Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Atheism and monkeys

Anthony Flew is a world renowned philosopher who has aggressively advocated atheism for more than 50 years. Recently he changed his mind. He says he is now convinced on the basis of reason alone that atheism is no longer a viable option. He has just published a new book entitled “There is a God; How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind” (He notes that the title was not his idea). In this book Flew says,

“I was particularly impressed with Gerry Schroeder’s point-by-point refutation of what I call the ‘monkey theorem.” This idea, which has been presented in a number of forms and variations, defends the possibility of life arising by chance using
the analogy of a multitude of monkeys banging away on computer keyboards and
eventually ending up writing a Shakespearean sonnet.”

Schroeder first referred to an experiment conducted by the British National Council of Arts. A computer was placed in a cage with six monkeys. After one month of hammering away at it (as well as using it as a bathroom!), the monkeys produced fifty pages—but not a single word. Schroeder noted that this was the case even though the shortest word in the English language is one letter (a or I). A is a word
only if there is a space on either side of it. If we take it that the keyboard
has thirty characters (the twenty-six letters and other symbols), then the
likelihood of getting a one-letter word is 30 times 30 times 30, which is
27,000. The likelihood of getting a one-letter word is one chance out of
27,000. (76-77)

Schroeder then calculates the probability of producing a Shakespearean sonnet. All sonnets are 14 lines long. The one he chose happened to have 488 letters in it. The chance that these monkeys would produce a sonnet like this by chance turns out to be a 1 followed by 690 zeros. If you wonder how big that is, Schroeder points out that the number of estimated particles (protons, electrons, neutrons) in the entire universe is only 1 followed by 80 zeros!.

Needless to say, the very simplest living cell is incalculably more complicated than a Shakespearean sonnet! Most of us simply don’t have enough faith to believe the universe originated without some kind of intelligent designer.