Re: Dawkins and increase in information

Glenn R. Morton (
Mon, 28 Sep 1998 19:22:09 -0500

I have read all the articles on the Dawkins incident. Unfortunately, I was
the one that started this whole mess or at least uncovered it. I was doing
a review of the Frog video and noticed that one question had been asked of
Dawkins in a different room, with different lighting from the room in which
Dawkins answered the question. I contacted Dawkins, described the
situation, and he replied (I still have his e-mail) that he did not recall
the incident and that such a question would not stump him. The question
was "Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary
process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?" There
was 11 seconds of silence on the video with Dawkins staring at the ceiling.

Given the denial of Dawkins that the event ever happened, and his initial
e-mail was quite dogmatic in this regard. I mistakenly considered the case
settled, given the fact that the producer had spliced in the video. But
then Gillian Brown contacted me and freely admitted that she had dubbed
the question but that it was exactly what Dawkins had been asked. She sent
an audio tape with the following transcript:

"I am going to stop at this point and ask where these questions are coming
from. And I [audible click[ now and I am now beginning to suspect it was
something else. OK? . I suppose the great mystery of life is to explain
where the complexity of life came from in other words talking about
complexity is to say information. Information is a kind of measure of
complexity. And the complexity of life is not just plain complexity it's
also adapted, living things not only are complicated but they do things,
they survive they work hard, they fly, they swim, they dig, they do
everything in their power to survive and they look as though they are
beautifully designed machines. Machines designed to survive. So in a sense
you could say that the living thing embodies an enormous quantity of
information and specifically you could say that that information is about
their environment. Because if a machine is well equipped to survive in its
environment, a bird is well equipped to swim in the air a fish, or fly in
the air, a fish is well equipped to swim in the water, so in a way the body
of the fish contains information about the watery world in which it lives.
The body of the bird contains information about the air in which it flies,
the beak of the bird contains information about the insects upon which it
feeds or the grains upon which it feeds. You can read the beak of the bird
and tell what it what it feeds on."

Gillian Brown: "Excuse me could we stop for a moment?

Dawkins: "Ready?"

Dawkins: "And of course the puzzling thing is where does all this
complexity come from, where does all this information comes from? It cannot
come about by chance. It is absolutely inconceivable that you could get
something this complicated as a bird and as well designed as a bird or
human or a hedgehog coming about by chance. That's absolutely out. So for a
long time obviously everybody was baffled about it. And the solution
really didn't occur to anybody that is the true solution didn't occur to
anybody until the middle of the nineteenth century when Charles Darwin and
Alfred Wallace worked it out. And essentially the thing that they worked
out is this. Of course it can't come about by chance because to get from
nothing, from no complexity no information to the extreme complexity of a
modern living thing in one step of chance couldn't possibly happen. That
would be like throwing a dice 1000 times and getting a 6 every single
time. It's out of the question. But if you allow a little bit of luck in
any one generation. And a little bit of luck in the next generation and a
little bit of luck in the next generation accumulatively adding this luck
step by step by step by step you can work from any degree of simplicity to
any degree of complexity all you need is enough time. And enough time is
exactly what geology gives us. There has been plenty of time for the slow
gradual build up of complexity which is the same thing as saying build up
in information content. So where has it come from? It's come from the
gradual incremental process of evolution by natural selection. In every
generation you could say that the...nah you can stop there I need to think
a bit more.

"Charles Darwin himself made great play of domestication. No matter how
you look at this. is to say suppose you want to do an experiment to
actually demonstrate experimentally that this process of selection works.
What would you do? Well what you do would be you'd say well it will take
me about a thousand years but given a thousand years in every generation I
can breed for those qualities I want to get...."

Does your tape actually have Gillian asking the question

Gillian Brown: Can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an
evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the

[19 seconds of silence which includes a sharp intake of air which is seen
on the video and heard on the audio tape]

Dawkins: "Can you just stop there I think..."

When the taping starts again.
Gillian: "I'm recording."

Dawkins: "OK"
"There is a popular misunderstanding of evolution that says that fish
turned into reptiles and reptiles turned into mammals and so somehow we
ought to be able to look around the world today and look at our ancestors.
We ought to be able to see the intermediates between fish and reptiles and

~Audio tape of Gillian Brown's interview with Dawkins.

I played the audio along with the video and the intake of air that Dawkins
took during the 19 seconds of silence was also on the audio. So, assuming
no doctoring of the audio tape, Dawkins was stumped. I e-mailed Dawkins on
Sat Jun 06 23:10:48 1998 asking if he had gotten the tape and viewed it. I
also thought I sent him one in early July but also didn't get a response.
But when I publically stated that Gillian Brown's tape seemed to support
her case, Dawkins contacted me and told me that he now recalled the event
and that the pause had been made while he considered whether or not to
throw them out of his house for having obtained an interview under false
pretenses. Frankly, I have a better memory than Dawkins. If someone did
that to me, I would remember it easily.

Given all the claims and counter claims, I think we have a true he said she
said case here. I don't know who is or isn't telling the truth. And
frankly, I am sorry that I was ever involved in that sordid mess!!!!


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