The Monkey and the Typewriter
The monkey/typewriter hypothesis is invoked to prove that things that appear to be designed can result from chance. Since all the possible combinations of letters are finite, and ordered letters are one possible combination of letters, then whatever creates all possible combinations of letters can create the ordered ones. Since all combinations of letters (and for the modern reader, this includes spaces and punctuation) can be created by brute random repetition, it seems to follow that a monkey, or a pecking chicken could create all possible literature, if we only gave them enough time, or enough luck.
This example requires that we regard words as one possible combination of letters. This is of course true enough, but there is obviously more to being a word than being a combination of letters, otherwise there would be no difference between words and mere gibberish, like the thing I’ll create now by banging the keyboard:
So there it is, “one possible combination of letters”. If I tried this long enough (or just let the monkey do the thankless task), I might very well get:
midway on our life’s journey
I found myself in a dark woods
the right way lost.*
So there it would be, one possible combination of letters, created by chance. Right?
One particular combination of letters might come to be by chance, and in this sense they can be viewed as “created randomly”. But no word signifies a random thing: “a dark woods” has one exact meaning, or a small cluster of meanings, that it was intentionally created to signify. Words are artifacts, and therefore cannot be understood separately from the mind of an artisan.
That a monkey might type out the beginning of the Divine Comedy (or any other thing, written or yet to be written) is a coincidence. This is to say that the monkey’s letters might happen to coincide with an order that already has been given by a mind. In the case of the above example, the monkey makes something that coincides with the order already given by Dante’s mind, and even if the monkey created a poem that had never existed in a language, his words would still coincide with words that were already created and coined by the minds of the people who made the language. In other words, the monkey at the typewriter, even if he were to create individual instances of all the works of literature, would create nothing but things which coincide with an intelligible order that is already given, things that cannot be defined apart from that given intelligible order.
The monkey/typewriter example, when properly understood, ends up proving the exact opposite of what it is usually taken to prove. While the example is taken to show that order is a mere appearance that can be accounted for by chance, what it actually proves is that the things created by chance presuppose an order that is given by intelligence, and cannot be defined apart from the actions of mind. The words of the monkey do not create order, but rather they can only at best “fall into” or coincide with an order that is already given by mind. The monkey/ typewriter example, properly understood, does not confront us with an analogy for a senseless world that must be accepted, but with an intelligible order governing all things. The example, properly universalized, is a proof for the existence of God.