I've noticed a pattern from Christianity.SE creeping onto our site occasionally that Caleb calls a "stump the chump" question. The phrase comes from a segment on the Car Talk show in which they bring back someone whose car problem was solved to see if the hosts (or chumps) got the answer correct. So the original question might be "How did my Porsche 944 drive itself uphill?" and the original answer might be "Faulty starter motor", but the actual answer turns out to be "Hot-wired by pack rats". Obviously, these questions are hugely entertaining for all, but since the answer is virtually unknowable, it's hard to blame the "chumps" for not guessing it.

But how does that concept apply to Biblical Hermeneutics? Perhaps it's easiest to show an example:

Are Andronicus and Junia(s) apostles?

I have a definite ax to grind in this question. It really bugs me that translators insert theology into their work and remove possible interpretations from the minds of their readers. So far, my answer is the only one, but if anyone answers contrary to my obviously correct opinion, ohhh, there's gonna be trouble!

20th Intelligence Squadron

Do you see the potential problem here? If I ask a question that I already have an answer to and am prepared to scrutinize every answer that doesn't line up with the "correct" answer, I've just created an trap for the unwary.


Not all questions with this pattern are bad and not all of them should be deleted, but they do represent a significant hazard to the success of our community. We want people to feel free to answer questions the way that they understand them and not be forced to conform to secret requirements imposed by the questioner. Let's take an example that stirred up the sort of trouble I hope to avoid:

Did women contribute to the temple in exodus 35:22?

It seems like a legitimate question, but in the self answer we read:

The question is actually almost self-answering.

And there's bunch of comments back and forth between the asker and other users that don't really make the situation very clear. In fact anytime a question generates many comments it's a good sign the question wasn't really fair.


Should we be worried about this category of question and what should we do about them?

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It sounds from your description that you're talking about questions not asked in good faith, but judging by the author in your example, I'm guessing that's not exactly what you're getting at. –  Ray Sep 11 '12 at 0:01
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"In fact anytime a question generates many comments it's a good sign the question wasn't really fair." - great observation. It betrays a desire to debate and not a quest for information. –  swasheck Sep 11 '12 at 17:10
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@Ray: I've asked a lot of questions that I thought were in good faith, but when I got answers I didn't like I realized I had a hidden agenda (hidden even from myself). From personal experience, askers don't even know they've asked a stump-the-chumps question. (I'm not sure how to edit this post to get my meaning across.) –  Jon Ericson Sep 11 '12 at 17:40

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This seems awfully difficult to regulate. From the comments above, Jon mentions that he sometimes posts questions that he doesn't realize are "stump the chumps" questions, but turn out to be so after seeing the responses. The assumption is that this frequently be the case.

In fact, I would generally agree that this would be the case. This is, by a large, a community of people asking questions in good faith, who really are interested, or at least believe themselves to be so, at least in the various perspectives people have to offer, if not a resolution for themselves.

And this is actually the problem for me. If the primarily issue were that we have a bunch of people intentionally posting just to pick fights, see who's the smartest, rebut various viewpoints, etc., I would want to quash that. But it seems like that's not quite what's going on here.

Though perhaps not universally applicable, I'd posit that rules on what kinds of questions should be allowed ought to rules that could be understood and judged by the asker. The nature of this prohibition, however, would preclude that. If the asker believes he/she is asking in good faith, a rule against asking questions in bad faith isn't going to be something he/she could apply to the question.

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I agree that we can't really make this into a rule and it wouldn't be very fair to psychoanalyze askers. And I agree that so far our community has been free of problem questions by and large. So I'm content to basically do nothing unless and until we start to see the sorts of problems I'm worried about crop up. And even then, I think this ought to be more of a guideline to inform folks of rather than a rule. Thanks for the input! –  Jon Ericson Sep 12 '12 at 17:46
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I tend to take the questions in good faith until the questioner demonstrates that they are not asking in such. After such a demonstration, I tend to remember the questioner and weigh that into future questions they have. –  Frank Luke Sep 20 '12 at 16:44

G. K. Chesterton wrote of and in his book Orthodoxy:

The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel. When some time ago I published a series of hasty but sincere papers, under the name of "Heretics," several critics for whose intellect I have a warm respect (I may mention specially Mr. G.S. Street) said that it was all very well for me to tell everybody to affirm his cosmic theory, but that I had carefully avoided supporting my precepts with example. "I will begin to worry about my philosophy," said Mr. Street, "when Mr. Chesterton has given us his." It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation.

I propose we follow Mr. Street's tactic: ask that askers of stump-the-chumps questions provide their own answers as answers. If you start seeing comments from the asker that indicate they have an unspoken opinion about the question or if the question seems biased toward a particular answer, it's a good sign they should have self-answered. If they've already self-answered, we can suggest they move extended objections from the comments or the question to their own answer.

To me, these questions are a red flag: sometimes there are enough positive things about them to dismiss the potential danger. But as a community, we need to be vigilant and call people out when they ask questions that can harm the quality of the site.

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This approach might work on BH. I'll put it in my thinking cap. However I'm dead certain sure this would be an invitation for disaster on Christianity.SE. For the love of all things blue and shiny please don't suggest this there. –  Caleb Sep 10 '12 at 23:29
    
@Caleb: You got it. (I reserve my right to be wrong here too. I don't know if this is a good idea at all. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Sep 10 '12 at 23:38
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Maybe I'm understanding the concept incorrectly, but I feel like most of my questions are these type. At least when I ask a question I'm already biased to what I think is the right answer; but the reason I ask them is that I'm not certain and I'm looking for good arguments for/against my own position. Answering my own question feels detrimental to that goal. –  Soldarnal Sep 14 '12 at 1:54
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@Soldarnal: I can say without reservations that your questions don't strongly fit the pattern I'm thinking of. So I'm clearly not expressing the idea well. When I get a moment, I'll try to rephrase the explanation. –  Jon Ericson Sep 14 '12 at 16:36

The purpose of an answer is to satisfy the OP's question. If the OP is looking for a specific answer, then they should get that specific answer. This only really becomes a problem in the following cases:

  • The question does not adequately represent what the OP is actually looking for, or

  • Unbeknownst to the community, the OP will really only be satisfied once they have answered the question themselves

In the first case, the question should simply be edited, or placed on "hold" pending clarification.

In the second case, if the OP will not be answering immediately, the OP should either make a note at the end of the question, or in the comments, that explains that they will be answering the question themselves. This does not prevent other users from posting an answer; it just gives them a heads-up that the OP has no intention of accepting it!

Of course, the best-case scenario would be for the OP to post both the question and the answer at the same time, and then immediately accept their own answer. That gives the clearest indication of what they were seeking -- and it is perfectly acceptable under the design of this site; They are simply exercising the "blog" aspect more than many care to.

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So essentially, what you are referring to as "stump the chump" questions are really just more like "blog-post" questions than our run-of-the-mill Q&A. The problems come in when it is not clear to the rest of us that it is a "blog-post" question. So just make that clear and we're set.

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After being "accused" of asking "Stump the Chump" questions(I like CarTalk), let me suggest this:

1) People 'may' have wanted to ask the same question, but were afraid to 'look stupid' when someone answered it, perhaps not in a way they anticipated. We should be able to ask any textually based question, no matter what the "status quo" thinks.

2) Jon is a parent now, wait until his children ask him an "off the wall" question he has no answer for. This site is about research, if we don't have an answer to a specific question, let's satisfy our own curiosity and reasearch the question-it's amazing sometimes what you will find.

3) "Stump the Chumps" is a subjective statement; for example, if I see everything from a Preterist Viewpoint, it would appear 'stump the chumps' if I asked about "Jesus's feet touching the Mount of Olives". The problem isn't the question, the problem is the hermeneutic which dismisses such a question.

And lastly,

4) Are we afraid to not know the truth? Saying "I don't know" is the most freeing, life-refreshing answer we can give. We are a 'community' and it's reassuring that together we are collectively seeking the truth to a particular question, anyone who says 'I have all the answers' is highly suspect. None of us is "God", and we only have a minute amount of the total truth. We should all be able to learn from one another, this is the professed objective of this site.

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I've been a parent going on 11 years, so I've heard lots of "off the wall" questions. That's not what this particular meta discussion is about. Rather it's about posing a question with an agenda. Could you link me to where someone "accused" you? Maybe they're wrong. –  Jon Ericson May 21 at 1:17

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