My Notes on the Ideological Turing Test

Following up my post analyzing the results of Unequally Yoked’s ideological Turing test, this one lists how I voted on each of the atheist candidates. I took notes as I was going through them, trying to flag what stood out to me as evidence of genuineness or fakery. As you can see, some of my criteria turned out to work, some of them didn’t.

#1

  • This person had an excellent answer for the first question, discussing how science has consistently been a superior method of illuminating the truth of how the natural world works.
  • The mention of the discarded “Zeus hypothesis” shows awareness of other religions that have faded away, and implicitly asked why existing religions are any different – another point-scorer in my book, as the problem of religious confusion is a powerful argument for atheism and one that theists don’t often address.
  • That said, the thing that made me suspicious was the moral question. This person declared themself to be a Kantian, following a morality based on rules that lacks the complexities of weighing often-intangible benefits and harms. That’s a viewpoint that’s common among theists, but that I’ve only rarely seen among actual atheists.
  • My suspicions were slightly bolstered by the mention of the Ring of Gyges, a story from Plato. Being the originator of the eponymous doctrine of Platonism, about a supernatural world of pure concepts, Plato isn’t a philosopher that I often see atheists appeal to.
  • I was going back and forth on this one, but ultimately decided it was a Christian (though one doing a very convincing job of imitation).
  • 94% of all respondents said this person was a real atheist. I’m rather pleased I was one of the few who picked them out as a fake!

I Said: Christian
Really Was: Christian

#2

  • The mention of “The God of the Bible… and what else could ‘God’ mean, in our culture?” immediately raised red flags with me. Atheists disbelieve in all gods, not just the currently most popular one.
  • The author’s advice to those who don’t like the thought of being “nothing but a pile of molecules”? “Get used to it.” Another huge red flag: most atheists I know aren’t put out by the idea of being made of molecules. On the contrary, we tend to think it’s pretty cool.
  • “I’m not too different from the Christians” morally, and “I respect Jesus as a moral teacher.” This is almost certainly written by a Christian.
  • “[W]hat is the point” of Christian rules about sex? No. Atheists think Christian sexual mores are actively destructive and harmful, not just pointless or unnecessary.
  • “It might be in your interest for other people to believe in God even if you don’t”. This is absolutely and definitively written by a Christian.
  • This was one of the two entries that nearly everyone flagged as fake.

I Said: Christian
Really Was: Christian

#3

  • Another mention of the Zeus hypothesis, the argument from religious confusion, and scientific explanations replacing supernatural ones over time. That got this person points for the same reason that the first answer did.
  • “I definitely have from time to time wondered about a higher power behind certain things”. I applied Iocane Powder-style reasoning here and assumed that no real Christian would say this for fear of sounding too obvious.
  • The author said “I’m honestly kind of a nihilist when it comes to the idea of ‘objective morality.’” I could see a Christian saying this as a stereotyped belief about atheists, but then again, there are real atheists who say the same.
  • I didn’t have much to go on here. I ended up going with atheist on the slight balance of the evidence, but wasn’t firmly convinced either way.

I Said: Atheist
Really Was: Christian

#4

  • “Religious people make up a bunch of rules and rituals and then they go and steal and kill, and are then excused for it by their religion.” This struck me as a parody of the way atheists think, rather than something a real atheist would say.
  • “The best response to religion is science, which tests things for objective truth. Beliefs which are tested are either exposed as lies or demonstrated to be correct, in which case they are no longer in the realm of religious belief.” Again, this sounds like the atheist character’s dialogue from a Christian apologetics pamphlet. Few atheists I know think that all incorrect beliefs are “lies”.
  • On the morality question, another mention of Kant. A red flag, just as it was in the earlier answers.
  • A good summary of the scientific research on the evolutionary origins of religion, showing familiarity with writers like Pascal Boyer and Daniel Dennett, but not enough to overcome my earlier suspicions.

I Said: Christian
Really Was: Christian

#5

  • Most of this person’s answer to the first question had to do with logical paradoxes of omniscience and omnipotence. That seemed archaic and cliched, more like the way a Christian might expect an atheist to answer.
  • The author said that there’s no proof of God’s existence because “[t]hose who have direct personal experience need no further proof; and they do not care to convince others.” That, too, sounded like a Christian in disguise, trying to subtly advocate a faith-based view.
  • The answer to the morality question struck me as an incoherent mishmash of phrases.
  • I was sure this was a Christian. Turns out it really was an atheist – just not a very articulate one, in my opinion.

I Said: Christian
Really Was: Atheist

#6

  • Another well-phrased and persuasive presentation of the argument from religious confusion and the argument from scientific explanations replacing the supernatural.
  • “Why wouldn’t God reveal himself to Stalin?” Excellent question!
  • The part about “circles of concern” and the gradual expansion of our moral horizon was very good, as was the part about it being more important to get people to do the right thing in situations where we already know what it is.
  • This answer was flawless; I was sure it was a real atheist. I was wrong. I tip my hat to the author for putting forward such an impressively convincing argument!

I Said: Atheist
Really Was: Christian

#7

  • A detailed argument for the existence of religions that don’t include belief in a god.
  • “[E]ven atheists can take the supernatural aspects of a religion and find truth and meaning within them… sometimes Truth can transcend fact”
  • The part about “the need to impose meaning on a fundamentally absurd existence” was highly suspicious to me.
  • This person explained their moral theory as utilitarian, which is usually the hallmark of a real atheist, but their answer wasn’t detailed or convincing enough to me to outweigh the other parts that made me skeptical.
  • It turns out that this was the “wild card” – a person who claimed to be both a Christian and an atheist. No, I don’t think that makes any sense either.

I Said: Christian
Really Was: ??

#8

  • I really liked the answer about how theists of each religion rightfully laugh at the absurdities in other religions, but fail to see the equally absurd doctrines of their own.
  • “Being an atheist gets easier with each newly discovered fact about the world. Being a theist means constantly restating your faith’s doctrines as allegories.” Right on!
  • The answer about the problem of evil and the AIDS-curing plant whose letters spell out “YAHWEH” was also well done.
  • The answer to the morality question was a little vague, but good job in pointing out that atheism doesn’t come prepackaged with any particular moral theory, and that atheists don’t all agree about its basis.

I Said: Atheist
Really Was: Atheist

#9

  • Most of these answers were curt and short on detail. This sounded to me like someone writing something that they were uncomfortable about saying and just wanted to get it over with.

I Said: Christian
Really Was: Atheist

#10

  • A strong point about how the Old Testament promotes slavery and genocide. I had a hard time, at first, believing a Christian would say that. However, there were several other statements that sounded much more like disguised defenses of Christianity: “the Christian belief is based on faith and choice… there will never be any infallible evidence because this is in direct contradiction to how the Christian God behaves.”
  • “Science cannot tell someone what their purpose in life is, why they are here, what happens when they die.” This is a frequent complaint of Christians, but no atheist I know ever claims that it should.
  • This was one of the two entries that nearly everyone flagged as fake.

I Said: Christian
Really Was: Christian

#11

  • The first answer included a remark about how the author feels connected to the family tree of all living things through evolution. Atheist spirituality wasn’t an area I expected Christians to delve into very deeply.
  • A good point that belief can’t really be consciously willed – something else that atheists often point out and members of proselytizing religions generally avoid.
  • The author states that they appeal to both utilitarianism and consequentialism, but finds them both to be lacking in certain areas. A complex view of morality is generally the hallmark of a real atheist (which is why I usually rejected people espousing simplistic, rule-based Kantian views).
  • Great answer about how Santa Claus is also a persistent cultural practice. I would imagine that most Christians would shy from that comparison.

I Said: Atheist
Really Was: Atheist

#12

  • If religion was true, it should be a better guide to living well than atheism, and not just for some people but for everyone. It should also have greater predictive power than it actually does – a good point insofar as it values empirical truth-testing rather than subjective personal experience.
  • “I can’t muster any desire to care about a God who only cares about a small seemingly arbitrary group of people”. Good answer!
  • Most moral choices aren’t that hard; people’s intuitions are generally right.
  • “Plenty of bad ideas” have staying power, such as sexism.
  • This was Leah, and I’m relieved I didn’t mistakenly label her a Christian. That would have been hard to live down. :)

I Said: Atheist
Really Was: Atheist

#13

  • This was me. I’m very upset at anyone who thought I was a Christian. :)

#14

  • Mysteries are meant to be solved, not merely marveled at; religion doesn’t encourage curiosity – good answer.
  • “[V]alues such as beauty, goodness and community are not dependent on belief in God” – also a very good answer.
  • However, the citations to Aristotle and Kant, both traditionally theistic philosophers, raised my suspicions. I was on the fence about this one, but in the end, I decided this person was probably a real atheist. I should have stuck with my own rule.

I Said: Atheist
Really Was: Christian

#15

  • One more strong presentation of the argument from religious confusion (and, plus, they didn’t capitalize “god”).
  • God should be central and foundational to existence if he exists, not merely an optional hypothesis.
  • Religion persists because a critical mass of believers makes it self-perpetuating, much like smoking persists despite manifest evidence of harm.
  • All these were good answers, but the author’s mention of the harm reduction principle as their guide to moral behavior was what convinced me they were a real atheist. Along with #6, this was the other one that completely fooled me.

I Said: Atheist
Really Was: Christian

Overall, out of all the Christians, only #6 and #15 had me completely convinced that the authors were atheists. Three others, #1, #3 and #14, I was on the fence about, but went the wrong way on two and got one right. #2, #4 and #10 didn’t fool me at all. Since there were 8 total Christians, I picked out half the fakers.

#5 and #9, by contrast, were real atheists that I wrongly flagged as fake. I think the common element there is that those people wrote short answers, or answers that seemed weak to me. Whether you were a real or a fake atheist, you had to put forward a vigorous defense of that view if you wanted to be taken seriously. Perhaps those people thought that, since they knew they were really atheists, that would come through easily and they didn’t need to go to the trouble.

If you voted, what criteria did you use? What was the best way to tell the real atheists apart from the fakers?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.uncrediblehallq.net/ Chris Hallquist

    I have to cop to being one of the people who thought you were a Christian. What did it for me was your use of the phrase “moral order” – I’d never heard that coming from an atheist, but had heard it once coming from a Christian who was trying to re-phrase an atheist’s view to make it easier to rebut. So, uh, ooops.

    I went the other way on the first “Kantian” guy – I reasoned that Kantian atheists are rare enough that a Christian wouldn’t try to fake being one, but I have in fact met a Kantian atheist or two, so I didn’t think it ruled out that person being a real atheist. Again, ooops. Maybe it’s always a mistake to try to apply “Iocane powder style reasoning” to these things.

  • Socius

    As I noted in the other thread, a big red flag for me was the answer to “What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to believe in God?”. About half the answers from disguised Christians either flatly stated that nothing could convince them or came very close to saying such. Even #6, who fooled you, said “This is a really hard one. I’m honestly not sure if there’s any direct, experienced evidence that could cause me to believe in a deity”. However, none of the actual atheists had any trouble thinking of ways they could be convinced of the existence of god. Atheists know better than to hold unfalsifiable beliefs.

    Aside from that, I was suspicious of flippant or dismissive answers, or answers which asked too many rhetorical questions. My reasoning behind this was that theists often perceive atheists as disrespectful and/or dismissive of their faith, so I figured the ones who were faking it might try and emulate this stereotype. This strategy was probably a net no-change for me, mostly because one or two of the genuine atheist responses were a bit terse.

    Lastly, I looked for phrases that sounded like they could be lifted from an apologists blog entry as a pretty good sign of Christian authorship. The best example of this is “If god isn’t central and foundational such that without him existence is inconceivable…” from #15. It sounds like something Bill Craig would start a debate with (and go downhill from there).

  • Monty

    and, plus, they didn’t capitalize “god”

    See, this is where my inner grammar nerd takes over. Regardless of your religious beliefs, God is a proper noun in that context, so it should be capitalized.

  • Kaelik

    No it’s not. That’s the point, god does not have to be a proper noun. It’s a particularly monotheist assumption that it is. Atheists may just as easily not be a noun that is not proper.

  • Kaelik

    May just see it as not a proper noun, I mean.

  • Lynet

    I really wish I’d recorded my votes! I can’t remember all of them, now. I, too, thought #5 was Christian, though, because of that first sentence “Anything which is true is known by the senses and also at the same time explained by reason” which seems to imply that all truth is known — a highly unlikely proposition!

    Props to the Christians who understood enough about atheists to be able to imitate one convincingly. I bet they’d be interesting to converse with.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Kaelik, ‘god’ meaning general deity isn’t a proper noun, but when you’re talking about the Christian deity – as indicated by the context of the test – it most certainly is.

  • Monty

    But when you’re referring specifically to the Christian deity, it is basically a name. Spider-Man doesn’t exist, but I capitalize his name too.

  • Steffen

    Unfortunately, I didn’t take notes as diligent as here,

    but when I remember correctly, one of the main “red flags” I was looking for was whether one was making arguments with mainly referring to christianity, the bible or concepts of christian religion. This included answers that used christian concepts in disguise, typical for apologetic writings.

    Atheists seem to have a much broader view on very different aspects of religion, as we equally reject all gods (not only the christian one), aspects which often differ greatly from the god of the abrahamic traditions. This might also explain the existence of an “atheist spirituality” as mentioned in #11, and why this is a concept that only very few christians are able to grasp. Their understanding of “spirituality” is deeply rooted in terms like “sin”, “salvation”, “omnipotence”, “chosen people” etc. This might make it difficult for christians to grasp the inherent beauty of the principle of evolution, for example. Equally I have met very few christians who acknowledge the deep wisdom of Zen Buddhism or similiar eastern asian traditions. (but this might be only my personal experience, I don’t want to generalize this)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Kaelik, ‘god’ meaning general deity isn’t a proper noun, but when you’re talking about the Christian deity – as indicated by the context of the test – it most certainly is.

    His name is ‘Jealous.’ (Exodus 34:14)

  • Kaelik

    “Kaelik, ‘god’ meaning general deity isn’t a proper noun, but when you’re talking about the Christian deity – as indicated by the context of the test – it most certainly is.”

    No…. again. It was a “test” where atheists explain why they are atheists, which means any and all reference to “god” are references to a general god, which should be equally applicable to Yaweh, Allah, and Zeus. It was about atheists explaining why they are atheists. The “test” was not “Pantheists explain why they are not Christians.” so any mention of god is not a proper name, it’s a noun referring generally to any and all gods.

    Which is why the capitalization of god is indicative of Christians, because they are more likely to assume that god should be used as a proper noun, in a defense of atheism, because they implicitly believe (falsely) that atheists must focus more on defending themselves against Christian arguments, which are better than other religions arguments.

  • Kaelik

    For example, the one pretend atheist who said “and what other god could we mean besides the God of the Bible” was correctly identified as a Christian by 75% Of participants. Clearly the judges didn’t think god should be used as a proper noun describing the Christian god.

  • Jormungundr

    Kaelik:
    I don’t think that person was identified as a Christian only because of their correct use of capitalization. I think that they were correctly identified because a real atheist wouldn’t fixate on the Christian God as the THE God we all talk about. That sounds like a Christian who failed to properly mimic a real atheist.

  • Karl Amandus

    This is in response to the voting criteria for number #1 (see above). It was a good guess but I do not think that someone familiar with, or fond of, Plato or Kant should cause suspicion about one being an atheist, or a Christian. Plato’s cosmology is surely pagan, and neo-platonic realism need not point to a belief in a personal creator-god named Jesus. Some say Kant helped keep the Christian God alive in Western philosophy, but I have read philosophers who seem to point to the fact that only fideism is compatible with Kant’s philosophy, which was critical of some traditional arguments for theism. I am thinking specifically of some writings of the late Martin Gardner.

    On the other hand, I cannot think of why 94 percent would vote atheist either.

    The “god of the philosophers” has often served to shore up or disprove a philosophy. (Of course, some philosophers are theists and religious.) I think to most fundamentalists, Plato and Kant are either useless or demonic. Clever apologists have tried to use Einstein’s and Hawking’s musings in support of their arguments, but that does not make the more philosophic or metaphysical thinking of either Christian.

  • cat

    As I said on my comment after taking the quiz: accomodationists and “liberal” theists can sound quite a lot alike. The blog that set up the quiz leans heavily towards both of those by its very nature. I wonder how different the results would be for more typical theist and without such a large sample of accomodationists.

  • Hibernia86

    Ha! I guessed correctly which one was Leah.

    Ebon are you going to do one of these breakdowns for the Christian section of the test as well?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    To be completely honest, I didn’t vote on the Christian section. I didn’t feel qualified to judge, and I assumed it would be more interesting to see how the Christians voted on that section than how the atheists did.