Monkeys, typewriters & Shakespeare
It's been said that given enough time an army of monkeys just hitting typewriter keys would come up with the complete works of Shakespeare. I think we understand what's being said and I suppose there's no way to close down that claim, however incredible we think it is. We certainly don't believe it would happen within the 15-20 billion year age the universe is said to be. Astronomer Fred Hoyle turned from all that talk and said it simply didn't work. He said it requires more miracles than the miracles of the Bible. Former atheist, Anthony Flew, walked away from it as well to a weak theism. He said, "You have to go where the evidence leads." [The claim has been made that Flew's literary "conversion" was really the work of his co-writer Roy Abraham Varghese when Flew's mental state declined. We might hear that claim later about Stephen Hawking's jump into unvarnished atheism. Such is the strength of our desire to have "the big hitters" in our camp.]
Moving on. Even supposing the monkey claim were true and we ended up with a word for word copy of Shakespeare's entire works we still wouldn't have the equivalent to Shakespeare's work. Shakespeare's work is a work of authorial intent and purpose what the monkeys would have produced was a mindless collection of marks. Even if the monkey work came in two nicely bound leather volumes, better than shabby looking originals—one is a mindless, chance collocation of atoms and the other is purposed reflection and the execution of that purpose.
One actual event or person in history creates all kinds of havoc for theories. Just suppose this army of purposeless long-lived monkeys came up with an artefact that duplicated Shakespeare's work. Imagine then, that some brilliant physicists of the future used that artefact to deny that there ever was a Shakespeare who wrote such things as Hamlet orJulius Caesar precisely because mindless monkeys were able to duplicate his plays. Actual history is against them and so the argument they make based on the magical performance by the monkeys is seen to be ludicrous. But even if demonstrable events or persons didn't expose their fallacy, simple rationality would bury it. Duplicating someone's work doesn't prove them non-existent.
Suppose further that the army of monkeys grew in intelligence as the millennia dragged by, came to understand and enjoy Shakespeare's work and chose to copy it. It would still be nonsense to say there had been no Shakespeare who wrote those works originally. [You often hear that sort of thing. "Look brilliant scientists can do things you say God did therefore God didn't do these things." Sheer nonsense.]
Again, if it takes intelligent monkeys to purpose to duplicate Shakespeare's work it makes no sense to say therefore mindless monkeys could do it. Let me repeat what I said above—a chance collection of words is not the same as Shakespeare's work even if they agree word for word with his work. A brilliant scientist may be able to splice some genes and produce a desired result (let's say, the cure of some disease) but try telling him that all his years of work is nothing more than what could happen by sheer accident and chance—an army of mindless monkeys could do the same work. It wouldn't be the same work even if it looked exactly like it.
None of this chatter works in the real world. In the real world rational people don't believe that blind blazing chance brings about purposed results. No wonder Hoyle, Flew and others walked away from the droning of people like Hawking, Weinberg, Wilson, Dawkins and (lesser lights like) Harris and Dennett.
In the end, active unbelief is not about science, rationality or philosophy. It's about something sinister, something that infects scientists and philosophers as well as the rest of us. Something you read about in Romans 1:18-32.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.