infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins employs the typing monkey concept in his book The Blind Watchmaker to demonstrate the ability of natural selection to produce biological complexity out of random mutations.
I have often heard this argument advanced by atheists in debates but in fact it does not survive deeper scrutiny.
Philosopher and former atheist Antony Flew, who became a theist in later life, explains how he changed his mind on whether the origin of life pointed to the activity of a creative Intelligence. It was in a debate in 2004 at New York University with Israeli scientist Gerald Schroeder that he announced he now accepted the existence of a God.
Flew explains his thinking in his book ‘There is a God’, which I finally got around to reading earlier this year. He argues on pp75-8 as follows:
‘I have embraced since the beginning of my philosophical life of following the argument no matter where it leads.
I was particularly impressed with Gerry Schroeders's point-by-point refutation of what I call the "monkey theorem." This idea, which has been presented in a number of forms and variations, defends the possibility of life arising by chance using the analogy of a multitude of monkeys banging away on computer keyboards and eventually ending up writing a Shakesparearean sonnet.
Schroeder first referred to an experiment conducted by the British National Council of Arts. A computer was placed in a cage with six monkeys. After one month of hammering away at it (as well as using it as a bathroom!), the monkeys produced fifty typed pages - but no a single word. Schroeder noted that this was the case even though the shortest work in the English language is one letter (a or I). A is a word only if there is a space on either side of it. If we take it that the keyboard has thirty characters (the 26 letters and other symbols), then the likelihood of getting a one-letter world is 30 x 30 x 30, which is 27,000. The likelihood of a getting a one-letter word is one chance of 27,000
Schroeder then applied the probabilities to the sonnet analogy. "What's the chance of getting a Shakespearean sonnet?" he asked, He continued....
•All the sonnets are the same length. They're by definition fourteen lines long. I picked the one I knew the opening line for, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" I counted the number of letters; there are 488 letters in the sonnet. What's the likelihood of hammering away and getting 488 letters in exact sequence as in "Shall I campare thee to a summer's day? What you end up with is 26 multiplied by itself 488 times - or 26 to the 488th power. Or, in other words, in base 10,10 to the 690th.
•Now the number of particles in the universe - not grains of sand, I'm talking about protons, electrons, and neutrons - is 10 to the 80th . Ten to the 80th is 1 with 80 zeros after it. Ten to 690th is 1 with 690 zeros after it. There are not enough particles in the universe to write down the trials; you'd be off by a factor of 10 to the 600th.
•If you took the entire universe and converted it to computer chips - forget the monkeys - each one weighing a millionth of a gram and had each computer chip able to spin out 288 trials at, say, a million times a second; if you turn the entire universe into these microcomputer chips and these chips were spinning a million times a second (producing) random letters, the number of trials you would get since the beginning of time would be 10 to the 90th trials. It would be off again by a factor of 10 to the 600th. You will never get a sonnet by chance. The universe would have to be 10 to the 600th time larger. Yet the world just thinks monkeys can do it every time.
After hearing Schroeder's presentation, I told him that he had very satisfactorily and decisively established that the 'monkey theorem' was a load of rubbish, and that it was particularly good to do it with just a sonnet; the theorem is sometimes proposed using the works of Shakespeare or a single play, such as Hamlet. If the theorem won't work for a single sonnet, then of course it's simply absurd to suggest that the more elaborate feat of the origin of life could have been achieved by chance.’