Compare and Contrast Faith and Conspiracy Theory

I agree with the concept that though similar in “anatomy” faith and conspiracy theories are both based around belief without full proof, but there is a great divide in considering the source of that belief. Conspiracy theories tend to come from a place of hatred and fear. Faith tends to come from a position of love.

But the faith does not have to religious in nature. I see faith redefined as “speculative, statistically, and possibly” within the scientific realm as well. Lots of scientists, and laypersons including atheists, will say that due to the enormous size of the universe that includes plants with potentially the right ast o sphere and size by the right star at the right age could have life there meaning intelligent life. Many believe that there is most likely aliens somewhere out there in the universe because of the variables for some planets. However, it’s faith. There is no evidence for it. Just variables that make it likely. I believe in aliens on other planets and it’s based on faith.

While a conspiracy theory would attach something negative to it. They would go beyond that to trying to force dots to be connected to “prove” aliens are among us and they do experiments on us and our government allows it because in return aliens have gife bus technology and that’s why we had a burst of it in the last century. That these aliens position themselves in places of power such as controlling Facebook, and ect…

To me that’s two examples that shows how even within the same subject, conspiracy theories and faith differ.

I was just cleaning up my inbox and noticed this thread. Kudos to all you digging into this hard stuff! I have some thoughts on the subject but am quite hesitant to share. I really appreciated this forum when I was a science friendly(ish) pastor and I see the benefit of keeping this little safe bubble for folks like that, which now that I’m an atheist, I no longer fit into. And yet, looking back, I really wish there was someone that explained to me the perspective of atheism and it’s relationship to the scientific method, vs. faith and it’s relationship to cults and conspiracy theories. But of course, I have no idea how I would respond, and likewise, I have no idea how any of you would respond; so I default to staying quiet. Plus I have very limited extra time. But if the moderators agree and anyone is interested, I’d be up for trying to do some discussion with anyone interested in a former-longtime-pastor-now-atheist’s perspective on this or other subjects.

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I start off on the other side (not a Christian) but looking to understand the potential therein. I find correlates in my experience for much of it but prefer not to trade that in for some more clearly delineated definitions and practices. If I’d grown up in such a system I’m sure it would simply be water I swim in and I’ve been impressed with just how open some Christians can be and how much uncertainty they can and choose to live with. This place beats any atheist forum you’ll find. Hope you’ll stick around. Your life experience sounds interesting. Hope you find a comfortable but fertile stance.

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You don’t have to subscribe to any particular set of beliefs to discuss topics on the open forum. We just ask that people follow the pinned discussion guidelines and not be jerks. There are a number of atheist/agnostic participants and some people from religious traditions other than Christian around here. We ask that, out of respect for the fact that BioLogos is a Christian organization hosting the discussion, if others come asking for specifically Christian advice or perspectives, people who don’t share those convictions refrain from trying to talk people out of their faith or responding in a way that is aggressively antagonistic or hostile to religion, the Bible, Christians, etc. Plenty of people who are not Christians manage to engage in discussions in ways that benefit themselves and others even with those limitations. So feel free to jump in.

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A conspiracy theory is just that - a theory. A theory is an educated guess intended to explain something. The Christian faith as presented in the NT is not a theory at all. It is not a guess.The grounds on which people are said to come to believe in God is the experience of seeing the truth of the gospel. The nearest expression we have to that sense of faith is “self-evident.” We see the truth, says Paul, “with the eyes of our heart.” It’s an intuitive grasp of truth, similar to the grounds on which we believe an axiom. Axioms have no proof, and are not inferred from other truths. But they are not guesses either. Calvin puts it this way:
As to the question: How shall we be persuaded that [scripture] came from God… it is just the same as if we were asked: How we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Scripture bears upon its face as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their color, sweet and bitter of their taste.
I’d be happy to send a more detailed account of this view if you send me your email address.
Roy Clouser

Randy I certainly am not someone with the expertise you’re looking for. I’m sorry you’re experiencing so much distress with your community over these issues.

In my non-expert opinion those who go down these conspiracy rabbit holes are merely exhibiting human failing and something which is probably just as common in the secular world. Being human is no cake walk.

I do sometimes worry that there is too great a divide between the theological elite and those who make up the “flock”. I seriously wonder how much value there is in this life for those who so poorly understand the belief they profess to hold. I don’t doubt there is some value but there does seem some danger in holding vehement beliefs in fantastic things with too little insight.

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Just my $0.02 . . .

I grew up in the church and became an atheist as a grew into adulthood, and I have seen people both in and out of the church be swallowed up by conspiracy theories. Never have I thought conspiratorial thinking is somehow akin to faith based belief.

At the same time, there can be overlap in the Venn diagram of religious belief and conspiracy theory. However, the very fact we can differentiate between conspiracy theories within the church and religious beliefs themselves shows why the two are not equivalent.

In general, I would say conspiracy theories are based on the adherence to a belief that is demonstrably false. In contrast, religious beliefs are based on faith and can not be falsified. We can demonstrate that vaccines are safe and effective, but we can’t prove or disprove the Resurrection with the same type of evidence.

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That is very helpful; thanks. I have been trying to address this because there does seem to be overlap. For example, strongly held religious beliefs seem to prevent us from accepting facts outside our bubble. However, there are certainly similarities of confirmation bias in non religious areas, too.

There are those who adhere to a faith because that is part of what they were taught; thus, it seems no different to them than part of the science text book. They may be willing to re examine their beliefs in the light of new evidence.

However, when the faith says that no amount of new evidence can convince them to the contrary, based especially on special insight (such as Reformed epistemology)–then it takes on concerning overtones, I think.

I do wonder what the elements are that lead us to believe in nonfalsifiable miracles. It is not clear to me.

Here’s a definition from Agustin Fuentes:

So here’s how I define belief: “belief is the ability to draw on our range of cognitive and social resources, our histories and experiences and combine them with our imagination. It is the power to think beyond what is here and now and develop mental representations in order to see and feel and know something: an idea, a vision, a necessity, a possibility, a truth, that something is not immediately present to the senses, but we can then invest in it wholly and authentically so that that something becomes our reality.”
Agustín Fuentes | To Believe is Human - Podcast-episodes - BioLogos

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I tend to think it is because religious beliefs are transmitted by stories which evoke a disposition toward the world - probably more the interactive social/cultural world than the empirical world of science which so aptly models the things we find there. As an outsider I don’t really know why Christianity puts so much emphasis on the miraculous. I’d like it much better if the features of the mythos didn’t overlap so much in people’s minds with the empirical objects those features draw on. I’d have much less resistance to religion if, rather than postulating a supernatural domain, people simply prefaced the central stories with “it is as though …” and then referred to the features of the mythos, setting what is said apart from the mundane world.

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The miracles He did for Israel throughout their history helps us to see and understand God more clearly. Those miracles were seen and recorded, so that we through the scriptures would be encouraged and our trust in Him would be increased. So even though we weren’t there we can trust that they happened for the scripture is also filled with prophecies about the coming of Jesus and He came as foretold and fulfilled what was foretold He would do. The miracles continued in the church age as the spirit of Christ worked within the body of Christ.

Miracles are the power and authority of the Kingdom of Heaven, entering into this present age. All that Jesus did on the cross and in His resurrection is the power and authority of the Kingdom of God inserting itself into this age and working in a supernatural way to redeem mankind and to deliver them from a supernatural ruler, the devil. Those who are still in love with themselves and sin, cannot see and understand the works of God. Those who do not trust, love and obey God have no insight into His ways, His character or His very nature. Those who humble themselves before God, acknowledge their sinfulness and turn to Jesus, prepare the way of the Lord to reveal Himself to them. God is hidden from the sight of those who continue in sin, because they do not seek Him in humility and truth.

No amount of natural man’s understanding of the creation around them, can change the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven and the purpose of God that is revealed through what Jesus did through the cross. The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit for he is still carnal and the ways of the Kingdom of Heaven are outside of this present age and the spirit of this age which rules over those who still love sin. Those who continue in stubborn rebellion against God cannot know Him and will die in their sins. But those who turn and trust in Jesus, the light of Heaven will shine in their hearts and reveal the Father to them.

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I’m finding that more than some of the other characteristics, a common thread of conspiracy theory followers is 1) mistrust of authority and 2) trust of alternative theories.

I’m curious why that would happen. It seems the opposite, in some ways, of organized religion.

In Isaiah God commands us not to call conspiracy or to fear what others do but we are to fear and trust God.
There are two kinds of people, those who obey the Spirit of God and those who follow the god of this present age, the devil. Those who love God and understand that the carnal man is a slave to sin know that the carnal man seeks his own glory and not God’s, so as is said about Jesus, He didn’t place His trust in man because He knew what was in man. So those who follow the Spirit know not to put their faith in the character of the ungodly.
Its not as if there aren’t conspiracies, but we are commanded to place our trust in God and to fear Him. So whatever the point the ungodly are making i can be assured there is going to be wickedness involved in it somehow. So I follow God’s Spirit and make righteous judgments and live my life as a stranger here. Not controlled by the flow of this world. I will not be excited by its promises of good things nor the fears that overtake it, my confidence is in the Lord Almighty. And I wait in anticipation for the return of Jesus who will bring judgment on this world and my final salvation.

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Reading The Rightous Mind at the moment, thanks to you guys, and the section just finished talked of the huge influence maintaining appearances and having the respect of your peers is, even for those who claim it is not. I see that in myself in my posts. Anyway, I think in church groups, the pressure is to conform and hold the same views to stay in good standing with your group. Even with the recent mess at the Capitol, group conformity in that group of rugged individualists was a major factor.

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There are two kinds of people, those who say there are two kinds of people and those who do not. LOL (notice in this I am mocking myself… and recalling when this has been said to me also when I said something very similar)

How do you know who is following the god of this world? Are they not likely to be the greatest liars just like the one they follow? And that is assuming they even know who they are following and since they are following a liar – it is only too likely they do not know. So are not the followers of the god of this world likely to be the ones shouting loudest that they are the ones following the Holy Spirit and Jesus? After all, is this not exactly what Jesus Himself said, accusing the religious leaders of being the sons of the devil, serpents, and whitewashed tombs?

The honest man knows that He is a sinner and thus knows that the devil has hooks in Him. Thus he knows that there is only one kind of people in the world… confused… trying… and failing constantly. …hearing the call of God to goodness and light at times while listening to another voice at other times. We do good and this comes from God and we also do evil which does not come from God. No sir… there is only one kind of people in the world.

You still have yet to understand the cross of Christ. His death and resurrection.

You still have yet to understand the cross of Christ. His death and resurrection.

Stubbornness, tribalism, and other human flaws cause us to reject demonstrable facts. As you state, we can find the same issues outside of religious groups.

That’s interesting. How would Fuentes define knowledge or facts? Is there any difference between them?

I keep getting this sense that post-modernism is becoming more and more common. It could also be that I’m getting grumpier as a move through those mid-life years, but let’s go with my first thought. I am constantly seeing the line blurred between belief and fact or between fact and opinion. There are people who openly state that if they believe something hard enough then it becomes fact, and in the same way they can dismiss any presented facts as just someone’s opinion. That’s frustrating for a late 40’s curmudgeon like me.

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Being 49 myself, I feel similarly. In current culture, is our affirmation of self worth so reliant on peers that we lose track of reality? Some of my 7 year old daughter’s Disney movies seem to encourage that type of thinking.

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