The WTS View of Creation and Evolution
Throughout its history the Watchtower Society has published material on creation and evolution. It has printed two books, several booklets and numerous magazine articles giving its interpretation of the Genesis creation account and attempting to reconcile this account with scientific knowledge. Since The Watchtower magazine began to be published in 1879, the Society's views have changed drastically,1 often in response to new and indisputable scientific discoveries that have become common knowledge.
The common thread in these changing views, of course, has been that God created everything in the universe in the manner that Genesis describes, and therefore that the theory of evolution must be a false explanation of how life on earth arose. The Society's latest book on the subject, Life-How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?2 attempts to show how a body of knowledge the Society calls "true science" agrees with the Genesis account and with the Bible generally. The book will generally be referred to here as "Creation." While it sets forth a number good arguments for creation and against evolution, many of the arguments do not show what they claim or they neglect relevant facts.3 On page 9 the book states a fine principle of argument:
To consider the evidence with an open mind, one must consider all the evidence. One cannot argue as if one is doing literary criticism, picking and choosing "among facts and theories for ones that support a preexisting point of view... and either twisting whatever does not fit, or simply discarding it."4 As this essay makes clear, the Society, and the Creation book in particular, often argue as literary critics. Creation makes few statements that are completely incorrect, but very many that are sort of half-correct. It is full of cleverly worded passages, subtle errors and phrasings which lead the reader to form invalid conclusions or wrong opinions.
The following dissection of many of the arguments in Creation may seem rather petty or nit-picky, and the explanation of them may be difficult to follow, but the collective effect on a reader of page after page of these distortions is serious enough to require it. Many readers of Creation consider its publisher, the Watch Tower Society, to be literally "God's channel of communication" to mankind. They must be virtually drowned in evidence before they will listen to criticism of it.
This essay does not attempt to answer the question of whether evolution or creation is the "true" explanation of the origin of life. Instead it explores some areas of how well the Bible and science agree on these questions, and touches on questions regarding the development of life after its origin. Especially it shows how the Society often fails to present relevant evidence when attempting to prove its position, such as that the Bible's creation account is historical, or some other point on how the Bible and science agree. For example, the essay presents geological data showing how Genesis and science do not agree on the order of creation events, and it shows how scientific research publications and information from the fossil record often differ from what the Society claims about them.
In general, Creation presents an incomplete and distorted picture of geologists' findings and of what evolutionists say. A journal that reviewed the book said that5
It commented further that
In essence, Creation attempts to convert scientists' arguments about the pattern and process of evolutionary change into arguments about the very existence of change. Many other Watchtower publications are equally deficient in adherence to the facts or to the intent of the author they are quoting. Interestingly, the 1967 book Did Man Get Here By Evolution Or By Creation? distorted scientists' comments much less than does the Creation book. It is sad that the older book's higher standards have not been followed.
Disagreements About Evolution
From its very beginning the Creation book improperly slants the material it quotes from other references. In chapter 1, page 9, paragraph 6, it quotes from Charles Darwin:
This quotation seems innocent enough, but it completely misrepresents what Darwin had in mind. The way Darwin is quoted, it sounds like he was praising the grandeur of life, when actually he was praising the grandeur of the evolutionary view of life. This is readily apparent from the full quotation:6
Creation's quotation makes it appear that Darwin had reservations about his theory, when in fact, he was simply being careful not to overstate his theory based on the data he had been able to collect. This is evident from earlier statements in the chapter quoted from.
By quoting from numerous scientists chapter 2 of Creation attempts to show that "evolution" is not a fact, and is being seriously challenged by many scientists. For example, the preface quotes a presumed biologist as saying:7
Notice that the speaker did not say biologists' opinions differed on whether evolution took place or not. The differing opinions were only about the causes and the process -- in other words, how it happened, not whether it happened. There are few scientists who question whether evolution occurred, despite what Creation implies.
Beginning on page 15, under the sub-title "Evolution Under Assault," paragraphs 4 through 9 present a variety of quotations which are intended to make the reader believe that the theory of evolution is invalid, and that that is why it is "under assault." It is strongly implied that evolution, therefore, never actually occurred. While it is certainly true that Darwin's mechanism for evolution is being strongly questioned, that mechanism is only one of many that have been proposed to explain what nearly all scientists agree is the fact of evolution, i.e., that the array of life forms that existed at any one time has gradually changed. Again, the debate is about how, not whether. Later we will discuss this at length.
Creation's tactic is clearly shown by the treatment paragraph 4 gives to a quotation from Discover magazine:8
But Discover is not saying that evolution is in question. As has been pointed out above, many scientists are coming to question the mechanism of natural selection, i.e., Darwinism, as a major explanation for evolution, not the general concept of evolution itself, and that is what Discover is talking about. The full quotation shows this clearly:
In its attempt to obscure the distinction between evolution and Darwinism, paragraph 4 next quotes from one Francis Hitching, "an evolutionist and author of the book The Neck of the Giraffe," that "For all its acceptance in the scientific world as the great unifying principle of biology, Darwinism, after a century and a quarter, is in a surprising amount of trouble."10
Had Creation also quoted the paragraph in Hitching's book immediately after the one it did quote, a very different impression would have been given to the reader:11
It is difficult to believe that the author of the Creation book could have actually read Hitching and missed this very next paragraph. To present Hitching as rejecting evolution is dishonest. While a later edition of Creation did amend the above statement from Discover, (see above footnote) the continued misrepresentation of what Hitching said shows that the author wanted to retain the overall view that evolution, and not just Darwinism, is under attack by many scientists. Otherwise the amended edition would have changed the sub-section title on page 15, "Evolution Under Assault," to "Darwinism Under Assault," and would have amended several other quotations in the sub-section.
The quotation from Hitching illustrates another problem to which Creation is prone: quoting from authors who have no scientific standing as if they were authorities. We will meet Hitching again later, since Creation quotes him at least thirteen times. The book actually quotes him a few other times but without attribution. Hitching's book nowhere touts his scientific credentials, and a bit of research shows that he has none. He claimed to be a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute, but an inquiry of that institute showed he was not. He implied in the "Acknowledgments" of The Neck of the Giraffe that paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould had helped in the writing of the book, but upon inquiry Gould said he did not know him and had no information about him. Zoologist Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford was also implied to have had a hand in writing the book, but upon inquiry he stated: "I know nothing at all about Francis Hitching. If you are uncovering the fact that he is a charlatan, good for you. His book, The Neck of the Giraffe, is one of the silliest and most ignorant I have read for years." Creation's writers seem not to have discovered Hitching's credentials, as they refer to him as "evolutionist Hitching."
We have seen what Francis Hitching is not, but who is he? It turns out that he is a writer, and believes in the paranormal. He has written on Mayan pyramid energy and for some "In Search Of..." episodes on BBC television (similar to the sensational "Unsolved Mysteries" on American television). He apparently accepts evolution, but believes it to be directed by some sort of cosmic force. The reference work Contemporary Authors, Vol. 103, page 208, lists him as a member of the Society for Psychical Research, the British Society of Dowsers and the American Society of Dowsers. His writings include: Earth Magic; Dowsing: The Psi Connection; Mysterious World: An Atlas of the Unexplained; Fraud, Mischief, and the Supernatural and Instead of Darwin.
The Neck of the Giraffe spends much of its time attacking Darwinian evolution, borrowing heavily and uncritically from young-earth creationist (they believe in six literal days for the Genesis creation account) arguments. It will become apparent that several of Hitching's "references" are lifted from six-literal-day creationist literature rather than being quoted directly from their original sources. This is apparent because Hitching made exactly the same errors as did the creationists from whom he got his material (see an example below). One magazine had this to say about Hitching:12
When Creation quotes Francis Hitching, let the reader beware.
Creation next devotes two whole paragraphs, 7 and 8, to the opinions of a newspaper writer. The writer presents no quotations from scientists, and so his opinions are of no more value than any other non-specialist's. Paragraph 9 again quotes Francis Hitching, who applies his usual TV style. The paragraph then quotes a science magazine to the effect that Darwin's theory, not evolution, is in trouble.
Paragraphs 10 through 13 quote astronomer Robert Jastrow several times, in such a way that it appears Jastrow has serious doubts about evolution. Paragraphs 11 and 12 speak about the difficulties in accounting for the evolution of the eye, and then paragraphs 12 and 13 say:
But the reader is not told that, while Jastrow expresses certain philosophical reservations about the mechanism of evolution and even about some fundamental questions such as the origin and purpose of life, he has not the slightest doubt that evolution of some sort did occur. The following gives some flavor of Jastrow's discussion. Commenting on Darwin's discussion of the eye, he wrote:13
Paragraph 12 also gives a false impression about what Darwin said about the evolution of the eye:
What Darwin meant was that, while comprehension of how the eye could have evolved seems difficult, his theory could still account for it:14
This might be compared to trying to explain the flight of an airliner to a group of Romans. It is ridiculous to think that a Boeing 747, weighing more than half a million pounds, could ever get off the ground supported by nothing but thin air, and moreover, that it accomplishes this unbelievable feat by sucking air in one hole and blowing it out another! After the laughter died down they would either throw you to the lions or cart you away to a lunatic asylum. This type of argument is commonly known as "disproof by lack of imagination."
The above material indicates that, while scientists disagree on the mechanisms of evolution, they agree that evolution, in a general sense, did indeed occur. The mechanism of natural selection is not the same thing as evolution. However, Creation is determined that its readers not know the difference. Paragraphs 14 and 15 quote David M. Raup, curator of geology at the Chicago Field Museum, writing in its Bulletin:
This is a blatant and deliberate misrepresentation of what Raup said. Note that the word "[evolution]" was inserted into the quotation. The original words here were: "Darwin's theory of natural selection has always been closely linked to evidence from fossils..." Creation is clearly making it appear as if Raup's statements concerning the mechanism of natural selection actually apply to evolution in the general sense. Immediately after the above quoted statement, Raup's article said:15
Paragraph 15 quoted part of this, but only enough to give the impression that there are no intermediates. But Raup went on to say:
Notice that Raup did not say there are no cases, but that there are very few cases. We will cover this material more extensively later. For now, Raup's further statements are sufficient:16
What Raup means here is, again, that, while there are very few examples of gradual change, there are still some. That is very different from Creation's implication. Some examples will be given later in this essay.
Comparing Raup's statements against Creation's partial citation of them in the latter half of paragraph 15 shows further distortion of what Raup said.
A letter was written to David Raup to get his opinion of the way Creation quoted him. Here is his response:
Creation misrepresented David Raup in another way. On page 20, Creation shows three animal pictures with X's through them, with a caption taken from Raup's article. The complete caption is quoted above. The impression given is that Raup discussed the animals in his article and dismissed them as examples of transitional fossils. But as the above quotation shows, Raup only discussed the evolution of the horse and only as it applied to North America. He did not discuss the other two animals at all. Much other material shows, in fact, that the evolutionary picture of the three animals illustrated has indeed been modified, but by no means discarded. Raup's letter commented on this misrepresentation, too:
With all the foregoing information in hand, it should be easy to see how the quotations in paragraph 15 of page 20 lead to a reader's getting a very wrong impression. This is one of the few places where Creation honestly mentions that the quotations are dealing with the "failure of the fossil evidence to support gradual evolution." Most references are made to appear to say that the fossil record does not support evolution at all, even though they are really talking about gradual evolution versus the rapid, jerky evolution posited by a theory such as punctuated equilibrium. But most readers are not sophisticated enough to know whether Creation is talking about a theory that postulates gradual change versus one that postulates jerky change, or is simply adding the descriptive term "gradual" to the term "evolution." Most readers will assume that the scientists quoted are saying that there is no evidence for what they claim to be the "fact" of evolution.
This is clearly shown by the way Creation, in paragraph 16, made a substitution in a quotation from paleontologist Steven Stanley: "The known fossil record is not, and never has been, in accord with [slow evolution]." "Slow evolution" was substituted for "gradualism," so that the sense of the sentence is substantially altered into something like: "The fossil record is not in accord with evolution (which is a slow process)."
Paragraphs 17 through 20 describe the theory of "punctuated equilibrium," and how it has been attacked. But note that the quotations in paragraphs 14 through 20 deal primarily with controversies about how evolution occurred, not about whether it occurred. Specifically, the controversies are about the rate of change between species. Semantics is a problem here because in a discussion about evolution a "sudden" change might imply a period of 500,000 years.
Paragraph 21 implies that there are no intermediate fossils linking animals together, and that there are no intermediates among living animals. This is thoroughly misleading, as we will consider later in some detail. Semantics is a problem here, too, because there are many fossils whose physical structure is intermediate between others', but it cannot be proven with absolute certainty that they were transitional links. For example, a large number of intermediates were found in the horse family, requiring the major change in its evolutionary picture mentioned above. There are so many intermediates that classification is a real problem for paleontologists.
Paragraph 23 quotes from the popular Harper's magazine, from writer Tom Bethell, to the effect that Darwin's theory is on the verge of collapse. The impression given, as usual, is that this refers to the entire notion of evolution, rather than Darwin's idea of the mechanism. It should be noted that Tom Bethell is not a scientist but is a six-literal-day creationist, so what he says is hardly authoritative.
Paragraph 24 again quotes paranormalist Francis Hitching: "The fossil record reveals a pattern of evolutionary leaps rather than gradual change," which seems to imply that the fossil record does not show continuous evolutionary change. This is only partly true since, while there are relatively few examples where continuous change is recorded, they do exist, as we will see later in this essay. Hitching also says that "genes are a powerful stabilizing mechanism whose main function is to prevent new forms evolving." This is again only partly true, and Hitching is wrong on two counts. Genes do perform a stabilizing function, but (1) their main purpose is to carry the hereditary characteristics which control the development of an organism, and (2) while some self repair abilities are built into DNA, they are not sufficient to prevent mutations from occurring.
In paragraph 25 Hitching is again quoted, and he shows his ignorance clearly. Although he knows better, as shown above, he inconsistently equates Darwinism with evolution, implying that scientists have said that it is "the great unifying principle of biology." They have certainly said that about the "fact" of evolution, but not about the mechanism Darwin proposed. Hitching faults Darwin's theory for not explaining "how lifeless chemicals came alive, what rules of grammar lie behind the genetic code, how genes shape the form of living things." Of course it couldn't explain them, because molecular biology was unknown in the 19th century. Darwin never tried to explain the chemical origin of life, but simply postulated a beginning by a creator, as the quotation above shows. Only in later years, when the techniques of chemistry permitted study of life at the molecular level, did scientists propose a theory of evolution that encompassed Darwin's theory and tried to account for the chemical origin of life. This theory is called Neo-Darwinism. Nothing was known about the genetic code until 1866, when Gregor Mendel published his work, and even that didn't become generally known until after the turn of the century. Nevertheless, Hitching is still wrong, because the genetic code began to be deciphered by Watson and Crick in the early 1950s, many gene functions have been mapped, and there is even now a large project to map the entire human genetic code.
Paragraph 26 goes back to mixing up the "fact" of evolution with the mechanisms proposed for it. It concludes that any controversy about the mechanisms are much more than simply "arguing over details." But there are very few scientists who consider the controversies as anything more than that. The bottom line is that the fossil record shows unequivocally that early life consisted of one-celled forms, and progressively more advanced forms tend to show up as time progresses. In several cases, the fossil record shows a finely graduated and continuous evolutionary sequence. Creation should have spent some time talking about well established things like these, rather than denying that they exist.
The rest of the Creation book does no better with respect to evolution and how evolutionists view the theory. In paragraph 5 on page 143 Creation cites an article in Scientific American17 by zoologist Richard Lewontin, a noted evolutionary theorist. He is supposed to have "said that organisms 'appear to have been carefully and artfully designed.' He views them as 'the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer.'"
The question at the bottom of the page further emphasized Lewontin's purported view: "What recognition does a zoologist give to design and to its originator?" Now, picture the answer a typical reader at a bookstudy would give to the question: "Well, as the paragraph shows, Richard Lewontin views the design of organisms as evidence for their being created."
A check of the Scientific American article shows that Lewontin said something very different from what Creation claims. In saying the above things he is alluding, not to his own viewpoint, but to the general viewpoint scientists in the 19th century had about nature. After describing what had been the general view of how the great variety of life forms came about, and stating that Darwin had tried to account for both its "diversity and fitness," Lewontin said:
Lewontin's point was that organisms only appear or seem to have been carefully designed. Clearly referring to the 19th century view, he said:
The rest of the article shows that Lewontin considers the viewpoint highlighted in the above quotation as erroneous, and that it has been corrected by the work of Darwin and his successors in the 20th century. In fact, the article is devoted entirely to demonstrating how the adaptation of an organism to its environment can be explained by natural, not supernatural, mechanisms. The abstract for the article is quite clear: "The manifest fit between organisms and their environment is a major outcome of evolution."
This complete misrepresentation is similar to what Creation did with a quotation from Popular Science magazine -- see below. Lewontin specifically complained about this practice:
Lewontin also complained about the practice of misquoting scientists, in the magazine Creation/Evolution, Fall 1981, on page 35:
It is one thing to cite and describe opposing viewpoints. It is something else again to repeatedly attribute those opposing views to an author or to a publication that merely describes them, especially when it is evident that the description is for the purpose of dismissing it.
On a final note, it is likely that Creation got Lewontin's statement wrong via poor scholarship rather than dishonesty. Apparently the author was too lazy to do his own research, or he might not have mangled the quotation so badly. Lewontin's statement was apparently lifted from paranormalist Francis Hitching's book The Neck of the Giraffe, page 84 (page 65 paperback). Hitching's quotation of Lewontin is identical to Creation's, but his book was published in 1982, whereas Creation was published in 1985. Hitching apparently in turn lifted this from the creationist publication Impact, No. 88, October, 1980, from the article "Creation, Selection, and Variation" by Gary E. Parker, a well-known creationist. On page 2 Parker wrote:
See the magazine Creation/Evolution, Fall 1981, pages 35-44 for more details.
In 1993, at an International Creation Conference where Parker was a main speaker, after a main lecture, he was approached and asked about his alleged misquotation. He said that he did not really misquote Lewontin -- at least that that was not his intention when he wrote the Impact article -- but he was unable to give an explanation. He appeared somewhat embarrassed by the question.
Francis Hitching has also lifted arguments from creationists without attribution (see above). Impact is a monthly publication of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in El Cajon, California. The institute is a six-literal-day creationist, trinitarian organization, which would ordinarily be condemned in Watchtower Society publications. In one instance, on page 180, footnote 3, Creation took its information directly from Impact. Arguing that many evolutionists use "the weight of authority" of scientists to get people to believe evolution, Creation said:
Checking footnote 3 we find that it refers to Impact, September 1981, p. ii., which contained an article by Henry M. Morris complaining about Isaac Asimov's treatment of six-literal-day creationism. It said:
So Creation uses what is essentially a trinitarian religious magazine to make its point. It should be noted that Impact did not mention any specific evidence for its claim in the material Creation referred to. On page iv, however, it said:
This statement is misleading at best. Many investigators have found that few creation scientists have done any serious scientific work after becoming associated with the "scientific creationists." A background check of so-called "creation scientists" shows that many of them have degrees from 'diploma mills' or from organizations like the ICR. They often become engrossed, like physicist Robert Gentry, in trying to prove the earth is only six thousand years old. We will meet him later in this essay. Outfits like the Institute for Creation Research have often misrepresented the credentials of "scientists" on its staff in order to make them look more authoritative than they really are. In actual fact, there are extremely few scientists or serious biologists who do not "believe in evolution." So Creation's last statement is not true and is based on a statement by prominent member of "Christendom," which has been demonstrated to misrepresent the credentials of its staff.
There is far too much information on these so-called creationist's scientific credentials to present here, but it is clear that the Creation book's reference is itself merely an appeal to authority rather than evidence -- an authority the Watchtower Society normally rejects, at that.
The above material shows that many of Creation's arguments came from Francis Hitching or six-literal-day creationists without attribution. Many of Hitching's arguments certainly came directly from six-literal-day creationists, which Creation has borrowed in turn. How many Jehovah's Witnesses are aware of this connection?
1 The Society used to promote Isaac Vail's theory of the Flood. See the Dec. 1, 1912 Watch Tower, p. 372 (p. 5140 Reprints); Creation, 1927, pp. 25-30; The Truth Shall Make You Free, 1943, pp. 57-62. It was referred to until the mid-1950s.
2 Life-How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, 1985.
3 Critical reviews are in the journals Creation/Evolution Vol. 12 (No. 1, Summer 1992): 29-34 and Free Inquiry Vol. 12 (No. 2, Spring 1992): 28-31.
4 Ashley Montagu, ed., Science and Creationism, p. 345, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984.
5 Creation/Evolution, vol. 12, No. 1, p. 30, 33, National Center for Science Education, Berkeley, California, Summer, 1992.
6 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, pp. 373-374, 1859.
7 Introduction by W. R. Thompson, The Origin of Species, p. xxii, 1956 edition.
8 James Gorman, "The Tortoise or the Hare?," Discover, p. 88, October, 1980.
9 A later edition of Creation amended the last sentence to "there is growing dissent from the prevailing view of Darwinism."
10 Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe, p. 12 (p. 4, paperback), Ticknor & Fields, New Haven, Connecticut, 1982.
12 Creation/Evolution Newsletter, 7, No. 5, pp. 15-16, September/October 1987.
13 Robert Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, pp. 97-101, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1981.
14 Charles Darwin, op cit, p. 133.
15 David M. Raup, "Conflicts Between Darwin and Paleontology," Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin, pp. 22-3, Chicago, January 1979.
16 ibid, p. 23, 25.
17 Richard Lewontin, "Adaptation," Scientific American, p. 213, New York, September, 1978.
18 Laurie R. Godfrey, Scientists Confront Creationism, p. xxiv, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1983.