Sunday, 18 September 2011

The curious case of Peter Vardy

Back in December 2010 a guy called 'Sir' Peter Vardy won an apology from the Tribune Magazine after issuing libel proceedings; damages were paid and therefore the case is considered to be settled out of court. It's not a binding precedent and there are a couple of inferences that can be made about the Tribune's decision to settle:

  1. The Tribune were in the right but couldn't afford the short term legal costs in defending the claim and thus it was easier to put an end to the situation now and let others make their own mind up on the merits of the case (possible)
  2. The Tribune were wholly wrong with their allegations and therefore took the quick route out of extended proceedings (likely)

"He told how he has been “saddled with this unwarranted and wholly untrue” Creationist label for many years, finally losing patience when the accusation was repeated in an article in October 2009 by Tyneside author Ed Waugh."

"Yesterday, after winning his case in London, he said: “I felt forced to take this action in the High Court of Justice to set the record straight and finally lay the matter to rest."

“These allegations were not based on any fact and have been extremely damaging. The court action reflects the gravity of the matter and the seriously damaging effect that such untruths can cause.”

BBC News also reported the settlement:

In a statement, Sir Peter who was knighted for services to education, said: "I have been saddled with this unwarranted and wholly untrue 'creationist' label for many years.

"I felt forced to take this action in the High Court of Justice to set the record straight and finally lay the matter to rest."

Now, if a person had a vested interest (just so happens) in proving that calling someone a 'creationist' is considered pejorative they might be inclined to use Peter Vardy's case as an example of how 'damaging' such an allegation could be.

On the basis of the articles they might feel that they can prove their case to such an extent that Peter Vardy's own words could be used? I mean, the articles above clearly infer that Peter Vardy 'won' his case for being called a 'creationist' and that the matter was "laid to rest."

I cannot work out whether Vardy was being economical with the truth or whether it is a case of shoddy reporting. Because the actual case itself, in which an open statement was read out in court and contains a statement that the Tribune accepts that Peter Vardy is not a creationist, states nothing about the claim being about the private beliefs of Peter Vardy and nor considers any allegations about him being a creationist.

So why is the case seemingly referred to as a "win" for Vardy in dealing with the Creationist tag?

Firstly, Peter Vardy is a creationist and I'll explain why I think so:

*ads removed and spliced to read into a single jpeg (
The dictionary reference contains all of the information I need to make the claim that someone is a creationist. There may be other phrases which work in tandem with the term creationist but it all reduces down to one element; the belief that human beings were created by another being as opposed to a naturalistic process.

This is useful too:

"The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says the term "creationism" is used for the doctrine that the world is created. "Young earth creationists" believe in the literal word of Genesis: that God created the universe in six days. Critics say this dates Earth to younger than 10,000 years. "Old earth creationists" say God created the universe by evolutionary means."

Any person, organisation, charity that suggests that the biblical account of creation is correct would fit the the definition of being called a Christian creationist. There are different degrees of course, as with political leanings, but there tends to be a one size fits all category for believing the world is created and creationist fits; for what else could it be called???

So why do I think Peter Vardy fits the definition above?

In an interview here, Peter Vardy says the following:

Another article considers quotes from the head of the Vardy’s Emmanuel Schools Trust:

Also relevant is an article in the Guardian who ran a statement from a local council who conduct OFSTED inspections at Vardy's schools:

"Alternative theories" - I love that phrase. But it's nonsense. The only theories that should be taught are ones which have scientific and verifiable evidence. There is a place for religious creationism and that's in the RE classes. And I suspect that this is where the bulk of any creationist education or story telling takes place anyway (I think that is right to say for all schools, not just limited to Vardy's).

But it's a natural position to notice the contradiction of teaching science in the morning and wooky woo in the afternoon.

I do wonder what other alternative theories are credible enough to fit into the masterplan though? Japanese vomit gods might have a hard time being accepted...

Anyway, I've digressed enough.

I think it's clear that Peter Vardy is indeed a Creationist based on his own words, the destination of his generous funds, the words of the head of his school trust and the comments by Middlesbrough Council that they understand that alternative theories are discussed which, by deductive reasoning, are more likely to be the Christian theories than the Japanese spunking gods myth

But the apology from the Tribune says: "We accept that Sir Peter Vardy is not a creationist". And the interviews conducted make it seem as if he feels exonerated in being called a creationist and thus has a libel case victory to back it up. Now again this could be down to shoddy reporting, and I think it is, but the point remains as to what the open statement from the court actually said because this contains all of the grounds upon which he brought action and won by default (i.e. the Tribune gave up rather than a judgement being given).

I'm a reader of the Sensuous Curmudgeon and even they issued an apology based on the reports. This is no criticism of anyone suckered in by the reports and the fact that those reports were accompanied by the idea that Peter Vardy succeeded in court would have caused people to take a step back and not inflame the situation further.

However, I have read the open statement made in court and all it says on Peter Vardy's personal beliefs as follows:

"They also accept that Sir Peter is not a creationist, and still less has sought to advance the teaching of creationism by means of the sponsorship of education in the UK."

I do not know what the Particulars of Claim stated. But it would have been strange for it to have included a request for the Defendant to accept that Peter Vardy is not a creationist considering the volume of evidence that could be found which would support that conclusion. Therefore I think that the comment above was simply made as part of the settlement and was never part of the original proceedings. It was sort of the icing on the cake for Peter Vardy in having this read out in court and as part of an apology.

This leaves any rational person with the comments that Peter Vardy has made over a number of years with either the impression above - that it was an icing on the cake throwaway comment - or that Peter Vardy has moved considerably from the position he had taken with respect to the bible and that his entire philosophy on creation has changed.

Coupled with him being called a creationist for years and years without issuing a single claim (to my knowledge) it seems reasonable that the action taken by Peter Vardy was taken because of something else.

Something which couldn't be proven under the current defamation laws in the UK.

Well the open statement for the court reveals exactly why Vardy took this action in the first place:

Note the wording from the counsel representing Peter Vardy: "None of these allegations is correct".

Nothing, in the sentences above, refers to Peter Vardy allegedly being called a creationist. I suspect that the original article more than likely made this allegation but it was not part of the open statement denial anyway which leads me to believe that either the article didn't mention it or it was a point which Vardy was not able to proceed with. In other words, he 'won' his case on points which the burden of proof would have been too difficult for the Tribune to have coped with. 

My opinion is that the libel action was brought because of these allegations only based on the open statement:
  1. The article claimed that ‘the Vardy Foundation, led by Chrisitan Evangelical Peter Vardy, which... controls three State Schools with the fourth on the way’ was imposing ‘pseudoscience’ ‘again on children whose education is paid for by taxpayers’ money’.
  2. The article also claimed that; ‘By virtue of donating £2million of the £22million it cost the taxpayer to build an academy, the Vardy Foundation can impose its fundamentalist beliefs on children through the science curriculum’.
  3. The article asserted that by virtue of the funding provided by the Vardy Foundation; ‘children in State Schools, funded by taxpayers’ money, are being taught in biology lessons that evolution is as much a ‘theory’ as creationism and that everything was designed by a God creator as stated literally in Genesis’.
I argue that the reason the Tribune settled was because they had implied in their article that taxpayer's money was being spent supporting a school peddling creationism... had implied that children were being indoctrinated with creationist dogma and that the literal account of Genesis was correct (a Young Earth Creationism position and considered the more 'fundamentalist' approach)... 

...and the Tribune could not prove beyond any doubt that these allegations were correct. 

This is because, under UK defamation law, there is a reversed burden of proof making it a difficult and costly process. Hopefully, the Libel Reform Campaign will get this ridiculous situation sorted out in good time but I for one do not blame the Tribune for folding at this stage considering that costs can reach into six figures for the simplest of trials.

However, as above, the open statement did not deal with allegations that Peter Vardy was a creationist; the acceptance that he wasn't a creationist simply made up part of the apology that the Tribune made and presumably a condition of such a settlement. Why would Peter Vardy need the apology to make it clear that he is not a creationist considering that in all of his previous public statements the opposite would be true?

I think it was a way of stifling further criticism and limiting debate. I can think of no other reason that could be taken as a serious argument. 

We know from his own words that he believes the bible is correct and that mankind was created by god. We know that his organisation promotes a 'Christian ethos'. We know that senior staff in his organisation are extremely vocal about their creationist principles and refutation of evolutionary theory.

We also know, from the open statement in court, that any allegation of Peter Vardy being a creationist was not denied. Read that again. It was NOT denied. Only the allegations which the Tribune could not prove were denied. For the reporter to have run the story at all would suggest that there was something in it. Some sort of mileage but that in the absence of fair and decent libel law such proofs would need to be so convincing that, in the end, the wick wasn't worth the candle.

Vardy is happy because he can continue doing... whatever it is he is doing... and with the kudos of an out of court settlement. 

Either way, the case is not a binding precedent, made no rulings on the meaning of the word creationism or creationist, made no adverse inferences about the state of play of creationism in the UK, considered no points of law about fair/honest comment (or indeed the truth) and was simply an exercise in using the crap defamation laws in the UK to stifle opinion.

So people might now be concerned about calling Peter Vardy a creationist. But, if he fits this definition then the rules of logic surely apply? If not, then the situation is an obscene and farcical one. However, with the Tribune caving in (rightly so in the current climate) and the reporting of the case people are concerned that they could get themselves into trouble.

The thing is, Peter Vardy has had plenty of opportunities to refute being called a creationist. The best opportunity came in then open statement for the court and no denial was made.

However, nothing was decided in law. And of course the right of reply remains open and invitations are made for either a counter statement or a concise explanation of why years of information which all point to Peter Vardy being a creationist are wrong or are no longer relevant owing to an 'evolution' of beliefs. For this could be the only explanation relied upon for why Peter Vardy would deny being a creationist.

So if Peter was considering taking action to right this alleged 'wrong' he needs to consider that the words in the past were either WRONG or are NO LONGER TRUE. I'm curious as to which one will be admitted to should he refute the creationist tag.

Until then, a person should be taken on their word and I would argue an honourable gentleman like Peter Vardy, should he have belief in the bible to the extent previously asserted, would be proud to believe in creation and thus not seek to deprive fair comment or honest opinion. I accept that he used to law to challenge allegations which couldn't be proven. No problem there and I have said nothing about those allegations. 

But I do think, based on his own words/actions that he is a creationist (whatever inferences other people make about that or for whatever consequences come for holding such beliefs)


Allyoops said...

What a load of old tosh!! You obviously love the sound of your own thoughts. Hence the reason you put them on the net for us all to read and laugh at. The court say Sir Peter Vardy is NOT a creationist so why are you still spouting that he is? Your argument isn't very well presented and holds no water if you ask me. Run along now!!

vjohn82 said...

Thanks for commenting Allyoops!

I would take your comment more seriously had the court's made a statement on the matter. However the court where the case was listed passed no comment whatsoever.

So, with respect, your comment was not very well presented and also demonstrably wrong.

Care to apologise?

vjohn82 said...

I'll take that as a no Allypoops.

Keep reading though - I do appreciate any feedback.

Rant In A-Minor said...

Allypoops - vj is right, the court makes no such statement to the effect of Vardy not being a creationist.

The whole thing seems to be a case of suing over one thing, which got settled, and using that to stifle claims of creationism (seeing as believing that crap is deeply embarrassing) by disingenuously claiming that the case was about that, when it wasn't mentioned.

Smells iffy to me ...

kholdom0790 said...

Holy crap you're nice, vjohn!

vjohn82 said...

I am.

vjohn82 said...

Definitely smells iffy RantinA-Minor. It makes no difference to me if someone holds a private creationist belief

My Mother in Law is a Jehovah's Witness and as long as she doesn't start proselytizing I leave her to it. She passed me a Watchtower magazine once and out of respect for her I read because it had Newton and Einstein on the front cover (I think it was Einstein). She had gone to some trouble sourcing something that I could read or she thought would trigger some interest in me.

Trouble is that it wasn't hard to work through the propaganda and I ripped it apart so much we never speak of religion any more.

If she had discussed her private belief amongst people who are like minded or with people who came to her asking then fair enough. I have never brought up reasons why her religion is false in book form and I never bring up the topic in discussion.

Theists should expect to be challenged if they enter the public fray or someone's personal space.