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Friday, August 10, 2007

Creationist Delusions about Transitional Fossils and Information

As expected, the IDiots are gloating over the widespread media misrepresentation of human evolution based on a recent Nature paper [The Ileret Skulls: My Two Cents] [Man Bites Dog].

Over on Uncommon Descent, one of our favorite IDiots has jumped on the bandwagon [Paleoanthropologists bungle again…]. The sycophants that are allowed to post comments on that blog have raised the old issue about the presumed lack of transitional fossils. As usual, they demonstrate their lack of understanding of evolution although, in this case, they have lots of company in the media and even among some scientists.

One person has posted this video of Richard Dawkins being interviewed by Creationists. The sycophants are delighted because it supposedly shows Dawkins being stumped by the demand that he give an example of the increase in genetic information in the genome. They ignore the second part of the video where he explains why we don't see the kinds of transitional fossils that the Creationists demand.

Look at the first part of the video. This is a very famous incident and Dawkins has written about it several times, most notably in a lengthy article on Australian Skeptics [The Information Challenge]. The article also appears in A Devil's Chaplain. Here's how Dawkins describes the incident.
In September 1997, I allowed an Australian film crew into my house in Oxford without realising 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 at this 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 as a whole. This was solely because they pleaded with me that they had come all the way from Australia specifically in order 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 that their question cannot be answered! Pathetic as it sounds, their entire journey from Australia seems to have been a quest to film an evolutionist failing to answer it.

With hindsight - given that I had been suckered into admitting them into my house in the first place - it might have been wiser simply to answer the question. But I like to be understood whenever I open my mouth - I have a horror of blinding people with science - and this was not a question that could be answered in a soundbite. First you first have to explain the technical meaning of "information". Then the relevance to evolution, too, is complicated - not really difficult but it takes time. Rather than engage now in further recriminations and disputes about exactly what happened at the time of the interview (for, to be fair, I should say that the Australian producer's memory of events seems to differ from mine), I shall try to redress the matter now in constructive fashion by answering the original question, the "Information Challenge", at adequate length - the sort of length you can achieve in a proper article.
Now that I've provided the link, I'm certain all the IDiots over on Uncommon Descent will read the Dawkins article and learn how new information gets into the genome. That should be the end of this little episode, right?


  1. Cordova's reference for his claim is that Casey Luskin said so? BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!

  2. Well if Dawkins is realizing he is with creationsists, he does seem to me to be truly pondering the question, blinking and looking around like that. Anyway I donn't care, I juts wanto to point out that because of a suprisingly poor understanding of evolution, Dawkins has wiped out in one fell swoop any possibility for me to indicate any of the species we DO find nowadays that wonderfully illustrate evolutionary transition: take the australian lunfish, the egg laying monotremes..
    Appparently dawkins thinks there is afundamental distinction between extict and "modern" species.

    I just can't bear this fool.

  3. Maybe I'm beeing too harsh, but why come up with this complicated excuse instead of just pointing to the actual abundance of living taxa that illustrate evolution? There is nothing special about being modern or not. The fossil record just adds missing branches of the tree. Here is the catch: you can be both ancestor and cousin at the same time.

  4. I agree with Sanders. Dawkins doesn't look like he is actually realizing who is he being interviewed by.
    Anyway, when talking bout cousins and ancestors I think he tries to clarify a general misunderstanding in which some people fall.

  5. I don't know.. watch his lips, the way he tightens them... and anyway, so what? What's wrong with taking a moment or two to come up with an answer... lots of interviews happen this way (if the interviewee isn't prepared beforehand), the pauses in conversation are usually edited out. I'm sure even Asimov occasionally had to sit back for a moment to contemplate a question. :-)

  6. Dawkins' facial expression looks like one of confoundment, but it doesn't necessarily have to be over the question he was asked. He could have been genuinely confused about what to do now he'd been snookered and was already on camera. Does he flip out, throw them out, and give the creotards an even bigger cache of propaganda material. Does he just stop the interview. Or does he continue?

    One reason to give him the benefit of the doubt is that he was asked such an easy question. It's something no one familiar with evolutionary processes should have any problem with.

  7. I think that day Dawkins woke up a little dizzy. I don't care about that part.. we agree it means nothing. It's the other part that bugs me.

    I understand that dawkins is right about saying that not all groups are ancestral to others, that there are "cousins" that only share a common ancestor.For instance, humans are not descended from mantises; they just have a common ancestor. But Dawkins seems to miss that groups can also be included within each other,that a bigger branch carries smaller branches; the phrase for instance "birds descend from reptiles" is completely true. To say "birds are not descended from reptiles but had a common ancestor" would be simply false ( this mistake plagues the cultural wars: the phrase "man is descended from primates" is 100% yet everyone thinks it is oh so intellectualy accurate to say the just shared a common ancestor)

  8. In other words, what Dawkins points out does not imply there can be no modern forms with an important phylogenetic postion that illustrate evolutionary transitions. Of course there ARE: both fossil AND living. There is no substantial difference. Just imagine if Archaeopteryx had survived. This to me is completely obvious. Why Dawkins fails to see there ARE living intermediate forms? Why would he concede such a point as if factual and worthy of explanation? My guess is his argument has fogged his proper evolutioary thinking.