Re: Dawkins and increase in information

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Tue, 29 Sep 1998 15:06:14 -0500 (EST)

At 07:22 PM 9/28/98 -0500, Glenn R. Morton wrote:
>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!!!!
>Adam, Apes and Anthropology
>Foundation, Fall and Flood
>& lots of creation/evolution information

Why is it that when I hear people like Dawkins explain what evolution
accomplishes, it always sounds to me more the way a religious believer gives
an apology for his faith rather than a scientist speaking about a particular
scientific theory. It may be that there is much behind the words he uses,
e.g. natural selection. However, I get the feeling that those words do not
mean the same as words used, for instance, by a physicist or a
mathematician. As a physicist I know what stands behind the words
"relativity theory." I know there is an underlying mathematical framework
which makes predications and explains nature reasonably well. Perhaps it is
my ignorance of Dawkins' field of study. I suppose if one takes the attitude
that the origin of complexity is deduced purely by a process that humans can
describe in terms of a physical theory, then the notion of a creator or
designer would not come into the picture. But why does Dawkins use the word
"designed" when for him there is no designer?

Does the phrase "slow gradual build up of complexity" implies continuity?
There are many examples in physics where continuous processes are of limited
value. For instance, the transition from gas to liquid may be accomplished
continuously without crossing a gas-liquid coexistence phase. However, the
transition from liquid to solid is accompanied by a change of symmetry and
as such is purely discontinuous--the solid-liquid coexistence curve must be

I am puzzled for the concern whether a question stumped Dawkins or not.
Isn't he mortal? What is the big deal? Am I missing something?