Welcome to the Secular Café Exclusive Engagements forum! A goal of the Secular Café is to provide an environment for intellectually stimulating debate and discussion of religious, political, scientific, philosophical, moral and social issues. While the other debate and discussion forums are good for this, some members may prefer more structure. Some may prefer one-on-one debates/discussions without interference from other members. Some may prefer to have more time to reflect on an answer to an argument while ensured that the intended recipient is still following the thread. The goal of Exclusive Engagements is to accommodate these preferences. Participants can select either formal or informal debates or discussions.
(A) Formal Debates & Discussions
Setting up and getting involved in a formal debate or discussion is easy! Participants need not have any prior experience and nor are they expected to. Simply start a thread (or respond to one) in the Exclusive Engagement Proposals subforum and set up the following parameters with the cooperation of your intended opponent:
(2) Participants, positions and sequence
(4) Length in rounds
(5) Maximum statement length
(6) Maximum duration between statements
(7) Start date
(8) Additional criteria (optional)
Once these parameters have been set up, the moderator will set up a thread in the main Exclusive Engagements forum on the agreed start date. The formal debate/discussion will then begin. The moderator will also set up a Peanut Gallery in an appropriate forum so that others can comment on the formal debate/discussion as it progresses. Please note that the Exclusive Engagements forum is fully moderated (posts must be validated by a moderator to be made visible).
(B) Informal Debates & Discussions
Some members may prefer an exclusive engagement that is more informal and flexible, as if it were a regular thread in the other forums (barring other members). An informal debate or discussion serves that purpose. Participants who prefer this option still must set up a few parameters in the Proposals forum:
(2) Participants and positions
(3) Additional criteria (optional)
Once the participants set up their parameters, the moderator will set up a thread in the Exclusive Engagements forum for the debate or discussion to begin. If the participants wish to have more extensive and detailed criteria, then they are advised to set up a formal debate or discussion instead. A Peanut Gallery will be set up by the moderator in an appropriate forum as well.
(C) Final Thoughts
If you would like to see more elaboration or clarification about the exclusive engagement rules and procedures, please read the FAQ in the following post. Please feel free to ask the moderator any questions as well. We hope that the Exclusive Engagements forum provides an intellectually stimulating venue for Secular Café's members. We look forward to your participation!
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Exclusive Engagement Procedures & FAQ
Propose a formal or informal debate or discussion in this forum. Declare a challenge/invitation or respond to one.
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The Exclusive Engagements FAQ
The following FAQ is an elaboration of the rules and procedures on how exclusive engagements are moderated and set up. Please note that it is impossible to have a rule or procedure that addresses every potential situation or problem that might occur. Many situations may require the moderators to make a judgment call and perhaps bend or break the rules on occasion.
A. The Exclusive Engagements Proposals subforum
What's the purpose of the Proposals subforum?
The Proposals subforum serves two purposes. First, it provides a venue for participants to declare challenges or invitations for formal or informal debates/discussions. Second, once a challenge or invitation has been answered, the participants go on to construct and clarify mutually acceptable parameters. The Proposals subforum is not where the actual debate/discussion of the topic takes place; this takes place in main Exclusive Engagements forum.
Declaring a challenge or invitation can take the form of "calling out" another member or declaring it open to anyone who might be interested in getting involved. Any member is welcome to declare or respond to a challenge/invitation. Other members, not involved in a challenge/invitation, can participate in proposal threads provided that they are contributing relevant comments and suggestions.
*Proposals subforum Tip*
Not every SC member bothers to follow what is going on in the Proposals subforum. When declaring a challenge or invitation, you may want to raise attention to it. If you declare an open challenge, then we recommend subtly mentioning it in an existing thread related to the topic of your challenge in the regular forums. When "calling out" someone, we recommend sending a private message, alerting him or her of your challenge.
Are there any restrictions as to who can participate in formal debates/discussions?
No. SC members need not have prior experience in formal debates/discussions to participate in one and nor are they expected to. If you are new to SC, however, we recommend that post in the other forums for a while so that your fellow members can get to know you better.
There are some exceptions, however. If a participant has already forfeited a formal debate/discussion, or if he or she has a consistent history of rule violations, then that person may, at the moderator's discretion, be banned from participating in exclusive engagements indefinitely.
How do the debate/discussion parameters work exactly?
The following is an elaboration of the eight parameters required to set up a formal debate or discussion:
The topic of the debate or discussion must be based on an issue pertinent to the Intellectual Discussion and Debate forums (e.g. philosophical, scientific, secular, political and religious issues). The topic must also avoid the characteristic of having too narrow a focus and/or a lack of substance. If the participants have chosen a formal debate format, then typically a resolution statement is used to frame the argument of the affirmant (e.g. "Resolved: the earth is 6,000 years old").
(2) Participants, positions and sequence:
All of the participants and their positions in the debate or discussion must be identified. In a debate format, usually it is the case that one person will affirm a position and the other will take the negative and oppose. Debates can also be set up where each participant presents both a positive case and defense for their particular position along with a critique of the opposing position. Multi-participant debates or discussions (i.e. "tag teams") are not permitted. The exception would be a 3-way debate/discussion, if the participants involved hold mutually exclusive positions. Finally, the participants must specify who posts first in a round, if applicable (unless otherwise specified, anyone can go first in informal debates or discussions).
The scope refers to the focus and concepts to be explored in the formal debate/discusssion. Participants may wish to specify the sub-topics that they want to explore which can either be general or specific. For example, if the debate was about the age of the earth, the scope can be very general (e.g. geology and astronomy) or very specific (potassium/argon radiometric dating, distances to stars, and the cosmological redshift). In addition, the participants need to ensure that they mutually agree on what they intend to debate/discuss in order to avoid a misunderstanding. The quality of a debate/discussion depends on the participants' mutual agreement and understanding of important terms and/or what goals they wish to accomplish.
(4) Length in rounds:
Each round in a formal debate/discussion consists of a statement from each respective participant. The minimum number of rounds permitted is three and the maximum is ten. Participants can opt to confine their concluding statements to merely a summary of the debate/discussion rather than introduce new arguments. Participants may also opt for a tentative number of rounds, modifying it later during the course of the debate/discussion.
(5) Maximum statement length:
Participants must set a limit to the amount of text permitted in their statements in words (5,000 words is the maximum setting that can be chosen). The word "quote:" that appears automatically when using vB coding to quote material is not counted in the statement length. The use of numbers, symbols and quoting an opponent's words are considered part of the statement length. Statements must also have sufficiently abundant content. For example, statements consisting solely of the words "Why?" or "Who says?" will be declined. Images can also be used as long as the amount and size are not excessive.
(6) Time limit between statements:
Participants are expected to respond within a particular time frame to each others' statements. For example, if the time limit chosen was a week, then a participant is expected to reply within a week of his or her opponent’s last statement. For debates/discussions with concurrent statements (see below), participants are expected to submit their statements within the time limit from the date proceeding the last statement of the previous round.
(7) Start date:
The start date is the date that the moderator will set up the formal debate/discussion thread. The participant going first is expected to submit his or her statement within the time limit specified from parameter #6. If the participants are ready to start immediately and do not require a start date, then the formal debate/discussion thread will be set up as soon as the moderators are able to do so.
(8) Additional criteria (optional):
Unless otherwise specified, a formal debate/discussion assumes a standard format. Each participant takes his or her turn sequentially each round (this may not be the case in informal debates/discussions). The participants may wish to use special formats such as concurrent statements, question-answer dialogue, rounds set aside for specific topics or a multitude of other options. In addition, the participants may wish to implement specifications such as variable word limits per round and/or restrictions such as limits to citations, links and quotes.
B. The Formal Debates & Discussions forum
How does a formal or informal debate or discussion proceed?
The Exclusive Engagements forum is where the actual formal or informal debates/discussions take place. As noted previously, after participants have finalized their parameters in the Proposals subforum, the moderator will set up a debate/discussion thread in Exclusive Engagements on the designated start date. Only moderators are able to start threads in that forum. After the debate/discussion thread is set up, the participant going first may post his or her opening statement (or both participants if the debate/discussion is concurrent). A formal debate or discussion will end when the all of the rounds have been completed. If a participant forfeits or withdraws from a formal debate/discussion, then his or her opponent will be granted the opportunity to make a concluding statement for the last word.
What's the difference between a formal debate and a formal discussion?
A formal debate occurs when two participants who assert opposing positions wish to challenge each others' evidence or logic with substantive criticism and defenses. A formal discussion, by contrast, is not necessarily as antagonistic. It can be based on things such as a comparison of differing perspectives, an educational conversation between a layperson and an expert or some other form of less confrontational dialogue.
How does an informal debate/discussion come to an end?
An informal debate/discussion can continue indefinitely, as long the participants wish to maintain it. If a participant wishes to drop out, then the debate/discussion will come to an end (the remaining participant may post the last word if he/she wishes to). The debate/discussion can also come to an end with the moderator's discretion, depending on the situation (e.g. the debate/discussion goes significantly off-topic or the participants do not post any statements for a extensive period of time).
What does it mean to be "fully moderated"? Or why can't I see my statement after I posted it?
The Exclusive Engagements forum is fully moderated. When a participant submits a statement, it is invisible to everyone until validated by a moderator. Only the participants and moderators are permitted to post in the debate/discussion threads. Unauthorized posts will likely be moved to the associated Peanut Gallery thread.
What is a "concurrent" debate/discussion?
A fully moderated forum can be useful for formal debates/discussions with a concurrent posting format. In a concurrent debate/discussion, participants submit statements on their own time, within the time limit. Once all of the statements have been submitted from each participant for a round, the moderator will validate them, making each participant's statement appear simultaneously.
Can I participate in multiple exclusive engagements simultaneously?
No. A participant can only take part in one exclusive engagement at a time, although he or she is free to set up the parameters for future debates/discussions.
Can the debate/discussion parameters be amended as it progresses?
Yes. Participants may make a request to the moderators to amend a parameter during the course of the formal or informal debate/discussion, but the change requires the consent of all involved parties.
Why can't I subscribe to formal debates/discussion to be notified of posts?
Unfortunately, a subscription to a formal debate/discussion thread will not work. Subscriptions do not work properly in a fully moderated format. If you wish to be notified of formal debate/discussion posts, you can request that a moderator notify you with a private message. Subscriptions will work, however, with informal debates/discussions.
In what way can my formal debate statement be declined?
Your debate/discussion statement can be declined for a variety of reasons, at the discretion of the moderator. If that happens, you will be asked to re-submit another statement. The following are some reasons why a formal debate statement might be declined:
General chit-chat, complaints to the moderator, and peripheral announcements like "I'll have my post ready Saturday" are not permitted. Complaints to the moderator should be communicated by either private messages through the In Confidence forum. Also, If the content of a statement in a formal debate/discussion is significantly off-topic or outside the scope then it will be declined.
(2) Exceeding the agreed maximum statement length:
If a participant posts a statement with a length greater than the designated word limit, the moderator's response will vary. If the statement exceeds the limit by a mere 1-10 words, then no action will be taken. If the statement is 11-100 words over, then the participant will receive a warning (future statements between 11-100 words will be declined). If the statement exceeds the limit by greater than 100 words then the statement will be declined and another one must be re-submitted.
(3) Use of sources:
Failure to used sources properly may result in a declined statement. Plagiarism and copyright violations, for instance, are strictly prohibited, which can result in a forfeit, if not a declined statement. We strongly recommend that sources, quotes, data, etc. be properly referenced. "Arguments by URL link" are also strongly discouraged. Websites can be used as citations, but merely pointing to a website as a form of argument or rebuttal is not appropriate. All important concepts that are pertinent to the debate/discussion should be discussed in the body of the statement.
(4) Flames and insults:
Flames and insults will very likely result in a declined statement. Participants are strongly encouraged to keep the discourse at a reasonably civil level, just like any other forum on SC.
What if I'm running late in posting my statement?
If a participant fails to post his or her statement within the designated time limit (generally, up to 12 hours of leeway is permitted past the deadline), the debate does not come to an end. The participant will be granted a three-day grace period. If the grace period expires then the participant forfeits the formal debate/discussion. Please note that there is a penalty of one day per subsequent late statement. The deductions operate as follows:
1st statement overdue: 3 day grace period
2nd statement overdue: 2 day grace period
3rd statement overdue: 1 day grace period
4th statement overdue: no grace period (i.e. forfeiture)
What if I'm not able to post a statement in time?
If you cannot post a statement in time due to unforeseen circumstances, you can make a request to the moderators, preferably as well in advance as possible, for an extension of reasonable length. If the debate is between 3-6 rounds, then a debate participant is entitled to one extension. If the debate is between 7-10 rounds, then it is two extensions. We are reluctant to grant additional extensions beyond this amount.
Exclusive engagements can potentially span weeks or even months. A participant may have a life emergency, vacation, or other matter that can present a minor interference with his or her involvement. If it is the case that a participant may frequently encounter other life priorities that may interfere with his or her involvement in debates/discussion with set time limits, then we insist that the time limit between statements be made long enough to accommodate them. Overall, we request that SC members, before committing to a formal debate/discussion, take reasonable foresight of his or her future schedule to ensure that other life priorities will not significantly interfere with his or her involvement.
What is a "Peanut Gallery" and how does it work?
The Peanut Gallery thread allows the rest of the SC membership to comment on a formal or informal debate/discussion as it progresses. The Peanut Gallery will be set up and stickied in a forum that relates to the topic being debated or discussed. We ask that participants not post in the Peanut Gallery until their debate/discussion comes to a close.
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