Watchtower has a long and ignominious history with its forays into the realm of science.
Charles Taze Russell’s 1914 film The Photo-Drama of Creation advised cinema audiences that Earth was assembled in 49,000 years, that Noah’s Flood was caused by a Saturn-like orbital ring of water collapsing, and that getting rid of bacteria would be a good thing.
Russell’s ugly legacy of pseudo-science was continued by his successor Rutherford, who used the organization’s publications to spread his own brand of quackery.
The January 16, 1924 edition of the Golden Age proclaimed that: “It has never been proven that a single disease is due to germs.” And in his 1928 book Reconciliation, Rutherford denounced human evolution as an “insult to Jehovah,” instructing his followers: “it becomes the duty of the Christian to refuse to consider the man-made evidence offered by so-called scientists.”
Watchtower has continued to embrace this head-in-the-sand, backwards approach to science ever since. And the latest JW Broadcasting episode, hosted by Governing Body helper William Malenfant, indicates an escalation by the organization in its war against evolution, which it recently dismissed as a “doctrine” and a “false teaching.”
“One widespread false teaching that blinds people to the truth about God is the doctrine of evolution.” (Watchtower study edition, Oct 15, 2013, pp. 7-11)
The April 2016 broadcast sees Malenfant introducing a new feature in which scientists who happen to be Jehovah’s Witnesses are interviewed about their views on evolution. First up is Yaroslav Dovhanych, a Russian zoologist, followed by Professor Raj Kalaria, a brain researcher at Newcastle University in England.
Predictably, in their attempts to refute evolution, both Dovhanych and Kalaria demonstrate that their grasp on evolutionary theory is tenuous at best.
DNA: proof of creationism?
“The evolutionary theory, in my opinion, quite reasonably argued that there is no creator,” says Dovhanych, describing his pre-creationist experience. “[It argues] that everything was shaped by a series of random changes and combinations.”
Firstly, we can be grateful that not everyone who believes in God also dismisses evolution. A number of prominent scientists, including Francis Collins (Director of the National Institutes of Health in America), are able to reconcile both.
Secondly, natural selection is far from a random process. When successive generations of an organism are shaped by their surroundings, and an environment selects which attributes are best suited to reproduction and survival, what we have is cause and effect. Evolution is a guided process, even if natural forces rather than a supreme celestial supervisor are doing the guiding.
“When I studied nature through this lens [of the evolution theory],” Dovhanych continues, “I began to notice things that contradicted the theory of evolution. I found things that couldn’t have been formed by natural selection.”
Conveniently, none of these “things” are cited for our edification. However, Dovhanych at least teases an example that suggests his “contradictions” may not have stood up to much scrutiny.
“As I started to wonder about this, whether there is a creator, I began to discover more facts contradicting the theory of evolution,” he muses. “Can anyone say that some computer programs appeared simply by chance? In contrast, evolutionists would like us to believe that DNA was formed by evolution. To illustrate, say you take some letter blocks, pour them on to the table, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica is formed. There is an even smaller probability that DNA originated by evolution.”
Dovhanych thus resorts to the age-old trick, repeatedly used by the likes of Ken Ham and Ray Comfort, of trying to lump biological evolution together with chemical evolution, or abiogenesis. He is hoping that nobody will consider the gaping difference between the two, namely that living organisms are imbued with key components for natural selection, i.e. reproduction and scope for genetic variation.
Chemicals do not normally have the same potential; thus the idea of complex self-replicating chemical structures like DNA arising spontaneously is much harder to comprehend, even if it is not theoretically impossible. Thus, to discredit the proven science of biological evolution, Dovhanych bypasses it altogether by invoking the implausibility of DNA originating through natural forces.
Though abiogenesis is not established science in the same way as biological evolution, its seeming implausibility diminishes the more you consider the observed natural tendencies of certain chemicals to form complex structures when subjected to various repetitive processes, such as rising and falling tides, the warmth and cold of day and night, or frequent geo-thermal eruptions.
Rather than behaving like stationary “letter blocks,” under the right conditions chemical compounds can be drawn to each other in remarkable ways, as the following video explains…
Once you factor in hundreds of millions of years of natural experimentation (scientists think it took the first billion of Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history for the earliest life-forms to develop), and infinite possibilities for experiments to go wrong, you begin to understand why abiogenesis is a worthy area of study. Its investigation certainly makes more sense than throwing in the towel because life must have originated through an originator who is above any questioning over his, her or its origin.
The idea of DNA arising naturally will certainly come to sound even less silly if, as many astro-biologists predict, life is found to be naturally occurring elsewhere in our solar-system. After all, if Earth was seeded with plant and animal life solely for the enjoyment of humans, for whose benefit did God repeat the trick on the dusty plains of Mars, or in the frigid, sub-surface waters of Europa?
The Creationist Professor
Slightly less sophisticated in his efforts to discredit evolution was Professor Raj Kalaria, who stuck to misrepresenting evolution as “random,” and as contradicted by “phenomenal complexity.”
“We were taught about evolution of life, and this was just part of the curriculum,” said Kalaria. “At the time there were no other options, as it were. God did not come in the picture at all, or God creating the heavens and the earth, as it were, never came in the picture.”
One wonders whether Professor Kalaria is equally indignant that he was never given “other options” when germ theory, or the theory of gravity, or the theory of plate tectonics came up in class.
“The brain is an extremely complex organ,” Kalaria continues. “And brain is what we are; what I am, what you are. No brain, no life. It’s as simple as that.”
But for 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, including Kalaria, it isn’t as simple as that. Kalaria supports the belief that human life can continue once a brain dies so long as its owner surrendered all critical thinking skills, and pledged full loyalty to a group of religious leaders based in New York.
In Kalaria’s mind, some people will be able to live as spirit creatures in heaven without brains, and these kingly entities will rule over a future Earth populated solely by Jehovah’s Witnesses, many of whom will be resurrected with new brains to replace the ones they lost at death.
Not very scientific, is it?!
“We started looking at the nerve cells themselves in terms of the volume and the number,” says Kalaria, suggesting certain colleagues at Newcastle University join him in his bold conclusions. To Kalaria, anti-science views probably have more weight when nameless others are said to concur.
“And it’s phenomenal that in that small area of the brain there are some 1.4 billion neurons. So the number of connections that make us, synapses they make, is phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. And so when you think about the complexity of all that, how is it possible that that is just by random chance? It has to be guided.”
Scientists would agree that it has to be guided, but they would not agree that the “guide” is a supreme entity who is keenly interested in what we do when we are naked, or how tight our pants are, or whether we take part in an immersion ritual. Natural selection, as explained, is a guiding force. And it is more than capable of producing “phenomenal complexity.”
In fact, when one truly grasps natural selection, a feat Professor Kalaria is yet to accomplish, one appreciates why complexity does not negate evolution. Pointing to complexity as evidence of God is otherwise known as “God of the gaps” reasoning, i.e. “I don’t know how this happened, therefore God did it.”
As convenient as this line of reasoning may be, it has an achilles heel – namely a failure to subject the creator himself to similar scrutiny. As Richard Dawkins observes in The Blind Watchmaker:
“If we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must have been vastly complex in the first place. The creationist, whether a naive Bible-thumper or an educated bishop, simply postulates an already existing being of prodigious intelligence and complexity. If we are going to allow ourselves the luxury of postulating organized complexity without offering an explanation, we might as well make a job of it and simply postulate the existence of life as we know it!”
The University closes ranks
I decided to reach out to Newcastle University to find out whether it endorses Professor Kalaria’s stance on evolution, and found myself in a rather frustrating email exchange with the Media Relations Manager at the University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences. After much to-ing and fro-ing, an official statement was finally forthcoming…
Please see the comment below.
A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “Academic freedom, which is written into Newcastle University’s statutes, allows all academic staff freedom to put forward opinions that do not necessarily represent the University.”
That, I suppose, is a polite way of saying: “we don’t want to be associated with what this guy is saying.” Even so, I felt the University could be more emphatic given Kalaria’s suggestion that his views are shared. I replied…
Forgive me, but do you have any comment on Professor Kalaria saying “we,” thereby implying the support of his colleagues for his findings?
And does Newcastle University support Professor Kalaria’s anti-evolution views, or not?
We have nothing further to add other than the statement provided.
Though I can understand the representative’s awkward position as someone who shares a payroll with Professor Kalaria, I do feel saddened that, in this age of political correctness, Newcastle University is not able to be more robust in distancing itself from a piece of propaganda aimed at indoctrinating an entire generation to view science with suspicion.
Thanks to his Hindu upbringing, Professor Kalaria may be enjoying the benefits of a decent education that allows him to live comfortably. But the vast majority of Witness children who will be made to absorb his anti-science rhetoric will have no such option.
They will be steered away from higher education, and taught to frown upon the scientific consensus wherever this conflicts with the ideas of Sam, Steve, Mark, Geoff, Dave, Tony and Gerrit.
Raj Kalaria may be entitled to his own opinion, but he also has a moral duty towards the impressionable minds who may be swayed by his credentials.
By using his reputation as a university Professor in this way, even implying the support of his colleagues, Kalaria has made himself an accessory in the exporting of backwards, ignorant, anti-science dogma at the expense of the intellectual development of countless children who will take his words seriously. And Newcastle University is happy to shrug its shoulders and effectively say: “it has nothing to do with us.”
More to come?
Goodness knows what pseudo-scientist double-act will replace Dovhanych and Kalaria as the next would-be demolishers of Darwin’s theory in future videos, but we can be reasonably assured of two things: (1) they will have a fundamental lack of understanding of evolutionary theory, and (2) they will be willing to jettison their credibility in furtherance of Watchtower’s creationist agenda.
We can at least be grateful that if the Watchtower cult were considered an organism, the habitat of the internet age is proving far less conducive to its survival than the age of ignorance from whence it spawned.
- Rawstory: Jehovah’s Witnesses try to debunk evolution in their latest video – but come up short again
- Liberal America: Jehovah’s Witnesses Attempt To Disprove Evolution, Fail Miserably
- Friendly Atheist: Jehovah’s Witnesses Release Video Arguing That Evolution is a Myth
- Freethinker: UK scientist helps Christian cult to promote creationism
- Watchtower AGAIN misquotes scientist to argue against evolution – and this time, it’s personal!
- Busted! – Recently disfellowshipped son finds shocking misquote in ‘Creation’ book
- JW.org’s identity crisis: Jehovah’s Witnesses “do not agree with creationism”