You may have seen this article on BBC News last week. Apparently some guy has set up an incredibly large number of ‘virtual monkeys’ who have managed to write ’99.990%’ of the complete works of Shakespeare.
Now, the reason for doing this is because this has often been the analogy for evolution: ‘If an infinite number of monkeys randomly typed on keyboards for an infinite amount of time, by chance they would end up re-creating the complete works of Shakespeare’. This experiment seems to show that the analogy is a perfect one.
But it’s not.
Read the article and you’ll see that actually the computer program takes nine characters at a time, comparing them to Shakespeare and keeping them if they match. Sorry to rain on your parade, but that’s not how evolution works. The full theory of evolution (rather than natural selection) states that millions of years ago, the perfect circumstances on the chaotic earth caused some rock to come to life. Without wanting to over-simplify things, 9-character strings of text being kept or rejected based on their match to some view of perfection at the end doesn’t sound anything like that! In fact, if that’s how evolution is meant to work, it sounds more like just a more complex version of the theory of intelligent design (creation).
This is basically just another attempt by some blinkered individuals to ‘prove the evolutionary theory’, and failing because of their ridiculous testing. Thankfully it looks like some know that (emphasis mine):
“If he’s running an evolutionary approach, holding on to successful guesses [i.e. if some level of intelligent design is introduced into this process], then he’ll get there,” said Tim Harford, popular science writer and presenter of the BBC’s radio show about numbers More or Less.
And without those constraints?
“Not a chance,” said Dr Ian Stewart, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick.
His calculations suggest it would take far, far longer than the age of the Universe for monkeys to completely randomly produce a flawless copy of the 3,695,990 or so characters in the works.
Could I perhaps propose another test? How about we take an incredibly large number of rocks, and see if any of them come to life. If that happened, then I’d be convinced that it was a proper scientific test.
And just to finish on a high, allow me to quote the final paragraph of the article, which made me laugh out loud:
…in 2003, Paignton Zoo carried out a practical test by putting a keyboard connected to a PC into the cage of six crested macaques. After a month the monkeys had produced five pages of the letter “S” and had broken the keyboard.
A toast to the evolutionary theory!