishonest in that.

    • viewfromreality

      Maybe I didn’t do a good job of pointing out that the quote was deliberately taken out of context and that the New Scientists story manufactured a contorversey among scientists that doesn’t exist. To select the one or two quotes that sound destructive to common descent as Darwin proposed, without providing the context (actually, the comments don’t support the Watchtower claims) is dishonest. The article was certainly not favourable to the creationist cause so to paint it as such is intentional deception.

      I think it is a sensationalist put on your cover “Darwin was wrong” only to explain that in the story that he actually wasn’t – he just didn’t know a lot of what we know now.

      • I maintain a good analogy is that of cross-examining a hostile witness. They sometimes say things most damaging to their cause. The opposing attorney uses such statements to build a picture quite unlike that which the witness would have us all believe. It’s not dishonest. Or, if it is, then the entire human judicial system is dishonest.

        But that explains why Watchtower would “quote mine,” as you put it. Why New Scientist would do so is a different reason. I haven’t read the article. (I would if’ you’d publish a link to it) It does all sound a little sleazy, if it is as you put it. However, it may just be some chip in the party line which they are expanding upon, not pretending it represents the mainstream. Many developments of science might never have come about if, as a precondition to publishing, one had to make sure one’s findings were in accord with prevailing scientific opinion.

        Wasn’t it Max Plancke who said: “People think new truths are accepted when the proponents are able to convince the opponents. Instead, the opponents of the truth gradually die, and a new generation comes along who is familiar with the idea.”?

  2. viewfromreality

    Hi again, first, I will publish the link for you to read the article if you would like. I didn’t originally go straight to New Scientist because you have to subscribe to view it. Here’s the page: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126921.600-why-darwin-was-wrong-about-the-tree-of-life.html

    Anyways, it seems we have different ideas about how to approach the truth (I am assuming that, as I do, that is the most important value when discussing science).

    The analogy I would use from the courtroom is this: The lawyer interrogates the witness by saying: “Did you or did you not say [X incriminating statement]?” The witness responds with “Yes, but…” in an attempt to provide the context but is cut off by the lawyer who responds “Just answer Yes or No”. Now, that might be a good tactic in a courtroom, but it is not a valid way of determining truth. It is a good way of discrediting the witness or showing they are guilty in some way.

    My point is, that quoting someone out of context is not a valid way to argue against them if you are attempting to honestly and methodically determine what is true.

    Wikipedia says it quite succinctly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_quoting_out_of_context#Quote_mining_and_the_creation-evolution_controversy

    The article also has some discussion about the quote you take exception with on your blog (Darwin’s quote about the eye).

    I chose one example for this blog post because it shows how Watchtower makes a case against evolution (in this case common descent) and then uses quotes that seemingly show scientists agreeing with them. If you read the article you will note that this is not the case.

    I could have chosen numerous examples. (Dr Carol Cleland is another you refer to in your blog post that is a good example). For a more comprehensive overview, you can read them here: http://www.tj-encyclopedie.org/Blatant_misquotes_in_the_Origin_of_Life_booklet

    I hope this helps.

    Oh, and I’m not sure what you mean by the Max Planck quote. Truth is not determined by convincing your opponents of the validity of a claim. The evidence is the only thing that counts. If your opponents do not wish to change their minds given the evidence then that is their problem. History is filled with examples of this – it is human nature to maintain opposition to verifiable truths.

  3. tom sheepandgoats, you must be JW — because your argument is disingenuous to the degree of bad faith. Context is everything — and the Watchtower simple does not follow the rules they impose when studying scripture… and you know that.

    • viewfromreality

      Agreed. When you lay the blatant cherry picked statements out, talk to the authors and put the quotes into their full context, it is impossible to conclude that this is just innocent misunderstanding. It is, as they say in detective circles, an orgy of evidence.

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