“Where’s Your Evidence?” is the slogan for conspiracists and atheists alike. What does that tell you?
Bert Bigelow over at the A Tippling Philosopher blog recently said once again that conspiracy theorists have a lot in common with religious people. He has made this exact claim before, and I’ve done my best to rebut this mistaken notion to no apparent avail. Once more into the breach.
Let’s Doubt Anything
I’ve said before that in a former life, I used to be a debunker. Looking at the insufferable social-constructionist jerkoff I am today, you’d never know that I was a factoid-wielding argue-man in the early oughts. If you didn’t know there are contradictions in the Bible, that species evolve, or that al Qaeda terrorists perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, I was the Master of the Obvious who would set you straight.
A lot of people seem to think that you can get real expertise from the Internet, regardless of the copious evidence to the contrary. I can truly say that the only thing surfing the web has made me an expert in is playing Spot the Loony. I’ve engaged with more kooks, conspiracists, tinhats and crackpots than you’ve had hot meals, sonny, and I know every species of the breed.
That’s why it amuses me that atheists characterize conspiracists as credulous, when usually the opposite is true; the truther doesn’t have a Scripture to defend, they don’t have a detailed account of the development of life on Earth or who-did-what-when on the morning of 9/11/01. They’re expecting proponents of the “official story” of evolution, the JFK assassination, or the 9/11 attacks to present the evidence the truther says is lacking, then denying that it constitutes evidence at all.
Does this tactic sound familiar, atheist bros? It’s not about faith at all. It’s about denial.
Where’s Your Evidence? That’s Not Evidence!
Look at the phenomenon of climate change denial, certainly the most diabolical strain of crackpottery in our society today. It’s nothing but skepticism run amok. Global Warming Is a Hoax is the deniers’ defining slogan; they accuse climate scientists of mendacity; they ridicule people who affirm that human activity is making the Earth’s temperature rise as dupes of the hoaxers.
The creationist or intelligent-design proponent never lays out the history of life on Earth or tells how and why organisms were “designed” they way they are. They simply say that such-and-such a feature couldn’t possibly arise through a process of Darwinian selection, and handwave away any evidence presented as being inadequate. They consider themselves skeptics of a complacent scientific establishment brainwashed by the religion of materialism.Remember 9/11 truthers? They were the ultimate skeptics, people so consumed by resentment and suspicion that they considered the “official story” of 9/11 (that terrorists working for al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden hijacked planes already in the air and crashed them into huge buildings) a preposterous narrative that the world swallowed without realizing there wasn’t a shred of evidence to support it. The government, the media, and the scientific establishment were a involved in a vast cover-up for the real culprits behind the Inside Job. Anyone who ever battled a 9/11 truther knows that they felt the burden of proof was exclusively on the people who affirmed the “official story” to account for every supposed anomaly that the truther presented.
That’s what makes it so futile to engage with conspiracists. It’s not like the “conspiracy theory” is a coherent construct that can be objectively assessed. Most times its basis is the supposed inadequacy of the “official story,” and the dialogue founders on the participants’ inability to agree on who has the burden of proof and who decides the standard of evidence.
I don’t dispute that the average conspiracist has serious problems like faulty reasoning, the unwarranted presumption of expertise, and —let’s be honest here— paranoia. I just don’t see the resemblance between this kind of loony and a religious believer. If anything, truthers think they’re being extremely rational, and that it’s their foes who are fearful, gullible and unreasonable. That sounds more like an atheist to me.
Peter, I Can See Your House From Here
That’s why I find it so interesting that Jesus Mythicism has become a popular subject in the atheist blogosphere: it’s a standard-issue conspiracy theory, but is lionized by people who pride themselves on being able debunkers.
It’s not like we have evidence that the early Christians decided to pretend myth-Jesus had really existed in first-century Galilee, or that the Church has engaged in a systematic cover-up of the shocking truth about Jesus. We don’t have any better grasp of things like historical research or textual analysis than the truther has of structural engineering or geopolitics. No, the whole basis of the Mythicism phenomenon is the assertion that “there’s no evidence” that regular-Jesus existed. When anyone (even one of our own atheist bloggers) tries to educate us on what professional historians think and why, we handwave away the attempt at correction, and characterize the entire field of specialists as biased and/or brainwashed.
Sometimes my old debunking habits come back to me. If it walks and talks like a conspiracy theory, three guesses what I call it.