The case of the typing monkeys

Dr. Aikman recounting one reason the noted atheist Anthony Flew (whose arguments against the existence of God I was subjected to when I was an undergraduate) changed his mind:

 The “Monkey Theorem,” in its popular form, holds that if you have an infinite number of monkeys banging away at an infinite number of keyboards, eventually you will get from one of them Shakespeare’s Sonnet Eighteen, the first four lines of which read:  

 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? /Thou art more lovely and more temperate./ Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May/ And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.    

 Well, in  the 1990’s the British National Council of the Arts, in an inventive use of taxpayers’ money, placed six monkeys in a cage with a computer.  After banging away at the keyboard for a whole month – and using the computer as a bathroom at the same time – the monkeys had typed 50 pages but failed to produce a single word in the English language, not even the letter “a” by itself.   [Gerry] Schroeder applied probability theory to the “Monkey Theorem” and calculated that the chance of getting Sonnet Eighteen by chance was 26 multiplied by itself 488 times (488 is the number of letters in the sonnet) or, in base 10, 10 to the 690th.  If that number is written out, it is 1 with 690 zeroes following it.  But, as Schroeder showed, the number of particles in the entire universe –  protons, electrons and neutrons – is only ten to the 80th.  Thus, even if every particle in the universe were a computer chip that had been spinning out random letters a million times a second since the beginning of time, there would still be no Shakespeare’s Sonnet Eighteen by chance.  As Flew concluded, “if the theorem [the Monkey Theorem] won’t work for a single sonnet, then of course it’s simply absurd to suggest that the more elaborate feat of the origin of life could have been achieved by chance.

 

I love knowing that there are 10 to the 80th particles in the universe!  Is that all?  And a typing monkey couldn’t come up with one of them!

 

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • S. Bauer

    While this may be a necessary element in refuting evolution, it is not a sufficient one. As Dawkins loves to point out, it does not take the effects of natural selection that the theory also proposes into account (which gives him the unbridled pleasure in pointing out that Christians who trot out this argument to refute evolution reveal they do not know what they are talking about).
    There was nothing in the monkey cage “selecting” certain “passages” the monkeys were “composing” over others. Somehow natural selection is supposed to drive random replicating processes toward “meaningful” or more organized patterns, even though natural selection itself has no pattern toward which it is aiming. Of course, as I see it, the whole question is whether natural selection has been demonstrated to carry such a burden.

  • S. Bauer

    While this may be a necessary element in refuting evolution, it is not a sufficient one. As Dawkins loves to point out, it does not take the effects of natural selection that the theory also proposes into account (which gives him the unbridled pleasure in pointing out that Christians who trot out this argument to refute evolution reveal they do not know what they are talking about).
    There was nothing in the monkey cage “selecting” certain “passages” the monkeys were “composing” over others. Somehow natural selection is supposed to drive random replicating processes toward “meaningful” or more organized patterns, even though natural selection itself has no pattern toward which it is aiming. Of course, as I see it, the whole question is whether natural selection has been demonstrated to carry such a burden.

  • S. Bauer

    Hah! It worked!

    Dr. Veith, enclose your paragraphs with the HTML paragraph tags – like this…
    &ltYour most excellent observations…&lt
    I hope I got the escape sequences correct.

  • S. Bauer

    Hah! It worked!

    Dr. Veith, enclose your paragraphs with the HTML paragraph tags – like this…
    &ltYour most excellent observations…&lt
    I hope I got the escape sequences correct.

  • S. Bauer

    Nope. Try again.
    <Your most excellent observations…<

  • S. Bauer

    Nope. Try again.
    <Your most excellent observations…<

  • S. Bauer

    OK. This has got to be it.
    <p>This is text.</p>

  • S. Bauer

    OK. This has got to be it.
    <p>This is text.</p>

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    ! That should be easy enough to remember. Thanks.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    ! That should be easy enough to remember. Thanks.

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  • http://www.oldpaths.org.uk Stephen Chaffer

    Dear Sir or Madam
    The Master (alias Richard Dawkins (RD)) of the Universe, on TV Easter Sunday here in the United Kingdom. A highly intellectual man, his answer to the above, just wait another couple of billions of years. To allow changes to come about; Hitler, Stalin, Saloth Sar “Pol Pot” in the “killing fields”. Man’s inhumanity to man, If we believe “RD”, why bother exercising our minds any further. Man’s good at killing his own fellow man, the earth is abused, animals are second rate insects etc., are being wiped out day by day. Good job for Noah, while the rest of the world was in liquidation, he kept his company afloat…excuse the pun, a brilliant minds like RD, will give an account of all his works. >>>>>Luke 16:19-31<<<<<< Read this if you dare!

  • http://www.oldpaths.org.uk Stephen Chaffer

    Dear Sir or Madam
    The Master (alias Richard Dawkins (RD)) of the Universe, on TV Easter Sunday here in the United Kingdom. A highly intellectual man, his answer to the above, just wait another couple of billions of years. To allow changes to come about; Hitler, Stalin, Saloth Sar “Pol Pot” in the “killing fields”. Man’s inhumanity to man, If we believe “RD”, why bother exercising our minds any further. Man’s good at killing his own fellow man, the earth is abused, animals are second rate insects etc., are being wiped out day by day. Good job for Noah, while the rest of the world was in liquidation, he kept his company afloat…excuse the pun, a brilliant minds like RD, will give an account of all his works. >>>>>Luke 16:19-31<<<<<< Read this if you dare!


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