I've noticed a number of occasions recently where a person makes an assumption, draws a conclusion, and then asks a very strange question. The most recent example:
- Why do religious people find it hard to accept that you don't need religion to have a good moral code?
I think that we need to recognize that questions like this are just bad questions. I'm not saying that all questions that feature assumptions are bad. The ones where a person explicitly asks for help in correcting false assumptions are usually quite good. I'm also not talking about weird little assumptions and errors that seem to crop up, but are tangential to the question itself. We can usually use comments to point those out.
But consider the question above. Why didn't the person ask:
Do religious people believe that you need religion to have a good moral code?
There are two possibilities:
It is a loaded question, asked primarily to initiate an argument or to state a point, rather than to get an explanation.
Certain assumptions lead the person to a confusing contradiction, but instead of thinking to step back and ask about the correctness of the assumptions, the person confidently asks to have the contradiction explained.
This pattern is not difficult to recognize. If you are looking for a good answer, you don't ask this type of question:
Why did you steal Joe's goldfish!? or
Where did you hide the stolen goldfish?
Instead you should ask this type of question:
Did you take Joe's goldfish? That's what I heard from Joe. Is this true?
The first type of question is just a bad question. You can't hope for productive answers by asking questions like that. I get the impression that we let questions like this slide because we hope to clear up the person's misconception. We want to say "wait! you have it all wrong! Joe's goldfish died again and he flushed it". But maybe it's best if we just close the question instead. It really was a bad question. We should expect people to pause for a moment and consider whether their assumptions, especially assumptions about other groups or teachings, are correct.
This is not about people needing to be experts before they can ask questions. You can be entirely ignorant of where the goldfish went or even what goldfish are. But there are good and bad ways to ask questions about the goldfish, and we want the good ways. Take a second to step back and consider if your assumptions might be mistaken, and then perhaps ask about them. There are no limits on the quantity of questions, but there are limits on the quality.
We touched on this issue in a much earlier meta question. What is our stance towards such questions now? Can we perhaps take a firmer stance?