Monkeys, Typewriters and Language, What Do They Show?

14 Sep

Monkeys, Typewriters and Language, What Do They Show?

I remember as a young man being told that if you put a typewriter in a cage with a bunch monkeys and give them enough time they’d ultimately reproduce the works of William Shakespeare.

I didn’t know until recently that this argument was attributed to English biologist Thomas Huxley, better known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his strong support of the theory of evolution.  It’s said that Huxley used this argument in his famous debate with English politician William Wilberforce in 1860.  The only problem is that the typewriter wasn’t available to the public until 1874 so it just doesn’t seem possible.

If you’d like to see the mathematic possibility of this occurring take a look at an interesting article Russell Grigg wrote entitled, “Could Monkey’s Type the 23rd Psalm?” or read Dr. John Lennox’s book, “God’s Undertaker.”  I think you’ll find them fascinating.

Anyway, I have to admit that this argument always intrigued me, even before I became a Christian but not because of the probability argument.  I was more intrigued by the complexity of language itself.

Is human language really not all that special?  Could just blind plunking on typewriter keys over a long enough time produce something as complex as Hamlet?  (After reading my writing some people probably think that’s how I write my articles!)

Or how about producing just one quote that I remember from Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It.”

“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

While in England I had a professor come up to me after my talk and share with me about language.  She was passionate about how language screams that there’s a personal, loving God.

She is someone who has studied language for years.  She shared with me that language can only be learned by someone teaching it to someone else.  And, by the way, it has to be done at a very specific time in life.

Many researchers now believe that a child must be taught language before puberty, or that it’s impossible for them to learn after that.

I find her argument very interesting and absolutely consistent with what we read in the Bible.  There we’re told that God created man in His image on day 6 (Genesis 1), and that man was an intelligent being with the capability to communicate (Genesis 2:16).  This ability to communicate was also taken advantage of by Satan where he asked a simple question of Adam and Eve, (Genesis 3:1) which led to the fall.

If this history isn’t true, how did language come about?  (Please notice that I called Genesis history!  And that’s because it is written as historical narrative and not allegory or poetry.)  Could the approximately 130 million books that have been written in the world just have come about from the blind plunking on a keyboard?

I think not!  In 2003 a group of students from the University of Plymouth tested the “monkey keyboard” claim.  The placed a typewriter in an enclosure with six monkeys at Paignton Zoo in Devon, United Kingdom.

After a month, the students compiled the five pages of text that Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan and found it to be quite boring!  Far from writing some amazing insight the text was primarily the letter ‘s.’  Towards the end of the experiment they did get a little more creative and started to add the letters A, J, L and M.

At the end of the day not a single word was typed and the experiment was finally finished when Rowan, the Alpha male bashed the keyboard with a stone.  In addition, almost all of the other monkeys urinated and defecated on it as well.

Hmmmm!  Regardless of how probable or improbable an argument is, I think we’re safe to say that God creating man in His image is the best explanation for how we got here.

There is no explanation for how complex language could evolve from grunting and groaning or bashing something with a rock.  Which is what I want to do when the math books come out!

Blessings and . . .

Stay Bold!

 

Carl Kerby

Carl Kerby is an inspiring, motivating and highly respected Christian speaker. With more than 20 years of ministry experience, Carl shares his extensive knowledge and understanding of God’s creation in his presentations, outreach events, books and other resources as the President and founding board member of Reasons for Hope, Inc.