Street Epistemology: Watchtower not inspired by God

Had a great experience with a Jehovah’s Witness at the my front door on Sunday. Was a golden opportunity because the guy was alone, and young (in his 20’s). I could not believe my luck. If it is a couple of elderly people, I usually just smile and nod and send them on their way. But from what I’ve learned from ex-JWs, conversations like this can absolutely have an effect on them. The pebble in the shoe, as they say.

I had him pausing several times and it was clear that once or twice he gave answers that he knew were not convincing or comparable to the situation even before he finished saying them. Basically we went through:

– extracting his ‘method’ of coming to 100% certainty in a belief: in this case, his complete confidence in the inerrancy of the bible because of the passages which seemed to describe exactly the personal experiences he’d had.

– Used the Outsider Test of Faith to compare this to my Muslim friend’s same experience. If both of you are coming to different conclusions using the same method, can we still consider it 100% accurate? (he understood but didn’t have an answer really)

– Asked about interpretations of the Watchtower Society – is the JW interpretation of the bible 100% accurate? He answered yes, he had 100% confidence in them.

– If new information “came to light”, and the Watchtower declared that now blood transfusions were OK, would you revise your belief and follow that? He answered yes! (Note, new information “coming to light” is a phrase used by the Watchtower society to help justify mistakes they make.)

– So the watchtower is fallible? He had to backtrack and say yes, he did not believe the Watchtower society was “inspired by God” (i.e. in the way the Bible is), and so while they make “minor” changes, the big things are 100% correct.

– Blood transfusions are a matter of life and death – this would be a “big” belief, right? this is a major difference in interpretation? He had to acknowledge it was.

– So, given you would accept revisions with new light, don’t you have to leave room in your confidence level to accommodate that change? How can you be 100% confident in the Watchtower interpretation and at the same time accept that it can be changed? Maybe 99%, sure, but 100% wouldn’t leave room for corrections.

– He replied with some example of a child having complete 100% trust in their Father to protect them… I said yes, but trusting your father 100% is not the same as saying you think they are 100% accurate in all facts in the world. He smiled sheepishly at that, and agreed.

– I gave the example of science – despite being a great way to find things out, you see even a research paper is always hedged with “accurate 19 times out of 20”, etc. acknowledging it is never 100% confident in anything, there is always room for revision.

– He said “I understand your need for proof” and I corrected him to stress that I am interested in the reliability of the method used to come to a conclusion about reality – in his case, his personal experiences being reflected in a book of a certain age.

– He asked me if I believed in a higher-power. I asked for his definition, and he said something with a personality that intervenes in life, and is a designer. I replied No, and described to him what it meant to be a Humanist.

– He made a point of saying he really enjoyed the chat and really appreciated how friendly it was. We shook hands and I said I hoped we could chat again in the future.

I really need a way to record these at a moment’s notice at the door…

2 thoughts on “Street Epistemology: Watchtower not inspired by God

  1. My last encounter with JW’s was three people. An older woman, a younger woman and a kid of maybe 10 or less. I was kind of peeved that they would bring a kid. And kind of delighted. I directed most of what I had to say at the kid.
    I don’t seem to have the “arguing” on my feet as the writer seems to have and nor do I seem able to remember all the points and keywords to hit.
    In the end they asked simply if I believed if some Jesus existed. To which I replied poorly that yes.
    All kinds of coulda shoulda woulda. Oh well.

  2. You really do need a recorder! I bought one myself when I made my first presentation about atheism, and I keep it in my briefcase. Should really keep it in my pocket, though – it’s really handy for capturing ideas/sudden inspiration.

    And if you’re curious about the legality of recording a conversation – especially without the other people knowing: It’s legal in Canada. So long as you’re actually part of the conversation, you can record it without getting everyone else’s consent. I’ve used it to record my own presentations to review how I did, including the Q&A where other people got involved. You could use it to record your chat, and then review it later to improve your technique and/or accurately transcribe bits of it. (Bear in mind that I’m not a lawyer, but I was told that this is how the law works in Canada by two lawyers and a bunch of Internet searches.)

    If you’re going to be doing Street Epistemology frequently, it might be a handy thing to carry around.

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