Is biblical creation a conspiracy theory? Popular culture—and even some researchers—say so. Let’s apply a little critical thinking to see if that’s true.
If you believe that God created the world in the way Scripture says he did, then you’re doubtless a conspiracy theorist. At least, that’s what popular media and even some scholars are concluding.
For example, the influential website Snopes recently republished an article from The Conversation entitled, “Why Creationism Bears All the Hallmarks of a Conspiracy Theory.” The article said that young-earth creation is a conspiracy theory which “we cannot ignore because it is dangerously opposed to science.” (For a detailed response to this article, see this reply by Bodie Hodge.)
Along similar lines, a study from 2018 found a moderate correlation between belief in creation, belief in conspiracy theories, and teleological thinking, or perceiving purposes behind things. The authors concluded,
We suggest that this powerful cognitive bias (teleology) extends to social and historical events, and nowadays to conspiracy narratives. As such, creationism could be seen as a conspiracist belief system (indeed, involving the ultimate conspiracy theory: the purposeful creation of all things), and conspiracism as a type of creationist belief targeting socio-historic events (e.g. specific events have been purposefully created by an all-powerful agency).1
In other words, this paper is saying that not only can all creationists be called conspiracy theorists, but all conspiracy theorists can be called “creationists”!
Is that true?
Let’s think about it.
We can evaluate this study’s claims by applying some of the 7 Checks of Critical Thinking. For instance, we could use Check # 3, Check the Source, to ask, “What type of study is this?”
In answer, it’s a correlational study—a type of research that investigates whether one trait (in this case, belief in creation) is linked to another (belief in conspiracies). Showing that one trait can predict another does not mean one trait must cause the other or be a type of the other. That would be like saying, “Writers tend to be tea drinkers, so writing causes tea-drinking, and tea-drinking is a type of writing.” In the same way, we can’t logically conclude from this study that creation beliefs cause conspiracy beliefs or represent a form of conspiracism.
By applying Critical Thinking Check # 4, Check the Definitions, we can see that calling all conspiracy theorists “creationists” requires pulling a serious bait-and-switch on the word “creation.” After all, creation in the sense of God creating the world is not at all equivalent to creation in the sense of conspirators manipulating socio-historic events.
We can also clarify the definition of teleology by asking what kind of teleological thinking the study examined. “Teleology” in the sense of “believing humans were created for a purpose” is not the same as “teleology” in the sense of “believing that powerful conspirators are deceiving the public.” In fact, the study did find that creation beliefs correlated most strongly to people attributing purpose to humanity and the universe. But conspiracy beliefs correlated most to “rejecting science” and attributing consciousness to non-living entities. Those are very different types of teleological thinking.
Even if there were only one type, it would be a fallacy to say, “All creationists think teleologically, and all conspiracy theorists think teleologically; therefore, all creationists are conspiracy theorists.” You can draw a Venn diagram to prove that argument is logically invalid, as this article explains.
We can further apply Check # 4 to define “conspiracy theory,” which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary calls “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”2 Is believing that God created humans the same as hypothesizing about some secret plot? Hardly.
Comparing belief in creation, which is consistent with observational data, to belief in “conspiracy conjectures,” which usually aren’t, is simply the propaganda technique of negative association. This technique tries to make the mind form an instant ill opinion about something (creation) by linking it to something considered negative (conspiracies), even though the association is not necessarily logical. Another writer leveraged this tactic by saying,
When religious thinkers emphasize hidden powers and purposes underlying a seemingly material reality, and claim that these hidden purposes are revealed only through special knowledge granted to initiates, they adopt conspiratorial attitudes. And when they charge mainstream science with corruption or comprehensive mistakes, so that science becomes a plot to conceal the truth, the resemblance to a conspiracy theory deepens.3
That comment about “special knowledge granted to initiates” negatively associates creationists with cults. But biblical creationists don’t suggest that “only the initiated” perceive God’s hand in nature. In fact, Romans 1:20 says creation so clearly reveals God’s attributes that choosing not to see them is inexcusable.
What about the statement that creationists “charge mainstream science with mistakes and corruption?” Occasional mistakes or data corruption can occur in observational science. But with exceptions like Haeckel’s embryos or Piltdown man, widespread evolutionary beliefs don’t generally result from the corruption of observational science so much as from interpreting observations through a naturalistic worldview.
It’s not a conspiracy theory to point out the extent to which this happens. For instance, documents like the Parliamentary Assembly of the Counsel of Europe’s “Resolution 1580”4 exhort schools to solely teach evolutionary interpretations except in religion classes. Dr. Jerry Bergman’s book, Slaughter of the Dissidents, also illustrates how often creationists lose academic positions for their beliefs. So, the widespread suppression of non-evolutionary interpretations is an observation, not a “conspiracy conjecture.”
In the end, calling biblical creation a conspiracy theory requires some major leaps in logic, including seriously stretching and switching the definitions for words like creation, teleology, and conspiracy theory. Without having a basis in logic, arguments that equate creation and conspiracy theories must lean heavily on the persuasive powers of propaganda. As a result, these propaganda-laden attempts to paint creationists as dangerous, cultish, or science-deniers can ironically sound a touch, well, conspiratorial.5
Dismissing biblical creation as a conspiracy theory may seem like a convenient way for us to avoid thinking about our accountability to our Creator. But it’s not a logical way. According to Romans 1:18-20, in fact, there is no logical way to reject our Creator. How much better, instead, to run to him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.