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On many Stack Exchange sites, a vote has a clear meaning:

  • Up vote answers that are correct
  • Down vote answers that are incorrect or unclear

The goal of voting is to help the cream rise to the top over time.

But when it comes to Biblical Hermeneutics, the meaning becomes a bit fuzzy:

  • Up vote answers that are correct
    • I believe in this answer and will stake my faith on it
    • I agree with the answer
    • The answer is valid under my system of belief
    • The answer is valid under a valid system of belief
    • The answer is not totally invalid
  • Down vote answers that are incorrect or unclear
    • The answer is gibberish
    • The answer is invalid in all possible systems of belief
    • The answer is invalid in my system of belief
    • I disagree with the answer
    • I'm pretty sure Satan wrote the answer

Ok, so the last bullet isn't too likely. ;-)

What are you saying when you vote on an answer here?

7

Votes are like Stack Exchange currency

Questions and answers are expensive. It takes time, thought, and (hopefully) expertise to produce a good question and even more to produce a solid answer. Ideally, we'd all be motivated by the joy of finding things out and by the good feeling we get from helping others. But the truth is when I get up in the morning and I wonder what I ought to do with spare time, it gives me a little jolt of happiness to see that someone on the internet gave me a +1 on an answer I worked so hard to produce. Yeah it's shallow and there are potential long-term side effects, but undeniably the system works best when there is a constant influx of votes.

We all have a virtual unlimited supply of votes so if we don't vote often, we are cutting off the monetary supply of our system. It's as if you are a servant in Jesus' parable (Matthew 24:14-30) and you decide to bury your votes instead of using them.

God probably won't condemn you if you vote for heresy

... or if you vote against orthodoxy. Well, I don't know this for sure. I do know the Bible doesn't mention it specifically. Voting up a post is a bit like paying money for a book, which may have bad theology, or cheering at a concert, which might not have the best moral content, or spending time watching a Hollywood movie. Like paying taxes, voting is part of being a responsible member of society.

We're all winners

As a sport's fan, I think the idea that everyone is winner is Namby Pamby. But the reality of Stack Exchange is that multiple answers are encouraged and good answers can co-exist. Nowhere is this more true than in Bible interpretation where God's Word is so deep and wide and rich that none dare be satisfied though they drink continually from that stream for a lifetime. (See Psalm 119.) Every great answer deserves your vote—no matter how many other great answers exist to the same question. Most good answers deserve your vote too. And even some ok answers deserve your vote for some nugget of truth. Over a long enough time, quality will float to the top like cream.

  • 1
    I just noticed that while what you vote on is secret, how often you vote isn't. It seems to me that (very roughly) if you have reputation > 10*votes you are getting more "voting currency" from the system than you are giving. (There are a lot of factors here including questions being worth just 5 reputation and many other ways to get reputation that aren't tied to votes.) – Jon Ericson Nov 9 '11 at 1:32
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Ultimately, a vote means whatever the voter wants it to mean.

In general, as you mentioned, it should be encouraged to vote good posts up and bad posts down. However, we can't (and won't and shouldn't) tell people how to vote.


As for what qualifies a "good" or "bad" post, it's difficult to say.

Generally, I try to vote up questions and answers that are well thought-out, well supported, fully answer the question, and seem to be internally consistent. Also, I tend to vote up questions that are simply well worded. Also, I tend to vote up posts from new users; positive feedback will help them stick around.

Ultimately, though, voting patterns are fickle. Sometimes posts that are well thought-out, well worded, fully supported, answer the question completely, and internally consistent get voted down. Sometimes posts that barely answer the question, or poorly written, or completely unsupported get voted up.

I don't think that there's much that we can do about this, outside of educate the community. If you're interested in proceeding down that path, we should write a couple posts similar to these:

Outside of writing posts similar to those, I don't think there's much that can be done about voting patterns.

But, that's just been my experience.

4

Not sure about other peoples' voting patterns, but here are my own:

  • I vote up questions that are on-topic and that interest me.

  • I vote up answers that I think are "useful" rather than necessarily "correct" or even that I agree with. This is what the hover text on the up arrow says anyway.

I rarely (and on this site have yet to) vote down questions or answers. I can't really think of a scenario where I would vote down a question. Anything I would down vote I'm usually going to flag or VtC. Answers are a little different. If an answer doesn't quite answer the question, I'm likely to comment on it and give the author a chance to amend his/her answer.

3

Jon asked me to weigh in here and I'm happy to do so.

I've asked one question here on 2 Tim 3:16 and I received a nice answer.

The question is then whether to vote up the answer or not. I chose, finally not to do so.

What does a vote mean? And perhaps by extension, when should I vote?

I feel that when someone answers a question then if what they say gives the answer in a way that I understand then I'll obviously vote it up. I'm going to struggle to vote up "heresy", no matter how solid the answer is. I see Jon's point, but basically voting up someone's answers is a way of saying "this person is worth listening to" and that's hard for me to do when I don't think the person is worth listening to. Here I think that not voting the answer down is as far as I can go for the community :)

Now the answer I received did not really answer my question in a way I understood, but it was not "wrong" that I wanted to take the answerer out and burn them as a heretic.

So we're somewhere in between. An answer that's not quite got there, either in being able to bring the answer OR being able to bring the answer to me. Here I think the questioner ought (as long as the question isn't ancient or massively flooded with answers) to be able to explain why I don't accept/understand the answer and allow the answerer the chance to continue.

If I am answering I'll write quickly, but hopefully carefully. But I don't always give many sources or argue points with academic care. But I could hopefully expand a simple point, or give a reference to someone who wants more.

I think answers deserve gratitude and respect (usually anyway), if not always votes. If the answer hasn't "landed" then the questioner should make the effort to explain why. That will encourage those who answer to make more effort and bring greater quality to community.

If there was a "thanks" button I'd hit it. But not the vote. Yet.

  • Thanks for the thoughts. I don't disagree that abstaining from voting on that answer is good move (I didn't vote either). If you don't feel an answer is really addressing your question, than either vote down or abstain. (As it happens, I ran across some more data on your question and I hope to answer it today. Or at least make an attempt. ;-) – Jon Ericson Dec 12 '11 at 19:07

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