I have been thinking about this for a few days (mostly because I would headhunt Refute This! questions because I love debating; even small details). However, I agree with the community that this site should avoid the "Oh, yeah, well, this and this ..." attitude. But something feels missing.

The "Refute This" type question holds a certain value, I think, that we would not get if we disallowed any semblance of it. That value is deep exploration into the thought process of specific viewpoints. So I thought of the "Why do they believe this?" question. Do we not all hear "these people believe x" and sometimes wonder why, saying "how did they come to that conclusion?" The weaker version of this is "is it true that these people believe x" which the community clearly allows, but it is such a boring question and asks for very little. Answer: yes. Whoopee! That was exciting! Not.

Does the community think we should allow "Why do they believe this?" questions? I think if we do then those types of questions need to be closely watched to prevent them from falling into debate in the comments. Push that into a chat room. Perhaps they should automatically be protected.

Justification Questions does point out a legitimate concern with Why do they believe this questions: That they might discourage users from returning, feeling like they are constantly under attack.

To sum a point that Jon explains well: Refute This is challenging by its very nature and is generally unproductive. Why do they believe this is truly inquisitive and encourages a positive response.

  • please refute using the phrase 'refute this'. just joking. just ask for the biblical basis to consider x as sinful or in error. a more positive way to put a hatchet to the tree. cutting trees down is a skill you can learn a whole lot.
    – Mike
    Feb 25, 2013 at 13:47

1 Answer 1


For what it's worth, I don't think refute-this questions are automatically bad or should be disallowed. The thing I noticed is that they can be subtly unproductive (for reasons I noted on that meta-question).

On of the reasons to avoid such questions is that they frame the debate in a negative light:

   Jimmy: Uhh, Mr. McClure?  I have a crazy friend who says its wrong
          to eat meat.  Is he crazy?
    Troy: Nooo, just ignorant.  You see your crazy friend never heard
          of "The Food Chain".  [Flash to a picture of "Food Chain",
          with all animals and arrows pointing to a silhouette of a
          human.]  Just ask this scientician.

—The Simpsons, "Lisa the Vegetarian"

Jimmy's question sets up answers that bash on the philosophy in question (vegetarianism in this case) without showing any attempt at understanding the philosophy's argument. It sets up answers like Troy McClure's that just make a joke out of the whole thing.

You question type is better if only because it puts the matter in a positive light:

Jimmy: Why do vegetarians believe it's wrong to eat meat?

There are still some issues with the question (not all vegetarians think eating meat is wrong but just a good idea, not all vegetarians agree on the answer to the question, do we even have any vegetarians around do defend their beliefs?, etc.), but at least avoids being a loaded question.

Your suggestion also has the virtue of being honest. One of the problems I have with refute-this is that I suspect the asker cares more about gathering ammunition for an argument then they do about learning anything:

 Lisa: Stop it Stop IT!  Don't you realize you've just been
       brainwashed by corporate propaganda?
Janie: Hmmph, apparently my crazy friend here hasn't heard of the food
 Uter: Yeah, Lisa's a grade A moron!
Ralph: When I grow up, I'm going to go to Bovine University.

Again, phrasing a question as "Why do they believe this?" is not a get-out-of-jail-free card; some questions are going to be poor fits for the site no matter how they are formulated. But your suggestion seems a good way to transform a refute-this question into something more productive.

  • Kudos for the Simpson's quotes. LOL. Yes, refute this "frame[s] the debate in a negative light." I was going to mention that refute this is challenging in nature and why do they believe this is truly inquisitive. I wholeheartedly agree.
    – user3961
    Feb 22, 2013 at 0:25

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