At Pacific Standard, Katie Heaney explores “The Origins of the Chemtrail Conspiracy.” Heaney describes how official responses to this growing conspiracy theory only served to reinforce the conspiracists’ views:
Unfortunately for the Air Force, the third-best way to fan the flames of a conspiracy [theory] is to say you were only speaking hypothetically. The second-best way is to say, unequivocally, that any given practice isn’t government policy. And the first-best way is to then say you’ve investigated people’s concerns, and found them to be untrue — which the Air Force did in 2002. And in 2005.
Conspiracy theories don’t arise from facts. They arise, rather, from an epistemological choice that prescribes which facts will be accepted and how those facts will be interpreted.
What this choice means, basically, is that the legitimacy or illegitimacy of any given fact-claim is determined primarily by the source of that claim. For chemtrail enthusiasts, sources such as scientists, the FAA and the Air Force are predetermined to be illegitimate. This isn’t simply skepticism — a journalistic prudence that demands even the claims of purported authorities and experts must be “checked out.” It’s a categorical dismissal — anything these sources say is, by definition, untrue. Anything those sources say will be perceived, instead, as a kind of confirmation of their opposite.
“Inerrancy” is a kind of conspiracy theory. In this framework, theologians and biblical scholars are the equivalent of Air Force spokesmen. Seminaries are Area 51 (“they” will never admit what really goes on in there).
Consider, for example, William D. Barrick — a young-Earth creationist who teaches at The Master’s Seminary* in Sun Valley, California. Barrick defends this creationist viewpoint in the latest of those pop-academic “[multiple] views on [whatever]” books from Christian publisher Zondervan. RJS worked her way through this book — Four Views on the Historical Adam — over at Jesus Creed. She discusses Barrick’s contribution, “The Historicity of Adam Is a Gospel Issue,” and his co-authors “Responses to the Traditional View of Adam.”
Those responses all highlight the utter lack of evidence for Barrick’s claim of a young Earth and historical Adam, as well as the abundance of evidence against that claim.
Barrick’s response precisely parallels the logic of those chemtrail conspiracy theorists Katie Heaney described. He writes:
Young-earth evidence for the historicity of Adam comes from Scripture itself and its own direct statements. Such biblical evidence does not require confirmation from any external scientific, historical, or sociological evidence. When the Genesis record declares that God created the woman out of the material that he took from Adam, we require no other evidence to conclude that they shared DNA and that she was specially created. The fact that Scripture speaks only of a first man and first woman and that it presents them as the actual historical parents of the entire human race is evidence enough to believe those truths.
Barrick’s “literalism” is curious — requiring him to affirm Genesis 2 by denying the existence of Genesis 1, while also somehow imagining that Genesis 2 has something to say about DNA. (I forget the ancient Hebrew word for DNA, but I’m pretty sure you won’t find it in Genesis.) He also assumes, oddly, that his cultural location as a 21st-century American English-speaker makes him better equipped to read this ancient Hebrew text than any ancient Hebrew could have been.But set that aside and let’s just focus on Barrick’s statements about “evidence” and what it is he might possibly mean by that word:
Young-earth evidence for the historicity of Adam comes from Scripture itself and its own direct statements. Such biblical evidence does not require confirmation from any external scientific, historical, or sociological evidence.
“Direct statements,” Barrick contends, are sufficient “evidence.” (Provided, that is, that they come from the acceptable source.)
This is a very strange use of the word “evidence” and a very strange description of the relationship between “statements” and “evidence.” In more conventional language and logic, claims and statements are separate things from the evidence that can or cannot be found to support them. Not so for Barrick.
“The accused is guilty,” the prosecutor says. That’s a direct statement, but it provides no evidence. Without evidence to support that statement, there’s no reason for a jury to accept that claim as true. Barrick’s argument, though, is that the prosecutor is God,** and thus this assertion “does not require confirmation.”
“The accused is guilty,” therefore the prosecution rests and we must all accept this verdict as having been proven by the “biblical evidence” of the prosecutor’s statement. (This is why if you’re ever accused of a crime you probably don’t want a young-Earth creationist on the jury.)
Barrick inverts the conventional understanding of evidence. Rather than assess the validity or invalidity of statements based on evidence, he assesses the validity or invalidity of evidence based on statements. The usual significance accorded to whether or not evidence and/or statements correspond with observable reality is not a factor in his reasoning.
Observable reality itself is not a factor in this reasoning. Reality and evidence and all that stuff doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the source of any given statement.
When “external scientific, historical, or sociological evidence” disprove and deny Barrick’s claims about the meaning of the Bible, he responds just exactly like a chemtrail obsessive listening to a spokesperson from the FAA. He rejects that evidence and reinterprets it, instead, as a sideways confirmation of its opposite.
That’s not a hermeneutic. That’s a conspiracy theory.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
* “The Master” in that name is, of course, a reference to God. But given my ongoing argument that the white fundamentalist hermeneutic taught at The Master’s Seminary is a modern, mostly American, invention that was designed, developed and defended primarily as an attempt to reconcile slave-owning and slave-trading with the Bible, you can see why this name makes me chuckle. The Master’s Seminary teaches the Master’s Bible for the Master’s purposes. Yep. It sure does.
** God speaking directly through “the Word of God,” by which he means the Bible. (Whereas the Bible itself reserves that term for someone else.)