O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
— Julius Caesar, Act 3. Scene I.
The murder of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BCE, is one of the most famous assassinations in history. It resulted from a conspiracy of 60 Roman senators, led by Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, in an effort to prevent Caesar from turning the Roman republic into a tyranny.
John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was also determined to be the result of a conspiracy. (Ironically, Booth had performed in a well-reviewed production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar just months before killing Lincoln.)
Whether conspiracy is the “official” consensus or not, assassinations (such as JFK’s) often inspire conspiracy theories. UFOs and extraterrestrials and the 9/11 attacks form other topics ripe for speculation, with many Americans buying into various ideas of sinister government cover-ups and/or mysterious secret societies (The Da Vinci Code, anyone?). Christians in particular can also be susceptible to faulty ideas about the level of demonic activity’s influence in our world.
RTB philosopher and American history buff Kenneth Samples frequently addresses the issue of conspiracy theories on both his podcast (Straight Thinking) and his blog (Reflections). He acknowledges that “there are conspiracies” and that “governments have a tendency to cover up things” (he lists the Lincoln assassination and Watergate as respective examples). However, Ken cautions that such serious topics are a prime example of the need for careful, critical thinking.
In episode #156 of Straight Thinking, Ken, along with physicist and semiretired RTB scholar Dave Rogstad and podcast host Joe Aguirre, discusses the consequences—from wrongly slandering people’s character to devastating social agendas—that can result, at least in part, from buying into false ideas. Ken observes:
I think it’s fair to say that the Nazi [view] of the Jews...and then ultimately the “Final Solution” carried out by the Nazis—that all of this was based upon faulty conspiracy theories, and it ended up [with] 6 million people [dead]....It is a sobering thing to know that the Holocaust, at least in part, began with conspiracies about the Jewish people. We want to be very, very careful.
Clearly, in the age of the Internet and email, it behooves us to avoid swallowing and spreading sensational ideas, such as conspiracy theories, too quickly—before we’ve taken time to ascertain the truth. So, what are some ways we can evaluate the theories that come our way—whether they concern governments and assassinations or science and religion? Ken lists five questions that can test a theory for soundness and validity.
- Coherence: Does the theory hold together foundationally?
- Data: Does the theory comport with the facts?
- Knowledge: Does the theory avoid unwarranted presumptions?
- Competition: How well does the theory withstand counterevidence and viable challenges?
- Verification: Is the theory open to falsification? If so, how?
Dave concludes the podcast episode with a passage from Proverbs to serve as a reminder of where God stands on the issue of truth verses lies.
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:...
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
All throughout Scripture, believers are instructed to love the truth and shun lies. Moreover, we are commanded to love God with all our mind. In other words, we need to use the brain the Creator gave us to think before we speak and click “forward.”
Resources: Ken often writes and talks about conspiracy theories and the need for critical thinking. Check out these resources for more on these controversial issues.
- “9/11 Truthers Steal Al Qaeda’s Thunder”
- “Oklahoma City Bombing and Conspiracy Thinking”
- “Apologetics Challenges: The Problems of Evil and Conspiracy”
- “Asking Four Questions: Evaluating Conspiracy Theories”
- “The Big Three: Conspiracy Theories”
- “A Christian View of Extraterrestrial Intelligence”
- “The Umbrella Man and Conspiracy Thinking”
- “Ideas, Ideology, and Islam” (article)
- Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men (book) by Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, and Mark Clark