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When Pigs Fly and Monkeys Type


Stephen Hawking in his A Brief History Of Time taught the world that given enough time, monkeys hammering away on typewriters could type out a Shakespeare sonnet.

aamountainIt is a nice adage but totally off base, at least within the reality of our world. Having gone to MIT I don't know many sonnets. In fact when I thought about this I only knew the opening line of one, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day." There are a bit fewer than 500 letters in that sonnet [All Shakespeare's sonnets are about the same length; all by definition 14 lines long.]

Let's consider a grab bag with the 26 letters of the English language in it. I reach into the bag blindfolded and pull out a letter. The likelihood that it will be 's' for the first letter of the sonnet is one chance in 26. The likelihood that in two draws I will get an 's' and then an 'h' is one chance in 26 times 26. And so on for the 500 letters. Neglecting spaces between the words, the chance of getting the entire sonnet by chance is 26 multiplied by itself 500 times. That number comes out to be a one with 700 zeroes after it. In conventional math terms, it is 10 to the exponent power of 700.

To give a sense of scale for reference, the known universe including dark matter and black energy weighs in the order of 10 to the power 56 grams; the number of basic particles [protons, neutrons, electrons, mesons] in the known universe is 10 to the power 80; the age of the universe from our perspective of time, 10 to the power 18 seconds. Convert all the universe into micro-computers each weighing a billionth of a gram and run each of those computers billions of times a second non-stop from the beginning of time and we still will need greater than 10 to the power 500 universes, or that much more time for even a remote probability of getting a sonnet; any meaningful sonnet. Chance does not produce intelligible text and certainly not a sonnet, not in our universe.

But so convincing is the Hawking argument that the students at the Plymouth University in England convinced the National Arts Council to put up 1500 Sterling, about $3000, to try monkey typing skills. They rented a monkey house for a month. Six monkeys hammered away on a computer key board and failed to produce a single English word. Surprised, since the shortest word in the English language is one letter long? Surely the monkeys must have hit an 'A' or an 'I' in all their efforts. But think about it. To a make an 'A' a word requires a space on each side of the 'A'. That means typing: space, 'A,' space. If there are about 100 keys on the computer key board, the probability is one chance in a 100 times 100 times 100 which comes out to be one chance in a million. Random guessing in a spelling bee is always a losing proposition. And that is for a single letter word.

But what about life? Could random mutations have actually produced the ordered complexity of life, or even a viable protein? Mutations that are to be passed on to the next generation must occur in the genetic material of the reproductive line, which is in the DNA of sperm or egg. That mutation results in a variant (mutated) protein which might produce a new more effective type of organ, say a better muscle or the beginning of a transition from fin to foot. That would be the neo-Darwinian concept. But let's look at that process rigorously. When we do we'll see it does not work if randomness is the only driving force.

The building blocks of all life are proteins. Proteins are precisely organized strings of amino acids. Information held on the DNA determines the order in which the amino acids join together to form the end-product, the protein. So if the DNA mutates, we get a different amino acid and hence a different protein. Now comes the problem of mutations in the theory of neo-Darwinian randomness.

The genetic system of all life is totally coded. An example of code would be the Morse code sounds, 'dot dot dot dash' which look, sound or seem nothing like the letter 'V' for which they code. If you did not know that this sequence of sounds represented a 'V' you'd not have a clue as to its meaning. And so it is with the data on the DNA. Though the data on the strands of DNA (the chromosomes) in our cells carry the information for the amino acids and proteins that are to form, the data on the DNA are held as assorted groupings of four different nucleic acids. Nucleic acids have absolutely zero physical resemblance to either amino acids or proteins. The information is totally coded.

In nature, this lack of similarity between code and final product ensures that there is no logical feedback from protein or amino acid to DNA. Information flow is one way: DNA to amino acid to protein. New mutant variations of proteins can arise only through mutations at the DNA that have no physical hint of the final protein product.

In all known life, there are only 20 different amino acids. Stringing them together in varied sequences produces varied proteins, just as intelligently stringing letters together in varied sequences will produce varied sentences and sonnets. Scientific literature suggests that all of life is made from combinations of fewer than a million different proteins. Other proteins are either useless [neutral, adding no selective advantage for survival] or lethal. But let's say our estimate is off. In place of 1,000,000 viable proteins, let it be 100 million or billion or trillion viable proteins.

Here are the crucial numbers:

Proteins vary in length from strings of a few hundred to a few thousand amino acids. Consider a relatively short protein, such as 200 amino acids long. Into each of the 200 spaces any one of the 20 amino acids can fall. That means the total number of possible combinations is 20 times 20 times 20 repeated 200 times. The result is a one with 260 zeros after it, or 10 to the power of 260 or a billion billion billion repeated 29 times. From this vast biological grab bag, we are told that nature by random chance mutations has been able to form the fewer than a million proteins that don't kill the organism. This did not, and could not, and will not happen by chance. And every biologist enamored with neo-Darwinian evolution knows it. Their feeble reply is that there must be other factors that limit the types of mutations that can occur. There certainly arebut not as randomly as the materialist biologist would have it.

The unrealistic possibility that the selection of viable proteins could have occurred by unguided random mutations in the DNA led Simon Conway Morris, professor of evolutionary paleobiology at Cambridge University, Fellow of the Royal Society of England, and possibly the world's leading paleontologist, to write his book, Life's Solutions (Cambridge University Press, 2003). In it we read: "Life is simply too complex to be assembled by random reactions on any believable time scale. evolution [has the] uncanny ability to find the short cuts across the multidimensional hyperspace of biological reality. "

This opinion is also found in the writing of Nobel laureate, organic chemist and a leader in origin of life studies, Professor de Duve, in his excellent book, Tour of a Living Cell:

"If you equate the probability of the birth of a bacteria cell to chance assembly of its atoms, eternity will not suffice to produce one. ... Faced with the enormous sum of lucky draws behind the success of the evolutionary game, one may legitimately wonder to what extent this success is actually written into the fabric of the universe."

Life written into the fabric of the universe. Sounds like design to me.

Noble laureate, Professor of Biology, Harvard University, the late George Wald, may have provided us with the answer to this wonder when he wrote "Life and Mind in the Universe" in the International Journal of Quantum Chemistry: Quantum Biology symposium 11 (1984):

"It has occurred to me lately - I must confess with some shock at first to my scientific sensibilitiesthat both questions [the origin of consciousness in humans and of life from non-living matter] might be brought into some degree of congruence. This is with the assumption that mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical realitythat stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe that breeds life."

This is science, not theology, speaking. But it is also theology.

"In the beginning was the logos [logos-logic, intellect, word]" (John).

A few hundred years earlier, "With the word of God the heavens were made." (Psalm 33).

And a few hundred years before that, "B'raisheet (With wisdom) God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis I:1). [Not 'In the beginning.' That is the erroneous mis-translation of the Hebrew word B'raisheet introduced by the Septuagint]

If indeed wisdom, logic and mind are the essence of existence, then the conundrum of the origin of the life's design is solved. The Intelligence behind the design is ubiquitous in every particle of the world and most evident in the brains and minds of humans as we puzzle over our cosmic origins.



Gerald Schroeder. "When Pigs Fly and Monkeys Type." tothesource (October 2, 2007).

This article reprinted with permission from tothesource.

Tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.

The Author

Gerald Schroeder holds a BSc, MSc, and PhD all earned at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He holds a PhD in two fields: Earth and Planetary Sciences; and, Nuclear Physics. His formal theological training includes fifteen years of study under the late Rabbi Herman Pollack, Rabbi Chaim Brovender and Rabbi Noah Weinberg. He spent seven years on the staff of the M.I.T. Physics Department prior to moving to Israel and joining the staff of the Weizmann Institute of Science and then the Volcani Research Institute and the Hebrew University Isotope Separation Mass Spectrometer facility. He is currently teaching at the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish studies in Jerusalem.

Gerald Schroeder is the author of Genesis and the Big Bang Theory: The Discovery of Harmony Between Modern Science and the Bible and The Hidden Face of God. In the first full year of its publication, The Science Of God was on the Barnes & Noble list of non-fiction best sellers and was's best selling book in the field of physics/cosmology for that entire year. Dr. Schroeder has approximately 60 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals to his credit. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 5 children.

Copyright © 2007 tothesource
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