Papa Makes a Humdinger
|February 19, 2010||Posted by Barry Arrington under Intelligent Design|
My grandfather, about whom I have written before in these pages, was an extraordinary man. Born in 1910, he left school after the second grade to go to work shortly after the great flu pandemic of 1918. He was, however, a prodigious autodidact, and when he died his library ran into the thousands of volumes. He had many talents, but his true genius lay in things mechanical. He was a highly skilled tool and die maker at a multi-national manufacturing company, and it was ironic but not unusual for college educated engineers to consult with this second grade dropout on particularly thorny problems.
Papa also made machines for his own amusement, and what wonderful, whimsical, marvelous machines he made. I remember one machine in particular. On a large platform stood several mechanical men about six inches tall. The men were animated by an electric motor attached to a series of pulleys and levers out of sight underneath the platform.
When one turned the machine on the first man bent over and operated a lever that released a small metal ball to roll down a ramp. A second man bent over, picked the ball up, stood up, turned to his right and dropped the ball into the hands of a third man, who turned to his right and tossed the ball through the air into a basket. The next man caught the ball when it dropped out of the bottom of the basket and turned around and dropped the ball into a tube. The next two men worked in tandem. The first poked the second in the rear end with a pitchfork, which caused him to rear up with a sledgehammer and strike a target, which appeared to cause a blast of air that propelled the ball through the tube into a glass covered maze. The ball then wended its way through the maze and exited onto the same ramp where it began. When I was a boy I used to sit for hours at a time watching the little men pass the ball around.
Now suppose that instead of living in the last century my grandfather were to live in the next century with access to the fantastical, yet undreamt of technology that will be commonplace one hundred years from now. Suppose further that papa were to use that technology to build a new whimsical machine that we will call a Humdinger. A Humdinger is a tiny robot made of plastic and metal controlled by a computer using standard binary programming code that does one and only one thing – it makes exact copies of itself, each of which in turn makes an exact copy of itself and so on until they run out of building material. Finally, suppose my grandfather takes an extended vacation and while he is gone someone walks into his shop and observes the little Humdingers working away making exact copies of themselves.
Consider the following questions:
1. Is there any doubt that the observer will conclude that someone must have built these Humdingers? That is to say, he concludes that it is certain that the Humdingers were designed for a purpose and they are not the product of unguided natural forces.
2. If the observer takes a Humdinger apart and sees that it is made of metal and plastic and is guided by a binary computer program, will he not conclude further that the Humdinger was built by a fellow human and there is absolutely no need to posit divine cause for the Humdingers?
3. Suppose that instead of using metal and plastic to build the Humdinger, papa were to use carbon based materials. And suppose further that instead of using a binary computer code to regulate its movements, he used a much more complicated quaternary code. Would a design inference that does not require resort to a divine power be any less warranted?
Here is how I would answer these questions:
1. No, the design inferences is inescapable.
2. Yes, it is obvious that he is examining a sophisticated example of the type of machines that have been around for decades.
3. No. In fact, this new machine is even more sophisticated than the original Humdinger, which means that if anything, the design inference is strengthened.
Every living cell is a self-replicating carbon based nanobot controlled by a complicated quaternary code. Why should the design inference be any less compelled than for a Humdinger?