Science: Has It Proved the Bible Wrong?
A minor point here which shows the lack of familiarity of the author of the gm book with science and its terminology: in the parlance of astronomers "rotate" is used exclusively to describe the motion of a body around its own axis, while "revolve" refers to a body going around another body in an orbit. Thus, the earth revolves around the sun, and it rotates on its own axis.
That is exactly what the Society says about the arguments of people who disagree with it.
Let us note that the gm book later returns to this topic to attempt to answer the charges of Galileo's accusers. It does so in its usual fashion: by setting up strawmen and knocking them down.
Not always. Sometimes it clearly reflects the misunderstandings of the people of the time in which it was written. For example, it can be proved conclusively that there is no physical evidence for a worldwide Flood, so that the event described in Genesis -- if related to a real event at all -- describes at best a large local flood that became a legend.
Much could be said about this, but let us simply note that the Greek philosopher Anaximander (ca. 6th century B.C.E.) also thought that the earth was hung upon nothing. He conceived of the earth as a cylinder, suspended on nothing at the center of the sky, which was a hollow sphere surrounding the earth. [W80 10/1 p. 11] So the Bible's reference to the earth hanging on nothing is not unique.
We will also see that every reference in the Bible to the shape of the earth indicates a flat, circular form -- not a sphere. So if the Bible's reference to God's "hanging the earth upon nothing" is literal, it is not far from Anaximander's idea.
This is among the worst of the Society's arguments about how the Bible is consistent with science. The Hebrew word translated "circle" hardly ever means anything but "circle", and in the Bible means only circle. In the Bible it never means "sphere". When we look at all of the Biblical references to the shape of the earth, we find a consistent picture: the earth is a flat, circular structure (like a pizza pie) with the dome of the sky suspended above it like a tent. What the Society has done here is to capitalize on the fact that the English word "round" equally describes a sphere and a circle.
Furthermore, the Society's argument ignores the fact that many of the ancients knew perfectly well that the earth is spherical. When it is convenient, Watchtower writers will even acknowledge this. The December 22, 1977 Awake! (p. 17) acknowledged that the Greek scholar Pythagoras, of the 6th century B.C.E., knew it. Many other Greek thinkers knew it as well, including Anaxagoras (5th cent. B.C.E.), Aristotle and Aristarchus (4th cent. B.C.E.), Eratosthenes (3rd cent. B.C.E.; he actually measured the diameter of the earth to within 12% of the correct value), Hipparchus (2nd cent. B.C.E.), and Ptolemy (2nd cent. C.E.). There is even evidence that the ancient Sumerians, around 2000 B.C.E., knew that the earth is spherical. So even if the Bible writers really had in mind the true shape of the earth, the fact that other ancient peoples knew it does not prove anything about the Bible's inspiration or lack thereof.
Now, what does the Bible really say about the shape of the earth? Nowhere does it say that it is spherical. On the contrary, all of the references indicate, as I said above, a flat, circular shape like a pizza pie. Let's see what a few scriptures say, to get the general flavor.
In the New World Translation Daniel 4:10-11 relates Nebuchadnezzar's dream:
The word "midst" means "middle" or "center." Consistently, other Bible versions say "a tree in the middle (or center) of the earth." This verse says that the tree was visible to the extremity of the whole earth, and therefore paints a picture of a flat, circular earth. The tree stood in its center and had its top in the heavens so as to be visible from all over the earth. This would be impossible on a spherical earth. But the picture is completely consistent with the idea that God "is dwelling above the circle of the earth".
Daniel 4:10-11 describes a vision given to Nebuchadnezzar by God, and the Society says it is a major prophecy of the Bible. Why would God give a prophecy of such importance by giving an incorrect picture of the shape of the earth? If Daniel and his contemporaries had a mental picture of the earth as a sphere, and the vision pictured the earth as a sphere, what part of the earth could be called the center? How could a tree of any height be visible to its extremities? If Daniel had a mental picture of the earth as a sphere, and the vision pictured the earth as a flat circle with the tree in its center, would not Daniel and his readers have been confused? The logical conclusion is that Daniel's mental picture and the vision were consistent, and therefore that the scripture suggests the picture the Bible writers had of the shape of the earth. It suggests a flat, circular area large enough to hold all the kingdoms known to the Bible writers, with the heavens a hemispherical vault nestled down over the earth, not unlike the picture in Greek mythology. If one says that this scripture is just using picturesque language, then equally well can it be argued that Isaiah 40:22 is too. The Interpreter's Bible argues similarly:
The picture in Daniel is further strengthened by the account of the Devil's tempting Jesus. Matthew 4:8 says:
Again the picture is that all the kingdoms of the world could be viewed from a sufficiently high mountain, which is not possible on a spherical earth. If this was not the intended picture, then why was it used? The Devil could have showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world from anywhere at all.
With this picture of a flat, circular earth in mind, note how Isaiah 40:22 makes complete sense:
This scripture, and the picture of a flat, circular earth with a roof over it, also make sense as rendered in other Bible translations. This is typical:
There is nothing in Isaiah 40:22 to conflict with the picture of a flat, circular earth. Other scriptures give a similar picture. Job 22:14 says of God:
Job 37:18 says the heavens are hard like a metal mirror:
As to viewing the vault of heaven as a thin metal sheet, Isaiah 34:4 mentions:
The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 5, says concerning the word pictures in Isaiah 40:22:
Of course, the sky is immaterial. What we perceive as a solid dome over our heads is simply the scattering of blue light from white sunlight. Many other scriptures refer to the earth in connection with a circle, and various translations render the verses in such a way that a picture of a circle, not a sphere, emerges. Many of these scriptures might be viewed as using allegory or poetic license to make a point, not as a literal statement of the shape of the earth or the composition of the heavenly roof.
But this is precisely the point about Isaiah 40:22. In fact, the scripture makes absolutely no sense if interpreted completely literally and with the idea that Isaiah had in mind a spherical earth: the idea that God is sitting "above" the spherical earth means that he is out in space somewhere, and is even sometimes directly below people on one side of the earth, and sometimes off to the side. One can certainly interpret the idea of "above" as allegorical, but that kills the claim that Isaiah's words prove that he knew the earth is spherical.
The book of Job, in the scriptures quoted above, obviously uses both figurative and literal language; any conclusions showing which it is using in any particular case are open to a great deal of argument and will be biased by the prejudices of whoever is making the arguments. In other words, the Bible cannot be used to prove anything about what its writers believed about the shape of the earth.
In light of all the scriptures that talk of a circular earth, heavens like a beaten metal mirror that can be rolled up, and the lack of definitive context for Isaiah 40:22 that shows that it refers to a sphere, one cannot claim that the scripture says the earth is spherical. Therefore Isaiah 40:22 cannot be used to prove that Bible writers were divinely inspired.
The question as to what Isaiah 40:22 really means illustrates the point that there can be more than one interpretation of what a Bible writer is really saying. Describing wisdom, Proverbs 8:27 in the New World Translation says:
The Interpreter's Bible comments (Vol. 4, p. 832):
In like manner, many more of the Society's arguments about the inspiration of the Bible can be shown to rest on a foundation of wishful thinking.
The only thing in the quoted scripture that is not completely obvious is the idea that the waters return to the place from which they originally ran. But even this is not a particularly surprising statement. I will leave it to the reader to figure out why.
Here we run into some fairly typical WTS failings: ascribing far more authority to a source than it deserves, quoting out-of-date sources and claiming that the extremely obvious poetic descriptions in some Bible passages are somehow scientifically accurate.
When we look up footnote number 2 in the reference section of the gm book, we find that it is to The Book of Popular Science by Grolier, and that it was published in 1967. A book whose title contains the words "popular science" is by definition not a "geology textbook". Anyone who thinks different is ignorant of science and of the publishing industry. Obviously, the author of the gm book tries to bolster his case by ascribing more authority to his source than it deserves. Of course, this says nothing about whether the quoted source is accurate.
However, we next note the date of the source: 1967. In the 1960s the science of geology underwent a revolution centered around the theory known as "plate tectonics". In 1967 the science of plate tectonics was still being hammered out by various geologists in many forums including standard scientific journals. The ultimate findings, which were published in the late 1960s and 1970s, did not find themselves into popular works until much later, many of which became available in the 1980s. Popular works in 1967 still reflected the fact that scientists until then had little idea of the origins of mountains and so on, and that for all anyone knew, mountains and valleys rose and fell sporadically without any rhyme or reason. The WTS quote reflects that ignorance very nicely. For example, in 1967 the "popular" works on geology had no idea how the Hawaiian Islands -- a gigantic volcanic chain extending from the big island of Hawaii all the way to the Kamchatka Peninsula -- had formed. But the geologists were working and eventually figured it all out. References will be given on request. Naturally, the WTS and the popular book it quoted knew nothing of these developments. One wonders why the Society chose to quote an outdated book when by 1989, when the gm book was published, plenty of good works on plate tectonics were available.
Finally, the reader might consider the Bible's rather obvious idea that mountains ascend and valleys descend, and that "waters" once covered them. Once again, if the reader needs an explanation as to why this is obvious, I will gladly provide it.
Wow. So many words to describe so simple a concept: most scientists and the Bible agree that there was a beginning to everything. Well, whoop-de-doo. Most ancient cultures agree that everything began at some point. So what? Were those ancient writings and legends inspired by the God of the Bible? Clearly not. Why then, would anyone argue that a particular apparent legend -- the Biblical version of origins -- was any different?
Here is an absolutely classic example of a writer's relying on the ignorance of his readers to "prove" his point. The author writes as if the Bible always speaks of "leprosy" in terms of the disease known today as "leprosy" or Hansen's disease. That is far from the case, as the WTS author knows perfectly well. A cursory look at all of the Biblical descriptions of "leprosy" shows that it refers to a wide variety of human diseases as well as other infectious things, things that can infect not only people but clothes and houses. The disease known today as "leprosy" is extremely un-infectious and has quite well-known symptoms. Most of these symptoms are inconsistent with the Biblical descriptions. Furthermore, people could recover from Biblical "leprosy" whereas true leprosy was incurable before the advent of modern drugs. No one knows what Biblical leprosy really was, except that it almost certainly included Hansen's disease. In the case of dealing with "leprosy" in houses and clothes, the Biblical test was to look at the infected item over a period of time and observe if it spread. If it did, the item was to be destroyed. The same was true for leprosy in humans: if it spread the person was isolated and if it disappeared the person performed a ceremony and was declared clean.
The main point is that the Biblical descriptions of "leprosy" are perhaps consistent with some understanding of the spread of disease by human-to-human contact, and reflect the simple observation that houses and clothes could become infected with something that could spread or disappear, but the gm book has not shown that this is the product of divinely inspired knowledge. In fact, the references to leprosy in houses and clothes argues against it.
It can hardly be claimed that "take a peg and bury your poop" is a divinely inspired message. Such a claim is about on a par with the rest of the Society's "divine directions".
The fact is that even in ancient times people knew about and often implemented good sanitation practices. The Romans had excellent plumbing systems, including sewers for the disposal of human waste. The English word "plumbing" is derived from the Latin "plumbum" which means the metal lead, from which the Romans made most of their plumbing. The ancient Minoans, at least as far back as 1600 B.C.E., also had indoor plumbing and good sewer systems. If the Israelites were marching around in the wilderness for 40 years it's not too surprising that some of them would complain about poop lying around all over the place and then get a law passed that said, "bury it!"
Once again it is a real stretch to say that a suggestion to be calm can only be divinely given.
Here the Society slides onto extremely thin ice. Why did JW leaders once teach that doctors' claims that vaccinations are beneficial to health were unscriptural? Because of the way the Governing Body interpreted certain Bible verses. Ditto for their teaching about organ transplants, and the idea that the physical heart was the seat of emotions, and the claim that a person's personality resided in the blood, and the claim that God kept his throne on the star Alcyone in the Pleiades constellation, and the claim that Christ had returned in 1874, and that "the saints" had been resurrected in 1878.
The pot is calling the kettle black.
Actually the argument that the gm book gives is a good example of how to "prove" by ignoring everything you don't like:
This argument sounds awfully good to some people today, who know about space satellites and trips to the moon. But in Galileo's day plenty of ignorant religionists had only the words of the Bible to go on. Does the Bible not say that God created the earth in six days, and that it is fixed on its foundations, and that the sun rise and sets, and that God specifically created each kind of animal? Which of these, among many other statements, can be properly evaluated without the help of solid science? The answer is: not many.
Once again we find the Society liberally interpreting some Bible passages as figurative and others as literal. Note that it's not so easy for a Biblical literalist to deal with what Job 38:6 says about the earth:
Is this passage dealing with the permanance of the earth? How can anyone know for certain?
When other passages are examined in like manner it becomes obvious that the Society is willing to interpret Bible passages literally or figuratively, based not on a systematic method, but arbitrarily and based on its current understanding of "science".
The first mistake on this topic appears immediately: "evolution" is not some homogeneous theory cast in stone and set down complete by some authority. It is a set of ideas and theories about how life came to be as it is. The subset often referred to as "origins" is quite separate from the subset sometimes called "descent with modification". Only someone completely ignorant of science -- or someone out to deceive -- would lump all of the subsets into one big "theory of evolution" -- there ain't no such animal. Many "evolutionists" reject all known ideas on origins and stick to the "descent" theories. Others certainly put forth their ideas on origins but candidly admit that they are speculative.
The writer of the gm book falls into the common logical trap of assuming that there are two and only two mutually exclusive explanations for something, that one must be wholly correct and the other wholly wrong. This is the trap of black and white thinking that so many religionists fall into.
Not necessarily. Using the same type of logic that the gm writer uses to explain the problems of a literal interpretation of passages about "the sun standing still", it is easy to "show" that Genesis is consistent with the evolutionary theory of descent with modification. Genesis gives no time scale for the creative days, and it is quite possible that God specially created many types of creatures one at a time, or created a few types that gradually evolved into the many we see today as well as the huge number of extinct forms in the fossil record, or that he even created just one kind at the very beginning which evolved into every living thing we see today. It is even possible that God simply created the conditions under which life could arise more or less on its own. In all these cases God is still the ultimate creator and author of life. Furthermore, most scientists understand that science is not in a position to say anything about ultimate origins.
The fossil record certainly shows a long history of life, where many forms arose and went extinct, only to be replaced by a whole new set of forms. Some of these forms existed for hundreds of millions of years. All of these ideas appear unknown to Watchtower writers.
That is an extremely fuzzy notion and no religionist has managed to give a reasonable definition of "kind". In Lake Victoria in Africa there is a population of fish called "cichlids", which is a general category comprised of dozens of species. These species vary greatly in physical form and habits. Some eat vegetation and some are predators. One kind only eats the scales from other fish by taking a bite out of the side of them. Another kind only eats the eyes of other fish by lunging at them and biting the eye out. None of the various forms interbreed. All apparently descended from a small ancestral population that got isolated in Lake Victoria some 10,000 years ago around the end of the last ice age. If that is not "descent with modification" so as to produce new species, I don't know what is. No one knows of any limits on such modification, especially given millions of years instead of a few thousand.
What the writer means is what the Society will allow that science knows. Just like with the Catholic Church and Galileo.
Just like the cichlid fish of Lake Victoria. The cichlids have a lot more variation than the Galapagos finches.
This is correct. Darwin and other early theorists based these ideas on the rather obvious physical sequence from fish to reptile to mammal, and so forth. Of course, this is an extreme oversimplification. In any case, the science of genetics has nicely confirmed the apparent physical sequences in that the more distantly two kinds of creatures appear to be related physically, or in time, the more different they are genetically. This is shown by the fact that the DNA of chimpanzees and humans is 99% identical. They are obviously built quite similar physically, and fossil evidence indicates a common ancestor on the order of 6 million years ago. Frogs are another interesting case. There are thousands of species, and they differ from one another physically and genetically far more than do chimps and humans. They have also been around for some 300 million years and have had far more time to diversify genetically.
This is a typical Watchtower statement. Since the Bible says nothing at all about the subject, it cannot be out of harmony with anything that is said on it.
Of course, the Society will soon come out with an explanation of the sequences of humans and humanlike creatures seen in the fossil record. Soon we will see an explanation of the place in mankind's history of the two million year old Homo erectus boy found in Africa in 1984, a boy whose body was very like that of a modern human except for being noticeably more robust, but whose head was completely malformed by today's standards and contained a brain less than 2/3 the size of that of a modern human.
No, but some cichlids evolved into herbivores and others into predators. How could that happen if "kinds" were absolutely immutable?
True, but the reason that such proof was not offered is that in principle it cannot be. No historical science can offer proof in the sense that the so-called hard sciences can. One cannot experiment with past events; one can only attempt to interpret them and come up with a reasonably consistent explanation. But by the same token, no one can prove much about the Bible or what it says about things that have not been dug up in the archaeological record. We note a distinct double-standard at work here.
Once again we find a gross oversimplication to the point of absurdity. That living things have evolved, in the sense that the population of living things has changed radically over time, has been proved as conclusively as any historical science can possibly be. To reject that is to reject all of science. Sure, plenty of scientists assert that there is no God and that life arose entirely on its own (and this cannot be proved in any sense) but these two concepts -- the descent of life and the origin of life -- are independent concepts. Watchtower writers depend on their readers' ignorance to get away with this sort of "reasoning".
Hmm. It seems that "others" have the same problem that most JWs do: believing in something that has serious problems just because it's popular among their associates to do so.
Once again we see that black and white thinking.
This is an extremely common argument that has been popularized largely by the young-earth creationists. Darwin proposed that the evolution of life had to be extremely gradual. However, paleontologists have unearthed plenty of evidence that life evolved at an extreme variety of paces, from hardly any change at all over millions of years to the extremely rapid pace seen in the Lake Victoria cichlids. The fossil record is so spotty that finding a record of extremely rapid evolution is unlikely; nevertheless such records have been found.
For example, it was long proposed that some reptiles evolved into mammals. Well of course the real story is rather more complicated, and I certainly will barely scratch the surface here by giving one example of change that is documented in the fossil record.
Early forms of reptiles had a jaw that consisted of four bones. They also had one earbone. Over a period of some 100 million years new animals appeared that had more and more of the characteristics of mammals, which have one jawbone and three earbones. Amazingly, two of the reptile jaw bones apparently migrated into the head and became earbones in various types of animals during this time, and another bone disappeared. Not possible, you say? Well, kangaroos, bandicoots and hedgehogs undergo a similar sort of bone migration during their embryological development. There have even been fossil animals discovered that have two hinged jaw systems functioning side by side, one something like the old style and the other something like the new. For details on this see:
Next note what a well known scientist had to say about details of the evolution from reptiles to mammals (G. Ledyard Stebbins, Processes of Organic Evolution, pp. 142-148, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1971). He spoke about what he called transitional forms between, and the origin of, various categories of animals:
Serious problem here. Francis Hitching is no scientist. He is a tabloid TV writer, paranormalist and major figure in the dowsing community. 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.
One of Hitching's more popular books was The Neck of the Giraffe (Ticknor & Fields, New Haven, Connecticut, 1982). The Society quoted or plagiarized from this book more than a dozen times in its 1985 book Life -- How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? The Neck of the Giraffe spends much of its time attacking Darwinian evolution, borrowing heavily and uncritically from young-earth creationist arguments. One magazine had this to say about Hitching (Creation/Evolution Newsletter, 7, No. 5, pp. 15-16, September/October 1987):
The Neck of the Giraffe is in general a rather poor book on the subject of evolution. Hitching demonstrates a real misunderstanding of science and how it is practiced. He also bases many of his arguments on those of the young-earth creationists even while rejecting most of their claims. Hitching has one agenda: to promote his love of paranormal phenomena and his ideas on "psychic evolution".
One may legitimately ask: When a religious writer claims that a paranormalist is a scientist, what is he trying to accomplish?
A reference to The Neck of the Giraffe. By hanging his arguments on those of the young-earth creationists, Hitching has shot himself in the foot. See the above references to the evolution from reptiles to mammals for counterarguments.
Another gross distortion typical of the Society's Creation book. The reference is to the theory called Punctuated Equilibrium that paleontologist Stephen Gould and his colleagues have promoted. This idea acknowledges that most of the time evolutionary change is slow or non-existent, and proposes that under unusual circumstances evolution can proceed at an extremely rapid pace. Because most of the changes will not appear in the fossil record, since the chance of an animal becoming a fossil is slight, the fossil record appears like a series of still photographs taken from a football game at 30 second intervals -- most of the action is missing but the overall flow can be inferred from the results.
As the references given above show, there is plenty of fossil evidence for both gradual and "punctuated" evolution. Darwin naturally proposed an incomplete theory, which has been modified in light of later developments. No surprise, since that is the way science works. Science is not a static body of knowledge given by God, but is a dynamic body of knowledge always subject to modification if and when new discoveries clarify ideas or even cause old ones to be discarded. Some things, of course, are so solidly established that it is extremely unlikely that they will ever be discarded.
What the gm writer does, in effect, is to argue that since Darwin's ideas have been modified, the entire theory of evolution -- what existed in 1859 and what exists today -- along with all of the evidence for the various aspects of the various sub-theories -- should be discarded. He does this by using the fuzzy idea that since Darwin's idea of exclusively gradual evolution has had to be modified to account for the appearance in the fossil record of extremely rapid evolution, Darwin's idea should be discarded along with the more modern ones. The fallacy of the WTS argument should be obvious to all readers.
A matter of opinion. The degree to which either is supported is a matter of spirited debate.
Another non-sequitur. Of course living creatures contain genetic material to reproduce themselves exactly. But they are not 100% accurate. That's why mutations arise.
True, but nature itself has provided many examples of things evolving into something else. The exact mechanism may be in question but the fact of the evolution is not.
Once again we note the lumping of "descent with modification" -- which the fossil record strongly indicates -- with ideas on origins, which are admittedly fuzzy. This sort of lumping allows poor thinkers to think that everything they lump together may be of equal quality, which is a gross fallacy.
No one disputes that this is an unanswered question.
Another fallacy. Pasteur demonstrated that today and in a short time span life does not appear spontaneously. He demonstrated nothing about conditions that may have existed a long time ago, nor about whether life can spontaneously generate under the right conditions.
Most don't. They accept that life, once it appeared by whatever means, evolved by some mechanism to what it is today. Those mechanisms are what concern 99% of life scientists today. The few who concern themselves with a purely non-supernatural theory of origins subscribe to what the gm writer describes:
Note again the wrong notion about what Pasteur showed.
How the gm writer can quote this and completely invert what it said is beyond my understanding. Note how he then cavalierly dismisses the problem:
Having thus demolished the theory of evolution, the gm writer then turns to a thoroughly discredited author:
There is a wealth of information available in bookstores and on the Internet that shows that a good many of Denton's ideas are wrong. In particular the interested reader should look at FAQ for the Usenet newsgroup "talk.origins".
That's right. However, the "evolutionary" explanation is also in harmony with the facts. What's a body to do?
Here again we have a multitude of problems appearing in a single sentence. First, Francis Hitching is an authority only, perhaps, on paranormal phenomena, dowsing and other tabloid TV fodder. So the question about Hitching doesn't even make sense. Second, Hitching himself answers rather clearly on the quoted page: "having rejected the neo-Darwinist synthesis because it is inadequate to answer these and many other questions, and rejected the creationist explanation because it cannot be argued, what, then, do we put in their place?" Since Hitching clearly says that he rejects the creationist position because it cannot be argued, we must wonder at the powers of reading comprehension on the part of the gm book writer. Eventually Hitching alludes to his ideas of "evolution by paranormal means", although he is understandably vague about just what that means.
The drive to separate religion from science and everything else is strong and understandable. When religion invokes the idea of God as the ultimate source, and then balks at the question of what is the origin of God, it is evident that religionists have no ultimate answers to the question of origins any more than anyone else does.
It is laughable when Watchtower writers complain about circular reasoning, since their productions contain so much of it.
Denton's statements are true, as I explained above. That means that we cannot prove or disprove anything in the historical sciences in the sense that we can in sciences such as physics and chemistry. In the historical sciences we have more of a statistical confidence in conclusions: the best explanation we can come up with is the best we can do until/unless we come up with something better. But so what? No scientist, in contrast with dogmatists like JW Governing Body members, is likely to state with 100% confidence that anything has occurred in the past. But this is not a problem because, in contrast with certain religious leaders, scientists do not claim to speak for God.
In the same way, the Catholic Church justified its stance with respect to Galileo.
For a comprehensive debunking of the Society's 1985 Creation book, and a detailed look at many of the issues discussed above, see my essay "The Watchtower Society's View of Creation and Evolution".
Yet again we find a gross misunderstanding on the part of the Watchtower writer, not only of the Bible but of science. While it is true that the Society has for decades defended the notion that the expression "the waters above" refers to a great mass of water above the atmosphere, this is easily disproved by Psalm 148:4: "Praise [Jehovah] you heavens of the heavens, and you waters that are above the heavens." What "waters that are above the heavens" existed in the Psalmist's day? Only the clouds. Therefore, the Psalmist was referring to the clouds that obviously bring rain, and so Genesis, by referring to the same thing, is simply referring to the clouds that bear rain when it talks about "the waters above". Unfortunately for the Watchtower view, the atmosphere can only contain enough water to flood the earth to a depth of about 3 inches.
In similar fashion it is easy to see that Genesis is talking about the sky when it talks about "the expanse". This "expanse" is simply something that extends horizontally over a wide distance, like "something beaten out" (note the Hebrew "raquia") and obviously refers to the appearance of the blue sky. That is why Genesis 1:20 mentions flying creatures flying over the face of the expanse of the heavens. That is exactly what one sees when one looks up and sees birds flying across the expanse of the sky.
Ah. "Evidently". Yes, that is a solid presentation of evidence.
In view of Psalm 148:4, we must wonder at the complete lack of quantitative reasoning ability of our Watchtower writer. The clouds of heaven can only hold as much moisture as the air will hold; this amounts to perhaps 3 inches -- hardly enough for a worldwide Flood. It is this kind of inattention to quantitative detail that so often gets religious writers in trouble. They might say "many" when they themselves think of "a dozen", and when the original source is thinking of "thousands". Without being specific, dishonest or ignorant people can get away with much abuse.
The standard circular reasoning is presented: the Bible is true because some of its writers and characters say so.
The understatement of the year.
Correct. Estimates vary between 300 and 600 feet.
Quite right. A depth of about 8,000 feet is close to the mark.
This sounds impressive until you look at the magnitudes and timescales of the risings and fallings. The problem here is that extremely solid dating methods have put these risings and fallings as occurring slowly over a period of tens of millions of years. The separation of North America from Europe and Africa took tens of millions of years and is still going on. The Himalayas have been rising for some 20 million years. Yet the WTS writer pretends that these might have occurred during the past few thousand years, and most particularly, about 4,400 years ago according to the latest WTS dating methods. So we see here a discrepancy of three to four orders of magnitude between what the WTS claims and what science has shown. Therefore, the gm book's quoting of a scientific source is at best disingenuous. The writer does not prove his case, and offers horribly poor evidence to back it.
It's a good thing that the writer pointed this out. Kind of like saying that I was once not as tall as I am now. The problem, once again, is that there is absolutely no quantitative information offered. Without such information, speculation about risings and fallings are meaningless.
Once again we find statements about change but nothing about the timescale or the physical changes that would be required. The separation of the North American plate from Africa and Europe has been occurring for well over 100 million years, according to reliable scientific dating methods. According to the Society this has been going on for only about 4400 years. We're talking about some five orders of magnitude of discrepancy.
The ignorance of quantity manifested here is just incredible. These underwater abysses are the deepest places in the ocean, alright, but they are pretty rare compared to the normal depth of ocean bottom, which is about 12,000 feet. These abysses occur only at the boundary between some colliding "plates" and can account for only a tiny fraction of the volume of water in the ocean basins. Furthermore, geologists have found that there has been no great change in the configuration of the ocean bottoms in historical times. On the contrary, the configuration of the oceans and continents has remained pretty stable on short time scales for hundreds of millions of years. Yes, the continents drift, but when the drifting occurs at the rate that fingernails grow, it is not noticeable from year to year. Nor on any other timescale that mankind normally works on, except by the use of special measuring techniques.
So, claiming that the sinking of "the great trenches" accounts for where the floodwaters went bespeaks extreme ignorance both of the timescale on which tectonic plates move, and of the quantity of water that such trenches contain.
They haven't found traces of it precisely because it did not happen. Note that the writer has in no sense shown that such a Flood could have occurred, much less that it did occur.
This goes back to the Society's pre-1980 notion that there were no ice ages at all, that all of the evidence for ice ages is really evidence of the Flood. Note once again that no hard evidence whatsoever is presented. Only fuzzy generalities are given.
The fact is that there is a wealth of evidence that shows that a worldwide flood could not have happened anytime in the past few million years. There are continuous historical records from Egypt and China that go right through the time that the Flood occurred according to WTS chronology. The entire science of geology would have to be thrown out if geologists were so incompetent that they managed to misinterpret the evidence so badly. Let's take a single example:
From the above information the reader may have noted that if the earth were completely smooth, the oceans would cover it to a depth of about 8,000 feet. That sets a limit of about 8,000 feet for the height of the highest mountains that could be covered by floodwaters. But we have plenty of mountain ranges much higher than that! Accordingly, all of the earth's high mountain ranges must have formed after the Flood. The Himalayas, the Andes, the Rockies and many more can be only a few thousand years old. However, much evidence proves that such mountains are millions of years old. What evidence has the Society given for it's claims about the height of mountain ranges? Not a thing.
Consider also the big Island of Hawaii. This is the largest single mountain in the world measured from its base on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It is about 30,000 feet high and 300 miles across. It is about a million years old, and is only the youngest in a chain of volcanos extending all the way to the Kamchatka peninsula, thousands of miles away. Some of these have been worn down to nubs and sunk into the ocean. If the Big Island existed prior to the Flood, then it would have stuck up anywhere from two to four miles higher than the floodwaters. The alternative is that this giant mass of lava grew from almost nothing to the largest mountain in the world in under about 3,000 years! Once again, no evidence is forthcoming from the Society that such a thing could have occurred. The gm book writer probably is completely unaware of such problems.
While these statements are true, they have nothing to do with whether present understandings are correct. By the same logic everything that the WTS teaches is suspect because of all the mistakes they've made in the past. Once again we note a double standard -- one for the Society and another for everyone else. We also note once again that the WTS writer presents no actual data to back up his claim, but only generalized arguments about how "people can be wrong."
This is a common myth propagated by pseudoscientists and general crackpots. It dates to the late 19th century and was largely instigated by one Henry Howorth, a fringe geologist who could think of no other interpretation for the finding of frozen large animals in the Arctic than a huge catastrophe. Unfortunately, Howorth and others badly misinterpreted the evidence and thought that events that have since been shown to have occurred over perhaps 30,000 years were instantaneous. The extinctions mentioned took at least 8,000 years. For example, a dwarf species of mammoth still lived on certain Mediterranean islands as recently as 4,000 years ago, while its cousin the Siberian Mammoth died out some 6,000 years earlier.
There is, in fact, no evidence whatsoever that at some single point in time large numbers of large mammals became extinct, and that there was a simultaneous sudden change in climate. There certainly was a change in climate from about 18,000 through 10,000 years ago, during which many animals became extinct, but it was a warming trend that signaled the end of the last ice age.
There is absolutely no evidence for the Society's claim that "tens of thousands of mammoths were killed" simultaneously and then "quick-frozen in Siberia". Once again this is due to the horrible misinterpretations of Howorth and a few others. A number of large mammals have been found that upon careful analysis proved to have died of quite natural causes and were gradually frozen, and which partially decomposed before they froze. For example, on page 114 the gm book shows the classic Bereszovka frozen mammoth from Siberia, and comments that it was "quick-frozen". However, a look at the reports from the intrepid Russian scientists who took two years to recover the carcass shows that the carcass was badly decomposed deep inside. The outer portions were frozen and preserved well enough that sled dogs ate some of the meat, but the men who dug it out realized that the flesh was already in bad shape when it was frozen. One of the more enlightening aspects of their report concerned the unbearable stench from the carcass, which even permeated the frozen ground around it, which proves that the carcass was decomposed during the freezing process.
Perhaps the best disproof of the notion of "huge numbers of quick-frozen animals" is the 1979 discovery of a partial frozen bison carcass in Alaska. This was dubbed "Blue Babe" because of the blue mineral crystals that had accumulated on the hide during the more than 30,000 years it remained in the Alaskan permafrost. It turned out that the bison, a form now extinct, had been killed and mostly eaten by lions. That lions had done the deed was found from a piece of lion tooth that had broken off and become lodged in the frozen flesh of the forequarters. The lions ate most of the body, leaving the skin and much of the forequarters. The head was virtually intact. There is no way such a thing could have happened during the cataclysmic events of a Flood such as the WTS writer envisions.
For an in-depth analysis of the question of the Flood, see my essay "The Flood".
Whatever these "pluvial periods" were supposed to be, they are certainly not a notion from modern geology. They're actually a notion from older ideas in geology, but were mostly discarded when the full extent of the ice ages became evident during the 1960s and 1970s. This revolution in understanding of the causes and history of the ice ages parallels the revolution caused by the notion of plate tectonics. For a detailed discussion, again refer to my essay "The Flood". In a nutshell, ice ages have come and gone roughly every 100,000 years for about the last three million years.
At any rate, in the 1920s and 1930s, archaeologist Leonard Woolley discovered in Mesopotamia the remains of a great flood. Unfortunately for biblical literalists, it proved to be local to the region. Very likely it was this, or a similar large but local flood in the vicinity of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, that gave rise to the legend that spread around the world.
This is true by definition. From Webster's Dictionary: "pluvial: a prolonged period of wet climate." It means nothing without an explanation of just what the writer means. Of course, the WTS writer doesn't provide it.
During the ice ages the parts of the earth that were not glaciated tended to be wetter than today, largely because the extremely cold regions were drier. Thus, the American southwest was wet enough that huge lakes formed and lasted for tens of thousands of years. Great Salt Lake in Utah is a tiny remnant of "Lake Bonneville", which was about the size of Lake Michigan today. Its shorelines, up to 1,000 feet above the present level of Great Salt Lake, can be seen today etched in the mountains around the great basin that contains Salt Lake City. Many other shorelines can also be seen, showing that the lake level remained constant for long periods of time at various levels. At one point about 13,000 years ago Lake Bonneville overflowed its banks and spilled out into the Snake River basin, causing a huge flood whose remnants can be seen today. The overflow cut down about 100 feet through the bedrock before petering out, lowering the lake level which thereafter remained constant long enough to carve a new shoreline into the mountains around Great Salt Lake. The huge flood from the overflow left traces that can be seen today in the Snake River Canyon and the Columbia Gorge.
A particularly large series of floods occurred in the same general area between about 14,000 and 12,000 years ago. The large continental glacier that covered much of western Canada flowed south and blocked the mouth of the Clark Fork River at the Idaho/Montana border. A big lake formed behind this ice dam, and eventually it broke through the ice and spilled out in a huge flood over much of eastern Washington State. It carved out the landscape to such a degree that locally the area is called "the channeled scablands". The flood drastically enlarged the Columbia Gorge and created a lake that filled much of the Willamette Valley south of Portland, Oregon for years at a time. This was not a unique event, though, since the ice again moved south, blocking the Clark Fork River and forming another lake that eventually spilled out again. This process apparently repeated itself at least 40 times over a period of 2,000 years.
There is no way that such events fit in with WTS notions of the Flood. Outfits like the WTS have nothing to say about these things.
Ah, very good! An attempt at humor. Unfortunately the attempt works only on those ignorant of geology.
This failed attempt at humor is quite revealing about the mentality of those who write for the Watchtower Society. The "wetness" that was once "theorized" to have been "caused by heavy rains associated with the end of the ice ages" was known to have lasted for tens of thousands of years. That's why lakes like Lake Bonneville came into existence and lasted for long periods of time. But the gm writer once again demonstrates an extreme ignorance of the concept of time by saying that "on one occasion the extreme wetness ... was a result of the Flood". He proves that he knows absolutely nothing about geology or the physical evidence behind the science of geology.
The reader should note that the quote is taken from The Genesis Flood, a book by the arch young-earth creationists Henry Morris and John Whitcomb and published originally in 1961. Whatever McCampbell's presuppositions, his statement here is just plain wrong, in light of developments in geology since 1961. Also remember that, by 1989 when the gm book was written, the Society had abandoned some of its older ideas about ice ages and the Flood, and had published a number of scathing denunciations of the young-earth creationists -- the very ones whose works the gm book is referring to here! So the gm writer is not only wrong about geology, but is inconsistent with Watchtower teaching in prior publications! Naturally, most JW readers will be completely unaware of these things.
This argument about the widespread idea of an ancient Flood is actually by far the strongest that the Society has. But it is far from conclusive, and it certainly doesn't prove the gm writer's case.
As mentioned above, the two best documented ancient cultures -- the Egyptians and the Chinese -- have records going back more than 5,000 years and yet these records show nothing of a Flood. This completely contradicts the WTS chronology that places the Flood in 2370 B.C.E., about 4,400 years ago.
Wrong. There are a number of explanations. One is that the ancient legend of a Flood that came from the Sumerians, or whoever had the bad luck of getting whacked by the Mesopotamian flood of some 5,000 years ago, was a real cool legend that automatically was told and retold and passed from culture to culture. All it shows is the efficiency with which ancient legends, if "cool" enough, could be spread.
Only by making rather large concessions that work against Biblical literalism, and if one is willing to ignore details in favor of vague, fuzzy notions. In detail the Genesis account is contradicted by extremely solid science. The only way to salvage Genesis is by interpreting its statements as allegory, just as literalists were forced to do with statements about the motion of the sun.
This statement is far more a reflection of the writer's state of mind than of an objective assessment of the evidence. In almost all cases of conflict, a careful consideration of all of the evidence shows that the most questionable area is the interpretation of Biblical literalists.
"We have to believe". That is a clear statement of the writer's state of mind and an honest admission of the emotional nature of biblical literalism.
Let the reader note that "proved science" is just a euphemism for "whatever the Watchtower Society agrees with", and therefore that the entire statement amounts to a completely circular argument: "the Bible's agreement with us proves that it is God's word". This is far more a reflection of the WTS belief that its leaders speak for God than anything else. It is completely meaningless.