Exercise

As it should be well known by now, I accept the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Still, being a Conspiracy Theory Theorist I do sometimes read things in a conspiracy-seeking way (by way of an intellectual exercise) and this piece by Massimo Pigliucci is just dandy.

Pigliucci, a philosopher and biologist, is attending a discussion forum at the Konrad Lorenz Institute and, apparently, he has been ‘found out’ by Creationists and IDers, who think that this is some scientific cabal seeking to hide the truth of our origins and plan new evils in the name of Darwinism. Pigliucci article is an explanation of what is really happening at the discussion, but reading it, it just sounds a little… planned. Now, I know how these discussion groups work and Pigliucci’s description is kosher, but if I were a Conspiracy Theorist, then I’d say he was trying to hide his devious and malacious ways in the truth. Behold:

Articles and commentaries on the web have also made much of the fact that the meeting is “private,” meaning that the public and journalists are not invited. This is completely normal for small science workshops all over the world[.]

But why, the Conspiracy Theorist will ask, if you’ve got nothing to hide.

In the 1930s and ‘40s it became clear that one had to integrate the original Darwinism with the new disciplines of Mendelian and statistical genetics. Such integration occurred through a series of meetings where scientists discussed the status of evolutionary theory, and through the publication of a number of books by people like Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, George Gaylor Simpson, George Ledyard Stebbins and others.

Note, the Conspiracy Theorist will say, how he’s not talking about how the science drove them to this but that it was some kind of imperative. The only imperative that could drive such an agenda is one designed to hide the truth and foster atheism in our schools (or something like that).

A commonly believed story about the Moon Landing is that NASA doesn’t seek to debunk claims that it was faked because all it does is give airtime to people who then go ‘If they’re trying to deny it, then there must be something to it.’ Now, this might be an urban legend (I have read something that suggests NASA has an educational fund for exactly this task) but the moral seems plausible; denials only make people question things more. It might well be an example of a heuristic gone bad; if something you believe in is called into question you probably should try to work out why. However, if it is a deeply held belief, then perhaps you won’t seek to question your own reasoning but rather why someone would want to deny the ‘truth.’

Thus, Conspiracy Theories are sometimes born.

Now, of course, I don’t think there’s anything conspiratorial going on here at all (with Pigliucci or NASA), but if you were to think there was Pigliucci’s article wouldn’t dissuade of it. Still, I liked this bit:

This is completely normal for small science workshops all over the world, and I was genuinely puzzled by the charge until I realized (it took me a while) that a sense of conspiracy increases the likelihood that people will read journalistic internet articles and ID sympathetic blogs. You’ve got to sell the product, even at the cost of, shall we say, bending, the reality.

So very true.


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.