Interview with Creation Book author Harry
On Wednesday, 27 August 1997, I met with Harry Peloyan for about 1 1/2 hours in the lobby of the 25 Columbia Heights Bethel office in Brooklyn, New York. My purpose was to discuss problems with the “Creation” book with him, since he is its main author. This is my recollection of the discussion and events leading up to it.
On Tuesday, 26 August, I took tours of the Bethel printing plant at 117 Adams St. and the office building at 25 Columbia Heights. Around 4:00 p.m. I asked at the 25 Columbia Heights lobby desk to see Peloyan. The desk clerk informed me that he had not been in the office that day due to his having physical therapy and having felt poorly. The clerk told me to try coming back the next day, which I did.
The next day I toured the 360 Furman St. building (shipping) in the morning, then showed up at the 25 Columbia Heights building about 1:15 p.m. I again asked to see Peloyan, but he was not at his desk. The clerk asked me to wait for awhile, so I sat in the lobby while he dealt with a dozen or so large tours, mostly groups of Chicago JWs. After the tours were all launched I again approached the clerk, who said he had forgotten about me. By this time it was nearly 2:30 p.m. The clerk made phone calls while I waited and within a few minutes informed me that Peloyan would be down to see me. He showed up a few minutes later.
The conversation started off with Peloyan being confused about who I was and what I wanted. I told him that I was related to certain people he knew and then he seemed to get his bearings. I told him that I wanted to talk to him in a private place, so we went to the east end of the lobby and sat down. After a couple of informalities I got right to the point and told him that I wanted to talk to him about some problems in the Creation book, and that since he was the author there was no better person to talk to. He said something like, "Well, you know that all of the Society's books are produced by committees". I acknowledged that and said that still, I knew that he had done the bulk of compiling the book. He didn't comment further, but his later remarks and emotional reaction to some of my criticisms proved his authorship.
I told Peloyan that the book contained a number of errors of fact and interpretation. He immediately became defensive and, in effect, accused me of being critical because I was probably an evolutionist and therefore couldn't agree with anything the book said because of my prior prejudice. I explained that I was by no means an evolutionist and most certainly accepted God's creatorship. This calmed him down, but he said that I was still in no position to criticize the book because I obviously didn't accept the Society's version of reconciling Genesis and geology. It was lost on him that the Society is no more in a position to claim that it is right about that stuff than are the young-earth creationists, but I figured I'd better not point that out just then.
We talked about some general items pertaining to reconciling Genesis and geology, such as what sort of evidence one would need to prove a worldwide flood. Peloyan's comments about frozen animals in the arctic and similar standard WTS misconceptions indicated to me that he was the man behind these ideas and probably had been for a good many years, since the same misconceptions appear in mid-1960s WTS literature. He would not accept that the 19th-century reports of enormous numbers of "intact frozen animals" were greatly exaggerated, but did acknowledge that they might be a little bit overblown. I mentioned the Berezovka mammoth and he was completely familiar with it. I tried to discuss details but he pushed the conversation into another "you're just an evolutionist" sort of personal attack. Later I pointed out the "Blue Babe" frozen bison from Alaska, and that its having been eaten by lions while it was freezing pretty much demolished all notions of "enormous numbers of frozen mammoths" in the arctic. He refused to acknowledge this, however, saying that one case doesn't prove anything. I told him to read the account of this bison in _Frozen Fauna of the Mammoth Steppe_.
I tried to explain what evidence giant floods produce, by telling Peloyan about the great Missoula floods of eastern Washington, but he blew that off by commenting that since it was a local flood it was not applicable. He refused to discuss it further. This again proved that the man is no more qualified to write about science in general than he is about rocket science.
Peloyan was generally quite reluctant to talk about details of errors in the “Creation” book. He acknowledged that in a general way there might be a few minor problems, but that they were unimportant in the overall context of the book's building up confidence in a Creator. I told him that that was not true, that the book contained “many” errors and that this damaged its credibility. He blew that away with something like "It's just the evolutionists and their sympathizers who find fault". I tried to tell him that this wasn't so, that _anyone_ who had a respect for the truth could find fault, but he cut me short. So then I told him I wanted to relate my own personal experience about why being accurate in these things was so important. I told him how, when in college, I tried to write papers defending the Society's view of the Flood and creation, and how when I looked up the references in various WTS publications I found that they were unusable. He again tried to accuse me of not accepting the references because of my prejudice, but I pointed out that was not true because the very purpose of writing the papers was to defend the Society's views. He had no comment on that, and so we changed the subject.
Peloyan's overall attitude about using quotes in a way the original author would disagree with was that it did not matter. As long as the words were quoted properly, the author's intent was irrelevant. He seemed to take some delight in the idea of using evolutionist's words against them in this manner, as if it served them right for being so pigheaded. In other words, he and other WTS writers think that the end justifies the means.
I told Peloyan that I didn't agree with this philosophy because, even though one might justify the result by saying that it defends Jehovah, it violates the idea expressed in Job 13:7-11 ("Will you be deceivers for God? ..."). He got rather upset at the implication that he and other WTS writers would actually lie to defend God, and launched into a defense by saying that these writers would “never” do such a thing, even though they might make mistakes every once in a while. I said that I accepted this, but the fact that the Society has had many such errors pointed out but failed to correct them showed that they indeed had some spirit of being "deceivers for God." I illustrated this by telling him that I and others I knew had written to the Society about certain errors and that the Society either did not reply, or refused to acknowledge them. He hemmed and hawed about this.
At one pointed I managed to get Peloyan to listen to my criticism of the “Creation” book's misrepresentation of Richard Lewontin (p. 143). He listened as I told him about how Lewontin had not expressed his own view about "the artful design" of organisms being "the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer", but that Lewontin was only describing the view of some 19th-century scientists. Peloyan again seemed entirely familiar with the quote, but wouldn't acknowledge that there was more than a very minor problem with this. I pointed out that it was evidence that whoever put the quote in the book had failed to check the context. I told him that I was convinced that what happened was that someone sent in the quote, having misunderstood it themselves, and then someone else checked the “Scientific American” article where the quote came from to see that the words were indeed there, but they failed to read the context, for if they had they would have immediately seen that Lewontin was not stating his own view, and in fact, explicitly discounted it as a valid view. Peloyan just kind of mumbled about this.
After that I pointed out that I had figured out how the misquote happened -- that someone had just lifted the quote verbatim from Hitching's “The Neck of the Giraffe”, which had taken it from the ICR magazine “Impact” article by Gary Parker, and that neither Hitching nor Parker had checked (or at least understood) the context of the original article. I further pointed out that Lewontin himself had taken Parker to task a couple of years after the “Impact” article for misrepresenting him.
After this Peloyan more or less admitted that there was a serious problem with the misquote. Then he again tried to minimize it by saying that it was only one of a small number of errors. In any case, since the book is now some 12 years old, the Society is not going to make any corrections. Peloyan then resorted to a personal attack again, and got up and said he wasn't going to talk to me any more because obviously my attitude was only critical. I managed to calm him down as we walked toward the main entrance of the building. I thought the conversation was over, but when we got near the main entrance he got friendlier and we kept talking.
Later I pointed out that one man I knew had written to the Society about the Lewontin misquote, and had gone so far as to send in a photocopy of the “Scientific American” article to prove it. The reply from the Society stated that they didn't see anything wrong with the quote, and besides, even if there were, it didn't matter anyway because the main point was that evolution isn't true. Peloyan hemmed and hawed again about this, and it was pretty obvious that he was uncomfortable about the Society's reply but was not going to admit to a real problem.
Eventually I was able to point out another big error in the “Creation” book, where “Popular Science” magazine was said to have stated that mankind may have only been around for a few thousand years instead of millions. I pointed out that the magazine, in it's editorial voice, had not said that at all, but that it was only quoting what a 7th-Day Adventist physicist had said, and that this was actually his religious view. Peloyan's response was, "Well it's in the magazine, right? So we didn't misquote anything." I said that of course it's a misrepresentation, because just suppose that “The Watchtower” quoted an evolutionist as saying "evolution is true", and then someone else wrote that the Society had now accepted evolution because “The Watchtower” was now saying that "evolution is true". Peloyan wouldn't comment and he obviously got the point. Then he again resorted to his argument that in the overall context of the “Creation” book's purpose, this was of no consequence. I wanted to point out that this was a perfect illustration of bending the truth to defend God, but thought the better of it.
At one point I told Peloyan that he was mistaken that the “Creation” book only has a tiny number of errors -- he would admit to perhaps three or four. I told him that I had discovered nearly a hundred in the first half of the book. He got quite upset about that and again resorted to personal attacks about my being an evolutionist and therefore prejudiced. He said that I hadn't said anything about how great the book was in the 2nd half, and how wonderfully the book defended the Bible and so on. I told him that, given the limited time we had, I could only talk about the problems that I saw because the positive things were not an issue. He couldn't comment about that and then calmed down.
Overall, Peloyan was very defensive about the Society's publications and was absolutely adamant that no one in the Writing Department would ever deliberately write something that wasn't true. I had to work hard to keep my mouth shut about some of the more egregious examples where any objective person could see that an author had deliberately lied.
At one point I offered to send Peloyan some details about the problems in the “Creation” book, but he was quite adamant that he would not read anything I might send in. I'll probably send him a pile of stuff anyway.
Towards the end of our conversation I switched to more general topics. He started talking about how near "the end" had to be because of the usual JW arguments. I said that that brought up an interesting problem with regard to earthquakes. The Society has said for decades that quakes are much worse since 1914, but my research proved that the risk of dying in a quake is five time lower than 300 years ago. He didn't dispute that, but said that it wasn't important because, since the earth's population is now so much larger, “obviously” more people were going to be affected (this indicates to me that Peloyan must have had something to do with the Society's idiotic claims about earthquakes during the past 20 years). I said that this was not good reasoning because of the following illustration: "suppose New York City has ten million people and out of that, 1000 are killed every year. Now suppose there is a small town of ten thousand people and out of that, 100 are killed every year. In which place would you rather live? The one where the risk of getting killed was one in 10,000 or where it was one in 100? Furthermore, which one could be said to have the worse murder problem?" Again Peloyan refused to answer but it was obvious that he got the point.
During this conversation Peloyan got a bit defensive about the Society's
having said so much in the past about how near "the end" was. He said that
for several reasons it is today so much clearer why "the end" could not have
come earlier, but that it's now “very” near. He said that the recent
advances in various technologies such as computers would allow society to be
quickly rebuilt after Armageddon, and that even ten years ago this would not
have been the case. I thought to myself how completely out of touch with
reality the man is.
Peloyan's advice to me personally was to just forget about the “Creation”
book's problems and just focus on what the Society does right. In fact, his
overall thrust was that since the Society is imperfect, and makes mistakes,
to just forget about “all” of its mistakes. Again I thought how completely
inane these arguments are because they assume without any justification that
the Watchtower Society is God's unique instrument, so that no matter what it
does wrong, it's still right overall. These people don't seem to understand
that a claim to be "God's people" cannot be based on assumptions but must be
proved by actions. And when actions prove the assumptions false, there is a
I had a strong urge to point out that it's all well and good for people like Peloyan to acknowledge mistakes in a general way, but that many people had been disfellowshipped or forcibly disassociated just for pointing out specific mistakes, so that the Society is talking out of both sides of its mouth with this argument and being grossly hypocritical. However, I kept my mouth shut.
Peloyan commented on elders, too. Without any prompting from me, he sort of lamented the fact that elders are very hard to control, and that despite the Society's best efforts they still go off and do what they want and often become much too hardnosed. I said that some of the recent “Watchtower” articles on elders were very good on this. I figured it was best not to point out, however, that the state of elders today is a direct result of them being trained by the Society during the past 25 years, so what else could the Society expect? It was reaping what it had sowed.
I asked Peloyan what he thought about the Internet. He was extremely negative about it, mostly focusing on the pornography aspect. He was also well aware of the activities of JW critics and said that it was really dumb for any JW to get involved in Net discussions.
We parted on friendly terms and wished each other well.
It's interesting to look back over the ten years since my little interview with Peloyan. He's been dead since 2005, I think, and he must have died a disappointed man. The end that was "so very close" in 1997 had still not come and even today shows no signs of coming. Peloyan's plight is mirrored by that of all old JWs who've banked their lives on the Society's lies.
I had another run-in with Peloyan just after the U.N. scandal broke in 2001. A day or so after the U.K. Guardian article appeared and the Society withdrew its NGO membership, I called Peloyan on the phone and actually connected. I simply asked him for his take on the situation. He immediately blew up and accused "you people" of "making a molehill out of a mountain" (he became so upset he could hardly speak). I could hardly say anything to him after that. He soon launched into a two-minute ranting monologue, during which I just chuckled to myself, and without another word from me, he hung up. I laughed for quite awhile after that.
Peloyan, although he had his good points in terms of quietly fighting against the Society's criminal policies on child molestation, seems to me typical of JW leaders -- supremely arrogant in their confidence of speaking for God, self-important in the extreme, extremely stupid in most intellectual matters such as science and philosophy, and completely unwilling to listen to anyone outside their inner circle of leaders. Barbara Anderson relates how Peloyan was absolutely devastated back in the early 1990s when he wasn't made one of the Governing Body helpers (aka Nethinim, or Given Ones), and moped around Bethel for many days. Eventually GB member Lloyd Barry had to reassure him that his job as editor-in-chief of Awake! was a very important job.
Really, these men are like aging little children who have not had a solid dose of reality in decades, having insulated themselves in the confines of Bethel. Well, reality is catching up with them, as they die off in their old age, never having seen what they'd worked so long to get.
Harry was a good person, a sincere person. If everyone here had their actions and words in the Org. scrutinized and cataloged as much as he has had I'm sure they too would not measure up. Think back when you were in Org. was there no one you judged or shunned? Was there any doctrine you defended against all who questioned it? Surely even AlanF acted as a good JW at one time.
I most certainly meant to belittle Harry Peloyan, because for the most part he deserves it. While he certainly did some very good things with respect to child abuse issues, he also did some very bad things by presiding over the publication of books and magazines that have misled millions of people for decades. Sure, Peloyan was imperfect, and I'm in no sense demanding perfection of him, or saying that he should have opposed all of the Watchtower's sins. But a man in his position -- editor-in-chief of Awake! for decades, author or compiler of several Watchtower books such as the 1985 Creation book -- has far more responsibility than others to make sure that whatever he is responsible for holds to the truth. In this, Peloyan failed miserably. One has only to read certain Awake! articles to see this. One has only to carefully analyze the Creation book to see this. Peloyan was grossly intellectually dishonest, and negligent of the supposed Christian responsibility that he took upon himself. His loyalty was not to God, but to the JW Governing Body.
Sincerity is not an issue here. Peloyan received many letters criticising his published work and he simply blew them off. We know exactly why he blew off all the criticisms: he was a Bethel political animal, and like many other career Bethelites, he would never do anything to upset his career applecart. Honestly answering criticisms of published Watchtower literature was a no-win deal for him in two ways: you don't criticize "Jehovah's organization", and you don't admit to personal error that leads to criticism of the Society. Dishonesty of this order is a repudiation of basic Christianity, so Peloyan -- like virtually all other WTS officials -- was a gross hypocrite.
Here's an example of Peloyan's intellectual dishonesty: Back in 1992, I attempted to get certain "difficult" questions answered. My parents couldn't answer them (I knew this perfectly well, but wanted to push as far as I could to demonstrate that no JWs could deal with them), but after consulting with their good friend Barbara Anderson (who as I'm sure you know was working closely with Peloyan at that time) offered to help get my questions answered. Eventually they said they had arranged for me to submit a short list of questions, which someone in Bethel would definitely answer. Six months later I asked my stepdad if there had been a response. Oh, sez he, the answer had come back some time ago, but it was that the Society's man refused to answer any questions because some of them were "the same questions that apostates ask". No surprise to me. Years passed, Barbara quit the JWs and eventually connected with me, and told me what had actually happened. Seems that she had given my list to Peloyan, and so it was he who was too cowardly to deal with my questions. Some of these were of the type I mentioned above, where it was a no-win situation for Peloyan to answer them. Once again, the same serious problem of dishonesty, hypocrisy and repudiation of Christian principles is evident.
How does Peloyan stack up with respect to other Watchtower officials? Probably better in some respects, probably worse in others. But all of them display the same intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy and general cowardice by seeing how bad much in the Watchtower organization really is, but rationalizing why they stay. And of course, much of that rationalization comes from self-interest. How does a man of 50 or up start over if he quits Bethel? Overall, I don't think Peloyan was any different from the rest.
You raise the question of how I acted in these respects as a JW. I certainly didn't just shut up and pretend that problems didn't exist. Indeed, it was the repeated displays of stupidity and dishonesty in Watchtower publications and at Kingdom Halls that led me, by about age 29, effectively to quit the JWs emotionally. Of course, due to the usual problems of unwinding from a lifetime of JW social entanglements, it took a few more years to quit in actual fact. And when I did quit, I did not remain quiet.
But there is no comparison between me and Peloyan. I, as a young JW man, was not in a position comparable to Peloyan's. When I saw enough crap in the Watchtower, I quit. Peloyan contributed to the crap, and deceived millions. Your comparison is simply off the mark.
Nor is there any comparison between Ray Franz and Harry Peloyan. While at Bethel, Ray worked in support of Christian principles much of the time, and when he finally realized that the men of the Governing Body were, by and large, lousy Christians, he realized that he ought to leave. Of course, those same men created an atmosphere designed to encourage him to leave. And eventually he wrote a devastating book. On the other hand, Peloyan stupidly stuck with "Jehovah's organization". Wouldn't you say there's a huge difference?
You mention the dynamics of the Watchtower hierarchy. These dynamics are a good deal of the problem with these men. They are precisely the forces that turn intelligent men into aging little children. After talking with many people who knew these men intimately, and listening to stories of ridiculous pettiness and truly infantile behavior -- by men in the 70s, 80s, and 90s -- I've seen that they really are like spoiled children. But the more sinister aspect is that these men are not innocent like children, because they've put themselves into this position by choice. Indeed, they've set up and maintained an organization specifically designed to allow them to indulge in infantile fantasies. Fantasies like their claim that they speak for God, that God directs them, that God will forgive them no matter what they do in his name, that it's of no consequence when they lie and destroy hundreds of thousands of lives. They love these fantasies so much that they, in a thoroughly Orwellian fashion, convince themselves that bad is good and vice versa. So I have no sympathy when things go bad for them, and I will not shrink back from criticizing them. They deserve everything they get, and then some.