We thought Freethought Today readers would enjoy the "inside scoop" about the initial claims made by Sun Productions in defending "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark," which aired on CBS in February, 1993.
The following is excerpted from the ofÞcial news release sent out by Sun Productions last summer, following a leak by TIME Magazine that "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark" featured a phony story of the Ark's "discovery" by George Jammal. Since then, Jammal, a Foundation member, has gone public to expose CBS and the series.
Following his speech at the 15th annual Freedom From Religion Foundation convention last October, The Los Angeles Times publicized Jammal's revelations, resulting in cancellation by CBS of future religious programming by Sun Productions. (See Freethought Today, November 1993).
The following is our research staff's response to the article in the July 5th issue of Time magazine, and to a similar story released by Associated Press on June 29th. Both articles asserted that George Jammal, one of our 50 expert interviewees used in The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, fabricated his eyewitness account of seeing Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat.
In examining the controversy generated by these articles, four issues must be addressed. First, who is making the claim that Mr. Jammal fabricated his Noah's Ark account? Secondly, did Sun perform due diligence in its research to determine whether Mr. Jammal's account was reliable? Thirdly, was the alleged Ark wood shown at the end of Mr. Jammal's interview authentic or a piece of doctored California pine? And fourth, is Mr. Jammal's expedition account of seeing the Ark still factual?
Who is making the claim that Mr. Jammal fabricated his Noah's Ark account?
Dr. Gerald Larue, professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology at the University of Southern California says in Time that he "coached George Jammal, an acquaintance, to perpetrate the hoax, intended to expose the shoddy research of Sun International."
It seems from this statement that Dr. Larue is probably conducting some type of a vindictive campaign against Sun. This may be the result of his appearance as a skeptic in our show, "Ancient Secrets of the Bible I" which aired on May 15, 1992. According to Time magazine, Dr. Larue felt he was "set up as a straw man."
Dr. Larue, despite having taught both biblical history and biblical studies at USC, is a very outspoken individual on a number of controversial issues including being a frequent Bible critic. . . .
Did Sun perform due diligence in its research to determine whether Mr. Jammal's account was reliable?
One news interviewer went so far as to say we pulled Mr. Jammal off the street swallowing his tale without investigating the account for reliability. This is certainly not true as we investigated all of our Noah's Ark eyewitness accounts with due diligence before using them in the show. This is the investigative procedure followed in the Jammal eyewitness account:
1. We examined his Þrst and only known interview account given on June 10, 1986, to geologist and Ararat explorer Dr. John Morris. We then made our own extensive search to locate Mr. Jammal for a research interview. . . .
2. After locating Mr. Jammal in Long Beach, California, we conducted our own two-hour, audio taped, interrogative interview. We asked him a wide range of questions looking for ßaws and inconsistencies in his account.
3. We compared Mr. Jammal's 1986 and 1992 interviews and found excellent consistency between the two accounts, although the interviews were given six years apart.
4. We then gave Mr. Jammal's interview tapes to Dr. Paul Meier, a well-known California psychiatrist, co-founder of the 28 Minirth-Meier clinics across America, and author of 40 books on human behavior. Dr. Meier, who also served as the Þeld physician on Astronaut James Irwin's Noah's Ark expedition to Mt. Ararat, was asked to provide a psychiatric and content analysis of Mr. Jammal's account.
Here are Dr. Meier's comments from a July 10, 1992 letter addressed to Sun's Chief Researcher, David W. Balsiger:
"I have listened to the tapes you sent of the interviews you did with Ed [Davis] and George [Jammal]. I Þnd both of their accounts totally believable; and having been there myself, I know that their descriptions of the customs of the people and of the precise locations are all extremely accurate.
"Ed and George deÞnitely have different personality types and yet are very credible. Given George's personality type, I Þnd it logical that he would keep his discovery of Noah's Ark a secret after the death of his guide and after his disillusionment with God for allowing that to happen. . . ."
Dr. Meier also gave us the following on-camera interview regarding Mr. Jammal's account which ended up not being used due to show time restraints:
". . . So, he craves attention and when he and his friend Vladimir found the Ark, they were absolutely delighted. They felt special--special to God. George's childhood dream of being acceptable and deserving his father's attention was fulÞlled because God chose him to Þnd the Ark.
"They were delighted and they took pictures of each other. George took pictures of his friend Vladimir and then Vladimir took both cameras and moved back as far away from the Ark as he could to get a full view of the landscape so that if there was avalanche, they could still Þnd it and get back to the Ark.
"They made plans to secretly go down the mountain and not tell anyone until they got a Þlm crew because they wanted credit for Þnding it -- which you and I would too. Let's be honest! But, while Vladimir was taking a picture after backing up, he slipped and there was a rock slide and I know this is accurate. George wept while he was talking about it--and this was eight years later. Losing his friend Vladimir was devastating for him.
"Vladimir was crushed by a rock slide and fell into a crevasse and George was able to avoid [falling in] even though he was hit by some of the rocks. He lost his friend. I believe that on an unconscious level, George then, decided, 'I was right the Þrst time. I don't deserve my father's attention. I don't deserve to be a chosen one. Why me? Why did God choose me to Þnd the Ark? Maybe God doesn't want me to tell anyone it's here.'
"He became bitter and depressed. He developed anxiety and withdrew into himself for years. Then, he went to a debate a number of years later where he saw people arguing about whether or not the Bible was true and he thought: 'This is bigger than me. I need to get out and let people know that I saw the Ark and not just be withdrawn into myself any longer.'
"I Þnd this to be extremely credible. He felt ecstatic, special and overwhelmed with joy when he found the Ark. Then, when Vladimir died, he felt depressed for years afterwards.
"Professionally, the impact of Vladimir's death on George Jammal Þts a post-traumatic stress disorder and with therapy, he could work his way out of this. But he still has a lot of buried emotions which showed in his weeping during the interview and his very honest grief over the loss of his friend.
"Some of his descriptions were especially remarkable. His description of the Ark Þts exactly what I know to be true about the Ark from the secret government reconnaissance photos.
"I found Jammal's account to be very detailed, very accurate and very humble. He was vulnerable. He was honest and said he wanted the fame and yet he feels like he's wasted his life searching for fame.
"I just Þnd his story extremely credible and of the four accounts I analyzed, I believe his to be the most credible. His descriptions of the customs of the people, of the Ark itself and its location, are very accurate. These are things he could not have known from outside sources. He had no access to the reconnaissance photos and prior to that year, this information was not well-known. So, I totally believe George Jammal's account."
5. We also had Mr. Jammal's hand drawn map of his three Ararat expedition routes studied by Ararat/Ark expeditioneers and climbers. They conÞrmed the accuracy of it, and assured us that it could not have been drawn by anyone who did not have experience with the mountain.
Regarding Mr. Jammal's account of his eyewitness encounter with Noah's Ark, we as a production company did far more investigative research than normally undertaken by "reality shows" or most news shows. Based on the outcome of our investigative research on Jammal account, we included it in the show. For the record, we also did the same type of background research on the other eyewitness accounts before including them in the TV show.
Was the alleged Ark wood shown at the end of Mr. Jammal's interview authentic or a piece of doctored California pine?
Frankly, we do not know the answer to this question as Mr. Jammal's show segment had to do with his visit to the Ark and not whether the wood was authentic.
It has not been the practice of Sun or other production companies to spend money or time testing and documenting artifacts shown on the air by interviewees. If Sun undertook to test every artifact shown by our various experts we would be out of the entertainment business and stepping into the news side of TV broadcasting. This was not the direction or directive for this television network special.
Dr. Larue somehow believes it should have been our obligation to run carbon-14 tests on the wood apparently expecting us to "create news" instead of entertaining viewers by telling them what people have to say about this ancient mystery. Besides the carbon-14 test would not necessarily have proven that the wood was a forgery or anything else as the sample according to the Time article was contaminated by baking and juices. This would have prevented obtaining accurate carbon-14 dating results.
Is Mr. Jammal's expedition account of seeing the Ark still factual?
We still stand by Mr. Jammal's expedition account as being accurate based on the due diligence research we have conducted. . . .
We also take objection to the characterization by the news media that our entire Noah's Ark TV Special was a hoax. Mr. Jammal was only one of 50 experts that provided authoritative interviews on a wide range of subjects relating to the Noah's Ark mystery. Additionally, the TV Special told the Noah's Ark story as recorded in the Bible along with the presentation of historical data, scientiÞc experiments, and Ararat explorer accounts.
Furthermore, Mr. Jammal was only one of four Þlmed eyewitnesses who claimed to have had on-the-ground encounter with the Ark. Similar due diligence research was done on these other three Ark eyewitness accounts before including them into the show. No one has come forward with evidence that any of these remaining eyewitness accounts are perpetrated hoaxes on Sun International. We also stated at the end of the eyewitness accounts that it was up to the audience to decide whether their accounts were believable or not!
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been corresponding with Wynnewood Public Schools, Okla., over inappropriate actions by a teacher promoting religion in the classroom, is releasing its correspondence with Superintendent Raymond Cole, in which he preached at FFRF and indicated he rejects evolution.
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent a Feb. 28 letter to Cole on behalf of parent complainants about a 6th grade teacher displaying posters with bible quotes and promoting Christianity to students at Wynne Middle School. The social studies teacher attacked evolution and misinformed students that the U.S. Constitution, an entirely secular and godless document, derives directly from the bible. A parent had complained to the principal, who is married to the offending teacher. The principal removed the posters but insisted it was the teacher's "First Amendment right" to talk about her personal religious views with her students.
Seidel's letter cited numerous Supreme Court cases showing that public schools cannot advance or promote religion. He cited case law that puts an affirmative duty on schools to make certain that "subsidized teachers do not inculcate religion." He added that "the First Amendment is not a license for uncontrolled expression at variance with established curricular content" and that courts have upheld the termination of teachers who violate the Establishment Clause.
This week, Seidel received an official email from Cole. Cole more or less conceded that the teacher should not have placed posters with bible verses in her classroom and has instructed her to "stay strictly with the information presented in the book." But he volunteered that student-led prayer is constitutional. Although he has a degree in science, he argued against evolution. Cole not only asked Seidel whether he is a believer, but sermonized: "What happens when you die, if you"re [sic] wrong? If I'm wrong, when I die I just die, but if you're wrong, when you die. . . ." He also said "the further we separate God from our schools the nearer we bring violence and evil."
Read Cole's full email here (pdf).
Seidel responded that "evolution is as much a fact as gravity," and called it "disturbing" that a superintendent does not "believe in" evolution. Seidel replied in part:
"Please understand that my personal beliefs have no bearing on the illegality of the Carters' actions. But since you asked, I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority. I believe that religion is the single most divisive force on this planet and that it has no place in our public schools. I believe that ideas should be subjected to reason, debate, and inquiry, not blindly accepted." Seidel also added, "I believe in love, in family, and in making the most of this life because it's the only one we have. In short, I am an atheist."
After calling Cole's assertion that secularism causes school shootings "appalling," Seidel noted:
"Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious nations where belief in God is deep and widespread. And within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon.'"
He also cited Supreme Court precedent against student-led prayer in public schools.
Read Seidel's entire March 6 reply here.
Incidentally, the school district's mascot is the "Savages."
Please contact your U.S. Senator today and tell him or her to vote against the Senate version of House Resolution 592.
The federal government is perilously close to using your tax dollars to directly fund the building, maintenance and repair of "houses of worship," including churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, passed the U.S. House in early February by a lopsided 354 to 72 vote — after strong lobbying by Roman Catholic and even Jewish groups.
Congress has appropriated $60 billion to finance recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy. The House has voted to use your tax dollars to fund the repair or rebuilding of churches without regard to their exclusive use as houses of worship. That would mean less money for individuals who lost their homes. Funds would go to untaxed entities that never report or divulge any of their financial assets to the public or the federal government. Congress would be sending your tax dollars down a religious black hole, when people are in dire need.
Hurricane Sandy (ironically a so-called "Act of God" which did not spare houses of worship) must not be used to justify creating horrific legal precedent. Sandy's devastation is not a reason to suspend the Constitution. We cannot allow Congress to ignore the protections of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has specifically stated that our government may not erect religious buildings, Tilton v. Richardson, 403 U.S. 672, 683 (1971), and "[i]f the State may not erect buildings in which religious activities are to take place, it may not maintain such buildings or renovate them when they fall into disrepair." Comm. For Pub. Ed. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 777 (1973).
If enacted, this Congressional bill would allow funds to go to the Roman Catholic Church — which owns almost $3.5 billion worth of property in New York City, according to one estimate. About 200 parishes were affected by the storm, and Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan has been pushing particularly hard to get the bill passed. This bill sets the precedent to allow funds to go to all religious groups, including, as has been observed, to the most hateful bigots, such as the Westboro Baptist Church.
As the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy notes:
"FEMA's policy not only ensures that FEMA grants are used to rebuild facilities that provide the most critical services to the entire community, but also reflects an important constitutional principle. Religious liberty is one of our nation's most fundamental values and it starts from the precept that religion and religious institutions thrive when both religion and government are safeguarded from the undue influences of the other."
You and we must stop this bill before it becomes a law, before the funds are dispersed. Make sure your senators hear from you on this issue.
CONTACT YOUR SENATORS
Phone and email your two U.S. senators today!
Find contact information for your two senators here (listed by state):
Your voice is magnified by speaking out early. Be sure to identify yourself as a constituent, and leave your name and address. If you have time, both phoning and emailing is most effective, including your Senator's home and DC offices. Phone calls are immediate and take up staff time; the more (civil) calls they receive, the better.
Phone 202-224-3121 and ask an operator at the Capitol switchboard to connect you to your senator.
See above, use your own words, or feel free to cut and paste any of this brief statement into an email:
I strongly oppose H.R. 592 and urge you to defeat it in the Senate. This bill would send tax dollars down a religious black hole, and create precedent endangering tax dollars and the Establishment Clause.
James Madison, the primary architect of our godless Constitution, famously opposed even "threepence" of taxpayer money going for religious purposes. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, pointed out that no citizen should "be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever." These are core principles safeguarding religious liberty and personal conscience, upon which our secular nation was founded.
FEMA does not "discriminate" against churches or other nonprofits when it properly declares them ineligible to receive direct grants for disaster relief. Nonprofits, churches and businesses are eligible to apply for major low-interest, government-secured loans for losses not fully covered by insurance. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow. Yet tax-exempt churches, no matter how wealthy, are uniquely exempted from federal requirements to report on their finances to the government and U.S. taxpayers. Churches exist for the purpose of worship. Any incidental disaster relief they engage in is voluntary, and not equivalent to providing "essential services of a governmental nature to the general public," as FEMA regulations require.
H.R. 592 would grant tax dollars to tax-exempt churches with no strings attached, "without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility." Tax dollars should not go to repair or build space for worship, much less repair stained-glass windows, arks of the convenant, prayer books and decorative religious icons! Defeat this proposal!
WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Further influence public opinion by writing letters to the editor to our local news dailies, using social media and leaving messages at reader comment sections at online news websites. Borrow any language you like from this action alert!
READ AND FOLLOW THE BILL
Text of bill (pdf)
(Note: you can sign up to track this bill, and receive notice of pending action. We urge you to follow developments and respond often and quickly if the bill proceeds in the Senate.)
See listing of statements against H.R. 592
LISA STRAND is director of operations of FFRF. She has more than 25 years of experience in nonprofit (primarily association) management, including 15 years as executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association. She is married with a daughter, as well as three cats, a guinea pig and an untended garden that will someday be beautiful.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking for your help in persuading the School District of Pickens County Board of Trustees, S.C., to drop prayers to begin its monthly meetings.
FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the District on Nov. 26, 2012, protesting the school board's egregious practice of opening meetings with prayer led by students, which included sectarian references to the "Holy Spirit" and "Jesus."
(Our letter sent the religious community into a tizzy. Scroll to the end for links to TV news and other media coverage!)
At its Feb. 25, 2013 meeting, the Pickens County school board voted preliminarily to begin meetings with "nonsectarian" prayers by adults from the district. Elliott points out this new policy would still violate the rights of conscience of students and parents who are nonreligious or religious minorities.
Federal courts of appeals examining the issue of school board prayer have found such prayer — even nonsectarian — to be unconstitutional. As part of the public school system, school boards must set an example of respect and conform to law protecting children from the coercion of school-sponsored religion.
The Pickens County school board should get in line with the U.S. Constitution and stop alienating the 19 percent of American adults who have no religious affiliation. One in three young people today identify as nonreligious and one in five adults (Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, October 2012).
"Calling upon board members, as well as parents and students of the school, to pray is coercive, embarrassing, and beyond the scope of our secular school system," Elliott said.
The Pickens County Board of Trustees will meet next on Monday, March 25, 2013, to vote to finalize its policy of beginning each meeting with prayer.
Urge the board to follow the Constitution, and remove the divisive prayers from their meetings. (see Talking Points below)
Email a Letter to the Editor (via a comment box):
Feel free to use your own words or use or incorporate the statement below:
To avoid the constitutional concerns and the divisiveness school board prayers create, the solution is simple: discontinue them.
Nonsectarian prayer sends an inappropriate proselytizing message to all students, and excludes the nonreligious — the second-largest segment today in America by religious identification.
Calling upon school board members, students, parents and residents to pray is coercive, embarrassing and beyond the scope of your secular public school district. Board of Education members are free to worship on their own time in their own way. Nonbelieving students and religious minorities should not be made to feel like political outsiders by their own school district. Nor should any school district send a message to students that they ought to believe in a deity or show obeisance to one.
I support a secular public school system.
Prayer issue packs Pickens co. school board meeting
(Watch this TV video to see an unbelievable "amen corner")
Attorney: non-sectarian prayer does not go far enough