Intelligent Design

Replicating Machine Contest

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I plan to award a prize to anyone who can invent a non-trivial 3D machine which can replicate itself. The machine must be able to make copies of itself without human intervention, except possibly to supply the raw materials. Basically a 3D printer which can print a copy of itself which retains the ability to print a copy of itself, which… A page which can be photocopied does not count, because it is the photocopier which actually makes the copy, unless the photocopy machine also makes a copy of itself; a computer program which duplicates itself does not count unless the computer it runs on makes a copy of itself also.

The prize: the right to speculate about how life originated. Leave your artificial species alone and see how many generations it lasts before going extinct. If it makes accurate copies of itself for 100+ generations, then you also win the right to speculate about how genetic duplication errors might accumulate into major evolutionary advances.

In this German TV interview, W.E.Loennig complains about scientists who will admit they haven’t any idea how to synthesize a blade of grass, yet insist they have no doubt about how it came to exist. It is the astonishing fact that living species are able to replicate themselves without significant degradation, generation after generation, while awaiting rare beneficial accidents, which makes Darwinism seem even superficially plausible. It seems you should be required to have some understanding of how self-replication could happen in engineered machines, before speculating about how life acquired this ability by pure chance and used it to evolve.

And to really appreciate how astonishing reproduction is, especially in higher animals like us, please watch the video below.

10 Replies to “Replicating Machine Contest

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Very interesting!

  2. 2
    john_a_designer says:

    [The following is something that I have written a couple times before, on other threads, which I think is worth is repeating here.]

    The origin of life is like the origin of the universe. It appears to be a singular, non-repeating, highly improbable event which occurred very early in earth’s history. Furthermore all the clues of how and why it occurred have been lost. But then added to that problem are other problems: how does chemistry create code? What is required to create an autonomously self-replicating system which has the possibility of evolving into something more complex? The naturalist/ materialist then compounds the problem by demanding a priori that the origin of life must be completely natural– undirected without an intelligent plan or purpose.

    That seems like it was a miracle… Well, maybe it was. But a completely “naturalistic miracle” seems to be an absurd self-defeating claim for the naturalist/materialist to make.

    One of my pipe dreams as a real life (now retired) machine designer is to design a self-replicating machine or automata– the kind that was first envisioned by mathematician John von Neumann. My vision is not a machine that could replicate itself from already existing parts but a machine– well actually machines– which could replicate themselves from raw material they would find on a rocky planet in some distant star system.

    One practical advantage of such machines is they could be sent out in advance some far-in-the-distant-future expedition to terraform a suitable planet in another star system preparing it for colonist who might arrive centuries or millennia later.

    By analogy, that is what the first living cells which originated on the early earth had to do.

    Even the simplest prokaryote cell is on the sub-cellular level a collection of machines networked together to replicate the whole system. To suggest that somehow the first cell emerged by some fortuitous accident is betray an ignorance how really complex primitive cells are.

    Try thinking this through on a more macro level, as I have described above, and I think you will begin to appreciate how really daunting the problem is.

    The problem with Dr. Sewell’s challenge is that to meet it you have to start with an already existing machine (which has the potential to replicate itself) and that is what really needs to be explained. If you are a naturalist/materialist and you can’t explain that– where the first natural self-replicating machines came from– then all bets are off and ID wins– game, set, match!

  3. 3
    johnnyb says:

    FYI – for a good discussion of self-replicators and their issues, the last three chapters of “Engineering and the Ultimate” go into great depth on them.

  4. 4
    Granville Sewell says:

    Johnnyb,
    I did a “look inside this book” (some pages missing, of course) at your reference chapters and I had no idea there were already several studies on feasibility of my proposed Simplest Self Replicator (by NASA and others). Very interesting, could you summarize these chapters—size of proposed SSRs (100 tons for lunar “seed” factory), etc. Obviously the problem is recognized to be extremely difficult…but I wonder if even these hypothetical SSRs, far beyond current technology, would be expected to replicate themselves for many generations, or just a few? These chapters seem to make the point very nicely, that the simplest possible life has to be incredibly complex, please elaborate a little for our “audience”!

  5. 5

    Here is the youtube presentation The Design of the Simplest Self-Replicator at the 2014 Engineering and Metaphysics Conference that was the basis of the three chapters in the Engineering and the Ultimate book linked above by Johnnyb.

    The book developed and extended significantly the ideas from the presentation.

  6. 6
    Granville Sewell says:

    InVivoVeritas,

    Thanks for the video!

    Applying Behe’s “Principle of Comparative Difficulty” I would say until we can intelligently design an SSR, we shouldn’t even try to explain how one could arise by chance. And after watching your video, I’d say a human-designed SSR is a very long way off, and one which can self-replicate indefinitely without significant degradation is surely forever beyond our capabilities. Not to mention one which evolves rather than devolves!

  7. 7
    john_a_designer says:

    What does self-replication actually get us? I think that is the key question that we need to consider first. I don’t think it gets us very far. I think, if we are intellectually honest, it raises more questions than it answers.

    For example, I think the very fact of self-replication raises the question of what I call “evolvability.” Is self-replication alone sufficient for the progeny of a simple cell to evolve into something more complex? For example, is the ability of a smallest known prokaryote, Mycoplasma genitalium, to replicate, sufficient for its progeny to eventually evolve into a eukaryote? (A lot of Darwinists without proof or evidence would “argue” yes.) Do all eukaryotes have the potential of evolving into multicellular life forms? What is it that gives them that potential? And of course, from there follow the questions about higher life forms… specialization and diversification on not only organisms but the specialized cellular architecture and organs within distinct organisms. In other words, if they evolved what are the sufficient conditions for them to evolve? Can evolution, as the naturalist/ materialist believe, occur without evolution itself being designed?

  8. 8
    ET says:

    Spiegelman’s Monster is an obstacle for any OoL scenario that starts out with molecular replicators. It demonstrates what we observe every day- that nature tends towards the most simple and efficient solutions, ie the line of least resistance.

  9. 9
    john_a_designer says:

    Kirk Durston in a recent article at Evolution News entitled, “Inferential Science — What Could Go Wrong?” makes a number of points which I think are pertinent to the discussion here.

    The rational justification for an inductive conclusion is the likelihood it is true, given the data. It is often the case in forensic science that the evidence is so strong, that the probability the conclusion is true is very high. In evolutionary biology, however, conclusions can sometimes be made in the absence of data sufficient to even calculate a probability, or despite probabilities that are so vanishingly minuscule it is irrational to draw an inductive conclusion.

    Example #1: Origin-of-Life Scenarios

    Evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonin has argued that the probability of the emergence of RNA replication is so small, we cannot expect it to occur anywhere in the universe. Yet modern science has already committed to the foregone conclusion that blind and mindless natural processes created life. Recall that the validity of an inductive conclusion rests on its probability, given the data. The minuscule probability of RNA replication exposes this inference as devoid of rational justification, at least given the present data.

    Example #2: Common Descent from a Simple Cell

    Modern science is firmly committed to the belief that if we can just get life started, large-scale evolution is a foregone conclusion, leading to the huge diversity of life we see today. This would have required the origin of thousands of different protein families by blind and mindless processes. There are many creative stories in evolutionary biology that imagine how this could happen. Indeed, it is assumed by some to be inevitable. However, the actual, real-world data say otherwise…

    https://evolutionnews.org/2019/04/inferential-science-what-could-go-wrong/

    These aren’t really conclusions rather they are assumptions based on a naturalistic/materialistic world view. As such they are NOT logical inferences derived from the evidence but a priori philosophical commitments that are faith based.

  10. 10
    EricMH says:

    On the software level there are quines, which are self replicating programs. However, they get the hardware level for free, which is much more complex to assemble.

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