Re: Dawkins and increase in information

Glenn R. Morton (
Wed, 30 Sep 1998 20:17:11 -0500

At 06:06 PM 9/30/98 -0400, Brian D Harper wrote:
>At 07:22 PM 9/28/98 -0500, Glenn wrote:
>>~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.
>Hello Glenn. I guess I'm a little confused as to why you
>conclude that Dawkins was stumped. Doesn't Dawkins
>deal with this question at some length in the transcript
>that you quoted? Given that the question was probably a
>surprise and that he needed an answer accessible to a
>lay person, I thought he gave a reasonable response.
>Now, I suppose that some may not have found the answer
>convincing. But this seems irrelevant in the present
>circumstance since, according to my understanding, the
>video gives the impression that Dawkins had no response
>to the question.

Yes the video gives the impression that Dawkins had no response to the
question, which I initially found so unbelievable that I am sure that it
made me doubt the video in the first place. I am a geophysicist, yet I
could answer that question without batting an eye and Dawkins is certainly
more knowledgeable about biology than I.

Secondly, the 'answer' which was given after the tape was shut off was not
responsive to the question asked before the tape. Why this is I don't
know. Was there more editing? Did Dawkins dodge? I will never know.

Here is Dawkins non responsive answer to the question about increasing
information. If you want me to transcribe more of the audio tape I will.
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


>Now I would like to take a look at two short extracts from
>Gillian's response that was forwarded by Allen Roy:
>2. "...I was challenged to produce an example of an
>evolutionary process which increases the information content of the
>genome. It is a question that nobody except a creationist would
>GB >> That question actually came at the end of the interview. At the
>beginning, Philip Hohnen asked several general questions on the origin
>of new information. These questions are recorded on tape and may be
>viewed, either on tape or transcripted, by anyone interested in the
>exact nature of the questions.

The audio tape Ed Brayton and I received obviously was an extract because
there is no male voice asking questions on the tape I got from Ed. I
didn't listen to the very end of the tape (I listened to the relevant
portions) but Gillian said that Hohnen asked questions at the first of the

> Dawkins objected to the questions and
>stopped the recording. He claimed that questions on the origin of new
>information were invalid, and that nobody ever asked him such
>questions. I responded that the question of information was perfectly
>valid, and very important to the evolution-creation debate.

According to the audeo, Dawkins never actually objected to the questions.
He may have after the tape was turned off, but Gillian is wrong to assert
that he objected and THEN stopped the recording. He may have stopped the
recording and then objected.

>GB >> After he asked for the camera to be switched off, Dawkins asked
>that his answers to the first few questions would not be used (and they
>have not been used). He then agreed to make a statement, but refused
>to take more questions from Philip. We resumed recording, then after
>he finished his statement I asked for a concrete example in which an
>evolutionary process can be seen to have increased information on the
>genome. The long pause seen on the video immediately followed my
>question, he then asked me to switch off the camera so he could think,
>which I did. After some thought he permitted the camera to be switched
>on again and his final answer was recorded, the answer which appears in
>the video, which, as can be seen, does not answer the question.

I agree with Gillian that what is recorded does not answer the question.

>Because my question was off-camera and off-mike (though clearly audible
>on the tape), it could not be used in the finished production, that is
>why the presenter was recorded later, repeating my question as I had
>asked it. Your concern is that the pause was fabricated. No, the
>pause followed by an irrelevant answer was in response to that exact
>question, a question which Dr. Dawkins could not answer and would have
>preferred not to even discuss. "Ludicrous" perhaps, but the question
>was indeed evaded. If you would care to view the unedited tape you
>will be able to confirm my account.
>A couple of questions about this, apologies if it has already been
>1) Does the material you quoted from the transcript represent
>the answers that Dawkins asked not be used?

Not that I can tell. I didn't transcribe the entire audio but most of the
material I have in the transcript I posted was used in the video. I did
notice something tonight, the video portion of Dawkins has been edited
slightly, but not materially nor out of context. he says things on the
audio tape that are not on the video. But as I said, what I heard didn't
bother me too much. Gillian caught the essence of Dawkins' argument.

>2) Gillian refers to a statement given by Dawkins: "He then agreed
>to make a statement, but refused to take more questions from Philip."
>My question regards the nature of this statement. Did it have to
>do with his views on how genetic information could be increased
>during evolution? Given the context it seems to me quite likely
>that it did. If so, why was this statement not given as a response
>to the question?

Considering I never heard Phillip Hohnen on the audio tape, I have no idea.

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