To the Editor:
I didn't see Part I of "Monkeys and Typewriters" (Joshua
Josephson, 27 Teves), but one gets the impression that Mr.
Josephson sees science, or certain scientific assertions, as
a threat to the Torah, and he is presenting logical arguments
against these assertions, and in favor of Torah.
I believe that it is a big mistake to make this the issue
(that is: Torah vs. Science), because somebody else may come
along and produce equally or more convincing arguments that
refute his arguments. This would then be a victory for
science over Torah, G-d forbid!
There cannot be a conflict between Torah and science. This is
not necessarily because there are no scientific findings that
contradict the Torah. It is because the Torah and science
operate on two completely separate planes. Science does not
and cannot take a stand on any religious issue. There are
certainly many eminent scientists who are nonbelievers. There
are also many eminent scientists who are adherents of just
about every conceivable religion.
Legufo shel inyan: Mr. Josephson argues that the
probability of a monkey churning out Shakespeare is much
lower than one might think. Granted. If one understands Mr.
Josephson correctly, he is arguing that the only thing that
prevents monkeys from typing out Shakespearean sonnets, or
that prevents the chance evolution of a universe as complex
as ours, is the incredibly low probability of such events
occurring. If this is the case, Mr. Josephson is actually
presenting an argument, not only that such events may occur,
but that they must occur! And they must occur repeatedly!
The Borel Cantelli Lemma states that, given certain
assumptions, if the probability of an event occurring within
a given time period is greater than zero, then this event
will occur infinitely often with probability one. This means
that every possible event will not only occur eventually, but
will occur repeatedly! It doesn't matter how low the
probability is, as long as it is not zero.
Therefore, if Mr. Josephson is arguing that the random
evolution of the universe, or of life, can't occur only
because these events are too improbable, then given aeons
upon aeons of time, these events must occur! This was hardly
Mr. Josephson's intention. For this reason, I feel that Mr.
Josephson is treading very dangerous ground.
The Editor Replies:
HaRav Yaakov Weinberg once said that there is no conflict
between science and Torah and there cannot be since there is
only one truth. Whatever is on a "different plane" that has
nothing to do with truth can occupy itself there, but as far
as truth goes there can be no conflict.
Rabbi Josephson replies:
Mr. Kurtz's letter makes essentially two points: that I ought
not write about science and Torah, and that my calculation in
"Monkeys and Typewriters" is wrong.
As the monkeys and typewriters article did not deal with
science and Torah per se, Mr. Kurtz is basing his
first set of criticisms on an "impression" he gets from part
II of the article. Because it is based on an erroneous
impression, I would prefer to reserve my response to this
portion of the letter for an article on the subject which I
may write in the future.
To avoid a misimpression, however, one point must be
What prompted me to write about monkeys and typewriters is
that I have found that most people do not understand the
nature of the issue and tend to make gross errors when
applying such probability calculations to real world
situations, evolution included. It is certainly useful to
understand on what foundation particular "scientific"
assertions rest. Many people have been misled by the analogy
between monkeys and typewriters and evolution. Surely, it
cannot hurt to know that the monkeys and typewriters parable
is simply wrong.
Indeed, in the second set of criticisms, Mr. Kurtz himself
either displays some confusion about the rules of probability
or is not being entirely forthright. He writes, "The Borel
Cantelli Lemma states that, given certain assumptions, if the
probability of an event occurring within a given time period
is greater than zero, then this event will occur infinitely
often with probability one. This means that every possible
event will not only occur eventually, but will occur
What he fails to tell us however is what the "certain
assumptions" are. It is precisely this point which is the
crux of my monkeys and typewriters article, and which
apparently did not come through strongly enough.
The rule to which he is referring can only be true in a
situation where there can be a sufficient amount of trials.
It cannot hold true when time and space impose an inherent
limitation on the number of trials that can be performed. How
could every possible outcome occur many times if I don't have
enough time or resources to generate every possible outcome
All I said in my monkeys and typewriters article is that
Shakespeare's sonnets would probably not be written by even
an incredibly enormous amount of hypothetical monkeys in
our universe. Most scientists today agree that our
universe is finitely old and finite in scope. Our universe
cannot generate, or even accommodate, the entire set of data
that would have to be produced for there to be even a remote
chance of randomly generating a single sonnet of Shakespeare.
Nor can it hope to see anywhere near the total amount of
arrangements that the smaller chemicals of life can achieve.
Hence, the calculation I made holds perfectly true for the
universe we live in.