The Fourth Letter to the Watchtower Society


23 August 2007

Dear Brothers:


Thank you so much for your recent letter replying to my inquiries concerning Noah’s Flood. I realize that reading, researching and subsequently responding to such letters is time consuming indeed. Since we are involved in bible education work and true educators encourage discussion, I wanted to respond to your letter in the hopes of resolving a few items.


I will begin by responding to the end of your letter, specifically paragraph six. There, you wrote: “It is good to want to be as accurate and precise as we can in such matters, yet we do not want to allow them to become a focal point in our lives”. I agree, being accurate and precise - essentially allowing the ‘light’ to get brighter - is a good thing. I also agree that such things generally need not become the focal point of our lives. For example, there is no need to nit-pick about grammar or clothing styles or things of that nature that are of little consequence. However, as I have mentioned in two letters prior to this, the topics and concerns I bring up are of major concern to students of the bible. I don’t believe this is the proper forum to go into detail about the effect the information in my previous letters has had on others, but I can assure you that it has been nothing short of life changing in multiple cases. As you have said, “when it comes to religion, mistaken beliefs have historically caused great harm” (The Watchtower, August 1, 2001, page 4).


Additionally, I was always taught “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). To that end, brothers in the congregation have seen fit to allow accuracy and precision to become a focal point in matters such as dress (e.g., men must wear ties when serving in any capacity at the meetings; women may only wear skirts or dresses) and grooming (e.g., men may not have beards or any body piercings). Despite the fact that the examples provided here have no scriptural basis, I have time and again seen such rules enforced as law under the sincere belief that, in behaving in such a manner, Witnesses are more accurate and precise in their worship to God. Surely, if such trivialities - modern-day equivalents of giving “the tenth of the mint and the dill and the cumin” (Matthew 23:23) – are touted as important, then how much more so attaining an accurate grasp on basic biblical teachings, especially those such as the Noachian Deluge!


In the same paragraph, you stated: “we suggest you let the matter rest, and perhaps in time something more will be published to clarify matters”. With all due humility, I must tell you that such a suggestion is anathema to everything I have been taught. When questions arise, I have always been taught to keep on asking and keep on seeking until the answers present themselves. Proverbs 2:3 and 4 implore us to “call out for understanding itself and give forth [our] voice for discernment itself” and to “keep seeking for it as for silver”. We are also told to “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find it; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). These verses imply an on-going effort, not ‘letting a matter rest’. The Awake! dated August 8, 1978 agrees with this by saying: “True educators present all sides of an issue and encourage discussion” (page 3, italics mine). The next page of said issue quotes Proverbs 14:15 from the New English Bible where it states: “A simple man believes every word he hears; a clever man understands the need for proof”. Also, we are instructed in the February 1, 2001 Watchtower to “bolster our efforts in personal study regarding any questions or doubts…ask for help from those who are strong in the faith” (page 10). Far from allowing matters of life-changing importance to rest, the Watchtower of December 1, 2006 counsels: “If you have not already done so, make it your aim to acquire ‘accurate knowledge and full discernment’ by learning what the bible really teaches” (page 7). In accordance with this, the August 15, 2007 Watchtower says: “Rather than stifling further research, the Bible encourages the search for answers to both scientific and spiritual questions. ... [Job 38:18] certainly does not suggest any stifling of inquiry and investigation. On the contrary, the Master Designer here invited a study of his handiwork.” And when my Uncle, an active Witness in the Floresta, Port St. Lucie, Florida congregation merely suspected I had stopped asking questions, his response was:

 

 

I would at Bethel [sic] asking members of the Governing Body these questions until I felt they were answered. It sounds as if you did originally ask questions, got references, but then stopped asking further questions. That does not make sense? [sic] I would ask and ask and ask until I understood…if I didn't understand it, I would continue to ask until I did…I would suggest you get your butt to Bethel and ask these questions until you are satisfied. No matter the cost! …The stakes are too high. You were smart enough to ask the first question and then you stopped, how sad. That is NOT being smart.


Additionally, many of the questions in my last letter concerned your use of sources. Some quotes appear taken out of context, while others were not in harmony with current beliefs. I am unsure why I would need to wait until something more is published to clarify matters – these are issues you should be able to answer now. After all, as you said in the August 1, 2001 Watchtower, “since God has given [us] intellectual capacity to investigate the world around [us] and to ask questions concerning spiritual matters, does it not make sense that he would also provide the means to get answers to [our] questions?” So, I am compelled to respond again in the hope of asking questions ‘until I am satisfied’.


First, though, please allow me to apologize for an error I made. In my last letter, I stated: “Freshwater fish would definitely not survive…Since fish are sensitive to salinity alterations, how did any – but specifically the freshwater ‘kinds’ – survive the deluge?” After receiving your response, I realized that my phrasing suggested that absolutely no ‘kinds’ of fish would be able to survive salinity alterations. As you pointed out in paragraph two of your letter, some fish may possibly survive under these circumstances. I apologize for neglecting this point; indeed, I even own fish that are capable of managing significant salinity changes, yet I spoke as though no fish could do so. Again, my apologies.


However, we still must acknowledge that most species of fish cannot survive such a change. Your letter noted the robust salmon, saying that it travels between fresh and saltwater environments for spawning. While true of some salmon species, such as the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), this does not apply to all salmon. Take for example, the lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), about which the book Trout and Salmon of North America, by Robert J. Behnke, notes: “The species…cannot survive more than about one-third the salinity of the ocean. Lake trout are limited to salinities of less than 10 to 12 parts per thousand of salts. This lack of salinity tolerance - the lake trout cannot travel through seawater - has restricted its distribution to North America.” Consider, also, the Arctic Grayling (Thymallus arcticus), about which the same tome states: “grayling cannot live in water in which the salinity is more than about 7 to 8 parts per thousand. As a result, their distribution is limited to freshwater routes of dispersal”. (Seawater salt levels, incidentally, average 35 parts per thousand.) And these fish are not alone. Most freshwater fish are stenohaline. Therefore, the majority of freshwater fish, such as goldfish, die in salt water. Likewise, most marine organisms, such as tuna, die in fresh water. The ability, or inability, to tolerate halinity changes is so fundamental to fish composition that it is used by zoologists as a method of classification.


While it may initially seem appealing to cite a single species as evidence of an animal order’s ability as a whole, this doesn’t hold up under closer scrutiny. If we are to claim the ability of Atlantic salmon as evidence all fish could handle salinity alterations, then why not likewise claim that all mammals could have simply swum in the oceans, surfacing every so often for air? After all, some kinds of mammals (dugongs and cetaceans) are capable of doing so. Why not claim that all mammals could have simply flown above the Deluge? After all, some kinds of mammals (bats) could have done so. In fact, this seems more likely than the example you provided regarding fish, as mammals are not as genetically diverse as fish.


You also suggest that “conditions thousands of years ago could have differed enough that salinity might not have been as large a factor as it is today”. But according to Sean Chamberlin, in his work The Remarkable Ocean World, “the salinity of the seas remains exceptionally constant, as it has for 1.5 billion years” (italics mine). The work also states that weathering of rocks adds about 0.000005% to the total amount of salt in the oceans each year. At this rate, the salinity levels since 2300 b.c.e. have not even increased by one percent. Besides, this minute increase in salinity is offset by a nearly equal loss of relevant ions due to evaporite deposition, allochthonous salt traps, adsorption by inorganic compounds and the formation of reefs.


The bulk of your letter (paragraphs three through five) cites scriptures supporting the idea that all humans (excepting Noah and his family) died in the Deluge. I am unclear why it was felt necessary to spend the majority of the letter arguing on behalf of a teaching I did not doubt, when several of my questions received not so much as a word of response. In my letters, I have never taken issue with the teaching that all humans died in the Deluge. Even so, a local flood would surely have sufficed in this regard. Having occurred only 1,656 years from Adam’s creation, it makes sense that humans had not traveled too far around the globe by that time.


Paragraph four of your letter quotes 2 Peter 3:5-13 as proof of a global Deluge. True, Peter does here draw a parallel between Noah’s Day and the Day of Judgment, but there is nothing in these verses that necessitates the Deluge covered the whole literal earth. Indeed, the point of the verses is that the ungodly world of that day (the people, not the literal planet) suffered the same fate as would those on the Day of Judgment. Peter’s use of the words “heaven”, “celestial” and “earth” can not be taken literally in this chapter, as he claims that the heavens will pass away (verse 10), the celestial bodies will melt (verse 10), the earth will be burned up (verse 10), the heavens would catch on fire (verse 12) and that there would be a new earth (verse 13). If we are to accept verse six as referring to a literal, planet-wide Flood, then why not accept that the entire earth will be burned up as it says in verse ten? Obviously, none of this can be taken literally.


The book Life – How Did it get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? says on page 25: “When examining the Genesis account, it is helpful to keep in mind that it approaches matters from the standpoint of people on earth.” Surely, to the people on Earth at that time, the Flood did cover the whole earth from their standpoint.


Your letter twice suggests that Jehovah could have maneuvered things and that the weight of the floodwaters could have affected geological and chronological data. However, I was taught that “when the Bible does touch on scientific matters, what it says is completely accurate” (The Bible – God’s Word or Man’s?, page 98). If we are to interpret the events of Genesis chapters six through eight as a global deluge, then why does the book Great Disasters (edited by Kaari Ward) indicate that this would not be “completely accurate”? On page 27, it states:

 


If a relatively minor inundation can leave behind thousands of tons of mud and silt, the biblical Deluge should have deposited a massive layer throughout the globe. Yet the search for such a universal flood layer has proved fruitless. …No evidence of the interruption of life by massive flooding has even been unearthed.

When sincere, open-minded individuals cull from creation in an attempt to find answers, shouldn’t the evidence lead them to discover there was an earth-wide deluge?


Granted, it is true that “Jehovah could have maneuvered things”. But if this is the defense one resorts to in an effort to uphold a belief, then there is no limit to what one can claim. Why not claim, for example, that Jehovah flooded the entire Earth ten years ago, or even last night, but then “maneuvered things” so that no evidence remains? Additionally, how can new ones be brought to an understanding of the Truth if the best that can be offered in the face of opposing evidence is that “Jehovah could have maneuvered things”? While it is certainly understandable to accept a belief lacking direct proof (e.g., black holes, extra-solar planets), it is quite another thing to accept a belief for which there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Watchtower from July 1, 2001 attests: “At times, you need to suspend acceptance of something till you are sure of the facts. Religious exhortations to the effect that you should just believe and should doubt nothing are dangerous and deceptive.”


It is for that reason that I am once again asking very important questions:

 


1) Are you aware of the absurdity of ignoring context and accepting usage of the Hebrew word e’rets in the Deluge account as invariably referring to a literal, planet-wide catastrophe, especially its usage at Genesis 8:3 (“And the waters began receding from off the earth”) and Genesis 8:14 (“On the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried off)?


2) If we do accept each usage as literal, then do we also accept Genesis 19:31, 20:1, Exodus 9:33 and 2 Chronicles 36:23 as referencing the literal planet earth?


3) Is the entire account of Genesis to be taken literally, with no allowances for hyperbole, figures-of-speech or poetry, including Genesis 6:19 (“And of every living creature of every sort of flesh, two of each, you will bring into the ark to preserve them alive.”) from which we must conclude that sea creatures were also boarded onto the ark?


4) The July 8, 1977 Awake! article “Testimony to a Global Flood” quotes extensively from Alexander Catcott’s A Treatise on the Deluge, a book written under the incorrect notion that the earth was less than 7,000 years old. The arguments taken from this book have argumentative merit, then, only if this is believed to be true. Is it the position of the Watchtower Society that the earth is less than 7,000 years old?


5) Sole evidence provided for the claimed existence of post-Diluvian land bridges is taken from Dr. Malaise’s postulate of a land bridge connecting Greenland to Europe, as noted in the Watchtower from January 15, 1962. Is this the extent of the evidence?


6) Are you aware that proof, much less speculation, of a single land bridge is not sufficient evidence to claim that there were thousands of such bridges?


7) Is the only ‘proof’ of plant survival during the Deluge the scant entry on the cultivated olive noted in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (volume IV) as quoted in the July 1, 1966 Watchtower?


8) Are you aware that the July 15, 1968 Watchtower references to the August 1949 Scientific Monthly are applying text discussing the earth as it was 65,000,000 years ago to the earth as it was less than 5,000 years ago and that, in doing so, it conflicts the suggestions found on page 225 in the book Benefit from Theocratic Education which informs: “make sure that your use of quotations and statistics harmonizes with the context from which they are taken”?


9) Are you aware of the physical impossibility of a water canopy, the lack of scriptural and scientific support for such a phenomena and that Watchtower publications are in conflict regarding the existence of such?


10) The book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained (page 43) states: “Now, since the water canopy that had been around the earth for such a long time had fallen in the form of rain, Noah and his family had, for the first time, a clear view of the sun in its full glory. It was no longer a mere hazy spot of light in the sky. And when they looked up after dark and saw the numberless stars shining brightly in a clear sky, think how they must have been filled with wonder. Never before had their eyes been blessed with such a sight.” The book supplies no scriptural, scientific or historical references to support this passage. Meanwhile, page 32 of the book Life-How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or By Creation? tells its readers, speaking of the fourth creative ‘day’: “Now, had there been an earthly observer, he would be able to discern the sun, moon and stars, which would serve as signs for seasons and for days and years.” Since I am unable to determine how stars could “serve as signs for years” if no human eyes had been “blessed with such a sight” until after the Flood, I am forced to acknowledge only one source as correct. Am I to conclude the Creation book is correct (as it is more recent), the Paradise Lost book is incorrect, and thereby abolish any claims to a water canopy used in explaining the Deluge?


11) Since the ark obviously did not have an exhaustive passenger list of “every living creature of every sort of flesh, two of each” (see question #3, above) due to space constraints, am I to believe that the animals on the ark numbered as few as 127 pairs of animals?


12) The current estimate for warm-blooded vertebrate ‘kinds’ (I am here using the definition of ‘kinds’ as found in the book Reasoning from the Scriptures, page 87: “All interfertile varieties of any animal are just one Genesis ‘kind’”) is conservatively placed at 14,600. Providing the Flood was planet-wide, this equates to a new ‘kind’ of mammal or bird appearing every 110 days since the Flood. Meanwhile, the Creation book dismisses the idea that animals have evolved despite the fact that, beginning with only 2 pairs of endothermic vertebrates at the K-T Boundary (~70,000,000 years ago), this means a new ‘kind’ has appeared only once every 4,795 years. Are you aware that the teaching of a global flood necessitates rates of evolution some 16,000 times faster than what is claimed by proponents of evolution?


I have repeatedly tried to gain answers to questions of similar substance in previous letters, to no avail. I have respectfully asked for references and citations to back up claims made in Watchtower publications and have either not been provided this information or, when such information is found wanting, I have not been provided with satisfactory replies. In my last letter, I purposely concluded my letter by summing up the issues in five numbered questions. The first four of these questions did not receive even a single word in response, and the fifth merely noted the traits of a single species of fish and applied it to all fish.


It is difficult to express the extreme sadness I have felt upon receipt of each of your letters. My first letter was a sincere, honest request for further information regarding the validity of the Deluge – research I was compelled to undertake at the suggestion of a Circuit Overseer in an attempt to bolster my faith. Upon finding the sources listed in your first letter, I wrote back hoping that you would agree with all the evidence that the Flood might not have been global. Your response, and the further research it necessitated, proved that the Flood was not global. I wrote again pointing out my findings, again in the sincere hope that such would be received as welcome information that would help us all come to a more perfect understanding of God’s Word. In each case, however, you have shown a preference for maintaining the status quo rather than a desire to be like the Bereans, who carefully examined the Scriptures “as to whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).


I understand the desire to hold to a literal, global flood belief. Like all imperfect humans, when our beliefs are in conflict with the evidence, “we become irritated, we pretend the conflict does not exist, or we paper it over with meaningless phrases” (Creation book, page 202). But would it not be a disservice to all to not at least acknowledge that, at present, the extent of the Flood is unknown? As John Horgan was quoted as saying in the August 15, 2007 Watchtower, "When the evidence is tentative, we should not be embarrassed to call in common sense for guidance." Since you stated that “we do not know enough at present” and that there are “possible explanations”, this surely calls to mind the advice found in the July 1, 2001 Watchtower to “suspend acceptance of something till [we] are sure of the facts”.


Therefore, unless I receive accurate, documented answers to all twelve questions above, I will be forced to “call in common sense for guidance” and “suspend acceptance”. I will conclude that any and all questions not satisfactorily answered two months hence from the date at the outset of this letter are to be answered ‘Yes’.


In harmony with paragraphs six and seven on page 22 of the May 15, 2007 Watchtower, many have commended me for raising troubling spiritual questions. While I appreciate the commendation, I am more interested in uncovering the truth and finally being able to provide accurate, precise answers to my many family and friends, such as my Uncle, whom, you’ll recall, implored me to ask these questions until they were satisfied, “no matter the cost!"


I eagerly await your response, particularly to the twelve questions, above. Thank you again for taking the time to read this. I send you my love and greetings.


Sincerely,


xxxxx


Note: No reply has been received as of November 2010; however, the Watchtower Society did 'respond' to this letter in their June 01, 2008 issue of the Watchtower. That article can be read at their official site found here.