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Conspiracy Theories and Other Muddled Thinking

Illuminati and Conspiracy Theories Almost everyone laughs at Flat-Earthers, people who actually believe that the Earth is flat despite all evidence to the contrary. Most people also laugh at the Moon-Hoaxers, the folks who think that we never landed on the moon and that it’s all just a conspiracy with elaborately faked footage, photos, and reports. Conspiracy theorists in general provide a good laugh for most rational people, whether it’s talk of alien abductions, secret government programs with captured spaceships, crop circles, the Illuminati taking control of the world, or government mind control drugs in public water.

There’s a long history of conspiracy theory and one would think that that history would be just that… history… a thing of the past. Barring a few fringe groups, we don’t expect to see people outright denying scientifically proven facts or making accusations of secret, intricate, tangled webs of clockwork precision government cover-ups.

Yet we have just that… and not just among small "fringe" groups. Here’s a short list (in addition to the ones already mentioned).

  • 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists  – claim that the US government caused the twin towers to collapse.
  • Lizard-People Conspiracy Theorists – claim that lizard-people are running the world (seriously).
  • AIDS Conspiracy Theorists – claim that AIDS is a man-made disease cooked up in a lab.
  • Obama Birthers – deny that Obama is a US citizen (or that it hasn’t been documented).
  • Global Warming Deniers – deny that global warming is occurring or is affected by human activity.
  • Creationism Proponents – deny that evolution by natural selection explains the diversity of life on Earth.
  • Holocaust Deniers – claim the Holocaust never happened.
  • Anti-Vaxxers – claim that vaccines cause autism.
  • 2012 Alarmists – claim that, since the Mayan calendar ends in December of 2012, the world will end.

I’m sure there are many more. Some of the ideas are absurd because of historical evidence, some because of scientific evidence, and some because of their sheer implausibility (backed up by no evidence). Some are combinations.

A common thread, however, is that each of them ignores or denies actual evidence contradictory to its premise. In some cases, their proponents will fabricate evidence, making scientific or historical claims that are patently false in an attempt to bolster their case. Using outdated, no-longer-relevant data is also a common tactic, whether through ignorance or malicious intent.

What is the motivation for people to believe and perpetuate these absurd claims? Sometimes it’s politics. Sometimes it’s religion. Sometimes it’s an overactive imagination. There are plenty of other psychological reasons proposed.

sleestack01 Is this a big deal? Are conspiracy theories just good fun or are they harmful or dangerous? In some cases, like the lizard-people idea, they’re harmlessly silly and don’t gain enough traction in popular culture to cause anything other than snickering and pretend horror. In other cases, such as Holocaust deniers and 9/11 conspiracy theorists, they can cause emotional pain for those who are close to the event in question. In the worse cases, the conspiracy theories can gain enough traction to cause political turmoil, educational degradation, and even health risks. Global warming deniers, creationists, and anti-vaxxers are perfect examples of these.

Potentially dangerous effects aside, these conspiracy theories show a lack of critical thinking skills and/or a lack of understanding of science. Perhaps they demonstrate an innate distrust for any authority figure… to the point of automatically assuming that anything said by an authority figure is innately false or misleading (regardless of whether or not the figure in question has anything to gain by misleading the public). Perhaps they simply indicate a complete lack of curiosity, their proponents believing everything they hear without any skepticism at all. Politics and religion can also entrench someone firmly in a position that is rationally indefensible.

It’s the groups whose ideas have a tangible, negative effect on society that concern me the most. Folks who believe that lizard-people are controlling the Earth are relatively harmless and somewhat amusing. It’s the people who think that our activities don’t have an affect on our planet’s warming and who want to block any action we could take to limit that affect… or it’s those who feel that it’s okay to teach our children that our world was created by magic, corrupting science education, instead of teaching them the real science behind the wondrous way in which life evolved on our planet… or it’s the people who publicly mislead doting parents with bogus claims that childhood vaccines cause autism, leading those parents to forgo protecting their children which, in turn, leads to everyone else’s health being put in danger.

Those are the conspiracy theorists that I have a problem with. Those are the people who have a detrimental effect on society. Those are the people whose blindness to rationality, evidence, and critical thinking cause harm to the rest of the world. They cheapen our existence, mislead our children, endanger our health, corrupt our national discourse, and create hostile divisions where there should be none… and they will defend their absurd positions with a ferocious certainty that is completely unwarranted by evidence.

What’s the solution? In my opinion… education. Starting in grade school, children need to be taught how to think, not what to think. Critical thinking skills are… well… critical. The scientific method needs to be understood… not just science facts, but the why and how of the facts. And these skills need to be taught, not just to school children, but to adults.

As for those adults who refuse to accept evidence and continue to scream their absurdities from the rooftops, they need to be countered… loudly, frequently, and eloquently. We cannot silence them by removing their right to free speech, but we can do everything in our power to point out their muddled thinking, debunk their bogus conclusions, and reveal them for the charlatans they are. They should be embarrassed by their own silliness and we need to hold up a mirror to them, giving them a perfect view of their intellectual ugliness. They will complain, accuse, deny, quite possibly lie… and they will be loud.

We need to be louder.

7 Comments

  1. Judith Butler says:

    It is important to delineate between the various issues and levels of dissent. The contention that equates denial of the holocaust with denial of global warming (climate change is now the preferred term) is, frankly, dangerous. There is a vast body of peer reviewed literature which disputes or partially disputes the popularised/politicised narratives with respect to climate change. The use of a highly questionable label -global warming deniers- is unfairly dismissive of ongoing scientific debates. Similarly wholesale dismissal of the area of “creationism” suggests that the author of the article perhaps adheres to the kind of scientific world view promoted within “pop. science”, namely Neodarwinism? Is he seriously suggesting that one purported form of fundamentalism/dogma be replaced by another -scientific fundamentalism? Perhaps “Dan” is actually promoting yet another form of extremism. In sum, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    1. Dan says:

      I find it interesting that you would see a comparison between holocaust deniers and “climate change” deniers as dangerous. How so?

      As for the “vast body” of peer-reviewed literature, if you are referring to literature that debates political narratives, it seems somewhat disingenuous to refer to it as “peer-reviewed,” which is a term usually applicable to scientific papers. Political analysis is generally considered to be subjective. If, however, you are referring to scientific evidence refuting climate change (thank you for the term update, by the way), then I hardly think that “vast body” is even remotely accurate. My phrasing is not unfairly dismissive of “ongoing scientific debates” since the overwhelming view of scientists (and their organizations) is that climate change (due to global warming) is occurring and that a major cause is human activity. Those who choose to ignore scientific evidence (or choose to make up their own to suit their fancy) do so at the risk of being labeled “deniers.”

      …which leads us to your statement about creationism, which is a wholesale denial of science and rationality. Please note that I am referring to “Young Earth Creationism” when I make that statement. There is no scientific (or naturalistic, if you prefer) basis for it. To make such a bold claim as creationists make, one would think they would have a plethora of scientific evidence to back up their position, but that is not the case. Not only is there no evidence, but supporters will frequently take bits of scientific data, whether actual or fabricated, and attempt to use it to justify their position… always without success.

      Surely, if I refuse to accept a position wholly unsupported by any credible evidence, one wouldn’t call it “fundamentalist.” …yet you say “scientific fundamentalism,” using it to imply a form of dogmatic extremism. Science, however, is about as far from a fundamentalist mindset as you can get… constantly questioning, challenging, and updating its conclusions based on newly discovered evidence. It’s the best method we have for learning about our world in any kind of practical way.

  2. scotty says:

    I find it interesting that creationism is listed as a conspiracy.

    Against what might i ask?
    a Theory?
    Evolution is a theory so if you’re going to list creationism as a theory i request you also list evolution.

    1. Dan says:

      I think you might be confusing a conspiracy theory with a scientific theory. Creationism is not, by any stretch of the definition, a scientific theory. However, it does fit firmly into the category of “conspiracy theory and muddled thinking” as indicated by the title of my post.

      Surely, you can tell the difference between that and the scientific theory of evolution.

  3. quantum_flux says:

    I see some conspiracies as having something deeper to them, very similar to science fiction. For everything that humans can dream up, technology and science can make a possibility. This is why they all are of particular interest:

    Lizard People => Politicians are emotional beings and use the primitive reptilian regions of their brains to make decisions

    Intelligent Design => We humans could design life and shape the surface structures on another planet

    Climate Change => It is entirely possible to change the climate on Earth or terriform other planets to suit our needs (Antarctica Sea Ice -is indeed- growing at a faster pace than the Arctic Sea Ice is declining….perhaps due to the artificial van allen belts created during project the high altitude atomic tests of Project Argus in that region blocking sunlight over the years)

    Hybrids => This can indeed be done by humans with life on another planet or even with other life on Earth….all kinds of genetic experiments are possible, some of them could enhance our own genes giving us superhuman strength or perhaps the reflexes of a cat.

    Telepathy => Are we on the verge of implanting microchips into the vocal, audio, visual, taste, and smell nerves of people that are attacheable to radio wave antennas which can communicate thoughts and feelings between people? Perhaps that might be the future of communications.

    Antigravity and Flying Saucers => Perhaps the supercollider research will reveal the existance of “antimass” with the disintegration of micro-black holes …. with gravitation, likes attract and opposites repell (that runs contrary to electromagnetism which likes repell and opposites attract), perhaps that explains some of the phenomina related to the mysteries of dark mass and dark energy, and black hole jets of (anti)mass.

    Time Travel => Perhaps negative mu (magnetic permeability) materials cause light, and therefore messages, to travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum. The effect on the observer is that time goes in reverse, that the doppler shift is inverted.

    …etc, a lot of neat ideas come from studying the conspiracies, it’s really all about taking off our Black thinking caps and putting on our Green and Blue thinking caps.

  4. Lolz says:

    The bias displayed here is exactly the problem: You lack critical thinking abilities yourself when blinded by your own opinions.

    Idiots like you (unpardoned, here) are of the mind that scrutiny to the average opinion must equate with some sort of mental deficiency, and that because you believe it and you know all your (rational) friends believe it, it must be true.

    Also, because you equate the lack of scientific consensus on Global Warming (which there is, even if you sleep with pictures of Al Gore and his Hockey Stick graph, not everyone does: Models are debatable, end of story) with Holocaust deniers? This is continued idiocy: One is debatable abstract unrealized scientific projection, the other is documented historical consensus with no value to contestation. You are guilty of the same crimes you suggest of others in your tirade: Denial of scientific evidence (What’s that, physics book? Read you? I couldn’t possibly do that. Oh, childrens biology book, your statements on enhanced plant growth in the presence of higher levels of CO2 are just so silly. What’s that, statistics? You have provided some correlation between vaccinations and autism? Perhaps we should ignore you and fail to explore this further..?)

    It is funny that you ironically use the term flat-earther, because n fact you display more of the traits; you are the flat-earther by the spirit of the phrase:
    1) You hold to the general consensus viewpoint
    2) You do not consider that contrasting viewpoints could in fact be true or should be subjected to scrutiny

    Perhaps a new term should be coined for your “conspiracy muddlers,” something like “people that don’t agree with me.”

    The Earth WAS flat in the minds of the majority until it was proven otherwise. The sky WAS warming.. I mean, falling until all the other little chickens wised up that Chicken Little mayyy have overestimated the problem a bit. The cause for two skyscrapers to fall down WAS being hit by planes, right up until the third one fell down with no plane in sight. Good job flat-earther.. way to tow that line and avoid thinking about the issues altogether!

    Just to summarize:

    Your list is muddled, because it contains several issues that are the matter of current debate and are unresolved, several matters for which resolution is philosophically impossible and several matters for which there is no value in debate whatsoever or no confirming evidence from which to provide assertive points. I see no validity to the framework of the argument provided: It is a piece of propaganda using persuasive argument to support your viewpoints and as such hold just as much validity to critical thinking as any other such piece: None.

    A further lesson: Stop listening to the explanations provided by your conspiracy theorists. What you do, like most people that are simple in the head, is to listen to the conclusions given (For strong example: A conspiracy theorist might question the official explanation to 9/11 events, and profer the solution that Bush’s administration had planes flown into the twin towers.) and use your own emotional response to it to discredit the only matter of worth in any theory, which are the questions and data (if the conspiracy theorist in the example above has questioned the official explanation and provided you with the questions and supporting data without the conclusion, then YOU would be the idiot for not giving them due consideration. As it is, because of the wild nature of the conclusion given, the question is ignored.) Then, you have a nebulous idea that something has been disproven, when in fact, there has been ZERO useful critical thinking about the matter.

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