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Apologetics Press :: In the News

Monkeys, Typewriters, and Shakespeare
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
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While some of the exact details are still a matter of disagreement, everyone acknowledges that on June 30, 1860, at the Oxford Union in England, the “Great Debate” took place between the Anglican Archbishop of Oxford University, Samuel Wilberforce, and evolutionist and agnostic, Thomas Huxley. Wilberforce, a professor of theology and mathematics at Oxford, defended his belief in a Creator using the logic of the teleological argument for God. He asserted that the design we see in nature required a Designer. Huxley, on the other hand, declared that given sufficient time, all the possible combinations of matter, including those necessary to produce a man, eventually would occur by random chance.

This is the point at which fiction, fantasy, and facts become muddled. According to ancient lore, in an effort to prove his point, Huxley asked Wilberforce to allow him the service of six monkeys that would live forever, six typewriters that never would wear out, and an unlimited supply of paper and ink. He then argued that given an infinite amount of time, these monkeys eventually would type the works of Shakespeare (some accounts have Huxley stating the monkeys could type all of the books in the British Library, including the Bible and the works of Shakespeare!). Legend has it that Wilberforce, a skilled mathematician, was forced to concede the truth of Huxley’s point, and as a result lost the debate. Many evolutionists have applied the monkey/typewriter argument when confronted…” when confronted with the question of the origin of life.

Truth be told, this legend probably contains more fiction than fact. Huxley allegedly made this statement in 1860, yet the concept of the typewriter was not well known at that time. In fact, it would be more than ten years before typewriters were sold to the general public (in approximately 1874). Also, it would be almost one hundred years before scientists discovered that genetic information consisted of a linear arrangement of a small number of symbols. These facts, however, have done little to stem in the past the parade of this account by evolutionists as they strive to defend their beloved theory. Now the parade may be over, as evolutionists scramble to hide this analogy, and search for a better one to take its place.

What do you really get when you leave six monkeys alone with a computer for a month? A colossal mess! Researchers at Plymouth University in England reported that primates left alone with a computer attacked the machine and failed to produce a single word. According to Brian Bernbaum, “a group of faculty and students in the university’s media program left a computer in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo in southwest England, home to six Sulawesi crested macaques. Then they waited” (2003). The results were far from what evolutionists had hoped to see. Researcher Mike Phillips noted the first thing to happen was that the “lead male got a stone and started bashing…it” (as quoted in Bernbaum, 2003). He went on to note “another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard.”

Eventually the six monkeys—named Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe, and Rowan—did produce five pages of “text.” However, that “text” was composed primarily of the letter S, with the letters A, J, L, and M added on rare occasions. Mike Phillips noted, “They pressed a lot of S’s.” He went on to state, “obviously, English isn’t their first language” (see “Typing Monkeys…,” 2003).

Admittedly, the experiment was not carried out to the specifications given in the account attributed to Huxley. A single computer was used rather than six typewriters. The experiment lasted only four weeks. But the fact remains that these six monkeys failed to produce anything even close to a word of human language. As Phillips admitted, the results showed that monkeys “are not random generators. They’re more complex than that” (“Typing Monkeys…,” 2003). Paignton Zoo scientific officer Dr. Amy Plowman admitted: “The work was interesting but had little scientific value, except to show that the ‘infinite monkey’ theory is flawed” (see “Monkeys Fail…,” 2003, emp. added). That is not the only theory that is flawed. If evolutionists were expecting six monkeys banging away on typewriters to substantiate their claims of how life originated, they are in a bigger mess than that monkey cage.


Bernbaum, Brian (2003), “Monkey Theory Proven Wrong,” Access Research Network, [On-line], URL:

“Monkeys Fail to Produce Masterpiece” (2003), BBC News, [On-line], URL:

“Typing Monkeys, but no Shakespeare” (2003), MSNBC Science News, [On-line], URL:

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