A Religious Turning Test

Friday, July 15, AD 2011

This post requires a bit of background explanation, so bear with me.

A few weeks ago, Paul Krugman made the following comment about conservatives and liberals:

[I]f you ask a liberal or a saltwater economist, “What would somebody on the other side of this divide say here? What would their version of it be?” A liberal can do that. A liberal can talk coherently about what the conservative view is because people like me actually do listen. We don’t think it’s right, but we pay enough attention to see what the other person is trying to get at. The reverse is not true. You try to get someone who is fiercely anti-Keynesian to even explain what a Keynesian economic argument is, they can’t do it. They can’t get it remotely right.

Krugman, of course, famously refuses to read conservative bloggers, and his work at the New York Times doesn’t exactly display a deep understanding of conservative ideas (perhaps he is a good example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action). In any event, libertarian blogger and economist Bryan Caplan responded to Krugman by proposing the following test:

Put me and five random liberal social science Ph.D.s in a chat room. Let liberal readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a liberal. Then put Krugman and five random libertarian social science Ph.D.s in a chat room. Let libertarian readers ask questions for an hour, then vote on who isn’t really a libertarian . . . Nail down the logistics, and I’ll happily bet money that I fool more voters than Krugman.

Prof. Caplan called his challenge the “Ideological Turing Test” after a proposal by the mathematician Alan Turing that you could test for Artificial Intelligence in computers by having people in a computer chat room try to guess which of the other participants were really and which were computer simulations.

No word as yet on when Krugman or Caplan will be participating in an Ideological Turing Test. His post, however, did inspire the atheist blogger Leah to set up a Religious Turing Test. Last week fifteen individuals (some atheists, some believers) answered a series of questions as atheists. This week the same group are responding to a series of questions as Christians. Readers can then vote on who they think are really atheists and who are really Christians.

By all accounts the atheist answers were uniformly excellent. Certainly that was my impression. By contrast, the difference between what I think are the real and fake Christian answers seems to me to be more obvious (I won’t point to specifics, as I don’t want to prejudice other people’s evaluations). My only concern is that if most of the people voting are atheists, then this might skew the voting, as atheists readers might share the same limited familiarity with Christian belief, and therefore view the fake Christian answers as more “authentic.” The answer to this problem, of course, is to make sure that a fair number of believers also vote in the poll. Which is the purpose of this post.

So if you get a chance, head over to Leah’s blog, read over the answers, and cast your votes.

7 Responses to A Religious Turning Test

  • Oh, hey, this looks fun. Working through the first response now, and already having some strong ideas as to what sort is really writing it.

  • Thanks for helping spread the word; I really want to make sure I recruit a sizeable pool of believers.

    Just one clarification: I’m scoring the guesses by atheists and those by Christians separately, to make sure that different opinions in the two groups don’t cancel each other out in the analysis. In this round, my main goal is to see if the atheists can fool Christians. The guesses of atheists are interesting, but can’t confer victory.

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  • Maybe it was just me, but I thought the atheists answering as Christians were not so bad either – that is, I did not find it all that easy to discern because I have heard various Christians give just about every answer presented.

  • Just yesterday I told something that I could fake being pro-choice but he couldn’t fake support for capital punishment which he readily admitted to. I think it’s a very revealing test and I look forward to the religious Turning test results.

  • I don’t know how a religious Turing test would turn out, or even an economics Turing test, but I’m pretty sure an abortion Turing test would show that pro-aborts don’t have a clue about the other side.

  • The results for the Atheist half of the Turing Test are up: It turns out that Christians make the most convincing atheists. Of the four people most strongly believed to be atheists by other atheists based on their responses, three of the four were Christian, and the atheist barely squeaked in.


    Results for the Christian half will be up tomorrow.