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Creation 25(4):23, September 2003

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Monkey madness


Wikimedia commons/Henrik Ishihara
Prominent evolutionist Julian Huxley said that, given enough time, monkeys typing randomly could eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare.

When arguing that life could have arisen by chance, evolutionists will often state that—given enough time—anything could happen, regardless of how improbable it might seem.1 For example, prominent evolutionist Julian Huxley (1887–1975) said that, given enough time, monkeys typing randomly could eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare.2

Since then, others too, such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, have made similar pronouncements about monkeys’ random typing being able to produce one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, or at least a sentence from one of his plays.

But when Plymouth University (UK) researchers installed a keyboard and computer screen in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo, home to six Sulawesi crested macaques, it didn’t result in a nicely typed set of the complete works of Shakespeare. Neither did they get a sonnet. Nor even a single word of Shakespeare.

No, when the researchers gave six monkeys one computer for a month, what they got was … a mess.3

Researchers offered Sulawesi crested macaques at Paignton Zoo an opportunity to type out a Shakespearean sonnet—but they didn’t get a single word.
Wikimedia commons/Daily Mail

The first thing the lead male did was to find a stone and start bashing the computer with it. Subsequently, the younger ones came and pressed some of the keys. But most of the macaques’ time was spent sitting or jumping on the computer, or using it as a toilet. (The computer was protected by a transparent plastic covering in such a way that the monkeys could nevertheless hit the keys with their fingers.) After one month, the monkeys had produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter ‘S’. But there was not a single recognizable word in sight. The letter ‘A’ was the only vowel to be used, and it did not make an appearance until page 4.

Most of the macaques’ time was spent sitting or jumping on the computer, or using it as a toilet.

Despite the outcome being gobbledegook, the combined efforts of monkeys Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan have been made available for sale in a limited edition book, bound in the style of a Shakespearean play, entitled Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare.4,5

Towards Shakespeare? Hardly—evidence for evolution, the monkeys’ performance certainly isn’t. And, as calculations have shown, even if monkeys could type randomly at a rate of one key-strike per second, without ever stopping, then to get a simple line of intelligible text would take many billions of times longer than the assumed evolutionary age of the universe.1

Addressing the idea that time plus chance could have created life, Sir Fred Hoyle said, ‘Now imagine 1050 blind persons [that’s 100,000 billion billion billion billion billion people—standing shoulder to shoulder, they would more than fill our entire planetary system] each with a scrambled Rubik cube and try to conceive of the chance of them all simultaneously arriving at the solved form. You then have the chance of arriving by random shuffling [random variation] of just one of the many biopolymers on which life depends. The notion that not only the biopolymers but the operating program of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial soup here on earth is evidently nonsense of a high order.’ [Emphasis added.]

References and notes

  1. Grigg, R., Could monkeys type the 23rd Psalm? Creation 13(1):30–34, 1990. Return to text.
  2. Sunderland, L., Darwin’s enigma, Master Books Inc., Arkansas, USA, pp. 70–71, 1988. Return to text.
  3. Adam, D., Give six monkeys a computer, and what do you get? Certainly not the Bard, The Guardian, 9 May 2003, p. 3. Return to text.
  4. Also can be viewed at the website: vivaria.net, 15 May 2003. Return to text.
  5. It is not altogether clear what the researchers were trying to achieve in this exercise. Associated website documentation says that Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare was produced in response to the ‘familiar idea’ that monkeys with typewriters will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. ‘[The project] aims to raise questions in the minds of viewers … as to the role of chance in evolution and the creative process. An orthodox Darwinian view of evolution is that … only the fittest survive and produce offspring. This not only oversimplifies the issue but also makes an unacceptable political metaphor—where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. … The project aims to address these ideas, … and in turn provide a much more acceptable political metaphor.’ vivaria.net, 15 May 2003. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Adam and Family
by Russell Grigg
US $12.00
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by Gary and Frances Bates
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Readers’ comments

Robert D.
A further aspect to the "monkey magic" notion of an original living cell: It's one thing to seek an explanation to achieving a completely accurate copy of a snippet of literature, but what is commonly ignored in the argument is the incalculable incidence of near misses. ...how many mistakes are feasible? one letter, 2 letters , one word, several words etc, ad infinitum. If each imperfect attempt was on hard copy (or DNA) then the cosmos itself would be clogged beyond limit with the debris of mistakes from this one agenda alone. Now add to this the near misses of every other piece of literature ever devised, and the whole concept becomes irrational.
Wayne T.
Huxley seemingly never used a typewriter, or if he did, he learned nothing from the experience. The problem, as many typists in the 50's and 60's learned, is because there was no correction process, as soon as you mis-typed a single letter, you had to go back to the beginning. Unlike modern word processing, there was no method of storing the text up to the point of error, allowing you to restart from that point. Effectively then, if there are 50 keys on a keyboard, you have a 49/50 chance of hitting the wrong, every single time. Monkeys lacking the digital dexterity of humans, in all likelihood they would hit two keys at once jamming the keyboard (I have done that). Mathematicians can work this out, but if the script is 50,000 letters long, what is the probability of hitting the right key 50,000 times in a row? Expert typists struggle with that level of accuracy, so I cannot see it happening by chance. Again, mathematicians could I assume calculate the time it would take after so many false starts at say, 30 keystrokes per minute, but I suspect that it might well be a very long time.
David D P.
To me, the content and conclusion of this article is no surprise.
After all, way back when I was LEARNING - and being diligently TAUGHT - how to use a computer, I was told many times over to remember and understand "GIGO" in the computer world: "Garbage In = Garbage Out"!!
Peter H.
Given this quote of the late Sir Fred Hoyle, and others that are similar, I am constantly baffled by the fact that (according to what I have read) he remained an evolutionist and antitheist to the end of his days. He apparently realised that evolutionary origins 'science' was bankrupt, but never made the move to believe the truth. How sad.
David B.
Again the deliberate blindness of evolution believers is exposed.Would that God would open their eyes.
peter H.
short and to the point article that nails it!.
congrats to the wiki photographer for the cute shots.
R. R.
Out of the many things that I would've expected to read here, "..the combined efforts of monkeys [...] have been made available for sale in a limited edition book [...] entitled Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare." was certainly NOT one of them..

I'm not sure what the greater failure here would be.. the fact that they actually expected anything meaningful from these monkeys, the fact that they're attempting to SELL this garbage, or the fact that someone might attempt to buy it..

If it ends up getting sold, I'd really like to know. Perhaps I should consider letting my bearded dragon walk on my keyboard for an extended period of time. He might become the next NY Times best selling author while also allowing me to get Federal grants for "research".

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