Episteme Review #1 – God as the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory – Brian L. Keeley

So, a new issue of Episteme and with it comes new Conspiracy Theory content galore. I’m going to do a little bit of a review; give you the publicly available abstracts and then my brief comment-cum-review on the actual paper one by one. I’m halfway through the issue and so far I like the fact that I’m a) not wildly divergent in my thinking on the issue and b) I can see lots of little things I can improve upon or modify to show that my thesis is new and novel.(I’m also seeing a project in the transmission of propositions, of which my (current) thesis is just a small part of, a project that could lead to a more mainstream critique of Social Epistemology…)

God as the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory – Brian L. Keeley

Abstract:

Traditional secular conspiracy theories and explanations of worldly events in terms of supernatural agency share interesting epistemic features. This paper explores what can be called “supernatural conspiracy theories,” by considering such supernatural explanations through the lens of recent work on the epistemology of secular conspiracy theories. After considering the similarities and the differences between the two types of theories, the prospects for agnosticism both with respect to secular conspiracy theories and the existence of God are then considered. Arguments regarding secular conspiracy theories suggest ways to defend agnosticism with respect to God from arguments that agnosticism is not a logically stable position and that it ultimately collapses into atheism, as has been argued by N. Russell Hanson and others. I conclude that such attacks on religious agnosticism fail to appreciate the conspiratorial features of God’s alleged role in the universe.

Review:

Keeley’s paper is his second on Conspiracy Theories. He started the mainstream debate surrounding Conspiracy Theories in Epistemology with his article ‘Of Conspiracy Theories’ in the prestigious Journal of Philosophy (which basically has allowed this issue to even exist and also was the justification for the 2006 collection ‘Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate’). Keeley’s first paper developed a critique of Conspiracy Theories that argued that our prima facie case against such beliefs is warranted because they engender too much scepticism of social data. This time around he argues that we need to appreciate that in some debates an absence of evidence is evidence of absence and in other debates this is simply not true. He compares belief in Conspiracy Theories with belief in a God Who Works in Mysterious Ways, claiming that in some domains of inquiry we should expect the subjects we are investigating to be hidden or hiding. It’s an interesting thesis; in some fields of investigation we can generate positive epistemic grounds for a given claim, but in regards to the investigation of inscrutable or secretive ‘agents’ (such as we find in Conspiracy Theories and Theology) we need to determine this a priori and not by investigation (whichis a posteriori). In some fields absence of evidence is evidence of abscene (an inductive claim, methinks, appropriate to the Natural Sciences). In other fields absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and Keeley thinks that is true of the domain that contains beliefs such as Conspiracy Theories and claims about the existence of god(s).


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.