Conspiracy Theories and Critical Thinking

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

Oh, how strange the days have been. Right now, things have been back-and-forth, up-and-down, inside-and-out, and here-and-there. It’s kind of like total chaos, except that I don’t mind, because at least it’s better than sitting at home. You know, going out to the store to buy speakers for my laptop, coming home and doing laundry, then going off to work, coming back home and sleeping, then, I don’t know, shredding paper or something. It’s the most completely random things. And yet, I’m slowly checking things off my list of school supplies, so that’s good. I went out with my mom the other day to buy storage containers. I’m really not sure why she needed me there, but basically the choice was between opaque or see-through plastic containers. It was a tough decision, but I finally decided on the see-through, just because they were so much cooler. And the were a bit bigger since the corners weren’t as rounded. Yes, that’s the level of excitement my life has reached. I am that cool.

Last night was a youth event: we went to the Oshweken Speedway. It was pretty sweet. Every time I hear the word Oshweken, I think of Oshkosh – the brand of kids’ toys – but whatever. We rode up in Skipp’s new BMW. It’s pretty nice; he got it used, but it looks to be barely used. I’m not sure where exactly he got the money while on a youth pastor’s budget, but hey – maybe he’s selling drugs on the side. That’s all good, right? Right. Anyways, if there were two words to describe the Speedway, they would have to be: loud, and dirty. Most of the races weren’t all that bad noise-wise, but when the sprint cars came out, it was deafening. Good thing I’m already deaf, so it didn’t bother me much. As for the track, well, it’s made of dirt. And while they water the track to try and keep the dirt down, very quickly the water dries up, and twenty or so sprint cars speeding around corners kicks up a lot of dust. The cars would go around the corner, and then about five or ten seconds later, the cloud of dirt would get to us. It got pretty bad. I should have brought sunglasses or goggles or something, because my eyes were burning. Not to mention, my clothes were so dirty afterward. When we got up to leave, I looked back at the bleacher bench we were sitting on – and you could tell where we were sitting, because those parts were clean. Yeah. It was pretty bad. But altogether, the races were pretty sweet. The winner of one of the races was a sixteen-year-old – and that was apparently his second win of the year. Pretty sweet if you ask me. The kid was like three feet tall, and apparently hadn’t hit puberty yet. I’m sure his winnings are going straight to Pokemon cards.

I’m going to go in reverse a little bit and back up to yesterday morning and afternoon. Now, if there’s one thing that I sort of enjoy, it’s making fun of stupid people. Not in a hurtful way, but I mean, some people have it coming to them. And some of those people that deserve to be made fun of for the stuff that comes out of their mouths are conspiracy theorists. Some of their ideas are so ridiculous and so wildly impossible, that you just have to sit there and think to yourself, “Could anyone really be so deluded?” So yesterday, I was reading about this conspiracy theory. Basically, a couple guys made an hour-and-a-half long video called “Loose Change,” which goes through evidences supporting the idea that the September 11th attacks were actually carefully-planned operations by the American government to give them a pretext for invading Afghanistan and later Iraq. It all seems very convincing when you hear what they have to say. I mean, they quote people who were there, they quote “the experts,” and it all seems very suspicious.

Of course, anything can sound like the truth when you’ve only heard one side, so along with that, I also read the “Loose Change Viewer’s Guide,” which is written by another guy who basically rips apart the whole thing. He includes a transcript of the entire video (so I didn’t actually have to watch the video), and then inserts his comments throughout. It got pretty funny. I mean, as he points out the flagrant errors and gross misjudgments, he also gets pretty sarcastic after a while. One of the sources they call upon is a guy named Karl Schwarz, who is apparently the owner and CEO of several multinational companies, including a couple banks and a nanotube manufacturing plant. Of course, when you actually go to the websites of these “huge companies,” they’re hosted on a free Tripod webhost, and the business email address of one of them is something like Hah. You’re telling me that a huge corporation would use the CEO’s personal email address? As it turns out, this guy is an avid conspiracy theorist, and while the companies he runs might seem half-decent, a few minutes of back-checking reveals just how false he really is.

Anyways, I say all this to continue on in another direction. After reading this whole huge document that basically rips apart the entire theory, the author of the Viewer’s Guide links to a site called the “Critical Thinking Field Guide.” It’s written by a college professor who tries to teach his kids how to think logically and make decisions on claims – especially the paranormal. Some of the points he makes are quite reasonable. For the most part, it’s basically the scientific method expanded upon. However, along with paranormal claims about psychic powers, UFOs, and astrology, he mentions creationism. And with that, I sat back and went, “Hmmm.” And I mean that literally. I read the whole article over, and then I sat back and stared at the blank screen for about a full minute or two.

I guess I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic. I mean, there comes a point when scientific fact no longer is substantial enough to prove any one thing, and then it comes down to belief, but at the same time, I’ve always been one to question what I believe. I don’t mean that I’m constantly doubting myself, but every once in a while, I take a step back and analyze what exactly I profess to believe in. And I say to myself, “Is what I believe logical and reasonable?” It’s important, I think. I mean, Christianity was never meant to be a blind faith. I mean, in Luke 14:28-30, Jesus is talking about the cost of being His disciple, and He says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'” In other words, count the cost before you begin, to make sure you’re ready for it. It doesn’t fit exactly into what I’m saying, but it’s along the same lines. If Jesus is saying, “Hey, being my disciple costs a lot. Make sure you know that,” He’s definitely not trying to trick us into something we’re not prepared for. Doesn’t it make sense that we should make sure that what we believe is sound and reasonable?

So there I sat, and I thought about it. This professor’s main argument against creationism was the fact that some of the claims are not falsifiable. He uses the example of starlight to prove his point. The fact that stars are billions of light-years away, and so it would take a billion years for that light to reach earth, seems to suggest, therefore, that the universe has been around for billions of years. In spite of this, he says, creationists hold that God created the light already on the way from the stars. In other words, it is an excuse to explain away the unreasonability of the argument.

At this point in my mind, I stopped myself. First of all, the existence of an eternal, omnipotent God who had the power to create the universe would certainly have the power to create light waves already on the way to earth – assuming that He exists, of course. The issue then becomes, really, does God exist? That is the broader issue. Let’s take a look at the flipside, then. Suppose God does not exist. This world, then, came about by natural means, specifically through the process of evolution (that seems the only reasonable alternative to the creation theory). Now, most scientists that believe the evolutionary theory also hold to the process of the Big Bang. It, again, seems the only reasonable theory in light of the non-existence of God. The idea that all matter in the universe was compressed into the space the size smaller than the period at the end of this sentence is the generally accepted process by which the Big Bang occurred. Then, at some point in time, there was a massive explosion, where all the matter expanded and broke apart, eventually forming the stars, planets, and other celestial bodies we see in the skies today.

That seems fairly reasonable, I suppose. In a search for truth, and in light of the evidence presented around us, there is a fair amount of logic to it. However, I just have one question – where did this matter come from? Scientists have managed to come up with an explanation for the planets and stars and such, but where did all that stuff come from? There are two explanations for this. The more religious scientists will exclaim that this matter has just always existed, and for reasons yet unknown, it suddenly exploded outward. The truthful scientists will resign that they really don’t know where the matter came from. So in essence, here we have two theories: one states that a God who has always existed created everything out of nothing, and the other theory states that, well, everything came out of nothing with no help whatsoever. Now which one seems the more absurd theory?

The truth is that there is no concrete, absolute proof of either theory. With no outside, third-party observer who witnessed the beginning of the universe and then proceeded to survive another several billion years to tell us about it, and no way to reproduce it at all, there never will be. Ultimately, it comes down to an issue of faith. And well, according to the Critical Thinking Field Guide, our minds should be open to changes that come from new evidence that warrant a new investigation into the matter at hand. However, in lieu of new evidence to sway me one way or the other, I choose to believe the one that requires the least amount of creative thinking and selective reasoning to explain the world around me. I choose to believe that, in spite of some seemingly unreasonable claims (like starlight reaching us a few million years too early), God exists and created what we see all around. The alternative is just so much more unreasonable.

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