By Charlie Clauss You can’t reason a man out of a position he didn’t reason himself into in the first place. —Mark Twain Discussion of conspiracy theories has become a common theme in public discourse. We can attempt a definition of a conspiracy theory as an explanation for some phenomenon that involves hidden background information and a hidden powerful group. It often runs counter to the majority beliefs of people, and it is used as a pejorative against people who hold to the theory. A classic example is the denial of the Apollo moon landing of 1969. People use very complicated arguments and idiosyncratic evaluation of evidence to “prove” that the landing did not occur. Insisting on alternative explanations for the terrorist strikes of Sept 11, 2001, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, AIDS, and the Holocaust — all are well-known conspiracy theories. Many such theories are just silly. Denial of the moon landing doesn’t appear to have extensive consequences (with the possible exception of eroded trust in science and technology). Other theories can have serious consequences, such as Kenya’s initial refusal to allow food shipments that contain genetically modified foods (GMO) in the face of extensive famine. It is likely many people died because of this refusal. (I assume that GMOs are safe. Let the reader beware.) Advertisement There has been a great deal of research in recent years on how people come to believe the things they believe. Different kinds of cognitive bias have been studied. For instance, in confirmation bias, we look for or interpret evidence to support what we already believe. The list of cognitive biases is long: implicit, priming, affinity, self-serving, framing, hindsight. Reflective people will be left wondering if what they believe is justified, or if they are influenced by one bias or another. Reflective Christians will also find themselves in a bind. They might ask if Christianity is some kind of conspiracy theory and not actually true. Christianity as such doesn’t quite fit as a conspiracy theory. It is more like flat-Earth belief in that it flies in the face of certain modern assumptions about reality. But flat-Earth belief and moon-landing deniers really are in the same epistemic family. They have an answer to every objection and no ability to question their assumptions. Their level of certainty is very high. Isn’t this all true of Christianity? Some modern atheists have jumped in with both feet and claimed that, absolutely, Christianity is just as false as belief in a flat Earth. You are irrational to believe it! We must admit that some in the Christian family hold to Christianity just as flat Earthers hold to their theory. For them, doubt is a sin, and is forbidden. At the risk of oversimplification, this is the heart of all fundamentalism. Certainty is worshiped and doubt denied. Of course others, even some in the Christian family, have drunk doubt down to the dregs. They are left with nothing to believe in — their quest to not look like conspiracy theorists leaves them adrift on the tides of indecision and unable to move one way or another. Another oversimplification: doubt is worshiped and the possibility of truth denied. Doubt is not the great enemy of faith. The faithful know the answer is to doubt their doubt! The faithful know there are hard questions leveled at Christianity, questions with no easy answers. We often don’t have any answers at all! What we have is trust, faith, that the God we are coming to know is not threatened by our lack of certainty and doubts. We possess moments of clarity when God was present, and when we doubt those moments, we remember to put that doubt under the microscope. Again and again we find a God we are justified to trust. The true conspiracy is, in the title of Dallas Willard’s book, The Divine Conspiracy. It is not our knowledge, secret or otherwise, nor our plans, secret or otherwise, nor our bias, implicit or otherwise, that ultimately matter. The conspiracy belongs to God, who has planned in his beloved Son Jesus to bring all things to completion. And it is not meant to be a secret conspiracy, so don’t be afraid to tell it! Without a group, it cannot be a conspiracy. Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYour email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Δ This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.