Today I’d like to discuss whether or not Creationism can be considered a kind of “Gateway Drug” to Conspiracy theories. I don’t know if any studies have ever been done on this subject, but I would very much like to see what correlation between Creationists and Conspiracy theorists exists, if any.
Now, I do not mean to imply that Creationists are all members of the tinfoil hat crowd. Most of them are like my dad: He believed the Bible was the more-or-less literal truth, and hence he didn’t believe in evolution, and that was that. After deciding it couldn’t be true, he never gave it another thought, and didn’t try to prove it wasn’t real. He didn’t care. My dad was an extremely intelligent, edcuated man, and an aerospace engineer for NASA back in the days when that actually meant something. He wasn’t a dope. He also wasn’t a biologist, so the issue wasn’t at all relevant to his life. I think that’s the case with the majority of Creationists: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. Why are we still talking about this?”
In some cases, however, I think more radical Creationists can tend to slide into Conspiracy theory mode. Again: This doesn’t mean they’ve got foil on their heads, it just means that they may have been told stuff of a whack-a-doodle nature that they believe without questioning it. And why should they? If most Creationists don’t fight over the issue, then Duane T. Gish and Ken Hamm hokum isn’t going to come up very often. To be clear: I’m not trying to insult anyone, except Mr. Gish and Mr. Hamm, which I’ve already done, and Maybe Dr. Donald Howard, time permitting. I think this is a thought worth exploring though.
So what do I mean when I says “Creationsim could be a gateway drug to conspiracy theories?” Well, I’ll tell ya: There are people who believe 9/11 was an inside job. I’m not sure why a person would believe that in the first place, but that’s their faith. Fine. Now, there is an orgy of evidence to prove that wrong: the buildings were never designed to withstand impact with planes, aviation fuel burns more than hot enough to melt steel, it would take thousands of pounds of high explosive to take down the building if it wasn’t really the planes that did it, there are grieving family members, plenty of corpses., and everyone who ever had the old Microsoft Flight Simulator knows how to fly a plane into the WTC because, hey, it’s the first thing most of us did after opening the package. Even a casual examination of the facts shows that it wasn’t a ruse: 9/11 really happened.
When confronted with these facts, a conspiracy theorist will come up with counter-arguments: the corpses were just random bodies from morgues, not victims. The grieving families are actors. The buildings were destroyed by tons of high explosive buried underneath the buildings, and so on. If you successfully disprove any of these opinions, then they’ll come up with more and more to replace them, and their interpretation becomes ever more baroque, to the point where their view of the incident is completely out of touch with reality.
See what I’m getting at? Ok, so here’s an example of how this can happen in Christianity:
Between fourth and eighth grade, I went to three separate Baptist schools that used the “Accelerated Christian Education” curriculum. (“ACE,” as it’s more commonly known). I loved science, and I was really good at it. I always got high grades on the tests and exams, and I was very quickly doing work far above my grade level, which was allowed in that kind of school system.
Now, ACE was vehemently Creationist. In fact, it had been started in large part because of outrage over Evolution being taught in public schools. As such they didn’t just work Anti-Evolutionism into their science courses, it showed up in everything, with the possible exception of Math. History spent a lot of time harping about “Out of Place Artifacts” that allegedly disproved any civilizations prior to 4000 BC or so. English occasionally included writing asignments that sniped at Evolution. Bible studies were frquently little more than sermonizing against it. It was immersive.
I totally bought into it. Why wouldn’t I?
Interestingly, ACE never actually explained what Evolution was to any real degree. I didn’t have a real solid understanding of what it was I didn’t believe in until I was in college. I assume they were afraid that explaining it might cause some people to believe it. Or perhaps they didn’t understand the concept themselves. I don’t know.
At some point in my 20s or 30s I realized Evolution was real, and did not really contradict Christianity in any way.
About four years ago, my kid was going to an ACE school, and I volunteered as an assistant. Because I’m good at it, I generally got pegged with helping the kids with science stuff. In so doing I frequently had to excuse my self and go outside in order to stifle the desire to yell “Are you kidding me?” or sometimes just to laugh.
This was thirty or thirty five years after I’d gone to ACE. In my day ACE was pretty rational about the sciences, excepting the evolution thing, of course. When I came back, they had gone completely coo-coo bannannas with regards to every aspect of science.
Example: They had decided that the sun was not nuclear. Why? Because a fusion powered sun would happily burn for another 4 or 5 billion years before starting to run out of fuel. ACE couldn’t understand why you’d need something that would last so long, since the world is only 6000 years old, and will probably end any day. A super-long-lasting star, they felt, argued against special creation, so they just said that people who say the Sun is a nuclear reaction are simply lying, or deluded. They claim that the sun has been observed to shrink over the course of human history (It has not). They claim that it’ll burn out in a few thousand more years (It will not). They say that it’s some other kind of combustion, but never bother to explain what it is. I’m gonna assume coal.
Interestingly, they accept the concept of Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift – because how else would animals from Noah’s Ark get all over the world? – but they believe it happened fast. Like in a few centuries.
Other fun stuff that may be conspiratorial or merely ignorant, I’ll let you decide: They distinguish between “True” scientists and the other kind. “True” scientists accept the Bible as the supreme arbiter of fact. The same workbook also maintained that rather than there being five biological kingdoms (Animal, Plant, Fungus, Protozooan, and Bacteria) we had a generation ago, or the eight they have nowadays, they maintained that there are only three: Plant, Animal, and Man, “Which rules the other two.” The same workbook maintained that a mushroom is a plant, despite the fact that it doesn’t photosynthesize, nor does it turn CO2 into air. (Just the opposite, actually)
Noahs’ Ark almost always feeds back into Creationism somehow, and ACE was no different. In my day, we were just taught that it happened, and I’m sure there were some whacky bits they threw in that I can’t remember, but it was mostly rational-if-you-don’t-look-at-it-too-closely stuff. When I volunteered a generation later, however, they had gone completely nuts.
They believe that the earth was created with an actual literal shell of ice completely surrounding it. This shell didn’t touch the ground anywhere, and was held aloft by the air, which was much higher pressure than the air we breathe nowadays. Several times more, probably – they say – compressed by the weight of the ice pressing down on it.
Forget about the fact that ice isn’t transparent. Forget about the fact that you couldn’t see the stars through it. Forget that this is impossible according to the very laws of physics that God Himself made. Forget about the fact that the Bible says the stars were put up there for signs and seasons, so obviously God wanted us to see them. Forget about the fact that this obviously meant there were SEASONS prior to the flood, ACE don’t care.
They maintain that this high-pressured air was why people like Methuselah lived so long (Which it totally would not do. Air is actually rather caustic at very high pressures for any length of time). To prove this, they cite the work of a guy in Paluxy, Texas, who built a pressure tank and has raised several generations of snakes in it, which he claims live longer than normal snakes.
I’ll pause to let the irony off using snakes to proove the Garden of Eden sink in.
The Flood, they say, happened when the ice shell cracked and collapsed. There should be craters of these miles-wide icebergs impacting the ground, but there aren’t. “Oh, they were all worn away over time.” If the flood was real, doesn’t that mean that Everest and a bunch of other mountains would have stayed above water? They’re taller than Ararat. “Oh, they didn’t exist then. They formed after the flood.”
And on and on and on it goes. In the course of a generation they went from denying one aspect of science, to denying well established facts that don’t contradict the Bible, to basically rejecting all science as a lie, all reality as a lie, in favor of a crackpot in Texas with a propane tank full of snakes.
Now where is the line between this and a conspiracy theory? If there is one, it’s too thin for me to see it. If we’re willing to discount the physical world in favor of nonsense, if we’re willing to teach it to kids, and argue it in public, then we are making ourselves look stupid. By extension we are making Christianity look like an assemblage of nutjobs, and we are, hence, working AGAINST the cause of Christ.
We really need to cut that kind of crap out, don’t you think?
Thanks for reading,