Friday, 8 June 2007

Answers in Genesis lawsuit

On May 31 2007, Answers in Genesis was sued by their former colleagues, now Creation Ministries International in Australia. This has been a long time coming, and I've been following the unfolding story now for over a year.

Many bloggers have picked up on it recently; and this is intended to be a helpful cross reference to the material available, with some commentary of my own.

Potted Background.

Answers in Genesis in the USA was founded by Ken Ham, who is still CEO. Ham started out in Australia, where he and John MacKay helped start up the "Creation Science Foundation" (CSF) in the early 1980s, as a merger with another creationist group in Australia ("Creation Science Association" – CSA). Then in 1987 Ham moved to the USA. He still speaks of himself as a "missionary from Australia to the USA". Originally he was seconded to work with the ICR (Morris' group), which he did until 1993. Then he started up a new ministry, with the blessing of the ICR and the CSF. The new group was originally called "Creation Science Ministries", and had a close association with the CSF in Australia. Both groups changed their names to "Answers in Genesis", in 1994.

In Australia, John MacKay had been heading the CSF; but a very ugly and weird dispute in 1986 lead to his resignation and Carl Wieland became the new leader in 1987; a position he still holds.

The organizations were legally distinct, being incorporated separately in different countries. The same applied as "Answers in Genesis" was set up in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. The management was very closely linked, with Ken Ham remaining on the board of AiG-Australia, and Australians remaining on the board of AiG-USA.

This close association remained in place until 2005, when the groups separated. The difference seems to have been mainly on management styles; the cracks began to appear in 2004. The Australian group renamed itself "Creation Ministries International" (CMI), and the American group remains "Answers in Genesis".

You can read the AiG-USA account of the history here, and the CMI (Australia) account here. There are some subtle differences in emphasis in these two histories, which the truly obsessive will find amusing.

An aside… the split with John MacKay in 1987.

The split between CSF and John MacKay back in in 1986-7 is only peripherally relevant; but it is so weird, so insane, that I can't bear to omit it entirely. In brief, MacKay started accusing a CSF staffer, Margarent Buchanan, of witchcraft, Satanism, and necrophilia with her dead husband. There was never the slightest basis for these accusations; apart from "discernment" by MacKay. MacKay made an ultimatum that either that woman left, or he did. This was a problem, because MacKay was so important to the group; but in the end MacKay resigned and went his own way. He was also excommunicated from his own Baptist church for the whole affair.

Ken Ham played an important role in fixing up the matter, and strongly condemned MacKay at that time. Buchanan was his personal secretary; she is now married to Carl Wieland. MacKay now runs his own group, Creation Research. One question that many onlookers would love to have answered is the extent to which MacKay has since reconciled with Ham. This page at MacKay's site suggests some level of reconciliation: Ken Ham's New Creation Museum (at MacKay's CR site). But Answers in Genesis has no corresponding comment that I can find.

For more on this extraordinary affair, CMI has put up a detailed set of documents. See Re: John Mackay, at CMI. Their reason for putting this material online again, after 20 years, is a concern that MacKay is being rehabilitated in some way. The only evidence given for such reconciliation is MacKay's own newsletter, cited above, which concludes "Pray for Ken and Mally as their ministry Answers In Genesis (AIG) has come under much attack over this past year." It is also claimed that MacKay addressed an AiG staff meeting in 2006.

I may be cynical; but I think the significance of this is overblown. The primary reason for putting up this information is, I suspect, to help discredit AiG further. But it's a wild rollicking read all the same.

The origins of the split between AiG and CMI.

The origin of the split between AiG and CMI appears to be concern over management style and structure, first raised in 2004. Wieland made some proposals for change, and Ham flatly rejected them. It appears that Ham pretty much refused to have any dealings with Wieland from that point on; which made negotiations very difficult.

Around the end of 2005, the two groups formally went their separate ways. AiG-USA maintained their close association with AiG-UK (United Kingdom); and four other groups (Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Canada) renamed themselves Creation Ministries International. Since then CMI has also set up offices in the UK and in the USA.

The spit shows signs of considerable acrimony and power struggles, going far beyond management style differences. There are two major assets at issue. One is the Answers in Genesis website, maintained in the USA. The other is the journals, Creation and TJ (Technical Journal), produced in Australia and distributed in other nations.

In regard to both these assets, the Australians have been royally screwed by the Americans; and this is the basis of the lawsuit.

The basis of the lawsuit. (1) Control of the website.

With respect to the website, AiG-USA wanted to keep full control of everything on the site, regardless of who had written it originally. Many of the website articles are actually extracts from the magazine; many others are written by creationists from Australia or New Zealand. The problem for AiG-USA is that copyright remains with the authors.

In October of 2005, there was a fateful meeting between AiG-USA and members of the board of the Australian group – but not the management of the Australia group. The Australian board signed a rather startling agreement, in which they give AiG-USA a license to use and modify all the articles on the website, while at the same time holding AiG-Australia liable for any damages that might be claimed arising from such changes. Basically, they handed over complete control of the articles to AiG-USA, took full responsibility for ensuring authors would also consent to this, and accepted full liability for any damages should the original authors object!

I'm not up on the legal ramifications of the document, and I have only seen an extract. But it should come out and be better clarified in the lawsuit.

In any case, this created a major gulf between the management of AiG-Australia and their board. A very strange power struggle results, with Wieland and other staff being dismissed, followed by a mass rebellion of staff, followed by their reinstatement and the resignation of the board. A new board was formed, and the old board was given indemnity from any consequences of their signing of the agreement with AiG-USA.

The basis of the lawsuit. (2) Control of the magazines.

AiG-USA had been distributing the two magazines produced in Australia to a list of some 35,000 subscribers. The Australian group has no access to this mail list, and the USA group produced a new magazine of their own, and represented that as the replacement for the previous magazines.

The American group announced in February 2006 that they could no longer distribute Creation magazine. The March distribution simply did not take place, and many subscribers were led to believe that the old magazines were no longer available. Instead, they were invited to give a new subscription to the new magazine: Answers. Attempts by the Australians to let people know the original magazines were still being produced were thwarted at every point. The misleading information given was a deliberate attempt to capture the subscriber base.

My view

My own conclusion is that the ethics of this case are all in favour of the Australian group, which has been treated with cynical malice by the Americans. No doubt there are differences of opinion on proper management style, or what reasonable rights should be due to each side. And certainly both sides are absolute screaming lunatics with respect to science.

Put all that aside… and what is left is a set of business actions by two competing businesses. Legal questions are beyond my meager abilities to resolve. I'm not at all sure that CMI actually has a strong legal case. But I think the USA group has been totally unethical. I will, of course, revise that tentative opinion if better information becomes available.

The other things that strikes me… it is normal in any dispute for both parties to maintain that they hold a higher moral ground. Is it just me, or does this become especially nauseating when both parties are Christians giving to quoting the bible at each other, blathering on about how they attempt to "lovingly" remonstrate with their "brethren", carrying on about "godly" documents (Ken Ham's favorite adjective for his sleazy little agreement from Oct 2005) and so on?

One other thing… in a recent letter (linked below) Ken Ham speaks of AiG being under "Spiritual Attack". No Ken; it is just a lawsuit. Nothing spiritual about it. The only thing you might call a spiritual attack, by the light of your religion, would be back in 2005 or so, when you faced up to temptations to rip off your parent body and run rough shed over their input into your little empire. And guess what? You lost the “spiritual” warfare at that point when you opted for underhanded avariciousness.

Further reading

Hopefully I have piqued your interest in this affair. Here now is a list of what information I have been able to find. I plan to be extending this list as appropriate, as information comes to light. Feel free to give suggestions in the comments.

Information from Creation Ministries International

CMI has adopted a deliberate policy of transparency, making enormous amounts of information available. It will of course reflect their perspective, but the wealth of detail does, in my view, give a serious observer ample warrant for reading between the lines and sorting out what went down.

  • Sad dispute between CMI and AiG-USA. This came out in November 2006.
  • Why CMI-Australia is holding AiG-US legally accountable for its actions. This came out in the last few days. It is currently prominently linked from their home page, and includes links to other documents.
  • The Briese committee of inquiry, Mark 2. CMI asked Clarrie Briese to hold an inquirey into the whole affair. Briese is a former magistrate, a fundamentalist Christian, and has been involved on the board of CMI. He was a poor choice for a fair inquiry, given his association with CMI; but his report contains a lot of background detail.
  • CMI-AiG Dispute -- a "superbrief" one page summary of events and issues by CMI, in the form of a handy timeline.
  • A brief chronology of events -- a longer pdf file (15 pages worth of brevity!) giving a much more detailed chronology of events.
  • Regarding John MacKay -- a page set up in April 2006, but which actually concerns events 20 years ago.
  • Letter to CMI supporters, by Philip Bell, formerly speaker/deputy CEO of AiG (UK/Europe). (Nov 2006). Bell explains his resignation from AiG, in relation to shenanigans over the magazines in the UK. Since writing that letter, Bell has headed up the new CMI office in the UK.
  • Gateway to other documents relating to Phillip Bell and AiG/CMI in the UK.

There is almost nothing from AiG available. However, AiG did send out an email to their supporters after the lawsuit was filed – though not to CMI. CMI obtained a copy of this in short order of course, and they have made it available as well, with their own comments interspersed.

If I see anything more from AiG on this, I will add it to the page.

Update: I have added above a second private AiG response that CMI has made public with their own commentary. There's an interesting ethical point here with making private emails public. The name of the recipient of this email has been removed; and it is material that AiG should really be making generally available. Their tactic of responding privately rather than publically is unfortunate. I would love to link to an AiG response, but they so far have not give one I can use. For the time being, you have to live with the CMI commentary being included. This second email gives the most comprehsive AiG perspective that I have seen so far.

Legal documents

Blog reactions

The following are slightly older blog references to the dispute, from last year, before the lawsuit
If there are more entries I should add, just tell me in the comments. I'm particularly keen to add any pages that provide some kind of AiG perspective on the whole mess.

*Update. Adding blogs: new entries since the original post are presently marked with an asterix.
Update June 9. A second AiG email has been linked into the resources. As before, it is put up by CMI with their additional comments.


  1. Wonderful detective work!

  2. In brief, MacKay started accusing a CSF staffer, Margarent Buchanan, of witchcraft, Satanism, and necrophilia with her dead husband. There was never the slightest basis for these accusations; apart from "discernment" by MacKay.

    Discernment, bah -- the Christian version of clairvoyance (which of course, they would reject as Satanic). Credit (sort of) to his church for dumping him. Even in fundyland, there's only so much lunacy you can get away with.

  3. Duae,

    Great coverage !

    We may have a breaking story from a new source early next week. Check out our website

  4. CMI's point about John Mackay is that he is a bad guy, that Ken Ham agreed he is a bad guy, and who should not be dealt with unless he apologized and retracted his past claims, which he hasn't. But now, because Mackay is a useful conduit for Ham to get information to Australian supporters through Mackay's mailing list, Ham has reconciled with Mackay despite Mackay never apologizing or coming clean.

    Mackay recently sent out the AiG "spiritual attack" email to his supporters, inadvertently leaving the headers and text which showed that it had been sent to him by Ken Ham (which I've attached as an update to my blog post about Mackay and AiG).

  5. Thanks very much Jim,

    That email is dynamite. I had not seen it before. Is it up at the CMI website, or anywhere else on the web? Where did you obtain it?

    Cheers -- Chris

  6. Just read the CMI/AiG letter at Jim's blog -- geez, Ham is a sleazeball. OK, I've always known that, in that he's a YEC who spouts the usual inane lies about evolution -- but this smear campaign against his own brethren goes beyond "normal" fanatical stupidity into a deliberate, cynical attempt at corporate rip-off compounded by slander against the victim.

    If there's any justice in the world, it will end this way:

    - AiG-US will get massacred in court, resulting in ruin of both their finances and reputations.

    - The shiny new Creation Fun House will go bankrupt, with the animatronic dinos (and any other worthwhile bits of the exhibits) being picked up cheap from the trustee by a real museum.

    - CMI will win legally, but be financially crippled by the struggle.

    - Followers of both groups will be sufficiently disillusioned by the whole sorry mess to wonder: what else were these guys lying to me about?

  7. More on AiG lawsuit, from Michael McKenna, the journalist who appears to have been first to break the story. There is a new article in The Australian with lots more detail. See Lord of the Ring (June 5). McKenna apparently was able to talk to Ham on the phone. Ken Ham does not seem to be very happy about this! Have a read.

    I'm going to upgrade this post sometime in the next few days. I'm just waiting to see what else turns up. In particular, I want to see what Michael Leahy's group may have found; and a bit more about Jim's revelations of email; and McKenna's article.

    When I do upgrade the article, I will maintain an old copy as well, and link to it.

  8. CMI evidently posted the MacKay information not merely because of the MacKay and Ham reconciliation (despite Ham's previous statements that basically said MacKay was nuts) and that MacKay addressed AiG, but because AiG is using MacKay to spread misinformation about CMI in Australia. Ham said that association with MacKay would ruin his Christian reputation, until it became convenient to use MacKay against CMI.

  9. Sorry, didn't see Jim's comment.

  10. I am not sure why DQ thinks that Clarrie Briese was a "poor choice". After all, AiG's own website stated a number of times that Mr Briese was honorable and objective and famed for fight against corruption:
    “Most people realise that the people involved would not stake their public reputations in this way just because they were sympathetic to AiG—if the allegations had any basis in fact at all, they would not have so clearly and publically vindicated AiG’s integrity.”
    “headed by Mr Clarrie Briese, former chief magistrate of NSW, nationally famous for his fight against corruption in the judiciary”
    “by an independent committee of enquiry with impeccable Christian credentials led by Clarrie Briese”
    “under the chairmanship of renowned corruption fighter and former NSW Chief Magistrate Clarrie Briese”
    “This committee was composed of Christians with a high public profile, from a range of denominations, people who had substantial public reputations independent of the Foundation. The Chairman was Clarrie Briese, former Chief Magistrate of the State of New South Wales, where he is still a household word for his dogged fight against public corruption which ended the career of a State Chief Magistrate, and an Australian High Court judge and former government minister.”
    “by a committee headed by the former chief magistrate of New South Wales, Mr Clarrie Briese, famous in his day as Australia’s leading corruption fighter, and at the time of his inquiry into Plimer an active member of the NSW Crime Commission.”

    It seems that when a secular reporter informed Ken Ham of such comments, Ham made sure that these comments were removed from the site. This doesn't seem to be the first time that Ham has rewritten history. But Google's caching won't let Ham off this lightly.

  11. Welcome aboard, ktisophilos. Basically, Briese would be a good choice for an internal investigation; but not for an arbitration between the two warring parties. His position on the CMI board means that he does not have sufficient independence to run an arbitration between AiG and CMI; and CMI was foolish to put his name forward as a proposed arbitrator.

    The material you are citing refers to a much earlier investigation run by Briese, made prior to the split. In that case, it refers to an internal investigation of accusations of improper financial dealings made by Ian Plimer and the Australian Skeptics against the then CSF. The CSF called their own internal inquirey, and in that case, Briese found, quite rightly, that the accusations of the Australian Skeptics were invalid and that CSF was the victim of fraud in one of their investments. (Jim Lippard wrote some good articles on that sorry episode of Australian Skepticism. See How Not To Argue With Creationists and How Not to Respond to Criticism: Barry Price Compounds His Errors.)

    I am fascinated, however, to learn that AiG is now removing reference to Briese from their site! Thanks you for bringing this to our attention. I have just now confirmed that you are quite correct. These articles are being removed at AiG!

    You give six links. I encourage you to keep copies. But for others, they can all still be found at the CMI site. They bear no relation to the current dispute, and they are legitimately a part of the history of AiG-USA. However, I guess it is rather inconvenient for AiG-USA to be seen praising Brieses judgement.

    You give extracts from 182.asp, judasII.asp, 181.asp, 3906.asp, 177.asp and 0406news.asp.

    The links to the CMI copies of these documents are as follows:

    After having written this comment, I note that Jim Lippard has blogged on this very issue! See More disappearing content from the Answers in Genesis website.

  12. Thanx for the welcome, DQ. I still maintain that Briese was a fair choice by CMI, because their opponent, AiG, has confirmed that he is an honorable and objective man (and are so clearly embarrassed that they are trying to rewrite history). Indeed, this is why his committee was so highly commended in the Plimer committee -- although he would have sympathy with CSF's theology over Plimer's antitheism, he would not have ruled in CSF's favour if Plimer's accusations were valid.

    Anyway, see the bottom of (under Establishment of Committee of Enquiry and Findings) for Briese's defense against the charge of unfair bias.

    Compare Jim Lippard, who shares Plimer's atheistic evolutionary beliefs and opposes CSF's creationism, but refused to support Plimer when he was wrong.

  13. Thanks for taking the time to research this issue for us.

  14. DQ: "No Ken; it is just a lawsuit. Nothing spiritual about it."

    It also seems hypocritical, as shown by to Why CMI-Australia is holding AiG-US legally accountable for its actions linked from their front page. They cite the following portion from the copyright agreement:

    "This Deed is governed by the law applicable to the State of Victoria, Australia. The parties submit to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of its courts and courts of appeal from them. The parties will not object to the exercise of jurisdiction by those courts on any basis."

    So how can they "object" now when CMI appeals to the courts, when AiG explicitly "submits" to their "jurisdiction"?

    Note that this was apparently the agreement that gives AiG the right to falsely attribute articles and make CMI liable if a wronged author sues AiG for its actions. AiG apparently calls this grossly unethical agreement "godly", so they have no right to object to CMI taking this part at its word.

  15. It looks like a number of the CMI documents have disappeared from their website. Are they reaching a settlement with AiG, perhaps?

  16. Yes, Jim. See, the CMI website. They've tentatively reached an agreement with AiG. The CMI website says:

    "As a gesture in accord with the spirit of mutual goodwill that prevailed at the end, CMI has for now removed access to the details previously on the web, whether chronologies, committee reports, or whatever."

  17. You should check out my blog - I do a LOT of creationist (or should I say cretinist) debunking.

  18. Nice comment AIGBusted. I find that I do a lot of evolutionist and Atheistic debunking. on my end. I must say I do love the comments on the board. Very telling. It's so easy to jump on people when there down isn't it. It seems that most people on this board are looking to discredit AIG, Ken Ham and creationism in general. One question for you. If Evolution is so grounded and so factual (which over years of study it is anything but) why are they fighting tooth and nail to destroy creationists? Say what you want but both sides have the exact same facts just different interpretations of the evidence. I find it amazing how vicious and disrespectful atheists and evolutionists can be. Of course, both sides have their moments. But I guess we are just animals since we evolved and it is just in our nature to do so right?

  19. Looks like AiG has reneged on the oral agreement with CMI. I always thought such an oral agreement with nothing in writing would count for little, after the AiG reps reported back to their master, Ham.

  20. Oh dear.

    "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
    Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren." (1 Corinthians 6:1-8, KJV)

    It is a sad thing when Chrisians must feel the need to go to law with one another in this manner.

  21. "It is a sad thing when Christians must feel the need to go to law with one another in this manner."

    Sadder still when they are forced into it by dishonest people who apparently have forgotten their objective is to serve Christ, not make money and grab power.

  22. I think AIG - USA is an embarrassment to Christianity. First of all, they announced to the public that they were debt free. This is definitely not true. They still owe Bank of America at least 3 million dollars and are planning to take out another loan to build an ark. They lied to their donors and supporters. Secondly, they treat their employees poorly. Last year they laid off around 30 employees. These employees did not get a 2 week notice,severance package..not anything. They simply showed up to work and were told they were not needed anymore and showed to the door. Recently, October 17,2008, 10 - 15 more employees were laid off due the "economy", however, their plan is to build an arc for their museum. Third, this organization brags about how well they are doing financially and how they have such a great turn-out, but they do not give their employees raises. One employee I know of asked for a raise and received less than a quarter raise. This organization does not mind raking in the money, but is very stingy when it comes to treating their employees good and actually giving them a raise.If you are looking for working for a Christian organization, do not choose this will never get a raise!!!! In fact, you will be lucky to get a "Thank You" or "Good Job". Lastly, call AIG and ask how many minorities work for AIG. I think there might be 2 or 3 at the most. The rest were fired or laid off. Overall, AIG portrays to the public it is a Christian organization, but on the inside, the management at AIG displays a different message. I wish people (former employees)would start talking the media and let the public know the TRUTH about AIG!!!!!!!

  23. They can't give their employees a raise? Yet public domain sources show that Ken Ham and a few selected cronies earn well over $100, much more than John Morris when he was head of ICR, and hugely more than the average in KY. I say cronies since I can't recall any contributions to creationist research from any of these "superstars", so they were evidently rewarded merely for loyalty to the Big Chief. Conversely, presumably the staff which "straightforward" said were sacked accepted low pay and condition because "Christian workers should be prepared to work sacrificially".

  24. Oops, of course I meant $100,000.

  25. Interesting reading on the blog. I can't speak to the accuracy so will take what is said in the blog at face value.

    On the other hand, having read all of the comments, what first came to mind was "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone . . ." (John 8:7)

    It would be interesting to know how many of the commenters have actually visited the Museum and given an objective look at the resources offered on the website and at the bookstore. That might be a revealing statistic.

  26. Ktisophilos said: "It seems that when a secular reporter informed Ken Ham of such comments, Ham made sure that these comments were removed from the site."

    Not true! See:

    Ktisophilos said: "This doesn't seem to be the first time that Ham has rewritten history."

    Interesting! Again, see:

    Commenters should also check facts. Facts are the same. Interpretations differ.

  27. I still haven't been to the Creation Museum, although quite a few of my friends have. I'm way behind the curve on monitoring this situation, and can't seem to pull up any of the documents that AIG finally got around to posting. Did anyone archive them?