The Religious Turing Test

The Turing Test, of sci-fi notoriety, was developed by Alan Turing as way to determine if a machine could exhibit intelligence indistinguishable from a human. He thought that a computer successfully simulating a human would be milestone in artificial intelligence and maybe robots taking over the world. Pretty wacky stuff.

Much more recently, the economist Bryan Caplan thought he could take that idea and give it a more immediate importance in the Ideological Turing Test. Caplan developed his version in response to Paul Krugman’s claim that liberals understand conservatives better than conservatives understand liberals. He put the idea to the test on this now defunct site—which you should visit if it ever comes back. This concept, testing how well one group understand the beliefs of another, was the catalyst for our new project: the Religious Turing Test.


For the last several weeks, my brothers and I have been developing a test designed to gauge how well Christians understand the beliefs and the ways of thinking of other Christians. We’ve done this by setting up a series of quizzes you can find here. The tests require you to choose what answer (from some similar options) a Christian group would officially give as well as the answer most of its members would give. We hope our findings will not only be of academic interest but will also act as a catalyst for greater inter-denominational conversation.

We’ve already profited much knowledge as hundreds have taken “Step 1” of our study allowing us to catalog members’ beliefs on ten different issues. However, we hope that the findings of our study will expand, and we invite you to participate to help us achieve that. Go to our site and take the test—tell others about it—and hopefully all of this will help us get to know each other a little better.


Add yours →

  1. Just a little critique–I hope I don’t come off as overly critical: As I review the answers I have a problem with some of the options given about my own beliefs. Specifically Heaven and Hell. I think you need another category: Heaven is where God dwells and Hell is outside of his presence. The answers provided give the impression that Heaven is the final destination. Frankly, I’m not satisfied with any of the multiple answers provided.

    As N.T. Wright once quipped, “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.” The final destination is new heavens and earth (see Revelation 21–the new Jerusalem comes down to earth and God dwells with his people–implication on earth). This is pretty much the belief of the first century church and the belief of many groups including the Anglican Church (N. T. Wright is the former Bishop of Durham and now teaches at St. Andrews in Scotland). Heaven as the final destination where our spirits dwell–(not necessarily our bodies)–is influenced by Greek dualism and Platonic philosophy rather than Judea-Christian belief…

    I also have a bit of a problem with #5 (I know it says give the best answer–but…) the closest for me is to be earthly ambassadors–however I think it is better stated: “to participate in bringing God’s will to earth as it is in Heaven”–this is about kingdom work.

    Issue of authority in interpretation–yeouch. Can’t answer. Don’t like the question! I’m not certain any (even the individual) has authority per se. All of the answers are challenged by their own subjectivity!

    I don’t think question # 9 particularly leaves room for my view or the Eastern Orthodox view: we are inclined to sin–but we can ONLY do good by the help of the Spirit? Perhaps I am misunderstanding the answers you have provided. We are not speaking of sanctification or of justification: we are speaking of the ability to do good in general. I am pretty certain Eastern Orthodox view is that we are inclined to sin (through Adam’s sin) but we do not inherit sin or punishment for Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin is like a disease, it did infect us, but we are only punished for our own sinful behavior. At the same time, people can choose to do good things without the Spirit’s dwelling. My own understanding is we are inclined to sin without being guilty of someone else’s sin–but unredeemed people are capable of doing good because we were created in God’s image–so there is also goodness in us.

    Again, hope this doesn’t come across as hyper critical. I’m just having a hard time answering the questions. I understand you probably can’t be totally exhaustive!


    • Darryl, thanks for bringing these to my attention.

      You’re right to say that our test cannot be totally exhaustive and there may not be a perfect answer, so I can’t cover everything or word them to fit every nuance of theology.

      With that said, I think your suggestions for 3 and 9 can (and will) be implemented. Question 3 is dealing with the afterlife, and though “heaven and hell” are used as common terms for the afterlife, the theologically-astute will recognize that those are not the best terms for the soul’s destination after death.

      For question 9, many who do not believe in Original Sin still believe that the Spirit must aid us in doing true good, but that second half of the question does limit more people than it needs to. I’ll take it out.


  2. So my problem is that I cannot answer numbers 3 and 8–so I cannot complete the survey. And I think you really need to rewrite the question on heaven and hell to reflect that heaven is not the final destination at the end of time. Again, perhaps something along the lines that heaven is the present dwelling place of God and the departed saints.


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