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FIRST-PERSON: Et tu, Bobo?

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–At the height of the evolutionary debate in the 1920s and 1930s, one of the hyperbolic salvos fired at proponents of creationism concerned an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters. As the theory went, let them scratch their furry heads and type long enough and they will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare.

“Gorillas, baboons and chimpanzees, lend me your ears. I come to bury Chuckles, not to praise him.”

That’s what Shakespeare might have sounded like if the old adage about a group of monkeys banging away on typewriters for an infinitesimal period of time was true.

But alas, poor primates, tis not.

At Plymouth University in England, a group of researchers announced the other day that they had given six Sulawesi crested macaques their first computer, covered in plastic for good reason. During the month-long experiment, the group wanted to see if the six critters could produce anything intelligible.

The alpha male of the group, according to an Associated Press report May 9, attacked the computer with a stone. That, I understand. Others displayed a fondness for urinating on the keyboard. That, I don’t.

In the end, researchers found, the monkeys noticed that a keystroke resulted in a character being displayed on the screen. The gifted brood of writers produced five pages of text in a single month comprised mostly of a single letter. On occasion, they keyed in A, J, L and M.

Allow me to quote the six laureates, Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan: “SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS.” Even the AP recognized the text was “not quite literature.”

One of the researchers at the university was quoted as saying — I hope in jest — that it was apparent that the Queen’s English wasn’t the monkeys’ “first language.” Really?

The old adage about monkeys and their typewriters commonly, though falsely, has been attributed to T.H. Huxley, an English scientist with an affinity for Darwin’s theories on the origin of species and natural selection. Huxley wrote to Darwin in November 1859 that he would gladly “go to the stake” for the evolutionist’s doctrines.

His ferocious defense of the theories earned him the nickname “Darwin’s Bulldog.” Huxley probably never said anything about monkeys and typewriters, but in a debate with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of the Church of England, Huxley said he would rather have descended from an ape than a bishop who had his head stuck in the sand about science.

Huxley was the first to employ the term “agnostic” as we understand it today. He and another group of scientist-philosophers formed the “X-club” to publicize scientific investigation without interference from the church or government.

At the root of such men’s evolutionary theories about the origin of man and the ascension of other species up the developmental ladder is the denial that humanity is a special creation. Humanity, they believe, is only different in degree from its “related species.” It is not, they say, different in kind.

But Holy Scripture is replete with lucid teachings that human life is a special creation, the wholly other capstone of creation. Human life is precious in God’s sight and made in His image. Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation, wrote that God had endowed humanity with reason or an ability to be rational, creative and even literate.

Those abilities distinguish us from the remainder of creation. Nowhere has that been better displayed in recent days than in our little troupe of writers in England.

Still, skeptics will say that the monkeys would have prospered if given more time, that they eventually would have written the volumes in the British museum, religious works or even a government constitution.

They’ll need those things in the future. Haven’t you seen the “Planet of the Apes”?
Tomlin is news director at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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  • Gregory Tomlin