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No Questions Arksed!

Barry Williams 'The Skeptic' Vol 12, No 2

There were amazing scenes in the Wesley Centre, Sydney on Saturday, May 16, 1992 at a public lecture on the finding of a hypothetical Noah's Ark in the mountains of Turkey.

Presented by one Allan Roberts, the meeting began with the warning from the chairman, to an audience of approximately 300, that anyone who had the temerity to interject would be forcibly removed. To enforce this rather unique approach to the interchange of intellectual ideas, a contingent of five security personnel, at least some of whom wore batons, was ranged around the hall. This was followed by a notice that only written questions would be accepted at question time.

Roberts, whose facts had been challenged at previous meetings held throughout Australia, so qualified his presentation that it appeared to consist of one long footnote. This technique added nothing to the credibility of his case and reduced his talk to near incomprehensibility, so that the only real danger he faced was interruption from the snores of the attendees.

The evening saw its first sensation when a distinguished earth scientist, who challenged Roberts’ rather cavalier dismissal of the reliability of carbon dating, was forced to leave. The fact that this scientist is a recognised authority on radiometric dating only added to the air of unreality that began to pervade the evening.

During question time, Roberts made the entirely unnecessary confession that, as an historian, he was unqualified to answer any scientific questions. However, when one of the scientists in the audience volunteered to answer them for him, he called on the guards present to remove him. This high-handed and completely unjustified action was prompted by interjections of such mildness that they would scarcely have raised the eyebrows of the presiding officer of any parliamentary chamber in Australia.

As the scientist (one of the nation’s leading palaeontologists), whose violent ejection was the object of the exercise was fortuitously seated among a group of fellow seekers after truth, his attempted removal was singularly unsuccessful. Having laid violent hands on the scientist, the guards found that their egress from the row of seats was hindered by the refusal of the other patrons to move their feet and by the steadfast, though non-violent, refusal of the scientist to leave a public meeting, to which he had paid an entry fee.

A polite (and lawyerly sounding) query from a member of the audience as to whether the guards were entirely certain that their actions complied with the law, caused them to hurriedly relinquish their hold on their victim. The questioner, a physicist, certainly has a future at the bar should he contemplate a career change.

At this point, the chairman said that the meeting was closed and that the police had been called. He had threatened this action several times during the evening, for no reason that anyone could discern. As the only actions likely to cause a breach of the peace were those of his security guards, this seemed to be an extraordinary action on his part.

When the police eventually arrived they were confronted by knots of people calmly discussing various issues and they could be forgiven for regarding the matter as a complete waste of their time on a, no doubt busy, Saturday night.

This writer, who has attended some quite robust meetings in his time, was astonished by the behaviour of the conveners of this supposedly scientific event. It certainly could not qualify, by any standard, as a rowdy meeting and the interjections, few though they were, merely sought to put the lecturer straight on details and procedures of which he was manifestly ignorant and incapable of explaining.

It was particularly distressing that these events took place under the auspices of a Christian group. The authoritarian manner in which the public meeting was conducted reflected no credit on the Christian virtues they presumably espouse. The organisers seemed to believe that questions from the audience and the interchange of ideas (surely the fundamental factors of success in meetings) were in some way subversive.

This leads me to conclude that their concepts of freedom of inquiry and of speech are as fossilised as they claim the remains of Noah's Ark to be.

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