Answers in Genesis Dawkins interview controversy
|The divine comedy|
In 1998, Answers in Genesis filmed an interview with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Parts of the interview were included in the creationist film From a Frog to a Prince. The interview was allegedly edited to make Dawkins appear unable to answer an interviewer's question.
"In September 1997, I allowed an Australian film crew into my house in Oxford without realizing that their purpose was creationist propaganda. In the course of a suspiciously amateurish interview, they issued a truculent challenge to me to ‘give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome’. It is the kind of question only a creationist would ask in that way, and it was the point I tumbled to the fact that I had been duped into granting an interview to creationists – a thing I normally don’t do, for good reasons. In my anger I refused to discuss the question further, and told them to stop the camera. However, I eventually withdrew my peremptory termination of the interview, because they pleaded with me that they had come all the way from Australia specifically to interview me. Even if this was a considerable exaggeration, it seemed, on reflection, ungenerous to tear up the legal release form and throw them out. I therefore relented.
My generosity was rewarded in a fashion that anyone familiar with fundamentalist tactics might have predicted. When I eventually saw the film a year later, I found that it had been edited to give the false impression that I was incapable of answering the question about information content. In fairness, this may not have been quite as intentionally deceitful as it sounds. You have to understand that these people really believe their question cannot be answered!"
Dawkins has actually answered the creationist question, although it takes much dissecting to figure out exactly what the question means - indeed, Dawkins correctly states that only a creationist would pose a question in that way. The creationists would undoubtedly want a specific, soundbite-like answer, but the reality is a lot more subtle. Not least that if, for example, the gene sequence AGACTT mutated to AGAGTT corresponded to a loss of information, then the equally likely reverse mutation of AGAGTT to AGACTT must correspond to a gain in information. The fuller answer requires some knowledge of information theory, and Shannon information as well as a look in depth at what this means in terms of genetics and biological morphology, with an added layer of complication when you take into account genes that seemingly have no purpose. Natural selection itself acts as a non-random filter of the random array of mutations that happen, contributing to the information content of the gene pool, by reducing prior uncertainty. Dawkins has discussed this in numerous books on evolutionary biology.
- Australian Skeptics - The Information Challenge
- Barry Williams. Creationist Deception Exposed. The Skeptic, September 1998, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 7-10.