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Creationist Crack-Up

A weird story in The Australian:

AN unholy war [irritating journalistic cliché – RB] has erupted between a star of the US evangelical movement and his Australian flock, with claims of bullying and unbiblical behaviour.

…A week after former Queensland science teacher Ken Ham opened the world’s first Creation Museum – a $33 million facility in Petersburg, Kentucky – he is being sued by the Australian evangelical organisation he helped to set up and which served as a springboard for his leap into the US evangelical movement two decades ago.

The two groups concerned are, of course, Ham’s US-based Answers in Genesis, and Creation Ministries International, run by Carl Wieland. CMI is planning to sue AiG, and a retired magistrate named Clarrie Briese has put together a report denouncing Ham and all his works:

…Mr Briese found in his report that Mr Ham and his US organisation had launched a campaign after his leadership was challenged by his US deputy, Brandon Vallorani, who was then sacked, and Australian leader Carl Wieland, who was later allegedly the subject of innuendo about his private life.

According to Mr Briese’s report, the campaign last year also involved John Mackay, a former associate of Mr Ham in Queensland, who was excommunicated in the 1980s after making allegations of witchcraft and necrophilia against a fellow member of the ministry.

…In his report, Mr Briese said Mr Ham and the US organisation responded with sackings, bullying and, in some instances, “unbiblical/unethical/unlawful behaviour” towards the Australian ministry that he suspected was intended to send it into bankruptcy.

…”The report recommends that if CMI is to fulfil its fiduciary responsibilities to protect and safeguard the Australian ministry, CMI, and have a recalcitrant Answers in Genesis-USA brought to account for the serious wrongs it has committed,” he said, “CMI has no option left except to bring AiG-USA before the secular courts, the ‘powers that be ordained by God’ under Romans 13.”

Briese is famous in Australia for an event in 1984, when he gave evidence against John Murphy, a high court judge who he claimed had asked him to influence a trial. However, Briese sees Murphy’s crime as small beer compared to graver sins, as he explains on Wieland’s website:

‘Ever since Christ’s bodily Resurrection…we see the existence of corruption in the church’s activities, especially with regard to the interpretation of the Bible…Tragically, there have always been Christian leaders and teachers with a different attitude. They defer to fallible human opinion and reasoning…What Lionel Murphy tried to do, serious as it was, pales into insignificance by comparison.’

Wieland’s website also explains that Briese went on to write a report for CMI, in the wake of Ian Plimer’s book Telling Lies for God:

The book represented an escalation of his desperate campaign to discredit the ministry. Apart from its mocking, lampooning attitude towards the Bible (especially Genesis), there were horrific ethical/moral allegations against CMI and its personnel. And Plimer had powerful allies, not just in the media, who cheerfully assisted his nationwide promotional ‘blitz’. Joining him in some public promotional appearances was a prominent Anglican Archbishop, who wrote the foreword to Telling Lies for God.

…We knew that Clarrie Briese was sympathetic to CMI and subscribed to Creation magazine. So I approached him to chair a committee to formally investigate Plimer’s charges, with ‘no holds barred’, and publish the findings. He says, ‘When I eventually agreed, I was pleased at the makeup of the panel members. Christians from a wide range of denominations and backgrounds, they each had public prominence independent of CMI. One had a strong science background. I was convinced they would not put their reputations at risk by finding otherwise than in accordance with the evidence.’

…This exposé of the atheistic professor and his churchian allies should have been dynamite to the media, but they suddenly lost interest. So CMI published the committee’s report in nationwide newspaper ads.

Australian sceptics, however, tell the story rather differently:

Curiously, for a committee consisting in the main of ministers of religion, it was not asked to investigate “…CSF’s theological position which, as individuals from evangelical churches of different denominations, we may not share in all respects.”, which theological position, it would appear to the casual observer, would be about the only thing this committee was qualified to investigate. Nor was the committee asked to judge “… the validity of the scientific arguments of creation versus evolution, except in so far as they related to allegations of deliberate scientific fraud.” , which, as only one committee member appears to have any scientific qualifications (and that in agricultural chemistry), is probably just as well.

Now let’s see if we have got this straight. The Creation Science Foundation invited certain people to investigate certain claims made in Telling Lies for God; the CSF set the terms of reference for the inquiry (very narrow terms indeed); specifically excluded from the terms the charges in the book, that the creationist’s ‘scientific’ claims were blatantly absurd, could not withstand even cursory critical scrutiny, were deliberately misleading and had neither scientific nor theological support; and the only evidence considered was that presented by the CSF.

But what of John Mackay, who was excommunicated after making allegations of “witchcraft and necrophilia”? CMI again explains:

Nearly 20 years ago, our ministry prepared a detailed information pack, one which for many years now we did not think we would have much use for again… The pack was originally prepared in response to the aftermath of a horrific attack (February, 1986) on our ministry (then called Creation Science Foundation) by Mr Mackay. The mechanism of attack involved a monstrous series of allegations without evidence—the basis was alleged ‘spiritual discernment’, involving ‘black cats’ and similar. These slanderous allegations concerned Margaret Buchanan, at the time a well-regarded Christian widow working for the ministry as Ken Ham’s personal secretary. John said she had been ‘specially sent by Satan’ to undermine him and the ministry, involved in covens, attending séances, etc.—never was there any eyewitness testimony or other evidence, merely ‘discernment’.

When his attempt to sack her and take over the ministry failed, due to the Board’s refusal to violate biblical principle, Mr Mackay resigned. This was followed by a campaign of widespread innuendo and slander, involving actual fabrications which if accepted would tend to bolster his claim of ‘demonic infiltration’ of our ministry and thus would tend to undermine public confidence in our ministry. This included the bizarre and incredibly offensive claim that Margaret had claimed to have had intercourse with the corpse of her late husband (!).

…Currently, the issue has surfaced again in the context of the recent tensions between the Australian ministry and AiG-USA, with John Mackay’s newsletter suddenly urging supporters to pray for the ‘attack’ the US ministry is allegedly under.

In fact, it appears that new alliances are being forged, and talk of ‘reconciliation’ is being used to rehabilitate Mr Mackay in creationist circles—again the aim appears to be to undermine the Australian ministry, only from a different angle.

Mackay runs Creation Research; according to a British anti-Creationist website, the UK branch is “a very significant player amongst the half dozen or so creationist organisations in the UK.” It is unclear whether Ham and Mackay have put aside their differences in order to unite against Wieland, or whether this is a three-way battle.

PZ Myers, meanwhile, has an unsurprising reaction:

I honestly don’t care who wins. The ideal conclusion will be that of the Kilkenny cats: mutual self-destruction.

(Hat tip to Lippard Blog for one link)

UPDATE: In the comments, Jim Lippard points to the full documentation; it seems that Mackay and Ham have indeed made up. Lippard also notes that even among sceptics, there were complaints against Ian Plimer’s work.

2 Responses

  1. It should be noted that there are at least two skeptics who had negative opinions of Ian Plimer’s Telling Lies for God–me (my review is here) and Jeff Shallit (his review is here). It is a book with many errors, which borrows content from works that it fails to cite or credit, and which includes a dishonest four-page hatchet job against me for my previous criticisms of the work of Ian Plimer and Barry Price.

    The full text of the Briese report and the CMI lawsuit against AiG is online at CMI’s website.

  2. Thanks, useful context.

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