Dr. Sarah Salviander posted a very interesting thread on Twitter that we have reproduced here, with permission. Each original tweet will be linked in parenthesis. Dr. Salviander also contributed Chapter 6 to the book The Story of the Cosmos: The Heavens Declare the Glory of God. You can support her work by buying the book here.
Why materialists need to stop using the monkeys on typewriters analogy and Christians need to stop worrying. Here’s Dawkins’ commentary on why people are compelled by the fine-tuning argument. Well, let’s engage in some consciousness-raising of our own about probabilities.
…I see no alternative but to dismiss it, while at the same time marvelling at the number of people who can’t see the problem and seem genuinely satisfied by the ‘Divine Knob-Twiddler’ argument.
Maybe the psychological reason for this amazing blindness has something to do with the fact that many people have not had their consciousness raised, as biologists have, by natural selection and its power to tame improbability.
The monkeys-on-typewriters analogy is often used to explain how, given enough time and space, random processes can lead to extremely improbable events. But how much time and space are we talking about in the observable universe? Turns out, it’s surprisingly little. (link)
Let’s look at the probability of a large but finite number of monkeys randomly typing on keyboards happening to produce something intelligible. Say, the famous first line of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (link)
Number of characters, ignoring punctuation = 50. Let’s ignore caps and all keys except for the letters and space bar. That’s 27 keys total. The odds of getting just the first two-letter word of the sentence = (1/27) x (1/27) = (1/27) to the power of 2 = 1 out of 729. (link)
Kind of low, but given a reasonable amount of time and monkeys, it seems possible. (More on this later.) What about the odds of getting the full first sentence? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With 50 characters, the odds become (1/27) to the power of 50. (link)
That works out to be approximately 1 out of 10 to the power of 71. Yikes. Let’s be generous and say we have a BILLION monkeys continuously typing away, and that they tap one key every second. How much time before we expect at least one of them to tap out the full sentence? (link)
(Math shorthand “e” = “10 to the power of.”) Monkeys typing = 1 billion = 1e9 Seconds in a year = 3.15e7 Total key taps per year = 1e9 x 3.15e7 = 3.15e16 = 31,500 trillion Sounds like a lot, but let’s see for how long our monkeys would need to type. (link)
Years of typing = 3.7e71 / 3.15e16 = 1.2e55 Given that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, it’d take a billion monkeys typing continuously for ~billion trillion trillion trillion lifetimes of the universe before we could expect to get just the first line of Dickens’ novel. (link)
So, what if we spread this experiment out over every possible planet in the observable universe, an estimated 1e21 planets. That’s not much help. It’d still take a trillion trillion lifetimes of the universe to produce just that one sentence. (link)
And that’s assuming you could get the monkeys to stay on task for any period of time, which turns out to be unreasonable. Someone actually tried this experiment with six monkeys and a keyboard, and after four weeks… (link) …not only did the monkeys fail to produce a single word of the English language, they got bored and started defecating on the keyboards. Perhaps an apt metaphor for the alleged blind, unguided processes that give rise to life in the universe. (link)
This thought experiment covered the expectation of randomly producing just one small intelligible string of information. Consider this in light of how vastly more complex the basic components of life are than one sentence from an English novel. (link)
This is why materialists have had to retreat to wildly speculative ideas to maintain their naturalistic models of life-producing universes. Billions of years sounded like a lot, but it’s not nearly enough. Billions of planets sounded like a lot, but it’s not nearly enough. (link)
What materialists need is an infinite universe or a de facto eternity, which they thought they had before the big bang messed it all up. They’ve been forced by the big bang to retreat to the only other form of eternity they can think of, which is the infinite multiverse. (link)
We’re left with either wild unscientific speculation about unknown mechanisms generating infinite universes – at which point, why not just put God back on the table? – or accepting the possibility that whatever is shaping the development of our universe isn’t unguided. (link)
Physicist and theologian Gerald Schroeder comments that it was this very discussion that finally pushed the late atheist Antony Flew away from atheism and toward belief in God. He didn’t have enough faith to be a materialist, and neither do I. (link)