Anti-Science Conspiracy Theories, Power, and Morality

By Carl Weinberg, republished with permission. Read the original article here.

[My own comments: It is easy to link creationism to religion, but to me this seems counter-effective, as well as ignoring the many believers who oppose creationism all the more fervently because it is a travesty of their own faith. Debunking the science in “creation science” is an endless activity, but I don’t think anyone ever became a creationist because of things like polonium halos, or alleged gaps in the fossil record. Digging deeper, we can identify creationism as a conspiracy theory. Indeed it could hardly be otherwise, given its claim that the entire scientific establishment and most of the educational system is engaged in a diabolical plot. This is a particularly dangerous conspiracy theory, not only because it is fiercely anti-intellectual, but because it keys into climate science denial and, these days, into even crazier and more toxic beliefs.

Why do people buy into conspiracy theories, and how to thwart those who use such theories to enhance their power?

An analysis of conspiracy theory thiinking; diagram provided by JohnCook@skepticalscience,

This raises further urgent questions; why do people buy into conspiracy theories, and how to thwart those who use such theories to enhance their power. Questions for the psychologist, the social scientist, and the historian, as this article exemplifies.]

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are inundated with COVID conspiracy theories: Satan-worshipping globalist elites, including George Soros and Bill Gates, deliberately developed and spread the COVID virus around the globe. The COVID vaccine is the Mark of the Beast from the Book of Revelation. Hollywood celebrities caught COVID by drinking infected adrenochrome harvested from live children in a satanic ritual. Mask and vaccine mandates are a communist plot by the Jewish IlluminatiPolling data suggest that millions of Americans—up to 20 percent of the country—believe at least some of these claims. 

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are inundated with COVID conspiracy theories…

For secular and scientifically-minded Americans, it’s tempting to dismiss COVID conspiracy believers as lunatics and fools. But if we want to have a chance at beating the COVID pandemic, we do not have the luxury of ignoring 20 percent of the population. Nor will browbeating them work. Better to begin by attempting to understand the roots of conspiracy theories aimed at modern science, with the aim of confronting those ideas more effectively. My new book, Red Dynamite: Creationism, Culture Wars, and Anticommunism in America, suggests that people embrace conspiracy theories when they are concerned about moral decline and feel powerless to reverse it.

Starting with the Scopes “Monkey” trial of 1925, I trace a century of Christian conservative activism animated by conspiratorial claims remarkably resonant with the COVID culture war. Leading Christian fundamentalists of the 1920s—William Bell Riley, Gerald Winrod, Mordecai Ham, among them—blamed evolutionary science on an all-powerful international, satanic, Jewish communist cabal, foretold in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  In 1924 sermons delivered in North Carolina, Ham warned his audience that Satan worked through a shadowy network of Jews with a “tremendous banking connection”  who stood behind the new immoral Russian Bolshevik government. “The day is not far distant,” Ham warned, “when you will be in the grip of the Red Terror and your children will be taught free love by that damnable theory of evolution.”  

Better to begin by attempting to understand the roots of conspiracy theories aimed at modern science, with the aim of confronting those ideas more effectively.

While creationists claimed that evolution was bad science and appealed to the Bible for authority, their primary tactic was to argue that the real danger of evolution was the way it made people act. If you taught young people they were descended from animals, that is, they would act in an “animalistic” fashion, which had both violent and sexual implications. In this view, communists were the worst. Not only were they atheists, undermining the authority of the Bible and promoting evolutionary science. But from Marx and Engels to Lenin and Trotsky, they fought for social changes that undermined existing power relations and represented an evolving class-based morality. In pinning evolution and communism on Jews, Riley, Winrod, and Ham followed the lead of auto magnate Henry Ford, who published the fabricated Protocols as fact. In The International Jew, published as a series in Ford’s Dearborn Independent, the automaker blamed Jews for all manner of social ills, especially for promoting “sex knowledge” to demoralize the Christian masses. In a similar fashion, current-day creationists like Ken Ham (no relation to Mordecai) of Answers in Genesis link the changing “man-centered” (as opposed to “God-centered”) morality of evolution to abortion and gay marriage.

Which is to say that COVID conspiracy theories do not really derive from opposition to science, but rather express deep anxiety and a sense of powerlessness about the current moral state of American society. What makes conspiracy theorizing distinct is precisely the sense that the conspirators possess a near-supernatural power to affect the course of events. In real life, powerful people do lie and make decisions in secret. But they are never fully in control. Witness, for example, the disastrous twenty-year US war in Afghanistan or the massive movement last year to protest police brutality.

In real life, powerful people do lie and make decisions in secret. But they are never fully in control.

After we peel back the fantastical Jewish space lasers and lizard people, we will find a well-grounded concern with the power wielded over ordinary people by billionaires and their allies in both political parties. We can’t really have a rational debate over the role of Satan in the COVID-19 pandemic. But we can exchange ideas about pharmaceutical drug prices, the opioid epidemic, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, tech companies’ suppression of free speech, abortion rights, police brutality, and even the spate of strikes workers have launched across the US today. It is through debates on these kinds of issues that progress can be made.

Carl R. Weinberg is Adjunct Associate Professor of History and Senior Lecturer in the College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University Bloomington. He is the author of Labor, Loyalty, and Rebellion and Red Dynamite: Creationism, Culture Wars, and Anticommunism in America. Follow him on Twitter @Euclid585.

About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on August 27, 2022, in Climate, Creationism, Politics, Society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Dear Paul,

    Hello! I have perused your excellent post entitled Primate’s Progress: Anti-Science Conspiracy Theories, Power, and Morality, and wanted to comment on the issues broached by your post much earlier but have been too occupied to do so. Finally, I avail myself of the time to complete the task of submitting a very long and detailed comment here to communicate with you as follows.

    Thank you very much for your timely post, which has been well-presented. I concur with you about the many sobering implications of misinformation, which is a very topical area to explore the many outstanding tensions between (the sociopsychological states of) sanity/stability and insanity/instability, affecting even the very existence and survival of humanity. Indeed, we can be mocked by those whom we are trying to help, not to mention that religious orthodoxies have had numerous problems and outstanding issues. In recent years, many citizens have willingly aligned themselves with misinformation, disinformation, post-truth politics, demagoguery, plutocracy, oligarchy, ochlocracy, kleptocracy, kakistocracy, narcissistic leadership, neoliberalism, globalization, clerical fascism and Trumpism. We can also agree that the ongoing chaos inflicted by the Trump presidency finally culminated in the infamous riot at the Capitol. You and I can be justified for being cynical, snide, snarky and facetious in characterizing Trump as the symbolic messiah who is going to lead his misguided supporters, sycophants and funders to glory on Earth and the promised land! It is often futile to reason with such misguided folks. Perhaps only when the country truly becomes autocratic or fascist, or when it plunges into a civil war, will such folks wake up, but then it will be too late. Consequently, any reasonable person can conclude that the USA has been plagued by ignorance, dogma, falsity, blind faith, spiritual stagnation and epistemological impasse . . . . .

    Needless to say, due to misinformation and disinformation as well as the pandemic and other global issues, 2020 to 2022 as well as the past few years had been very difficult and trying, not to mention having to deal with the pandemic. It was all quite surreal, perhaps in some ways more bizarre than ghosts and the paranormal (not that I believe in such things). One could indeed say that we live in interesting times, but often for the wrong reasons. It is all quite a big mess in danger of getting bigger still. Even a global pandemic and an insurrection at the citadel of democracy still cannot unite folks in the USA and wake them up. Perhaps it will take an even bigger crisis to do so, such as a series of climate change disasters.

    Truth, decency and morality have become martyred in the post-truth era and the age of misinformation. In any case, the best and most dedicated amongst the likes of us are also inveterate teachers of everlasting, transcendental wisdom to save humans from themselves, their self-interests and their destructive ways. I often even have to coin new words to do so. The latest examples are my three neologisms “Misquotation Pandemic“, “Disinformation Polemic” and “Viral Falsity“, as discussed in my very extensive and analytical post entitled “💬 Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: 🧠 Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity 🦠“, which you can easily locate from the Home page of my blog.

    Without proper education, the overall situation and trajectory of democracy and humanity seem to be rather bleak, and even science and politics can provide little comfort in reducing the severity and frequency of some of those outstanding issues, for there are two major Achilles’ heels: Viral Falsity and Paleolithic Emotions. In addition, my own multidisciplinary perspective proposes that four of the most insidious and corrosive conditions have exacerbated these issues dramatically:

    (1) The prevailing anti-intellectualism
    (2) The cult of anti-expertise sentiment
    (3) The politicization of science
    (4) The prevalent manifestation of populism

    You are welcome to find out much more about these four conditions at my extensive and analytical post entitled “Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity“, which has been revamped and which you can easily locate from the Home page of my blog. The post also deals with untruth-oriented epistemology, social epistemology, the media landscape and information ecosystem, as well as a large series of detailed discussions and analyses (distributed over twelve sections, each of which is instantly accessible via a navigational menu) in the domains of Behavioural Science, Cognitive Science, Critical Thinking, Cultural Studies, Environmentalism, Epistemology, Ethics, Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Psychology, History, Human Nature, Information Science, Journalism, Logic, Media Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Social Media and Social Science. Like you, I have also featured John Cook and his analysis of conspiracy theory mindset.

    Gathering all the diverse and important strands together in the grand finale of the said post, I have attempted to sum up and reflect deeply the state of affairs with hard truths, especially in the twelfth and last section named “Denouement: Democracy, Education, Legislation & Sustainability“, which even gives a very dire warning of what humanity is heading towards if there is still no concerted, meaningful and large-scale change for the better.

    I look forward to your perusing my said post entitled “Misquotation Pandemic and Disinformation Polemic: Mind Pollution by Viral Falsity“, and welcome your input and feedback there, as I am certainly very keen and curious about what you will make of my said post. Please enjoy! I would like to inform you that when you visit my blog, it is preferrable to use a desktop or laptop computer with a large screen to view the rich multimedia contents available for heightening your multisensory enjoyment at my blog, which could be too powerful and feature-rich for iPad, iPhone, tablet or other portable devices to handle properly or adequately.

    Thank you once again for your pertinent and cogently written post. Like you, I have distilled a great deal of observations and conclusions along similar themes.

    May you have a lovely weekend and a wonderful forthcoming September doing or enjoying whatever that satisfies you the most!

    Yours sincerely,


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