A Philosophical View of Conspiracy Theories

I am doing research for an article unrelated to this blog, but there is a point where conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones seem to get quoted by others from time to time, and so I have mentioned some of their antics on a couple of occasions.

It’s not clear to me why some in the COG will be given to some of these panderers of snake oil, but it seems that they get some attention for some reason.  It bothers me in that they often attribute powers to certain groups that are way beyond human capability.

Whether or not the Bilderberg Group is a nefarious group of power-hungry elites really is beside the point, IMO.  Even powerful human beings really only have so much power.  The real enemy is not human, in case you’ve forgotten, and what he has in mind will eventually astound everyone – the Bilderbergs, the Trilateral Commission, Alex Jones, Jack Van Impe and, indeed, the entire world.

So, when I came across an article titled “Critical Thinking About Conspiracy Theories”, I knew I just had to share it.  The author, Jerry Goodenough, attempts to put together a differentiation between a “conspiracy theory” (CT), in which the data may or may not allow a reasonable view of an alternative explanation, and an “unwarranted conspiracy theory” (UCT) in which the scenario being extrapolated is not warranted by the available data.

You can also see from this type of research how easy it is to get bogged down and not be able to write for a while. Smile  However, I think there are some serious (and actually interesting) points in the paper:

(2) ‘The true intentions behind the conspiracy are invariably nefarious’. I agree with this as a general feature, particularly of non-governmental conspiracies, though as pointed out above it is possible for governmental conspiracies to be motivated or justified in terms of preventing public alarm, which may be seen as an essentially beneficial aim.

(3) ‘UCTs typically seek to tie together seemingly unrelated events.’ This is certainly true of the more extreme conspiracy theory, one which seeks a grand unified explanation of everything. We have here a progression from the individual CT, seeking to explain one event, to the more general. Carl Oglesby (1976), for instance, seeks to reinterpret many of the key events in post-war American history in terms of a more or less secret war between opposing factions within American capital, an explanation which sees Watergate and the removal of Richard Nixon from office as one side’s revenge for the assassination of John Kennedy.

(5) ‘The chief tool of the conspiracy theorist is what I shall call errant data’. By which Keeley means data which is unaccounted for by official explanations, or data which if true would tend to contradict official explanations.

That last point is often used by Jones and others to stir up controversy.  However, it usually requires rejection of any notion of contaminated evidence and giving far too much weight to eye witnesses.  The fact is that in the stress of a catastrophic event, an eye witness may not process data in the ordinary manner, and thus get items out of time sequence or even just get facts plain out wrong.

Here is an item that particularly bothers me, however:

(C) Misuse or outright reversal of a principle of charity: wherever the evidence is insufficient to decide between a mundane explanation and a suspicious one, UCTs tend to pick the latter. The critical thinker should never be prejudiced against occupying a position of principled neutrality when the evidence is more or less equally balanced between two competing hypotheses. And I would argue that there is much to be said for operating some principle of charity here, of always picking the less suspicious hypothesis of two equally supported by the evidence. My suspicion is that in the long run this would lead to a generally more economical belief structure, that reversing the principle of charity ultimately tends to blunt Occam’s Razor, but I cannot hope to prove this.

You know, it isn’t just a violation of Occam’s Razor, but it also goes against what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians:

8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. 9 Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

~ Php 4:8-9 (HCSB)

Goodenough’s next point is more or less the same, in which certain persons or organizations are demonized, which to me is an extreme case of (C) above.  It is the same as slander, when you think about it.

So, why would a Christian want to listen to, let alone pass on, slander?  Whose spirit is behind such actions?

In fact, that point bothered me enough to do this write-up.  My suggestion is that we need to focus in on what is true.  We need to fill our minds as much as possible with what is true and good and let Christ worry about the rest.  Understanding prophecy does not require sorting out all these nuances and cases of intrigue.  Perhaps if we were more worried about ourselves and examining ourselves and doing good to one another, then we wouldn’t have to worry so much about who’s who in these supposedly secret societies.

Is Christ going to be more concerned about whether or not you could identify who did what in the new global order or whether or not you made overtures of love and concern for someone in your congregation you don’t normally associate with?

Time to get back to the trunk of the tree.

3 thoughts on “A Philosophical View of Conspiracy Theories

  • Andrew

    My favorite conspiracy theorist cog blogger recently made a statement saying how he couldn’t believe that COG members would be so dismissive of such theories, given that Satan was the god of this world and the world is truly evil, and you can’t succeed or make it far without selling out to him (via Masonry or whatever else is Satanic, I guess).

    I wanted to ask him “But if Satan is already the god of this world, why does he care about a group of men vying for power and full control and one world government and all that other stuff? Why bother with any of it?”

    Then again, I find asking those rational questions has always been a thing conspiracy theorists don’t much like. Such as when I once asked if the government was as evil as Alex Jones claimed to do such things as 9/11 being an inside job (e.g.), 1) how are they able to keep that such a great ‘secret’ when we can’t even keep the CIA from leaking information, 2) why does Alex Jones, a simple radio host, get away with ‘exposing’ all their secrets and no retribution or assassination attempts from a government/agencies that could clearly mastermind such a thing much easier.

    • John D

      @Andrew: I’m not sure I would answer the “cog blogger” that way. After all, the Beast is a Satanically controlled man vying for power. Of course, the Beast apparently will become so filled with pride he will think he did it all himself, when the truth is that he was given some extraordinary power.

      It all fits in with Satan’s desire to replace God — that is, to be worshipped as God, and the end time will contain one last chance at that goal for 1,000 years.

      Rather, I have to wonder who he hangs around if no one he knows who does what is right ever makes it. My experience is that evil usually catches up with people sooner or later. There are exceptions, of course, but God put in place automatic penalties that tend to come to pass for those who continually break His Laws.

      One of the problems I have with Jones, et al, is that even if it were all true, so what? We mere mortals are not going to solve the mess that we ourselves are creating. Jones implies he is a Christian, but it is obvious that he thinks we humans have to solve our own problems (and in our own way, no less).

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