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Dawkins could not give an example of increasing information (EvoWiki)

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Response Article

This article (Dawkins could not give an example of increasing information (EvoWiki)) is a response to an evolutionary or anticreation assertion that was published on the EvoWiki website.

Response to Dawkins could not give an example of increasing information on EvoWiki.


In an interview in 1997, Richard Dawkins was asked to "give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome." Apparently unable to answer, he paused a long time and finally responded by changing the subject.


EvoWiki's Responses

1. The interviewers were Creationists working for Answers in Genesis (AiG), who gained access to Dawkins without saying who their sponsor was, possibly because they knew that Dawkins does not talk to creationists, possibly because they had no idea it made a difference. When the interviewers revealed their true colors, by asking a question which nobody but a Creationist would ask, Dawkins realized that he was in a situation he wanted to avoid.

Any good journalist would be interested in both sides of a controversy. The interviewer most likely did her homework on creationist and evolutionist claims.

At that point, the annoyed Dawkins spent several seconds silently debating with himself whether or not he should throw them out; he elected not to, but the Creationists repaid his courtesy by packaging their recording of his pause as "evidence" that he was unable to answer their question.

That's odd. In a letter published here [2] as well as other places on the internet, Dawkins is quoted as having said "I paused for a long time, trying to decide whether to throw them out, and, I have to admit, struggling not to lose my temper. Finally, I decided that I would ask them to leave, but I would do it in a polite way, explaining to them why. I then asked them to stop the tape, which they did.

The tape having stopped, I explained to them my suspicions, and asked them to leave my house."

Dawkins continues to say that he retracted his request after the interviewer "pleaded" and "begged" and "assured me that they were not creationists, but were taking a balanced view of all sides in the debate."

2. The reason Dawkins did not talk to creationists was his suspicion that whatever he said or did would be distorted in the end product. This experience justified the suspicion - AiG still spreads the misinformation that Dawkins paused because he didn't have an answer.

In the same letter as above, Dawkins said: "I have a policy of not granting interviews to creationists or flat earthers. This is not because I cannot answer their arguments, but because I have better things to do with my time and I do not want to give them the oxygen of publicity."

The conclusion is a logical one. Evolutionists claim that numerous examples could be given. Had Dawkins given one, it would have been a blow to creationists. It was a open opportunity to beat the "creationist" interviewers at their own game.

3. Examples of information increasing exist (see Mutations don't add information) regardless of whether Dawkins was unable to think of one when put on the spot by creationists, or just thought about something else during the time.

See Mutation.

The Skeptic

In 1998 Barry Williams, editor of the The Skeptic, the national journal of the Australian Skeptics, published a piece in the journal entitled Creationist Deception Exposed wherein he smeared the character of Gillian Brown, who conducted the interview with Dawkins. Williams accused Brown of, among other things, incompetence and 'malicious intent' based on viewing the interview and some of Dawkins' recollections.

In her response to Williams, Gillian Brown took him to task for irresponsible journalism

Firstly, I would like to say that if you are going to publish a slanderous attack against someone, it is considered responsible journalism to at least inquire into both sides of the story, and in this case, before making accusations regarding the circumstances of an interview it would have also been circumspect to have viewed the unedited tape. That way you could have presented a serious investigation of the matter, and avoided making illinformed and false assertions.

You state in the article that, “perhaps it could be argued that Prof. Dawkins' memories of the events might have deteriorated with the passage of time since the interview...” In fact, whether from memory lapse or for other reasons, the recollection of Dr. Dawkins is riddled with inaccuracies and some downright untruths. Following is an accurate account of the interview, which may be confirmed by viewing the unedited video tapes.

Brown goes on to detail the many inaccuracies in both Williams' article and Dawkins' recollection of the event. For instance, Dawkins claims that, after the 'information question' aroused his suspicions, he asked them to leave his house. He also claims to have had an 'acrimonious argument' with Brown. Unfortunately for Dawkins, the unedited tape proves that much of his recollection is simply false.

Brown points out in her response that skeptics Glenn Morton and Ed Brayton both actually behaved responsibly by contacting her with their questions and concerns. On the webpage containing Brown's response, she includes a copy of a retraction by Morton, who initially expressed doubts about the interview. After viewing the unedited tape, Morton wrote

I will state categorically that the audio tape of the interview 100% supports Gillian Brown's contention that Dawkins couldn't answer the question.

Brown also recounts an interesting point about the 'information question':

He [Dawkins] claimed that questions on the origin of new information were invalid, and that nobody ever asked him such questions.

Yet, according to Dawkins (at the time)

As it happens, my forthcoming book, Unweaving the Rainbow, has an entire chapter (`The Genetic Book of the Dead') devoted to a much more interesting version of the idea that natural selection gathers up information from the environment, and builds it into the genome. At the time of the interview, the book was almost finished (it is to be published in November, 1998). That chapter would have been in the forefront of my mind, and it is therefore especially ludicrous to suggest that I would have evaded the question by talking about fish and amphibians.


If I'd wanted to turn the question into more congenial channels, all I had to do was talk about `The Genetic Book of the Dead'. It is a chapter I am particularly pleased with. I'd have welcomed the opportunity to expound it. Why on earth, when faced with such an opportunity, would I have kept totally silent? Unless, once again, I was actually thinking about something quite different while struggling to keep my temper?

Now if, as Dawkins asserted to Brown, 'questions on the origin of new information [are] invalid', why did he devote an entire chapter to it in his book Unweaving the Rainbow? Why, if it such an invalid issue, is he so proud of that particular chapter?

Finally, and most damning, is that Dawkins' infamous 'pause' is worse than it looks on the video.

The question, asked by myself, (not Geoffrey Smith) was off camera, and that's why the question was rerecorded by the narrator, the pause and the answer which follows is exactly the response from Prof. Dawkins. The actual pause was in fact shortened from 19 seconds to 11 seconds, and Dawkin's request to switch off the camera so that he could think was also cut out. So, there was no malicious intent whatsoever, what is seen is Dawkin's exact response, with a shortened pause, and the (merciful not malicious) removal of his request for time to think.

That's right. Not only was Dawkins' pause longer than it is presented on the final edit, a full 8 seconds longer, he had also asked for taping to stop for even more time to think! As Brown quips, she was merciful, rather than malicious, to Dawkins

Brown's response to Williams serves nicely as a rebuttal to much of what EvoWiki claims about this incident.

See Also