"Lab Leak Theory" & other conspiracy theories

I find this a nice concise, layperson-oriented look at recent conspiracy theory trends and the “fake news” they propagate.

I have friends who fall for all such nonsense.


And a related question:

Why is it that many Christians are so prone to falling for this nonsense?

If they weren’t prone to falling for nonsense, would they be Christians?[1]

  1. I mean those who believe in Jesus’s divinity, not those that follow his suggestions. ↩︎

Good question. My first thought is that it probably has a lot to do with the “politicization” of the airways some years ago when a lot of Christian radio stations which had formerly been running 24/7 sermon programs and traditional Christian hymns started carrying daytime “Christian talk radio” (which includes what I would dub evangelical-brand-Rush-Limbaugh wannabees, both men and women rabble-rousers.) Some of the worst of these propagandists posing as pious preachers and “commentators” are on the American Family Radio network of stations. (The individual stations may still be independently/local owned but they carry AFR content instead of the traditional styles of Christian radio content from about 9am to 6pm daily. I think that is when most of the damage is done.)

This mixture of Christian content and political/talk-radio (together with big helpings of MAGA-style Christian nationalism) convinces a lot of evangelical listeners that both the traditional sermons from the Bible and the political talk radio are all equally “Christian and Biblical” and therefore can be trusted wholeheartedly. Not only is all of this on the same broadcasting station they’ve known since they were young, even the biggest propagandist rabble-rousers on AFR quote scripture right-and-left and periodically pause-to-pray. That impresses them. A lot of evangelicals immediately assume, “Those radio hosts are just like me. They believe what I do about the Bible. They must be trustworthy because they quote scripture all the time and pray. So I can believe them when they tell me that the COVID virus was created in a Chinese lab to be a bioweapon and Dr. Fauci and his evil wife helped fund it.” (And yes, a lot of these people have little to no science education beyond high school.)

I used to assume that the people I knew in my area who were always falling for these wacky conspiracy theories were getting it from Fox News or Newsmax. But from talking with them the last few years I’ve concluded that many of them are getting it from “Christian” media outlets like AFR and websites like the Christian Post. (The latter is at least a little more nuanced, where at least a few of the writers are arguing against the conspiracy theories promoted by other writers on the same page.)

That’s my off-the-cuff answer to your question, @nwrickert. I am speaking as a transplant to the Southern Bible Belt as to what I observe in my area. I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a “big picture” knowledge of the problem.

Of course, there are also plenty of evangelicals that reject all the Christian nationalism, MAGA nonsense, and the steady diet of conspiracy theories and right-wing talking points on Christian radio. But they are not the ones who are loudly ranting about this stuff and walking angrily out of the room when someone else in their church calmly states that they do not agree with the latest propaganda points. I had it happen to me just last week.

Among my friends I’ve noticed that it often comes down to the feelers versus thinkers. The feelers are the ones which tend to be the most gullible and easily manipulated by propaganda. The thinkers tend to reject it—and you’d rarely catch them listening to AFR during the daytime.


I don’t much like that answer. It might be correct, but I still don’t like it.


I don’t like my answer either. It is a deplorable situation.


Oops. My response to your post assumed that you were responding to my post—but then after I wrote I saw that you were actually replying to @roy.

I used to listen to one of those stations while driving to work. It was still mostly sermons and such, sprinkled with anti-evolution. There were some political comments, but not that much. I remember “The Bible Answer Man” as one of the programs. I usually switched to this station after the NPR news had finished. I should add that this was in the Chicago suburbs, so I’m not talking about the deep South.

What I found very interesting, was the advertising. Much of it was advertising dubious products, some of which I tended to describe as “snake oil.” There are some smart people in the advertising industry. This left me with the impression that the advertising industry had concluded that the listeners to Christian Radio were a self-selected group of very gullible people. I don’t know whether that was actually true, but what I was hearing on that station certainly seemed to fit.

Some of this was just before the Y2K semi-panic. And some of the discussion on the radio station was about Y2K. The Bible answer man wasn’t buying any of that. So he was an example of a Christian who was not gullible. I never thought that gullibility was necessary to be Christian. But the evidence certainly suggested that, on the average, Christians were particularly gullible.

Yes, this may well be right.

1 Like

And I’ve found that it is the feelers who are most likely to talk about this stuff, even passionately. Meanwhile, the thinkers lament to themselves the gullibility of those around them but are not the ones saying the outlandish stuff that gets noticed.

I remember back in the 1990’s there was some obscure preacher in Portland, Oregon who said something like this from his pulpit: "As I was driving through the highest point of the big I-5 bridge yesterday, looking over the city, an inaudible voice in my head spoke to me and said, ‘Portland will suffer a devastating earthquake on August 5th.’ [I can’t remember the exact date, actually.] In just a few days that “prophecy” was talked about throughout the city and became a major headline for several days in the Oregonian newspaper. Some people planned to be out of the city on that date—but a great many pastors, when interviewed by the Oregonian, said virtually the same thing, “My wife and I are planning on going shopping in downtown Portland on August 5th, just to defy the rumor.” And I told inquirers what I always do, “I don’t care about some emotive pastor’s liver-shiver that gets mistaken for a divine communication.”

Last I heard, the pastor had disconnected his phone and left town for a while. That one pastor got a LOT of media coverage—but the majority of the evangelical population of Portland wasn’t buying the guy’s hysteria. I think he was an extreme “feeler” and the people who ran for the hills on that August 5th were also the most extreme feelers. (Paranoia in this case.)


I might nuance that just a little, but you pretty much nailed it, IMO.

1 Like

Very possible. Of course, a lot of Americans are pretty gullible. (We all know plenty of examples so I won’t bother to list them.) And gullible populations usually tend to be very uninformed populations. (I avoid saying “uneducated populations” because that phrase can be confused with “formal education”, and one certainly doesn’t have to have a lot of formal education to be well educated, as in self-educated.) Ignorance virtually demands that something fill the void that should have been occupied by knowledge. So they don’t simply choose to be uninformed. They choose to be “mal-informed.”

Meanwhile, I think the Southern Bible Belt audience of Christian radio tends to be even more vulnerable than those in other areas of the country. (Yeah, I’m really shooting from the hip here and generalizing recklessly.) There seems to be a “Confederate defiance” that even before the recent rising trends of anti-science and anti-intellectualism virtually insists on disagreeing with anything the “elite” or “experts” have to say. (They were MAGA-like even before MAGA became a thing.) So I often feel like the gullibility is almost a position of “I’m going to do the opposite of what all the real experts say because I choose not to be told what to do.” (Of course, instead they simply obey what their tribal leaders tell them to think and do. It is hardly “independent thinking” at all.)

Is that too political for PS? Perhaps the fact that I’m a conservative evangelical Christian (in the historical sense, not the present sense) living in the American South who used to listen to Christian radio before it got so political will allow me to get away with some strong opinions.

As to the OP topic of the “Lab Leak Theory”, I am of the opinion that a visitor to the Wuhan wet market couldn’t wait until he got home and so he told his friend, “I’ve got to go see a man about a racoon dog.” He went into the Institute of Virology to take a leak—and the rest is history.

[My apologies to those who are not familiar with somewhat archaic British and American euphemistic idioms.]


Hi Allen
I agree with you here. The politicization of Christianity is not the original intent of the church. The mission of Christ and the apostles was to change hearts and create an environment of peace among humanity. The entry of Christian groups into politics other then helping to consult leaders on moral issues is a big mistake.