Reasons to Believe

Think Again: Questioning Conspiracy Theories

Are professional sports on the up and up? Do the “better” teams win by genuinely defeating the “lesser” teams?

10 March 2010: UC Irvine vs Cal State Fullerton basketall in Anaheim, California. Photo by Matt A. BrownWith the NBA playoffs having just finished, it’s a good time to mention one of the conspiracy theories that was making the rounds a few years ago. According to many sports fans at the time, the NBA’s league officials were conspiring to get the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics to play in the NBA Finals. Why had they allegedly done this? Big money, of course! The vast TV audience that this marquee NBA matchup would attract would pay great financial dividends to the league. In other words, in the NBA the fix was in!

Before trusting or denying such a claim, how would one go about thinking through it logically? After all, conspiracies sometimes exist. As a sports example, some point to the Black Sox Scandal in the 1919 World Series. Well, let’s reflect upon a few factors.

First, how many people would have to know about the scheme in order to effectively pull off the subversion? I think the number of conspirators would have to be very large to ensure the right outcome. For example, key members in the NBA league office would undoubtedly have to be involved. Numerous referees would have to be in the know as well in order to make the right (or wrong) call at the critical juncture of decisive games. In addition, several coaches would also have to agree to the scam. Lastly, a considerable number of important players would surely have to be part of the plot in order to affect the end result of the games.

Consequently, if a great number of people are involved in the conspiracy could the silence of all the participants be ensured? Could all the people be sufficiently paid off to guarantee nothing would leak out? There would be the possibility of people having a crisis of conscience. And some may stand to gain a great deal by being a whistleblower on one of the most remarkable sports conspiracies in history. So it seems reasonable to conclude that the more people who know about the conspiracy, the greater chance someone is going to reveal the secret. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

Logical problems like this also apply to all the big government conspiracy theories that require the involvement of many people, like the JFK assassination and the 9/11 (or “truthers”) controversy. But similar questions could legitimately be asked about the alleged conspiracy that the apostles lied about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, the challenge of conspiracy is at times an apologetics issue.

Conspiracy thinking is common in our culture, and that includes Christians who are sometimes taken in by fanciful conspiracy theories. As I’ve demonstrated above, an important starting point when thinking about conspiracy claims is asking the appropriate questions. And the study of logic helps a person learn how to do just that. So stay tuned for more articles on logic as we attempt to think again!

For more in this series, see “Thinking Again about Logic.”

Resources

  • My former podcast, Straight Thinking, contains a number of episodes given to the topic of conspiracy thinking. It is archived at reasons.org. I recommend in particular that you listen to “The Big Three: Conspiracy Theories” and “Asking Four Questions: Evaluating Conspiracy Theories.”
  • Two chapters in my book A World of Difference are devoted to the subject of logic. Most formal logic texts (even used ones) are very expensive, but RTB sells my book at a very reasonable price. Moreover, the logic chapters are conjoined with a detailed discussion of worldview thinking from the perspective of historic Christianity.

Subjects: Logic