Hoaxing The Hoaxers:
or, The Incredible (phony) Discovery of Noah's Ark
I am the person who exposed a series of fake television documentaries as the fundamentalist propaganda they actually were, and as a result, forced TV networks to henceforth take a much closer look at claims made by production companies.
My part in the Noah's Ark caper started out as a practical joke. I always knew that religious people can be incredibly gullible--believing anything that comes from their "Holy Book," or seems to validate it, no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched it might be. It always upset me whenever I read about the huge sums of money taken in by their conniving preachers. I dreamed of someday unmasking these Bible-thumping crooks.
In February 1993, a film production company named "Sun International Pictures" produced a program on CBS, called "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark." This film claimed to present scientific evidence that validated the flood story in the Bible; and much of their so-called "proof" rested on the supposed eyewitness accounts of people who claimed to have seen the ark. Not only was I one of them, I was, in fact, the centerpiece of the film. The program showed me holding a piece of wood that I said was from the Ark and explaining how I found it.
It all began when I first saw a feature film called "In Search of Noah's Ark," by the same authors, some years earlier. I recall being upset that they had presented this fairy tale as factual. Then, in 1985, I heard a debate between Dr. Duane Gish of the Institute for Creation Research and freethinker Fred Edwords. I was very annoyed at the absurd arguments Gish presented; so I decided to write him a letter, as a joke, telling him of my efforts in Turkey to find the Ark. The letter contained absurd references to imaginary characters like "Mr. Asholian," and his son-in-law, "Alis Buls Hitian." I thought even gullible creationists would be able to see through such an obvious pun! But, I was wrong. Much to my surprise, the Institute kept after me for years to supply them with further information. Finally, I agreed to meet with John Morris, Jr., who then asked to see the pictures I had taken. I concocted a tall tale about another traveling companion, "Vladimir Sobitchsky" who unfortunately took all my pictures with him when he fell into a crevasse, and the poor fellow was buried alive. John Morris offered, at least twice, to finance a trip to Mount Ararat in Turkey. I refused each time, though he kept asking me for about seven years.
After deciding to do an expanded version of "In Search of Noah's Ark," Sun International knew they would be unable to find any legitimate scholars to validate their conclusions, so they went to ICR to find their own "experts" -- and that's where they heard about me. When the production company asked me to appear on their program, I hesitated because I knew of the trouble I might get into.
I then contacted Dr. Gerald Larue, a critical Bible expert who is Professor Emeritus of Biblical History and Archaeology at USC. I had heard him speak many times and admired him very much. He laughed when I told him of my plan and said that he and other scholars, on a previous show, had been misrepresented by Sun International. He had been called in to voice his opinion as an expert, and also to read a prepared statement. But when the show aired, the opinion part was eliminated altogether, leaving only their prepared statement. So, Dr. Larue and I realized this would be a perfect opportunity to expose the nonsense that has been foisted upon the American public by Sun International, with the uncritical assistance of CBS. Dr. Larue then gave me some invaluable advice about ho to pull this off.
All I know about Mount Ararat is what I've read in the encyclopedia. The wood that I claimed had come from the Ark was actually just a piece of California pine I found near the railroad tracks. In fact, I made a video of myself cooking the wood in my kitchen. First, I boiled it in water and added all kinds of spices. Anything I could find went in; ketchup, teriyaki sauce, salt, nutmeg, perfume... you name it! Then I baked it in the oven to make it hard and appear to be old.
I even gave the production company a piece of the wood to test, but they obviously weren't interested in truth; all they wanted was a good performance. If they had actually been concerned about truth, they should have asked me why Noah's Ark smelled like teriyaki sauce!
The only thing they did to verify my tale was to give a recording of my interview to an evangelical psychiatrist. And even though they knew that I was a professional actor, the doctor said I sounded very convincing!
My intention in doing all this was to have some big-name televangelists contact me to appear on their shows and tell my story. I wanted to get in their confidence and then, on live TV, give them a dose of reality be exposing the whole thing. Unfortunately, before this could happen, pressures began to build up and I was unable to go ahead with my plans. Dr. Larue came forward first; and then Sun International did all they could to keep me quiet. They threatened lawsuits; they told me the police and FBI would be on my doorstep at any minute, saying I had committed a federal offense; we would lose our house, etc. My wife was so worried about these and other threats that she was fearful for the children and wanted to divorce me. So that's why I kept quiet for several months.
When I read, however, that CBS was planning to collaborate with Sun International on two more of the phony docudramas, I knew I had to speak out no matter what the consequences. These attempts by the radical religious right to brainwash the public with their propaganda had gone too far. So, I appeared on an interview program produced by Atheists United, and then made a speech at the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The media quickly picked up the story. Some reporters, like Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times, knew who the real villains were; but others twisted things around. Inside Edition did a real hatchet job on me. On that program, reporter Tony Cox asked Sun executive David Balsiger if he wanted revenge for my having exposed their nonsense -- ignoring the fact that Sun had been perpetrating hoaxes on the American public for years. Of course, Balsiger ate it up, adroitly playing the part of the wronged executive, claiming that "he has to live with the fact that he hoaxed 40 million viewers." Then the show closed by saying that there are believers and non-believers, with me being a non--believer who "lied" (their word) to prove my point. Talk about hypocrisy! In Skeptic magazine (Spring 1994), Jim Lippard wrote an investigative report, revealing several dozen lies and misleading propaganda tricks which Balsiger had written into the Noah's Ark program, and which the production company knowingly and maliciously had presented as fact. He demonstrated, for example, that the company had adequate information that all the so-called "eyewitnesses" were fakes!
Now, some people have said that I did this for money or fame. But if that's what I had wanted, I could have gone on the lecture circuit and made a fortune. Or else I could have cooked up more pieces of the Ark and sold them as "holy relics." No, just as undercover police officers may purchase drugs in order to catch the ringleaders of a gang, what I did was simply a new kind of "sting" operation; I hoaxed the hoaxers!
The good news from all this is that, due to my efforts, and those of Dr. Larue, CBS canceled its projected collaboration with Sun International. I only hope that my efforts can in some way make people realize just how dishonest and underhanded fundamentalist Christians can be when they want to impose their own particular brand of religiosity as "truth."