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  • Writer's picturePastor Doug

Methinks I Smell A Red Herring

Those who are familiar with Dawkins’ book "The Blind Watchmaker" and who have been following this blog may be wondering why I have not yet addressed it’s most famous “proof”. In it, Dawkins took the idea that given enough time a monkey randomly plunking on a typewriter would eventually complete the entire works of Shakespeare and simplified for the sake of argument to the problem of creating a mere sentence from Shakespeare. After all, if one sentence could be randomly be generated, given enough time the rest would follow. He chose one from Hamlet: “Methinks it looks like a weasel”. It contains twenty-six letters and for each of those letters, there are twenty-seven options: the alphabet, and space. Next, he developed a computer program that would randomly generate the many possibilities that would mimic the “monkey” typing out the sentence. Any correct answers would be carried on to the next “generation” until the goal was reached.

The reason I have not brought it up to this point is that it has nothing to do with the evolution Dawkins proposes. Random mutations with slight changes leading to more complex life are absent in Dawkins’ model. First, Dawkins’ program is goal-directed, the final product is set as the target. This contrasts the Darwinian theory where there is neither goal nor direction. Second, each “sentence” generated would have to be functional or make sense to match the analogy. In order to be viable as a “generation” it would have to be meaningful otherwise how could it “survive?" Third, right answers are “preserved” but in real life, wrong answers and right answers would be equally prone to mutation and therefore potentially lost once they had been found. Finally, the parameters themselves program the computer model for success. The search presupposes letters, spaces, and length of the sentence, all of which inject clues to aid the “random” search.

So why bring up the “weasel” example at all? It is because while Dawkins model does not fit Darwinian evolution it might just clarify another theory of evolution that has become more popular of late and that is emergence. This idea states that there is something in matter or the universe itself that lends itself to order, complexity and ultimately life. The theory states that there is something innate not unlike Dawkins’ computer program that is driving it towards self-organization. Now I do not want to misrepresent Richard Dawkins, he is no proponent of emergence, and I am using his example to illustrate it, not his views. But could it explain the complex order of life without an appeal to a designer or “watchmaker?"

Interestingly, a straightforward response to emergence was actually put forward decades ago by the atheistic materialist Fred Hoyle. He stated “that if there were some deep principle which drove organic systems towards living systems, the observation would be demonstrable in a test tube in half a morning. Needless to say, no such demonstration has ever been given.” In other words, if it were true, it would be observable. But organic materials do not self-organize nor does matter emerge toward better organization in any way remotely similar to life.

But even if it could be shown that there were purposeful self-organizational properties in the universe on the large scale or matter at the smallest scale it would still beg the question of how did it get there? If it were found to be true the only difference between this reality and the one we are currently faced with would be that you would no longer be looking for a watchmaker but a computer programmer of a program that makes watches. The problem moves back a step but the overall challenge is not lessened. If anything, you have created an even bigger challenge. So while Dawkins’ computer program may have inspired a generation of “new atheists” upon further examination it smells fishy, like a red herring to be exact.

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