Author: Andy Peters (adpeters@bio.indiana.edu) Title: The Official talk.origins Welcome FA

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====================================================================== Author: Andy Peters (adpeters@bio.indiana.edu) Title: The Official talk.origins Welcome FAQ ====================================================================== =============================================================================== talk.origins Welcome FAQ V. 1.1 Written and maintained by Andy Peters (adpeters@bio.indiana.edu) -------------- Sections or passages included at the suggestion of someone else are denoted by that person's initials in [square brackets]. =============================================================================== WELCOME TO TALK.ORIGINS! ========================== (1) What is talk.origins? Talk.origins ("t.o.") is a newsgroup devoted to the discussion of issues related to biological and physical origins. Topics discussed include, but are not limited to, evolution, creation, abiogenesis, catastrophism, cosmology, and theology. Be assured that you will find lively, often heated, exchanges between people of all persuasions. Much of the bandwidth of t.o. is used for discussion of the merits of various ideas about origins. Other types of posts, however, are welcome (and, in fact, refreshing!), particularly: o A scientific Theory of Creation [See (3C-iii)] o Personal experiences which have affected your attitudes on the subject o Relevant news, scientific and/or political o Anything original, entertaining, and/or downright brilliant :-) [MI] ===================================== (2) What is the purpose of this file? This file is intended to explain to new participants, in particular those who do not accept the currently dominant scientific explanations of origins [TS], how best to avoid flames. Following these guidelines should facilitate intelligent, thoughtful interaction while minimizing distracting flamage. Though this FAQ is addressed mainly to creationists, the guidelines are general for the most part, and should be followed by everyone. There is also a short section addressed to non-creationists at the end of section 3. Understand, however, that following these guidelines, while we hope it will reduce the heat directed against you, is far from a guarantee that you will be treated politely at all times. Expect your every statement to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb, every assertion to be challenged, every assumption to be questioned. Some of these actions will take the form of polite discourse, but many will not. You can count on being flamed sometimes, no matter how rational you act, no matter how good your arguments are [WE]. These flames, however, will be nothing compared to the flames incurred when someone fails to follow the basic rules of courtesy and argumentation suggested here. ==================================================== (3) How can I get the most out of discussion on t.o.? I am assuming here that your purpose is to engage in rational discourse. Thus, "getting the most out of a discussion" implies a give and take of ideas, with a willingness to consider the ideas and points put forth by one's opponents, and the assumption that he/she has the same willingness. This willingness, however, does not imply that one's opponent will immediately accede to the superior power of one's argument. Remember that the t.o. regulars have been at this a long time, and have seen lots and lots of arguments. With that in mind, let's jump into the guidelines I've been babbling about. -------------------------------------------- (A) Understand your argument - Be Prepared! -------------------------------------------- (i) Understand the assumptions behind your argument. ----------------------------------------------------- Many people come in to the origins debate with some very convincing-sounding arguments about "why evolution can't have happened." These arguments are often based on a vague understanding of some principle of chemistry, physics, probability, or other field. Before you post your argument, make sure you really understand the principles upon which it is based. As one example, if your argument is based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics ("entropy"), make sure that you really know and understand the Second Law. (ii) Understand what you're arguing against. --------------------------------------------- Many people have incorrect, or at least very vague, concepts of the various theories of origins, and even the meanings of words like "theory." Perhaps the most common logical fallacies committed by newcomers to t.o. are strawman arguments such as, "If evolution says man evolved from apes, how come there are still apes around?" Since evolution does not say man evolved from apes, such an argument is, of course, pointless. If you read no other FAQ, read Chris Colby's Introduction to Evolution FAQ before you post, to make sure you truly understand what you're arguing against. This FAQ also contains references to textbooks and popular books about evolution. (iii) Don't assume your argument's never been heard before. READ THE FAQ'S! ------------------------------------------------------------ A sure way to get the t.o. regulars to check the pilot lights on their flame throwers is to start with an argument they've all heard numerous times before. Even if you came up with an argument yourself, it may have been heard before. Of course, it is perfectly possible that your argument may be one we've never seen before; this section, therefore, is not meant to discourage you from posting your argument altogether [CS]. You will want to do your best, however, to ensure that we _haven't_ seen it before. To do this, you should check the FAQ's, which contain the responses to a large number of these oft-heard questions. T.o. has more FAQ's than the average newsgroup, each dealing with a subset of the numerous types of questions revolving around the issue of origins. Matt Brinkman (BRINKMAN@si194b.llnl.gov) maintains a list of the FAQ files currently available, and both this list and many of the other files can be obtained via anonymous ftp to ics.uci.edu: /pub/origins. Wesley Elsberry maintains a glossary of terms you are likely to encounter on t.o.; this file is also available through the ftp site, or Wesley can be reached via email (elsberry@beta.tricity.wsu.edu). [WE] ---------------------------- (B) Use good argument style ---------------------------- (i) Read, and carefully consider, the posts to which you respond. -------------------------------------------------------- Since the question of origins is an emotional issue for many people, they take the often-harsh-seeming responses to their posts personally. This, combined with the excitement of debate, often leads to a downward spiral of posts which are more knee-jerk responses than well-thought-out discussion. Before responding, make sure you have read and considered every point made by your opponent. Also, don't feel the need to respond to every single post directed at you. Often, there will be several posts making essentially the same point. Rather than contributing to the flood of posts by responding to each one individually, it's best to summarize the main points of all the posts, then compose a single, well-thought-out response. (ii) Object to specific points in your opponent's argument. ------------------------------------------------------------ We hope that a natural result of following guideline (B-i) will be that you have specific objections to a given argument. Make those specific objections. A frighteningly common strategy, and a sure way to get flamed, is to either: (1) respond to a several-paragraph-long post with a single sentence disclaiming the entire argument, making no effort to show why the argument is wrong, or (2) merely ignore a response, then post a minimally-reworded version of the post to which the original response was directed. (iii) Don't be a hit-and-run poster. ------------------------------------- Posting an assertion, then not responding to any of the responses, is a sure way to get a flood of nasty e-mail. Some folks seem to enjoy the scorn they receive, and have been posting via the hit-and-run method for years. Basically, to avoid being put in the "hit-and-run" category, you should support your assertions. No one is going to be convinced by the rote repetition of an opinion, therefore you should always back up your opinions with evidence and logic. Posting an unsupported assertion is a sure way to induce flames. Doing it numerous times will completely destroy your credibility. [CS] Another hit-and-run tactic is to post objections to one or to examples which someone has used to support an argument, and imply that this destroys the entire argument. Remember that raising difficulties with one or two supporting lines of evidence out of many is not a fatal blow to someone's argument [TS]. (iv) Don't abandon a line of argument in the middle, then try to start up another one. ------------------------------------------------------------- This technique is looked upon by regulars as an intentional attempt at avoiding the original argument, and will be taken as an admission that you were wrong. Regulars do not forget when their opponents have abandoned a line of argument. Statements such as, "Well, I'm not sure about that. Let me do some research on it..." will be remembered forever, and you will be reminded from now until doomsday of your implicit promise to get back to that line of argument. (Not that research itself is discouraged, mind you - just the use of research as an excuse to change the subject.) (v) Don't submit scatter-shot posts. [CS] ------------------------------------------ It is common for a new participant to start out by posting a list of objections to evolution. Though this won't get you flamed in and of itself, the common result will. If you post a long list of objections, you can count on getting several posts per objection in return. There is no way any human can deal with the large number of separate discussions which often ensues from this situation, and so it eventually becomes necessary to drop a few of the discussions. Unfortunately, this tends to be seen as a violation of guideline (B-iv). Therefore, it's best to post one well-thought-out objection at a time, thereby avoiding the potential hassle. (vi) Be careful, and explicit, in your use of quotations. [WE, CS, TS] ---------------------------------------------------------- Often, participants in the discussion will quote someone as making a statement supporting or refuting a given idea. If you do this, you must first, of course, check to make sure you aren't committing the fallacy of Argument from Authority. Is your source well informed in the field about which he/she is commenting, and does he/she give any evidence to back up the statement? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then you're arguing from authority. To avoid this fallacy, make sure you're quoting the authority because of the facts or arguments he/she presents, not just because he/she is a respected person [BJ] Just as important as avoiding the Argument from Authority fallacy is making sure your quotations accurately represent the position of the person you're quoting. Make sure you understand, and include, the context of the quotation when you transcribe it (failing at this is a sure way to ignite ire). Avoid clipping words out of the middle of a quotation, but make sure you use ellipses when you do. And always give the source for your quotation or paraphrase, even if the source is an unpublished document such as a church bulletin or seminar handout [TS]. If your quotation is secondary - that is, if you are quoting from a work which is quoting another work - make sure you reference both the original work _and_ the work you're directly quoting. If you reference only the original source of the quotation, without ever seeing it, you are accepting personal responsibility for the accuracy of the quotation [CS]. ------------------------------ (C) Miscellaneous suggestions ------------------------------ (i) Don't assume that all people who accept evolution are atheists. [TS, PN] ---------------------------------------------------------- A wide variety of religious beliefs is held by scientists in general, and many of these beliefs are held by those on this group. Among the variety of beliefs, you might even find one much like yours. The many religious scientists on this group are likely to be offended when someone makes blanket statements regarding "atheistic evolutionists" or the like. Always keep in mind that evolution is not the same as atheism, and atheism is not a necessary result of acceptance of evolution. For information on the compatibility of God and evolution, read Kurt vonRoeschlaub's God and Evolution FAQ. (ii) Understand the limitations of USEnet. ------------------------------------------- This method of communication is exciting and dynamic, but it has a lot of characteristics which make it a less-than-ideal medium for thoughtful, rational discourse. While we can't fix these, we can make them less traumatic by keeping them in mind. (a) Posting is easy. Too easy. Therefore, violating guideline (B-i) becomes very easy to do. Force yourself to stop and consider your posts before you send them. (b) It's impossible to be sure of the true emotional motivations behind others' posts, or their implied emotional content. Therefore, it's best to avoid assumptions about the feelings and motivations of others on the net. [WE] (c) Time lags are inherent in the system. Some people take longer to get posts than others. When you see a new post which says things you've already responded to, therefore, consider the possibility that the poster has just received an old post of yours. In fact, it is possible that some users may see and respond to a response to a post before ever seeing the original post. This can on occasion result in some bizarre misunderstandings and quotations out of context. Be charitable [TM]. (d) Remember that USEnet debates are qualitatively different from speech debates. Speech debates rely as much on style and poise as on substance of one's arguments. On USEnet, however, posters have all the time in the world to think and respond. Over this medium, it is impossible to hide behind impressive-sounding rhetoric. This is why it is so important that you understand your argument and your opponent's before you jump into the debate. [CS] (iii) To really impress the regulars, come prepared with a scientific Theory of Creation. ---------------------------------------------------------- The ToC is the Holy Grail of the origins debate - everyone talks about it, but no one's ever seen it. If you argue against evolution, or imply in any way that creationism is scientific, then you can count on being asked to supply a theory. A scientific theory must have predictive value, must be internally consistent, must be falsifiable, and must explain at least those phenomena explained by the currently dominant theory. Thus, such statements as "God created the heavens and the earth..." are not theories, as they are neither predictive nor falsifiable. While no one has ever presented a scientific theory of creation to us, we maintain that it is necessary for an honest comparison of various ideas of origins. Because of the properties listed above, theories provide specific points for comparison of the explanatory value of different ideas. Without a predictive, falsifiable theory of creation, it remains impossible to objectively evaluate the idea of creation. ----------------------------------------- (D) Guidelines for non-creationists [JA] ----------------------------------------- Of course, everyone is expected to follow the general rules of conduct outlined in sections (A) through (C). Some additional points need to be made, however, specifically to non-creationists. Since there are many people in the science/evolution camp, it can be difficult to resist falling into a group mentality. Before you submit to the temptation to "pile on" to an argument, consider: (1) whether the point you wish to make has already been made, and (2) whether you're really adding anything. Humor is always appreciated, but it often detracts from real discussion to add a content-free post to an already-excessive pileup of responses [JA]. Also, it's a good idea to make sure that you know what you're talking about before you post on a technical topic. Several t.o. regulars have advanced training in the subjects we discuss here - wait for responses from the experts before replying to questions about such topics. Remember that, while what you have read in popularizations of technical topics is not likely to be *wrong*, it is often oversimplified to the point of being misleading. If you post statements based on a gross misunderstanding of some topic, you are just as likely to be reprimanded as a creationist. [PS] --------------- If you fail to follow these guidelines, you can count on being soundly flamed within your first several posts. If you continue to post without following them, the flames will get hotter and hotter. Many construe this behavior on the part of the regulars as an unwillingness to discuss their ideas. On the contrary: discussion of various ideas of origins is the very reason we are here. Discussion is likely to be much more productive, however, if all participants agree to follow standard rules of argumentation and etiquette [PN, KvR] ====================================================== (4) Am I *really* expected to read *all*these*FAQ's*? Some new participants become offended when they ask a question and are repeatedly told, "Read the FAQ." However, if you think of it from the t.o. regular's perspective, you can see that it must be very frustrating to have someone insist on a spoon-fed explanation when the information can be just as easily found in a concise, well-written document like the t.o. FAQ's. [OA] As I have said, t.o. has a lot more FAQ's than the average group. Therefore, it is probably unrealistic for us to expect you to read them all. You should, however, definitely read those that are relevant to the arguments you intend to make. In addition, if you are directed to a particular FAQ for the answer to a question, don't insist on a personal answer from the person directing you. Make use of the FAQ's when they are relevant. Since most discussions on t.o. revolve in some way around the predictions and assumptions of evolution, most new participants will definitely want to read Chris Colby's Introduction to Evolution FAQ. Other FAQ's deal with specific issues surrounding the debate; if one of those issues is related to your argument, read the FAQ associated with it. Some FAQs which you are likely to find to be relevant are [MI]: -evolution-fact (Larry Moran) - Is evolution a fact or a theory? -faq-transitional (Kathleen Hunt) - Some transitional fossils -faq-age-of-earth (Chris Stassen) - The age of the earth -isochron-dating (Chris Stassen) - How isochron dating works -jury-rigged (Chris Colby) - Evidence for "bad" design -god-and-evolution (Kurt vonRoeschlaub) - Religion and Creation/Evolution -faq-meritt (Jim Meritt) - Rebuttals to many, many Creationist arguments. An efficient way to approach the mass of FAQ material available is to read through Matt Brinkman's "meta-FAQ," which is a guide to all of the t.o. FAQ's. This should serve as a starting point from which you can see whether any of the FAQ's are related to your argument. ================================ (5) How do I get the FAQ's? [MI] The t.o. FAQ's and several other files of interest can be obtained via anonymous ftp to ics.uci.edu: /pub/origins. ------------------------------------------------------- We hope that, if you try to follow the suggestions in this file, your experience on t.o. will be a stimulating, educational experience. Welcome aboard! ================= Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the following people for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of this file. They offered criticism and suggestions, only a few of which could be adequately acknowledged within the text. Onar Aam Jim Acker Wesley Elsberry Mark Isaak Bill Jefferys Jim Loats Thomas Marlowe Paul Neubacher Tero Sand Thomas Scharle Paul Schinder Chris Stassen (who also suggested the hierarchical organization of Section 3) Kurt vonRoeschlaub ------------------------- If you have comments, criticisms, or suggestions for improvement of this file, please contact me.

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