revised: July 14, 2002
Jehovah's Witnesses today believe that an acceptance of evolution is incompatible with true Christian faith. They have criticized other professed Christians, especially the "clergy," who have embraced an acceptance of Darwinist evolution with a faith in God. They have stated that unlike the apostate clergy's belief in evolution, they have steadfastly opposed the theory throughout their history.
Most people, Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) included, may be surprised to learn that the Watchtower Society promoted a belief in the theistic evolution of all earth's species except for man until the 1920's.
The New Creation
In 1904, C.T. Russell, the Watchtower's founder and first president published his book, The New Creation. It had the most comprehensive treatment of the Genesis creation account by Russell I have found. He noted that those who believed in the "Gap Theory" interpretation of Genesis 1 had a valid point--there is a time gap between verse 1 and verse 2:
Examining the Genesis expressions critically, we discern that a distinction is made between the creation of the heaven and the earth (verse 1) and the subsequent regulations, or the ordering of these, and the further creations of vegetable and animal life.... Verse 2 tells us that in the very beginning of the first day of the creative week the earth was--though without form (order), and void (empty)--waste, empty and dark. This important item should be distinctly noted. If recognized, it at once corroborates the testimony of geology thus far,... (p. 18)
However, this did not mean he believed that the time gap was very long:
The Bible does not say how long a period elapsed between the beginning when God created the heaven and the earth, and the beginning of the creative week used in perfecting it for man: nor do geologists agree amongst themselves as to the period of this interval--a few extremists indulge in wild speculations of millions of years. (pp. 18, 19)
To Russell, the earth and the universe was not on the order of millions of years old or older. On the other hand, he, as JWs do today, did not believe that the creation "days" were literal 24 hour days. He said that "nothing, perhaps, has done more to becloud and undermine" faith in God and in Genesis "than has the error of understanding the epoch-days of Genesis to be twenty-four hour days" (Ibid., p. 22). Instead, he believed that each "day" was 7,000 years long. This means that the creative "week," including the 7th day in which we exist is 49,000 years in duration (p. 18).
In The New Creation, Russell commented on each of the creative days without mentioning evolution until he commented on the fifth day, where God says, "Let the sea bring forth...". To Russell, this indicated God-directed or "theistic" evolution. He even endorsed the primordial soup or "slime" theory that life evolved naturally from non-living chemicals:
Let us not contend for more than the Scripture record demands. The Bible does not assert that God created separately and individually the myriad kinds of fish and reptiles; but merely that divine influence, or spirit, brooded, and by divine purpose the sea brought forth its creatures of various kinds. The processes are not declared--one species may, under different conditions, have developed into another; or from the same original protoplasm different orders of creatures may have developed under differing conditions. No man knoweth, and it is unwise to be dogmatic. It is not for us to dispute that even the protoplasm of the palaeozoic slime may not have come into existence through chemical action of the highly mineralized waters of the seas. What we do claim is, that all came about as results of divine intention and arrangement, and hence, were divine creations, whatever were the channels or agencies. (pp. 35, 36)
He then stated that however the species came about, they thereafter could only reproduce after their "kind" and no further evolutions were possible.
In commenting on the fifth day of creation where God said, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature..." he stated this referred to reptiles, wild animals and cattle and noted:
Here, again, we need not quarrel needlessly with Evolutionists. We will concede that, if God chose, he could have brought all the different species of animal life into being by a development of one from the other, or he could have developed each species separately from the original protozoan slime. We know not what method he adopted.... whatever way God chose to accomplish it, he has fixed animal species, each "after its own kind" in such a manner that they do not change... (pp. 36, 37)
When Russell came to the sixth day of creation, he was insistent that God specially created man (male and female) in contrast to all other life forms which could have evolved:
In view of our remarks, foregoing, that the Scripture language does not forbid the possibility of the plants, water-creatures and land-creatures being more or less developed or evolved, in their various kinds, it may be well for us to note the wide difference in the language used when referring to man's creation. The later is a specific declaration of the direct exercise of the divine creative power, while the others are not, but rather imply a development:-
"And the earth brought forth the grass," etc.
"Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature," etc.
"Let the earth bring forth living creature after its kind, cattle," etc....
It is not said of man as of the sea creatures, "Let the seas swarm," nor as with the lower earthly animals, "Let the earth bring forth;" but it is recorded, on the contrary, that he was a special creation of his Maker, "made in his own image."... Here is the battlefield between God's Word and the so-called Modern Science, to which the whole world, especially the learned-- including the leaders of thought in all theological seminaries, and the ministers in all the prominent pulpits, are bowing down-- worshiping the scientific God called "Evolution." The two theories are squarely at issue: if the Evolution theory is true, the Bible is false from Genesis to Revelation. If the Bible is true, as we hold, the Evolution theory is utterly false in all its deductions as respects man. (pp. 37, 38)
In a nutshell, in speaking out against evolution and its being in conflict with the Bible, Russell was strictly speaking about one single species: homo sapiens. All other life forms that have existed on earth could have evolved under God's direction from slime according the Bible.
This view was repeated in a 1907 Watch Tower where he said:
As for the lower animals we will not on their behalf quarrel with the deductions of the evolutionists,... If an evolutionary process did take place in the past we hold that it was so under divine supervision and guidence--that the different species of plants and animals were brought to perfection, so that no further evolutionary processes in them is possible. On the other hand be it noted that the Scriptural account might be understood to rather favor the Evolution theory in respect to the lower creatures. For instance the statement, "God said, let the earth bring forth grass..." But when we come to the creation of man there is no suggestion that this was a bringing forth or a development.... Whoever believes Adam was developed from a monkey is in violent conflict with the faith once delivered... 
In a 1912 Watch Tower he was even more positive:
In the Third Day, or Epoch, under divine direction.... vegetation sprang up--grass, bushes, trees, with their seeds and fruits. The account does not say that God made so many different kinds of grasses and fruit, trees, etc. It declares that under Divine command the Earth brought forth these various kinds. Nothing in the Genesis account would interfere with an evolutionary theory with regards to vegetation....
On the Fifth Day the waters began to swarm with living, moving creatures. Next came fowl and great sea monsters. Here again a measure of evolution is suggested by the statement that "the waters brought forth abundantly" the various kinds, under divine supervision. Only in the case of man does the Bible distinctly declare a personal creation.
The creation of land animals marks the Sixth Epoch-Day. Fish and fowl took precedence, as scientists agree. Again we read that: "the earth brought forth," but we also read that the Lord directed the matter in the development of the various kinds or varieties.
It was at the very end of the Sixth Day when God created man. The earth did not bring him forth....
HOW DIFFERENT the statement respecting man's creation from that describing the creation of plants and the lower animals which the seas and the earth brought forth! Man's creation was premeditated. 
Since Russell was viewed as being the "faithful and wise servant" until the late 1920's, this theistic evolution interpretation was promoted by JWs after Russell's death in 1916:
One theory regarding the creation (excepting man) by a process of evolution, to which we see no serious objection, we briefly state as follows: It assumes that the various species of the present are fixed and unchangeable as far as nature or kind is concerned,.... This theory further assumes that none of these fixed species were originally created so, but that in the remote past they were developed from the earth, and by gradual processes of evolution from one form to another. These evolutions, under divinely established laws... may have continued until the fixed species, at the present time seen, were established, beyond which change is impossible... 
Only in respect to man does the Bible declare a special, direct creation of God. The statements of Genesis in respect to lower creatures rather favor something along the lines of specialized evolution.... the beginning of life came from the waters, and later extended to the birds, and still later to the land animals.... under divine supervision various orders of creation were brought to a state of development and fixity of species... 
One of the things that interests me the most about this theistic evolutionary position of the early Watchtower Society is the time scale involved. Their position to this day is that each of the days of creation were 7,000 years long. This means that during the third day of creation grasses, bushes and fruit bearing trees evolved from the "palaeozoic slime" in the span of 7,000 years. This was fairly fast.
The fifth day was even more remarkable in this scenario. In the span of another 7,000 years, the sea "brought forth" through evolution various sea creatures from "the jelly-fish to the whale," amphibians and birds (The New Creation, 1904, p. 35). The sixth day was equally remarkable. In another 7,000 years the earth brought forth through evolution the various land creatures from the lizard to the elephant. I assume there were thousands of transitional species from the jelly-fish to the whale and from the lizard to the elephant, giraffe, bear and bat to name a few mammals. This would mean thousands of species were evolving every year. This pace would probably make even Richard Goldschmidt's head spin.
Put in charge of all God's interests
The Society today claims that they were the only ones distributing good, wholesome and nourishing spiritual "meat" or "food" when Jesus returned invisibly and unnoticed by mankind in 1914. After "returning" He inspected all who professed His name to see who was distributing the food at the "proper time." Since only the JWs were doing this, they alone were put in charge of "all of God's interests" on earth while Christendom was rejected. One of the reasons they were chosen, they say, was they were speaking out against evolution while the "clergy" endorsed theistic evolution:
Jesus expected anointed Christians collectively to be acting as a faithful steward, giving his body of attendants "their measure of food supplies at the proper time." (Luke 12:42) According to Luke 12:43, Christ said: "Happy is that slave, if his master on arriving finds him doing so!" This indicates that for some time before Christ arrived to settle accounts with his spirit-anointed slaves, they would have been dispensing spiritual food to members of the Christian congregation, God's household. Whom did Christ find doing so when he returned with kingly power in 1914 and proceeded to inspect the house of God in 1918?.... Do you think it was Christendom's churches? Certainly not, for they were deeply involved in politics.... Spiritually, their faith had been weakened by Modernism. A spiritual crisis was brought about because many of their clergy became easy prey to higher criticism and evolution. No spiritual nourishment could be expected from Christendom's clergy!....
On arriving to inspect his slaves in 1918, therefore, whom did the Master, Jesus Christ, find giving to his body of attendants their measure of food supplies at the proper time? Well, by then, who had given truth seekers the correct understanding of the ransom sacrifice, the divine name, the invisibility of Christ's presence, and the significance of 1914?.... who had warned of the dangers of evolution and spiritism? The facts show that it was a group of anointed Christians associated with the publishers of Zion's Watch Tower... 
1. The Watch Tower, Jan. 1, 1907, pp. 12, 13.
2. The Watch Tower, Dec. 1, 1912, pp. 372, 373.
3. Woodworth, C. J., "Evolutionist Guessing," The Golden Age, Nov. 12, 1919, p. 103.
4. Woodworth, C. J., "Life of the Saurians," The Golden Age, Feb. 18, 1920, p. 341.
5. The Watchtower, March 15, 1990, pp. 13, 14.