My discussion on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and evolution

Lloyd Evans, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness (JW), runs a regular video series, the John Cedars Channel, in which he criticizes that bizarre religion and tries to support ex-JWs and to address those on the fence.

Last week I had a Skype conversation with Lloyd in which he asked me to respond to a number of anti-evolution statements made in JW pamphlets. (The religion is obdurately creationist.)

The statements that I was asked to address were rather convoluted as well as ignorant, but I did my best. The resulting video is below, and I haven’t watched it. I wasn’t really aware that I was going to be filmed, so I was wearing my usual Hawaiian shirt and may evince some annoying mannerisms. So be it: the biology is what’s important here.

52 Comments

  1. Colin
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Having had dialogue with numerous JWs, I can say that they are the most hypnotized, mule-headed and one could even say “brain-damaged” individuals I’ve ever met. When you appreciate the cost of of entertaining anything that questions said cult (shunning/disfellowshipping), you can understand why they’re allergic to reason.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Hawaiian shirt looks sharp, man. Jimmy Buffett, that private investigator name o’ Magnum, the cast of From Here to Eternity, and I all approve.

  3. Mark
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    When a JW comes to your door and asks to discuss your faith/religion, say “sure – right after we discuss your sex life.”

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      When they would approach me on the street, usually I’d ignore them but sometimes I’d say “I know you! You’re really Michael Jackson in drag!” I’d read that at one time the child molester Gloved One would conceal his identity and go out to do JW the proselytizing thing. My comment stopped them cold, especially the old ladies.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      When they came to my door, I warned them they were wasting their time. After a not so long discussion they had to go consult with their elders and promised to come back with those elders, which they did a few days later.
      After a somewhat longer discussion over some (non-alcoholic) drinks, the elders left too. Apparently I’m a hopeless case (which I actually told them beforehand).
      No need to discuss their sex life, their arguments are stale and and debunked long ago.

      • Mark
        Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        “No need to discuss their sex life, their arguments are stale and and debunked long ago.”

        Uh, ok…

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted June 12, 2019 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        You’re bound for hell, buddy!

      • rickflick
        Posted June 12, 2019 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        I can’t help wondering how it would have gone if you’d spiked there drinks. 😎

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted June 12, 2019 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          With LSD.

          • rickflick
            Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

            That would definitely scientize their brains.

  4. Stephen Mynett
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    The JWs always refused to answer the only question my Mum put to them, in fact the only thing she would say to them. It was: “My son is a haemophiliac, do you expect me so sit back and watch him die when a transfusion would save him and would you deny your children the right to life?”

    The JWs in the UK have a habit of infesting the area around railway stations these days and there are always dreadful pamphlets on display, my friends and I often grab as many as we can as the local recycle bins are always happy to be filled.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      There’s a Jehovah’s Witness couple in my apartment building; they leave pamphlets on a table in the lobby and put up announcements of their events. Sometimes, but not always, I’ll toss them in the trash. Sometimes I just don’t give a damn; sometimes I have twinges of guilt and question whether it’s right for me to do that.

      They’re extremely nice, compassionate, helpful people but it’s more than a bit unnerving to know that however nice and compassionate and helpful they are — I’m damned to hell according to their religion. But then, according to their tenets, they’re probably damned, too, since only 144,000 of them will get to pass through the Pearly Gates.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        Even if I did believ in God, I wouldn’t risk those odds and join the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

      • Stephen Mynett
        Posted June 12, 2019 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        A Christian I worked with always used to defend the JWs, saying they nice compassionate and caring people. My response is how can you call someone compassionate and caring when they would allow their children to die through lack of blood.

        I once tried to set up a file of deaths caused by JW beliefs but in the end got so angry ditched the project but I do remember reading stuff where they showed no sign of guilt after a child or relative had died when they could easily have been saved by a simple transfusion.

      • Posted June 12, 2019 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Actually to be fair, they believe that the 144,000 chosen ones will go to heaven. Other believers will live eternal lives in paradise on earth. The rest of humanity will either die at armageddon or stay dead (not be resurrected like the dead believers). Definitely no hell in the picture at all, which is one of the (few) redeeming features of the religion.

        Source: Brought up in the religion, I tell part of my story below.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted June 12, 2019 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

          I would definitely be more prepared to believe in a religion that doesn’t send unbelievers to hell. (That’s just me, being contrary).

          But they’re still daffy.

          cr

          • Posted June 12, 2019 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

            Oh they’re daffy as, no question about that. My poor mum was in thrall to this silly religion for the last sixty years of her life. She adapted it to her iron will though. She believed in a compassionate god so she decided that since her unbelieving husband and sons were good people, they would definitely be spared come the big day. Woe betide any 30 year old “Elder” who tried to tell her differently.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted June 12, 2019 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

          Thank you for the correction. Even though I’m an unbeliever, I certainly don’t want to misrepresent their beliefs. For atheists, who will stay dead once they die, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are right on, and that’s okay with me. I concur with them on that.

          • Posted June 12, 2019 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

            It says something about religion that it’s somehow surprising when a religion teaches that “dead people (mainly) stay dead”.

  5. phar84
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Wonderful interview.
    Most of us here know the material but it’s nice to hear it from PCC(E), again.
    Aloha,

  6. Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Excellent interview and comments on the foolish creationist rags!

    As a former JW who has looked extensively at their nonsense on evolution, I can say that no one at their headquarters has the faintest clue what they’re talking about with regard to evolution. While they pretend to get their information from “divine guidance”, almost all of their writings are borrowed from other creationists.

    Not long ago a couple of older JW women came to my door, and I decided to test them when they told me that pre-Noahs-Flood animals like dinosaurs didn’t eat meat. They came back a few weeks later and I showed them prints of the famous Mongolian Velociraptor/Protoceratops fossils entwined in a death embrace. The women’s eyes glazed over and they refused to acknowledge that the animals had killed each other. When people are so completely deluded as to deny the evidence in front of them, they’ll accept anything — which defines them as a cult.

    • Mark
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      The problem is not finding evidence—there’s mountains of it. The problem is that no amount of evidence will ever be enough. The disconnect is not in the scientific or historical record, it is in the brains of anti-evolutionists. Their desperate psychological need to manufacture arguments against what they perceive to be attack on their faith where none exists overrides all other concerns.

      • Ken Phelps
        Posted June 12, 2019 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        It’s almost as if it’s faith vs. fact.

  7. Posted June 12, 2019 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    From my experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have to say I was surprised at the relative sophistication of the material they cited (I only watched the first segment, so it may have gotten worse). They seemed intent on making an actual argument, however readily rejected, than on bullying based on, say, Biblical sources. In other words, the appeal, such as it was, was to reason and logic rather than authority, which seemed to me untypical of JWs.

    When I was in a Jesuit seminary in Sheridan, OR in the early ‘60s two JWs hiked a considerable distance up a hill and knocked on the door of the seminary in an effort to convert an entire community of Jesuits. You gotta admit, they got balls.

    • Posted June 12, 2019 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

      Not sure what you mean by “relative sophistication”, but their material is NOT sophisticated — it’s almost entirely borrowed from creationists of whatever variety suits their purposes. So it’s sophisticated only to the extent that creationist material is.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 13, 2019 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      They make many converts among the Jesuit seminarians, Gary?

      Or was it more a clash of an irresistible force confronting an immovable object? 🙂

  8. Posted June 12, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    They seem to be having a resurgence here too – I see them all the time in Ottawa and my parents in Montreal have had stuff “left for them” (and they came to the door once while I was visiting a few months ago).

  9. JohnE
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    It’s worse than that. It’s a source of enormous pride to religious folks that they have a “faith” strong enough to resist what “appears” to be evidence that contradicts their religious precepts. In their own minds and within their particular cults, it is actually a GOOD THING to reject that evidence. If you look at the creationists who actually have advanced science degrees from major universities, like Georgia Purdom, the Science Director of the Creation Museum (who holds a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Ohio State University) and Kurt Wise (who holds a Ph.D. in Paleontology from Harvard), they freely admit that there is tons of evidence that “seems” to support the occurrence of evolution, but that their faith compels them to reject that evidence. It’s sheer madness.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      That, to me, is a very important fact — the pride in resisting such ‘temptations’ as evidence. Isn’t Pride a Cardinal Sin, or was that a Filipino cardinal?

  10. rickflick
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    The propagandists who produce these JW brochures and points of dogma must be totally bonkers. All of it must be just repeating what was put out over the last decades by previous scientifically illiterate bozos. How do they live with themselves?

  11. jhs
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Wearing Hawaiian shirts is considered cultural appropriation?! 🙂

  12. Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    What happened to the Neanderthals — I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we find signs of life on a nearby planet, send of a ship and find a bunch of Neanderthals saying, “Oh jeez not you guys again…”

    • Posted June 12, 2019 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      Last they wrote about it, they argued that Neanderthals were just another variety of humans. Not for any good reason, but only because they must have been Adam’s descendants and Adam was created 6,000 years ago.

  13. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Sub

    JWs never fail to deliver infuriating literature. The latest one I got asked “would you like to end suffering?”

    They’re practically evil.

  14. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    That was a very good video covering all the common pushes or disputes the creationist throw out and it is always best to here it from someone like PCC than from lessor brands like our Mr. science guy.

    I do not know much about the Jehova group but always threw them in close with the SDA people. Both are very much against evolution and spend lots of wasted time attempting to knock it down with nonsense. I might also mention that many of the SDA group fell in with Trump so they are members of two cults competing with each other for science ignorance.

  15. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t finished watching the interview, but early on the issue of speciation was raised (so my question may be answered later in the interview), but I’ve never found an explanation of what for me is a conundrum: if homo sapiens are/is? a distinct species(and not a subspecies), how could homo sapiens interbreed with others in the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals, Denisovans, etc. (et al.?, who are not homo sapiens, and produce fertile offspring?

    I do understand that in some rare instances hybrids can be fertile and I find this article written for the layman about “pizzly bears” https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2010/05/when-polar-bears-and-grizzlies-breed-they-can-produce-fertile-offspring-why-can-t-other-species.html (are they really subspecies then?); but does something like this apply to the genus homo?

    Could someone please explain this to me?

    • rickflick
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      I’m not an expert, but…It appears they were not distinct enough. Humans and Neanderthals split between 800,000 and 400,000 years ago, which isn’t huge. I have seen them referred to as subspecies. Chimps and humans split 7 million years ago and are still 97% genetically identical. If it wasn’t for the fact that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and Chimps have 24 pairs I suspect we might actually be able to interbread with them. Jerry gets into this in his discussion later in the film.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Horses and donkeys…

      Also, ring species.

      I suspect a lot depends on exactly how a ‘species’ is defined and where the line is drawn.

      (And however much rickflick is not an expert, I’m an order of magnitude more not an expert 😉

      cr

  16. boggy
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    In Melbourne recently I had a chat with a pair of JW’s about creationism, having told them that I am a 100% Darwinist.
    Strangely, they had not heard of Ken Ham so I told them that their version of creationism was very diluted and that they should believe that the universe was created about 6,000 years ago and that no changes had happened to plants and animals since then.
    They seemed quite amazed that anyone could believe anything so ridiculous!

    • Posted June 12, 2019 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Rank and file JWs are largely ignorant of other creationists, because they receive all the information they need from the Watchtower Society. The Writing Staff, though, is very much aware of the various creationist groups, since they borrow freely — but without attribution — from many of them.

  17. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Good job and a beautiful shirt. I’m envious.

  18. Posted June 12, 2019 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    This was so good, I put aside everything else and lapped up every minute. I was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Around the age of 12 I was struck by a dangerous idea “I’ve got a feeling this religion is actually nonsense”. The idea that evolution wasn’t so ridiculous after all also emerged in my head at the same time. My horrified mother arranged for a weekly meeting with an elder, who was armed with the ancestors of this material (it’s evolved a bit since the 70s, but is still recognizably a close related species :).

    Sadly I was brutally beaten in those debates. After all I was just a kid who already preferred math(s) and physics to the messy subject of biology. He was a grown man who was fully prepared with the vaguely plausible-to-the-uneducated-mind talking points seen in the video.

    Seeing our dear host so convincingly and smoothly put those same arguments to the sword today was truly cathartic for me. Thank you so much.

    Incidentally, in my (extensive) experience, JWs are good people, just a bit unsophisticated and naive. On an uncharitable day I’d say a bit dim. Although I do have a theory (which is mine, and based on nothing but a hunch), that if you followed the money to the people in charge of the global organisation you’d find they were evil bastards.

    Bill Forster (still annoyed that WordPress makes me post by the name of my chess programming blog).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted June 12, 2019 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      “Sadly I was brutally beaten in those debates.”

      Oops! That startled me. On first reading, it sounds like you had the ‘truth’ beaten into you. On re-reading, I think it means you were soundly defeated intellectually.

      I think if it wasn’t for their strange ideas about blood transfusions, JW’s would be fairly inoffensive. Completely nutty, but harmless.
      You don’t find them campaigning against blood transfusions for everybody else, for example, unlike anti-vaxxers do with vaccinations.

      cr

      • Posted June 12, 2019 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

        Sorry for my confusing wording, I don’t know why I put it that way. I am actually being a bit hard on myself, I don’t recall the details but I wasn’t soundly defeated intellectually. It was more that I didn’t have the tools at the time to do the job. I was probably going “But scientists believe it so it must make sense”, and he was definitely going “But it doesn’t make sense, because 1) A hurricane in a junkyard doesn’t build an aeroplane, 2) A mechanical watch definitely has a designer …. N) And besides Duane Gish is a scientist and he doesn’t believe it – look it says so right here”.

        Today any intellectually curious person can readily convince themselves of the truth of evolution because it is a startlingly simple and accessible idea and it explains so much so comprehensively. There’s a real joy in reading about how comparing strands of DNA from different species with a simple lab flask experiment OR a powerful computation both confirm observation of the relative difference in the species’ morphology. How radiometric dating and geological layering fall in step with the same observations.

        But people refuse to look and somehow think theological nonsense is more profound and more beautiful. It makes me mad.

        • rickflick
          Posted June 12, 2019 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          It makes me mad too. It’s pleasing to know you survived your early indoctrination and became a wise and perceptive person who understands science. I just wish there were more who fit that description. Perhaps in 50 years, the US of A will enter the 20th century and skip right through to the 21st with the rest of modern humanity.

  19. Peter (Oz) Jones
    Posted June 12, 2019 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Do not be put off by the 1hr 4m length!

    Our host (& Lloyd) educated me into a clearer understanding of speciation.
    Loved the banana & fly examples.

    Then all the seemingly unscripted rebuttals of the JW claims were well worth watching.

    The joining of abiogenesis with evolution was new to me and in retrospect seems an unwarranted division. Brilliant.

    Marvelous to be able to watch this from all the way down here in Western Australia, home to many of our earliest life forms (stromatolites) & even rocks plus, of course, the parallel development of marsupial equivalents of many mammals.

  20. Posted June 12, 2019 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I still want to open a cross-training studio named Jehovah’s Fitness. No birthday discounts allowed.

  21. JezGrove
    Posted June 13, 2019 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Oops, a bit late catching up with this post. BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast this stand-up show by an ex-JW: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07x6mf3

  22. Hempenstein
    Posted June 13, 2019 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I’ve read What Is Life, but for a book offering tantalizing insights into abiogenic origins I much prefer Nick Lane’s The Vital Question.

  23. Thomas Stewart
    Posted June 13, 2019 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic video Jerry. Here’s one “diehard Jehovah’s Witness” who completely accepts Evolution now. Thanks for putting this out there along with Lloyd.

    Thomas

  24. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted June 14, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Small mouth-o : the fossil record of the coelacanth group of fishes is good until the Jurassic period (145 million years ago) and less good until the mid-Cretaceous at about 90-100 million years ago. not “hundreds of millions of years ago”.
    The origin of terrestrial tetrapods from lobe-finned fishes took place in the interval about 355-340 million years ago.


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