What is JWsurvey’s approach to science, religion and the bible?
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Religious neutrality is an essential element of JWsurvey

Religious neutrality is an essential element of JWsurvey

Frequent visitors to JWsurvey will be familiar with this website’s posting guidelines for comments, which include the following rule regarding religious neutrality: “Do not post comments that are evangelical in nature or may be construed as imposing one person’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof) over those of another.”

I firmly believe that religious neutrality is one of the most important elements of the work we do here on JWsurvey. It is crucial that visitors to this website, especially those who are currently Jehovah’s Witnesses (or who are struggling with JW indoctrination) do not feel that they are being preached to or ushered towards some alternative set of beliefs.

I know a lack of restraint in this area turned me away from so-called “apostate” sites when I made a brief online foray years ago while still a Witness. I wanted to see whether I could find any meaningful arguments against Watchtower teachings. Instead I was confronted by websites urging me towards born-again Christianity – which only reaffirmed my suspicions about “apostates.”

I can similarly remember recoiling a little when, in an email conversation with Paul Grundy of JWfacts.com back in 2011 (when I was midway through waking up), I learned that he was atheist. Though I was still in the process of figuring out what my own beliefs were at that stage, I couldn’t help but feel dejected that someone as knowledgeable as Paul had concluded that there isn’t a God after all.

As it turns out, I myself am now atheist regarding theism (the existence of the God of the bible) and agnostic regarding deism (the concept of some intelligent, creative force behind the universe).* But I can well imagine how such a position would be a stumbling block for a Jehovah’s Witness searching for some kind of common ground with former members.

This is why JWsurvey’s religious neutrality policy is supremely important. Visitors need to feel that they can view objective information about Jehovah’s Witnesses and their beliefs without being preached to, or coerced to ditch their belief in God entirely.

But religious neutrality only really works if it is tempered by secularism, defined by one dictionary as “the belief that religion should not play a role in government, education, or other public parts of society.” Why do I say this? Because most (if not all) religions are mutually exclusive.

For example, you cannot subscribe to both Islam and Hinduism, or both Judaism and Christianity. Religion by its very nature is contentious. Religious beliefs compete with and exclude one another. Only by assuming a secular position, namely that no one religion is more true or untrue than another, can there be real tolerance and religious plurality – a respect for the diversity of religious views, including the right to have no religious views at all.

Accepting science

Secularism also insists that religion and education should be kept separate. I have already written a handful of articles touching on the subject of evolution, and on each occasion I have unashamedly taken the position that evolution is not just a “theory” but a scientific, observable fact. Accepting evolution is not a religious or even an atheist position – it is a scientific one, regardless of what Watchtower says.

There is no reason to feel ashamed of our kinship with other living things through evolution

There is no reason to reject our kinship with other living things through evolution

You CAN be both religious and accept that living things evolve gradually over time. Those who claim that life doesn’t evolve are usually trying to assert their religious views, often inherited (at least in part) from their parents, and/or are ignorant as to what evolution actually is and how it works.

If you deny evolution but embrace other areas of scientific discovery, perhaps even benefiting from them in day-to-day life, this could be considered “cherry-picking.” You would be embracing only those scientific discoveries that conveniently suit your world view, and discarding those that don’t. Of course, you are entitled to do this if it makes you feel happier and more fulfilled in life, but you cannot expect this website to censor itself to conform to such a distorted approach.

When I (or others) write about evolution we are not disrespecting a creationist’s beliefs any more than Galileo was disrespecting the Catholic church by insisting that the earth rotates around the sun rather than the opposite being the case. We are merely telling it like it is. Whether you choose to believe in God or not remains absolutely your decision and right.

The bible and prophecy

I found myself caught in a dilemma recently when filming my rebuttal to the latest JW Broadcasting episode, in which Gerrit Lösch argued for the reliability and authenticity of bible prophecy. I could have merely retorted (as I did) that it is perfectly possible to believe in the bible’s authenticity and not believe, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do, that unless you bow to the authority of seven men in New York you will join billions in being slaughtered at Armageddon.

But this argument on its own seemed rather hollow, especially when the elephant in the room was the fact that the bible is NOT a book of prophecy – it merely purports to be one.

I therefore pointed my viewers to the fact that most scholars agree that Daniel was not written in the 6th Century BC but much later, some time in the 2nd Century BC – decades after many of the events it “prophesied” took place.

It can never be asserted definitively that this is so (because no one actually saw the book being written), but neither can it be asserted that the book of Daniel was written by Daniel himself while in Babylonian exile.

Watchtower relies on general ignorance regarding the work of bible scholars like Bart Ehrman

Watchtower relies on general ignorance regarding the work of bible scholars like Bart Ehrman

Why? Because the character of Daniel, a senior court official, would not have incorrectly named the line of Babylonian/Persian rulers of Babylon. (Try researching “Darius the Mede.”) He would at least have got it right with their names, even if he could be forgiven for getting it wrong about the fate of Antiochus Epiphanes in Daniel 11 (who wasn’t to die until the 2nd Century BC, apparently after Daniel was written).

Then there was the problem of messianic prophecy, also raised by Lösch as an argument for the bible’s authenticity. How does one bring up the awkward fact that it’s highly likely at least one “prophecy” (the virgin birth) was inspired by a mistranslation of the original Hebrew in the Greek Septuagint?

My only solution was to run the gauntlet and do it anyway, but as respectfully as possible – all the while acknowledging that it is the absolute right of people to believe that the bible is inspired, but not to expect others to believe likewise.

You can claim, for example, that Jesus really was born of a virgin, but this can never be a historical or scientific claim – it can only ever be a religious claim. The same applies to the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament). You can believe that the events from Adam and Eve to King Saul really happened if you like, but good luck trying to find a shred of archeological evidence to prove anything in the bible narrative from earlier than King David.

Or to put it another way – if 2.5 million Israelites really did spend 40 years meandering across the Sinai desert some time in the 13th/14th Century BC, sacrificing animals, waging war and observing rituals along the way, they apparently managed this feat without leaving behind so much as a toothpick for archeologists to uncover. (If you didn’t know this already, don’t take my word for it – do the research for yourself.)

Religion is a choice

This is why religion will always be, not unquestionable truth, but a choice.

You, dear reader, have the absolute right to decide what you believe or don’t believe; what evidence or scholarly consensus you accept or dismiss. Anyone who tries to take this right away from you should feel ashamed of themselves. But this does not mean that I, as a writer and speaker, must skirt around scientific fact and scholarly consensus as though these things are irrelevant or somehow taboo. I am allowed to tell it like it is, and leave you to decide for yourself what to do with the information.

Some would say it’s dogmatic to embrace the views of scientists and scholars, but this would be forgetting what dogmatism means: “positiveness in assertion of opinion especially when unwarranted or arrogant… a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises.”

The wonderful thing about the scientific method of establishing facts based on evidence is that views and conclusions can change as new evidence is presented.

Religious fundamentalism, on the other hand, is the very embodiment of dogmatism. It is the unyielding insistence that something is true and can only ever be true because an unquestionable sacred text says so. Speaking for myself, I can offer no apologies for instead basing what I say on evidence, and on what people who are vastly more knowledgeable than me have to say about the bible and other issues.

In summary, what you WON’T find on JWsurvey is any effort to lead you off into belief or unbelief. I personally lose no sleep if a person leaves Jehovah’s Witnesses only to become enthralled by some equally spurious (if less harmful) religious code. But what you WILL find on this website is a stubborn, unapologetic dedication to established facts and scientific/scholarly consensus. What you choose to do with the information will always be up to you.

 

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* I now find an outlet for being free about my atheism/agnosticism on Facebook and on JWpodcast episodes, but I try to keep JWsurvey and my YouTube channel as free as possible of anything that could be construed as pushing my non-belief on others. I believe that the focus of my work should be helping Jehovah’s Witnesses out of a harmful cult, not espousing my personal views on religion (which, in any case, are far better articulated by the likes of Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens).

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90 Responses to What is JWsurvey’s approach to science, religion and the bible?

  1. gary says:

    Whatever you believe, believe. Revolution. . .Beatles. Never be owned. X

  2. anonymous says:

    This is a really interesting documentary.

  3. gary says:

    That’s the beauty of freedom:-) does an intelligent intellect exist?

  4. gary says:

    Lol the irony:-)x (me) Great debate, cheers Lloyd:-)

  5. gary says:

    I’m going to get shouted at quite probably, but I’ve been there before, a room without a views.
    Absoulately anything is honesty:-)x

  6. gary says:

    Religion is the poison in the water. Absolutey agree.

  7. gary says:

    Anyone who hates anyone in my world has already lost.

  8. gary says:

    “With a little help from my friends”.x

  9. :) says:

    Watch the full discussion between Christopher Hitchens and John Lennox “Is god great?” and you will have a fair representation of both sides. Unfortunately there is only a 10-minute-summary on youtube, but the full debate is really interesting.

    • Cedars says:

      Thanks. John Lennox is a great example of someone who manages to believe in God without denying science, i.e. evolution.

  10. ScotWm says:

    We have already considered the Watchtower’s claim that it is the “channel of God.” This channel of God, which once consisted of the remnant of the 144,000 faithful and discrete slaves, has now been reduced to a few members of the Governing Body. The Watchtower’s misuse of disfellowshipping, indoctrination and subordination techniques combined with false argumentation and manipulation combine to create a climate of fear in its followers. Add dozens of other false claims and false prophesies to this list and it becomes obvious that many Watchtower teachings are total nonsense.

    After considering the above information and many other problems associated with Watchtower teachings, one member of the Governing Body decided to leave Jehovah’s Witnesses and write two books detailing his departure as well as his search for truth outside the Watchtower. At the end of his second book, Raymond Franz made several observations concerning his search for Christian freedom. Unfortunately, Mr. Franz was unable to find any religious organization that was totally in agreement with the Bible. However, his closing statements in his book “In Search of Christian Freedom” basically circle around to the following observation:

    “In summary, then, even as I am convinced that the one true religion is Christianity itself, not some religious system claiming to represent and exemplify it, I also believe that the truth is found in the Scriptures, and not in any particular set of interpretations that men have developed or may yet develop. That truth is not only in the words themselves but primarily in the revelation they bring us of God and of his son. We will almost inevitably differ in our understanding on some points but, if governed by God’s Spirit, should have no great difficulty on those teachings clearly and plainly stated.”

    It appears that Raymond Franz ultimately found himself in the same position as Charles Taze Russell, before he founded The Watchtower Society.

    • Neal Krouni says:

      O God!!! I hope we we don’t end up with a Watchtower II !!! One is much more than enuff!!!

      GOD SAVE US FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS!!!

  11. Ted says:

    @ Neal Krouni. Life is an”Opportunity” is a much better
    description than calling it a gift. How can it be a gift when
    so many have it snatched away from them at a very young
    age, sometimes even before they are born.
    Thanks for the thought , I will remember it and use it.

  12. James Broughton says:

    Dear Cedars,
    Many thanks for your recent thoughts on religious neutrality. Dr Billy Graham once said that religion can be like an inoculation. It can stop you from getting the real thing. My experience is quite different from yours. I disassociated myself from the JWs when I joined a Bible-believing Baptist church in Liverpool, England, much to the dismay of my JW older brother. I chose not to remain in a spiritual vacuum but exchanged one set of beliefs for another. The Watchtower Society seems to operate a policy of “Win some, lose some”. I am surprised that kingdom halls are not built with revolving doors. As long as you leave and go into oblivion, that’s OK. What they cannot tolerate is people who discover a belief in the real Jesus, rather like the Jewish authorities in Acts who tried to stop the early disciples from sharing the good news. I proved that recently when I was banned from talking with them in Dover market square because I suggested that you could pray to Jesus.
    Yes, I recognise that I may be preaching but I do believe it is important to present an alternative view. If you find you are in possession of counterfeit money, do you try to pass it off for the real thing or do you exchange it for the genuine? Both you and Paul Grundy provide excellent websites but I hope you won’t dismiss people like me out of hand. God bless, James.

  13. Ted says:

    John Lennox is a skilled debater, but I thought there was a
    gaping hole in his submission that “Jesus was God incarnate
    and the epitome of love,”

    If Jesus is God, wether part of a trinity or otherwise, ( And he did
    claim, “Before Abraham was I Am”) Then he is responsible for the
    Old Testament atrocities, too numerous to list here. And of such a
    vile nature, if carried out today the. perpetrators would be classed
    as war criminals.

    Jesus is credited with saying “love your Enemies”, and although
    there is no direct statement in the O,T, to hate your enemies.
    In practice, hatred and vengeance were the order of the day.
    Enemies were destroyed down to the last child.

    If that’s the epitome of love, then language and learning needs
    re-inventing. The Bible is such a rag bag of conflicting ideas,
    it could not possibly be the product of a supreme intellect.

  14. Scepticalone says:

    Dear Cedars:

    You and some other persons who own your Internet Sites are entitled to bar persons from further comments on the subject of evolution or any other subject of disagreement but what may this demonstrate? It demonstrates perhaps a sort of tyranny or fear of strongly backed up reasons or a very reasoned presentation for their positions. You do remind me of the same position that the very organization you oppose. Of course, you remind me of their reasons they say beware of apostasy you say beware of evangelizers!!

    • Cedars says:

      I have yet to hear a “reasoned” piece of evidence against evolution. That is because if such evidence existed, it would make headline news around the world and the discoverer would likely receive a Nobel prize. On the rare occasion that a religious fundamentalist has spouted anti-science ignorance against evolution on this website, especially when I work so hard to keep my articles free of any such nonsense, I make no apologies for taking their commenting privileges away from them. This cannot be considered “tyranny” in any meaningful sense of the word. It is just keeping this website factual, evidence-based and free from inherited dogma, mental flatulence and evangelical graffiti.

      • Scepticalone says:

        Dear Cedars:

        I tried to look on your site for evidence that you feel supports Evolution as being a fact. I could not find any unless I am looking in the wrong place I would appreciate any reference, something very specific that I can look up, something easily available. A particular fact, statement etc.
        Thank you

        • Cedars says:

          I don’t need to supply evidence on a Jehovah’s Witness-related website for evolution being scientific. Go out and do some research.

        • Andrea says:

          I would suggest this article, which is linked somewhere on this website as well: http://www.jwfacts.com/pdf/weighed-wanting-watchtower-origin-of-life.pdf

          …for me it’s easy enough to look at the claws (to stop prey from easily escaping), soft-paws (for stealth during hunting), higher-intelligence (required by and present in hunting animals) and prominent canines (to tear flesh of their prey) of carnivores, and accept that they must’ve evolved this way; from reading about and watching animal documentaries, I believe it’s asserted that high-intelligence species such as primates (including humans) evolved earlier and intellectually-further due to being omnivores (thanks to the high protein diet as well as being able to survive in many different environments). To me this demonstrates need to survive. This is in stark contrast to the supposed thought-out and kind creation of humans and animals that all get along. In reality, some poor animal (the young or the ill usually) has to be painfully torn to shreds so that another species up the food-chain survives. That’s the reality, and that’s the nature of evolution…

  15. Ted says:

    If we accept the JW teaching that jesus is not God, but
    the son of God. Jesus did say “I and the Father are one”
    JWs interpret this as “one in agreement” hence, all the
    O,T, outrages are acceptable to him.

    • Neal Krouni says:

      Good point Ted. Jesus preached love, even to the extent of ‘loving one’s enemies’ & ‘turning the other cheek’ & forgiving “77 times”!! Yet, if he is “one” in agreement with his “father”, then he must have been cool with all the wars, genocides and atrocities ordered by dear old “dad” in the O.T.!!

  16. Wild Olive says:

    I sometimes wonder if it’s Gods plan to make sure no one has all the answers,considering what had been said on this site for and against .
    He’s probably more than aware that humans egos can become bigger than the universe once they’ve convinced themselves their right.
    I would rather be stuck questioning than be stuck dogmatising.

  17. mika says:

    Evolution is a fact because majority of biologists accept it as a fact. Why? Because of tons of arguments in favor of evolution? If it is true why are there many scenarios how and where life evolved? Why there are disagreement about who are our ancestors, how this and that form evolved and when they evolved? Evolutionists are good in story telling, so is Cedars. Bible believers are deluded, but anti-theists in gloves are objective! That is why my comment could be deleted again! Thank you Cedars for not coercing Christians to ditch their belief in God entirely!!! Yes, you could be shy theist, but only secularism can be preached. This is the greatest form of freedom and free speech.We must not ignore Bart Ehrman, but we should ignore Yamauchi, Licona, Habermas and their sound arguments. If you post some evidence which these respectful scholars present, you are preaching,you are doing bad thing. The good and objective thing is to promote ONLY secularism, and you can choose any learned or poor educated man who support this agenda.Obviously, this is the only way to make informative choice toward ULTIMATE OBJECTIVITY which is rejection of God (especially Christian) as important person. Probably, our secular leaders are offended when you consider Christ or Jehovah more important than him. This madness must be stopped!

  18. gary says:

    Here goes with the risk of being lampooned (gulp)
    I personally believe that religion is the poison in the water, however, it’s of interest that large parts of the book of Daniel where found among the dead sea scrolls, it would be interesting to see when they date from. Even so the so called Christ confirmed his authenticity. Regardless though this is my thought about a universal mind.
    The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun and is 400 times closer to the earth, not doubt that is why the moon can eclipse the sun as they appear the same size. The earth is tilted at 23 degrees giving us the seasons. It rotates at 600 miles per hour on its own axis and travels around the sun at 6000 miles per hour without crushing us with gravity. One mile further away from the sun we would all freeze and one mile closer to the sun and we would
    burn. That there are universal laws of physics tells a person that there is order, and not random chance, not just in this small solar system and galaxy but in the billions of galaxies. As regards evolution the bible does not disagree. All it says is their kinds. No doubt this is why hybrids cannot sexually reproduce.. . . (Go gentle with your reply as its of interest to me)

    • Cedars says:

      Hello Gary. If you want to, you are welcome to believe that the God of the bible is real and has made his 14 billion-year-old universe with humans in mind, positioning the earth at the perfect distance from the sun for their liking. But the point is, this belief of yours is a choice. You don’t HAVE to believe this, just as a puddle (if it were self-aware) wouldn’t HAVE to believe that the slight recess in the sidewalk that it occupies was purposefully fashioned by the maker of the sidewalk with its dimensions in mind.

      The point of our religious neutrality policy is that it is everyone’s choice what to believe, but it is not a choice to use this website to evangelize these beliefs towards others. If there is to be a line of arbitration drawn as to whether something stated is factual or not – it HAS to be science, which bases itself on evidence rather than dogma. And there is a multitude of different lines of evidence to scientifically support evolution. If you feel you need to educate yourself further on this and other fields of scientific inquiry, there are any number of resources for you to draw from. I hope this answers your comment.

  19. gary says:

    P.s. hybrids of different species.x (who mentioned scousers?)

  20. gary says:

    I agree with you. Facts and knowledge lead us to our conclusions, wherever each of us are along that road. I’m not trying to preach a certain god/religion or belief but the discussion between science and faith fascinates me, personally I see no conflict. I hate indoctrination with a passion. So 🙂 I wish you well 🙂 and say thanks for your research, observations and patience.x

  21. gary says:

    One last thing I’ll say before I go though regarding debate (whatever it concerns) Both sides now. . Joni Mitchell/Neil diamond.x

  22. gary says:

    She’s electric.

  23. Mark says:

    Hi guys in the article with certain beliefs I agree 100% that religion is corrupt. And I do believe in scientific stuff. But with all categories it’s proven that us humans make mistakes and we think we have the answers. Regarding evolution, I do not believe it’s fact entirely. I believe yes we change because we learn or may grow stronger or taller or prettier etc. But the changing from another life form to another is impossible, and hasn’t been proven. Apes still look the same, certain birds and plants and fish do also. When looking at old skeletons of mammals or reptiles such as a mammoth or a dinosaur we can only paint a picture of an idea that we think is possible. Example such as some people believe dinosaurs had feathers and some do not and in movies like jurrasic park they are portrayed in certain ways. Also looking at space and the galaxies they didn’t just “exist”. I believe that someone created him. Whether a God or a creator, that person created this. To conclude another big issue is religious leaders painting that picture of their idea of God, especially Christians. I believe in a God or a master creator but I don’t believe a thing religions tell me. People are so scared to accept truths because that’s what they’ve known all their life. Raised to think God’s name is “Jehovah” and that JWs arebthe true religion, raised to think when a good person dies they go to heaven and if they are bad they go to hell, raised to think the big bang happened, etc., and people believe if someone is smart and it sounds good and logical it must be true, speaking of evolution. We humans are right about a lot but so wrong about the important things simply because we act childish over other’s opinions instead of working together to find the best answers. That’s how the world is unfortunately evolutionists and athiests vs theists and believers in god, black people vs white people, males vs females. All im saying is we don’t have the answers to everything because we didn’t make everything. Evolutionists can’t say evolution is real and god beliers are wrong because there really is no evidence and it can be rebutted; but on the other hand God believers cant say evolution is wrong because there are no facts because evolution to a degree is correct, things change over time but I believe it’s meant to be that way, it makes life easier as you go on because you learn and adapt to things you see and do. I don’t want to make anyone upset I’m just stating my feelings because I hate the going back and forth of who’s right and who’s wrong. We all have to learn that not one person is always wrong or you aren’t always right. Sorry if I offended anyone.