TL;DR: Are there objectively answerable questions that aren't covered by standard reference materials?

I'm used to other SE sites like Stack Overflow where there is a demonstrable problem with specific solutions. At SO, questions that are answered by standard reference material (ie, man pages, wikipedia, etc). But with this site, what questions aren't covered by the standard reference materials? Of these, can any be answered objectively (ie, not SE user's opinions)?

How is christianity.se intending to differentiate itself from wikipedia? All my questions are potentially, if not already, answered by a wikipedia article. If we don't want questions that are quickly answered by wikipedia, they should all be closed.

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One would think that Christianity.SE is assumed to give way better answers than Wikipedia (give the focus of its community). –  Sklivvz Sep 1 '11 at 14:47
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3 Answers 3

You are asking three unrelated questions.

Q: Are there objectively answerable questions not answered easily by a common reference source?

A: The answer is yes, of course, by common logic.

Q: The second is, should we close all the questions that can be answered easily by a common reference source?

A: The answer is yes, as that is an acknowledged VtC reason because that practice is frowned on by SE. No sense going into all the whys, the SE crew has explained it more than adequately.

Q: What makes SE different from Wikipedia et al.?

A: Because SE is interactive, and is about experts answering specific questions, not creating general definitions. I think some of the problem is the lack of specificity - people are not asking actual questions about problems they face. They are asking general "define this, it would entertain me" questions. The SE format begins to fray when it's not real, somewhat knowledgable people asking genuine questions about actual problems they face so that other experts can help them.

Take the technical SEs as a foundation. You don't ask "what is a variable." That gets you tossed in a dumpster outside the building. You ask about a specific problem you're facing, that isn't a trivial RTFM question, and get people's help on it.

I think there's a big swell of posters into this SE and either they don't have that intent or they are masking it well.

Take this distinction.

Q1: What is new earth creationism?

That's a bad question. It's general reference, but also, it solves no problem.

Q2: My pastor told me that creationism is silly, though I believe it because of the verse in Genesis. What is some Biblical proof I can use to help change his mind?

Now, at first blush these don't seem too different. But they are different in spirit - one is being asked just to prove a point, or get rep, or "for the record", and the second is being asked for a real purpose. And experience shows that the answers one gets reflect that spirit. Question 1, you get smartypantses who want to show they're smart. Question 2, you get helpful people that want to help you (that's an overgeneralization, but it has a lot of truth to it).

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Obviously we don't want to duplicate wikipedia or other reference material. It'd be redundant. I get how SE is supposed to be different from Wikipedia, just not how christianity.SE can conform to the SE philosophy. Your question examples do start to show how it could, though I've seen few questions that do. –  djeikyb Sep 1 '11 at 3:57
    
I'll give it a day to let this meta question circulate, but I'm thinking I should proactively delete my questions. –  djeikyb Sep 1 '11 at 4:00
    
Oh, the not completely objective path is already being well trod by all the other SEs. parenting.SE is a great example. It's quite tenable. My own RPG.SE struggled with it initially too but it didn't take long. –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 4:02
    
But if we allow questions like Q2 above, what will stop this site from turning into a trolls' paradise? –  Bruce Alderman Sep 1 '11 at 5:25
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The same things that keep any SE from turning into a troll's paradise? What do you mean, what is your objection specifically (this Q is about narrowing the questions allowed on this SE, not widening it!) –  mxyzplk Sep 1 '11 at 11:50
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Let's take that question up a notch. Imagine a site that only admits objectively answerable questions and where, for an answer to be possible, there has to be a text somewhere answering the question.

I just described Skeptics, where all answers must be backed by evidence (usually, peer-reviewed literature). Yet, in spite of all that, most questions a load of work. Answering Does a car with a hybrid engine and Lithium batteries pollute more than a car with conventional technology?, for example, took me over twelve hours of research. Yet, all the material was available somewhere.

Christianity.SE can make the Internet a better place only with objectively answerable questions.

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I would not close all questions that can be answered by a visit to Wikipedia. On Stack Overflow, most questions are probably answered by some manual somewhere. The reason users come to the site in the first place is often that they were unable to find this information by searching, or that they found the existing information unclear or confusing.

Therefore, just because the answer can be found on Wikipedia, that doesn't mean we should reject the question outright, especially if there is a good indication that the user has made an attempt at researching the question on their own.

However, truly trivial questions that anyone would be able to find the answer to with a minimal amount of effort should be closed. If they are not willing to put some effort into the question, why should we put an effort into answering it?

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+1. I guess the answer to that last question is that we want to build up a repository of knowledge here, so that people visit SE instead of going elsewhere. I've seen that argument used a lot on SE - that we want people to come here instead of Wikipedia etc - but it does lead to the problem that we end up just rewriting Wikipedia articles in Q&A format, and there has to be more to SE than that. –  Waggers Jan 6 '12 at 12:01
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