The Watchtower Speaks Out on Science 

by Alan Feuerbacher 

    Definitions and Impressions 
    The Fundamentals 
    An Anti-Science Posture 
    The Truth About Fraud 
    How Science Works 
    Denigrating Science 
    Evolution Versus Creation 
    A Matter of Attitude 



Definitions and Impressions 

The word “science” means different things to different people. The basic meaning is simply “knowledge,” but it usually implies organized knowledge, as contrasted with art. Science often means knowledge that must be acquired through study, rather than everyday knowledge people acquire through experience. Science can mean the organizations, public and private, which are dedicated to discovering new knowledge about the physical world. 

Likewise, “scientist” has several meanings, but most often means someone trained in the sciences (an admittedly vague definition), especially one who has the Ph.D. degree. An engineer, although trained in science, is not usually considered a scientist. 

Most scientists enter their profession out of a curiosity of how the world works. They enjoy discovering new things that no one has seen before. Their initial idealism often becomes tempered or derailed by the realities of life, however, so that many older scientists become cynical. It is similar with doctors, who often start in the medical profession with grand ideas of helping people, but get caught up in making money. 

People untrained in science often view scientists as cold, calculating automatons selflessly dedicated to discovering new truths for Science (whatever that means). This attitude is enhanced by the media, who are concerned more with how a news story will fly rather than its content. Hollywood has contributed to the notion of the aloof scientist. Many scientists themselves contribute to this attitude for typical human reasons — they like the publicity, they need money to work, etc. Some like the adulation that comes with the star status of Nobel prize winners, or the money that comes from writing best-selling popular books. Some find that by using the specialized jargon of their profession, they get more monetary support than otherwise. 

But the reality is that most scientists are exactly the same as everyone else. They have their good points and their faults. Like everyone else the majority are honest, hardworking people. They are usually concerned with making a living as much as with discovering new truths. Sometimes scientists are dishonest, like most everyone else. 

When science mixes with politics, unpleasant things can happen, just as when religion, business or other large human institutions mix with politics. Politics has a darkening influence on anything it touches, perhaps because it involves power to tell other people what to do and how to think. Since World War II, the growth of the U.S. government has led to the politicizing of many branches of science, especially those with military applications. Medical research has been particularly politicized, partly because the research projects are so large that only government is large enough to fund them. 

It has become evident to me that the Society has little understanding of real science. Here is a useful explanation of science, from The Myths of Human Evolution29 

.... science is storytelling, albeit of a special kind. Science is the invention of explanations about what things are, how they work, and how they came to be. There are rules, to be sure: for a statement to be scientific, we must be able to go to nature and assess how well it actually fits our observations of the universe. Science is theory, mental constructs about the natural world.

Some theories are better than others. Some have been tested more severely than others. When theories remain unexamined for a long time, they tend to take on mythic qualities. We are inclined to accept them as true, sometimes in the face of rather plain evidence to the contrary.


The Fundamentals 

For understandable reasons, the Watchtower Society has developed an intense dislike for much of science, whether it be pure knowledge or the institutional variety. Like so many others who are untrained in science, Watchtower writers often misunderstand what scientific pursuits or institutions are all about. As a result, they propagate their fears, misunderstandings and prejudices to the readers of Watchtower publications. Unfortunately, because of their intense dislike of science, they often grossly distort things related to science. 

One of the problems is that the Society’s writers do not seem to have an understanding of fundamental science. Their understanding appears to go no farther than what is available in popular books or light introductory material. To illustrate, note the way the Creation book treats the structure of atoms: 30 

An atom is a marvel of order, like a miniature solar system. It includes a nucleus containing particles called protons and neutrons, surrounded by tiny orbiting electrons.

Anyone familiar with physics knows that the picture of the atom as a miniature solar system was abandoned by about 1920, when ideas of quantum mechanics were being developed. This picture is still taught today in introductory science classes, but it is entirely misleading. The truth is, no scientist has the slightest idea what the atom looks like internally. The best that can be done is to describe statistically what large assemblages of atoms do. No one has any idea what electrons are doing inside atoms. An often used device is to refer to an “electron cloud.” The old picture of electrons in orbits is simply not accurate. 

An Anti-Science Posture 

The twelfth chapter of the Creation book, “Who Did It First?”, goes to some lengths to describe the various wonderful mechanisms animals have, and says that men have copied them. On page 159 it states: 

All this copying from animals by humans is reminiscent of what the Bible suggests: “Ask the very beasts, and they will teach you.”

This statement reveals a major misunderstanding the author has about the development of the various inventions he describes. These were almost all invented completely independent from any observations of animals. Many inventions have been refined by observing the design of animals, but the author of Creation misses the key point that people would never have understood what was involved in animals’ design unless they already had the experience acquired from struggling with their own designs. The clocks and compasses described on page 155 were not copied from the equivalent structures found in diatoms and bacteria. 

The author does this mainly to denigrate the achievements of man. One example is found in the description of animal thermometers on page 155: 

From the 17th century onward men have developed thermometers, but they are crude compared to some found in nature. A mosquito’s antennae can sense a change of 1/300 degree Fahrenheit. A rattlesnake has pits on the sides of its head with which it can sense a change of 1/600 degree Fahrenheit. A boa constrictor responds in 35 milliseconds to a heat change of a fraction of a degree. The beaks of the mallee bird and the brush turkey can tell temperature to within one degree Fahrenheit.

The author is desperately grasping at straws with this description. How, one may ask, does the author know that a rattlesnake can sense a temperature change of 1/600 degree? Surely not because men have invented accurate thermometers. 

The Society often exaggerates problems in the scientific community to make its own position more secure. Note the tone in this excerpt from the Awake! article “Shenanigans in the Halls of Science”: 31 

It isn’t supposed to happen. Not in the hallowed halls of science. Not where dispassionate, objective pursuers of truth labor tirelessly in their laboratories. Not where dedicated researchers, committed to finding truth regardless of where the search may lead, seek to unravel the secrets of nature. It is not supposed to happen in a united body of men and women fighting shoulder to shoulder to turn back the ravages of disease for the blessing of mankind.

Who would suspect that dedicated scientists such as these would manipulate their data to back their contentions? Or select what supports their theory and discard what doesn’t? Or record experiments they have never performed and falsify data to buttress conclusions they could not prove? Or report studies they had never made and claim authorship of articles they had never worked on or even seen? Who would ever suspect such shenanigans in the halls of science?

It isn’t suppose to happen, but it does. Last year a science magazine reported: “Kickbacks, fraud and misconduct are rife among American medical researchers, according to a scathing critique published by a US Congressional committee this week. The report says that the National Institutes of Health has ‘endangered public health’ by failing to police the scientists it supports.” — New Scientist, September 15, 1990.

The article then reports on the fraud committed by certain medical researchers, one Dr. Thereza Imanishi-Kari and others. A Nobel laureate, Dr. David Baltimore, had coauthored a paper with these researchers, and when one of the researchers brought the fraud to his attention, he tried to cover it up. One thing led to another, and Representative John D. Dingell of the U.S. Congress forced an investigation that ultimately led to a public airing of the fraud, and a rather unsatisfactory resolution. Dr. Baltimore had become a powerful political force within the NIH, and he protected his turf. 

It is reprehensible that these medical researchers committed fraud. But Awake! is not arguing coherently about the implications of these admitted problems. The problems occurred within an arm of the U.S. government, the National Institutes of Health. I hardly need expound on how much politics is involved in any large government branch. In these three paragraphs Awake! extrapolates the severe problems that occurred within one arm of the government to all of science, not distinguishing between a politically controlled organization and science as a whole. It implies that because there are problems in the NIH, all other science organizations are equally suspect. It is true that other science organizations have problems, but Awake! uses the worst example it could find to bring them all down. 

The reason Awake! does this is suggested from the titles of the two articles that preceded this one: “The Bible Fought Disease Before Science Did,” and “Pioneering Bloodless Surgery With Jehovah’s Witnesses.” It’s also a good shot just on general principles, so the readership doesn’t get too chummy with science. The Society has a long history of bashing science and using problems in one area to cast doubt on the whole. This is illustrated by the last paragraph of the Awake! article, on page 15: 

Most people agree that such shenanigans should not happen in the halls of science, yet it was a science magazine itself that carried the report that such shenanigans “are rife among American medical researchers.”

Note that it was a science magazine that reported the problem. Awake! seems to think there is something shady about this. 

The Truth About Fraud 

To illustrate what can be accomplished by a less prejudiced stance, note what an article in Technology Review said about the recent cases of fraud among certain science related institutions: 32 

.... Researchers in the ivory tower — once regarded as saintly, thrifty to a fault with the public dollar, and, most awesome of all, steeped in nature’s secrets and skilled in tapping them for humanity’s benefit — have lately come down to earth.

University scientists work with companies seeking to commercially apply (that is, derive financial gain from) their academic research. Hardly the exploitable absent-minded-professor type, they often help found the companies themselves. Whole universities, once deemed oblivious, even disdainful, of the profit motive, now wheel and deal with the best of them. Meanwhile, academic researchers demand more money than ever from public coffers, predicting widespread disaffection in the R&D community and eventual economic calamity for the nation should they not receive it.

Add to the newly mercenary perception of academia a straight-out series of black eyes — misuse of federal funds (university yachts and presidents’ home furnishings charged to the taxpayer), allegations of price fixing in awarding scholarships, and cases of misjudgment, fraud, and plagiarism — and it’s safe to say the public has been rudely awakened. Researchers turn out to be just plain folks. Like everyone else, they look out for themselves, they sometimes make mistakes, and they bruise when they fall.

.... No longer regarded as demigods, some academics worry that funds will dry up if disappointed and overreacting patrons begin to question the value of the present research enterprise altogether.... as the world changes, so too must the relationships between researchers and those who support their work. And the greatest attitudinal change must be in how the research community regards the public, not vice versa.

.... along with the public’s growing sophistication in matters scientific and technological.... has come the realization that researchers’ work not only is understandable to, but is the business of, everyone else. This doesn’t diminish the value of the academic enterprise; it simply means that R&D is a human endeavor like any other and that its practitioners should not expect to be exempt from the usual rules.

Thus the deflation of the superhuman academic scientist is actually a good thing and long overdue. Why, after all, should the desire to make money, or the capacity to make mistakes, be so shocking? Researchers should seek to apply their work to the benefit of their institution, their country, and themselves. Such strivings are a basic human trait. So, too, of course, are frailties and excesses, though ways of minimizing their adverse effects can also be evolved — as long as the environment is one of tolerance and mutual respect. Having discovered our partners’ shortcomings doesn’t mean we should quit working with them; on the contrary, it lets us collaborate more effectively.

In that spirit, even the recent lapses and scandals can be regarded as potentially beneficial to the long-term health of the research enterprise. They underscore the need for public accountability, public communication, and even public oversight, which should not be viewed as intrusions but as opportunities for interacting more fruitfully with the rest of the world. Instead of regarding the recent affronts to the academic image as a signal to defensively circle the wagons, researchers should see them as little more than a wake-up call. The appropriate response may be, like that of the guy who got slapped with after-shave in the television commercial, “Thanks, I needed that!”


How Science Works 

Another Technology Review article 33 examined some of the problems brought up in the Awake! article about U.S. government science institutions: 

Science has become a profession: grants and research contracts are what it lives on. Whereas a rich dilettante like Lord Rayleigh could retire to his country estate and do acoustics or whatever else he wanted, modern scientists must sing for their supper. They do not sing to their patron, the U.S. taxpayer. They sing to other scientists, who wield over them the power of professional life and death via peer review.

Peer review, the evaluation of a specialist’s work by others in the same field, is an inevitable consequence of specialization. Example: though anyone can tell if a bridge design is truly bad — the bridge collapses — it make sense to have other engineers check the plans before the bridge is built. Science uses peer review to determine which projects to pay for and which articles to publish, and, recently, to judge cases of alleged misconduct.

Peer review suggests trial by a jury of one’s peers, a jewel in the crown of Western democracy — surely an excellent model. But it takes more than a jury to have a fair trial. A lynch mob is also a peer panel. Rules and procedures — jury selection, rules of evidence, the requirement that evidence be heard in public — and a judge to interpret and enforce them are necessary if fallible people are to render fair decisions. Specialist peer review is fraught with biasing influences. Specialists compete with one another and, at the same time, fight collectively for their profession.

Peer review is at best a treacherous servant, but scientists often forget that a jury trial is more than a jury, and act as if the use of peers automatically sanctifies the resulting decisions. Establishment scientists have been treated well by peer review; scientific administrators use it. Both want to believe in it, and the need engenders beatification by faith. “Peer review is the distinguishing characteristic of science,” they say. “It makes science what it is.”

They are right — in a way. Every scientist is an informal peer reviewer. A scientist’s work affects science only if others accept it. But formal review of grant applications, manuscripts, and fraud allegations also makes science what it is, and here human failings can yield improper decisions whose practical consequences and poor ethics propagate throughout science.

Peer review resists investigation. Only insiders know the details of each decision. They may not tell the truth, and the technical background needed to extract the facts is hard for outsiders to learn. Lacking the omniscience of Orwell’s Big Brother, we must be content with horror stories of reviewing gone wrong. Though such stories do not directly reveal the frequency of mistakes, they show which human failings are involved, and thus the likelihood of trouble and how to reduce it.

The federal government uses a variety of ways to decide how to fund science. Department of Defense (DOD) managers can fund whomever they like, without having to get advice. They do not compete for contracts with the scientists they might choose. Instead, they shine in the success of the programs they manage, and should something go wrong in a program, the manager is responsible. These are all good features. Unfortunately, managers are subject to agency politics....

At the National Science Foundation (NSF), too, managers make the final funding decisions but with the advice of peer reviewers. Managers benefit from the peers’ specialized knowledge but have the authority to correct for peer bias. As at the Defense Department, should something go wrong, the program manager is responsible....

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH).... peer reviewers effectively make the final decisions; managers are nearly powerless. In each discipline, a peer panel — the study section — evaluates grant applications. By secret ballot, each panel member gives an application a numerical score, and these scores largely decide its fate. An upper, advisory council can fund projects slightly out of the order of their scores without attracting comment, as can program managers....

Since peer review puts a scientist’s future at the mercy of competitors, is it any wonder that career issues are a respected, if unadmitted, influence on decisions? Would we not expect mutual assistance pacts to be accepted facts of life? Should we be surprised that politics is especially ripe in disciplines funded by NIH, where the power of scientists over one another is essentially unchecked?....

Politics is particularly bad in biomedical research because biomedical scientists directly control the flow of money that supports their disciplines. But even without politics, today’s grant system, in which scientists propose future research projects to an agency, would be bad.... The great ideas in science in the next few years will be those not yet thought of. The system ought to select people likely to think them, but, alas, it is inherently biased against such speculation. Granting agencies want certainty, and reviewing peers fear unexpected discoveries by their competitors.

When peers referee journal articles, they perform a valuable service. They find mistakes and sometimes fraud, and they form a trial readership whose reactions show what to change to hold a reader’s attention. A referee who knows the field can clarify what is and is not novel in a manuscript. Competent reviews take hours or days of hard work and are a tribute to those who do them.

Unfortunately, the power of referees, usually anonymous, permits self-interest, jealousy, revenge, and other unworthy motives to influence decisions.... Reviewing weeds out good manuscripts as well as poor ones....

The current attempt to deal with scientific fraud is science’s first brush with formal self-regulation.

Self-regulation of any profession runs afoul of collective self-interest and pack loyalty. When disciplinary committees operate in secret, these influences have full rein. Need I enlarge on the ineffectiveness of the disciplining of doctors by doctors?....

Universities routinely use peer panels to investigate and judge fraud. This shifts responsibility but does not get justice done. A powerful accused scientist or pack solidarity can frighten a panel into seeing no evil....

Secrecy gives full rein to subterranean forces, and a major scientist can bring great force to bear. Panels at MIT, Tufts, and NIH all said, wrongly, that no misconduct was involved in a paper co-authored by Thereza Imanishi-Kari, Nobel laureate David Baltimore, and others. It is a matter of record that Baltimore used both a letter-writing campaign and professional lobbyists in an unsuccessful attempt to get Congress to halt Rep. John Dingell’s.... investigation of the matter. (It was Rep. Dingell’s investigation that finally forced NIH to mount a real investigation of its own.)

Media interest in the Baltimore affair is more than instinctive celebrity chasing. Fake work impedes progress much more if a major scientist is involved than otherwise, because others must pretend to agree with it if they want jobs or grants. I know of no attempt by other scientists to duplicate the precise experiments in the Baltimore affair. Scientists supposedly delight in proving one another wrong, but they hesitate to embarrass someone with power and the willingness to use it....

Compare NIH with NSF, where managers make the final decision about who gets funded. With responsibility comes accountability.... [certain] decisions show that NSF has power. If NSF wanted a university to investigate a fraud, the school would remember the movability of laboratories before doing a whitewash. Perhaps this power is reflected in the apparent lack of fraud in the parts of science NSF funds.

The article goes on to make recommendations on reforming the peer review system. How much more edifying this is than Awake!’s treatment of problems in the halls of science. It also gives one a better feel for the issues Awake! prefers to leave out. 

Denigrating Science 

A series of four articles appeared in the January 22, 1990 Awake!, dealing with fraud in science. Given the above material from calmer voices, note that the Awake! material takes on a less strident perspective. 

The first article simply lists a number of misdeeds by scientists. The second article says that competition in certain branches of science can be fierce, there can be lots of pressure to publish papers, sometimes this results in cheating, and now some of the cheating is coming to light. This article illustrates the way the Society often takes quotations out of context, and therefore distorts their meaning. Under the sub-heading “Peer Review, a Safeguard Against Fraud?” on page 7, Awake! said: 

Editors of science journals often — but not always — submit papers to other scientists for review before publishing them. This practice, called peer review, theoretically weeds out erroneous and fraudulent articles. “Science is self-correcting in a way that no other field of intellectual endeavor can match,” Isaac Asimov says. “Science is self-policing in a way that no other field is.” He marveled that “scandal is so infrequent.”

But many others do not share this view. Peer review is “a lousy way to detect fraud,” said previously quoted Dr. Drummond Rennie....

Note that Asimov mentioned nothing about peer review as the means by which science is self-correcting or self-policing. Awake! is putting words into his mouth. Asimov is here speaking of science as a global body of knowledge about the physical world, whereas all the references to peer review are talking about science institutions in the U.S. or specific journal articles. What the context of Asimov’s statements would show is that he is speaking of the long term manner in which science, as a body of knowledge, is self-correcting. He means that eventually, if other workers would try to duplicate or build on incorrect or fraudulent results, they would find out and correct the situation. Sometimes that may take a long time, but the truth eventually will be found. In the case of Piltdown Man, the fraud took forty years to be exposed, but exposed it was because it did not fit with other evidence. The Awake! writer may not understand the distinctions, or perhaps he is trying to obfuscate the issue. 

Paleontologist Niles Eldredge commented on the long term self-correcting nature of science. After describing the idealized notion science philosopher Karl Popper advanced as the way things ought to be in science, he said: 34 

In the real world, in the competitive fray that is science, data forging, plagiarism and all manner of base and venal but utterly human failings make a mockery of the counterimage of detached objectivity. Such pure, dispassionate, cold logic is rare — though more common, one assumes, than the cheating of its opposite extreme. But no scientist, at least any worthy of the name, can be expected to sit back calmly and devise still more critical tests for a pet idea (though when he or she is emotionally attached to a theory it behooves our scientist to make sure that all the avenues of obvious “refutation” of the system are well understood). But scientists, as individuals, do argue in favor the the “truth” of this or that favored proposition — on the face of it not a very scientific mode of behavior in strict Popperian terms....

Where Popper’s views and the actual day-to-day workings of science coincide is in the collective effort. Science is competitive; it is, as Popper says, a collision of ideas with observations. If not all individual scientists can be paragons of disinterest in the ultimate fate of their ideas, if instead they tend to cling to favored notions sometimes in the face of rather plain evidence to the contrary...., it is of no particular import. Science needs its advocates of definite points of view. It is someone else who will blow the whistle; someone who, far from committed to an idea, may just as emotionally be opposed to it — or to its proponents. It is the rivals who can be counted on to falsify an hypothesis, to claim that someone else’s pet idea just doesn’t square with the evidence of our senses.


Evolution Versus Creation 

The last two articles in the Awake! series attack the theory of evolution. Evolution is considered by most members of the biological sciences to be as well established as the fact that the earth goes around the sun. Awake! justifiably attacks this attitude, but in so doing it clouds issues more than it clears them, and shows again the scientific ignorance of the Society. 

Why do I say this? First, one must define what one means by “evolution.” For many, evolution and Darwin’s theory are identical, but the fact is that there are many theories of evolution. There is also the general idea of evolution, apart from any theory, as simply being the observation from the fossil record that life has changed progressively since it first appeared. This is not in dispute, as the Society readily admits under the proper circumstances. The fossil record shows life forms, even entire categories of life forms, appearing suddenly, existing for a long time, and just as suddenly disappearing. The dispute among most people, excepting six-literal-day creationists, is not whether evolution in this broad sense occurred, but is about the mechanisms of this evolution. It should be noted that Genesis allows for God creating everything progressively, as it assigns no chronology to creation. 

Awake! here seems unaware of this distinction, as the writer is intent on demolishing evolution. He presents little factual evidence in the articles, but instead quotes what others say as to the factualness of evolution. He refers the reader to the Society’s book Life — How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation ?, but this book is itself an outstanding example of misdirection. 

Awake! quotes author Stephen J. Gould as saying many times in one article that “evolution is a fact”. By reading the article one can see that Gould is sometimes talking about evolution in the broad sense, and sometimes about the mechanisms of evolution. But Awake! just lumps it all together. Also quoted is biologist Michael Denton, who wrote one of the best critiques of Darwinism I’ve read. On page 9 Awake! said: 

Molecular biologist Michael Denton referred to this glib talk about evolution’s being a fact and dismissed it with these words: “Now of course such claims are simply nonsense.” It’s much more than nonsense. It’s fraud. It deceives and misrepresents. It perverts the truth to induce another to part with something of value.

Here is the context of what Denton said.35 Judge for yourself whether Awake! is able to distinguish fact from theory. 

[Darwin’s] general theory, that all life on earth had originated and evolved by a gradual successive accumulation of fortuitous mutations, is still, as it was in Darwin’s time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from that self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe.

The fact that every journal, academic debate and popular discussion assumes the truth of Darwinian theory tends to reinforce its credibility enormously. This is bound to be so because, as sociologists of knowledge are at pains to point out, it is by conversation in the broadest sense of the word that our views and conceptions of reality are maintained and therefore the plausibility of any theory or world view is largely dependent upon the social support it receives rather than its empirical content or rational consistency. Thus the all pervasive affirmation of the validity of Darwinian theory has had the inevitable effect of raising its status into an impregnable axiom which could not even conceivably be wrong.

It is not surprising that, in the context of such an overwhelming social consensus, many biologists are confused as to the true status of the Darwinian paradigm and are unaware of its metaphysical basis. As the following quote from Julian Huxley at a conference in 1959 makes clear:

The first point to make about Darwin’s theory is that it is no longer a theory but a fact. . . Darwinianism has come of age so to speak. We are no longer having to bother about establishing the fact of evolution . . .

Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, is even more emphatic, for him:

The theory is about as much in doubt as the earth goes round the sun.

Now of course such claims are simply nonsense. For Darwin’s model of evolution is still very much a theory and still very much in doubt when it comes to macroevolutionary phenomena. Furthermore being basically a theory of historical reconstruction, it is impossible to verify by experiment or direct observation as is normal in science. Recently the philosophical status of evolutionary claims has been the subject of considerable debate. Philosophers such as Sir Karl Popper have raised doubts as to whether evolutionary claims, by their very nature incapable of falsification, can properly be classed as truly scientific hypotheses. Moreover, the theory of evolution deals with a series of unique events, the origin of life, the origin of intelligence and so on. Unique events are unrepeatable and cannot be subjected to any sort of experimental investigation. Such events, whether they be the origin of the universe or the origin of life, may be the subject of much fascinating and controversial speculation, but their causation can, strictly speaking, never be subject to scientific validation.

Furthermore, not only is the theory incapable of proof by normal scientific means, the evidence is, as we shall see in the next few chapters, far from compelling.

Denton is clearly talking about Darwin’s particular theory, not evolution in the broad sense. Denton also hits upon the key theme of the evolution/creation debate. What people believe about how the universe came about is fundamentally a subjective decision based upon criteria other than demonstrable proof. The strict evolutionist believes that all natural phenomena must be explained without reference to supernatural causes. The strict Bible student believes that the God of the Bible put the universe in motion. Both are beliefs not subject to outside verification. Awake! is unaware of the parallels. 

What does the fossil record actually show? 36 In rare cases a series of fossils is found that is consistent with the continuous gradual change Darwin predicted, but species generally remain stable for long periods of time. Many evolutionists are coming to grips with the fact that the evidence for Darwin’s theory of progressive gradual change of one species into another is not generally found in the fossil record. Darwin also realized this and postulated that the fossil record was too poor to show the transitional forms he expected. He predicted that ultimately these forms would be found. 

Within the last two decades many evolutionists have given credence to a new theory, called punctuated equilibrium. This theory was first advanced in 1972 by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, in an attempt to account for the lack of evidence of gradual change while retaining the basic notion that evolution had occurred and could be explained. Niles Eldredge, in The Myths of Human Evolution, said of the search for these forms since Darwin’s time: 37 

Paleontologists just were not seeing the expected changes in their fossils as they pursued them up through the rock record. Instead, collections of nearly identical specimens, separated in some cases by 5 million years, suggested that the overwhelming majority of animal and plant species were tremendously conservative throughout their histories.... it has become abundantly clear that the fossil record will not confirm this part of Darwin’s predictions. Nor is the problem a miserably poor record. The fossil record simply shows that this prediction was wrong.

The observation that species are amazingly conservative and static entities throughout long periods of time has all the qualities of the emperor’s new clothes: everyone knew it but preferred to ignore it. Paleontologists, faced with a recalcitrant record obstinately refusing to yield Darwin’s predicted pattern, simply looked the other way. Rather than challenge well-entrenched evolutionary theory, paleontologists tacitly agreed with their zoological colleagues that the fossil record was too poor to do much with beyond supporting, in a general sort of way, the basic thesis that life had evolved. Only recently has a substantial number of paleontologists blown the whistle and started to look at the evolutionary implications of the marked pattern of nonchange — of stability — within species so dominant in the fossil record of life.

.... in the vast majority of cases.... [species] have remained substantially unchanged through monumentally long periods of time. Species, in other words, seem to be relatively static. There is frequently more variation throughout the geographic spread of a species at any one point in time than will be accrued through a span of 5 million or 10 million years.

This observation has two simple consequences, both of tremendous importance to evolutionary theory. First, Darwin’s prediction of rampant, albeit gradual, change affecting all lineages through time is refuted. The record is there, and the record speaks for tremendous anatomical conservatism. Change in the manner Darwin expected is just not found in the fossil record.

The second simple consequence is the observation that species are stable and remain discrete, in time as well as space. They are individuals in the true sense of the word: they have beginnings, histories, and, ultimately, ends.

So species themselves tend to remain stable, but what about all the change that is supposed to have occurred? The Myths of Human Evolution says: 38 

.... the overall picture presented by the fossil record confirms the most basic predictions we can make to test the very notion of evolution: if all organisms are related by a process of ancestry and descent, older rocks should contain more primitive members of a group than younger rocks. We should be able to document progressively more advanced forms as we look in correspondingly younger rocks. This is what we find.

But this very confirmation of the most basic of evolutionary predictions has led us astray. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the usual conception casts evolution as a gradual, steady process of adaptive change. And we have already seen that the fossil record conflicts with that view. Now let’s look at the fossil record to see what patterns of evolutionary change are actually there. The general agreement that older rocks produce more primitive fossils and that as we look in younger rocks we usually find more advanced members of an evolving lineage has been taken as sufficient evidence that the evolution of life is fundamentally a process of gradual, progressive, adaptive change. But when we take a second, harder look at the fossil record we begin to see the truly mythic qualities of this story. For the gross patterns of evolutionary change so abundantly documented in the fossil record could have been produced in a number of different ways. We are faced more with a great leap of faith — that gradual, progressive, adaptive change underlies the general pattern of evolutionary change we see in the rocks — than any hard evidence. In fact, a closer look at the fossil record shows that another view, centering around the evolution, stability, and death of individual species, predicts a pattern of change that fits the facts of the fossil record much more closely.

The notion of gradual, progressive change collides head-on with the stability seen in most fossil species, for the general progressive sequence of life’s evolutionary history seen in the fossil record has always been taken as confirmation of the underlying assumption that all change comes from progressive generation-by-generation modification of species. What the record is really telling us is that evolution, as suspected, has occurred. But we have greatly erred in predicting what the pattern of change should look like in the fossil record. Rather than taking the record literally, we have dismissed the lack of change within species as merely the artifacts of an imperfect record. But the time has come to ask, instead, if the record isn’t telling us something that our theories ought to be able to explain — rather than explain away.

Summarizing all the above, the fossil record shows discernable trends from species to species, but little evidence of change within species. Eldredge proposes the theory of punctuated equilibrium to account for the observations. Punctuated equilibrium has problems, however, since it does not explain how large scale changes actually come about, but in essence, merely acknowledges that this sort of change exists. 

As the reader can see, there is far more to the issue of evolution than is evident in reading Awake! It simplifies and obscures the real issues so much that its readers are left in the dark. The Society focuses on the fact that the “how” of evolution is not well established, and from that generalizes that all the evidence for evolution is not established. This is fallacious reasoning. The Myths of Human Evolution again makes relevant comments: 39 

Some of the most mythic of scientific notions lie in the realm of evolutionary biology. Evolution — the proposition that all organisms are related — is as highly verified a thesis as can be found in science. Subjected to close scrutiny from all angles for over a century now, evolution emerges as the only naturalistic explanation we have of the twin patterns of similarity and diversity that pervade all life. The basic notion that life has evolved is as certain as the existence of gravity or the idea that the earth is spheroidal. We call such highly verified notions “facts” when they consistently escape all attempts to prove them false. Evolution is no myth.

But how life has evolved is another matter entirely. Our standard expectation of evolution — slow, steady, gradual improvement, hence change, through time — is indeed a myth.

The aforementioned Awake! articles emphasize the point that evolution is a fraud. The heading on page 8 said: 

Fraud is defined as “an act of deceiving or misrepresenting.” It is the “intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value.”


A Matter of Attitude 

As this booklet has shown, Watchtower Society publications often meet this description. Authors are quoted out of context, author’s statements are turned around to make them say what they had not intended, important information is left out, information is used selectively, past mistakes are glossed over, publication indexes are doctored to omit past mistakes. Need I go on? I’ve set forth at least one example of each of the above in this booklet, as well as many other abuses. When Watchtower writers deal with evolution or any other matter they should strictly adhere to the whole truth, even if it is distasteful. Anything less dishonors the God of the Bible and disproves the Society’s claim to speak for him. 

The Society’s handling of scientific material is often similar to what is described in The Noah’s Ark Nonsense40 

Ark enthusiasts, like fundamentalists in general, have difficulty in deciding whether they are for or against science, and for or against scientists. When a scientist makes a statement they can use to support their views, they gladly cite him as a scientist. They often regard their own views as “scientific.”.... [When it is convenient,] science is held in honor and there is an effort to identify with it.... But when scientists disagree with their views, the ark people tend to disparage scientists in general.

The November 22, 1991 Awake! article said on page 15: 

Scientists are unhappy if anyone outside the scientific community passes judgment on their activities. They are adamant that they, not outsiders and certainly not government agencies, are the ones who should judge their own cases where misconduct or fraud is charged. But anyone within the scientific community who dares to raise questions against prominent members may fare badly....

Substitute the words “Jehovah’s Witnesses” for “scientists” above and you again have a true statement. 

The January 22, 1990 Awake! article said on page 15: 

Alice, in the tale Through the Looking-Glass, incredulous at the strange logic of the White Queen, could only laugh. “There’s no use trying,” she said. “One can’t believe impossible things.” The queen responded: “I dare say you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age I did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Evolutionists are the White Queens of today. They have had infinite practice in believing impossible things.

I agree that evolutionists believe impossible things with regard to the origin of new forms of life. But substitute the words “Jehovah’s Witnesses” for “evolutionists” above and you have yet another true statement. The Watchtower Society has published reams of material attempting to show that its religious interpretations of the Bible have more weight than the observations of scientists. In many cases the Society makes claims about what science says that are quite outlandish. In other cases it ignores huge amounts of evidence that is hardly more than simple observation, to hold on to views that are not even those of the Bible, but are instead Watchtower Society traditions. In doing so the Society shows a cavalier disregard for the truth. 


An observation of Steve Allen’s hit home regarding what I’ve already said about the Society’s method of arguing and handling in print difficulties with the Bible.41 

I have noted that fundamentalists argue unfairly. For the most part they deny problems of interpretation, simply asserting that the Bible says what it means and means what it says. When, however, it is demonstrated that portions of Scripture flatly contradict each other, then the fundamentalist promptly qualifies his original assertion and interprets to his heart’s content.

The examples I’ve included in this booklet, such as the difficulties with Revelation 6:8, show the truth of this assertion. 

When fundamentalists encounter almost any criticism of either the Scriptures or their church, they also respond by interpreting the observations as anti-God. “How dare you,” they ask, “presume to pit your merely human intellect against that of God?”

The answer, of course, is that (1) if there is a God and (2) he did indeed share with us the benefits of his all-wise mind, then (3) it would be the height of insanity to contradict any aspect of the divine philosophy. But when the fundamentalist is asked how he knows that one particular opinion or another represents the view of God, he responds by saying that the divine message came to us in the form of the Bible.

How many times have I read just this sort of statement in the Society’s literature? Especially note what I’ve said on the subjects of how the Society views material it publishes and of how it views elders. Allen continues: 

The entire Bible? Yes, beyond question. His entire case rests on the Bible being the literal word of God. Unfortunately he often attempts to prove this, as regards one portion of Scripture, by referring to some other portion. This puts him in the obviously untenable position of trying to prove the Bible from the Bible.

The Society has often argued this way. Jesus is quoted to prove the Flood occurred, Paul is quoted to prove the Bible is inspired, and on, and on. The sad part is that this is often done after a presentation of other evidence that is so weak the writer realizes he has to resort to quoting the Bible to salvage any credibility at all. 

An amusing example of this sort of argument comes from Science and Creationism42 quoting an article that originally appeared in Harper’s Magazine, April, 1982. The article was about the 1981 constitutionality trial in Little Rock, Arkansas, of Act 590, the “Balanced Treatment of Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act.” The state of Arkansas was trying to uphold the constitutionality of the Act: 

The state’s most coherent witness by far was Dr. Norman Geisler of the Dallas Theological Seminary.... The most profound part of Geisler’s testimony was his attempt to prove that the “Creator” of the universe and life mentioned in Act 590 was not an inherently religious concept. After citing Aristotle, Plato, and one or two other classical philosophers who supposedly believed in a God or gods without worshiping them — albeit not as creators of the world “from nothing” — Geisler offered his most thundering proof: the Epistle of James. He cited a line of Scripture to the effect that Satan acknowledges God, but chooses not to worship Him. “The Devil,” he said, “believes that there is a God.” Whee! If Geisler has not yet squared the circle in his meditations, he has at least, well, circled it. Who would have thought one could prove the Creator a nonreligious idea by means of hearsay evidence from Beelzebub? After unloading that bombshell, Geisler, too, hastened to face the cameras in the courtroom hallway. “We don’t rule out stones from a geology class just because some people have worshiped stones, and we don’t rule God out of science class because some believe in him.” As I listened to Geisler I could not help but recall the words of the Rev. C. O. Magee, a Presbyterian minister who is a member of the Little Rock School Board. “Any time religion gets involved in science,” Magee told the Gazette, “religion comes off looking like a bunch of nerds. . . . The Book of Genesis told who created the world and why it was created and science tells how it was done.” Amen.

I wonder how many people who write Watchtower publications actually feel the way the minister expressed himself above. The December 15, 1991 Watchtower, pages 22-24, discussed the situation faced by Galileo when up against the Catholic Church, and said: 

“The Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go,” said the 16th-century Italian scientist and inventor Galileo Galilei.... Galileo believed that creation is governed by laws that men can learn through study. The Catholic Church opposed this view.... What do we learn from Galileo’s experience? A Christian should realize that the Bible is not a science textbook. When a conflict appears to exist between the Bible and science, he need not try to reconcile every “discrepancy.” After all, Christian faith is based on “the word about Christ,” not on scientific authority. Besides, science is continually changing. A theory that appears to contradict the Bible and that is popular today may tomorrow be discovered to be in error and be rejected.

Those rather general statements about faith may be true, but it is also true that the Bible and one’s religion have to accomodate matters that have been well established scientifically. 

In fact, although the Bible makes many comments on many subjects, it rarely touches on “scientific” topics. Very often things that are at one time considered “scientific” gradually become so well accepted that they become “everyday” things. For example, the Bible does not comment on the fact that the earth goes around the sun (though the Catholic Church once said it did, and The Flat Earth Society still claims it does), but this once esoteric idea is now thoroughly commonplace. Likewise, the Bible makes no direct comment on many other things that the Society claims it does, such as some of the topics discussed in this booklet. 

The Watchtower article said of the Catholic church hierarchy, 

Galileo’s new ideas.... challenged their reputation and power.... As biographer L. Geymonat points out in his book Galileo Galilei: “Narrow-minded theologians who wanted to limit science on the basis of biblical reasoning would do nothing but cast discredit upon the Bible itself.” For selfish reasons stubborn men did exactly that.

Unless the Bible makes a direct statement on a “scientific” subject it would be wise to take scientists seriously, or risk taking on the position of Galileo’s tormenters or looking like a bunch of nerds or even discrediting the Bible itself. Subscribing to certain Bible interpretations merely because they have become traditional does no one justice. Playing loose with truth opens the door to ridicule, as the following example illustrates: 43 

A long acquaintance with the literature of the Witnesses leads one to the conclusion that they live in the intellectual ‘twilight zone.’ That is, most of their members, even their leaders, are not well educated and not very intelligent. Whenever their literature strays onto the fields of philosophy, academic theology, science or any severe mental discipline their ideas at best mirror popular misconceptions, at worst they are completely nonsensical.

No one should want to be included among those described by Jean-Paul Sartre as ones who, “since they are afraid of reasoning.... want to adopt a mode of life in which reasoning and research play but a subordinate role, in which one never seeks but that which one has already found.” 44 

29  Niles Eldredge & Ian Tattersal, The Myths of Human Evolution, pp. 1-2, Columbia University Press, New York, 1982. [back
30  Life — How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, p. 121, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, 1985. [back
31  Awake!, p. 12, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, November 22, 1991. [back
32  Steven J. Marcus, “A Splash of Cold Water,” Technology Review, p. 5, Cambridge, Massachusetts, November/December 1991. [back
33  Charles W. McCutchen, “Peer Review: Treacherous Servant, Disastrous Master,” Technology Review, pp. 29-40, Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 1991. [back
34  Niles Eldredge, Time Frames, p. 47, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1985. [back
35  Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis, pp. 74-77, Adler & Adler, Publisher, Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, 1985. [back
36  A balanced view of what the fossil record contains and its relation to evolution and creation is presented in The Status of Evolution as a Scientific Theory, Robert C. Newman, et. al., Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, Hatfield, Pennsylvania, Research Report No. 37, 1990. [back
37  Niles Eldredge & Ian Tattersal, The Myths of Human Evolution, pp. 45-48, Columbia University Press, New York, 1982. [back
38  Ibid., p. 57. [back
39  Ibid., p. 2. [back
40  Howard M. Teeple, The Noah’s Ark Nonsense, p. 121, Religion and Ethics Institute, Inc., Evanston, Illinois, 1978. [back
41  Steve Allen, Steve Allen on the Bible, Religion, & Morality, pp. 159-160, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1990. [back
42  Ashley Montagu, ed., Science and Creationism, p. 359, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984. [back
43  Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 116, Constable, London, 1969. [back
44  Walter Kaufman, Existentialism, Religion, and Death: Thirteen Essays, New American Library, New York, 1976. [back]

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