Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reasons to be Skeptical: MONEY – THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL?

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In 1994 76-year-old recluse, Stanley Whalley, who had never heard of the Australian Skeptics Inc until shortly before he died of cancer late in that year, bequeathed nearly $1.3 million to the Skeptics. He signed his last will and testament just four days before he passed away. His wealth was inherited through his family who capitalised on property prices during the Great Depression, and was added to further by Stanley’s dabbling in the stock market. He never married and lived alone in a ramshackle house in Archie Street, Nambour, near Queensland's Sunshine Coast. A committed atheist, Whalley’s main concern was the push for the teaching of creationism in Queensland schools by fundamentalists and he asked friends what groups existed that could take them on in a good fight.

This coincided with the release of the book Telling Lies For God (Random House 1994) by Professor Ian Plimer, the former Head of the University of Melbourne Earth Sciences department, who was deeply concerned at the inroads of creationism in the education system. Telling Lies For God is a trenchant exposé of the Queensland group, the Creation Science Foundation, and debunks the creationist ‘young earth’ theory which he and many academics view as ‘a junk theory’ with no scientific validity. The book’s foreword was written by Brisbane’s Anglican Archbishop Peter Hollingworth and created a storm of protest and publicity, especially in Queensland. It would be fair to say that this would not have escaped the attention of Stanley Whalley at the time.

Plimer’s well-known connections to the Australian Skeptics Inc gave the group a higher profile that it usually got by debunking small-time UFO groups, psychics and astrologers. In exposing the antics of 'Dr' Alan Roberts, a Christian fundamentalist who was raising money to find Noah’s Ark in Turkey, Plimer caused a stir which reverberated around the world in creationist and scientific circles. This resulted in a defamation case against Plimer in Melbourne, and a Copyright/Trade Practices action by Plimer against Roberts in Sydney. Subsequent appeals in the case went to the High Court and found in favour of Roberts. The Australian Skeptics Inc, while publicly supportive of Plimer, and privately encouraging him to fight to the bitter end, did not offer to financially assist him until criticism from some aggressive members embarrassed them into loosening the purse strings to the Whalley largesse.

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