Guest Blogger: Pastor Dan Weber – Gardeners, Monkeys, Shakespeare, and the Cross of Christ
In 1 Peter 3:15, we are commanded to “always be prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Giving a reasoned defense of our hope isn’t the same thing as witnessing to the cross of Christ. But if your witness to the cross and the empty tomb is blocked by objections to the faith, then apologetics is a necessary step to remove those objections so that we might get back to talking about the cross and empty tomb.
Behind the task of apologetics is the recognition that non-Christians have sincere and legitimate questions about our faith and hope. One of the most famous atheists of the past century is a philosopher named Anthony Flew. For Flew, the most fundamental objection to religion of any sort was the issue of falsifiability. If something is not falsifiable, then there is no possible scenario where a claim could be proven false. (Let me briefly tip my hand. Every religion besides historic Christianity fails to be falsifiable even in principle.) Flew illustrated his concern with a parable.
“Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, ‘Some gardener must tend this plot’. The other disagrees, ‘There is no gardener’. So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. ‘But perhaps he is an invisible gardener’. So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H. G. Wells’s Tbe Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. ‘But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves’. At last the Skeptic despairs, ‘But what remains of your original assertion? just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?”
I think it is divinely ironic that Dr. Flew uses the gardener as an example in his parable about the lack of falsifiability of religious claims. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, St. Paul gives us a condition, which if proven true, would falsify and overturn the truth claims of Christianity. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” If Jesus is still dead, then Christianity is false. In the Gospels, we read about Mary going to the tomb on a Sunday morning. At first, she doesn’t see Jesus, but she sees what appears to be the Gardener! It turns out this gardener is none other than the resurrected Christ, vindicating the truth claims of Scripture. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.”
Thanks to the patient and tactful answering of Flew’s objections, he died believing there is a god. He was not a Christian, but he was convinced there must be some kind of god. His 2007 book, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, is Flew’s account of his “conversion” from atheism to deism. What was ultimately most convincing for Flew was the argument that life is far too complicated to have evolved randomly from non-life. That’s such a key idea, it’s worth reading again: life is far too complicated to have evolved randomly from non-life. A Jewish philosopher and mathematician named Gerald Schroeder was particularly influential for Flew.
Flew writes, “I was particularly impressed with Gerry Schroeder’s point-by-point refutation of what I call the ‘monkey-theorem’” (75). The “monkey-theorem” likens the probability of life randomly beginning from non-life to the probability of a room full of monkeys “banging away on computer keyboards and eventually ending up writing a Shakespearean sonnet” (75). The British National Council of Arts actually tried this experiment with six monkeys and a computer. “After one month of hammering away at it (as well as using it as a bathroom!), the monkeys produced fifty typed pages—but not a single word” (76). They didn’t even create the one letter word a (because it needs a space on either side to be a word by itself).
Schroeder then crunches the numbers to calculate the probability of these monkeys randomly producing the 488 letters of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. The probability is 1in 10^690. My big brother is mathematician, so I asked him to tell me what 1 in 10^690 actually looks like. He said, “There are only about 10^80 atoms in the universe, so another way to describe 1 in 10^690 would be randomly picking the same atom in the entire universe nine(!) times in a row.” In other words, if all the atoms of the universe (approximately 10 with 80 zeros after it) were in a hat, and someone could pick one atom randomly, the odds of picking the very same atom nine times in a row is equivalent to the odds of monkeys producing a Shakespearean sonnet.
To put the probability another way: the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery are about 1 in 200,000,000. The odds of monkeys randomly producing the correct 488 letters is equivalent to the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery 74 consecutive times. In other words, you have better odds of playing Powerball once a week for 74 weeks and winning the jackpot every time than for monkeys to randomly produce a sequence of 488 letters. Four hundred eighty-eight is nothing compared to the 160,000,000,000 sequence of DNA in the human genome, which is claimed to have originated randomly from non-living matter in such a way that it can both live and reproduce.
These numbers and facts will never create faith, forgive sins, or offer salvation. Only God working through the Holy Spirit through the message of Jesus can do that. But if someone can’t hear about Jesus because of another objection, we are called to answer their objection with gentleness and respect. Then we can get back to witnessing to Jesus’ work. Tell your friends about the love of Christ. If they have objections or questions, then listen to them. Let us always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within us; and let us do it with gentleness and respect. May God grant it, to His glory and for the life of the world.