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.

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