Monkeys and atheists

Posted: May 27, 2003 12:00 AM

Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's bulldog") is said to have come up with the most famous defense of the atheist belief that life was created by chance, not God. In a debate at Oxford, he is reported to have stated that if enough monkeys randomly pressed typewriter keys for a long enough time, sooner or later Psalm 23 would emerge.

Not all atheists use this argument, but it accurately represents the atheist belief that with enough time and enough solar systems, you'll get you, me, and Bach's cello suites.

This belief has always struck me as implausible. The argument that infinitely complex intelligence came about by itself, unguided by any intelligence, can only be deemed convincing by those who have a vested interest (intellectual, emotional, psychological) in atheism.

I fully acknowledge the great challenge to theism -- the rampant and seemingly random unfairness built into human life. But no intellectually honest atheist should deny the great challenge to atheism -- the existence of design and intelligence. The belief that Bach's music randomly evolved from a paramecium should strike anyone as so fantastic as to be absurd, even more absurd than the belief that a monkey could monkey Shakespeare. The finite number of years in the universe's existence and the finite number of planets would not come close to producing a few sentences, let alone Psalm 23 or a Shakespeare play.

But a just reported English University experiment has convinced me that the number of monkeys and the amount of time are irrelevant. Psalm 23, let alone Hamlet, would never be written. Why? Because the monkeys probably wouldn't do any typing.

According to news reports, instructors at Plymouth University put six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys in a room with a computer and keyboards for four weeks. Though one of the monkeys frequently typed the letter "s", the other monkeys ignored the keyboard, preferring to play with one another and with the ropes and toys placed there. When they did pay attention to the keyboard, one smashed it with a stone and the others repeatedly urinated and defecated on it.

The instructors hastened to note the study was not scientific, given the short duration of time and the small number of monkeys, but some of us find this "study" to be a hilarious vindication of our view of the "enough monkeys for enough time" argument for random creation.

According to the science correspondent of Britain's Guardian newspaper, "assuming each monkey typed a steady 120 characters a minute (itself a preposterous assumption), mathematicians have calculated it would take 10 to the 813th power (10 followed by 813 zeros) monkeys about five years to knock out a decent version of Shakespeare's Sonnet 3 . . . "

To put 10 to the 813th power into perspective, remember that a billion is 10 to the ninth power.

There are many intellectually honest atheists, and there are many intellectually dishonest believers in God.

Nevertheless, I believe that any objective person would have to conclude that the belief that everything came about by itself and that randomness is the creator is infinitely less intellectually sound than the belief in a Creator/Designer.

Sadly, many people come to doubt God's existence because so many intellectuals are atheists. But it was a major scientist, Professor Robert Jastrow, one of the greatest living astronomers, head of the Mount Wilson Observatory, formerly head of NASA's Goddard Space Center, and an agnostic, who best explained the atheism of many scientists.

In his book "God and the Astronomers," Jastrow tells of his surprise when so many fellow astronomers refused to accept the Big Bang hypothesis for the origins of the universe. In fact, Jastrow writes, many astronomers were actually unhappy about it. Why? Because the Big Bang implied a beginning to the universe, and a beginning implies a Creator, something many scientists passionately reject.

This led Jastrow to the sobering conclusion that many scientists have vested, non-scientific interests in some of their beliefs, especially the non-existence of God. For some psychological or emotional reasons, not intellectual ones, many scientists prefer to believe that given enough monkeys, one will type out a psalm.

But neither math nor science argues that all came about randomly, without a Creator. Only a keen desire to deny God explains such a belief, a belief that should be laid to rest beneath a large pile of monkey doo-doo at Plymouth University, England.