In 1986, the late Carl Sagan (1934-1996) published these comments in his national bestseller book, Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science:
Doctrines that make no predictions are less compelling than those that make correct predictions; they are in turn more successful than doctrines that make false predictions.
But not always. One prominent American religion [clearly referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses] confidently predicted that the world would end in 1914. Well, 1914 has come and gone, and—while the events of that year were certainly of some importance—the world did not, at least so far as I can see, seem to have ended. There are at least three responses that an organized religion can make in the face of such a failed and fundamental prophecy. They could have said, “Oh, did we say ‘1914’? So sorry, we meant ‘2014.’ A slight error in calculation. Hope you weren’t inconvenienced in any way.” But they did not. They could have said, “Well, the world would have ended, except we prayed very hard and interceded with God so He spared the Earth.” But they did not. Instead, they did something much more ingenious. They announced that the world had in fact ended in 1914, and if the rest of us hadn’t noticed, that was our lookout. It is astonishing in the face of such transparent evasions that this religion has any adherents at all. But religions are tough. Either they make no contentions which are subject to disproof or (page 333) they quickly redesign doctrine after disproof. The fact that religions can be so shamelessly dishonest, so contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents, and still flourish does not speak very well for the tough-mindedness of the believers. But it does indicate, if a demonstration was needed, that near the core of the religious experience is something remarkably resistant to rational inquiry.
Let’s break this down:
One prominent American religion confidently predicted that the world would end in 1914.
It was calculated that the ‘seven Gentile Times’ would end in 1914. How that would effect the world was not completely understood. For instance, The Watch Tower issue of October 15, 1913 stated on page 307: “We think of October, 1914, as, in round numbers, the ending of the Gentile Times. …We say that according to the best chronological reckoning of which we are capable, it is approximately that time—whether it be October, 1914, or later. Without dogmatizing, we are looking for certain events: (1) The termination of the Gentile Times—Gentile supremacy in the world—and (2) For the inauguration of Messiah’s Kingdom in the world.” (italics original)
This modesty was expressed early in 1914, as seen in The Bible Students Monthly (Volume VI, No. 1, published early in 1914). There, the one taking the lead, Charles Russell, wrote: “If we have the correct date and chronology, Gentile Times will end this year—1914. What of it? We do not surely know. Our expectation is that the active rule of Messiah will begin about the time of the ending of the lease of power to the Gentiles. Our expectation, true or false, is that there will be wonderful manifestations of Divine judgments against all unrighteousness, and that this will mean the breaking up of many institutions of the present time, if not all.” He emphasized that he did not expect the “end of the world” in 1914 and that the earth abides forever, but that the present order of things, of which Satan is ruler, is to pass away. (Jehovah’s Witnesses: Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, page 635.)
Notice also what Russell announced on Friday morning, October 2, 1914, as he strode into the dining room at Bethel in Brooklyn, New York: “The Gentile times have ended; their kings have had their day.” It was not, “the world will now end,” or something to that effect. (The Watchtower, November 1, 2007, page 24.)
Well, 1914 has come and gone, and—while the events of that year were certainly of some importance
That’s an understatement! The pre-1914 world, with its romantic ideals of the future, came to a crashing halt. “The events that took place from and after the year 1914 C.E. are well-known history to all, beginning with the great war that erupted, the first world war in mankind’s history and the first to be fought over the issue, not of the domination of Europe alone, nor of Africa, nor of Asia, but of the domination of the world.” (Insight on the Scriptures, “Appointed Times of the Nations,” page 135.) (italics original)
the world did not, at least so far as I can see, seem to have ended.
Depends on which world you’re talking about. Russell never meant planet earth, rather he meant the termination of “Gentile supremacy in the world.” (See the 1913 Watch Tower above.) However, related to this prediction was a hope of entering heaven. It is this hope that was premature and that did not materialize.
They announced that the world had in fact ended in 1914, and if the rest of us hadn’t noticed, that was our lookout.
Does this claim match with history? On the contrary, The Watch Tower of April 15, 1916, stated on page 127: “We believe that Gentile Times have ended, and that God is now allowing the Gentile Governments to destroy themselves, in order to prepare the way for Messiah’s Kingdom. The Lord did not say that the Church would all be glorified by 1914. We merely inferred it and, evidently, erred.” This sums up the post-1914 reaction perfectly. Mr. Sagan is thus guilty of misrepresentation.
It is astonishing in the face of such transparent evasions that this religion has any adherents at all.
Based on the above, it becomes rather transparent that Mr. Sagan has, intentionally or unintentionally, constructed a straw man. While his description of Jehovah’s Witnesses and 1914 is sensational and easy to drink down, it simply does not square with reality, specifically, with the total gravity of World War I starting in 1914 that he willfully ignored. It was also quite myopic to focus on the hopes of 1914 alone in a vacuum. Obviously there were other teachings of this religion that carried its members through the disappointment of not entering heaven. Did he take the time to research those? If he pondered them, then his sensationalism would have settled down and he would not have found it as “astonishing” that the faith survived.
It must be noted that Mr. Sagan was evidently agnostic. Agnosticism is unsure if information comes from a mind or not. That is patently absurd, as is atheism, the belief that information does not have to come from a mind. It is agnosticism and atheism that produce transparent evasions to the truth that information has to come from a mind; therefore it is astonishing that those have any adherents at all.
Regarding his introductory challenge, “doctrines that make no predictions are less compelling than those that make correct predictions; they are in turn more successful than doctrines that make false predictions,” we have seen that the prediction of the world changing in 1914 was correct. Likewise, we have seen that the predictions of agnosticism and atheism have proven false—as information can only come from an intelligent source, a mind. By way of comparison, deism can make no predictions, theism has made correct predictions, and agnosticism and atheism have made false predictions. Therefore, theism is more compelling.
religions are tough.
This is correct. This applies also to agnosticism and atheism. Some belief systems have been completely dismantled and refuted, like Mormonism, Trinitarianism, even agnosticism and atheism. Yet, these are tough-minded systems that continue to flourish.
Disbelief is easier than belief, until the disbelief becomes a belief. Atheism is a disbelief that has become a belief. It has become as tough-minded as refuted religious systems like Mormonism and Trinitarianism.
near the core of the religious experience is something remarkably resistant to rational inquiry.
Again, this is also true of the belief system of disbelief, agnosticism and atheism. It is also true of the unscientific religions of Mormonism and Trinitarianism. But it is not true of the scientific theism of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who place scholarly, scientific readings of the Bible over loyalties to the fallible doctrines of man.
This presentation has not only exposed the contentions in Broca’s Brain
as less-than-cerebral, but it has also turned the tables on it, using its arguments against agnosticism and atheism, and vindicating theism in the process.
Answering a fool in harmony with or “according to his foolishness” in the sense of resorting to his degrading methods of argument puts the one so doing in agreement with the fool’s unsound reasonings or ways. In order not to become like the fool in this respect, we are counseled by the proverb: “Do not answer anyone stupid according to his foolishness.” On the other hand, Proverbs 26:4, 5 shows that answering him “according to his foolishness” in the sense of analyzing his contentions, exposing them as being ridiculous, and showing that his own arguments lead to entirely different conclusions from those he has drawn can be beneficial.
Labels: Bible, Mormonism and Trinitarianism, Science