In the field of apologetics, there is one type of person that you must be prepared to encounter, and one which you indeed will encounter on a regular basis. In fact, I would go so far as to say that 95% of the serious skeptics you encounter will fall into this category of person in one way or another, at some time or another. Some to a very limited extent, some in the most extreme of ways – as with most things there exists a continuum. I am speaking of a type of person I will refer to (for lack of a better term) as the “Conspiracy Theorist”.
The short definition of the Conspiracy Theorist is the individual who, though the plain and reasonable truth be clearly and accurately presented, cannot bring himself to abstain from rejecting it (for reasons of his own) and so engages in all manner of fanciful speculation to avoid the obvious conclusions and thus justify his own doubt. “Yeah, but what if…?” is a refrain common to his lips.
There may be many reasons for this – the most common, I believe, being simply that to allow for a certain matter to stand as truth would necessarily require some massive overhaul in the Conspiracy Theorist’s essential worldview. Therefore, the Conspiracy Theorist faces a dilemma: either acknowledge the insufficiency of their worldview to account for the plain facts (and therefore surrender control of their own worldview to the truth), or arbitrarily invent reasons to reject the truth, even if such reasons are not based on any rational or factual foundation whatsoever.
This ties into apologetics at several points. For instance, too often in the field of Biblical studies this manifests itself in people who are uncomfortable with the words of Jesus (be it His numerous claims to Deity, His admonitions that He is the only source of life, etc.) claiming that, “Jesus never said (such and so), that was added later on by Constantine or the Knights Templar”. This conspiratorial argument is so often used, in fact, that it is the very reason we are calling this type of person the “Conspiracy Theorist”.
Now, in point of fact, there is no evidence of mass manuscript tampering in the history of the Biblical text, and the reality is that so overwhelmingly does the textual witness speak against such speculation that it is simply a laughable assertion flat out. Be that as it may, the bread and butter of many Conspiracy Theorists is preying on the ignorance of the many who will simply swallow the claims hook, line, and sinker. Pretty soon, everyone is a Conspiracy Theorist! (thanks Dan Brown, you’ve made almost a whole generation of such thinkers)
As another example, consider the below transcript of an interview Ben Stein conducted with atheist Richard Dawkins, which was featured on the controversial documentary “Expelled”.
BEN STEIN: Who did create the heavens and the earth?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Why do you use the word “who”? You see, you immediately beg the question by using the word “who”.
STEIN: Well then how did it get created?
DAWKINS: Well, um, by a very slow process.
STEIN: Well how did it start?
DAWKINS: Nobody knows how it started. We know the kind of event that it must have been. We know the sort of event that must have happened for the origin of life.
STEIN: And what was that?
DAWKINS: It was the origin of the first self-replicating molecule.
STEIN: Right, and how did that happen?
DAWKINS: I told you, we don’t know.
STEIN: So you have no idea how it started.
DAWKINS: No, no. Nor has anybody.
STEIN: What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in, uh, genetics or in Darwinian evolution?
DAWKINS: Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, by probably some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer. And that Designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that higher intelligence would itself have had to have come about by some explicable, or ultimately explicable, process. It couldn’t have just jumped into existence spontaneously. That’s the point.
No, Dr. Dawkins, the point is that you have evaded the fundamental problem that life cannot come from non-life. Do you see what took place here? So firm is Dawkins in his atheistic worldview, that when all the evidence in the world (literally) points to a creator, he chooses to avoid the obvious conclusion (i.e. that there is a god), not by providing any reasonable, evidence based alternative, but by pure, unadulterated, arbitrary speculation. It’s simply mind boggling how much evidence he undermined by simply saying, “maybe aliens did it. Proof? Nah, we don’t need proof. As long as the other side can’t prove we’re wrong we can continue to speculate ‘till the cows come home and avoid a version of reality we’re uncomfortable with.”
I will make a confession: when I was younger, I never would have believed that such people existed. Had you told me that there were individuals out there who would, even when confronted with the most blatantly obvious of facts, still insist on speculating their way out of the most undeniable of truths, simply because they could not handle the reality of things as they are, I would have laughed out loud. This is such a foreign way of being to me. For my part, if the facts point in a certain way such as to establish something beyond a reasonable doubt, I do not begin dabbling in unreasonable doubt just to be contrary or avoid conclusions that may cause me discomfort. This is called intellectual dishonesty, and it’s wrong.
Over the years, however, I have met people who would have stood in a field at noon and argued that the bright yellow source of light in the sky was not the sun, simply because they didn’t want to believe it was daytime. They exist.
Check yourselves, friends, that you too do not fall into the trap of engaging in conjecture just to justify your own personal belief system. Remember to “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), but do not refuse to believe something because it contradicts your worldview. Instead, seek to conform your worldview to that which is right and true.
So how do we respond to the Conspiracy Theorists in our midst? To date, the only effective way I have found of dealing with such people is prayer. You and I can’t soften a heart of stone – but God can replace it with a heart of flesh.