Why debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses is pointless

I must admit to a degree of naivety when I had my first debate with two Jehovah’s Witnesses a few months ago. I say ‘naive’ because when they asked me “Do you believe in God?” I didn’t lock the door and ignore them like any sensible person should.

Instead, I stood there fully expecting to have an interesting debate on the existence of God. I remember my response well. “No” I said, while racking my brain at what I was going to say next. “Actually I’m a staunch atheist. I read a lot of books by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett and…” I looked over and saw blank expressions. Clearly, they hadn’t heard of them.

To be honest, it took me 4 fairly lengthy discussions and 3 Watchtower books to fully realise that I was wasting my time with them. No matter how logical my arguments were and how much scientific evidence I could point them to, they just weren’t open to any suggestion that the Bible might be wrong.

But why would they be? Clearly they’re not going to be reasoned out of beliefs that they obviously haven’t reasoned themselves into. And besides, the Witnesses who go preaching from door to door aren’t the ones sitting on the fence.

No, their intention is to preach the Good News, as they term it, in order to convert people to a belief in God to save them from the impending annihilation that awaits unbelievers following Armageddon. It’s safe to assume that these viewpoints aren’t the result of an evaluation of the existing evidence for such claims.

The last conversation I had with them was probably the most absurd. It was about the story of Noah’s Ark, which they believed was absolutely true. I tried to point out the extreme unlikelihood(!) that a 600 year old man built a boat containing several million species of animals in order to save them from a future flood that would cover the tops of every mountain on earth. (And that’s not to mention that the guy lived until he was over 900 years old… and that many of the animals would have been natural predators… and that animals from continents unknown to Noah would have had to have swam oceans and walked continents to arrive at the Ark.)

They accepted all of this without a hint of doubt, and no amount of common sense or evidence to the contrary made any difference to their belief in the literal truth of the Bible.

I must admit, I was amazed to find myself having to debate the merits of these stories with adults.

In hindsight, I now realise that I completely wasted my time. I went out of my way to read their books and debate with them because I genuinely wanted to get a clearer idea of their viewpoints. Of course, I didn’t seriously think that I would convert to a belief in God but I at least wanted to know more about the beliefs of the people that I was debating with.

Did they do the same in return? No. At no point did they show any genuine interest in the literature that I quoted or the topics I raised – a lot of which had a direct bearing on the validity of their beliefs.

The next time they call, I might decide that I’m too busy reading a science book to answer the door.

If God created the earth, evidence of His existence should be everywhere

If God is everywhere, if He created everything, if the whole universe is under His control, if He knows everything about the past and the future, why isn’t His existence blatantly obvious everywhere? Evidence of His existence should be apparent throughout the whole of nature. Why should He require faith and belief in order to believe in His existence? Why not just have concrete proof of His existence everywhere?

For instance, if the Bible is supposed to be the word of God and we are expected to believe that the earth is about 6,000 years old, then why would God create things like fossils, rocks, oil, coal and gas which have all the appearance of being formed over billions of years?

Surely God’s existence should be obvious enough that we wouldn’t even need to debate it.

Many claims in the Bible are factually wrong or impossible

Amongst other things, the Bible implies or claims that

  • the earth is about 6,000 years old
  • a man lived inside the belly of an animal for several days
  • many human beings lived for over 900 years
  • people were resurrected from the dead
  • a rod changed into a serpent
  • a woman turned into a pillar of salt
  • several animals were able to converse in human language
  • Jesus miraculously healed ‘every sickness and every disease among the people’
  • two specimens from every species on earth went inside a boat built by a man who was over 300 years old.

… the list could go on and on and on. So let’s take a closer look at the story of Noah’s Ark.

There are about 725 species of butterfly in North America alone – that’s only a minuscule portion of what Noah had to gather. Estimates of the total number of living species generally range from about 2 to 50 million. It would be simply impossible to fit that many animals into one boat. Not forgetting the fact that many wild animals are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to control.

Also, many of the animals would have been natural predators and this would have led to instant extinction for many species.

How did the animals actually travel to the boat? A large proportion of animals can’t survive in water and certainly can’t swim. (If they could, presumably they wouldn’t need to use the Ark). Perhaps Noah gathered them himself from continents that were unknown at the time? That seems a little unlikely.

The technology and man-power to build a boat of that size simply did not exist in those days. We would have to suppose that the size of the Ark would have been vastly bigger than anything that is possible in these technological-superior times.

And where is the actual evidence that the oceans covered the tops of the highest mountains on earth, as claimed in the book of Genesis? Where is the evidence for the Ark itself? Where did all the water come from? Where did it all go? Such a huge worldwide event should have evidence in abundance in every continent.

Also, the Bible fails to mention fossils, dinosaurs and evolution. Why? These would have played a very prominent part in the story of Noah’s Ark.

Granted, the Bible isn’t intended to be a science textbook but if it really is the word of the Creator, then why it is full of such crude ignorance about the world?

God’s creation shows no sign of His existence

In the natural world there is a constant struggle for survival which results in death, pain, waste, birth, extinction. Planets are constantly being struck by asteroids, stars are constantly dying (and being born) and there are black holes in space in which no life can possibly exist. The human body is far from perfect, it is prone to disease, our senses are very limited, mothers die during birth, babies are born with abnormalities and severe handicaps, our brains are prone to dementia and Parkinson‘s disease during old age, and so forth. Natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and hurricanes happen to believers and non-believers alike. Cancers, diseases and viruses attack both believers and non-believers.

None of the above suggests intelligent design by a benevolent God. If a God does exist, He shows no ability to alter the natural order of the universe.

The reason for this blog… is sheer stupidity

I don’t know about you but I’m getting increasingly fed up with having to “respect” religious beliefs. It’s not because I dislike religious people. Not at all. Christ, I’d even go as far as saying that the Jehovah ‘s Witnesses (JWs) that have been knocking on my door for the past few weeks have been some of the nicest people I’ve met for a long time. And we all know how crazy their beliefs are. More about that in a minute.

No, the thing that really irritates me is the idea that faith is a virtue. That it brings people together. That it enhances our lives. That it should inform our decisions. That without it, we’d all be worse off.

I think just the opposite is true.

What Does the Bible Really Teach?Which brings me back to the JWs. I’m currently reading a wonderfully bizarre little book they gave me called What Does the Bible Really Teach?. Some of the stuff in there beggars belief. For instance, we’ve all heard the story that JW’s don’t give or take blood, even in life threatening situations, right? But do you know why? Because according to a few lines in the Bible, a life-saving blood transfusion would be a “misuse of blood” and if we break God’s law “we would be in danger of losing everlasting life”. This level of punishment is usually reserved for godless heathens like me!

What they’re saying is that prolonging a life is much, much worse than dying if it involves a blood transfusion. To do otherwise would have everlasting consequences. OK, best to let them die then. We mustn’t upset God’s strange ideas about blood.

It’s nonsense like this which makes me angry.

Of course, there are plenty of other dangers related to faith-based beliefs. Not that we get to hear about them. Even when the likes of Richard Dawkins get on national TV, they often get drowned out with arguments about “tolerance” and “respect” for religious beliefs. (As if God was ever a moderate with tolerance for other beliefs!)

So my aim in this blog is to redress the balance and confront this taboo head-on. I’ll be highlighting the absurdity of religious beliefs while also celebrating the most valuable thing we have – rational critical thinking based on science and evidence. In other words, reason.

Stay tuned heathens.