On Being Friendly to Newcomers

I believe empirical evidence has been found that people generally don’t change their deeply-held beliefs by being continuously bombarded with opposing evidence and arguments. In some cases, more rebuttals may actually harden their beliefs.

What I see here is that enough people have offered counterpoints to Jeff’s beliefs to give him something to think about for now. Simply bombarding him with more and more rebuttals is not likely to make him abandon his position.

Why do you think what you are doing is more likely to make Jeff change his mind? (Or is that not your goal at all?)

That being said, I’m also aware that this very post will not likely change the minds of those who firmly believe that bombarding creationists with rebuttals is going to accomplish anything.


Will anything make him abandon his position? What are you doing?


I think it’s more likely that someone will change their mind if you give them space and time to think. Establish a relationship based on trust and other issues not necessarily related to the intellectual issues you have been debating.


Continuing to write for the lurkers, over here. I’m an educator, not a proselytizer: it’s not my job to change people’s beliefs. It is my job to counteract inaccurate information with accurate information.


Once again the goal of rebutting YEC nonsense is not to get the YEC to change. The chances of doing that are effectively zero. The goal is to show lurkers the proper science and show the problems with anti-science YEC tales.

1 Like

And even without this evidence, it should IMO be clear to people on the thread that there’s something a little wrong about the bombardment, something discoverable by putting oneself in the other person’s shoes.

I wish everyone (including Jeff) would think more about this. I think all of the criticism of Jeff has been valid but it’s just really hard to see whether there is any goal behind the numerous responses to him.

I know what I think the goal should be. It’s a goal that seems to be a major theme of Peaceful Science, one that is explicit in this thread and lots of other places: to earn the trust of Christian communities so that these communities can learn new and better ways to think about science and to interact with scientists. (The part of the sentence that begins “so that” is my personal slant on the mission.) Jeff entered the conversation showing every flaw in religious creationist thought, and exhibiting typical behaviors associated with religious science denial. But the goal should not be to tell him this or to punish him for it or even to (at the outset) change his mind. It should be to earn his trust, with the hope that subsequent conversation can help him escape the place that currently has him stuck.

This was the spirit behind a book review that I wrote years ago, about a book (Beyond the Firmament) written by a good evangelical about science and origins. I wrote:

…in all likelihood, your struggling evangelical friend needs fellow evangelicals, whom he can trust, to help him get out of the crossfire — the theologians and the scientists might have to come later. Beyond the Firmament represents an opportunity for your friend to sit down with someone who gets it, who knows what is at stake and why everyone is so worried, and who sees the way forward.

At the risk of making Jeff seem like a “project,” I humbly suggest we see this thread as an example of how to engage (and how not to engage) with someone who comes with typical creationist beliefs and attitudes but who has shown decency and openness.

Oh and, hello @jeffb. It’s good to have your voice here.


Right, which is why I am not advocating that we leave people’s statements entirely unchallenged. And I think there has been plenty of engagement in this thread already. And there’s been tons of debate and attempts at “education” on various other topics on this forum. Do you disagree?

The danger I see is in continually pushing, pestering, attempting to corner one’s intellectual opponents for the sake of “showing the lurkers” is that it deters real, genuine relationships from developing with the person you’re actually dialoging with. The lurkers are unnamed, faceless. We don’t know for sure how to best to serve them, what they’re looking for in this website, what kind of interactions will benefit them. It’s quite easy to justify whatever one does here for the supposed benefit of “educating” imagined lurkers who may or may not actually exist.


It may be just a numbers problem, as much as anything else: 3-5 on 1 is not fair in a bar fight, nor in a forum discussion. If someone else is raising the issues and challenging the claims, I’m usually pretty happy to lay back and let them go for it, rather than add to the puppy-pile.

1 Like

I entirely agree with you on this. I find it hard to imagine how a 5-on-1 interaction is going to benefit anyone, including any imagined “lurkers”. It will probably be more likely to 1) Harden and entrench people’s positions, 2) Discourage lurkers (because the conversation becomes harder to follow, with multiple sub-threads on a post), 3) Drive away the person you’re conversing with because engaging on the forum becomes psychologically tiresome.

1 Like

There are always these chimeric “lurkers” who are honestly uninformed and undecided on the issue, and are interesting in hearing evidence that would help them make up their mind.

In such a case, five people are more likely to come up with persuasive evidence than one person working on his own. Especially if they are all experienced and well-informed.

I am presuming that these hypothetical lurkers are interested in and capable of paying attention to the actual content of the evidence and arguments, without getting distracted by extraneous matters like how many people might be involved on one side or the other.


You also quickly learn who to ignore in a conversation if there are participants who are basically just doing sideline sniping.

1 Like

Especially 5 people in different fields. It’s my belief that I’m the only phylogeneticist here (correct me if I’m wrong) and so should have a primary responsibility to answer arguments about common descent. I also think (and again, correct me if I’m wrong) that I have a greater familiarity with paleontology than most, maybe all others posting here, and so have another responsibility for that line of argument. Population genetics, not so much.


Obviously. But that’s why it also makes it exhausting for the person who is debating alone, making it less likely that we’ll continue to have them here. In my experience here as a “lurker” on various threads regarding evolution and design, threads where the number of participants are restricted have resulted in more cogent, readable critiques.

Have you tested that hypothesis empirically?

As I said, it’s easy to imagine some profile of lurker who will fit your preferred audience. But we don’t know if those lurkers actually exist in substantial numbers or are just figments of your imagination.

I don’t know much empirically about lurkers either. However, I’ve had at least one anecdote about a lurker: I recommended this website to someone I know in real life who seems sympathetic to ID, and he left after trying to follow a long thread debating design which led nowhere. He thought reading this website was a waste of his time.

If I was asking questions out of a sincere sense of curiosity I would not find it at all exhausting to receive responses from multiple people from various disciplines. I would find it stimulating and gratifying. I would also be humbly grateful to these people for taking the time to educate me.

However, it I was instead trying to defend some false and indefensible ideology against the arguments and evidence they were presenting, I could see how that would be exhausting.


That’s not what I’m talking about. What I see in this thread, for example, is someone new sincerely trying to explain their personal background and what they believe and why. As far as I can see, Jeff is not a professional scientist or academic nor is he a professional apologist for a creationist organization (like Paul Price is). Treating all of his posts as statements of public disinformation that must be countered with correct information at all costs is rude and antagonistic. It’s not welcoming, nor treating people as human beings instead of just brains on a stick. Normal people wouldn’t dare to do it if this were a real-life interaction and the new person was your dinner guest, because it would be rude.

This implies that if one feels exhausted when debating 5 people at once, that is evidence that one’s views are “false and indefensible”. But that’s plainly false. Even most professional scientists with perfectly mainstream beliefs would admit that debating 5 creationists is exhausting, which is why many simply choose not to even engage with them at all. That’s why we have terms for gambits used in these debates, like Gish gallops. Debating five people at once is exhausting, period, no matter how correct your views actually are. It is just a matter of intellectual capacity. There’s also Brandolini’s law: it takes 10 times as much effort to debunk a BS statement as it took to generate the statement in the first place.

Coming back to the original point: it’s tiring to engage with 5 people who are hostile to your beliefs, no matter what they are. Sometimes a person may deliberately ask for such engagement (e.g. someone presenting a paper to a professional conference to be critiqued), but we should not treat everyone new here (especially laypeople) like that. Honest criticism is fine, but engage people in a friendly manner.


That’s a highly selective account.

I’ve seen you (and others) pulling out your hair (metaphorically) when you are swamped with PRATT arguments by a slew of evolution skeptics. We don’t get frustrated because we have some false weak ideology, but because the nonsense of an imbalanced conversation is just exhausting.

Whether we are ultimately right or wrong on our position, getting swamped with critiques is usually difficult. As academics, it can be a good sign, indicating people are taking our work seriously. That might be the exception to the rule on Internet forums…


Yes, that is also exhausting.

But, in both situations the fault lies with the person clinging to an ideology that is demonstrably wrong, not with those trying to educate him about this. IMHO, of course.


Its true that one can quickly get overwhelmed by multiple responses from different people, but it’s unavoidable in some cases. Sometimes the issues YECs bring up span different areas of biology, which would require different people with the relevant expertise to respond to their field-specific claims.

I think its better to streamline the number of claims being made, allowing for a reduced number of people to respond. If a single person is knowledgeable enough to deal with the objections raised, then it would be productive for that person to follow up the issues raised by YECs.

This won’t work for all cases though. Make a thread with the word “genetic entropy” and all the calvary on both sides come charging in :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

Exactly. If they are going to try Gish Gallop their way to making it appear that YEC isn’t an utterly ridiculous idea, they’re just getting what they ask for when people answer each point. If they can’t handle discussing more than one point at a time, then they shouldn’t instigate discussion on more than one point at a time.


This is the problem. You guys view this as a war. That’s not productive. All that will result is a chaotic mess of information that few bystanders will be able to comprehend.

If a person (YEC or not) starts Gish Galloping and bringing up unrelated points, ignore their other points which are off-topic and focus on the main subject of the discussion. Or start a new thread to discuss those points.

This is not about “fault”. This is about treating all new forum members in a friendly way, no matter what their beliefs are.