Part 3: Quotations and Research in the Society's Publications

Posted by Seeker on June 11, 1997 at 08:29:29

Now that I noticed problems with the Society quoting their own publications from the past, I began to wonder about quotes taken from secular sources. How accurate were they?

Here's one recent, minor, example of how the Society sometimes will use a quote to imply more than the authors intended. I say 'minor' because this is not the most obvious example, nor is it of a subject that I think is that important. I only include it because it is representative of the way the Society likes to imply things.

In the June 15, 1997 Watchtower article titled "Jerusalem in Bible Times", it talks about archaeological discoveries in recent years, and how it confirms the Bible record on conditions in Jerusalem during that time-period. That's all fine and accurate. Then they quote from a book written by two archaeologists, Tarler and Cahill, and then make an application of the quote as follows (page 12):

"Thus, the Bible's picture of Jerusalem from David's time down to its destruction in 607 B.C.E. has in many ways been verified by archaeological excavations made during the past 25 years."

What's the problem here? The date 607 B.C.E. is the problem. The archaeologists being quoted do not believe that is the date for Jerusalem's destruction, and never said anything about that date in their book that is being quoted. The Society threw that in and made it sound as if these archaeologists agreed with them. But they don't agree as the following quotes make clear:

"I have never heard of the Watchtower Society, I have never published anything suggesting that Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 BCE, and -- as far as I know -- Yigal never published anything like that either. I would respond that I know of no evidence supporting such a date." [Jane Cahill, Appelbau@HUM.HUJI.AC.IL]

"I am not familiar with the article you cited -- and I would appreciate receiving a copy of it -- but I never said that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E. I do not think that, today, archeologists could differentiate between 607 B.C.E. and 587 B.C.E. material cultural remains. Assuming that there are material remains from a 604 B.C.E. destruction at Tel Miqne/Ekron and from a 587 B.C.E. destruction at the City of David/Jerusalem, comprehensive analysis of these remains conceivably could yield chronological indicators for other sites, but even then, the archeological conclusions would derive from those assumed dates; the dates themselves would not derive from the archeology." [David Tarler,]

I included the archaeologists email addresses after their names in case you wish to ask them yourself if this is true or not. It was just such an email query that confirmed that the Society was implying more than they should have in that quote.

Here's another example:

"Some seismologists believe that the earth is now in an active earthquake period. For example, Professor Keiiti Aki of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology speaks of "the apparent surge in intensity and frequency of major earthquakes during the last one hundred years," though stating that the period from 1500 through 1700 was as active." [The Watchtower, May 15, 1983, p. 6]

Professor Aki, when contacted, provided his full letter that was written to the Society, and it is as follows:

"The apparent surge in intensity and frequency of major earthquakes during the last one hundred years is, in all probability, due to improved recording of earthquakes and the increased vulnerability of human society to earthquake damage. The main reason is the well established plate tectonics which indicates a very steady fault motion over the past many millions of years.

"A measure of earthquake strength more objective than casualty is the Richter scale. It is in general difficult to assign the Richter scale to earthquakes more than 100 years ago. An attempt, however, has been made in China, where historical records are kept in better shape than in other regions. Enclosed figure shows the Richter scale of earthquakes in China during the period of about 2000 years. The past 100 years are certainly active, but there have been periods as active as that, for example, from 1500 to 1700."

Does he say that the earth is in an active earthquake period? Yes, but no more active than other periods. Still, that part of the Watchtower, quote is correct. What is deceptive, however, is the excerpt "the apparent surge in intensity and frequency of major earthquakes during the last one hundred years," without continuing with the rest of Professor Aki's sentence. The full sentences says that this 'surge' is "in all probability" not a surge at all, but just better recording techniques and the fact that more humans are now more vulnerable to earthquake damage. In other words, he sees nothing remarkable about our time, the exact opposite viewpoint the Society indicated he held. Professor Aki, commenting on the use of his quote, said:

"It is clear that they quoted the part they wanted, eliminating my main message." [Keiiti Aki,]

Again, these are minor examples, but illustrative of the kind of problems you can find when the Society quotes secular sources. Let's take a much more serious set of examples, all taken from the Creation book.

The Society has a large staff for writing and researching its articles and publications. They claim to do thorough research when writing its books. So why is it that they don't notice quotations from other sources being pulled out of context and twisted to say something the author didn't mean? The Creation book, above all others, invites us to do research by including a large reference at the end where it tells you where it got its quotes. Have you ever taken the time to look up some of these references? If you do, you will be surprised and disappointed.

First, consider the forward:

"Millions of people today believe in evolution. Other millions believe in creation. Still others are uncertain what to believe. This book is for all such people. It presents a thoroughly researched examination of how life got here and what this means for the future." [Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, 1985, p. 4]

So we have a claim that the book is a "thoroughly researched examination." Let us see.

"The scientific magazine Discover put the situation this way: "Evolution ... is not only under attack by fundamentalist Christians, but is also being questioned by reputable scientists. Among paleontologists, scientists who study the fossil record, there is growing dissent from the prevailing view of Darwinism." [Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, 1985, p. 15]

The ellipsis hides that what is under attack is Darwinism not evolution. Reading the full story in Discover will show that nobody here questions evolution, only one explanatory theory.

"Charles Darwin's brilliant theory of evolution, published in 1859, had a stunning impact on scientific and religious thought and forever changed man's perception of himself. Now that hallowed theory is not only under attack by fundamentalist Christians, but is also being questioned by reputable scientists. Among paleontologists, scientists who study the fossil record, there is growing dissent from the prevailing view of Darwinism. [...] Most of the debate will center on one key question: Does the three-billion-year-old process of evolution creep at a steady pace, or is it marked by long periods of inactivity punctuated by short bursts of rapid change? Is Evolution a Tortoise or a hare? Darwin's widely accepted view that evolution proceeds steadily, at a crawl favors the tortoise. But two paleontologists, Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History and Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard, are putting their bets on the hare."

As you can clearly see, Creation misinforms the reader. What reader will get the impression that the Discover article discussed the pace of evolutionary change? Stephen Jay Gould definitely does not abandon the theory of evolution.

Here's another problem:

"Francis Hitching, an evolutionist and author of the book The Neck of the Giraffe, stated: "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." [Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, 1985, p. 15]

The argumentation in this chapter relies on statements like these. Now, who is this Francis Hitching? He is called an evolutionist. What impression does this word give in this context? Evidently that he is a scientist specializing in evolution science. Actually, however, he has no credentials in science. He is just a typical author with an education limited to private boys' school in Warwick, England according to his own information given in Contemporary Authors. [Contemporary Authors, vol. 103 p 208, Detroit: Gale Research]

Some will deny that the word evolutionist conveys the idea that he is a scientist. Why, then do we see the following in the publication The Bible -- God's Word or Man's?

"How can the theory of evolution be tested? The most obvious way is to examine the fossil record to see if a gradual change from one kind to another really happened. Did it? No, as a number of scientists honestly admit. One, Francis Hitching, writes: "When you look for links between major groups of animals, they simply aren't there." [The Bible -- God's Word or Man's, 1989, p. 106]

This error obviously occurred because the writer of gm took his information from Creation. If the Society itself misunderstood its own book, the casual reader will also.

If you examine the references in Creation you will see that Hitching is the most important source for major parts of the book. Even more, if you read The Neck of the Giraffe you will recognize many lines of thought that are used in exactly the same way in Creation without indication of source.

What else do we know about Hitching? Well consider what else he has written: Earth Magic, Dowsing: The Psi Connection. Also, Mysterious World: An Atlas of the Unexplained. Further, did you know that he says he was member of Society for Psychical Research, British Society of Dowsers and American Society of Dowsers? If you knew that, would you want to read anything Hitching wrote, or would you think his writings would be spiritistic in nature and you would want to stay far away from them?

What else do we know about Hitching? Doing a search on the Internet found this excerpt on him from the usenet group:

"Hitching believes in the paranormal and has written on Mayan pyramid energy and for some "In Search Of..." episodes on BBC television. 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 of 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. Hitching's book spends much of its time attacking Darwinian evolution, borrowing heavily and uncritically from young-earth creationist arguments. Many of Hitching's "references" are lifted from young-earth creationist literature rather than being quoted directly from their original sources. One magazine had this to say [Creation/Evolution Newsletter, 7, No. 5, pp. 15-16, September/October 1987]:

"Speaking of the Biblical Creation Society, there was an interesting letter in the January 1983 issue of their journal Biblical Creation (p. 74) concerning a review of Francis Hitching's 1982 book The Neck of the Giraffe. Hitching's book is strongly anti-Darwinist, and is enthusiastically hailed by most creationists (though he also pokes fun at fundamentalist creationists). The letter, by creationist Malcolm Bowden (author of The Rise of the Evolution Fraud), points out that Hitching simply "culled his information from the creationist literature." This is indeed the case: many creationist works are cited favorably (Anderson, Coffin, Clark, Daly, Davidheiser, Dewar, Gish, Morris, Segraves, Whitcomb, and Wysong, plus various anti-Darwinists). Hitching does cite Bowden's earlier book Ape-Men Fact or Fallacy?, but Bowden accuses Hitching of "lifting" several passages and illustrations from his book without acknowledgment: in other words, plagiarism. "Hitchin's [sic] book is largely an exposition of the creationists [sic] viewpoint from the beginning to almost the end," Bowden points out.... Hitching is also a paranormalist, an advocate of psychic evolution.... [Hitching's book] Earth Magic is a wild, extremely entertaining and thoroughly psychic interpretation of megalithic structures.... Hitching also includes in his scheme cosmic cataclysms, Atlantis, pyramidology, dowsing, ESP, miraculous healing, and astrology."

So this is the person the Creation book relies on for much of its argument. A paranormalist and psychic. A creationist of the 'earth was created in six literal days' movement who gets his arguments from the young-earth creationist movement, a movement that the Society ridicules, yet through Hitching, the Society is really quoting this very movement to support its arguments.

Every time you see Hitching quoted, remember that he is not the evolutionary scientist the Society says he is, but a book author with an anti-Darwinist ax to grind. The Society is hardly quoted a reputable scientist who believed in evolution and now is having second thoughts. What other examples of misquoting can be found in the Creation book?

"Darwin acknowledged this as a problem. For example, he wrote: "To suppose that the eye [...] could have been formed by [evolution], seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree." [Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, 1985, p. 18]

Now, did Darwin really "acknowledge this as a problem"? Not at all. Read the full quotation:

"To suppose that the eye with all it's inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory." [The Origin of Species, p. 133]

So the single point Darwin was making, was that while intuition seemed to make evolution of the eye improbable, reason told him that this was 'not subversive of the theory.' Quoting like Creation did is clearly dishonest.

The next quote is:

"Zoologist Richard Lewontin said that organisms "appear to have been carefully and artfully designed." He views them as "the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer." It will be useful to consider some of this evidence." [Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, 1985, p. 143]

Nobody reading the original article from Scientific American will get this impression. Lewontin begins his article with a short summary of the ideas people had in the 19th century before Darwin:

"Life forms are more than simply multiple and diverse, however. Organisms fit remarkably well into the external world in which they live. They have morphologies, physiologies and behaviors that appear to have been carefully and artfully designed to enable each organism to appropriate the world around it for its own life.

"It was the marvelous fit of organisms to the environment, much more than the great diversity of forms, that was the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer. Darwin realized that if a naturalistic theory of evolution was to be successful, it would have to explain the apparent perfection of organisms and not simply their variation."

From these sentences, where Lewontin summarizes the ideas he is going to refute, a few sentences have been lifted and made it appear like this was his opinion. Lewontin himself was not very happy when this misquote was made by someone else. The newsletter Creation/ Evolution allows him to answer under the quite explicit headline Misquoted Scientists Respond:

"But the point of my article, Adaptation, in Scientific American, from which these snippets were lifted, was precisely that the perfection of organisms is often illusory and that any attempt to describe organisms as perfectly adapted is destined for serious contradictions. Moreover, the appearance of careful and artful design was taken in the nineteenth century before Darwin as the chief evidence of a Supreme Designer. The past tense of my article (It was the marvelous fit of organisms to the environment [...] that was the chief evidence of a 'Supreme Designer') has been conveniently dropped by creationist Parker in his attempt to pass of his ancient doctrine as modern science." [Creation/Evolution, autumn 1981, p. 35]

Earlier in the same article he says:

"Modern expressions of creationism and especially so-called scientific creationism are making extensive use of the tactic of selective quotation in order to make it appear that numerous biologists doubt the reality of evolution. The creationists take advantage of the fact that evolutionary biology is a living science containing disagreements about certain details of the evolutionary process by taking quotations about such details out of context in an attempt to support the creationists' antievolutionary stand. Sometimes they simply take biologists' descriptions of creationism and then ascribe these views to the biologists themselves! These patently dishonest practices of misquotation give us a right to question even the sincerity of creationists."

Now, would not Lewontin have reason to question the sincerity of the writer of Creation? Here's another misquote:

"At this point a reader may begin to understand Dawkins' comment in the preface to his book: "This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction." [Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation?, 1985, p. 39]

Now, does Dawkins know deep inside that he's really telling the reader a fairy-tale? The selective quote leaves this impression. Look at it in context:

"This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction. It is designed to appeal to the imagination. But it is not science fiction: it is science. Cliche or not, stranger than fiction expresses exactly how I feel about the truth." [The Selfish Gene, p. ix, 1976]

Why didn't Creation give the whole quote?

Where do misquotes like these come from? You may be relieved to hear that nobody in Brooklyn seems to have been responsible for lifting these passages viciously out of context. The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in San Diego, CA, has for a long time provided endless lists of misquotes, misrepresentations and general quasi-science. One of their periodicals is called Impact, and in the issue for October 1980 we find a short article by Gary E. Parker [Gary E. Parker, Creation, Selection and Variation, Impact, No. 88, Oct 1980, San Diego: ICR, pp i-iv] that obviously meant a lot to the writer of Creation. On page (ii) we find Darwin's statement about the eye (ce18) and Lewontin's infamous statements about a Supreme Designer (ce143).

Even if the writers of the Creation book didn't take these quotes out of context themselves, isn't it disturbing that the very creationists that the Society has tried to distance themselves from support the foundation of the book? And since the Society claims that this book is well researched, why didn't they go to the original sources, instead of just pulling quotes of quotes from some creationist journal? And if they did go to the original sources, how could they miss noting that they were misquoting their sources in a way that completely twists their words around?

The Creation book is full of such misleading quotes. Please take the time to look up the actual references in the back and see for yourself. Then remember this the next time the monthly campaign is with the Creation book. Just hope you don't meet anyone knowledgeable enough to recognize the misquotes.

Is this such an important thing? On its own, probably not. One could chalk it up to sloppiness. But the pattern of misquotes, misleading quotes, selective use of history is disturbing in an organization that claims to be so honest and open and thorough. The forward of the Creation book, which says "It presents a thoroughly researched examination", is false. It was sloppily researched and the result is a book that is misguided at best or dishonest at worst. To summarize thus far, I began by wondering about the Society saying the end must be imminent despite the change in "generation." From researching how the Society has always believed the end was imminent, I noticed that their quoting of their own past history was selective at best, and deceptive at worst. That then led me to examine other, secular, quotes where I found that the pattern of deceptive quotes got even worse.

In other words, I found a pattern of selective honesty. But isn't that really another way of saying dishonesty? Think about what the meaning of "selective honesty" is. What parent is pleased when their child tells them only part of the truth, leaving out the inconvenient parts that make the child look bad? Isn't that called dishonesty on the child's part? If so, why should the Society be held to any less of a standard? Reasoning along this line then made me think about the standard the Society should be held to. Should we just view the Society as a group of imperfect men who make mistakes?