Monday, June 18, 2007

A Project on Intelligent Design

I have decided to start a new project, and I would like to ask for advice on how best to proceed. We need a simple book, suitable for Jr. High School students, that explains the issues surrounding intelligent design.

The standard response to the challenge of intelligent design on the secular side of this dispute has been to simply argue that we should not talk about it. Schools should simply ignore the subject and not talk about it. The problem with this strategy is that it leaves the whole population substantially ignorant of the problems with intelligent design, and that this substantially ignorant population is left defenseless to the well-funded propaganda of those elements of society selling this particular brand of snake oil.

What we need to do is to explain the problems with intelligent design, and to do so in a way that students can understand this issues while they are taking science classes in school.

The Moral Dimension

The moral dimension of this particular posting is that we are being entirely irrational in insisting that schools not discuss the issue of intelligent design. The purpose of the school system is to educate children, and this is clearly an area where children are being poorly educated. More importantly, this is an area where people seem to insist that children not be educated, even though widespread public ignorance on this issue is proving to be extremely costly.

First, we must look at the amount of time, money, and other resources that go into promoting intelligent design. These are resources that are devoted to promoting fiction, effectively making a substantial portion of the population stupider than it would have otherwise been.

Second, an uninformed population is less capable of making intelligent decisions on national policies that depend on that particular field of knowledge. In this case, the policy decisions made by a population that is substantially more ignorant of the biological facts than they would have otherwise been are less capable of making intelligent policy decisions in fields of health, the environment, and even criminal law. After all, a better understanding of evolution gives us, among other things, a better understanding of criminal (and non-criminal) behavior.

There is little doubt that we, as a society, are worse off than we would have otherwise been – particularly worse off in terms of health care, environmental care, and criminal law, than we would have otherwise been. The result is a lower quality of health, a more noxious environment, and a lessened ability to deal with crimes (with its subsequent costs) than we would have otherwise had.

This is not to say that proponents of intelligent design are solely responsible for the fact that we do not live un a utiopia. Our problems have a wide number of sources, and this is just one of them. However, even a slight improvement in our understanding in any of these areas implies improvements in the quality of life (and even the survival) of millions of people.

So, if the public school system is politically incapable of educating the children in our society of the facts concerning intelligent design, then those concerned with the quality of life in this world have reason to take up the challenge themselves. For that, they need high-quality tools, and in particular need tools that they can use in the education of young children.

Qualifications

I have no particular talent for writing text books for seventh graders, so I cannot claim to be the best qualified to execute this particular project. However, I also hold that it is better to do something than to sit back and wait for others to act. Of course, this policy should come with a recognition of one’s own competencies, and to leave room for more knowledgable people to provide input. In this way, we can avoid situations like the Iraq War, where incompetent people decide to do something with full disregard of their own incompetence.

So, I would like this to be an online project. However, I would like the project to have the aim of producing a book, which can then be funded and distributed to students in the age range of 12 to 14.

There will, of course, be questions of credit and authorship. On these matters, I am thnking of something that would work much like “open source” works in programming or a Wikipedia works. Some site will be set up that will allow different individuals to contribute. However, in this case, all contributions will be judged by whether young teenagers can understand what was written. This will not be a “talk-origins” like project which is likely to be filled with complex details written in a manner appropriate for a PhD dissertation.

Ultimately, there will be a question of publication and distribution. I would like to see some non-profit science organization ultimately take the project and use it to produce a book. The organization will seek funding (contributions) for the purpose of printing and distributing the book to people in the Jr. High School age range, perhaps through organizations such as Camp Quest or science and secular web sites. Whatever organization takes up the project of printing and distributing the content will be allowed to keep whatever income it can generate from this product.

First Step: Existing Efforts

In a project such as this, the first thing to do is to determine that it has not already been done, or is not already being done. I have done my own online searches for something like this, and I have asked others to point me to something that meets these criteria. I have been informed of some useful resources, but nothing like what I would like to see made available – a relatively complete discussion of the issue of intelligent design suitable for 12-year-old children.

If I am wrong in this, I would like to know now. I would like to encourage any reader to let me know of anything that meets this objective. I would further like to ask any reader to ask others who might know of anything that meets this objective. I certainly have no interest in wasting effort on something that has already been done.

If something like this already exists, I would be more than happy to spread the word here on this site, and encourage others to do the same.

Second Step: Set Up a Project

The second step, then, would be to set something up where people can start building the text. I am not an expert in the resources that are available. I have recently learned of Wiki scratchpad, which has a great deal of functionality that can be hijacked for such a project. I am wondering if there is a service like this available for more conventional writing projects – for example, to be used by people wanting to collaborate on a book or manuscript.

If anybody has any advice to offer in this regards, please, let me know. I would hate for such a project to get off on the wrong foot.

Third Step: Solicit for Expert Assistance

Of course, I would like to draw people to this project that have particularly strong skills in understanding the issue of intelligent design and communicating those issues in language that 12 to 14 year olds can understand. Once the project is set up, I would like to encourage readers to point it out to those who could make meaningful contributions in the hopes that they will see the project as worth at least a little of their time.

Auxiliary Step

I would also like to hear any advice one might have regarding the ownership and rights for such a project. I would like contributors to understand that they will have no rights to the content. The rights to the content will go to whatever organization seeks to use the content to create and distribute a book. This will be a voluntary effort – a freely given contribution to the greater well-being of society.

Predictions

Actually, if I were to make predictions on how such a project would turn out, I would predict that there will be some serious disagreements about how to write such a book. These political disputes will express themselves in the form of factions. Eventually, each faction will get fed up with the incompetence expressed by competing ideas, they will break off, and they will develop independent projects.

In particular, I expect that one faction will form around the desire to present the issue in terms of NOMA – the idea that science and religion represent two Non-Overlapping Majestrata, where neither has anything to say about the other. They would find themselves at odds with a faction that wants to present the issue in terms of The God Hypothesis – the idea that the existence of a God is a scientific claim that describes events in the real world.

I would not be surprised to see these factions splitting into separate projects, if this project should ever get that far.

On this issue, I’m afraid that I would find myself favoring the camp seeking to represent religion in terms of a God Hypothesis, a hypothesis that absolutely fails any and all scientific testing.

However, I would not object to advocates of NOMA producing their own version of the project. It will likely reach people that will simply dismiss The God Hypothesis. Even though I hold that this view is mistaken, it is less mistaken than the alternative, and a lesser mistake is at least some measure of improvement.

Addendum

I have started my project. I will be slowly writing and editing the project at a place on my web site.

7 comments:

Richard Rosalion said...

I think this sounds like an excellent project. A wiki of some sort definitely sounds like the perfect place to work from - as for which particular software, I have no idea!

As for the licensing of the content, I think that a project like this would be fantastic as a text book (as you intend), but it should certainly not be restricted to ONLY a text book. Perhaps licensing it under a Creative Commons license (No Derivatives, Non-Commercial) would work best? (although I'm not sure how a publisher would feel about that).

borofkin said...

Hi Alonzo,

It's possible that Wikibooks is appropriate for this project. Wikibooks is a sister project of Wikipedia, and it's mission is "to create a free collection of open-content textbooks that anyone can edit."

See What is Wikibooks for a description of what sort of books are permitted. Also note that books that are being developed on Wikibooks are subject to the Wikimedia Foundations Neutral Point of View policy, and are licensed under the GNU FDL.

If you think Wikibooks is appropriate, I'd be happy to manage the creation of a new book. Please note that I have no intention of contributing content.

D.R.M. said...

I'm sorry to say, I didn't read the entire post. But, I'm wondering, would such a book be distributed to actual students and if so, by what means?

Patrick said...

Hey - sounds like a good idea, and one that I've advocated, because it encourages critical thinking. Telling people to not talk about it is an abandonment.

Was gone for a while; decided that daily reading is still a good way of procrastinating, so expect me a-lurking.

Sinbad said...

It doesn't relate to the project directly, but to educate parents who might be supportive of ID, I recommend Darwin's God, by Ken Miller. It provides great Christian reasons for opposing ID.

Sinbad

Nick said...

Good idea!

I have to throw in a bit of justified paranoia, though. You probably want to be proactive about making sure no copyrighted material (beyond fair use) makes it into the work, particularly if you allow anonymous contributions. It would be tragic if people put a great deal of time and effort into this book, only to have it be rendered unpublishable because a potential publisher would risk copyright infringement lawsuits over passages of questionable origin. And frankly, this seems like the kind of book that might have well-funded religious organizations looking for ways to impede its publication.

Does anybody know if, e.g., Wikipedia/Wikibooks has a process for dealing with such concerns? Surely they or some organization such as Creative Commons or the EFF has already produced a guide to copyright issues in open source publishing.

Patrick said...

Call for revision:

"The science system gives you 1 in 1,000,000 chance of choosing the right glass. The priest system gives you only a 1 in 2 chance of choosing the right glass."

Then any sane person would choose the priest over the science, cos 1:2 is much better than 1:1,000,000

Now, I understand that could still be a useful statement regarding the fake probability that gets used to defend ID; but still more effective to get people to understand that there are ways to see what is "fake"