No, Conspiracism Has More In Common With Atheism Than Religion

No, Conspiracism Has More In Common With Atheism Than Religion June 17, 2019

“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.

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  • Jim Baerg

    Here Richard partway agrees with you.
    “Misunderstanding the Burden of Proof”
    https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/15029

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    In the end, what it really amounts to is “do we have evidence for anything?”, at which point you have to define what you mean by “evidence” (or you can take a stroll down the path of the brain in the vat hypothesis. That’s always fun). The word is banded around as if it’s self-defining but it’s not; that word, like “freedom” and “liberty,” means many things to many people. That’s actually why it’s more fruitful to challenge people on their thinking and the methods behind their thinking rather than going straight for the “just the facts, ma’am.” This has always been something that’s grated me about self-described internet “skeptics,” who aren’t real philosophical skeptics are instead practitioners of what the SEP calls “ordinary incredulity.”

    Something I’ve always wanted to do and probably have in the past is ask what people mean when they say “evidence.” When you’re calling for evidence, do you know what you’re calling for? I recall reading a piece in the Atlantic, I believe, about a gentleman who attends a flat earther convention. Rather than confront them demanding “proof” — which they have, lots of actually — he instead uses the Socratic method to question their thinking and eventually gets them to undermine themselves, because for all their “proof,” the narrative they hang it off of is still very poorly constructed. Now, I have a hard time seeing this working outside of specific instances, because just as often as not epistemic closure often accompanies these narratives and they’re just as resistant to questioning their own thinking as they are questioning their own “facts” — after all, all logic is built on the emotional needs of the person holding it, and so ultimately you aren’t arguing with logic. Logic is often just an ad hoc justification or an emotional belief we take, and you will never win that fight. Never. But Socratic method does work, especially if you can get in there before the chain of logic defending the inane belief becomes attached to an emotional need. That’s why it’s popular in and effective education (which is actually what my degree is in. I have a Bachelor’s in pedagogy with a major in English and minor in History).

  • Joffan

    Atheism is not immune to conspiracy theories (and nor is practically any other topic), but religion requires them.

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    If religion does, does that mean nationalism does, too? After all, there really isn’t much of a difference between the two at the end of the day, is there?

    And if nationalism does, doesn’t that mean tribalism does? And if tribalism does, doesn’t that just mean human thinking in general requires them, and that it takes a lot to rise above that thinking?

    In short, I think you’re focusing too small. Look larger for the problems in society. It’s so much bigger than religion. Religion is merely the fig leaf used to cover beliefs inherited from the community. Remove the fig leaf, and they might switch to using a oak leaf, instead, but the problems will not be solved.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Old puter at work (Mac pre OS 10.7 so the only way I get a “post” button is by replying to someone else.

    My take on Shem on this?

    First, he didn’t need to go to Godless in Dixie on tackling mythicism. Yours truly, who knows Biblical languages and historical criticism better than most mythicists, has done so himself in depth. http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-academic-shortcomings-of-jesus.html

    Second, I don’t think conspiracy theorists are like atheists. They MAY be like just the Gnu Atheist subset, but like all atheists? Nope.

    For counterexample, what are philosophical proofs for the existence of god but a type of rationalism attempt similar to conspiracy theorists? Or, what are things like Jesus allegedly telling his disciples that they couldn’t cast out demons because they were of little faith other than something halfway like a conspiracy theory?

  • SocraticGadfly

    “Proof” isn’t fully the right word. In good simple, informal logic argumentation, it’s both the strength of reasoning and the empirical validity of warrants involved. On the logical side, no, per Hume, we may not “win” the emotional fight, but strength of reasoning is strength of reasoning. After all, after making his famous statement about the passions coming first, Hume said they needed to be sifted through rational thought processes.

    That said, I am curious, re empirical evidence, just what proof you think the flatties have?

  • I don’t think conspiracy theorists are like atheists. They MAY be like just the Gnu Atheist subset, but like all atheists? Nope.

    That’s what I meant, that conspiracism is closer to the atheist’s mindset than the religious believer’s. I didn’t say or mean that all atheists are like conspiracy theorists.

  • you have to define what you mean by “evidence.” The word is banded around as if it’s self-defining but it’s not; that word, like “freedom” and “liberty,” apparently means many things to many people. That’s actually why it’s more fruitful to challenge people on their thinking and the methods behind their thinking rather than going straight for the “just the facts, ma’am.”

    Absolutely. I’m not sure there’s any evidence that would convince a conspiracist that the “official story” of some disputed historical event, or the validity of global warming, is a prudent thing to affirm. I assume most atheists are like me, in that we just don’t need religious language to make sense of our experience. People who insist that they’re not religious because “there’s no evidence,” on the other hand, may just be playing the same kind of shell game that the truther or the tinhat is working.

  • SocraticGadfly

    I’ll buy that!

    That said, on mythicism, for folks with more real academic credentials than the nutters I mentioned, with the exception of not-full-nutter, and actual academic, Robert Eisenmann, academic politics has gotten tangled with mythicism.

    For example, Joseph Hoffman, now an ardent anti-mythicist, was a pretty strong mythicist when a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar, but elbows thrown there led to a shift.

  • I wish I’d made my point about mythicism at Godless in Dixie a little more delicately, but I still find it shocking that dedicated debunkers can’t see when they’re making the same exact mistakes that they knock tinhats for making. The idea that anyone is an expert witness when it comes to specialized disciplines is the hallmark of the crackpot; textual analysis and historical research may not be structural engineering, but they’re not hocus-pocus either. The notion that there’s no physical evidence of the existence of some illiterate rabble-rouser from the first-century Levant is just not that extraordinary to me.

  • SocraticGadfly

    Right. I mean, Socrates, like Jesus, wrote no books, and in an Athens more vibrant and more culturally renowned than the Galilee of Jesus’ day, there’s no physical evidence of Socrates, either.

    Now, I have personally entertained a “semi-mythicist” alternative. (And, it’s not original to me.) That is that he existed, but a century earlier, as one of the Pharisees killed by Alexander Jannaeus. Would allow another century’s worth of time for Christian growth.

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    Oh, they flatties have a lot of evidence. All of it is mutually contradictory when you put inside of their narrative, but they have an explanation for everything you can bring up, and sometimes good ones, at that.

    But here’s the thing: you specified “empirical evidence,” which is different from “evidence.” An empiricist sees the value in empirical evidence, but a rationalist typically doesn’t, since they place a higher value on “logic” and “reasoning.” Do they have any empirical evidence? Not remotely. In fact, all empirical evidence contradicts them. But empirical evidence doesn’t matter to them. “Evidence” matters to them, and since we never get them to define what “evidence” means, the word becomes a stand in for “rationalization,” and all the rationalizations that they bring to the fore qualify as a result. Some of them are actually quite convincing, in fact. If they weren’t, people wouldn’t believe it.

  • Joffan

    “If religion does, does that mean nationalism does, too?” – No.
    “After all, there really isn’t much of a difference between the two at the end of the day, is there?” – Yes there is.
    “And if nationalism does, doesn’t that mean tribalism does?” – Null question, see above answer.
    “And if tribalism does, …” – double null.

    In short, if you want to assert something, just assert it – don’t frame it as a question.

    And then justify it. Your massive leaps from doubting the existence of the supernatural to doubting the existence of national boundaries that define the limits of a shared legal codes and history and then to doubting the typical organization of humans into groups of shared interests are nowhere justified.

    Solving “the problems in society” is not going to happen without getting into a lot of detail. Even identifying and describing the “problems” is very far from trivial. Until you do any of that hard work, deciding what arbitrary constructs are barriers to solution is pointless.

  • Ann Kah

    I think you’re looking at this completely backwards. You call it “We don’t believe the official story”, and I call it “They don’t want you to know the truth”.

    For conspiracists it’s a lot more than merely not believing the facts of a story. An essential part is the “conspiracy” itself, the notion that shadowy forces are lying to you for reasons that remain elusive. That is the essential message that RELIGION tells people, that “the devil” lies to you. The obvious advantage of that message to the religion itself is not hidden at all.

  • I see your point. But the truthers and tinhats I used to engage with were extremely proud of their skepticism and rationality, and used to deride their online foes for their gullibility and complacency. They deliberately avoided describing the whos, whys and wherefores of their conspiracy, instead reserving all their critical scrutiny for the “official story.”

    I always criticize my fellow atheists for the same kind of selective skepticism. Sure, I agree with them that there’s no Big G, but I think our own ideas about knowledge, truth, morality and even religion deserve a lot more critical scrutiny than we ever apply to them.

  • FTFY.

  • hrurahaalm

    The fact that the field of Bible studies is shaped by its devout religious origins, and has traditionally used a mishmash of largely useless criteria to establish historicity, seems well-established and much more certain than mythicism. Now, maybe you’re going to tell me that the field has recently moved to more reliable scientific methods, and tell people about those past criteria as cautionary tales. If so, you should lead with that.

    Let’s say Carrier is misapplying the Bayesian method that he champions. That seems credible enough. If so, that is excellent news for most historians, from a selfish perspective. Any one of them could present him-or-herself as the champion of correct Bayesian methodology. Unless you are in fact saying this has already been done (or there’s a clear reason why it wouldn’t work) this historian could be one of the field’s biggest names in a matter of decades.

  • Gee, I feel like I’m back in the Truther Wars, and UsernameDuJour is lecturing me on why everyone in the American Society of Civil Engineers is too biased, brainwashed and/or fearful of institutional reprisals to acknowledge that the Twin Towers were brought down by controlled demolition. Here in the com-box, everyone’s an expert witness.

    Thanks for the memories.

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    No.

    What’s the difference between religion and nationalism, then? After all, this:

    a shared legal codes and history

    Applies equally to nationalism and religion.

    This is a typical stance assumed by most people: religion =/= supernatural. Religion doesn’t even equal a belief in the supernatural, although instances such as Christian Atheists and Jewish Atheists who still go to the synagogue/church and play a role in their religious community are notable precisely because they’re so rare.

    Like I said: just focusing on religion as the root of the problem does not help. There are plenty of religious people who don’t believe in conspiracy theories, and don’t act like they do, which disproves your claim that religion requires it, unless you’re defining religion in some way that it confirms your belief it does (since there isn’t a unified definition of religion, this is certainly possible, but you have to recognize that your definition of religion is an idiosyncratic one). Just like there are plenty of people who have a religion who are decent human beings disproves the idea that religion poisons everything.

    No, the problem isn’t religion. Religion is just being used as a cover for the real problem, like I said, and by focusing on religion as the real problem, we overlook what’s actually causing the division in society: human tribalism run amok, and a system of toxic beliefs that are passed down from one generation to the next, which are not directly related to religion but use cherry picked religious verses to as a fig leaf to lend them legitimacy.

  • PremiumOsmium

    I really don’t see much difference between Jesus Mythicism and the “Jesus was just some guy” camps. Either way, both sides agree that the Jesus as described in the Bible didn’t exist. When it comes down to it, what’s the difference between the two? The mainstream position is that most of the New Testament accounts of Jesus were made up. The Mythicist position is that all of it was made up.

    And if you want to believe that there was some troublemaking itinerant preacher in 1st century Judea that the Romans had killed, then whoever that is would be a needle in a stack of needles. There’s absolutely nothing unique or special about being killed by the Romans. The Romans did what conquering empires have always done.

    So it’s pretty disingenuous to suggest that Jesus mythicists are no different from conspiracy theorists when their hypothesis is virtually identical to the mainstream non-Christian historical hypothesis. The Gospels are unreliable, the genuine letters of Paul are unreliable, and half the letters attributed to Paul are known forgeries. And neither the writers of the gospels nor Paul ever actually met Jesus face to face. Paul himself never even claims that Jesus walked the earth preaching and performing miracles.

    Honestly either conclusion is fine to me. Either Jesus was just some guy or he didn’t exist in the first place. Either way they’re basically the same thing.

  • hrurahaalm

    In fact I think we can go farther and ask how much Jesus even influenced early Christianity, while sticking pretty close to what is known.

  • Joffan

    This is a kind of fallacy of composition. You are saying that these two concepts share some property, and thus they are the same in all other respects. Nah.

    And then you go off about your undefined problems of the world again, which is not much to do with the topic at hand. So to drag it back to the actual point:

    The reason religion relies on conspiracy theory is precisely because it is based on believing in the supernatural, which cannot be disproved in the face of almost any contrary evidence. There’s always a reason given to dismiss any effects that should work against the religious precepts, typically by invoking (or at some stage presumably inventing) some mechanism to say why the central supernatural tenets have not been violated.

    Even cults that had a firm end-date prophecy somehow find a way to explain away the continuation of normality. Because the supernatural is the ultimate hidden mechanism; the working of something that no-one can possibly have experienced directly, yet is confidently averred by the “ones in the know”.

  • So it’s pretty disingenuous to suggest that Jesus mythicists are no different from conspiracy theorists when their hypothesis is virtually identical to the mainstream non-Christian historical hypothesis.

    1. Shirking the burden of proof
    2. Delegitimizing the relevant experts
    3. Raising the standard of evidence inordinately high
    4. Resisting reasonable attempts to calibrate expectations and contextualize facts
    5. Accusing opponents of bias and brainwashing

    Sounds tinhatty to me, amigo.

  • 3vil5triker .

    Eh, I don’t know about this. Sure, atheists are skeptical about religion but religious people are skeptical about reality itself. Of course it varies according to the specific religion and individual believer, but to them everything is the result of a grand plan with invisible forces operating from behind the scenes.

  • I don’t mean to imply that religious thinking is the right way, just that there’s plenty of ways to be wrong. Maybe you’ve engaged with different conspiracists than I have, but none of them ever told me that they think it’s a virtue to believe without evidence; none of them ever described exactly what the grand conspiracy was in detail. The vast majority of them were quite consciously expressing skepticism about popular, conventional narratives about historical events and accusing people who affirmed the validity of these narratives of being credulous. The supposed anomalies in the “official story” are what the conspiracist considers evidence.

    As skeptics, we should acknowledge that there’s a difference between reasonable doubt and denial.

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    This is a kind of fallacy of composition.

    And this is missing my point, which isn’t that religion and nationalism are identical (even though they rhyme in the same way that “one” and “won” rhyme), but that both are used to justify bad reasoning in the same way, and that one is no more guilty than the other since the problem doesn’t lie in either one but in how they’re used.

    The reason religion relies on conspiracy theory is precisely because it is based on believing in the supernatural, which cannot be disproved in the face of almost any contrary evidence.

    You clear have never argued with a nationalist, have you? Or debated someone from the Austrian school of economic theory/libertarians? Because you see this same exact thing, with the supernatural replaced with their pet theory. This is what I mean when they I say they share similar traits. But ultimately, the problem isn’t religion or nationalism. The problem is how humans approach problems and how we justify our inherited ethics. That’s what gives us conspiracy theories. And removing religion does not fix this problem, because the folks attempting to justify bad ethics will just turn to something else instead.

    The reason religion relies on conspiracy theory is precisely because it is based on believing in the supernatural

    But it doesn’t. I demonstrated this:

    This is a typical stance assumed by most people: religion =/= supernatural. Religion doesn’t even equal a belief in the supernatural, although instances such as Christian Atheists and Jewish Atheists who still go to the synagogue/church and play a role in their religious community are notable precisely because they’re so rare.

    Yes, they’re rare. But you’re making an absolute statement here, and one example is all it takes to overturn an absolute.

    Furthermore:

    which cannot be disproved in the face of almost any contrary evidence.

    But you can disprove most conspiracy theories with empirical evidence (I notice you didn’t quantify what you mean by evidence; I assume you mean empirical, since that’s what everyone seems to mean, and not a priori, the basis of all mathematics, or other types). And while you can use empirical and a prior evidence to disprove some concepts of god, especially the Abrahamic one, you can’t every concept of god, because we don’t know what every concept of god looks like. Some day, “god” might refer to a massive super-intelligent AI, a la Orion’s Arm, complete with its own anglenet it could interact with the world through. Could you disprove that god? Because that’d be one hell of a challenge.

  • Fmr ATrealDonaldTrump

    Mark Carrier will not be one of the field’s biggest names, ever.

  • Doubting Thomas

    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.

    Nope.

    By definition, in order to be a conspiracist, they have to believe a conspiracy, not simply deny the official story.

    Your analogy is an utter failure.

  • “By definition?” Is that according to Doubting Tommy’s Big Boy Dictionary?

    I’m used to hearing conspiracists dodge the burden of proof by insisting that their evidence consists entirely of the “anomalies” in the official story or the conventional narrative, and need consist of nothing else. If anything characterizes a crackpot, it’s his declaration that “There’s no evidence that species evolve,” or that “Evidence has never been presented that terrorists perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.” Sure, the implication is that there has been a conspiracy to cover up the truth, but it’s the weakness of the official story—as perceived from a position of pathological suspicion—that defines the evidentiary basis of the conspiracy theory.

    It’s not like the guy who thinks they faked the moon landing has evidence in the form of admissions by conspirators or details of how the hoax was perpetrated, and he doesn’t think he has to offer any. His entire case is his skepticism of the NASA narrative and his comfort in handwaving away any facts that someone presents in support of it, on whatever basis he finds convenient.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Also, your description of 9/11 conspiracists makes it sound like you’ve never dealt with one. Truthers do usually have a very detailed account of what happened and their story involves numerous governments, airline workers, Trade Center employees, and secret organizations. They cite photographs, timelines, metallurgy, explosives experts, and countless other things they believe are evidence for their position.

    Your version of a 9/11 conspiracist only exists in your head.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Yes. By definition a conspiracist is someone who believes in a conspiracy. It’s part of the word.

  • It’s rare that the truther presents a data point like “nanothermite,” though. There are many more aspects of the 9/11 Inside Job that the truther simply says could not have happened the way the official story claims: they claimed that cell phone calls can’t be made from jets, but never presented evidence of how the phone calls were actually made. In the Kennedy assassination conspiracy, the claim is made that Oswald couldn’t have fired that many shots in that short a span of time, or that he couldn’t have shot as accurately as he did; no details are ever forthcoming about who did shoot.

    The Impossible Alibi is one of the standby arguments of the conspiracist, and one that makes my skeptic alarm ring the loudest. The conspirators presumably go to great expense, effort and risk to achieve their aim, and are so hypercapable they have no qualms about having to pull off precision operations in broad daylight. However, they put out a cover story that flies in the face of reason, or is so scientifically impossible that even amateurs on message boards can see how absurd it is.

  • Um, you realize they don’t call themselves conspiracy theorists, right, Tommy? That’s a pejorative term that we apply to them.

  • Doubting Thomas

    That’s irrelevant. If you call someone a conspiracist who doesn’t believe in a conspiracy, that you being wrong, not the word meaning something else.

    You used the term. You called them conspiracist.

    Do you think someone can be a conspiracist without believing in a conspiracy?

  • Doubting Thomas

    It’s not like the guy who thinks they faked the moon landing has
    evidence in the form of admissions by conspirators or details of how the
    hoax was perpetrated, and he doesn’t think he has to offer any. His
    entire case is his skepticism of the NASA narrative and his comfort in
    handwaving away any facts that someone presents in support of it, on
    whatever basis he finds convenient.

    And once again, it’s like you’ve never met a moon landing conspiracy theorist.

    Try to actually talk to one. They’ll tell you about shadows and flags and the lack of stars and the impossibility of the rocketry. Your characterization is laughable.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Ask a truther what temperature steel melts then get back to me about them not using data points.

  • Well, you’re sort of making my argument for me. If they’re making their case using “the impossibility of the rocketry,” then they’re making their online foes bear the burden of proving that rockets can actually fly to the Moon.

    Could you acknowledge that you even understand the point I’m making here? I realize you’re just here to flick boogers, but you’re failing even at that.

  • Doubting Thomas

    I can understand your point while also thinking it’s dumb.

    Claiming rockets can’t fly to the moon bears the burden of proof. Trying to reword the claim is is just trying to shift the burden.

  • I didn’t mean they don’t use data points at all, merely that they’re not ordinarily employed to build a positive case. They only bring up the melting point of steel to “debunk” the official story that the jet fuel fires caused the collapse.

  • Claiming rockets can’t fly to the moon bears the burden of proof. Trying to reword the claim is is just trying to shift the burden.

    And the point, for the millionth time, is that there’s not a conspiracist in the digital sandbox who would admit that.

    If you still can’t understand that, even after I’ve explained it repeatedly in what I consider plain enough English, then maybe it’s not the point that’s dumb.

    Run along now.

  • Doubting Thomas

    then maybe it’s not the point that’s dumb.

    Agreed.

  • Clever stuff!

  • PremiumOsmium

    Sounds tinhatty to me, amigo.

    How is it tinhatty? Both secular non-mythicists and mythicists agree that most, and sometimes even all of the gospel accounts are fictional. If even the experts agree that we can’t even know what the historical Jesus actually said and did, then how is that any different from the mythicist agreeing it was all made up?

    Look, can you just tell me three unique facts about the historical Jesus that a large number of experts agree on? That is, facts that they agree are unique to a single historical person, and could not be attributed to anybody else. Just three unique facts about Jesus. Can you tell me that?

  • Couldn’t care less.

    I guess I didn’t make it clear enough in the OP and my previous response that I don’t consider the content of these constructs even worth considering. These things aren’t legitimate disputes about science, historical events, or anything else. They’re just online games, that’s all.

  • MoreEntitlementsPlease

    This may be one of the most illogical posts I’ve read on this site. I’m struck by how junior varsity it is.

  • If your favorite epithet is Rebiblican, you’re not exactly playing pro ball yourself.

  • Game recognize game.

  • Carstonio

    There is a similarity between conspiracy theory and religion, but not the one the writer seeks to refute. A conspiracy theory is, at its core, a denial of the role of chance and circumstance in suffering. The adherent would rather believe that shadowy forces are in control than accept that no one is in control. Or that suffering is often the result of human error rather than intention. (Anti-vaxxer parents in particular seem stuck in the grieving process.) Very similar to the idea of “God has a purpose for everything.” Or the Creation Museum’s insistence on blaming humanity for the existence of suffering.

  • I don’t disagree with you at all. But I’m comfortable with the idea that it’s a personal choice we make (maybe not consciously) that we prefer to think of phenomena as including chance, whereas someone who subscribes to constructs like creationism or the 9/11 Inside Job prefers to think of everything being under the control of unknowable agents and shadowy elites.

    Does that seem reasonable to you? I couldn’t make sense of things like natural history or the events of 9/11 if I thought there was an intelligent agent guiding the proceedings. All I can do is play the odds, and that’s how open-minded I’m not. And I’m okay with that.

  • Carstonio

    While I don’t know if it’s a choice, I would say that it’s mistake to treat the choice as morally neutral.

    The idea of an intelligent agent guiding natural history inevitably brings up the question of the agent’s motives and intentions. And usually the offered answer is either throwing up one’s hands, such as “God works in mysterious ways,” or the answer amounts to deeming natural disasters as deserved punishments by a righteous deity. The latter is a cruel thing to suggest to anyone who has suffered from those disasters.

    And blaming shadowy elites for 9/11 or JFK’s assassination implies a helplessness, like nothing can be done to drive such elites from power. Such theories avoid more practical questions about their causes that may be within human capacity to address. Such as whether 9/11 was a consequence of the US backing autocratic regimes in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia. Or whether Oswald was another example of the wounded entitlement that drove lone assassins in that era and now drives mass shooters today. (The two situations have similarities – Bin Laden recruited his terrorists from the educated sons of wealthy Saudi families, young men locked out of roles in the government by the royal family’s lock on power.)

  • I didn’t mean to imply the choice is morally neutral. In fact, I usually insist that conspiracism assumes a sociopathically negative view of human nature; particularly with something like the 9/11 inside-job, there would have to be a virtually endless supply of anonymous henchmen with no qualms whatsoever about killing, destroying and lying for their nefarious overlords.

    However, I don’t think conspiracists necessarily have a monopoly on dodging blame for the state of the world or our responsibility in correcting it. The idea of natural or social meritocracy can also be used to justify the social order, or to excuse inequities on the grounds that competition leads to the best of all possible worlds. And even the notion of the universe’s “blind, pitiless indifference” can be used to validate our own indifference; if defining injustice as God’s will shows a lack of empathy, so does dismissing it as tough luck.

  • Carstonio

    Good point about natural meritocracy. In practice it functions as a version of belief in gods, or a substitute for it, especially in economic context. The market giveth and the market taketh away, blessed be the name of the market.

    Conspiracy theories do indeed presuppose a sociopathic view of human nature. They’re also improbable because they greatly exaggerate the human ability to organize or plan without error, as well as the ability to keep silent. The Nixon Administration’s conspiring, which included Watergate, had many people disclosing its secrets and its conspirators weren’t very bright.

    And absolutely, the idea of an indifferent universe should not justify human indifference. It should be used instead to emphasize a responsibility to care about the well-being of others. In any case, “luck” doesn’t presuppose an indifferent universe, but instead a watered-down version of belief in gods or belief in the supernatural.

  • filed under #unpopularOpinions

    i hear you Shem, and I think you’re right to say that conspiracists make the bulk of their case on burden of proof issues, but I think it’s also true that conspiracists at least sometimes concoct their own tales, like the moon landing TV set. Or like Groom Lake/Area 51 being the source of “UFOs” because of supersekrit usually nefarious research. Not far from the truth, but still a little silly.

    Personally, I wouldn’t surprised if the Bush regime “accidentally on purpose” dropped the ball and let 9/11 happen for political reasons – there’s certainly some evidence for it – like the memo, and the fact that fighters that would normally have been scrambled were not in this case until it was way too late even though they have EWS). That’s a story. If I were a conspiracist all I’d have to change exclude “I wouldn’t be surprised if” from that statement.

    I don’t know how rare it is, either.

    But again, I think you’re right to suggest the bulk relies on “anomalies in the evidence” etc.

  • Hello again, neighbor! How’s things?

    I think you’re right to say that conspiracists make the bulk of their case on burden of proof issues, but I think it’s also true that conspiracists at least sometimes concoct their own tales, like the moon landing TV set. Or like Groom Lake/Area 51 being the source of “UFOs” because of supersekrit usually nefarious research. Not far from the truth, but still a little silly.

    Yeah, I agree. The conspiracist category is really broad, and of course most conspiracists do make absurd claims. It needs to be said that they present these claims with what they consider evidence, albeit culled from crackpot websites or taken completely out of context from mainstream sources. It’s not like they rely on faith or scripture, the way religious people do.

    The point I was trying to make is that conspiracism is a mindset that rejects consensus rather than one that accepts received wisdom; I was trying to describe its kinship with the strain of online atheism that’s characterized by selective skepticism. The tinhats and truthers I used to engage never made it sound like they were obliged to establish and defend a coherent construct. They put themselves in the position of demanding evidence that they invariably rejected when it was presented to them.

    Nice to see you again!

  • Antoon Pardon

    It’s not like we have evidence that the early Christians decided to pretend myth-Jesus had really existed in first-century Galilee

    I find this a strange comment. We also don’t have evidence that early Christians decided to pretend Jezus did real miracles. So we don’t need evidence for pretending, in order to think something is a myth.

    Look at the Angels of Mons We don’t have evidence of people deciding to pretend the angels are real, yet the legend still came to life.