Conspiracy theories seem to be flowering these days and have become the focus of much public attention. While conspiracy theories have always thrived during times of crisis and upheaval, they now seem to be all pervasive in large segments of society and even in some quarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Since some 50% of the American population believe in at least one conspiracy theory, chances are high that we will be confronted with this phenomenon in one way or another. This calls for discernment and prudence.

If I am inclined to such thinking, I am probably tempted to see myself to reflect a healthy and natural skepticism, particularly directed toward the common interpretation by the powers that be, in a given society, social context, or what is disseminated by mainstream media. Sometimes this skepticism is also directed toward the established findings of science. Hence, proponents offer alternative and often counterintuitive hypotheses to explain the events of the world. I might even wonder why everyone else seems so blind and deceived. On the other hand, if I am more hesitant about conspiracy thinking, I might be tempted to see followers of such theories in not so positive a light and even might have the impression that some of them are paranoid in their suspicion and fear. The danger I face, then, is to use the phrase “conspiracy theory” in a derogatory sense to discredit people and their ideas as unscientific and flimsy. With this more negative view of people who espouse conspiracy theories, I might think that they never trust anything or rather only trust those claims that fit their preexisting worldview and perspective.

But perhaps even more crucial is the question of what I can do when I notice these preconceptions in my own thinking and how we relate to each other when we are faced with such thinking. To tackle this issue, it seems that we must first understand the difference between real conspiracies and conspiracy theories.


The essential meaning of a conspiracy is “a secret plan made by two or more people to do something that is harmful or illegal.”1 The English word “conspiracy” is derived from the Latin verb conspīro/conspirare and means “to plot/unite,” or “to act in unison,”2 or “to act in accordance with someone.”3 A conspiracy, therefore, is never the work of one individual, but always of a group, whether small or large. But here we encounter a conundrum. Actual conspiracies do exist. So how do we differentiate between genuine conspiracies and those plots that we usually associate with conspiracy theories? One difference is that in a conspiracy theory a conspiracy no longer must be proven but has become the basic prerequisite for one’s further explanations and thinking. When I no longer carefully evaluate various hypotheses and probabilities, but instead my suspicion and my doubts have become an ideology where no supervisory authority is trusted anymore, a threshold has been crossed. The fact that politicians sometimes lie and corporations at times cheat does not mean every event is the result of tortuous conspiracy. Another difference between real conspiracies and a conspiracy theory is that actual conspiracies are deliberately hidden, real-life actions of people working together for their own malign purposes. Conspiracy theories, in contrast, are deliberately complex and reflect an all-encompassing worldview. Instead of trying to explain one thing, a conspiracy theory attempts to explain everything, discovering connections across domains of human interaction that are otherwise hidden. In doing so, conspiracy theories often oversimplify world events in order to find a scapegoat or an explanation for events that otherwise appear unexplainable or threatening. Furthermore, conspiracies are usually relatively short-term projects, whereas conspiracy theories almost always posit a much larger timeframe over a period of years and decades and even centuries, often on a global scale. Real conspiracies are usually the work of a small group of people, whereas conspiracy theories involve scenarios where at least dozens but usually far more people are involved. A gigantic deception like the staging of the moon landing or the 9/11 attacks would require hundreds if not thousands of insiders and accessories. But the large number of insiders that are necessary for such a complex plot militates against the reality of their existence because it is virtually impossible to keep the activity of such a large group secret. We also must keep in mind that historical events are complex sets of facts, involving an extremely large number of interacting agents, each of whom has their own set of goals and agendas. This poses a significant problem for conspiracy theories where large-scale plots are presumed. For a conspiracy to be successful all parties would have to set aside their own interests and devote themselves entirely to the service of such a global conspiracy. However, to assume that different groups all act in concert is something which is very unlikely, if not impossible. For this to happen one must assume that human beings can direct the course of history according to their own intentions by linking together disparate phenomena defying all probability. In other words, for conspiracy theories to succeed one must assume that history is plannable. We have to keep in mind, however, what philosopher Karl Popper has aptly argued—namely, that the relevant question when explaining dramatic historical events is not “Who wanted something to happen?” but “Why did things not happen exactly in the way that somebody wanted?”4

While there seems to be no single definition of what a conspiracy theory is, one expert lists the following three basic criteria that are characteristic: (1) nothing happens by accident, (2) nothing is as it seems, and (3) everything is connected.5 Wherever these three elements are present, a conspiracy theory is at work that asserts the existence of a plot. This leads us to the question of why some Christians seem to be so attracted to conspiracy theories.


If conspiracy theories encompass the three aspects mentioned previously, one can see why some conservative Christians could easily be seen as being potentially receptive to conspiracy thinking. Seventhday Adventists and Bible-believing Christians accept the existence of supernatural forces and realities, be they evil (Satan and demons) or good (God and His angels)—something that more liberal theologians and people who accept a naturalistic worldview would deny. According to the Bible, forces between good and evil are at work in this world. They influence kings and political leaders (Rev 13:12–17; 17:2). But we must keep in mind that Jesus never told His followers to be concerned with “secret” events or conspiracies. Interestingly, all the events Jesus pointed to as signs of the times for His coming were observable. We do not have to guess or speculate about them. And we should not be troubled by rumors (Matt 24:6). Jesus called us to be watchful (Matt 24:42; 25:13; 26:41; etc.). In conspiracy theories, however, there is a tendency to link disparate phenomena and connect them in such a way that a grand plot emerges where nothing happens by accident.

Perhaps another reason why some Christians are receptive to such grand conspiracy theories is that in their thinking events are divinely predetermined and do not happen by accident—even more so for some conservative Christians, who are influenced by Calvinistic theology. Calvin proposed that everything in the spiritual realm is predestined by God.6 This led Calvin to propose his infamous concept of double predestination, where God predestined from eternity not only those who would be saved, but also those who would be eternally condemned.7 Such an all-encompassing understanding of predestination can easily lead people to believe that everything in this world is interconnected, and that everything follows a secret, predestined divine plan.

While there is biblical truth to the fact that God knows the future and is in control of world events, and while the Bible acknowledges that there is a great controversy between God and Satan and his evil forces, we must be mindful of some other important biblical perspectives that are equally present in Scripture. Otherwise, we will distort the biblical teaching and by implication also the character of God and reality. First, the Bible also teaches that there is genuine human freedom, which Calvin and Luther denied when it comes to matters of our salvation. Seventh-day Adventists believe that, biblically speaking, we are sufficiently free to choose whether we want to accept God’s salvation or not and hence we are responsible for our decisions. Furthermore, according to the Bible, not everything in this world is predetermined. We must take into consideration that sometimes humans do plain stupid things. If there is original sin, then there also exists original stupidity. Otherwise, the existence of sin would have a reason and thus be excusable. We must allow for stupid and accidental things to happen in the course of history. Some of the bad things that happen are not planned. They happen unintentionally. The Bible affirms that some things happen accidentally.8 In other words, in this world many things happen that are not planned, and not all our plans always work out as planned. 

But God’s plan to save us will work out and will be successful in the end, the Bible tells us! It is important, therefore, to remember that the Bible, when it speaks about the great controversy between good and evil, always has God’s salvific perspective in mind that focuses on the success of God’s ultimate salvation for us. The biblical writers are aware of Satan’s schemes (Eph 2:2) and his deceptive practices (John 8:44) and they warn us to be alert. But the clear focus of the biblical writers is on God’s grace and power to save us and on Jesus Christ as the victor in the controversy between light and darkness. Jesus is the cornerstone of our salvation. Especially the prophetic information in the apocalyptic books of the Bible focuses on Jesus’ victory over sin amidst all the intricacies of the evil powers who are at work in this world. Yes, evil forces exist, but when we invent all kinds of conspiracy theories and focus our attention on those negative schemes, we veer off in our focus. Our focus should be on the mighty God of Scripture, who is powerful to save and who is utterly capable and able to deliver us from sin and evil. Our trust should be in God—not in our knowledge of secret conspiracies. Our knowledge of conspiracies and their secret plots will not save us. Only God saves. And despite all that God has revealed to us about the future and the time of the end, we know there will still be an element of surprise in what is going to happen (Matt 24:44). As the prophet Habakkuk indicates about God’s declaration of action in our behalf: “I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you” (Hab 1:5 NJKV). So, let’s remember that the Bible tells us that the righteous will live by his faith (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17), not by his knowledge of large-scale conspiracies. Therefore, let us be people who are aware, alert, but not afraid.

In a follow-up article we will look at some practical aspects that can help us not to uncritically fall prey to a conspiracy theory and discuss how I can talk and communicate effectively with people who believe in conspiracy theories.


1 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, s.v. “conspiracy,” accessed February 3, 2023,

2 Latdict, s.v. “conspire, conspirare, conspiravi, conspiratus,” accessed February 3, 2023, conspiro-conspirare-conspiravi-conspiratus.

3 Latin Dictionary, s.v. “conspīro,” accessed February 3, 2023, php?lemma=CONSPIRO100.

4 As quoted in Jovan Byford, “How to Spot a Conspiracy Theory When You See One,” The Open University, accessed February 3, 2023, See also Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, vol. 2, The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath, 4th ed. (London: Routledge, 1962), 93–95, as quoted in Michael Butter, The Nature of Conspiracy Theories (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020), 21–22.

5 Butter, The Nature of Conspiracy Theories, 10.

6 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Westminster: John Knox, 1960), III.xxiii.7, 955–956. Luther had a similar understanding of predestination, albeit not as pronounced as Calvin.

7 Calvin himself admits that “the degree is dreadful indeed” (Institutes, III.xxiii.7, 955– 956) because it fosters a fatalistic mindset. See also Calvin, Institutes III.xx.17.

8 The Bible acknowledges accidental sins— that is, sins that were not planned or intended. Cf. Numbers 35:11, 15 and Joshua 20:3, 9. It also reports incidents where people disguised themselves and suffered the unexpected and accidental consequences of unintentional acts like the shooting of a deadly arrow that hit the disguised King Josiah in 2 Chronicles 35:22–24 and led to his death.


Frank M. Hasel, PhD, is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventhday Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA.