What Has Darwin to Do with Shakespeare?

Over the years, you’ve heard me recommend many publications on the subject of intelligent design. But I believe it is safe to say that I have never before discussed one that featured two chapters on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The reasoning behind these chapters is that Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt’s new book, A Meaningful World, is about so much more than the narrow concept that many people have of “intelligent design.” Their book’s subtitle helps explain their idea: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature. It’s an original and utterly fascinating approach to the subject. Wiker and Witt are arguing against what they call the “poison” of our time: reductionist materialism and the nihilism that stems from it. To put it more simply, they are fighting against the idea that the universe is without meaning. We’ve all heard this idea before, but we don’t always realize just how much it has permeated our culture and our lives. Which brings me back to Shakespeare. Most of us have heard someone say that “if a million monkeys banged away on typewriters for a million years, eventually they would generate the entire works of Shakespeare.” I have tended to laugh this off as most of us do, not aware that the people who embrace reductionist materialism are really serious. As Wiker and Witt explain it, “Reductionist materialism seeks to give an entirely material explanation of human intelligence, one that reduces it to a string of pointless material causes. It must kill the soul, and in the process, reduce all the evident genius of humanity to dust.” And that, the authors show us, is exactly why materialists came up with the “million monkeys” idea. Scientific reductionism—the view that we all came into being by random chance—is closely linked to literary reductionism—the desire to “force the beauties of [literature] into [a] box.” Thus, scientists came up with the “million monkeys” theory to show that Shakespeare’s genius was nothing special, that his works could have come about purely by chance. And, the theory goes, “If monkeys could knock out a Shakespearean tragedy given enough time, then what about creating Shakespeare himself? Couldn’t he be almost as easily explained on Darwinian grounds?” But do you know what happened when scientists tried to test their theory? Obviously, they couldn’t test it for a million years, but they thought they could get some idea about the truth of the theory by testing it for a month. The monkeys pressed some random letters on the keyboard, bashed the computer with stones, and—to put it as delicately as possible—used it as a toilet. “Suffice it to say,” the authors remark dryly, “their literary efforts fall a good deal short of the Bard.” It’s difficult to see how extending this farce for a million years would have made any difference at all. In fact, a scientist at MIT used a computer simulation to prove that it could not have happened. This is only the beginning of Witt and Wiker’s exploration of their theme. Tomorrow, Mark Earley will be with you to take a look at their argument that not only do the arts and culture point to a universe full of meaning, but so do mathematics and the sciences.  
For Further Reading and Information
Today’s BreakPoint offer: The Recommended Book List from Chuck Colson and the Wilberforce Forum. Learn more about A Meaningful World by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt. Buy it today. Jonathan Witt, “A Meaningful World Broadens Case for Intelligent Design,” ID the Future blog, 10 August 2006. Dr. Benjamin Wiker, “A Meaningful World,” To the Source, 28 September 2006. William Dembski, “For Your Fall Reading . . . ,” Uncommon Dissent blog, 27 July 2006. Visit Jonathan and Amanda Witt’s blog Wittingshire. “The Privileged Planet” (DVD)—This hour-long documentary explores the scientific evidence for intelligent design and purpose in the universe. Also available in VHS.


Chuck Colson



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