Business and the Bible Don't Mix

MELBOURNE--An Australian court here today shot down a novel attack on a creationist's claim to have found Noah's Ark. Judge Ronald Sackville ruled that ArkSearch Inc., the organization promoting exploration of the alleged finding in Turkey, did not constitute a business and, thus, was not subject to the country's laws governing fair trading practices.

The civil case pitted Ian Plimer, a Melbourne University geology professor, and author David Fasold against Allen Roberts and his group, begun as Noah's Ark Research Foundation (Science, 18 April, p. 348). Plimer alleged that Roberts, during a 1992 lecture tour to raise money for a dig in Turkey to obtain evidence of the biblical ark, had breached the fair-trade laws by engaging in "misleading and deceptive" practices. Fasold had also brought a copyright claim against Roberts for reproducing his drawing of a structure purported to be Noah's Ark.

Sackville found in favor of Fasold's copyright claim, but awarded him only $2500 on the basis that there was no evidence of financial loss. The judge rejected Plimer's argument by ruling that ArkSearch--despite having raised more than $50,000--"lacked the necessary degree of system and continuity" to be considered a business and that Roberts's actions as a lecturer "did not bear the required trading or commercial character." Although Sackville said that the promoters had made some misleading statements about their activities, he noted that such disputes should be resolved in other ways. "The courts should not attempt to provide a remedy for every false or misleading statement made in the course of public debate on matters of general interest," Sackville said in his ruling.

Roberts, a pastoral elder of a creationist church in Sydney, sees the decision as a vindication of his efforts. "The judgment has preserved free speech," he said on Australian radio.

Plimer, on the verge of bankruptcy after having sold his home to pay for part of the $500,000 cost of the case, says he's beaten but unbowed. "I've spent the last 12 years dealing with creationists," he says, "and I'm ready to do a few more." Plimer has yet to decide whether to appeal the ruling.