From: Skeptic Mag Hotline
Date: Sat, 12 Dec 1998 12:40:34 -0800

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Michael Shermer



Ian Plimer, our skeptical friend down under, sends this short essay on the continuing controversy over evolution and creation in Australia. Australia is the largest bastion of creationism in the world outside America, so we need to pay close attention to what happens there.


Professor Ian Plimer,
School of Earth Sciences,
The University of Melbourne,
Parkville Vic. 3052

Tel. 0061.3.93445700
Fax: 0061.3.93447761


Australia is a pluralist secular society with a diversity of ethnic groups, languages, cultures, races and religions. There is no official State religion and there is a separation of church and state. Government is at the Federal, State and Regional level with school education controlled by the States and Territories of Australia and University Education controlled by the Federal Government. Compared with former times, the mainstream churches have lost contact with their flock and there has been a great rise in charismatic, fundamentalist and pentecostal churches, cults, new age ideology and irrationality. Immigration has led to a great rise in non-Christian religions. Only 18% of the Australian public claim to attend church. In Australia, religions are tax-exempt and, to be a religion for tax purposes, one must only register with the Australian Tax Office. Numerous commercial opportunities have been exploited by those capitalising on the spiritual vacuum and the tax benefits in Australia. The taxpayer, whether Christian or not, pays for Christianity in Australia.

Creationism in Australia

Creation 'science' argues that there is scientific evidence which proves that the planet is a mere few thousand years old and that there was a "Great Flood". Creation 'scientists' argue that there is overwhelming scientific evidence for a "Great Flood" and that there is no scientific evidence for evolution.

The scientific chronicle of planet Earth is underpinned by evidence. Evidence which is for all to see and for all to challenge. With an increasing amount of reproducible evidence, the chronicle of our planet is refined and interpretations are modified. This is the healthy unfinished business of science. Because evidence, conclusions and ideas are constantly tested and re-evaluated, any dogma, mistake or scientific fraud are ultimately uncovered. Scientists guilty of scientific fraud are dismissed, discredited and never practice again.

There have been numerous investigations into the 'science' of the creationists. All have shown that the 'science' is misquoted, misleading, deceptive, fraudulent or concocted. Not one scientific claim of the creationists has withstood scrutiny. The leaders of the creationist movement knowingly exploit the yearning for spirituality, the fear of the unknown and the scientific and theological ignorance of the community.

Why not ignore these bizarre fundamentalists to practice their own beliefs? Does it matter? It does matter. Creationists abuse the democratic process and demand that their view of the planet, which they claim is underpinned by 'science', should be taught in school science courses on an equal time basis with science. The creationist target is children, either directly or indirectly. The creationist literature, lecture tours and videos are directed at school children.

Creationism is rising in the new world countries and is about power. It is the political arm of southern USA Christian fundamentalism. Christian fundamentalist cults want to use school science courses as their evangelical recruiting grounds to gain control of the minds and souls of the young. In my view, it is unacceptable in a pluralist society to have Christian fundamentalists teaching junk religion and proven fraudulent science to our children.

Creationism has entered Australia by stealth as a business. Once established in 1980, the lobbying of State governments was so successful that Queensland allowed the teaching of creationism as science to school children.

Public responsibility of a professor, 1985-1991

There had been numerous palaeontologists and biologists voice public objection to creation "science" in Australia Even though an ore deposit geologist, once appointed to a Chair (1985), I felt that it was my public duty to profess my discipline in public. I voiced my concerns about the scientific and educational value of creationism in the professional literature. I was immediately attacked in public and threatened with litigation by the creationist groups.

In USA, those religious and scientific groups who objected to creationism treated creationists as peers and argued from a position of weakness. Creationism continued to grow in USA. I therefore decided to mount a very public campaign against what I consider an abuse of a tolerant society, science and education. As an educationist, I would like the community to have knowledge about how the planet works and to be trained as critical thinkers. Rather than argue on detailed matters of theology and science, I focussed on the heart of the matter.

After some investigation, I was able to show that that the leaders of the creationist groups in Australia were guilty of scientific and financial fraud. I published my findings in newspapers, undertook radio and television programs and presented numerous public lectures on creationism. These activities allowed me to promote geology to the public. The creationist response was attempts to have me dismissed from my Chair, litigation threats, hundreds of vexatious letters and two death threats.

Security measures were put in place, unlisted telephone numbers were used, my daily program became unpredictable, I moved house and had an untraceable address. At the same time I was Head of Department, sat on the Australian Research Council grants and major equipment committees, sat on numerous other national committees, was editor of Mineralium Deposita, was president of the Society for Geology Applied to Ore Deposits, was president of the Australian Geoscience Council, continued to give lectures and undertook an active research life. Life became stressful.

Litigation, 1992-1998

In 1992, a well publicised Australia-wide lecture tour was undertaken by a creationist who claimed that he had found Noah=92s Ark and that there was geological evidence supporting his claims. Furthermore, the creationist claimed he had a doctorate degree. Noah's Ark is one of the key tenets of creationism. If Noah's Ark were found, it would substantiate the fundamentalist view of the planet and society. If Noah's Ark could undergo scientific examination, the find would have more credibility. Fundamentalism would have more power. If Noah's Ark was found by a fundamentalist, then fame and fortune would follow. The newspapers, radio and television accepted and published these claims uncritically.

I attended one of the public lectures. At the end of the lecture, I attempted to ask a question about geology in order to demonstrate to the public that these claims were unsupported by science. I was forcibly ejected from the meeting by the organisers. The next meeting I attended was in a University lecture hall rented by the creationists. At the end of the lecture, I again attempted to ask a question about geology. I was ejected by the police for asking a question about geology in a public meeting in a University. This time I was with a TV crew and a current affairs program was broadcast about the creationists. After some investigation, I discovered that the "doctorate" degree had been purchased from a letterbox in Florida, the claims about the discovery of Noah's Ark had been fabricated, that the information used in books and public lectures had been stolen from others, that no scientific work whatsoever had been undertaken and that those making the claims had no scientific qualifications

Thousands of people paid to attend the creationist meetings and were persuaded to purchase video and audio tapes, books and brochures which documented the "scientific" discovery of Noah's Ark. I was bad for business and there was a need to silence me. I was served with a Supreme Court writ for defamation. In Australia, the defamation laws of each State rely on antiquated English law to protect the privilege of the aristocracy, my freedom of speech had been denied and, until the matter went to court, I was silenced. However, the newspapers published all of the information I had acquired. Defamation actions can take up to 10 years to grind through the legal system and, at the last minute, the writ can be withdrawn without the matter going to court.

As a defence, I decided to litigate against the creationists using the Federal consumer protection laws which deal with "misleading and deceptive conduct while engaged in trade and commerce" and the Federal copyright laws. For the copyright action, I was joined by a former fundamentalist from whom information was stolen. The consumer protection/copyright matter became embroiled in the legal process from 1992 until it went to trial in 1997.

In the Australian legal process, litigants pay lawyers as the case proceeds and the system relies on advocacy, precedent and the inadmissibility of evidence. There are no budgets, timelines or deadlines and there are no guarantees that a strong case will be successful.

There were more than 50 separate court sittings while the fundamentalists used every legal and delaying tactic to stop the action appearing in court and to increase my costs. My wife and I funded the litigation and against us were the creationists funded by the massive fundamentalist businesses. By 1994, the costs had become astronomical. We sold our house to continue the litigation and an audit of our lawyers showed that they had been grossly overcharging us.

I dismissed my lawyers and demanded repayment of the overcharged money. They refused, I sued them and after 4 years and 16 separate sittings of the Supreme Court, the lawyers have now agreed that they overcharged and are now trying to negotiate a financial settlement with me for some 30% of my total costs. In haste, a second legal company were contracted. These lawyers forgot to appear in court a number of times, the consumer protection/copyright action was dismissed and I had costs of $330,000 awarded against me for non-appearance in court. I contracted new lawyers, appealed against the dismissal of the consumer protection/copyright decision because I was prejudiced by my lawyer, won the appeal and then sued the lawyers who did not appear in court. After 2 years and many sittings of the Federal Court, I won a professional negligence case and received a settlement which was some 50% of my actual additional costs.

Also in 1994, I published a book on creationism (Telling lies for God- Reason versus Creationism, Random House), featured in a prime time TV program (Four Corners) on creationism filmed at Mt Ararat and continued my radio and TV broadcasting about creationism. The consumer protection/copyright case went to trial in April, 1997. Two weeks before the trial, my lawyer was promoted to a judge and I very quickly needed a new lawyer who could read and comprehend 20 metres of documents and be my advocate at the trial.

In Australia, there was a public interest in the trial. A public campaign raised nearly $200,000 to help me (which constituted 50% of my trial costs) and the trial was widely reported. My witnesses were international scientists and former creationists. However, the judge did not allow these witnesses to testify and the judge did not allow evidence on the financial business activities of the creationist movement. There were two arenas, one with the legal process and the other with a very damaging public exposure of the real nature of creationism.

The judgement ruled that the creationists had stolen the work of others for financial profit, that the creationists told lies under oath and that the creationists were engaged in fraud. However, on a legal technicality, it was ruled that the creationists were not engaged in "trade and commerce" so I won and I lost but could expect a very large costs order against me. There were many in the community who offered the view that the floodgates would open if there was a legal precedent to show that those who claim to be religious operate in trade and commerce. Some observers stated that the judge did not want to reach this conclusion and, by excluding witnesses and evidence, it became easier to find a legal technicality. There was also public concern about the legal process and that the consumer protection laws do not protect the public and that if one claims to be religious, then matters of fraud are excusable. I appealed and lost however there were now four different judges who had given four different interpretations of the legal meaning of "trade and commerce". I attempted to have the High Court of Australia clarify the meaning of the words "trade and commerce" but, in mid 1998, they refused to hear the matter. The matter could go no further in the courts.

During the 6 year period of litigation, I was Head of Department, had a heavy teaching load, supervised 38 research theses and continued an active program of radio programs, public lectures and television programs. My research, health and finances suffered greatly as a result of the inordinate stress. In April, 1998, my co-litigant involved in the copyright aspect of the litigation died from stress. The stresses were so great that in 1998 I have taken sick leave without pay from the University to recover my health and composure. During the course of the litigation, I received thousands of letters of support mixed with numerous vexatious letters, litigation threats and death threats. Again, the creationists unsuccessfully tried to have me dismissed from the University and again security measures have been put in place.

As a result of the litigation, one creationist group has dissolved and, because the use of the word science was deemed fraudulent, the business calling itself the Creation Science Foundation changed its name to Answers in Genesis. This group had one director with a PhD in uranium geology. For 15 years, he simultaneously published in the scientific literature about processes which take hundreds of million of years and Precambrian rocks and published in the creationist literature about a 6,000 year old Earth and a "Great Flood" in which all sedimentary rocks and fossils formed. The public exposures and pressures were such that he has resigned from Answers in Genesis who have evolved from a group who claimed that there was scientific credibility for creationism to a fringe religious group. My forthcoming book (Telling lies for God--Sinking the Ark) exposes in public all the evidence that was not heard in court.

The litigation provided a forum for the promotion of science to the public and demonstrated to the public the fraudulent nature of creationism. Geology has now a far higher profile in Australia than previously. Groups of sceptics, free thinkers and rationalists have provided great support. The British and German geological societies have honoured me for my public stand and I won the Eureka Prize in 1995.

Science and education won, the creationists won and I lost and therefore am legally required to pay the creationists' costs of $380,000. This I am not able to pay, the creationists will send me bankrupt which, in effect, will be a mechanism of silencing me and prejudicing my career. Once bankrupt, I will have no funds for defending the defamation action by those ruled in another court to have stolen the work of others and to have engaged in fraud.



First, a disclaimer. The Skeptics Society internet hotline should not be considered a form of publication on par with the edited and (often) peer- reviewed articles that appear in print in Skeptic magazine. Stuff comes my way that I share with this group because I think you might find some interest in it. Case in point is my latest posting of Ian Plumer's note on creationism down under. There is no possible way for me to fact check these items. Thus, I must rely on the feedback of our readers, which in this case was provided by Jim Lippard, who writes:

Plimer's claim to have demonstrated "financial fraud" on the part of Australian creationist groups and/or leaders is false, as I showed in my article "How Not To Argue With Creationists" in the NCSE's ( _Creation/Evolution_ journal in the Winter 1991-92 issue. Plimer's claims about "financial fraud" have led to apologies by the publishers/broadcasters who have given him a forum to make them in the past (e.g., the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the magazine _Media Information Australia_).

For complete details on the alleged "financial fraud" and other misrepresentations and falsehoods by Plimer, see:

I am disappointed that the Skeptics Society has uncritically repeated unfounded charges from such an unreliable source.

Jim Lippard lippard@(
Phoenix, Arizona ----------
Thanks, Jim, for the correction.


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