Deconstructing The Origins of Life: Five Questions Worth Asking

A couple weeks ago, a Jehovah's Witness came by my house and engaged me in conversation. He was a sincere, intelligent, polite man, and a former Catholic, like myself. Although I doubted he would have much to say that could convince me that science is wrong and the Bible has the answers to earthly questions, he reassured me that Jehovah's Witnesses were not like creationists, and that he had some pamphlets that would challenge the way I thought.

He gave me two pamphlets, each about 30 pages long, and I said I'd read them. Even though I didn't expect to find anything life changing there, I agreed to read it because it is good to know what other people believe. He said he'd return in a couple of weeks and we could talk about it.

After putting it off for a week, I finally got down to reading the first pamphlet, titled, The Origins of Life: Five Questions Worth Asking. The pages contained one false statement after another, one failure of logic after another, and I began writing down notes so I could point them out when the gentleman returned. In the end, it was quite a chore, so I skipped over many smaller quibbles.

When I was done, I decided that maybe I could save someone else the work by putting my notes online. I've expanded parts of it from my terse notes to add a bit more context. This is the result. It isn't a scholarly work, you'll soon figure out. If you find failures in my logic or examples, or have even better examples, please let me know, as I don't intend to mislead anyone. Also, this was all written from the top of my head and I didn't bother to document my assertions; it was taking up too much time to begin with. I am not a biologist, just a fan of science, so don't take anything I say as true; double check for yourself.

After completing this (at the expense of about half an hour of reading and eight hours writing), I searched the web and found some other really well done papers on this very brochure. Please skip to the end to see these other references.

Below, references and direct quotes to the Watchtower authored brochure are set off as block quotes with a light yellow background. Quotes from other documents are set off in a purple/blue background. Sorry, I never had the box of crayons with 52 different colors, leaving me unable to describe colors well.

Preface: A Student's Dilemma

The preface starts by painting the picture of an earnest student torn between believing what his Biblically-minded parents have told him and what his science teacher has just taught him about evolution, namely that

... Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution advanced scientific understanding and liberated mankind from superstitious beliefs. (p. 3)

This melodramatic intro seems to be casting Darwin as conqueror, a man with a predetermined agenda. In fact, his theory triumphed over Lamarckism, the idea that the changes a parent went through in life would be passed on to its child (e.g., a man who does physical labor would produce children with bigger muscles). Darwin had qualms about publishing his theory as he knew the implications would upset many people. It took decades of refinement and the threat of being upstaged before he finally published.

It should also be noted that many people before Darwin had noticed the similarities of various species and had debated evolution vs. creation. Darwin's contribution was to provide a mechanism for how evolution happened, along with very detailed evidence and careful reasoning to explain it.

Sooner or later, all of use need to confront the question, Was life created, or did it evolve? (p. 3)

This is a false dichotomy, as these are two separate questions.

The scientific term for how life originated from non-life is "abiogenesis." Science has a large body of evidence concerning evolution, but the question of the origin of life is very much unresolved; no scientist claims to have the answer. However, that doesn't mean one guess is as good as another; certain hypotheses can be ruled out, and any good theory would have to be able to explain a lot of known evidence.

Evolution refers to the process whereby a population changes its characteristics over time in response to changing conditions. Unlike some religious groups, science doesn't make a categorical boundary between "micro-evolution" and "macro-evolution." Evolution is a continuum of change from imperceptibly small and as large as the transition from bacteria to human.

Question 1: How Did Life Begin?

... some scientists seem reluctant to discuss an even more fundamental question -- where did life come from? (p. 4)

We see one of the common failures here. Many quotes in this tract refer to anonymous "some scientists." In a world with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who call themselves scientists, no doubt there is "some scientist" who can be found to claim just about anything if you are willing to look hard enough ... or, as well shall see, quote selectively enough. What matters in the end is whether or not the scientists most actively involved in a given area of research have built a firm consensus of opinion.

As to the reluctance of "some scientists" to discuss where life came from, certainly no scientists is going to speak with certainty on the subject, but don't confuse that with reluctance. Instead, call it intellectual honesty or humility.

Other equally respected scientists who also support evolution disagree. They speculate that the first cells or at least their major components arrived on earth from outer space. (p. 4)

This is not a contradiction. Ask anybody who thinks life on earth originated from outer space (panspermia) would tell you that that life had to originate somewhere. It doesn't answer the question of how did life start, but simply claims it originated somewhere other than earth.

I'm no expert, but it is my understanding that such scientists who believe that life on Earth came from outer space are in the small minority.

Researchers have learned that for a cell to survive, at least three different types of complex molecules must work together -- DNA, RNA, and proteins. (p. 5)

This is simply false. That is how life as we know it is now arranged, but no scientist would claim that these are all required for life. In fact, there is a hypothesis called "RNA world" which posits that earlier life forms used RNA only and not DNA. There are also RNA molecules that are self-catalyzing and don't need proteins to replicate. These aren't living, but it hints at ways that life could have originated.

The authors of this reductio ad absurdum think they have shown that evolution can't possibly be true, but in fact are showing that their hypothesis is not true.

This exposes a second common mistake in this pamphlet: claiming that the way life is arranged on Earth at this moment in time must be how life has always been. It is consistent with a creationist world view that things appeared on Earth at once in their perfected state, but evolution doesn't require that.

The probability that just one protein containing only 100 amino acids could ever randomly form on earth has been calculated to be about once chance in a million billion. (p. 6)

Although they aren't exactly young Earth creationists, from reading this pamphlet I've found that they are in all respects creationists. This quote is discredited creationist propaganda 101. Nobody claims that early life looked like simple existing life forms. After all, they have had billions of years of refinement. Nobody claims that millions of atoms just happened to fall together in the right arrangement to create life (this is the tornado in a junk yard assembling a working 747 metaphor).

Similarly, if scientists ever did construct a cell, the would accomplish something truly amazing, but would they prove that the cell could be made by accident? If anything, they would prove the very opposite, would they not? (pp. 6, 7)

No, it wouldn't, but it would show that there is no magic in the cell beyond chemistry. It would show that God isn't required to create life. It certainly wouldn't prove that God was required to create life.

All scientific evidence to date indicates that life can come only from previously existing life. (p. 7)

That is a fabrication. In fact, scientific reasoning operates on the assumption that natural laws are observed at all times and all places, and that supernatural cause is not permissible explanation of anything.

To believe that even a "simple" living cell arose by chance from nonliving chemicals requires a huge leap of faith. (p. 7)

I approve of the use of the word "faith" as an insult, but I suspect the believers who read this tract will not see why faith is a poor basis for developing a robust belief system.

At any rate, abiogenesis has nothing to do with faith. Faith means believing in something even if there is no evidence, even in spite of counter-evidence. Science is unlike faith in that it follows the evidence. Many religious people love to claim that the Bible contains absolute, unchanging truths, and that science keeps "changing its mind." That is because faith is threatened by counter evidence, while science thrives on it. Counter evidence is the sharpest knife to cut the falsehoods from the truth.

Fact: All scientific research indicates that life cannot spring from nonliving matter. (p. 7)

This "fact" is 180 degrees from right -- there is no scientific principle which says that anything magic is required to create life.

This is another example of the poor reasoning used by the authors of this pamphlet. They fall into the trap repeatedly of claiming that just because something can't be done today that it won't be possible in the future. To illustrate, let's use an example which isn't so contentious as the origin of life. In 1990, modems over phone lines ran up to 14.4 Kbps. It wasn't possible to send 1 Mbps over the phone lines then, but it would have been foolish to claim, "All scientific research indicates that modems will never send data faster than 14.4 Kbps."

Craig Ventor et al created a bacterium by synthesizing its DNA from completely synthetic sources. This was plugged into a host cell devoid of its own DNA, from a different bacterial species, yet the new life form replicated just fine. This isn't a pure creation of a cell from scratch, but it is also not the simplest possible life form. I expect that in my lifetime (I'm 47) such a feat will be accomplished.

Fact: Researchers have recreated in the laboratory the environmental conditions that they believe existed early in the earth's history. In these experiments, a few scientists have manufactured some of the molecules found in living things. (p. 7)

This is in reference the famous Stanley Miller experiments. Nobody thinks these are anything but toy models. Other experiments with different procedures have produced all 21 commonly used amino acids. Even so, no scientist makes the claim that this proves how life started, just that the precursors could have been generated without life.

Fact: Protein and RNA molecules must work together for a cell to survive. Scientists admit that it is highly unlikely that RNA formed by chance.

We've seen this mistake before. Life today involves a complex dance between RNA, protein, and other environmental agents. This doesn't mean ancient life worked the same way. The second sentence is a non sequitur, and phrased in a way that attempts to imply that science believes that its hypothesis is highly unlikely.

Question 2: Is Any Form of Life Really Simple?

This whole chapter can be summed up this way: Wow! Science has discovered a ton of really interesting things about how life works, and it is very complicated, so complicated we don't understand a lot of it yet. Therefore science is wrong and the Bible is right because we found a broad metaphor in the Bible that says God created life.

This question is also misguided: although the simplest forms of life today are still complicated as compared to, say, a wind-up toy, that has no impact on the question of abiogenesis. It simply shows that more than three billion years of evolution can lead to impressive self-organized control systems.

You can skip the rest of these points without missing much.

Your body is one of the most complex structures in the universe. It is made up of some 100 trillion tiny cells -- bone cells, blood cells, brain cells, to name a few. In fact, there are more than 200 different types of cells in your body. (p. 8)

This page gives a number of interesting/amazing facts about the human body. This is trying to lay the foundation to make the argument that such complexity couldn't have happened randomly.

Note, though, that these facts were determined by scientific inquiry, not by reading the Bible. Now I get to ask a question of you: which method has a track record of delivering a better understanding of the world: the Bible or biology?

What does the Bible say? ... "Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God. (Hebrews, 3:4)" (p. 9)
  1. This may be appealing to common-sense, but common sense is often wrong. That is the whole point of science -- to verify how things actually are, not how we imagine they might be.
  2. We are discussing life, not houses. Houses aren't alive; houses don't self replicate; houses haven't spent three billion years refining and adapting themselves to their environment.
  3. If everything has a creator, who created God?
Another Bible passage says: "How many your works are, O Jehovah! All of them in wisdom you have made. The earth is full of your productions. ... There are moving things without number, living creatures, small as well as great." (Psalm 104:24, 25) (p. 9)

I have no idea how this has any bearing on the question of whether any form of life is simple, why biology is wrong, or if the Bible has any insight into the question. It is simply a claim that the God made everything.

Useless, unprovable claims are a dime a dozen. There are other, even older, ancient texts which make their own claims about creation. How can one tell which creation myth is correct, if any?

If the theory of evolution is true, it should offer a plausible explanation of how the first "simple" cell formed by chance. (p. 9)

No, it shouldn't, any more than the theory of gravity should explain it. Evolution and abiogenesis are two different things.

Also, who says that the first life had to be in a cell?

Instead, the theory goes, unintelligent "nature" figure out a way not only to make radical changes in the function of the ingested cells but also to keep the adapted cells inside of the "host" cell when it replicated.*
(* = no experimental evidence exists to show that such an event is possible) (p. 9)

The phrasing definitely is cast in a way to lead the reader to think the thought is implausible. Yes, the subsumed cell did undergo radical specialization, but no scientist thinks it happened quickly. There are many cases of symbiotic relationships that have resulted in co-adaptation, and this is just one example.

BTW, the theory of endosymbiosis was famously advocated by Lynn Margulis, and there was a lot of resistance from scientific orthodoxy (as there should be for new ideas), but the evidence seems to indicate she was probably right.

To a layperson, this might sound like a "just so" story, but one would have to assume the scientists are simpletons that they believe things just because it aids their case. That isn't how it works: when making a surprising claim, one needs strong proof. And the proof comes in the form of genetic analysis. The genetic code of mitochondrial DNA is related to existing bacteria; further, it is more closely related to those bacteria than those bacteria are related to many other existing bacteria.

As you do so, ask yourself whether such a cell could arise by chance. (p. 9)

This is a pointless exercise. Why should laypeople use their intuition to reason about a subject in which they are untrained? I could ask the same people their opinion on the implications of the superposition of entangled quantum states, but it wouldn't reveal much.

Ask someone in 1952 how likely it would be that IBM could shrink the tubes in one of their computers and put a billion of them in an area the size of the stamp, while at the same time making the computer more than a million times more powerful and using as much power as a tabletop radio. Just about any layperson in 1952 would be forgiven for predicting that it was impossible. And yet exactly this has happened.

People also have a terrible intuition of probabilities. If most people area easily flummoxed by the famous Monty Hall problem, they are in no position to intuit how likely it is that countless trillions of bacteria over billions of years might produce some certain degree of complexity.

"The Cell's Protective Wall" and "Inside the Factory" won't be quoted as it is an entire section of the document. It discusses some of the scientific discoveries of microbiology. (pp. 9, 10, 11)

Again, the tone is one of, "Whoa, this is complex and fascinating," setting up the conclusion that things are so complex that it couldn't have happened accidentally. But the same points made before apply:

  1. These facts were determined by pragmatic science, not the Bible or prayer
  2. The cell biology being described is the result of more than three billion years of refinement. Nobody thinks first life looked like this.

The sidebar "How fast can a cell reproduce?" ends with this question:

How is it possible, then, that cells can reproduce so fast and so accurately if they are the product of undirected accidents? (p. 11)

By far, the biggest mistake and one so egregious that one concludes that creationists are willfully ignoring the point because it has been made thousands of times:

>>> Evolution isn't just the accumulation of undirected accidents.
>>> Selection is the ratchet that gives change a direction.

If this isn't clear, there is no point in discussing evolution, and you have entirely missed the heart of Darwin's contribution.

Smaller points:

  1. no scientist thinks that early life had such robust fidelity of replication
  2. early life didn't have nearly the competition that life forms now face, so it didn't need the same defenses that life does now
  3. your genome probably contains about 100 random errors, common to all of your cells due to mistakes during the fusion of your parent's sperm and egg.
  4. each cell in your body probably has dozens of errors unique to that cell, made during its production.
  5. cells can and do create transcription errors every day throughout your body
  6. computer hardware is much faster and more accurate at copying information than is DNA replication. It is amazing, but not divine.
  7. the cell is a lot less like a factory than a bee hive -- a factory implies a coordinated command center and a construction where things flow in a streamlined fashion. It is far more chaotic and probabilistic than the common described cartoon version.

People have a hard time wrapping their brains around is what evolution permits when there are 1030 cells each running its own evolutionary experiment for three billion years. 1030 is not a number we are used to thinking about, so in more familiar units, 1030 cells are a million million million million million cells.

However, the more that scientists discover about life, the less likely it appears that it could arise by chance. To sidestep this dilemma, some evolutionary scientists would like to make a distinction between the theory of evolution and the question of the origin of life. But does that sound reasonable to you? (p. 12)

Who says that the more scientists discover about life that the less likely it appears it could have been by chance? Certainly not the scientists looking into it.

Finally this pamphlet gets around to addressing to the pervasive and important mistake of conflating abiogenesis and evolution. The treatment is hardly satisfying, simply appealing again to the ignorance of the layperson to sweep the matter under the rug.

Let me make an analogy. It is possible to build a theory of computer science without having any understanding the history of computing or of how computers are made. One doesn't need to know about transistors, volts, resistors, or microchip fabrication.

Likewise, the principles of evolution hold not only in regard to living things, but anything system which has certain properties, of which living systems are one.

If the answer is "yes" to these questions, then evolutionary theory can apply. There are many other conditions which may further qualify a system and which more specialized facets of evolution theory can address, but the three points above are enough. For instance, adding mutation, or feature transference (either through sexual exchange or some other horizontal "gene" transfer) makes the picture much richer.

There is a branch of computer science which investigates genetic algorithms: using populations of similar but not identical algorithms which go through rounds of competition and selection to produce novel algorithms which out- perform human designed algorithms.

Question 3: Where Did the Instructions Come From?

... DNA and its coded instructions came about through undirected chance events ... (p. 13)

I can't spend all my time refuting the same HORRIBLE mistakes.

(regarding the statement that if you made DNA 13,000,000 larger and then stretched it all end to end it would wrap about half way around the Earth) "Does the suggestion that there was no engineer behind this feat sound credible to you?" (p. 15)

This is another attempt to impress by stating some mind-boggling fact: that the dna would wrap half way around the world! Oh, but that is true only if you made DNA 13,000,000 larger than it really is. Without that scaling, then stretching all the DNA of a cell end to end would be ten feet long. That is much less impressive than stretching half way around the world.

There are substances (silica aerogels) where a gram of the substance (e.g., the weight of a paper clip) has the surface area approaching that of of a football field. Does this imply God did it? Of course not.

Once again, just because you can't comprehend something doesn't mean God is behind it.

Scientists were amazed to discover that the order of those letters conveys information in a sort of code. (pp. 15, 16)

No, they expected it, but the race was to figure out the details.

DNA has a four-letter code. The order in which those letters (A, T, G, and C) appear for "words" called codons. Each gene contains, on average, 27,000 letters. These genes and the long stretches between them are compiled into chapters of a sort -- the individual chromosomes. It takes 23 chromosomes to form the complete "book" -- the genome, or total of genetic information about an organism.*

* Each cell contains two complete copies of the genome, 46 chromosomes in all (p. 16)

The sequence of genes are not like a chapter in that there isn't a strong "narrative" sequence to the genes. Also, the mitochondria have their own DNA, so the claim that the 23 chromosomes is the complete genetic information about the cell is technically incorrect, but inconsequential to the point here.

While most, but not all, humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, this is generally not true of most organisms.

The genome would be a huge book. ... Imagine a set of encyclopedias in which each volume is over a thousand pages long. The genome would fill 428 of such volumes. Adding the second copy that is found in each cell would make that 856 volumes. (p. 16)

The impressive information density of the cell by itself doesn't prove that it was designed. The entire point of evolution it to describe how that can happen. It is dishonest to pose the question, entirely ignore what science has to say about it, then to claim victory because science can't explain it (because you weren't listening).

Expressing the size of the genome in printed book form sounds impressive, but on the other hand, if I told you that you could fit hundreds of human genomes on a flash memory "thumb" drive, it doesn't sound so impressive anymore.

Despite advances in miniaturization, no man-made information storage device can approach such a capacity. (p. 16)

Claiming proof for the existence of God because we don't encode information as densely as DNA is a stupid game for creationists to play. In fact, more than a decade ago IBM has shown the ability (with great difficulty and expense) to arrange individual atoms at the atomic scale, with higher informational density than that of DNA. It is not a practical storage medium, but with every passing year the storage density goes up. Would a creationist be willing to cede the non-existence of God if man can store information more compactly than DNA does? If not, then why can it be used as proof in favor?

This is also another reappearance of the same mistake: just because we can't do it today doesn't mean we won't be able to do it tomorrow.

A compact disc may impress us with it symmetrical design, its gleaming surface, its efficient design." (p. 16)

This can be said too of snowflakes, or the crystalline structure of diamonds, yet nobody thinks each snowflake is designed.

But what if it [the CD] is embedded with information, not some random gibberish, but coherent, detailed instructions for building, maintaining, and repairing complex machinery? ... Would not those written instructions convince you that there must be some intelligent mind at work here? Does not writing require a writer? (p. 17)

A genome isn't a book, it isn't a CD. We know books and CDs are man made: we see them being made. You can use them in a metaphor, but it doesn't imply this metaphor is applicable in all situations.

Genes have many properties unlike CDs and books, but this tract doesn't spend any time on that counter evidence. It doesn't explore the implication of the relatedness of the genetic information found in common between different organisms, nor of the implications of the pattern of differences found in the genetic code, nor of the apparent chaotic, purposeless errors that are strewn about the genome.

Do you know what would impress me? What if the text of the Bible was encoded into the human genome. That would be an interesting message that science would have a hard time explaining.

the actual enzyme machinery moves along the DNA "track" at a rate of about 100 rungs, or base pairs, every second. (p. 18)

This is meant to impress, but a CD can be read at comparable error rates at 250 million base pairs (bit pairs) per second, 2.5 million times faster. A single fiber optic cable routinely copies information at 200 million times faster than DNA machinery, and at a lower error rate to boot.

And even if scientists could create a full model of the DNA and the machines that copy and proofread it, could they make it actually function as the one one does? (p. 20)

Just because it isn't possible today doesn't mean it won't be possible tomorrow. Considering how far we've come in 60 years, especially the past 20 years, I would imagine such things are possible. In fact, Craig Venter has recently synthesized a fully operational DNA strand from raw chemicals, non-biologically. The did rely on the machinery of an existing cell stripped of its own DNA to get it running, but it is a huge step towards further advances.

Famous scientist Richard Feynman left this note on a blackboard shortly before his death: "What I cannot create, I do not understand."

This is a statement of Feynman's humility. No scientist claims to understand the full picture of life, and no scientist claims to have created life. I don't see how this statement is any kind of rebuttal to evolutionary theory.

If the authors of this paper believe this quote, are they willing to apply it to themselves? If they can't create God, can they claim to understand Him?

It should also be noted that Feynman was an atheist.

Scientists cannot create DNA with all its replication and transcription machinery; nor can they fully understand it. (p. 21)

Just because they don't have it all figured out now doesn't mean they can't figure it out at some point. Besides, they are discovering many things, some useful, while the Bible offers nothing new.

Francis Crick, a scientist who helped discover DNA's double-helix structure decided that this molecule is far too organized to have come about through undirected events. (p. 21)

Right. No scientist thinks it came about via undirected events.

Crick was also an atheist.

More recently, noted philosopher Anthony Flew, who advocated atheism for 50 years, did an about-face of sorts. At 81 years of age, he began to express a belief that some intelligence must have been at work in the creation of life. Why the change? A study of DNA. (p. 21)

Don't put too much weight on what an aging philosopher has to say about biology. Linus Pauling was a Nobel prize winning chemist, and a Nobel Peace prize winner. He convinced himself and many other people that mega doses of vitamin C would cure the common cold as well as cancer. That idea has been debunked. Just because a scientist is brilliant in one discipline doesn't mean he will have special insight into an unrelated area. At least Pauling had a chemistry background; Flew was a philosopher, not a scientist.

Flew is right, though, in that rationalists follow the evidence. Most have decided that it doesn't suggest God, especially not the God of the Bible, is real. Flew decided differently, but hardly became a Christian; he became a deist: one who believes in a creator God, but a God who remains distant and unresponsive to individual being's needs and desires.

Question: if human computer technicians cannot achieve such results, [re: DNA storage capacity] how could mindless matter do so on its own? (p. 21)

Again, just because we can't engineer such things today doesn't mean we can't in the future. Our abilities in this area have been increasing exponentially in recent decades. Also, commercial considerations put much more emphasis on speed than on absolute density. If someone could create a chip which had the density of DNA but had the same read/write speeds and reliability as DNA it would be used in some situations, but it wouldn't change 95% of how we do things now.

So to turn the question around: if man can create machines which can copy and transmit information millions of times faster than God can, what does that say about how powerful God is?

Question 4: Has All Life Descended From a Common Ancestor?

This chapter can be described in two pieces. First, it quote mines a provocatively titled issue of New Scientist magazine. Contrary to what this JW tract claims, the magazine does not undermine evolution; it just argues that overly simplistic models of evolutionary relatedness need to be abandoned.

The bulk of this chapter is in reference to the fossil record. I haven't done a very detailed job picking this one apart because of my relative lack of interest in archeology. Instead, I'll make some more general statements and point out some errors that don't require detailed understanding of the fossil record.

"Darwin's Tree Chopped Down" (p. 22)

This section falsely claims that science is discovering that life doesn't have a common origin. Much of it rests on quotes from the January 2009 issue of "New Scientist," with a cover story titled "Darwin was Wrong." The publishers caught a lot of flack from scientists, charging sensationalism. The magazine itself said in the very issue:

None of this should give succor to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that "New Scientist has announced that Darwin was wrong." Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and present as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not.

One wonders what the point was then of inviting such misinterpretation, other than to stir up controversy.

Certainly much has been learned since Darwin's day, and he was wrong in certain speculations, but the theory of evolution is still very much on firm ground. The overall point of the article is that the simplistic model of a tidy tree of descent needs to be replaced by one which accommodates lateral gene transfer. This is hardly a radical idea, nor a new one.

Lateral gene transfer is significant in unicellular life, but it is much less important in larger animals, the type which Darwin studied and based his conclusions on. Yes, sometimes lions and tigers mate and produce offspring, but it doesn't materially affect the concept of evolution; it just adds some complications to an already complicated situation.

"What About the Fossil Record?" (p. 23)

I'm not strong on this area as I'm less interested in fossils than in microbiology, but I do have some general comments. It isn't controversial that there are periods of stability and periods of great change. The fossil record documents it, such as the "Cambrian explosion."

Science uses models which are as simple as possible for a given situation, and complicates things only as required and as new evidence arises. 150 years ago when the fossil record was scant, evolution theories assumed gradual changes. However, the evidence is that things aren't so simple. In some cases there does seem to be a continuum of morphological changes, and in other cases rapid divergence.

Note that rapid divergence happens when the previous ecological equilibrium is changed, as after worldwide catastrophic events. Gould's "punctuated equilibrium" posits that genetic drift (genetic changes of presently neutral effect) accumulates within a population, and only when conditions change significantly do these accumulated changes get expressed.

Also don't forget that the Cambrian "explosion" happened over tens of millions of years; the blink of an eye in terms of the world history, but time for tens of millions of generations of adaptation to occur.

The soccer field graphic is pointless and does nothing to convey what really happened. Instead, tell people it took tens of millions of years for these new life forms to appear.

Finally, creationists seem to think the fossil record is only, or just perhaps the strongest, argument that science has in support of evolution, when in fact it isn't.

Announcements of "Missing Links" (p. 27)

Yes, it is quite annoying when one reads in the popular press about this or that "missing link" being discovered. This stupidity is a product of the press, not science. There is no missing link to be found. If one finds a fossil which putatively falls between two other species in the fossil record, it only creates two smaller gaps where previous there was one larger gap.

The discovery of the fossil named "Ida" was roundly criticized at the time by scientists as making claims that were not supportable, and feared that the claims were overblown in order to get attention and money. In fact, their worries were well founded.

Question 5: Is it Reasonable to Believe the Bible?

I'll treat this briefly because my intent is to point out the scientific and logical flaws in the information presented, but I don't really care to argue whether it is reasonable to believe the Bible.

In the course of reading this brochure, were you surprised to learn that what the Bible says is scientifically accurate? (p. 30)

I was surprised only that it dared to make that bold claim. It showed no such thing. The Bible makes thousands of claims, and this small brochure has made no attempt to examine if they are all scientifically accurate. Even the few which are brought up are wrong, irrelevant, or at best not contradictory to science. It is unimaginable that someone would confuse the Bible for a science book.

The Bible teaches that evidence is essential to genuine faith and that the power of reason is indispensable aid to serving God. (p. 31)

Then why did this tract do everything it could to discredit the evidence?

My Summary

Common mistakes of this brochure:

The Big Picture:

Other Resources

It was stupid of me, but I wrote this all up before I checked to see if anybody else had already done a "take-down" on this brochure. Indeed, there has been, but none as thorough as the one titled Weighed and Found Wanting. Here is a thread discussing the paper, as well as this link to the PDF of the paper. I also provide my own copy of the paper in case the previous link goes bad. Note that I am not the author of the linked PDF, who apparently wishes to remain anonymous, other than "JB" (which coincidentally are my initials, but coincidence is all it is).

I found another page where people are discussing this Watchtower brochure. Please see the extensive comment by user "wobble" on 7/29/2010, which gives many more examples of quotes in more complete context, showing that the authors of the Watchtower document were dishonest in their selective quotations. Someone has recast it in tabular form at this link, which is an easier to read format.

As an example of quote mining, there is this example from page 12 of the Watchtower tract, which quotes microbiologist Ruda Popa this way:

The Complexity of the mechanisms required for the functioning of a living cell is so large that simultaneous emergence by chance seems impossible.

The book Between Necessity and Probability: Searching for the Definition and Origin of Life, 2004, page 129, the full quote reads:

The Complexity of the mechanisms required for the functioning of a living cell is so large that simultaneous emergence by chance seems impossible. Most scientists now believe that life originated in a number of smaller and probabilistically likelier steps. Instead of being one big chance like event, life might actually be an accretion of a series of events emerging at different moments in time.

John Mullin, of Limerick, Ireland, read this page and had a few notes on the subject:


With regards to the Meinesz quote on p4/5 (which is out of context) (footnote 1): "no significant advance in scientific knowledge leads in this direction.", noble laureate Jack Szostak's team has made some interesting discoveries regarding proto-cells. There is a summary here. He also has a set of videos on youtube presenting some related research in a more approachable way.


In the section on p9, the text says: "radical changes in the function of the ingested cells [...] (* = no experimental evidence exists to show that such an event is possible)"

In a paper by Okamoto and Inouye in 2005, A secondary symbiosis in progress?"

"Algae have acquired plastids by developing an endosymbiotic relationship with either a cyanobacterium (primary endosymbiosis) or other eukaryotic algae (secondary endosymbiosis)."


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