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I have an observation about Christianity.SE so far, which is that a lot of the questions are really, really not good.

My perception is that many of the questions are not being asked because they are an actual question the person has or a problem they face. This is considered one of the pillars of what makes a question good on a SE. Heck, it was referenced as recently as the "Gorilla vs. Shark" blog post as the #1 reason not to have "vs." questions.

What specific problem, other than idle curiosity, would answering this question satisfy or solve for you … or anyone else?

Most of them seem to be asked out of idle curiosity, or to "make a point," or because someone thinks it's an "edgy question", or to taunt the Christians into defending their physics knowledge, or the like. But very few seem to be actual questions to satisfy the questioner's need. I contend that a "refute common criticisms of Christianity SE" or "Let's vote on how popular each sub-belief is.SE" is not all that useful.

I believe part of the problem is the over-large interpretation of "no pastoral questions" which tends towards "if you have an actual question you need the answer to, you're OT a priori." But there are doubtless other reasons.

How can we make the question quality better, where question quality is defined as "solving a specific problem other than idle curiosity (or worse)"?

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    This appears to be a duplicate of How can we get better expert-level questions? Or, StackExchange vs Yahoo! Answers – user72 Sep 9 '11 at 3:11
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    I think that one addresses "basic" questions, as in non-expert - this is a more subtle distinction, in that I think many of these questions are "inauthentic", it's a slightly different axis. – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Sep 9 '11 at 5:05
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    Duplicate? In title only (now changed). I am totally stealing this -> "Most of them seem to be asked out of idle curiosity, or to 'make a point,' or because someone thinks it's an edgy question, or to taunt the Christians into defending their physics knowledge, or the like. But very few seem to be actual questions to satisfy the questioner's need. I contend that a 'refute common criticisms of Christianity SE' or 'Let's vote on how popular each sub-belief is' is not all that useful." <-- Uphold this behavior as unacceptable and this site will hold a unique, thriving place on the internet. – Robert Cartaino Sep 9 '11 at 19:14
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    Not a duplicate. Separate point. – DJClayworth Sep 9 '11 at 20:13
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    English Language and Usage is a very successful site, even though very many of the questions there are asked out of idle curiosity. – TRiG Sep 14 '11 at 1:24
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A few weeks into the beta, I've noticed the same thing, which I went into the other question on the quality of questions. I could just as easily copy and paste my entire answer from there to here, because I'm almost certain the lack of expert questions and answers is directly due to this problem, what I've termed as "Sunday School fodder".

We should be keeping in mind the past failures of the SE 2.0 system, particularly the failure of Artificial Intelligence.SE. It wasn't a very interesting site because nobody was asking expert-level questions: it was filled with people who were merely curious about the subject, and as such, they were asking questions that would make real experts' eyes roll. Robert Cartaino offered this piece of advice:

Establish a site’s expertise early. New users, anxious to jump start their communities, inevitably start asking uninspired questions that have all been asked 100 times before on every phpBB forum. You’ve seen them: “What is your favorite…”, “What is the best…”, “What is the definition of…” Unfortunately, these idle questions can fill the front page in the opening days, and left unchecked will permanently color the tone of the site. Your front page is your billboard, it defines your target audience.

When I look at the current front page of Christianity.SE, I don't see an advertisement for "Expert questions and answers! Right this way!" Instead, like you, I see a ton of questions that don't really understand the fundamentals of Christianity or make wild generalizations due to misunderstandings about how Christianity works. I see a ton of questions I would consider to be asked in bad faith ("Here's my argument, defeat this you Christians!"-type stuff). And I see a lot of questions that just seem to be people testing out the Ask Question button, asking questions with mammoth scopes: where entire books could be written about the subject.

The end goal when evaluating questions (and their answers) should be rigor: questions (and answers) need to show some amount of thoughtfulness and sincerity.

A question isn't thoughtful when it's asked in idle curiosity. Idle curiosity should be satiated by looking up the topic using basic resources (e.g. Wikipedia). If you're still stuck on specific points, even after reading the preliminary texts, that's when you want to start asking questions.

And a question isn't sincere when it's asked as a means to test out an argument. If you can't ever see yourself believing a potential answer provided, or you're starting from a position where you automatically deny the premise of the question you're asking, you're not asking a real question: you're ranting and putting a question mark at the end. If you want to spar with others about a topic, there are a million other forums for that.

A thoughtful, sincere question is where the asker actually did his or her homework and identified exactly where they need (not want) someone else to help them understand a specific point. That should be enough to satisfy the "problems you actually face" clause of the question quality guidance.

If the majority of questions we're getting aren't of this type, I think we might as well just pack it in. We're not making the internet a better place by entertaining dozens upon dozens of questions that serve more as discussion topics than actual questions people are struggling to answer.

So for Christianity.SE to succeed, I think there are three things we need to be doing:

  • We need to be closing questions that don't clearly define the parameters of the question. If you're asking about "some Christians" or "a Christian I know" or "Christians", you're in the wrong place.
  • We need to be better at identifying (and closing) questions that are asked in bad faith. This is related to the previous point, but more insidious: they take the form of "Here's something Christians say. I think it's bunk for X reason. Prove me wrong." Questions where someone is testing out their argument to disprove X about Christianity push legitimately useful questions out of the way.
  • We need to be insisting answers back their claims up with verifiable sources. Bad, trivial answers beget bad, trivial questions. If you're making an interpretation, someone else more reputable needs to share that interpretation and you need to cite them so people can vet your answer.
  • Amen, Mark. You make some great points. – DJClayworth Sep 11 '11 at 2:12

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