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Richard Dawkins And The 11 Second Pause

What Happened During The Filming Of
"From A Frog To A Prince"?

By Ross Olson

To View That Clip From The Flim (358 KB), Click Below,

If that does not work, try clicking HERE

For the whole uncut 19 seconds, click HERE

Link to video clip. Used by permission of Answers in Genesis (The full video is available from www.answersingenesis.org) Unauthorized Use Prohibited

Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford University is a man of letters, and a man of words. He is rarely at a loss for words, especially when defending his favorite topic -- evolution -- or lambasting his traditional opponents -- creationists.

Therefore, it is indeed noteworthy if such an eloquent wit should appear to be speechless when asked a question right up his alley, that is: "Professor Dawkins, can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?" Yet he appears, on the videotape "From a Frog To A Prince," to be struggling for words after being asked that very question. As he himself wrote when responding to the tape, it is inconceivable that he could not answer it and the phenomenon requires another explanation.

All agree that there was indeed something else going on. The only question is what.

Initially, Barry Williams of the Australian Skeptics hinted at dark plots involving sophisticated digital alteration of the tape. He focused on the change of interviewer's voice and the physical setting from the time of taping to the final tape. Later, he admitted that the question was indeed asked and that the response was indeed to that question.

Professor Dawkins himself admitted that the question was asked, just not by the person who appeared on the tape, and that the pause indeed followed. But he states that he was upset because it suddenly became obvious to him that the question was being asked by a creationist and he had been under the impression that he was being interviewed by impartial interrogators. His flustered appearance was a result of the internal conflict he felt between British hospitality and the intense desire to "throw the bums out."

Yes, it is the kind of question that only a creationist would ask. Evolutionists will try very hard to avoid asking it and would rather speak in glowing generalities. But does that mean that it is not important? On the contrary, it proves that it is a question that must be answered by evolutionists. And Dawkins agrees.

He later wrote a treatise explaining that mutations actually decrease information while natural selection increases it. Since this is not an intuitively obvious concept, it may have been that he did not think the company assembled for the interview were capable of following such esoteric cerebration (or perhaps he was not sure he could keep a straight face while saying it on camera.)

The way it works is this. Information can be defined as whatever decreases choices. For example, you hear that a friend has had a baby, but do not know the gender. When you hear, "It's a girl," you no longer have two choices to consider and thus have received information. Mutations, by offering more choices, decrease information. There is the old gene and the new gene, two choices. But when the one is selected, we are back down to one choice -- therefore information has been added.

Aside from the fact that, in this example, we only get back to the same amount of "information" we started with (one gene), there seems to be something wrong with the definition. It is not capable of producing the kind of information needed to go from no genes in the pre-biotic soup, through the supposedly few genes of the simplest living thing, to the billions of genes in the present biosphere.

It also seems that something devious has been done to the definition of information. It is similar to the statement that ABCABCABCABCABC has less information than CAABABCCBABCBAC, because it takes more information to describe it. In the former, it can be stated as "ABC x5" but in the latter, each position must be described. This is true, but not helpful for evolution, because that rather random sequence of letters, unless it is code, is not useful information. In other words, you don't write the Encyclopedia Britannica that way.

After viewing the video and reading interactions about the controversy, I wrote Dr. Dawkins and was astounded to get a rapid reply. But because the reply did not answer the most important question, I wrote again, after which there has been a more than two year pause. Thus it appears that there will be no more responses.

Perhaps the long interval between the events and Dr. Dawkins' attempted recollection of them has something to do with the discrepancies. Regardless, the original question still remains unanswered, for nowhere does he give a sensible answer to the question, "Professor Dawkins, can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?"

With this background, please view the video again by clicking on the video above. (1)

If that does not work, try clicking HERE

For the whole uncut 19 seconds, click HERE

Video clip used by permission of Answers in Genesis. Unauthorized Use Prohibited. (The full video is available from AiG Website www.answersingenesis.org) See their bookstore page by clicking HERE.

The full video is also included on "Creation CD-ROM" (which also critiques the PBS/NOVA Evolution Series) is available from the Answers in Genesis Web site. For that Bookstore page, click HERE.

View the timeline of the interview by clicking HERE.

Then read the responses by the Barry Williams of the Australian Skeptics by clicking HERE.
(Or if that link is broken, click HERE.

Read Dr. Dawkins explanation of information by clicking HERE.
(Or if that link is broken, click HERE.

Read Answers in Genesis response by clicking HERE.
(Or if that link is broken, click HERE.

Read Barry Williams reply to criticism of his first response by clicking HERE.
(Or if that link is broken, click HERE.

For the videographers' response to the charges, click HERE.

See my e-mail to Dr. Dawkins by clicking HERE.

View Dr. Dawkins response by clicking HERE.

See my second e-mail to Dr. Dawkins HERE.

See more response from Answers in Genesis by clicking HERE.

If you wish to interact with this issue, e-mail to ross{at}rossolson.org and indicate if we may post your mail on the TCCSA Website.

From: Ross Olson
To: Richard Dawkins
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2001
Subject: A Question

Dear Dr. Dawkins,

I am a pediatrician, a former evolutionist, now a creationist and recently webmaster for a creationist organization (www.tccsa.tc). I know that you do not like surprises and wanted to get the frank introduction out of the way in the beginning.

You have stated that you do not normally give interviews to creationists but I hope that you do not automatically rule out correspondence.

I have viewed the tape "From a Frog to a Prince" and read the rebuttal by Australian Skeptic Barry Williams as well as your explanation and the response from Answers in Genesis.

Although Williams hinted at technical deception in the making of the tape, you have not denied that the question was asked, "Professor Dawkins, can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?"

You have also confirmed that the 11 second pause on the tape did indeed follow that question, although you claim that it was due to the rush of emotions you were experiencing as you realized that the interviewers were creationists. I do not believe you have specifically denied that your comments which follow on the tape -- which answer another question -- did indeed follow the pause. You have stated instead that the basic question being asked would under no circumstances stump you.

In your article concerning this matter you write in your usual compelling style about many things including information theory, gene duplication and frame shift mutations. You toss off problems you feel creationists need to solve but gloss over the ones that fall in your court.

For example, bacteria with circular DNA that codes for multiple genes, depending on where one starts on the ring, represent an incredibly intricate sort of organization. It is like a writing two technical papers simultaneously that use the same letters but give different messages by starting in a different position. This ought to boggle even your fertile imagination.

But then, instead of giving an example of information being added to an organism, you do a thought experiment. With a deft touch you take us through a definition of information to the conclusion that while mutation decreases information, natural selection, by decreasing the number of choices, increases information.

Unless your reader takes a few deep breaths and six steps backwards, he or she will not realize that something does not add up. Decreasing the number of choices is not referring to the sort of information that is needed to add a new structure or function to an organism. Random mutations of Windows 2000 can be selected and thus decrease the number of choices one needs to make, but unless one of them is better than the original, it would not be advisable to install it.

This brings up a question related to your computer evolution example in which random letters, by gradual approximations, evolve into "methinks it is like a weasel." In an on line debate with Edward Max, I pointed out that the program does not correlate with evolution because the successive approximations are not meaningful sentences. In evolution, each selected mutation must have some advantage over the others. It cannot be simply "planning ahead" for some distant goal.

Dr. Max has admitted that the example does not support evolution but claims that it still shows how probabilities can be improved by using successive approximations. Yet he has no answer for the need to have each step make sense.

In a similar way, you have here created a scenario that sounds plausible, and one which you believe in all sincerity, but which does not really fit the need. Random variations of the Encyclopedia Britannica will not produce the next edition no matter how much selection, natural or artificial, is done on the results!

It is true that a series ABCABCABCABCABCABCABC contains less information than CCABBCBAABCBBABACACCA because it is not as predictable. But it is still not giving any useful information, and few people, aside from mathematical kooks, would buy a book made up of that sort of text.

Most important in all of your essay is the fact that you have still not given a concrete example of information being added to a genome, whether you believe it was natural selection or mutation or some other natural process.

Therefore, now that there is no pressure of time and need not be any cascade of conflicting emotions about whether to dispense with traditional hospitality and kick the unwelcome visitor off the premises, I ask you again to give an real example. Even plausible mechanisms will not do -- although it would be an improvement on your implausible mechanism.

I will give you plenty of time, knowing there are many demands on you. You can do whatever is necessary to get over the emotional reaction to having this uninvited invasion of your e-mail box. You surely must get plenty of questions, hostile or otherwise from Oxford scholars.

But I do expect an answer, hopefully succinct and to the point. If I hear nothing within a month, I will consider it to be equivalent to an 11 second pause. And we do plan to post the controversy on our debate page, with your response or notation of your lack of response.

I hope you can forgive my boldness. I used to be shy and retiring but realized that very bright and highly placed people do not always think their positions through to find out if they touch ground. And I also realize that this is a very important question, because our origin and destiny are intimately related.


Ross S. Olson MD

Re: A Question
From: Richard Dawkins [richard.dawkins{at}university-museum.oxford.ac.uk]
Sent: Friday, November 02, 2001
To: Ross Olson
Subject: Re: A Question

Dear Mr Olson

"I do not believe you have specifically denied that your next comments on the tape -- which answer another question -- did indeed follow the pause."

I most emphatically do deny that it followed the pause. That particular edit, at the end of the pause (the cut is obvious) was the single most ineptly deceptive act of fraud in the production of this disreputable film. Incidentally, the man whom you see allegedly putting the question to me on the film was not even PRESENT, and I have never met him! -- he was filmed later, presumably in Australia. This disagreeable episode, when I was fraudulently stitched up by a fat, stupid and dishonest Australian woman who weaseled her way into my home under false pretences and then deliberately faked the appearance of my replies, is the main reason why I decline to answer questions from creationists, whether on tape or through an e-mail such as yours.

It is only fair to add that I do know of ONE honest and knowledgeable creationist. See my article, 'Sadly, an Honest Creationist', in the current issue of Free Inquiry, which is also at http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/dawkins_21_4.html

Yours sincerely
Richard Dawkins

From: Ross Olson
Sent: Monday, November 05, 2001
To: richard.dawkins{at}university-museum.oxford.ac.uk
Subject: Response

Dr. Dawkins,

I am honored and frankly surprised to receive a prompt and direct reply from such a famous person as yourself. I sent the message by several means, expecting that palace guards, moats and drawbridges would intercept most of them. And then, I was half certain that if there were a response, it would come from a secretary or even a machine.

You have denied that the answer on the tape did indeed follow the 11 second pause. Thank you for clarifying your position. But you still did not answer the real question -- the request for an actual example of a scientifically observable increase in information by the mechanisms you propose.

It sounded from your response that (similar to what happened at the time of the taping) you are having bit of a problem with anger. Therefore I will patiently wait for your considered reply.

Your comments on Kurt Wise bring up some very interesting questions, such as the fact that for a long time archeology denied the existence of Jericho as an inhabited city at the time of Joshua. Those who believed the Biblical record to be true were considered intellectually incompetent, but when the data were all in and the proper dates assigned, those people turned out to be absolutely right.

But that is also a side issue and we ask for your answer to what has been called an easy question, namely providing a concrete example of increased information.

Ross S. Olson MD

5 November 2001

Dear Dr. Olson/Dear Ross

I note this reply with great interest. Of course, it is a common practice in documentaries to splice a narrator in later, and we have never denied doing so. Such people with pleasant voices and photogenic appearance, etc come at a high hourly rate, and with our budgetary constraints, we could not fly a person around the world when it is commonplace to get the footage first, and quite ethically acceptable, PROVIDED THAT the question is substantially the same - in fact, this was EXACTLY the same question. And provided that a different answer is not substituted. This was the case here, too, and I do not just state this on the basis of Gillian Brown's say-so, but also because an M.Sc geologist of my acquaintance, Phil Hohnen (who features briefly on our video 'Raging Waters') was present with Gillian as well and a long time ago told me of what happened, which makes for an interesting comparison with Dawkin's account.

So of course the cut is obvious - it was in fact intended to be obvious, so as not to give a misleading impression. It is also obvious because Dawkins asked for the camera to be switched off to give him time to think.

Since this latest 'flareup', I have written to Phil to ask him to provide a statutory declaration of his recollection of what happened. Phil is a Christian, a creationist, but has no real affiliation with either Gillian or ourselves apart from that, i.e. he is his 'own man', a successful businessman, and has nothing to gain from putting forward anything other than the unalloyed truth.

Notice Dawkins' cleverness. Knowing that you are citing his answers on your site, he uses it to lash out at the messenger, as it were, and also to publicize his article on Kurt Wise, designed to make creationists pause.

But he evades your request for an answer/example re the information thing, instead saying things which give someone inclined to be sympathetic to his cause a reason to feel that he is justified in not 'answering creationists'.

Dr Carl Wieland
AiG Australia.

Perhaps the long interval between the events and Dr. Dawkins' attempted recollection of them has something to do with the discrepancies. Regardless, the original question still remains unanswered, for nowhere does he give a sensible answer to the question, "Professor Dawkins, can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?"