The Sciences

The Atheism/Religion Turing Test

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollJul 10, 2011 2:52 PM

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[Update: the "Christian" answers are now available, and voting is open.] A few weeks ago, Paul Krugman set off a debate by claiming that liberal economists could do a very good job at explaining what conservative economists think, but the conservatives just don't understand the liberals. Regardless of the empirical truth of that statement, the idea is an important one: when there is a respectable disagreement (as opposed to one where the other side are just obvious crackpots), and important skill is to be able to put yourself in the mind of those with whom you disagree. Conservative economist Bryan Caplan formalized the notion by invoking the idea of a Turing Test: could a liberal/conservative do such a good job at stating conservative/liberal beliefs that an outsider couldn't tell they were the real thing? Ilya Somin, a libertarian, actually took up the challenge, and made a good-faith effort to simulate a liberal defending their core beliefs. I actually thought he did okay, but as he himself admitted, his "liberal" sometimes seemed to be more concerned with disputing libertarianism than making a positive case. Playing someone else is hard! Obviously it would be fun to do this for religious belief, and Leah Libresco has taken up the challenge. She came up with a list of questions for atheists and Christians to explain their beliefs. She then recruited some actual atheists and Christians (they're not hard to find) and had them answer both sets of questions. You can find the (purported) atheist answers here -- I think the purported Christian answers are still forthcoming. Now, of course, the fun begins: vote! Go here to take a short survey to judge whether you think each answer is written by a true atheist, or a Christian just fudging it. At a brief glance, it looks like there are a few answers where the respondent is clearly faking it -- but it's not always so easy. I'll be curious to see the final results.

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