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talk.origins Welcome FAQ v.1.11


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Archive-name: talk-origins/welcome
Last-modified: 1995/05/26
Version: 1.11
Posting-Frequency: 14 Days

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
===============================================================================
                             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 over the World Wide Web at URL
http://rumba.ics.uci.edu:8080/ .  If you don't have WWW access, you
can also get the files 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 WWW and ftp
sites, or Wesley can be reached via email (welsberr@orca.tamu.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 two
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
WWW at URL http://rumba.ics.uci.edu:8080/ , or 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)
Brett Vickers
Kurt vonRoeschlaub

-------------------------
If you have comments, criticisms, or suggestions for improvement of
this file, please contact me:

Andy Peters
adpeters@bio.indiana.edu
adpeters@ucs.indiana.edu
adpeters@IUBACS (Bitnet)
-- 
-------Andy (Not-Chris) Peters  (adpeters@sunflower.bio.indiana.edu)-------
Professor of Sex.  Xaviera Hollander |"Zen Tacos:  The not-one taco to have 
 Chair of Sex, Parasites, and Other  | when you're having more than not-two"
Naughty Bits, University of Ediacara | Mex-Econo Restaurant, Kitty Hawk, NC

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