Conspiracy Theories Are Bunk

By Dr. R. Scott Clark - Posted at The Heidelblog:

Henry Ford (1863–1947), founder of the Ford Motor Company, famously said, “History is bunk.” That may be sometimes true. Historians do make mistakes. This is why all histories must be read with a critical eye. Not all theories of history are equally valid. Some of them do not do what any good theory must do, namely, explain the evidence. Still, some theories are attractive because they offer a comprehensive explanation of the past (or the present) and they are relatively simple to grasp and they do not require a lot of work. E.g., One popular historical theory says that most things are the result of the dialectical struggle between classes. According to this theory most historical phenomena can be explained by the ongoing attempt by the upper classes to oppress, for their own benefit, the working classes. Frankly, given such a theory one need not pay a great deal of attention to the facts in any particular instance because, well, we already know how the story turns out. Under such a theory the only job left to the historian is to sort out who are the good guys (the oppressed) and the bad guys (the oppressors).

When Ford declared history to be bunk (and “more or less bunk”) he spoke for a lot of practical, hard-working, business-minded Americans who had little time or interest in thinking about the distant past. In some ways America represents a break from and/or flight from the past. Because we are a busy, prosperous people, because our public education system has adopted silly theories about what constitutes education, Americans and (it seems) particularly evangelicals are especially prone to theories to explain events past and present that can be learned in a two-hour film. The Da Vinci Code is a great example of this phenomenon. Most American Christians could not tell you when the fourth century was (the 300s AD) but many of them watched the film and some of them read the book and suspect that it is more or less correct. The past is more complicated than that but the book/film relies on a conspiracy theory and we Americans like them. There are conspiracy theories about the Trilateral Commission, the Masons, the CIA, the FBI, the Moon Landing, and most recently and perhaps most bizarrely of all, that the earth is actually flat and there has been a conspiracy to create the impression that the earth is round.

They are fun as entertainment but they fail as explanations for what actually happened. The DaVinci Code does not begin to explain how the early church developed, when Gnosticism actually developed or how, or when how the canon of Scripture developed but conspiracy theories are just so attractive—they are the crack cocaine of theories. One hit and some are hooked for life. They produce a euphoria that the brain wants again and again. They give the illusion of explanation the same way that the ball player on cocaine thinks he is playing brilliantly when, in fact, his teammates wish he were not playing at all.1