About the Darwin Monkey website and name
Darwin Monkey is the name of this website and the name given to the statue on offer here. The statue is a derivative work of the original Ape with Skull, and so it has been named differently to make that distinction.
And yes, a chimpanzee is not necessarily a monkey in formal taxonomy. But Darwin Monkey is often used when discussing the statue, and monkey is often heard used in connection with great apes, especially chimpanzees, but that doesn't necessaily qualify it as an appropriate name. So, if the chimp is not a monkey, and the only reference to Darwin is on the spine of the book, then why can we think of the statue as the Darwin Monkey?
One thought might be that the statue in part symbolizes Darwin's own studious career: his engagement with the question of human origins, his empiricism, the exacting inspection of his own ideas informed through his assessment of other literature, and ultimately his own realization of the conflict between evolution and creationism. The statue also interchanges a non-human hominid in what we might expect to be a position that could only be occupied by a human (the interchanging website banner echoes this switch: try refreshing the page a couple of times to see the different forms). The monkey is not "Darwin's" as much as it is being Darwin.
Some further justification may be found in this extract of a lecture from 1991 by Richard Dawkins,
The eminent astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle, has pointed out that it is just about as unlikely that any complex living structure could spring into existence suddenly, by luck alone. He said: "It is rather like taking a junkyard and letting a hurricane blow through it and the hurricane has the luck to spontaneously assemble a Boeing 747".
So here is our the junkyard, and the hurricane comes along, it's blowing like this. Hoyle's point is that the luck that would be necessary to spontaneously assemble a Boeing 747 like that is equivalent to the luck that you need in order to get something like an eye or a stick insect or hemoglobin molecule by sheer luck.
My reason for mentioning Hoyle's 747 is that I'm going to take his name in vain in the next demonstration.
We are going to have a computer monkey or rather we are going to have two computer monkeys, one called Hoyle and the other called Darwin. Both monkeys have the same task. Both have to type, not the complete works of Shakespeare, but one phrase from As You Like It: "More giddy in my desires than a monkey".
Hoyle types entirely at random. After every line that he types the computer checks to see if he has managed to hit the target line. If he does, the computer will stop, bells will ring, it will be the most improbable coincidence in the history of the world and I solemnly promise to eat my hat.
I would go further than that. I bet you everything I possess that it won't reach the phrase, shall we say, in the next 10 billion years.
I won't bet you. I will undertake to give everything I possess to the Royal Institution and here is the legal document signed by me which undertakes to make over everything I own to the Royal Institution in the event that the monkey Hoyle reaches the target phrase. But, of course, this is just to illustrate my confidence that chance on its own could never make an eye or a 747.
The real point of the demonstration is that the other monkey, Darwin, will get the target phrase. So what does Darwin do?
The same, but with a crucial difference. The Darwin monkey begins by typing a random phrase. So far the same as the Hoyle monkey. But now the computer breeds from that phrase. It breeds 50 offspring which are identical to the first phrase but with a tiny mutation, a tiny random difference in each of the 50 cases. The computer then looks at those 50 offspring and chooses the one which most resembles the target phrase, however slightly it resembles the target phrase.
So the generations go by and, generation after generation, it gradually becomes more and more like the target phrase.
Now, when I agreed to give these lectures I was told that I should always call members of the audience out to assist. But I was also told that it was silly to do this if all I was going to ask them to do was to come out and hit the return button on a computer. However, on this particular occasion, since so much is at stake, I thought it would be better if I did ask somebody who knows a lot about computers and is very good at pressing buttons, to come out and perform this onerous task. So, if anybody would like to volunteer...
Yes, right. Now, what's your name?
Well, you understand what's at stake, Andrew, do you? OK. Here is the target phrase, "More giddy in my desires than a monkey". There is the box where the Hoyle monkey is going to type. And there is the box where the Darwin monkey is going to type. Unless Bryson has been messing about with the program in order to deprive me of my worldly goods that is the way it is going to be. So, are you ready? Go!
Now you see the Hoyle monkey typing away entirely at random. The Darwin monkey is down here and I think we can begin to see something appearing in the Darwin's row.
"More giddy in my desires then the...
Bang. And he has got there. How long did that take? Anybody timed it? Not very long, I think. Andrew, thank you very much.
So I don't have to eat my hat and my worldly goods, such as they are, are safe. But the point really is not that Hoyle failed to reach the target. The point is that Darwin did reach the target and astonishingly quickly.
Well, there is a lot wrong with that as a demonstration of Darwinian natural selection. For one thing, it has a distant target in mind, which natural selection does not have. But it does, once again, show the key to the way out of the problem of mammoth improbability. Things like eyes and 747s that couldn't possibly spring into existence in a single, lucky shake of a dice, can come into existence if the luck is smeared out in many tiny steps and it is accumulated.