In part 3 of this series, we will explore the logic or lack thereof employed by the Watchtower authors in their anti-science propaganda.
The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. – Carl Sagan.
I always maintain that anyone who cares whether their beliefs are true or not ought to honestly examine the claims they are being asked to believe.
In this series of posts, my aim is to show that the arguments put forward by The Watchtower Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) as evidence against the sciences of evolution and abiogenesis amount to little more than a desperate attempt to revive bad ideas refuted centuries ago (the final knife blow dealt by Darwin 150 years ago).
Simply believing assertions with faulty reasoning is not a path to truth. So without further ado, let’s continue our critique of the Watchtower brochures “The Origin of Life” and “Was Life Created?”
Appeal to ‘intuition’ leads to error
Routinely, the reader of the Watchtower brochures is asked “What do you think?” And then asked to evaluate biased leading questions (attempting to make science sound absurd).
The use of this appeal to intuition or ‘common sense’ is a huge red flag for a couple of reasons:
- ‘Common sense’ is where personal incredulity and arguments from ignorance come from “I don’t have an explanation, therefore God”
- “Isn’t it obvious” gut feel thinking espoused by the Watchtower creationist texts is often overturned by empirical observation. How many scientific theories at their core make intuitive sense? Quantum physics? No. Einstein’s theories of relativity? No. Even the heliocentric theory took some work to develop.
- The situation is akin to the blind leading the blind. Here we have a group ideologically opposed to evolution asking the layperson to make a judgement call on a scientific theory. Before coming to a conclusion discover the evidence for evolution here or read a book that describes the science of evolution from a reputable scientific source.
The appeal to common sense is a good way to end up with false beliefs. The human mammal has not evolved reasoning faculties to readily deal with the counterintuitive, complex and vast.
We are predisposed to seeking design and purpose – even to the point of invoking causation beyond experience. We also tend to believe what appeals to our self-importance. Given these tendencies and biases, we can’t trust our intuitions in matters of fact. We need external feedback from reality to inform our thinking.
Our intuitions about what led to the variety of life we see today were wrong right up until the 19th century. Intuition is what primitive human beings relied on in the absence of proper knowledge. Relying on such problematic mechanisms to determine the truth of our claims in the 21st century is naïve given the success of the scientific method.
The creationist obsession with “chance” and “randomness”
Another common tactic of creationist arguments that the Watchtower brochures embrace is the “complexity can’t emerge from chance”. They assert that our existence cannot be accounted for by chance because seems absurd. “Look at how complex the cell is”, they chant, “where did the instructions come from” they cry while admiring the complexity of the DNA molecule.
Fantastic, we have awe of the natural world. What a starting point to begin investigation right? Well, not so fast – the Watchtower authors want us to take a different track – one in which is both scientifically inaccurate and logically untenable.
“Was it chance or intelligent design” is a false dichotomy. Yet, this is the only choice Watchtower seems to be capable of mustering.
But the candidate solutions to the riddle of improbability are not, as falsely implied, design and chance. They are design and natural selection. – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion page 145.
Evolution is not chance and is decidedly not random. Evolution is the non-random selection of randomly generated variants. In other words, mutations at the genetic level are random, however the selection via environmental pressures is not random.
Chance is a strawman argument.
Dawkins continues his devastating assessment:
Chance is not a solution, given the high levels of improbability we see in living organisms, and no sane biologist ever suggested that it was.
He adds that the statistical improbability is the central problem any theory of life must solve.
Natural selection is not only a parsimonious, plausible and elegant solution; it is the only workable alternative to chance that has ever been suggested.
Intelligent design serves to increase the complexity of the problem, thereby making it more improbable and implausible. Adding extra unknowns (intelligent designers) to a problem increases the problem because now we must explain the designer’s arrival on the scene.
Intelligent design is an example of a non-explanation that fails to do anything useful. It doesn’t qualify as a scientific hypothesis because it asserts untestable criteria. Observations put forward by apologists for intelligent design have been falsified many times over.
The fact intelligent design is used to explain such a wide range of natural observations is precisely why it fails as any sort of explanatory model. Like the medicine that is claimed to cure all illnesses.
Supernatural claims amount to a declaration that we have reached the limits of our knowledge. In essence, invoking the supernatural is mind paralysing halt to inquiry. This suits Watchtower just fine because they don’t want you to engage your mind to learn, lest you might discover they are pulling the wool over your eyes.
- Argument from design resources (The secular web)
- Talk Origins complete list of creationist claims
- The critic’s resource on AntiEvolution
That’s my lot for now. I have one more post in the works on the anti-science of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Next time, we’ll look at some specific claims in the Watchtower brochures.