Typing Chimps


I promised someone this on Twitter, then took so long getting round to transcribing it that the person’s kind offer of a place to post it lapsed.

I’m therefore posting it here as otherwise all that typing practice will go to waste.  It’s my own peculiar verbatim style of transcription, which I trust will be excused. Only the [square brackets] are my editorial comments – the others are his.  The late AEW-S had a very plummy voice (a bit like Peter Sellers) so it helps complete the experience if you bear that in mind while reading.


AE Wilder-Smith – Oxford Union Debate 1986.

..Let’s go to the last point… in this august city where I was born (and I haven’t been back for 35 years) there was a debate in 1860 between Soapy Sam (Wilberforce) and …TH Huxley.  Huxley listened to Paley’s natural theology from Soapy Sam, got very very short with the poor old man, he says “Look we don’t want to say that because there’s a creation, there is a creator.  Let’s forget that, because I’m going to prove to you that can forget it”.  So Soapy Sam said “Do so”.  And he did it like this (TH Huxley).  And I’m going to use the same example to show the flaw in his thinking, as far as I can, and leave it to you to decide what you want to do with it.  He said “let’s take the 6 eternal typewriters” which you know all about – you’ve all read TH Huxley, haven’t you on this?  6 eternal typewriters, we’ll put 6 eternal apes on them who’ll never die, and we’ll let them strum on these things and they’ve got endless amounts of paper and endless amounts of ribbon, and endless amounts of ball-bearings so they never go to pieces.  OK?

Now he said at the end of eternity, or when eternity’s almost by (and I have great difficulties about that one, but that’s what he said). He said “when I look at the nonsense that they typed throughout all eternity, I find in the papers that they wrote, the 23rd Psalm.  ’The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’”.  Now Wilberforce got very annoyed about that, he said “It’s impossible”.

So Huxley said to him, “Look you’re a professor of mathematics, aren’t you?” So he said “Yes”.  Well he said don’t you know that the probability formula says that where T is infinite, and the amount of matter is infinite, the probability is 1.  That is, you will certainly get all events to take place if you have time and matter enough.  Now the earth is very old, we’ve got lots of time and lots of matter in the universe, therefore the probability is 1 that you, Bishop Wilberforce, are like the 23rd Psalm – you were formed without an author.  Because the 23rd Psalm was formed by strumming, you see, without David as the author.  Now as David’s Psalm was produced without David, said TH Huxley, so you according to probability law could be produced without a creator.

Now that argument is still recognised as valid today.  There was an article in The German [Scientist?] quite recently about it – it said anybody who didn’t know [..indistinct..] was ignorant.

Let’s take the flaw in the argument now.  May I ask you to look at this ever so carefully.  It is very difficult to see.  It took 40 degrees of frost in Chicago when I was crossing a pedestrian crossing when it suddenly flashed on me where the flaw in the argument was.  I got out of a train at 30 degrees centigrade and it was 40 degrees below outside and it suddenly dawned on me what had gone wrong.

Take not 6 eternal typewriters like Huxley had, you take one of those [indistinct] typewriters.  These are special typewriters which have a special lever in them.  When the lever is pushed to the left, they type like an ordinary typewriter.  That is when ‘A’ comes into my mind, or into the ape’s mind, he presses the key A, and A goes through the machine, onto the paper.  And there it stays.  When B comes into my mind, B goes down my arm, through the machine, onto the paper and it stays on the paper.

That’s how he got his Psalm, you see, by machines like that.

Then if you push the lever … round the other way, the machine types like this: A comes into my brain (or the ape’s brain – I don’t mind you comparing me with one) as you push the A key down, the A goes through the machine, onto the paper, stays there for a finite time, (did you listen carefully?) stays there for a finite time, then rises without trace from the paper, and goes back through the machine and into the ape’s or my brain.  That is, the machine types and untypes in a finite time – it is completely reversible (it was before the days of word processors).

Now if you had apes on a reversible typewriter like that, how long would it take to type the 23rd psalm on such machines?  Well obviously, if everything went back where it came from, they could type until kingdom come (for the theologians) and you’d never get anything out.

If that’s the case, remember this, that all the reactions on which the body works (chemically) are reversible, because they’re enzymatic reactions, and the enzymes only catalyse reversible reactions.  They are reversible typewriters.

Now you can’t do any synthesis unless you can do as [unclear] says – you’ve got to put any reaction to get structurisation [unclear] far away from equilibrium in order to do it.  Now information – surprise effects – in the genetic code, does it.  But to derive structurisation, evolutive speciation and biogenesis from natural law is just not science today.  You can’t do it.  You can only derive if you add to natural law, matter plus information, and if you think information comes from stochastic chemistry, then I’m afraid you’re beyond medical aid.

Thank you.

Dawkins sticks his neck out… like a giraffe


Just reflecting on something I missed out of my review of Richard Dawkins’ autobiography – an interesting diversion that didn’t really fit into an already long post.

When I read it, I thought, “He’s having a giraffe – is it wise for him to be that certain?”

It’s the bit where he pretty much stakes his reputation as a scientist on his idea that the route of a giraffe’s recurrent laryngeal nerve is bad design, and is therefore evidence that the theory of evolution best fits the facts.  Not only that, but he shackles a few other reputations to his concrete boots, and shuffles to the end of the pier.  He refers in the book to the acclaimed TV appearance, where a few more scientists and students get to watch and participate in The Making of an Embarrassment.

It wasn’t until recently that I had a look at the video, which I could only find here, but this is the link to Channel 4’s site containing the episode description below:

Veterinary scientist Mark Evans acts as guide as a team of experts investigate the giraffe.

Creationists question how this extraordinary creature could have evolved such a long neck, but for evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins the anatomy of the world’s tallest animal provides some of the best arguments in favour of Darwinian natural selection.

For example, one nerve takes a huge detour up and down the long neck, from the voice box to the brain, via the chest – hardly the work of an `Intelligent Designer’. And, despite its length, the neck still only has seven vertebrae – the same number as almost all mammals, from mice to humans and whales.

But it’s no wonder the giraffe has the highest blood pressure of any animal; with a heart not much bigger than our own it must pump blood at high pressure around a towering body. It has evolved thick skin that acts as a natural ‘G-suit’ and a complex circulation system to avoid passing out when raising and lowering its head.

In fewer words, “This giraffe’s nerve is poor design, says confessedly poor designer”.

The thing that really stuck in my throat is the hypocritical value system that makes these case-closing assumptions, while at the same time accusing religious people of obstructing the progress of science by just answering ‘God did it’ to scientific questions. Then they have the nerve to claim to be ‘Bright’ bringers of knowledge and honest study.  Just on that point alone, I’m choking and coughing.

In response to a question that could have led to more study, Dawkins answer ‘it’s a fish thing’ effectively says –

  • It isn’t good design, it’s bad.
  • I know, because like the lady says, it would be better going 2 inches than all that way.  It shows what happens when a fish happens to get stretched into a giraffe over millions of years.  Definitely.
  • Because it’s bad design, and I know the fish thing is the answer, you needn’t look for anything else.  Nothing to see here.
    • If you look for something else, you’re wasting valuable research grants based on an evil and stupid world view.  Did you not hear me Ted?  It’s simple fish stretching, so it is.

Well, I don’t have a research grant or a reputation – I just have an dangerous world view and because of it, a stupid question:

What happens if a giraffe coughs while drinking?

To me, this is really interesting.  I got the impression the guy at the end of the video had a similar curiosity, but he had to bow to Dawkins’ God-like knowledge of prehistoric fishes and their progeny.  All sorts of questions spring out of this nerve detour:

  • Giraffe blood pressure is really high – does that have a bearing on the detour past the heart?
  • No – that’s silly – why would there be a connection between swallowing / voice and the heart?
  • Do we understand everything that happens when a giraffe bends over to drink?
  • As in communication cables, does length bring delay?  Could that be a positive instead of a negative?  Does length even matter in a nerve (probably not)?
  • There must be more study & observation done on humans than giraffes – what happens when disease or accident messes with this signal?  Are there unexpected side-effects?
  • Is there a purely observation-based, non-ideological comment on this nerve?
  • Is there a medically informative lesson from this giraffe that could help people who are ill?

I had this insatiable appetite for wonder thing going on, and my question was given a fig leaf of rationality by the last paragraph of the Channel 4 summary which talked of mechanisms that regulated the raising & lowering of the long neck below the heart level.  What does the larynx do apart from make noises and swallow?

When I finished coughing, I saw that others had already cited Gray’s Anatomy on the nerve’s status as a distribution of the vagus nerve, and I found Wikipedia on the larynx:


The most important role of the larynx is its protecting function; the prevention of foreign objects from entering the lungs by coughing and other reflexive actions. A cough is initiated by a deep inhalation through widely abducted (open) vocal folds, followed by the elevation of the larynx and the tight adduction (closing) of the vocal folds. The forced expiration that follows, assisted by tissue recoil and the muscles of expiration, blows the vocal folds apart, and the high pressure expels the irritating object out of the throat. Throat clearing is less violent than coughing, but is a similar increased respiratory effort countered by the tightening of the laryngeal musculature. Both coughing and throat clearing are predictable and necessary actions because they clear the respiratory passageway, but both place the vocal folds under great strain and can be catastrophic to a trained voice.

Another important role of the larynx is abdominal fixation, a kind of Valsalva maneuver in which the lungs are filled with air in order to stiffen the thorax so that forces applied for lifting can be translated down to the legs. This is achieved by a deep inhalation followed by the adduction of the vocal folds. Grunting while lifting heavy objects is the result of some air escaping through the adducted vocal folds ready for phonation.

Abduction of the vocal folds is important during physical exertion. The vocal folds are separated by about 8 mm (0.31 in) during normal respiration, but this width is doubled during forced respiration.

During swallowing, the backward motion of the tongue forces the epiglottis over the glottis’ opening to prevent swallowed material from entering the larynx which leads to the lungs; the larynx is also pulled upwards to assist this process. Stimulation of the larynx by ingested matter produces a strong cough reflex to protect the lungs.

So if a giraffe coughed with its head down below its heart, would it blow its head clean off?  If coughing can ruin a singer’s voice, is all this extravagant length of nerve just to protect the rarely used voice function?  Is the nerve’s connection with the vagus system part of an unobserved control network?  Does it, as some have suggested, have a structural function to stop the heart rattling around?

That last one could even be an evolutionist’s reasonable question.  Mostly, they’re the sort of questions only a faith-head like me would ask, so I’ll leave it here until someone studies my questions properly.  If anyone has, please feel free to tell me.

Until then, I’ll make regular visits to the end of this pier, where Dawkins’ reputation waits in concrete boots for a real scientist to tip it over the end.  My last post on this subject called us to pray for him – this one wonders whether being relieved of his vestigial reputation could be the start of his redemption.


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