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More on Self-Replicating Machines

Photo credit: ModelTMitch, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

In a post earlier this month, I outlined “Three Realities Chance Can’t Explain That Intelligent Design Can.” The post showed some of the problems with materialist explanations for how the four fundamental, unintelligent forces of physics alone could have rearranged the fundamental particles of physics on Earth into computers and science texts and smart phones. I drew a comparison to self-replicating machines:

[I]magine that we did somehow manage to design, say, a fleet of cars with fully automated car-building factories inside, able to produce new cars — and not just normal new cars, but new cars with fully automated car-building factories inside them. Who could seriously believe that if we left these cars alone for a long time, the accumulation of duplication errors made as they reproduced themselves would result in anything other than devolution, and eventually could even be organized by selective forces into more advanced automobile models?

A More Careful Look

But I don’t think this makes sufficiently clear what a difficult task it would be to create truly self-replicating cars. So let’s look at this more carefully. We know how to build a simple Ford Model T car. Now let’s build a factory inside this car, so that it can produce Model T cars automatically. We’ll call the new car, with the Model T factory inside, a “Model U.” A car with an entire automobile factory inside, which never requires any human intervention, is far beyond our current technology, but it doesn’t seem impossible that future generations might be able to build a Model U. 

Of course, the Model U cars are not self-replicators, because they can only construct simple Model T’s. So let’s add more technology to this car so that it can build Model U’s, that is, Model T’s with car-building factories inside. This new “Model V” car, with a fully automated factory inside capable of producing Model U’s (which are themselves far beyond our current technology), would be unthinkably complex. But is this new Model V now a self-replicator? No, because it only builds the much simpler Model U. The Model V species will become extinct after two generations, because their children will be Model U’s, and their grandchildren will be infertile Model T’s! 

So Back to Work 

Each time we add technology to this car, to move it closer to the goal of reproduction, we only move the goalposts, because now we have a more complicated car to reproduce. It seems that the new models would grow exponentially in complexity, and one begins to wonder if it is even theoretically possible to create self-replicating machines. Yet we see such machines all around us in the living world. You and I are two examples. And here we have ignored the very difficult question of where these cars get the metals and rubber and other raw materials they need to supply their factories.

Of course, materialists will say that evolution didn’t create advanced self-replicating machines directly. Instead, it only took a first simple self-replicator and gradually evolved it into more and more advanced self-replicators. But beside the fact that human engineers still have no idea how to create any “simple” self-replicating machine, the point is, evolutionists are attributing to natural causes the ability to create things much more advanced than self-replicating cars (for example, self-replicating humans), which seem impossible, or virtually impossible, to design. I conceded in my earlier post (and in my video “A Summary of the Evidence for Intelligent Design”) that human engineers might someday construct a self-replicating machine. But even if they do, that will not show that life could have arisen through natural processes. It will only have shown that it could have arisen through design. 

Design by Duplication Errors

Anyway, as I wrote there, even if we could create self-replicating cars, who could seriously believe that the duplication errors made as they reproduced themselves could ever lead to major advances? (And even intelligent, conscious machines eventually.) Surely an unimaginably complex machine like a self-replicating car could only be damaged by such errors, even when filtered through natural selection. We are so used to seeing animals and plants reproduce themselves with minimal degradation from generation to generation that we don’t realize how astonishing this really is. We really have no idea how living things are able to pass their current complex structures on to their descendants, much less how they could evolve even more complex structures.

When mathematicians have a simple, clear proof of a theorem, and a long, complicated counterargument, full of unproven assumptions and questionable arguments, we accept the simple proof, even before we find the errors in the complicated counterargument. The argument for intelligent design could not be simpler or clearer: unintelligent forces alone cannot rearrange atoms into computers and airplanes and nuclear power plants and smart phones, and any attempt to explain how they can must fail somewhere because they obviously can’t. Since many scientists are not impressed by such simple arguments, my post was an attempt to point out some of the errors in the materialist’s three-step explanation for how they could. And to say that all three steps are full of unproven assumptions and questionable arguments is quite an understatement. 

At the least, it should now be clear that while science may be able to explain everything that has happened on other planets by appealing only to the unintelligent forces of nature, trying to explain the origin and evolution of life on Earth is a much more difficult problem, and intelligent design should at least be counted among the views that are allowed to be heard. Indeed, this is already starting to happen.