Is the earth flat or hollow? What many thought was simply an internet fad have been left baffled to discover that some actually believe the earth is flat. Satirical news sites like The Onion may have to shut their doors because you just can’t compete with stories such as this. And what can you do to convince someone the earth isn’t flat once they are committed to it? No evidence, no fact to the contrary could ever be seen as admissible to debunk what is both humorous and alarming in its claims.
And then there are the hollow-earthers. For those a little less informed of this tribe of conspiracy, the hollow-earthers believe that the earth is, well, hollow; that aliens have lived beneath our feet for tens of thousands of years. What?! You have to wonder, do these people ever talk to each other? Both camps submit a narrative that supposedly provides an explanation for the way things are. Both appeal to their evidences and exhibits to bolster their claims and both, conveniently, possess claims that aren’t falsifiable or acceptable forms of proof to dislodge their pre-commitments.
Why are conspiracy theories attractive?
There are two main reasons. First, conspiracy theories provide answers that other narratives have failed to answer. Who killed JFK? What were the Phoenix lights? What really happened at Roswell? Was 9/11 an inside job? The list goes on. Think of the moon-landing, for example. Supporters of the moon-landing being a hoax will point to what they see as weaknesses in the provided narrative. Shadows on the lunar surface appear to point in multiple directions while the light source should have only been from one place—the sun. What accounts for this? The answer, among a longer list the moon-hoaxers would cite, is that the moon-landing was filmed in a bunker. Thus, the inconsistent shadows are but a small part of a body of damning evidence that we never landed on the moon. This competing story is that the moon-landing was faked as Cold-War era propaganda. Truth be told, the rebuttal looks attractive, exciting and even plausible at times.
Secondly, conspiracy theories tend to carry a theme through them that they cannot be falsified. Of course, others would disagree. So perhaps the real problem isn’t that it cannot be falsified, but that nothing can convince someone to the contrary once they’ve committed themselves to it. You would think all it would take to prove the earth isn’t flat is to show a satellite image of the earth, right? Wrong. Those are hoaxes, too – didn’t you know that? Any sort of evidence is tossed out as inadmissible in the court room of their mind before the trial ever begins.
Conspiracy theories are narratives that come with their own interpretive framework. To label it more aptly, they are worldviews. They are, at bottom, attempts to explain reality, account for inconsistencies, and give meaning to existence. But what’s the problem with a worldview that cannot be disproved despite overwhelming evidence? It’s a worldview that should be abandoned.
Any narrative that is given as an explanation for the way things are, whether it’s a worldview which states the Illuminati are in control of everything, that the earth is flat, that there is no god, or that Christ rose from the dead, must be both coherent and correspondent.
Take Tolkien’s works of The Lord of the Rings, for example. Imagine there is no plot-hole to simply use the eagles to drop the ring of power into Mordor and that this epic series is perfect (some don’t see this as a plot-hole, by the way). In Tolkien’s and the reader’s mind, this world is internally coherent. It does not contradict itself. It is not self-defeating in any way. Its coherence establishes powerful credibility to its truthfulness. But there’s a problem, or rather, something is missing. It is not correspondent. If it were to be correspondent, then it would have a point of contact with our reality. Middle Earth would be a real section of our own earth. Mordor would be a real place, Gandalf a real person, and the battle at Helm’s Deep a real event. But it’s not. It’s quite literally, fiction.
Everyone on the face of the planet has a worldview. Each person at some level will naturally attempt to make sense of reality through the various narratives they encounter and try on. As troubling as it may be, many live their lives with incomplete, or incomprehensible narratives. Each religion is an interpretive framework, and similar to conspiracy theories, they too are at odds with one another. Every worldview must be both coherent and correspondent. But this often is not enough in its claim.
The problem with Christianity rests not in its internal coherence, which it possesses greater than any other worldview, nor in its correspondence, in which it truly makes contact with reality. The Christian worldview is both coherent and correspondent. The problem with the Christian claim is that it is costly. Christians often finds themselves in a corner trying to prove that Jesus existed to the non-believer. They do this because they are convinced that if they can sway the non-believer Jesus was a real person, they will then bend the knee of submission to him. But this isn’t the problem. No other person of antiquity is as widely attested or well-established to having existed than Jesus of Nazareth. The problem is not just that the non-believer’s interpretive framework is bent to reject any rival worldview, namely, that of Christianity, but that people hate it.
Every worldview makes a claim to truth, and every person possesses a worldview. The arrogance others project upon Christians and Jesus’ exclusive claims to truth is, in reality, misplaced. Their own framework, whether a conspiracy theory or a passive agnosticism, is no different; it, too, is making a truth claim. The question, then, really rests in the challenged worldview to examine themselves as to why their subtle reticence or vehement rejection of Christ exits.
This leads us to some natural implications and applications. The first of which is to avoid narratives, whether via conspiracy, religion, or news stories, that do not connect with reality and cannot be disproven. Before accepting any narrative, it must correspond to our reality. Secondly, both the challenger and the challenged need to provide an account for their internal coherence and their external correspondence. Places which contradict or fail to connect with the real world are likely flawed; they aren’t comprehensive narratives and should be abandoned. Avoid conspiracy theories! Although they may be exciting and provide what seem to be easy solutions to long standing problems, they are usually more problematic and fail to provide more meaning, though their promise may seem alluring and attractive. Lastly, remember the claims of Christianity of possessing the only truly comprehensive narrative is not offensive because its makes a claim to truth, but because it makes a claim to truth which requires change.
You may find that this is actually a more meaningful starting point than trying to prove the resurrection or disprove someone’s claims that the bible was arbitrarily decided at the Council of Nicaea (which it wasn’t). The real point of friction is found at the stumbling block of the cross, and that a creator would die for his creation and then defeat death so that his creation could live with him for eternity. The absurdity of Christianity is not that it makes contact with reality, but that our reality is often marred by sin, evil, hostility, brokenness and events that don’t make sense. But that’s not a problem unique to Christianity. Every worldview, every religion, and especially atheism, are left with the same questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. We all privilege a narrative. Which one will make the most sense? Which one will correspond to reality and be internally coherent. I submit that when we really dig in, there is only one answer which is satisfying.