Too many times on this site (and others) we’ve seen people leave threatening messages “from God”. In a recent post, a commenter added “I would tread very carefully when speaking/mocking things that youâ€™re not sure about.”
First of all, this is a typical comment from a conspiracy theorist. It’s as if they did some vast amounts of research and “uncovered” the hidden truth about something that only they know about. The above commenter believes that the Catholic Church is somehow behind some sort of vast conspiracy to bring in a one world religion. They don’t offer any evidence. Just threats.
This ranks up there with the “demonizing” of other believers. We don’t need it, it doesn’t convince us of anything, and the conspiracy theorist ends up discrediting himself because of his shrill tone and lack of reason.
Wikipedia offers some great thoughts on conspiracy theories
The “Rationality Theorem”
Another criticism of conspiracy theories is that they rely on a certain worldview which may or may not be correct. Graham Allison, a political scientist, developed this argument in his book, Essence of Decision, and informally named it the “rationality theorem”.
Basically, Allison argued:
â€¢ Many theories – including conspiracy theories – rely on the assumption of rational expectations. Under this assumption, events and decisions are explained by the rational responses of groups and individuals.
â€¢ However, Allison pointed out that groups and individuals do not always act in a rational manner.
â€¢ Allison argued that by using rationalistic thinking, individuals automatically take a “black box” approach to problems, meaning that they concentrate on data that was available and the results, but failed to consider other factors, such as bureaucracy, misunderstandings, disagreements, etc.
â€¢ Finally, Allison argued that rationalistic thinking in general violates the scientific law of falsifiability, as according to the rationality theorem, there exists no event or groups of events that cannot be explained in a rational and purposeful manner.
Although Allison primarily studied the Cuban Missile Crisis, in Essence, he illustrated the rationality theorem by making reference to the Attack on Pearl Harbor, specifically the theory that U.S. decisionmakers must have purposefully allowed the attack to be pulled off.
Allison argued that, for this specific conspiracy theory to hold, analysts must first make the assumption that officials act in a rational manner, and that these officials had full access to all information that indicated the attack was imminent.
However, by examining additional internal evidence, Allison argued that while, from a black-box perspective, the U.S. had enough evidence of the Pearl Harbor attack, a combination of bureaucracy and misunderstandings was the real reason why the attack succeeded. For example, Allison noted that evidence of the upcoming attack was scattered among different governmental departments, and was not immediately combined to create an entire picture. Likewise, some decisionmakers misinterpreted the data at hand – on December 7, 1941, the base at Pearl Harbor actually was on alert, but the alert was for possible Japanese sabotage, not an all-out aerial attack.
Testing Conspiracy Theories
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of a conspiracy theory is the problem of settling a particular theory’s truth to the satisfaction of both its proponents and its opponents. Particular accusations of conspiracy vary widely in their plausibility, but some common standards for assessing their likely truth value may be applied in each case:
â€¢ Occam’s razor – is the alternative story more, or less, probable than the mainstream story?
â€¢ Methodology – are the “proofs” offered for the argument well constructed, i.e., using sound methodology? Is there any clear standard to determine what evidence would prove or disprove the theory?
â€¢ Whistleblowers – how many peopleâ€”and what kindâ€”have to be loyal conspirators?