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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

The Ground Rules explained

Post of the Month: June 1999

by Louann Miller

Subject:    Re: Bye.
Date:       June 26, 1999
Message-ID: 7l33ee$

Rcamp0222 wrote in message <>...
>I think I'll get out too. This place is too vicious. And they say Christians
>are intolerant!

This group is kind of a newbie-eater, but the ground rules are pretty simple.

1. Read the FAQ's. There are a lot of them, archived at No, you don't have to read every one but you should be aware that lots of the people you'll be debating with have. There's a 'welcome' FAQ which is aimed specifically at Christian newcomers who aren't used to Usenet debating styles and in some cases to the conventions of critical thinking which have been carried over informally from the sciences.

2. Lurk before you post. This is one of the standard internet commandments, but it goes double for t.o. because there are so many divergent and strong personalities. I would never advise anyone to enter any newsgroup for the first time and fire off ten or twenty posts in an hour. In t.o. I would make an even stronger recommendation; I would suggest reading every single post of one or two days' crop of messages before contributing to any threads.

3. Don't feel like the Lone Ranger. This links strongly with suggestion #2. Just because a question or concept is new to you, that doesn't make it new to the group. Some of what looks like over-reactions to introductory posts (and sometimes IS over-reaction) comes from having answered the same dratted questions fifteen times in the last two months. This goes double for questions that have been posed in creationist literature as 'unanswerable by evolutionists.' If you've read a particular book and found its words and ideas catchy, so have at least five of the last fifteen new guys.

4. Don't feel like the Lone Ranger, Part 2. In the old Westerns, a stranger would ride into town and in only 30 minutes (minus commercials) would solve everyone's problems by somehow having more insight and wisdom about the town than they did from living there for 30 years. That's why they call it fiction. The chances of any newcomer -- even a very bright one -- coming into a long-running conversation on Usenet and bringing everyone present around to his own point of view are absolutely nil. This is not a reasonable goal to have. A better goal would be: figure out why people hold the opinions that they do on the group's topic, and explain your own views in such a way that people with different opinions understand why you hold yours.

(the following is the only advice in this list. Even if you choose to go elsewhere, please consider suggestions 1-4.)

5. Why Yes, This Is Rocket Science. The broad outlines of evolutionary theory can be explained in a couple of pages of text written completely at a layman's level. On the other hand, the details of evolutionary theory -- a description, worked out by thousands of people during the last hundred and fifty years, of the complete history of life on Earth for three billion years -- can get very complex. If you take "evolution" as meaning "all the stuff in modern science that doesn't fit with the literal Genesis accounts", you're not talking just one field -- you're talking about many, from biology to geology to quantum mechanics. Of all the new-guy behaviors that set the old-timers' teeth on edge, one of the most maddening is a refusal to accept either end of this spectrum.

"That question is answered in the FAQs at the basic level, with some suggestions for books to read at the end of the FAQ," say the regulars.

"Why should I take your FAQ as an authority? I don't want glossy generalities."

"Okay, here's a list of some scholarly books and articles which address that problem as it occurs in one particularly well-documented group of species."

"I don't have time to read all that stuff. Just give me a simple answer."

People have really done this to us, rejecting both the short and the long answers on contradictory technicalities and then going away complaining that they've been given the run-around. You may never do this yourself, and I hope you won't, but the group has become a bit gun-shy through bitter experience. It may take several rounds of asking questions and listening to the answers and asking further questions which show you listened to the last set of answers to establish your credentials as one of the good guys.


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