Conspiracy theories have a bad rep. Why is it that the phrase seems to immediately conjure up a sinister image of misinformed misfits, crackpots, weirdos, and loonies?
Examine, if you will, the term itself. Conspiracy simply implies more than one person, or entity, is involved. Theory merely means, well, a theory, such as the theory of relativity or the theory of evolution. One of these theories, based on empirical “science,” is seen by most folks as “fact.” The other is seen by many as fiction.
But theory, by definition, is not the same as fact...though theories may become facts, aka scientific or proven facts or common knowledge. In the latter sense, theories can be converted to facts, if you will, if democratically accepted as sufficiently believable even in the absence of immediate empirical evidence. And how, pray tell, can one fault democracy (even if it results in the majority electing a corrupt dictator or president?) But, and there's the rub, what if the majority of voters are misinformed about the facts? Is it still democratic? Or is it a — conspiracy? See what I’m getting at?
Some theories cost proponents their lives. Take the Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages. The theory that the world was round, not flat; that the earth revolved around the sun, these theories were dangerous because the (conspiratorial?) powers that be considered them a threat and/or blasphemy.
Which leads us to religion. Folks who would never consider the notion of extraterrestrial life may nonetheless believe that Jesus rose from the dead, had the power to revive others from the dead at will, was born to a virgin via, um, extraterrestrial means, and turned water into wine, among other unverifiable phenomena. Millions of folks believe that when they take the consecrated host they are ingesting the body and blood of Christ. Is this theory or fact? Depends on whom you ask. One man’s theory is another man’s blasphemy. And vice versa.