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Introducing the New “Conspiracism” Canard


Isn’t deceptive name-calling a wonderful thing? Here’s a fresh twist on efforts to evade a debate about design in nature by associating ID with tendencies in thought that many people find disreputable. The familiar gambit is to paint intelligent design with the brush of “creationism.” You simply slap that label on us and bingo! — no need to discuss the substance of the relevant scientific evidence.

A Link Uncovered

Now, writing (remarkably) in the otherwise sober journal Current Biology, a group of researchers led by Pascal Wagner-Egger claim to uncover a link between “creationism” and “conspiracism.” 

Teleological thinking — the attribution of purpose and a final cause to natural events and entities — has long been identified as a cognitive hindrance to the acceptance of evolution, yet its association to beliefs other than creationism has not been investigated. Here, we show that conspiracism — the proneness to explain socio- historical events in terms of secret and malevolent conspiracies — is also associated to a teleological bias. Across three correlational studies (N > 2000), we found robust evidence of a teleological link between conspiracism and creationism, which was partly independent from religion, politics, age, education, agency detection, analytical thinking and perception of randomness. As a resilient ‘default’ component of early cognition, teleological thinking is thus associated with creationist as well as conspiracist beliefs, which both entail the distant and hidden involvement of a purposeful and final cause to explain complex worldly events.

They write, “Promiscuous teleology — the tendency to ascribe function and a final cause to nonintentional natural facts and events — was significantly, albeit little to moderately, correlated with conspiracist beliefs scales.” But whether these “facts and events” in nature indeed follow from some enacted intention is the question posed by ID. It’s a question that most evolutionists would rather not seriously address.

Typically, Wagner-Egger et al. use “creationism” to denote an idea they don’t like but that really is much broader than what the term implies. They define it as “the belief that life on Earth was purposefully created by a supernatural agent.” The origin of life certainly does seem to reflect purpose rather than the mere play of random processes. Whether the purpose is that of a “supernatural agent” is a question on which science, as far as I know, can’t currently shed light.

Alex Jones and QAnon

Entertaining the question at all, though, now associates me with Alex Jones and QAnon, is that it? Actually, the “Supplemental Information” section is a bit vague as to what conspiracies they asked their respondents about. They mention the “9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the deaths of princess Diana and US president John F. Kennedy, and the Apollo moon landing.”

Obviously, “teleological thinking” — an openness to seeing intelligent causes at work in ways not everyone can agree on — underpins arguments for design, and it would have to underpin most conspiracy thinking as well. But this is a game that can be played in two directions. You want to associate “creationism” with conspiracies or with some even more disordered tendencies in thought? As Michael Egnor has written here in the past, “Perhaps a case can be made that the belief in a God invisible to the senses has echoes in psychosis. And perhaps a case can be made that denial of purpose and intelligent agency in nature has echoes in autism.”

“Echoes” and “correlations” aside, the only genuine, known conspiracy theory “associated” with “creationism” is one promulgated by Darwinists. This is the belief that whatever ID proponents may say to the contrary, as we do over and over again, we’re really all about a secret plot to teach ID, or the Bible, or creationism, in public schools. Alternatively, as a college student wrote to me in an accusatory email this afternoon, “This whole org is probably just a scam to raise money from uneducated fundamentalists.”

“Code” for Intelligent Design?

I’ve responded to the “creationist” conspiracy canard in an article at The Stream:

In states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and the current flash point of South Dakota, we have supported responsible academic freedom laws. These laws allow science teachers to present the strengths and weaknesses of neo-Darwinian theory as an explanation of biological novelties. They don’t introduce or protect teaching about intelligent design, and certainly not about any religious doctrine (like creationism). They explicitly extend protection to science instruction alone, and then only when it enriches students’ understanding of subjects that are already part of the curriculum (which ID is not). Yet journalists routinely assert that these laws would shoehorn intelligent design and “creationism” in public school science classes.

In the same context, when we advocate introducing students to “critical thinking” on evolution, with teaching material drawn only from mainstream science, the media claim that “critical thinking” is “code” for intelligent design, or for “intelligent design creationism.” We know that it’s not, and that the “code word” conspiracy theory is utterly false. It doesn’t make any sense, either. A law can permit or forbid something. Someone reading the law and deciding how to implement it needs to know what you meant to protect or forbid. A law written in “code” understandable only to a masked cabal would be pointless and self-nullifying.

Hidden codes and secret cabals are the meat and potatoes of conspiracy theorists. Pascal Wagner-Egger and his colleagues can tell the readers of the Current Biology what they like, but it’s Darwinists and their media champions who spread actual conspiracy thinking, not us.

Photo: Fibonacci Blue, via Flickr.