Intelligent Design Self-replication

At Evolution News: More on Self-Replicating Machines

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Professor of Mathematics, Granville Sewell, writes:

Imagine 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.

For the rest of the article, see Evolution News.

Using Professor Sewell’s notation, what is needed for ongoing self-replication is a Model W that produces other Model W’s. Each Model W produces not just a sterile Model T, or a Model U that can only produce sterile Model T’s, nor even a Model V that can only produce a Model U. Perhaps we could call this fully self-replicating version a Model VW.ID..

3 Replies to “At Evolution News: More on Self-Replicating Machines

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    Fasteddious says:

    I don’t think this iterative, infinite regress process disproves anything. Never mind cars, let’s try a self-reproducing factory, which uses available energy of some sort and materials of various sorts readily available in the environment. With enough smarts and several design iterations (by humans), it should be possible to design a robot that can do any simple task assigned to it. It should also be possible to design a 3D printer that can itself be made of reasonable materials, and which can make robot pieces (e.g. printable integrated circuits). Then all that is needed is the software for the robot to use to make all the pieces it needs to construct a second factory including another 3D printer and a second robot. Yes this would be a difficult task, but aside from getting the bugs out of the various designs and their software, there is no infinite regression as long as the human is driving the design (he can see ahead to know what will be needed in the final product). Once the factory is up and running, we may expect it to produce a clone of itself and then each one makes one more, and so on. Why anyone would want to do this is beside the question.
    So I don’t buy the author’s infinite regress scenario. However, I do buy into his concern that random faults or copy errors would eventually shut down the production, leaving partially completed or non-functional factories dotting the landscape. And if any of the energy or material sources dried up or changed significantly, the factory would not be able to adapt without infusion of new information (software upgrade – DNA?). Making the factory able to handle minor glitches or external changes would require a whole other level of smarts, making the resulting super-factory even more prone to glitches.
    Nevertheless, this self-reproducing factory scenario must be possible, at least in principle. After all, we do have life forms all around us that manage to do that quite well. Just using different technology.

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    relatd says:

    Robots building other robots is the best they can do. You’ll have to give a robot a human brain and a human body to go out and get the materials to build a copy of itself from scratch.

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