And don't these questions sound exactly like the same questions that atheists ask about religion?
There are literally millions of people who don't believe that 9/11 was carried out by a handful of terrorists. They believe something more sinister (as if it's not sinister already) must have happened. I'd guess that many or most Americans harbor at least some suspicion that the official story is a cover-up. Many Americans actually believe that 3,000 Americans were killed by their own government!
I saw a wonderful program on The Discovery Channel this week that completely debunked all of these 9/11 conspiracy theories. We're not talking about one good theory versus another, we're talking about annihilation. These 9/11 conspiracy theories are obviously, grossly, completely wrong.
Yet ... people believe them.
During the Discovery Channel's program, I had one of those "aha!" moments when I realized that 9/11 conspiracy theories are remarkably parallel to religion. It was when one of the investigators compared 9/11 to the JFK assassination. People just can't believe JFK was killed for no real reason. They don't want to believe that a single angry man could bring an entire country of 250 million people to its knees in grief and mourning. It's just too much, that one person could have so much power over our entire society.
Instead, it's much easier to believe that some vast, hidden, super powerful group arranged for JFK's assassination. It's easier to believe that history was changed, the dreams of millions were dashed, by a powerful, malevolent group of evil leaders, rather than a single deranged individual.
Those of us who study cultural evolution, the way that ideas (memes) form, evolve, and compete in a "survival of the fittest" contest, know that ideas spread not because they're true, but because people want to believe them. So with JFK, we have two competing memes: The lone-assassin meme, versus the hidden-evil-government meme. Which meme will be believed? Which meme will be told, retold, and spread through society? It's the one people want to believe, not the one that's true.
Here is the problem in a nutshell:
Truth only matters when the average person can tell the difference.Conspiracy theories, whether they're about 9/11, JFK, the Masons, or the FDA, all thrive when the science behind the topic is too complex for the average person.
I am struck by the parallel between monotheism and conspiracy theories: People are far more likely to believe that there is a single person or small group "up there" who are in control. The parallels to God are striking.
Nobody wants to believe that when a tree falls on a family's car, or a hurricane smashes New Orleans, or an earthquake flattens Haiti, that it was just a random, meaningless event. They need to believe there was some meaning, some purpose, to the event. It's just too much to think that such devastation and grief have utterly no point to them. If God is in control, even if we don't understand His purpose, at least it's not random. It makes us feel better.
Conspiracy theories are the same. It's terrible to think that JFK died for no real reason, or that 9/11 killed 3,000 people and altered our country forever, just because a handful of men got angry. It's much better if we have a real enemy to fight, a powerful, malevolent, secret group that we can some day root out and eliminate. When bad things happen, we want bad people to be responsible.
And the truth isn't relevant, because the science and sociology behind the events of 9/11, or JFK's assassination, are just too complex for the average person.