Those Typing Monkeys Don't Prove Evolution

by Laurence D Smart B.Sc.Agr., Dip.Ed., Grad.Dip.Ed



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Attempts have been made to support evolution by appealing to mathematics to justify long ages. For example, Nobel prize winner, George Wald, wrote, "Time is the hero of the plot. Given enough time anything can happen - the impossible becomes probable, the improbable becomes certain." (1)

Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog") used this technique in Oxford, in 1860, while debating Samuel Wilberforce. He stated that if monkeys randomly strummed typewriter keys for a long enough time, then sooner or later Psalm 23 would be printed out. Huxley used this argument to demonstrate that life could have originated on Earth by chance. (2)

Julian Huxley (1887-1975) repeated this analogy to 'prove' that long periods of time could allow impossible evolution to occur. In his analogy, given enough time, monkeys randomly typing on typewriters could eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare. (3)

Stephen Hawking used the monkey story in 1988. He proposed that if there was a horde of typing monkeys, then "very occasionally by pure chance they will type out one of Shakespeare's sonnets." (4)

When all these outlandish statements were made "... no evolutionary scientist or mathematician who knew better raised a single objection." (5) So as a result, these statements have convinced many people that 5 billion years is enough time for life to evolve on Earth.

This ruse has been very convincing because most people have difficulty comprehending very small and extremely large numbers. For example, how long would it take someone to count to 1 billion, non-stop? (Answer on the bottom of the last page)

Just how logical is this monkey story? In simple terms, if every square foot of the earth's surface was covered with monkeys randomly typing on typewriters, at the rate of ten characters per second (about 5 times the realistic speed) they could not do the job. Even if they typed non-stop for 30 billion years there would not be the slightest chance that one of them would type even a single five word sentence of 31 characters, with spaces and punctuation in the correct place. The probability for them to achieve this is less than one chance in a trillion. (6)

Richard Dawkins also appeals to the monkeys to convince his readers that evolution by natural selection is plausible. He believes that a thousand such monkeys could type Shakespeare's sentence, "Methinks it is like a weasel." However, the probability of them typing this six-word sentence (including spaces), is one chance in 1039. (7)

It has been calculated that it would be statistically impossible to randomly type even the first 100 characters in Shakespeare's "Hamlet". If the monkeys typed only in lower case, including the 27 spaces in the first 100 characters, the chances are 27100 (ie. one chance in 10143). (8)

"If each proton in the observable universe were a typing monkey (roughly 1080 in all), and they typed 500 characters per minute (faster than the fastest secretary), around the clock for 20 billion years, then all the monkeys together could make 5x1096 attempts at the characters. It would require an additional 3x1046 such universes to have an even chance at success." (9)

Recently, the reality of this last statement has been so damaging to the support for Darwinian evolution, that many evolutionists have taken up the "additional universes" scenario as a way out. They change the analogy and invent an unimaginably large number of universes that are all full of monkeys. They believe that under these new conditions, sooner or later one of the monkeys will succeed. This is the basis of the Anthropic Principle (see my lecture notes #8, "The Anthropic Principle", for a refutation of this theory).

There is a second counter-argument to the mathematical impossibility of evolution. It suggests that when a monkey types the correct key it stays, but when an incorrect key is hit it is 'rubbed out'. This reasoning is based on the assumption that evolution has proceeded in a positive direction, always upwards. As evolution isn't always positive (ie. devolution can also occur), this argument is not valid. (10)

A third counter-argument considers what is called cumulative selection. In it, the monkeys type in stages, stopping to check their work, saving what is close to the target sentence. This process is repeated until the monkey's random typing reproduces the sentence. (11)

This description of evolution is also false because evolution never has anything to aim at. "Nature presents life with no targets. Life shambles forward, surging here, shuffling there, the small advantages accumulating on their own until something novel appears on the broad evolutionary screen - an arch or an eye, an intricate pattern of behaviour, the complexity characteristic of life." (12)

Returning to the mathematics, Michael Behe estimates the probability of just getting the 30,000 gene pieces required for blood clotting in the right sequence as 10-18. To get the genes plus the clotting activator working together by chance has the probability of 10-36. (13)

Fred Hoyle estimates the following probabilities for chance, random arrangement of amino acids:- (14)

This last value (10-40,000) shows the probability that a very, very tiny part of evolution could have happened. This probability is more unlikely than the monkey's chance typing (viz 10-143) which have been used to 'prove' evolution.

Bear in mind that Mathematical Zero is 10-50. Any value smaller than this is relegated by mathematicians to the realm of 'never happening'.

"No matter how large the environment one considers, life cannot have had a random beginning. Troops of monkeys thundering away at random on typewriters could not produce the works of Shakespeare, for the practical reason that the whole observable universe is not large enough to contain the necessary monkey hordes, the necessary typewriters, and certainly the waste paper baskets required for the deposition of wrong attempts. The same is true for living material". (15)

To sum up this mathematical analysis of the monkey analogy, the monkeys could not succeed. Therefore, if the monkeys couldn't succeed, the analogy predicts that evolution could not have succeeded.

Time then, actually destroys the assumptions of evolution.

Bearing in mind that the evolution of life requires the evolution of genetic information, let's look at the monkey analogy from an information perspective. Is it appropriate to use typing monkeys as proof of the origin of life, including its genetic information?

Richard Dawkins used a computer program in his attempt to prove that the typing monkeys would succeed. Information expert Werner Gitt describes Dawkins' conclusions as feeble-minded and fallacious. Gitt says that "the goal will always be reached, because the programming is fixed. Even the number of letters is given in advance. It is obvious that no information is generated, on the contrary, it has been predetermined". (16)

Analysing the monkey analogy using information theorems will help to see if the information necessary for life (ie. DNA) could have evolved. Specifically:- (17)


So it turns out that chance, random events cannot create information - which includes DNA (the information storage facility in living things).

If a six word Shakespearian sentence could not be typed in more time than the earth is believed to have existed, How could DNA have evolved by random events? Remember, the DNA in human cells contains approximately 1.5 gigabytes of data, equivalent to the information in 12,000 books. (18)

The typing monkey analogy, therefore, has no bearing on information, or on life, as it is impossible for DNA information to be created by chance, random events. (19)



 (1) G. Wald (1955), "The Origin of Life", in "The Physics of Chemistry and Life", Simon & Schuster: New York, p:12

(2) W. Gitt (1997), "In the Beginning was Information", CLV: Bielefeld (Germany), p:205

(3) D.L. Sunderland (1988), "Darwin's Enigma - Fossils and Other Problems" (revised ed.), Master Book Pub: Santee, California, p:61

(4) S.W. Hawking (1988), "A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes", Bantam Books: New York, p:123

(5) D.L. Sunderland, p:61

(6) D.L. Sunderland, p:61

(7) R. Dawkins (1986), "The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design", W.W. Norton & Co: New York (quoted in Berlinski)

(8) W.J. ReMine (1993), "The Biotic Message: Evolution verses Message Theory", St. Paul Science: Saint Paul, Minnesota (USA), p:80

(9) W.J. ReMine, p:80

(10) M. Ruse (1982), "Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversy", Addison-Wesley Pub. Co: Reading, Massachusetts (USA), p:308

(11) see R. Dawkins

(12) D. Berlinski (1997), "The Deniable Darwin",

(see also D. Berlinski (1996), "The Deniable Darwin", Commentary, Vol. 101, June, No. 6)

(13) M.J. Behe (1996), "Darwin's Black Box", Free Press: New York, p:94 & 96

(14) F. Hoyle & C. Wickramasinghe (1981), "Evolution From Space", J.M. Dent & Sons: London, p:19, 24 & 27

(15) F. Hoyle & C. Wickramasinghe, p:148

(16) W. Gitt, p:102

(17) W. Gitt, p:48, 67, 71

(18) W. Gitt, p:188

(19) W. Gitt, p:205





ANSWER - To count to 1 billion, non-stop, would take between 30 & 200 years, depending on the counting speed.