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Gillian Brown answers Barry Williams


(a response by Miss Brown to criticism published in the Skeptic, Vol 18, No 3 (Sept 1998))
© 1998 Gillian Brown.  All Rights Reserved. 

The first to present his case seems right,            
        until another comes forward to question him.

(Proverbs 18:17)


 


To Barry Williams
Editor, Skeptics Journal

Hello Barry,

I was quite surprised by your article in the Skeptic concerning the video “:From a Frog to a Prince”:, which I produced. I'm sorry you didn't contact me to clarify these questions, as did Glenn Morton and Ed Brayton when they had concerns regarding the tape. I know it is difficult to imagine that such a prominent evolutionist as Richard Dawkins would be unable to answer a simple question, and I'm sure it's much easier to suspect creationist foul play. However, I can assure you that there was no foul play in this case. Firstly, regarding the charge that the interview was a “:set up”:, this is not correct. I am producing a series of video documentaries on the question of origins, which look at the debate from both sides of the issue. I explained this to Prof. Dawkins in a phone conversation with him, and in emails. I believe I even spoke with you about this production by phone when I was working with American Portrait Films. (I have since moved to Australia). It is not customary for an interviewee to inquire into the personal views of the producer and refuse interviews to those with whom the interviewee disagrees, and in this case my personal views were not discussed, nor are they relevant. It is sufficient that both sides of the debate are presented, and presented fairly, and this is my policy at all times. Secondly, regarding the charge that the editing was manipulated, this is simply not true, Prof. Dawkins could not answer the question, and his response is represented fairly (the pause even shortened). It is normal professional practice to record back-cut questions when the question asked is off-camera, as it was in this case.

Following is my response to your article, which, in fairness, I hope you will publish. I would be more than happy to view the original, unedited tape with you, and discuss any further questions you may have.

Best regards,

Gillian

Barry Williams,

You have written an article, published in the Skeptics journal, which claims to “demonstrate the depths to which the creationist movement will stoop in order to try to discredit its critics”, in which you denigrate my character and work, and that without having spoken to me at all. In respect of fairness I would request that you publish my response in full.

Your article recounts Prof. Dawkins' recollection of an interview, which is included in the video “From a Frog to a Prince”, which I produced, in which Dawkins is seen to pause for 11 seconds, and evade a simple question. As you yourself say, “It beggars belief that someone of Richard Dawkins' stature in the field would have been stumped by such a simple question or would have evaded it.” So, you conclude that Dawkins was “set up”, with “malicious intent”, in “a piece of crude propaganda”, “deliberately manipulated” with “deceitful intent”.

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 eventsmight 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.

Your article contains number of incorrect statements, by both Dr Dawkins and yourself:


“On September 16, 1997, Keziah Video Productions, in the persons of Gillian Brown and Geoffrey Smith, came to my house...”

GB: I was accompanied by a former geologist, Philip Hohnen, not Geoffrey Smith.


“...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 ask...”

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. 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.


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

GB: This is untrue. At no time did Dr. Dawkins ask us to leave his house. A second camera, (newly purchased, which we were testing), was inadvertently not switched off until later, so it recorded most of the ensuing conversation. This remains on record to expose such false statements and clarify supposed “lapses of memory”.


“Gillian Brown pleaded with me, saying that she had flown all the way from Australia especially to interview me.”

GB: Actually that was a comment made by Philip.


“She assured me that they were not creationists...”

GB: We were not asked if we were creationists. I made no assertion or denial regarding our personal views.


...“but were taking a balanced view of all sides in the debate. Like a fool, I took pity on her, and agreed to continue.”

GB: I stated that our production was looking at both sides of the debate, and named the other people who were being interviewed. Dr. Dawkins objected that he was the only anti-theistic evolutionist in the production, but agreed to participate.


“I remember that, having had quite an acrimonious argument with her, when I finally agreed to resume the interview I made a conscious effort to be extra polite and friendly.”

GB: This is untrue. There was certainly no “acrimonious argument”, the conversation was at all times courteous.


“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.”

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. 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.


“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?”

GB: Whatever he may have been thinking about I don't know, but it is clear that he did not answer the question.


“If it had been left at that, it might merely have been evidence of professional incompetence on the part of the producer and editor of the tape....”

GB: Barry Williams, before making charges of “incompetence” the original tape should be viewed.


“Further evidence of incompetence includes the tape showing the male “interviewer” in a completely different room from the Dawkins' drawing room where the interview took place, and with entirely different lighting. Moreover, the person who interviewed Prof. Dawkins was named as Geoffrey Smith, while the “interviewer” shown in this clip is identified as Chris Nicholls, the narrator of the entire tape. However this, of itself, is not evidence of malice. While it is doubtful if any professional video producer would inadvertently leave a silence of that length in a tape, the fact that the long silence ends with an answer to an entirely different question, one about fishes, amphibians, and common ancestry, speaks strongly of malicious intent.”

GB: 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.


“Richard does not react as one would expect him to, had he merely been asked a difficult question; his reaction is much more believably one of someone who has just realised he has been conned into giving an interview he would not normally have given, ie he doesn't look nonplussed, he looks angry....Such is the dramatic change in Richard's demeanour between the two segments, that it is utterly inconceivable that the second piece of tape followed immediately after the first.”

GB: You'd better believe it... angry silence and an inappropriate response was Prof. Dawkins' answer. I suggest you view the original tape.


“...the Keziah tape...purports to show that there is no biological evidence for evolution.”

GB: Have you even watched the tape? It purports to show no such thing. The video presents two opinions on the question of the origin of biological information, the evolutionist perspective and the creationist perspective, the viewer can weigh all the evidence and decide which opinion appears more credible.


“By selectively editing this tape, the producer clearly seeks to show:

a) that Richard Dawkins, an eminent biologist, was unable to answer a question he was asked about biology; and

b) that he then evaded the question by answering a completely different one.

This tape seeks to denigrate Professor Dawkins' professional reputation, and it is difficult to believe that it was not deliberately done.”

GB: Perhaps if you had taken the trouble to view the unedited tape you would see that, eminent as he is, Richard Dawkins was, on that day, entirely unable to answer the question.


“In recent times, both the Australian Skeptics web site and at the Skeptic office, we have fielded questions from a number of individuals who have posed questions couched in the terms, 'Can you give one example of new information being added to the genome by mutation today?'”

GB: Doesn't this suggest to you that this is a valid question worthy of serious consideration?


“Certainly this is by no means the first occasion on which the creation ‘science’ movement has sought to misrepresent the words of eminent scientists to bolster their own inept grasp of scientific matters, and to mislead their own unfortunate followers.”

GB: This accusation is beneath contempt now that the your willingness to make accusations without doing your homework has surfaced. Another skeptic, Glen Morton, made similar charges on the internet, he asked Richard Dawkins about it and Dawkins denied recollection of the interview. Finally, after listening to an audio tape of the interview, Dr Morton posted this apology:


“Last month (June 1998) on the evolution reflector, there was a bit of a discussion concerning the Video From a Frog to a Prince which is put out by Keziah Production which is headed by Gillian Brown. The tape showed a narrator asking Dawkings 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?” Dawkins is shown staring at the ceiling for 11 seconds which includes a sharp in take of air. and then he resumes with the unresponsive:

“There is a popular misunderstanding of evolution that says that fish turned into reptiles and reptiles turned into mammals and and so somehow we ought to be able to look around the world today and look at our ancestors....”

“I had originally questioned whether there was some doctoring going on in the tape because of certain technical details that were amiss. The shadows on the narrator were not the shadows from the room in which Dawkins sat. And the room appeared to be different. I wrote Dawkings and asked him about this. He denied having any recollection of this event. I suspected a video hatchet job. After Gillian established contact with me in June, I found that my suspicions were correct that the narrator was not in the same room as Dawkings. Gillian admitted that she had the narrator re-dub the question but contended that she had asked exactly that question and that Dawkins was shown exactly has he performed at the filming. Gillian sent a copy the original audio tape of the interview with Dawkins to a freind [sic] of mine. He sent the tape to me. I have just heard it tonight.

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

***begin ***

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 genome?

[19 seconds of silence which includes a sharp intake of air which is seen on the video and heard on the audio tape-grm]

Dawkins: “Can you just stop there I think ...[tape then has a second or two of silence-grm]”

{When the taping starts again the audio tape demonstrates that the unresponive response was what was there==grm]

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 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...”

***end***


“So much for the supposed impartiality of Gillian Brown, the producer of the tape, or for her protestations of “balanced view”, of which she assured Professor Dawkins when seeking to continue taping in his home.”

GB: Please take the trouble to view the video and notice that there are two sides presented, both represented fairly and with impartiality. How impartial are you being in your consideration of this issue, Barry Williams?


“This is, sadly, typical of the less-than-honest political propagandist approach creationists use in their “mission”....they resort to ad hominem attacks on the genuine scientists who have exposed their myths.”

GB: These are the biased accusations of an uninformed Skeptic who falsely charges others with misrepresenting facts, while blindly refusing to consider the evidence on both sides of the question with appropriate partiality.


“This is not the way of science - it is the way of political propaganda -yet another blatant example of ‘telling lies for God’.”

GB: Who's “telling lies”? You may view the unedited, original video tape of our interview with Richard Dawkins in order to establish the truth in this matter.

Barry Williams, in your article you accuse me of a “resort to trickery in order to denigrate critics, and to mislead unsophisticated minds.” May I suggest that you check your “facts” more carefully and draw your conclusions on a less biased view of a one-sided and distorted account of events.

Behind the smokscreen thrown up by your cry of “lies, lies” is a very important question: What is the origin of new information? We do know that great variation within species results from rearrangement or loss of genetic information, but this does not explain macroevolutionary transition from simple life forms to complex ones with far greater genetic information. Clearly, if new functional information cannot be shown to come through evolutionary mechanisms, then the only alternative is intelligent design.

I just have one final question: Could you give any example of an evolutionary process or mechanism which can be seen to create new functional information at the genetic level?

Gillian Brown



  • Readers interested in further examples of how “Skeptics” have embarrassed themselves might be interested in [This Site].
  • For readers interested in a first-hand look at the video which prompted the above, “From a Frog to a Prince” may order it online from Answers In Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research.


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