Science: Has It Proved the Bible Wrong?

Alan Feuerbacher


The Watchtower Society's complete lack of comprehension of science, while pretending the opposite, was one of the main things that clued me in as to their true nature. This is a commentary on the Watchtower Society's 1989 book The Bible: God's Word or Man's?, Chapter 8: "Science: Has It Proved the Bible Wrong?"

Chapter 8

Science: Has It Proved the Bible Wrong?

In 1613 the Italian scientist Galileo published a work known as "Letters on Sunspots." In it, he presented evidence that the earth rotates around the sun,

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.

rather than the sun around the earth. By so doing, he set in motion a series of events that finally brought him before the Roman Catholic Inquisition under "vehement suspicion of heresy." Eventually, he was forced to "recant." Why was the idea that the earth moves around the sun viewed as heresy? Because Galileo's accusers claimed that it was contrary to what the Bible says.

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.

It is widely held today that the Bible is unscientific, and some point to Galileo's experiences to prove it. But is this the case? When answering that question, we have to remember that the Bible is a book of prophecy, history, prayer, law, counsel, and knowledge about God. It does not claim to be a scientific textbook. Nevertheless, when the Bible does touch on scientific matters, what it says is completely accurate.

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.

Our Planet Earth

2 Consider, for example, what the Bible says about our planet, the earth. In the book of Job, we read: "[God] is stretching out the north over the empty place, hanging the earth upon nothing."

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.

(Job 26:7) Compare this with Isaiah's statement, when he says: "There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth." (Isaiah 40:22) The picture conveyed of a round earth 'hanging upon nothing' in "the empty place" reminds us strongly of the photographs taken by astronauts of the sphere of the earth floating in empty space.

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:

"'Now the visions of my head upon my bed I happened to be beholding, and, look! a tree in the midst of the earth, the height of which was immense. The tree grew up and became strong, and its very height finally reached the heavens, and it was visible to the extremity of the whole earth.'"

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 ancient Oriental conception of the world tree.... was commonly conceived of as being on the navel of the earth, and so in the midst of the earth. In those days the earth was thought of as a disk, with the heavens as an upturned bowl above it; thus the tree is pictured as growing in the center of the land mass of this disk and extending upwards until its top touched the vault of heaven, in which case, of course, it would be visible from any point along the edge of the land mass. [Vol. 5, p. 410, Abingdon Press, New York, 1956]

The picture in Daniel is further strengthened by the account of the Devil's tempting Jesus. Matthew 4:8 says:

Again the Devil took him along to an unusually high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

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:

There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth, the dwellers in which are as grasshoppers, the One who is stretching out the heavens just as a fine gauze, who spreads them out like a tent in which to dwell.

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:

God sits throned on the vaulted roof of the earth. (The New English Bible)

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:

.... on the vault of heaven he walks about. (New World Translation)

.... he walketh in the circuit of heaven. (King James)

.... he prowls on the rim of the heavens. (The Jerusalem Bible)

Job 37:18 says the heavens are hard like a metal mirror:

With him can you beat out the skies hard like a molten mirror? (New World Translation)

Can you beat out the vault of the skies, as he does, hard as a mirror of cast metal? (The New English Bible)

Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a heavy metal mirror? (King James)

Will you.... Be with him to consolidate heavens strong as a metal mirror? (The Bible in Living English)

Can you help him to spread the vault of heaven, Or temper that mirror of cast metal? (The Jerusalem Bible)

As to viewing the vault of heaven as a thin metal sheet, Isaiah 34:4 mentions:

And the heavens must be rolled up, just like a book scroll. (New World Translation)

.... and the skies will curl back like a roll of paper. (The Bible in Living English)

The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 5, says concerning the word pictures in Isaiah 40:22:

The earth is conceived as a dome. In Prov. 8:27 the circle (hu'gh) is the "vault over the face of the abyss" (teh'om); in Job 22:14 Yahweh walks upon the vault of the heavens.

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:

when he prepared the heavens I was there; when he decreed a circle upon the face of the watery deep.

The Interpreter's Bible comments (Vol. 4, p. 832):

Vss. 27-31 describe wisdom at the creation of the world. She saw God spread out the firmament like a vault over the earth. She saw the mighty waters of the deep hemmed in at God's command by the great land masses. She was by God's side as he created the universe and the various forms of life that were to inhabit it. Compass or circle: The term probably refers to the "vault" or solid expanse of the sky which, like a dome, rested on the deep....

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.

3 Consider, too, the earth's amazing water cycle. Here is how Compton's Encyclopedia describes what happens: "Water ... evaporates from the surface of the oceans into the atmosphere ... Steadily moving air currents in the earth's atmosphere carry the moist air inland. When the air cools, the vapor condenses to form water droplets. These are seen most commonly as clouds. Often the droplets come together to form raindrops. If the atmosphere is cold enough, snowflakes form instead of raindrops. In either case, water that has traveled from an ocean hundreds or even thousands of miles away falls to the earth's surface. There it gathers into streams or soaks into the ground and begins its journey back to the sea."1

4 This remarkable process, which makes life on dry land possible, was well described about 3,000 years ago in simple, straightforward terms in the Bible: "All streams run into the sea, yet the sea never overflows; back to the place from which the streams ran they return to run again." -- Ecclesiastes 1:7, The New English Bible.

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.

5 Perhaps even more remarkable is the Bible's insight into the history of mountains. Here is what a textbook on geology says: "From Pre-Cambrian times down to the present, the perpetual process of building and destroying mountains has continued.... Not only have mountains originated from the bottom of vanished seas, but they have often been submerged long after their formation, and then re-elevated."2 Compare this with the poetic language of the psalmist: "With a watery deep just like a garment you covered [the earth]. The waters were standing above the very mountains. Mountains proceeded to ascend, valley plains proceeded to descend -- to the place that you have founded for them." -- Psalm 104:6, 8.

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.

"In the Beginning"

6 The very first verse of the Bible states: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1) Observations have led scientists to theorize that the material universe did indeed have a beginning. It has not existed for all time. Astronomer Robert Jastrow, an agnostic in religious matters, wrote: "The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy."3

7 True, many scientists, while believing that the universe had a beginning, do not accept the statement that "God created." Nevertheless, some now admit that it is difficult to ignore the evidence of some kind of intelligence behind everything. Physics professor Freeman Dyson comments: "The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming."

8 Dyson goes on to admit: "Being a scientist, trained in the habits of thought and language of the twentieth century rather than the eighteenth, I do not claim that the architecture of the universe proves the existence of God. I claim only that the architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning."4 His comment certainly betrays the skeptical attitude of our time. But putting that skepticism aside, one notes there is a remarkable harmony between modern science and the Bible's statement that "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." -- Genesis 1:1.

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?

Health and Sanitation

9 Consider the Bible's coverage of another field: health and sanitation. If an Israelite had a skin blemish suspected of being leprosy, he was put in isolation. "All the days that the plague is in him he will be unclean. He is unclean. He should dwell isolated. Outside the camp is his dwelling place." (Leviticus 13:46) Even infected garments were burned. (Leviticus 13:52) In those days, this was an effective way of preventing the spread of the infection.

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.

10 Another important law had to do with the disposal of human excrement, which had to be buried outside the camp. (Deuteronomy 23:12, 13) This law no doubt saved Israel from many sicknesses. Even today, severe health problems are caused in some lands by the improper disposal of human wastes. If people in those lands would only follow the law written down thousands of years ago in the Bible, they would be much healthier.

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!"

11 The Bible's high standard of hygiene even involved mental health. A Bible proverb said: "A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones." (Proverbs 14:30) In recent years, medical research has demonstrated that our physical health is indeed affected by our mental attitude. For example, Doctor C. B. Thomas of Johns Hopkins University studied more than a thousand graduates over a period of 16 years, matching their psychological characteristics with their vulnerability to diseases. One thing she noted: The graduates most vulnerable to disease were those who were angrier and more anxious under stress.5

Once again it is a real stretch to say that a suggestion to be calm can only be divinely given.

What Does the Bible Say?

12 If the Bible is so accurate in scientific fields, why did the Catholic Church say that Galileo's teaching that the earth moved around the sun was unscriptural? Because of the way the authorities interpreted certain Bible verses.6

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:

Were they correct? Let us read two of the passages they quoted and see.

13 One passage says: "The sun rises, the sun sets; then to its place it speeds and there it rises." (Ecclesiastes 1:5, The Jerusalem Bible) According to the Church's argument, expressions such as "the sun rises" and "the sun sets" mean that the sun, not the earth, is moving. But even today we say that the sun rises and sets, and most of us know that it is the earth that moves, not the sun. When we use expressions like these, we are merely describing the apparent motion of the sun as it appears to a human observer. The Bible writer was doing exactly the same.

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.

14 The other passage says: "You fixed the earth on its foundations, unshakeable for ever and ever." (Psalm 104:5, The Jerusalem Bible) This was interpreted to mean that after its creation the earth could never move. In fact, though, the verse stresses the permanence of the earth, not its immobility. The earth will never be 'shaken' out of existence, or destroyed, as other Bible verses confirm. (Psalm 37:29; Ecclesiastes 1:4) This scripture, too, has nothing to do with the relative motion of the earth and the sun. In Galileo's time, it was the Church, not the Bible, that hindered free scientific discussion.

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:

Into what have its socket pedestals been sunk down, or who laid its cornerstone?

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".

Evolution and Creation

15 There is, however, an area where many would say that modern science and the Bible are hopelessly at odds. Most scientists believe the theory of evolution, which teaches that all living things evolved from a simple form of life that came into existence millions of years ago.

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.

The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that each major group of living things was specially created

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.

and reproduces only "according to its kind."

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.

Man, it says, was created "out of dust from the ground." (Genesis 1:21; 2:7) Is this a glaring scientific error in the Bible? Before deciding, let us look more closely at what science knows, as opposed to what it theorizes.

What the writer means is what the Society will allow that science knows. Just like with the Catholic Church and Galileo.

16 The theory of evolution was popularized during the last century by Charles Darwin. When he was on the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, Darwin was strongly impressed by the different species of finches on the different islands, which, he deduced, must all have descended from just one ancestral species.

Just like the cichlid fish of Lake Victoria. The cichlids have a lot more variation than the Galapagos finches.

Partly because of this observation, he promoted the theory that all living things come from one original, simple form. The driving force behind the evolution of higher creatures from lower, he asserted, was natural selection, the survival of the fittest. Thanks to evolution, he claimed, land animals developed from fish, birds from reptiles, and so forth.

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.

17 As a matter of fact, what Darwin observed in those isolated islands was not out of harmony with the Bible, which allows for variation within a major living kind.

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.

All the races of mankind, for example, came from just one original human pair. (Genesis 2:7, 22-24)

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.

So it is nothing strange that those different species of finches would spring from a common ancestral species. But they did remain finches. They did not evolve into hawks or eagles.

No, but some cichlids evolved into herbivores and others into predators. How could that happen if "kinds" were absolutely immutable?

18 Neither the various species of finches nor anything else Darwin saw proved that all living things, whether they be sharks or sea gulls, elephants or earthworms, have a common ancestor.

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.

Nevertheless, many scientists assert that evolution is no longer just a theory but that it is a fact.

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".

Others, while recognizing the theory's problems, say that they believe it anyway. It is popular to do so.

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.

We, however, need to know whether evolution has been proved to such an extent that the Bible must be wrong.

Once again we see that black and white thinking.

Is It Proved?

19 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.

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:

  • Ashley Montagu, ed., Science and Creationism, p. 247, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984.

  • D. R. Selkirk and F. J. Burrows, editors, Confronting Creationism: Defending Darwin, pp. 82-92, New South Wales University Press, Kensington NSW Australia, 1988.

  • James A. Hopson, "The Mammal-like Reptiles: A Study of Transitional Fossils," The American Biology Teacher, vol. 49, no. 1, p. 25, January, 1987.

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:

If categories become well defined because forms intermediate between them become extinct, then in the history of groups having a good fossil record we should be able to find periods when categories which are now well defined were connected by transitional forms. If we analyze the fossil record of vertebrates, this is exactly what we see. Among modern animals, the dog and bear families are regarded as definitely related to each other, but even when all contemporary members of the two families are considered, nobody has any difficulty in distinguishing bears from dogs, foxes, and coyotes. In the Miocene and early Pliocene epochs, however, the situation was different. At that time, animals intermediate between dogs and bears were common, so that paleontologists have great difficulty in deciding just when the dog and bear families became distinct from each other...

Going farther back in the fossil record, we learn that in the latter part of the Eocene epoch, primitive animals which are now clearly recognized as forerunners of the principle families of carnivores: dogs, cats, weasels, civets, and their relatives, were linked together by a complex network of resemblances...

There are... many differences between modern reptiles and amphibia in the structure of their skeletons, and these have been used by paleontologists for recognizing the first reptiles to appear. An eminent paleontologist, A. S. Romer, remarks of these animals: "Primitive Paleozoic reptiles and some of the earliest amphibians were so similar in their skeletons that it is almost impossible to tell when we have crossed the boundary between the two classes."...

In respect to the early evolution of mammals, the same situation exists. The distinctive characteristics of modern mammals; warm blood, hair, and the ability to suckle their young, cannot be determined in fossils. In respect to their skeletons, however, modern reptiles are, and the dinosaurs were, very different from modern mammals. On the other hand, the animals which dominated the land in the later Permian and early Triassic Periods, before the dinosaurs appeared, were the mammal-like reptiles or therapsids, which in both their skulls and teeth were almost halfway between typical reptiles and primitive mammals...

During the Triassic Period, the therapsids gave rise to several groups of rather small, light-boned and active reptiles, which because of their specialized teeth were known as the "dog tooths" (cynodonts)... These animals existed for more than twenty million years during the latter half of the Triassic Period. Their skeletons were mammal-like in most respects, except that they had not yet acquired the three mammalian ear bones... the counterparts of two of them (quadrate and articular) were still part of the lower jaw... Recently discovered skulls indicate that the shift from jaw to ear bones took place gradually. Commenting on this situation, an eminent paleontologist, E. H. Colbert, remarks: "All of which indicates how academic is the question of where the reptiles leave off and the mammals begin."...

The first true mammals appeared in the late Triassic Period, about the time when the cynodonts were becoming extinct. The age of dinosaurs began later, during the Jurassic Period. During the entire period when the earth was dominated by these reptilian giants, small active mammals existed side by side with dinosaurs.

These facts tell us that the transition from reptiles to mammals was very gradual, taking place over a period of approximately 100 million years. It took place simultaneously with the beginning of the major adaptive radiation of the reptiles themselves. Mammals are simply a further extension, through directional evolution, of one particular radiant line of reptiles.

The transition from reptiles to birds is more poorly documented than are the other transitions between classes of vertebrates. Nevertheless, many of the smaller reptiles in the group ancestral to dinosaurs and crocodiles had light skeletons from which those of birds could have arisen, and moreover walked exclusively on their hind legs, as do birds. Furthermore, the earliest fossil birds, from Jurassic deposits of Germany, had jaws containing teeth and forelimbs with well developed fingers... We classify them as birds because feathers are preserved with their skeletons; but if their preservation had been somewhat poorer and the feathers were not present, these animals might well have been classified as reptiles.

Thus the fossil record of vertebrates strongly suggests that the characteristics which distinguish the modern higher categories appeared first as distinctive features of certain species or genera. They became characteristics of families, orders, and classes only after descendants of the animals which first possessed them developed them further, radiated into numerous adaptive niches, and became separated from other groups by extinction of intermediate forms. In other groups of organisms such as insects and higher plants, in which the fossil record is far more fragmentary, profound gaps exist between many orders, suborders, and classes. Furthermore, no transitional forms are known between any of the major phyla of animals or plants. In view of the incompleteness and biased nature of the fossil record in all of these groups, and the extremely long time, measured in hundreds of millions of years, since the various phyla of organisms evolved, the large gaps which exist between many major categories of organisms aside from the vertebrates are most reasonably ascribed to known imperfections in the fossil record...

A further point must be emphasized in connection with the evolution of families, orders, and classes. This is its "mosaic" character. As pointed out in connection with both the evolution of amphibia from fishes and of mammals from reptiles, the various characteristics which now distinguish the more evolved class probably evolved separately, some relatively early, others much later, at periods of evolutionary time which in some instances were separated from each other by millions of years...

Consequently, we cannot speak of any single "step" in the evolution of mammals from reptiles. In some instances, such as the change in position of the jaw bones to the ear, a relatively small number of genetic changes may have triggered off the evolution and establishment of a new adaptive complex with respect to that particular character... These changes would however, have occurred at the level of subspecies or closely related species. A contemporary taxonomist, transported to the Mesozoic era and not knowing anything about the evolutionary future, would probably have classified the first population bearing all three bones; hammer, anvil and stirrup, in its middle ear, as an aberrant species belonging to the then widespread group of therapsid reptiles. As stated above, this group probably already possessed a mixture of characters which we now associate on the one hand with reptiles and on the other with mammals.


Did it? No, as a number of scientists honestly admit. One, Francis Hitching,

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):

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.

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?

writes: "When you look for links between major groups of animals, they simply aren't there."7

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.

So obvious is this lack of evidence in the fossil record that evolutionists have come up with alternatives to Darwin's theory of gradual change.

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.

The truth is, though, that the sudden appearance of animal kinds in the fossil record supports special creation much more than it does evolution.

A matter of opinion. The degree to which either is supported is a matter of spirited debate.

20 Moreover, Hitching shows that living creatures are programmed to reproduce themselves exactly rather than evolve into something else.

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.

He says: "Living cells duplicate themselves with near-total fidelity. The degree of error is so tiny that no man-made machine can approach it. There are also built-in constraints. Plants reach a certain size and refuse to grow any larger. Fruit flies refuse to become anything but fruit flies under any circumstances yet devised."8 Mutations induced by scientists in fruit flies over many decades failed to force these to evolve into something else.

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.

The Origin of Life

21 Another thorny question that evolutionists have failed to answer is: What was the origin of life?

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.

How did the first simple form of life -- from which we are all supposed to have descended -- come into existence?

No one disputes that this is an unanswered question.

Centuries ago, this would not have appeared to be a problem. Most people then thought that flies could develop from decaying meat and that a pile of old rags could spontaneously produce mice. But, more than a hundred years ago, the French chemist Louis Pasteur clearly demonstrated that life can come only from preexisting life.

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.

22 So how do evolutionists explain the source of life?

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:

According to the most popular theory, a chance combination of chemicals and energy sparked a spontaneous generation of life millions of years ago. What about the principle that Pasteur proved?

Note again the wrong notion about what Pasteur showed.

The World Book Encyclopedia explains: "Pasteur showed that life cannot arise spontaneously under the chemical and physical conditions present on the earth today. Billions of years ago, however, the chemical and physical conditions on the earth were far different"!9

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:

23 Even under far different conditions, though, there is a huge gap between nonliving matter and the simplest living thing.

Having thus demolished the theory of evolution, the gm writer then turns to a thoroughly discredited author:

Michael Denton, in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, says: "Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological system, such as a crystal or a snowflake, there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive."10

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".

The idea that nonliving material could come to life by some haphazard chance is so remote as to be impossible. The Bible's explanation, that 'life came from life' in that life was created by God, is convincingly in harmony with the facts.

That's right. However, the "evolutionary" explanation is also in harmony with the facts. What's a body to do?

Why Not Creation

24 Despite the problems inherent in the theory of evolution, belief in creation is viewed today as unscientific, even eccentric. Why is this? Why does even an authority such as Francis Hitching, who honestly points up the weaknesses of evolution, reject the idea of creation?11

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.

Michael Denton explains that evolution, with all its failings, will continue to be taught because theories related to creation "invoke frankly supernatural causes."12 In other words, the fact that creation involves a Creator makes it unacceptable.

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.

Surely, this is the same kind of circular reasoning that we met up with in the case of miracles: Miracles are impossible because they are miraculous!

It is laughable when Watchtower writers complain about circular reasoning, since their productions contain so much of it.

25 Besides, the theory of evolution itself is deeply suspect from a scientific viewpoint. Michael Denton goes on to say: "Being basically a theory of historical reconstruction, [Darwin's theory of evolution] is impossible to verify by experiment or direct observation as is normal in science.... Moreover, the theory of evolution deals with a series of unique events, the origin of life, the origin of intelligence and so on. Unique events are unrepeatable and cannot be subjected to any sort of experimental investigation."13

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.

The truth is that the theory of evolution, despite its popularity, is full of gaps and problems. It gives no good reason to reject the Bible's account of the origin of life. The first chapter of Genesis provides a completely reasonable account of how these "unrepeatable" "unique events" came about during creative 'days' that stretched through millenniums of time.

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".

What About the Flood?

26 Many point to another supposed contradiction between the Bible and modern science. In the book of Genesis, we read that thousands of years ago the wickedness of men was so great that God determined to destroy them. However, he instructed the righteous man Noah to build a large wooden vessel, an ark. Then God brought a flood upon mankind. Only Noah and his family survived, together with representatives of all the animal species. The Flood was so great that "all the tall mountains that were under the whole heavens came to be covered." -- Genesis 7:19.

27 Where did all the water come from to cover the whole earth? The Bible itself answers. Early in the creation process, when the expanse of the atmosphere began to take shape, there came to be "waters ... beneath the expanse" and "waters ... above the expanse." (Genesis 1:7; 2 Peter 3:5)

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.

When the Flood came, the Bible says: "The floodgates of the heavens were opened." (Genesis 7:11) Evidently, the "waters ... above the expanse" fell and provided much of the water for the inundation.

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.

28 Modern textbooks are inclined to discount a universal flood. So we have to ask: Is the Flood just a myth, or did it really happen? Before answering that, we should note that later worshipers of Jehovah accepted the Flood as genuine history; they did not regard it as a myth. Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and Peter were among those who referred to it as something that really happened. (Isaiah 54:9; Matthew 24:37-39; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20, 21; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:5-7)

The standard circular reasoning is presented: the Bible is true because some of its writers and characters say so.

But there are questions that have to be answered about this universal Deluge.

The understatement of the year.

The Floodwaters

29 First, is not the idea of the whole earth's being flooded too farfetched? Not really. Indeed, to some extent the earth is still flooded. Seventy percent of it is covered by water and only 30 percent is dry land. Moreover, 75 percent of the earth's fresh water is locked up in glaciers and polar ice caps. If all this ice were to melt, the sea level would rise much higher. Cities like New York and Tokyo would disappear.

Correct. Estimates vary between 300 and 600 feet.

30 Further, The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: "The average depth of all the seas has been estimated at 3,790 metres (12,430 feet), a figure considerably larger than that of the average elevation of the land above the sea level, which is 840 metres (2,760 feet). If the average depth is multiplied by its respective surface area, the volume of the World Ocean is 11 times the volume of the land above sea level."14 So, if everything were leveled out -- if the mountains were flattened and the deep sea basins filled in -- the sea would cover the whole earth to a depth of thousands of meters.

Quite right. A depth of about 8,000 feet is close to the mark.

31 For the Flood to have happened, the pre-Flood sea basins would have to have been shallower, and the mountains lower than they are now. Is this possible? Well, one textbook says: "Where the mountains of the world now tower to dizzy heights, oceans and plains once, millions of years ago, stretched out in flat monotony.... The movements of the continental plates cause the land both to rear up to heights where only the hardiest of animals and plants can survive and, at the other extreme, to plunge and lie in hidden splendor deep beneath the surface of the sea."15

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.

Since the mountains and sea basins rise and fall, it is apparent that at one time the mountains were not as high as they are now and the great sea basins were not as deep.

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.

32 What happened to the floodwaters after the Flood? They must have drained into the sea basins. How? Scientists believe that the continents rest on huge plates. Movement of these plates can cause changes in the level of the earth's surface.

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.

In some places today, there are great underwater abysses more than six miles [more than 10 km] deep at the plate boundaries.16 It is quite likely that -- perhaps triggered by the Flood itself -- the plates moved, the sea bottom sank, and the great trenches opened, allowing the water to drain off the land.

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.

Traces of the Flood?

33 If we grant that a great flood could have happened, why have scientists found no trace of it?

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.

Perhaps they have, but they interpret the evidence some other way. For example, orthodox science teaches that the surface of the earth has been shaped in many places by powerful glaciers during a series of ice ages. But apparent evidence of glacial activity can sometimes be the result of water action. Very likely, then, some of the evidence for the Flood is being misread as evidence of an ice age.

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.

34 Similar mistakes have been made. Concerning the time when scientists were developing their theory of ice ages, we read: "They were finding ice ages at every stage of the geologic history, in keeping with the philosophy of uniformity. Careful reexamination of the evidence in recent years, however, has rejected many of these ice ages; formations once identified as glacial moraines have been reinterpreted as beds laid down by mudflows, submarine landslides and turbidity currents: avalanches of turbid water that carry silt, sand and gravel out over the deep-ocean floor."18

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."

35 Another evidence for the Flood appears to exist in the fossil record. At one time, according to this record, great saber-toothed tigers stalked their prey in Europe, horses larger than any now living roamed North America, and mammoths foraged in Siberia. Then, all around the world, species of mammals became extinct. At the same time, there was a sudden change of climate. Tens of thousands of mammoths were killed and quick-frozen in Siberia. Alfred Wallace, the well-known contemporary of Charles Darwin, considered that such a widespread destruction must have been caused by some exceptional worldwide event.19 Many have argued that this event was the Flood.

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".

36 An editorial in the magazine Biblical Archaeologist observed: "It is important to remember that the story of a great flood is one of the most widespread traditions in human culture ... Nevertheless behind the oldest traditions found in Near Eastern sources, there may well be an actual flood of gigantic proportions dating from one of the pluvial periods ... many thousands of years ago."20

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.

The pluvial periods were times when the surface of the earth was much wetter than now.

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.

Freshwater lakes around the world were much larger.

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.

It is theorized that the wetness was caused by heavy rains associated with the end of the ice ages. But some have suggested that on one occasion the extreme wetness of the earth's surface was a result of the Flood.

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.

Mankind Did Not Forget

37 Geology professor John McCampbell once wrote: "The essential differences between Biblical catastrophism [the Flood] and evolutionary uniformitarianism are not over the factual data of geology but over the interpretations of those data. The interpretation preferred will depend largely upon the background and presuppositions of the individual student."21

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.

38 That the Flood did happen is seen in the fact that mankind never forgot it. All around the world, in locations as far apart as Alaska and the South Sea Islands, there are ancient stories about it. Native, pre-Columbian civilizations of America, as well as Aborigines of Australia, all have stories about the Flood. While some of the accounts differ in detail, the basic fact that the earth was flooded and only a few humans were saved in a man-made vessel comes through in nearly all versions.

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.

The only explanation for such a widespread acceptance is that the Flood was a historical event.

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.

39 Thus, in essential features the Bible is in harmony with modern science.

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.

Where there is a conflict between the two, the scientists' evidence is questionable.

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.

Where they agree, the Bible is often so accurate that we have to believe it got its information from a superhuman intelligence.

"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.

Indeed, the Bible's agreement with proved science provides further evidence that it is God's word, not man's.

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.


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