Monthly Archives: April 2011

Jehovah’s Witness anti-science claims deconstructed

Here is my suggested text for the as-yet-to-be printed Watchtower Tract brochure of corrections entitled, “We Were Wrong About Evolution (sorry)”.

This is my final post/rant/diatribe on the anti-science claims of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I should point out that this series of posts is not intended to be a personal attack on Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) — this is a critique of the materials put out by the organisation that represents them — the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.

I have found most JWs to be friendly and pleasant bunch, though they are woefully misguided when it comes to science.

Anyway, on with the science and the insanity…

**NOTE: As a semantic propaganda tool, the Watchtower authors will say things like: “scientists feel that…” or “scientists believe…” instead of “scientists demonstrate” or “scientists have discovered that…” This is quite subtle but it can have a big impact on the way the text is perceived by readers. It is an attempt to paint scientific knowledge as just another opinion – dependent on the emotions of scientists. Rest assured, time and the scientific method filter out bias leading to knowledge that is publically verifiable and reliable.

Just some of the specific Watchtower claims found seriously wanting…

Watchtower claim: “Just as a skyscraper built without a foundation would collapse, a theory of evolution that cannot explain the origin of life will crumble”.

This claim shows the desperation in which the Watchtower authors have in dismissing scientific inquiry.

Do we really need to know how life arose to describe the processes that take place after the fact? Of course not. This Watchtower claim is equivalent to saying without a valid theory of human origins, the study of history is bunk, or that somehow we can’t derive a valid theory about tides because we don’t know how the moon formed.

WT claim: “The more that scientists discover about life, the less likely it appears that it could have arisen by chance.”

Scientists do not say life arose by chance alone. Chance is part of the equation, but here the Watchtower authors seem to be implying that scientists believe life is some random accident — without a valid mechanism.  However, there is a mechanism at work driven purely by laws of physics — the same laws that exist throughout the cosmos.

Elements do not form molecules randomly. It is highly probable that given a certain set of conditions and ingredients, the emergence of specific complex molecules is a certainty. Abiogenesis experiments replicate a number of different conditions evidence shows existed on the early Earth.

What we find in these experiments is that proteins and the replicating molecule RNA emerge from well-known laws of chemistry.

WT claim: “All scientific evidence to date indicates that life can only come from previously existing life. To believe that even ‘simple’ living cells arose by chance from non-living chemicals requires a huge leap of faith.”

Wow! Fallacies stacked upon fallacies. Let’s take a closer look at this one.

The authors state that “life always comes from pre-existing life” is a fundamental law. A law according to whom? This is certainly not an assertion from science. At one point, there wasn’t life on Earth, now there is.

Scientific evidence to date shows that there are many plausible mechanisms for living cells to have arisen. Amazingly, the authors mention the first such experiment (the Stanley Miller experiment from 1953) but the authors reject this study.

Unsurprisingly, they do not mention any of the hundreds of other abiogenesis experiments that have been conducted since, that have shown the molecules of life can form naturally without intervention. Wouldn’t these experiments be the key to understanding the current state of our knowledge on the subject?

There is still no reason to reject the (testable) hypothesis that chemical reactions in specific environments was the origin of life. After all, at the molecular level, everything is simply chemistry.

There are numerous reasons to reject that a supernatural agency started life:

  • The Watchtower authors say that to all evidence to date shows that life can only come from pre-existing life. This is a false assertion but let’s take their reasoning to its logical conclusion: All evidence to date indicates that intelligence only emerges in material brains. Therefore, arguing an intelligence (immaterial) exists is unjustified.
  • The unstated major premise in the claim that “life can only come from previously existing life” is that the intelligent designer of life is a form of life. Where then did the intelligent designer come from then if not another form of previously existing life? This produces an infinite regression to which there is no escape. On the other hand, if God is life that didn’t emerge from previously existing life then this refutes the original claim. Making an exception for God is a case of special pleading. This “life must come from life” argument is wrong whichever way you look at it.
  • The numerous abiogenesis experiments since 1953 reveal complex molecules can form in many different environments, including ice – an environment that actually allows for some unique conditions to occur (much like an incubator).

WT claim: “If the chemicals in the experiment represent the earth’s early environment and the molecules produced represent the building blocks of life, whom or what does the scientist who performed these experiments represent? Does he or she represent blind chance or an intelligent entity?”

Seriously? This is breathtaking in its ridiculousness. What the authors are claiming here is that: “Scientists cannot reliably use the scientific method in origin of life experiments. In fact, they confirm our position that life was created by intelligence!!!!” Heads I win, tails I win.

The whole reason we use experiments is to reveal what results from natural processes given a certain set of conditions. That is what an experiment does.

In looking at the origin of life, experiments can be used to show what would happen in conditions similar to those on the early earth. What we know is that the molecules required for life do not require supernatural intervention to arise, replicate or interact with the environment.

When left alone, the requisite molecules for life can emerge naturally. It is therefore no surprise living things consist of the molecules built from the most abundant elements on Earth.

What piece of evidence do the creationists have that would distinguish a purely natural creation of life from one that needs a god? They cannot do this, so they’re just begging the question and asserting that they know, full stop. I’d love to know what evidence they have that has them so convinced.

Fossil record disinformation

The Watchtower authors spend a bit of time rubbishing the fossil record. The fossil record is not necessary to confirm evolution, as the molecular evidence for evolution confirms the branching pattern we see in the fossils anyway.

WT claim: An article published in National Geographic in 2004 likened the fossil record to “a film of evolution from which 999 of every 1000 frames have been lost on the cutting room floor”. Consider the implications of that illustration.

The Watchtower authors run with this, asking the reader to imagine finding 100 frames of a film that originally had 100,000 frames. How would we determine the plot they ask?

While this is all very nice, the film analogy is actually a false one. There is no plot to evolution. The National Geographic authors were pointing out the fact that we have very little in the way of fossils, given the amount of species that could have existed.

Here’s the main point: “Perfect knowledge is not necessary to verify a pattern. One does not need to watch Jupiter constantly for twelve years, without blinking, to verify that it orbits the sun.” – Talk Origins Index of Creationist claims (specifically Transitional fossils and direct ancestry)

Strikingly, evolutionary theory predicts some very specific features of the fossil record, all of which are verified through observation.

  • Fossils should appear in a predictable pattern throughout the stratigraphic sequence of fossils in the geological record – simplicity to complex; earlier ancestor species in deeper strata while clearly evolved descendents appearing higher in the geological column. Go back in geological time long enough and we find fossils that show the development of complex multicellular organisms where previously none could be found.
  • There should be transitional fossil forms that show shared characteristics with those that appear earlier in the rock record and those that appear later. *Despite the rejection of transitional fossils by creationists, the fossil record has numerous examples of species with features of both earlier and later species. Tiktaalik, for instance, possesses features of both fish and mammals.

Conclusions

Intelligent design cannot even qualify as a hypothesis and is therefore completely unscientific.

As far as creationists/ID proponents and JWs are concerned, the limits of our knowledge is a joyous place because that is where they can assert whatever they like.  In doing so, however, they fail to recognise that any assertions beyond the reach of testability expand the problem we want to explain. Without an external way of determining whether they’re real or not, supernatural beliefs are arbitrary – believed on the basis of personal preference.

Anyhow, I will be getting my science education from the scientists who do this stuff I hope you do too. A religious organisation can muster a number of reasons to reject science. What do they know honestly? It is clear from their brochures that their grasp of evolutionary theory and philosophy is tenuous.

My final call to Jehovah’s Witnesses – bring it. If you are in the unique position of possessing the truth about reality, let’s hear it. Creating fallacious arguments, launching a smear campaign on verifiable science, denying facts and cocooning your mind from “evil” unofficial, non-Watchtower materials is inconsistent with a group that claims truth.

As slick as the Watchtower anti-science propaganda materials are, they reek of insecurity and intellectual sloppiness. When a group/person needs to attack science to support their cause – be skeptical!

Interested in real science?

Origin of life resources
A Simpler Origin for Life – Scientific American
Did life evolve in ice – Discover Magazine
How did life start? – Discover Magazine
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