Why CMI rejects ‘conspiracy’ theorizing
Published: 13 April 2017 (GMT+10)
“The moon landings were fake.” “The US government brought down the World Trade Center.” “The earth is flat.” “Alien technology has been discovered and is being kept secret by world governments.”
We hear many different alternative theories. Many famous people and many fellow Christians hold to one or more of them, and some of these are rather vocal in their support, often to the point of being disruptive. How does a Christian make sense of all this? How do we approach the world in knowledge and faith and discernment all at the same time? And how do we do this when any two-bit sociopath can find a bully pulpit on YouTube or FaceBook?
The amount of misinformation circulating in the modern world is staggering, so let us soberly approach these issues. It is our purpose in this article to lay out a path for others to follow. Our contention is that we can be faithful to the Bible and science without sacrificing either.
Before we get into this, however, let us be perfectly clear that government-based conspiracy (e.g. JFK assassination, 9-11 terrorist attack) are not part of our mission, while some science-based ones like flat earth or geocentrism are, hence the focus on these two below. The moon landings are also fair game for us, but only because they are part of (and clearly refute) the flat earth and geocentrism debates and also touch on the ‘how do we know what we know’ aspect of teaching biblical creation, basic science, and important ideas in the Bible. Our desire is not to isolate anyone so much as to encourage them to put on their thinking caps.
At the same time, not all conspiracy theories have the same weight, and not all of them are necessarily wrong. We also do not deliberately lump all conspiracy theories together in order to dismiss them in one fell swoop. However, there is a way to approach all of these issues that we need to consider.
The atheopaths want to paint you into a corner. They often claim that the Bible teaches X (flat earth, geocentrism, etc.) and, since you believe the Bible, you must believe X, too. In response, many people then say, “Why yes, I do believe the Bible. Therefore X must be true and I will defend it.” But this is incredibly wrong! First, who made the skeptic an expert in Bible? Instead of accepting the false premise they lay out, we need to question the questioner. Second, many people apparently think they are doing what we are telling them to do, that is, to take the Bible at face value and reject the secular interpretations of historical science. But it is possible to push that idea too far. Taking the Bible at face value does not mean also rejecting common sense.
An appeal for scholarship
First and foremost, to our fellow biblical creationists, we implore you to wade more deeply into the waters. We are ‘creationists’ because both the Bible and science point us in that direction. At the same time, we reject multiple alternative theories (e.g. flat earth) because they are supported by neither. This causes us a significant amount of heat. Not only do we get a lot of flak from the evolutionist community (in both the atheistic and theistic camps), but we also get it from the more, shall we say, conservative side. The main point is that we are pro-Bible, not anti-establishment for the sake of it, except when the ‘establishment’ contradicts the Bible.
As a large non-denominational ministry, we have to carefully weigh the feelings of those who align themselves more closely to our positions. This is why we generally avoid discussions on modes of baptism, end times, the roles of men and women in the church, Bible versions, etc. However, there is a limit to how much we are willing to accommodate, and more and more often we are being asked to comment on scientific and theological positions with which we strongly disagree.
We suspect that many of our detractors are trolls and other miscellaneous miscreants, but on the off chance that there is a Christian brother or sister out there that has fallen into this trap, we soldier on. Sadly, we do know that there are many Christians who actually do believe one or more of these things. Most of them are deep into conspiracy theory and it is very difficult to reach a person who has fallen into that mindset, but there is always hope.
How do you react when you come across some new alternate theory? Due to slick marketing, it is sometimes difficult to immediately spot the errors in the presentation. The person writing or in the video is convinced of his opinion, seems to have data to back up his claims, speaks authoritatively, and sometimes throws around mathematical formulae like he knows what he is doing. Seriously, how do you react when you see something like this? Presentations like this can be intimidating, but take heart! It usually does not take much digging to solve the riddle.
How do we answer them?
We wish there were a simple answer to the question of how we are supposed to respond to these things. Of course, we are to do so “in gentleness and respect” when someone is genuinely asking “for a reason for the hope in us” (1 Pet 3:15), but sometimes we should respond more sternly. The difference is difficult to gauge, but when someone is lying it is easier to call it. This is one reason the purveyors of these oddities speak the way they do; it makes it more difficult to untangle truth from fiction. If you truly want to refute them, you will be forced to do a lot of homework, and most people find this intimidating, by design.
There are different strategies one can use to engage people in debate, and we do not have time to go into them here, but study the diagram on the left from the article How to think (not what to think). There are two theories in this diagram. They make several predictions in common (the central area of overlap). One of the greatest rhetorical strategies of all time is to 1) present someone with a list of valid points that fits one’s personal theory and then 2) conclude that the theory is therefore, and necessarily, correct, while at the same time 3) failing to present material that can actually separate the two theories. We have seen this strategy used consistently by Darwinists (see our Natural Selection Q&A for example) as well as purveyors of modern alternate theories. But anything in that area of overlap is ‘non-discriminating’ information. That is, it cannot be used to prove one side of an argument. We call this error the ‘fallacy of non-discriminating predictions’, and in general using a verified prediction as ‘proof’ is committing the fallacy of affirming the consequent.
You can use this in any discussion. In fact, it might help to defuse a sticky situation if you first get your opponent to agree that this chart shows a valid way of thinking. Then ask your opponent to give you a list of facts, one at a time, and see where they fall. Here’s a good example: flat-earth supporters often cite the many examples of the times people can see distant skyscrapers that should be ‘over the horizon’ if the earth were a sphere. However, so what? As a scientist, I could never ‘rest my case’ with one bit of ‘evidence’ like this. The problem here is that the laws of light refraction are well known (or eyeglasses, and your eyes, would not work!) and every example they can give falls within what we know about the interaction of light rays with surface air. Of course you can sometimes see things ‘over the horizon’. This is perfectly in accord with a spherical earth. But we wryly note that this almost always occurs over water, in the fall, when the air is cooler than the water, exactly when you would expect it. And, it never occurs to any great distance. For more, see Things disappearing over the horizon.
The conspiracy mindset
Traditionally, CMI has not spent much if any time arguing against most alternate theories. They were always in the minority and we had bigger fish to fry. That has changed over the last few years, however, as social media has allowed alternatives to rise to the surface. But we have seen something time and time again as we have attempted to reason with people. Although we can easily point out errors of fact, illogical statements, and obvious contradictions in their arguments, we see a general refusal to bring these thoughts to their obvious conclusion. Why is that? There is something going on at the deepest level of human psychology here.
The specialness of alternative theories
Let the interested reader note that many conspiracy supporters believe the universe is a grand illusion, which logically implies that Christians involved in NASA are rotten, filthy liars as well. Yet we have one bona fide rocket scientist on staff, along with other speakers who work or worked with the aerospace industry. We have interviewed more of both physicists and space scientists in Creation magazine, and listed multiple scientists who call on the name of Christ for their salvation in multiple articles. If the earth is flat, for example, then all of these men and women are deceived, at best. Thus, the detractor has set himself or herself up on quite a high pedestal. This feeling of ‘specialness’ can be attractive, and it is a psychological trap into which many have fallen lately.
Some believe the rising popularity of their pet alternative theory is due to some sort of a spiritual awakening. We believe it is due to growing deception. Therein lies the difference. They say we believe in things like the “lie” of the globe. Actually, we have experienced the globality of the earth with our own eyes, having traveled and explored much of the surface of this planet of ours. Be like Thomas and see it for yourself. But when you do see it, be honest like Thomas and accept the facts as they are (John 20:24–29, which does NOT promote a ‘blind faith’).
But is not evolution itself a conspiracy?
There is a danger in rejecting evolution. By this we do not mean to indicate that evolution is right, but that if one does reject it they need to do so for the right reasons. Once someone comes to the conclusion that the majority of the scientists in the world are wrong about something, the next obvious question is, “What else are they wrong about?” But this is not the right question! Instead, they should be asking, “Why are they wrong?”
Here the answer is plain to see. The majority of modern scientists have accepted a certain philosophy called naturalism. This is a belief that everything in the universe can be explained by natural causes. In practice, it becomes a demand that all things must be explained by natural causes, which by necessity excludes many theists from the practice of science. Of course, there are multiple gigantic problems that arise once someone makes this starting assumption, but belief in evolution is not inimical to the collection of most scientific facts.
That is, we are not arguing over the boiling point of water. Instead, we are arguing over interpretations of evidence that are couched in evolutionary terms, collected under evolutionary experiments, and explained to the masses by ardent evolution supporters. Evolution, then, is not a conspiracy so much as it is a mass movement away from God. In another sense, it is a smokescreen designed to mask a raging spiritual battle for human souls. True, we have to be cautious about blindly accepting evolutionary data, but this does not mean that we have to reject everything about modern science.
The fatal weakness of conspiracy theories
Several alternate theories unfairly and inaccurately pick on government bodies like NASA or the UN. But NASA is not a person. It is a government institution that employs thousands of people. It would be impossible to create a conspiracy of this scale and nature, and it would be impossible to maintain it in the face of so many contrary witnesses.
Also, there have always been those hostile to the USA who would love to have disproved NASA’s claim to have landed on the moon. At the height of the Cold War, the USSR desperately wanted to beat the USA in the ‘space race’, yet they could not—rather, they had to admit defeat. Much misinformation could be coming from disenfranchised governments or other institutions, or, on the other hand, people with too much time on their hands and a penchant for rabblerousing.
Worse, many Christians, several of whom are friends and supporters of CMI work for NASA. Also, two of the board members for CMI-USA are professional pilots for an international airline, and both flew for the military prior to that. In order to not ‘trust’ groups like NASA or the airline industry, hundreds of thousands of people would have to be in on the conspiracy and some of our biggest friends would have to be unapologetic liars. That is utter poppycock.
Case in point: in the late 1940s, the USSR entered the nuclear age much sooner than anyone on the outside expected. The atomic bomb project was the most top secret thing the United States ever did, but the plans leaked. Yes, the ‘government’ lies about all sorts of stuff, but the government is also a porous sieve of poorly held secrets. One cannot maintain a conspiracy if it includes more than a few people. Anything more than that and someone is going to sell out and the conspiracy comes crashing down.
Indeed, the weakness of any conspiracy is one of the main things to have convinced former corrupt Nixon staffer Chuck Colson of the fact of the Resurrection:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
So belief in conspiracy theories inadvertently undermines a powerful apologetic for the Resurrection.
The nature of science
Science is a tricky business. Most of the things people believed in the past turned out to be wrong. Worse, some of what we believe today will prove to be wrong, only we can’t know which bits will stand the test of time and which will not. To make matters even worse than that, there are always apparent contradictions in science and all scientific positions must wrestle with contravening data. But this does not in any way require us to brush aside every fact of physics ever accumulated by humankind. Science does build on itself and it should get more accurate over time. In fact, the last several centuries have had a good run of it, starting with the foundations laid by early modern (Christian) scientists, the creationist founders of modern science such as Oresme and Kepler; and Einstein’s three scientific heroes: Newton, Faraday, and Maxwell.
It would do us well to consider a quote reputed to be from Einstein, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” This does not mean that a single contrary experimental result will disprove a theory, for an ancillary hypothesis could be disproved while leaving the core theory intact, but in principle all it would take is one ground-shaking new discovery to dislodge Darwin, Newton, Einstein, etc. We are firmly convinced that Darwin has indeed been shown to be wrong, but so far there is nothing to suggest the others have been also. Instead, there is an amazing correlation of facts and theory behind atomic theory, geokinetics, relativity, genetics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, and on and on.
Is science ‘godly’?
It comes as a surprise to many, but science is rooted deeply within Scripture. In fact, in the very first chapter of the Bible, God appoints Adam and Eve as stewards of His creation. To be a steward means to take care of things. but to do that effectively you must try to understand what you’re caring about. Adam and Eve would have had to pursue understanding of the physical world to fulfill this command. The pursuit of understanding can be called ‘science’ and that mantle of responsibility would have passed to us, their descendants.
But there are multiple ways to use science, as explained in Biblical history and the role of science. One can use it today in a ‘ministerial’ sense to flesh out ambiguous passages. Or one can use it in a ‘magisterial’ sense, as old-earth and evolution supporters invariably do when they use it to trump the biblical timeline.
“It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Pro 25:2).
A great example of the ministerial use of science was the working out of the physics of the solar system. The relationship between the earth and the heavens was concealed for a very long time, and it took many people working for several centuries to figure things out, but it is no longer the case that these things are hidden from us.
There are also multiple forms of science. One classic example is the difference between ‘operational’ and ‘historical’ science—a difference affirmed by leading evolutionists such as Ernst Mayr and E.O. Wilson. Operational science formally deals with what we can see in the laboratory today. It deals with repeating experiments, testing results, and refining hypotheses. But not only was this type of science pioneered by Christians, it is also the type of science that led to the development of basically all of our modern technology. And it has nothing to do with evolution or deep time.
Historical science, however, is a somewhat different animal. Here, we attempt to draw conclusions about one-off things that happened in the remote past. But history is not testable, neither is it repeatable, so studying the past is not operational science. This does not mean that we cannot know anything about the past, and the Bible certainly says we can, but it does mean that we need to be more careful when drawing historical conclusions.
The 12th-century philosopher/theologian Thierry of Chartres (Theodoricus Chartrensis) pointed out:
Because the things in the world are mutable and corruptible, it is necessary that they should have an author. Because they are arranged in a rational way and in a very beautiful order, it is necessary that they should have been created in accordance with wisdom. But, because the Creator, rationally speaking, is in need of nothing, having perfection and sufficiency in himself, it is necessary that he should create what he does create only through benevolence and love.
Indeed, science depends on the assumptions that the physical universe is knowable, rational, and consistent, and all three of these tenets are derived from Christian theology, as shown in Why does science work at all?. Thus ideas like geocentrism or flat earth fail. But this does NOT mean that biblical creation fails or that the Bible is not inspired. One does not have to let go of the doctrine of inspiration to ‘let go’ of the earth. Far from it, in fact. One must draw the line somewhere, but the line is between historical vs. operational science, not within operational science.
What does the Bible actually say?
Many people believe their argument boils down to the ‘plain’ reading of scripture. As in, “God said it, that settles it.” But we must first read what the Bible actually says, and many people can easily skip over or unintentionally add words to biblical sentences. Second, we must determine what the words actually mean. Part of this is putting those words into the proper historical and grammatical context as they would have been understood by the original readers, and consulting various common language conventions used for the expression of ideas. Third, we must determine the implications of the words. If a student of the Bible takes these three steps, he or she will conclude that the Bible clearly teaches a ‘young’ earth and universe, a world-wide (global) Flood, and that Adam and Eve are actually the ancestors of all of humanity, to pick just a few examples.
We need to search the Scriptures to see what they actually say, in context, using the grammatical-historical method of inferring potential meaning, which corresponds to the classical meaning of ‘literal interpretation’. This is a critical method of inquiry, because it prevents people from literalistically concluding that God is an “all consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29) or that people can be a “signet on His right hand” (Haggai 2:23), etc. At the same time, we need to search operational science to see what we can actually know. Old-earth people of all stripes invariably mix a historical science based on the assumption of naturalism into their arguments, and they often do so against the plain meaning of the biblical text. Thus, they are incorrect on both counts.
But the text in many places superficially seems to describe a flat earth and a geocentric universe. This causes people to struggle with what they see as the ‘plain meaning’ even though the plain meaning is often contradicted by other places in the Scripture or influenced by the prevailing scientific views of the day.
For example, the Septuagint translated the Hebrew raqia’ (רקיע) in Genesis 1:6–8 with the Greek cosmological word stereōma (στερέωμα), which refers the then-current cosmological belief in crystalline celestial spheres (compare Josephus’ word choice krystallos (κρύσταλλος) in Antiquities of the Jews 1:1). This in turn was translated into the Latin firmamentum in the Vulgate, which became “firmament” in the King James version of the Bible. More modern conservative translations rightly translate raqia’ as “expanse”. Similarly, many of Galileo’s opponents in the church read the cosmology of Aristotle and Ptolemy into poetic passages of Scripture and used those interpretations against him, just as many long-age compromisers read today’s long-age ideas into the Bible and then try to argue against biblical creation.
These things are difficult to answer because they require a simultaneous grasp of the Bible, ancient and modern languages, and modern science. We need to be as patient as we can be when arguing against alternative theories, but only because we don’t want to see our brothers and sisters enmeshed in bad exegesis that might lead them astray in other areas.
Over 2000 years of scholarship
Also, there is zero attestation to the most alternate beliefs through the entire Christian era. For example, if you search through the 2,000 years of the Christian tradition, you will be unable to find a significant scholar who believed the earth was flat. And note, these people could prove the global shape of the earth long before NASA. If you want to hold to an alternate theory, you have to reject your ancestors in the faith. Of course, if it must be done then so be it, but you had better get your ducks in a row first. The burden of proof lies with you.
Can you have the Bible and science too?
There are two sides to these debates. One side (ours) takes the Bible and operational science and finds a happy place where both can exist without contradiction. The other side often throws out pseudo-pietistic, emotional mumbo jumbo like, “You have to trust me because God told me this is true no matter what your eyes tell you” (this is a paraphrase of a comment we received lately). But are we not to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1)? Should we not pursue the evidence? Although He is far above us in intellect, God is not illogical and does not do illogical things—Jesus is even called the Logos in John 1.
Another case in point: we can explain the way the universe works using simple Newtonian physics and a dose of Einsteinian relativity. This model of the universe includes a spherical earth and a geokinetic system, and it has incredible explanatory power. On the other hand, if the earth were flat or if the earth were the center about which the rest of the universe rotates, one could not use laboratory physics to explain it. Instead, one must resort to unknown processes or scientifically impossible situations. The universe could not, then, follow the simple rules of logic, and would fail to be explained by simple observational evidence. What kind of God creates an ongoing illusion?
Who created the universe?
The God of the Bible created this universe. Many people have developed a closer walk with Him as they study His work. He is not a deceiver (we leave that to evolutionists acting consistently with their atheistic world view). He is not a trickster. He is the source of wisdom and in Him there is no illogicality. As beings made in God’s image, we should likewise be logical, like the Logos of John 1.
In the flat earth, for instance, there is no logic. One or two observations (even dozens, though we have not seen anything like that number of supporting evidences) that fly in the face of hundreds of counter evidences makes a mockery out of the character and nature of God Himself. Had Satan created the universe or had he a significant influence in its working we would be skeptical of what we see. Yes, the devil has influenced the minds of men, we get that. But that applies more to the interpretation of the facts than it does the simple, plain facts that stare us in the face every day.
The Devil did not create this world. He did not create science. He did not create you. And he did not give you your ability to reason, to observe, or to draw conclusions. He is not in control. Thus, we are at liberty to use our God-given faculties for reason to draw conclusions about the world we live in. And when we do so, the earth is clearly a sphere, etc. To say otherwise is to deny reality. Come away from them, friend.
Are we trusting science and rejecting the Bible?
Our God is a God of order (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33, James 1:17). He is the Ultimate Lawgiver. He would have created a universe that operates, therefore, according to law, according to His very nature. Thus, when we look at the universe, we can say, “Oh! That’s how things work.” Then we can compare this to the Bible and see if our conclusions match the Word. Since the Bible is not a science textbook (for one thing, textbooks become outdated!), even though we would not expect it to ever be wrong about science, we would expect it to be equivocal about most propositions of operational science. Yet, it is clearly a history book, thus it is NOT vague about issues of time and chronology. This is why we feel free to explore the scientific world while at the same time criticize old-age believers.
Our challenge to you
For those out there who might be sitting on the fence: Put on your thinking caps. Look at the evidence for both sides. Look at the way each side handles Scripture. Look at how each side understands the fundamental processes involved. It is our contention that our alternate-theory opponents are mishandling Scripture and that they usually do not understand what they are talking about on fundamental scientific levels. The train of recent comments on our anti-flat earth and anti-geocentrism articles should make that clear. There is a rational viewpoint that is also a faithful viewpoint. It takes into account all of the relevant scientific and Scriptural data and savages neither.
Let the reader also note that we wait patiently for the ‘quick’ judgment of God, as several detractors have warned us about. It is a humbling thing to know that we will one day be judged and can plead only the Blood of Christ in our defense. Maranatha!