Geologist fails to overturn Creationist judgement

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Ian Plimer, the Australian professor of geology who has fought a five-year court battle against a Christian preacher's claims to have found ‘scientific’ evidence for Noah's Ark in Turkey, has lost his bid to overturn a judgement made against him last June.

Three Federal Court judges found unanimously last Friday (5 December) that the original judge, Ronald Sackville, was correct in dismissing Plimer's civil action against preacher Allen Roberts (see Nature 389, 323; 1997). The presiding judge, John Davies, acknowledged that Roberts had made “misleading statements” in his lectures. But he concluded that such conduct was not an aspect of “trade or commerce”, which was the basis claimed by Plimer for his charges against Roberts.

Outside the court, Roberts said Plimer had “sought to stifle our voice”, and declared “a victory for freedom of belief and expression”. Plimer admitted his “pockets now rattle after the appeal”, and said he will file for bankruptcy.

Despite the setback, Plimer and his solicitor say they may appeal further to the High Court of Australia over the lack of protection for consumers — the basis of their challenge that creationism was being presented as science — implied by the Federal Court's judgement.

While the High Court may not give leave for an appeal, another court confrontation appears certain, as a suit for defamation brought by Roberts against Plimer was deferred until after the trade practices case. Plimer says he will immediately seek a trial date, believing he can plead evidence and issues of broader scope than were allowed under trade law.

Meanwhile, the Creati Science Foundation, a Brisbane-based evangelical group apparently unconnected with Roberts' group, has changed its name to ‘Answers in Genesis’. The foundation, which teaches ‘creation science’ and campaigns for its inclusion in school curricula, claims scientific authority primarily through a staff member who holds a PhD in geology, and its director, who is a medical practitioner.

Barry Williams, executive officer of the Australian Skeptics, argues that the name change can be seen as a response to the threat of similar legal actions to Plimer's, and labels it as “a triumph for the side of reason and science”. According to Williams, the foundation “has publicly confessed that what they do is not science, a very useful concession to our case”.

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Pockley, P. Geologist fails to overturn Creationist judgement. Nature 390, 542 (1997) doi:10.1038/37426

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