As I (mis)understand the laws of physics, there is nothing preventing a toaster from suddenly jumping into existence from nothingness. The odds against it are in the fergetaboutit range, but that assumes the universe is only a tad over 14 billion years old. And it assumes there aren't many universes.

Suppose the Big Bang was just a Big Comma, separating what came before from what came after. After a trillion years times a trillion, the toaster's odds of springing into existence improve. The same holds true if there are lots more universes that we don't know about.

Now suppose instead of a toaster, a robot jumps into existence. (Hey, if you believed a toaster could materialize, it's not such a big leap.)  The hypothetical robot is coincidentally hardened against the harsh forces of the universe and capable of surviving almost anything. Its program, created by entirely random forces, tells it to manipulate the building blocks of nature to create life in a way that allowed evolution to occur.

In such a hypothetical situation, would you say Intelligent Design was involved in creating the universe Remember, while the robot might be extraordinarily capable, he has no free will. And his intelligence isn't the sort we generally attribute to a designer. The robot had no reason to create life. It simply followed its program.

What interests me about this hypothetical question is that most people won't be able to answer it with a yes or a no because it smells like a trap.

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +5
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Nov 14, 2008
The question of "intelligence" has little to do with it in my opinion; it is the design part which is relevant in your question. Whether its reason is that it wanted to create (a choice) or it followed is programming (no choice). It is design, as opposed to no design, even if the robot appearing is random. It does not take away from the "fact (hypothetically)" that it designed life.

Now a step further, supposing that this situation is true, does that mean we should look to the robot to find out something about life? Suppose it just knew how to put amino acids (and what ever else is in a cell) together to form the first one celled organism. Do we have anything to learn from it?
Nov 14, 2008
It isn't ID because design is a myth. Design requires intent, and intent requires free will (unless pure physics and chemical reactions count as intent).

Also, this isn't a hypothetical - human beings are basically robots that sprung into existence, and now that we're researching genetics, we might as well be as powerful as a god (really, people get freaked out about cloning for this very reason). Combine this with your Donut Theory, Scott, and you've got a complete theory about how humans created themselves. Did you get your Nobel Prize yet?
Nov 14, 2008
I read the article, and the bit about the protein feedback control was pretty neat. It made me wonder...what would be the feedback for a galaxy creator? And then I thought, prayer perhaps.
Nov 14, 2008
The answer is yes. For me the essence of Agnosticicm is believing that all possibilites are feasible; both the ones we've thought of and ones we haven't.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2008
I almost fell into your dastardly trap with a quick yes answer , but then I realized that it all depends on what you really mean by ROBOT. Are we talking about a:

R andomly
O ccuring
B iogenetic
O riginating
T ransmogrifier

or a:

R elativistic
O ntological
B enevolent
O mnipotent
T hingamabob
Nov 14, 2008
This question of free will intrigued me to such a degree that I went straight to the source of all knowledge. As soon as I entered 'free will' into Google, I knew I had hit pay dirt. 276,000,000 results were instantly at my disposal. I took about 5 minutes to fully absorb the array of wisdom before me, til I realized it was just a bunch of gobbledygook about religion & philosophy & stuff. It kinda made my head hurt. Thus discovering that I must have made some sort of entry error in the beginning, I went back and filled in 'free wills'. Only 504,000 entries! Much easier to understand. And I can assure you that free wills do exist. I really don't know what all the controversy was about. You folks should get out more often.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2008
Scott, read up on the "Boltzmann brain paradox".

The theory is based on the same idea of reality coming about by random fluctuations in the universe. Except, isn't it more likely that rather than chance creating an entire universe, it just created a tiny universe with just a naked brain floating in space, with random memories of a past?

According to the theory, the universe probably doesn't exist. You don't even exist, and never have. You're just a brain, and in this instant while you still survive, you only think you remember your past life, and are only dreaming this moment.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2008
It's really a lovely doughnut.

If only we could realize that "outside the material world" makes no sense, we'd possibly have better access to the baker. Perhaps we might even realize that we are the baker. Oh, wait, that came from "God's Debris", didn't it?
Nov 14, 2008

Picture of how brain neurons look like the galaxy. I think this may be a good show of how the universe we see is just program within a computer. SO whatyou say in this post could just be true.
Nov 14, 2008
I'd actually answer and say yes to your question since the way you've described it (someone or something creating all that exists, especially the self-aware, logical creatures that then think there has to be a reason for everything and something MUST have created it to explain it all away) really equates to what Intelligent Design truly tries to explain but renames (creation has become politically unaccecptable to say or had so many holes shot into it, marketers got toegther to help them re-brand).

The simplest explanation is usually the one that's right. And, here, the simpliest is not that someone or something made everything. It's that it just is and changes. Just because most can't comprehend or want to comprehend that doesn't make it more complex.
Nov 14, 2008
Yes, I'd say randomly created intelligence is still intelligence. I think a religious person would be more inclined to answer no, ironically.
Nov 14, 2008
I have been a lurker on your blog for about three years, and I just now created an account only to thank you for going back to your thought provoking blog entries.
Nov 14, 2008
It takes less faith & less hula hoop jumps to believe that God did it.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2008
Scott -

Allow me to tie together a few of your recent themes. First, in yesterday's post, you showed a link to an article stating that the basis evolutionary changes aren't random, but rather guided by natural processes. Likewise, you (and I) believe that free will exists only as an illusion. These two ideas can come together to suggest that there is actually no such thing as "random." The concept of "random" is an illusion just like free will.

A recent animated strip of yours cited the whole business of a bunch of monkeys with typewriters given sufficient time would eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. That example is a favorite of statistics teachers, and is used to explain the concept of randomness. However, the article in yesterday's post casts doubt on the existence of randomness. Without randomness, a toaster or robot could not spontaneously come into existence. Likewise, the monkeys won't duplicate Shakespeare.

Now, I also will go a step further and say that free will and randomness are essentially the same thing. If one exists, the other must. In other words, if you believe in the existence of randomness, you can't possibly believe that free will does not exist. The idea that free will doesn't exist is built upon the theory that all thoughts and actions are pre-determined, and based strictly on chemical reactions. But if randomness exists, then there would be a non-zero chance that a random event would alter the reaction. This would essentially be the same thing as free will.

None of this conflicts with your doughnut theory of the universe, although none of it actually supports that theory, either. I like that theory, because it's clean and complete. I don't like it because billions of years from now, I'm going to have to sit down and explain this to you all over again.
Nov 14, 2008
If the robot can spontaneously materialise, then why not the whole universe (anyone for a Big Bang)?
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2008
Lame question that's going to make me look like some big feminist... why exactly is this randomly generated intelligent robot a male?
Nov 14, 2008
Although there's nothing preventing a toaster from leaping into existence, the odds against it are gigantic. At the same time, you may wish to review your thermodynamics, in particular the second law, which states that entropy increases with time.

This means that closed systems tend to increase their disorder over time. This applies to the system as a whole. One could argue, then, that life is anti-entropic, as it is a sub-system that moves from random to more orderly as time increases; however, the heat it generates adds more to the disorder of the universe than is countered by life's anti-entropic existence.

One of the best arguments I've heard for the existence of God is the fact of life itself. Since the universe is moving to a state of disorder, how the heck did life happen at all? In the hypothetical of your robot, the actual answer to your question is that the robot itself creating life would not be an example of intelligent design; however, the fact that the robot came into existence at all could be.

Someone posting here recently made an analogy to two ants sitting on a table, with the ants incorrectly saying the table was God, and used that example to say how humans seeing God in the universe was just as silly. Actually, just the opposite is true. If two ants sat on a table and said, "This table wasn't created, it just exists," they would be wrong. In fact, the table was created. So was the universe. So was your hypothetical robot. Regardless of what the robot did, or how it came to be, the root question is, how did it happen at all? If there is no creation, then how did it all get created?

Food for thought, for sure.
Nov 14, 2008
As I said at MIT after bringing up this exact scenario with some computer scientists, neuroscientists and physicists... "we've already established that... now we're just quibbling about the price".

Really, what you outline above is pretty much the standard accepted theory among my set. The questions are, was the robot executing ten lines of code or a thousand, (definitely not much more or less, if on the long side, the complexity probably does come from us 'anthropically') and is the resulting evolution entirely deterministic or largely random.
Nov 14, 2008
Yes, the phenomenon you describe is allowed by quantum mechanics. By corollary, the robot (or anything else) could also spontaneously disappear into the fabric of the universe.

As we understand such events, they are absolutely and completely random, with no known way of making them happen or preventing their occurrence. Therefore such an occurrence could not imply "intelligent" design in any way unless you are prepared to call the robot--which was programmed randomly and only did what random chance told it to do--intelligent. If you did, you would have to completely redefine intelligence as a subset of random events that makes certain desirable things happen, as opposed to the rest of the possible random events that either make undesirable things happen (which would presumably be called "stupidity") or make nothing happen ("average?" Or perhaps "non-sentient"). Some might consider this a stretch--it seems as though most people would rather consider the robot to be "intelligent" only if it had the option of disregarding its programming, which would imply free will. Which brings us back to the question of whether that even exists--within the proposed scenario, I would have to say that no, free will does not exist. The only way that the robot could disobey its programming would be if some other random and extremely unlikely quantum event caused it not to--and then it's the universe talking, not the robot itself.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2008
No. The robot (or toaster, or whatever) springing into existence is entirely a matter of chance. So anything the robot then does is as a consequence of a chance occurance. Chance is not intelligent design. The whole point of intelligent design is that it is the opposite of chance, it is guided. If the guider is guided by a program that came into being by chance, then it all comes back to chance.

Of course, the most likely thing the robot would do would be to disappear again instantly - that's what tends to happen to the sub-atomic particles that have been observed to come into being spontaneously (from what little I've read or hears).
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog