Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Writing Boy

The automaton (HT: ENV) featured in this video is a work of genius. It was developed in the 18th century by a Swiss clockmaker named Pierre Jaquet-Droz and can be programmed to write almost any sentence. It's all mechanism - no mind, no soul, no free will, just cams and gears. It's an apt metaphor for how metaphysical naturalism views the human person:

If human beings really are just flesh and bone automata then it's hard to see how we can avoid the conclusion that men and women have no objective dignity, worth, or inherent rights. There's no reason to see or treat human beings any differently than we do a machine. Unfortunately, wherever and whenever that idea has taken hold among those who have power the predictable result has been mass death and destruction. Ideas have consequences.

At any rate, one difference between the automaton and the human person, according to the naturalist, is that the automaton is intelligently designed whereas a human is not. The naturalist has to say this, of course, on pain of being no longer a naturalist, but it certainly seems odd. It taxes our sense of both wonder and credulity to think that an intelligent clockmaker could be so brilliant as to make the writing boy yet we are to insouciantly accept that blind nature, acting randomly and purely through purposeless processes could produce a real human or even just a single living cell, both of which are almost infinitely more complex than is this automaton.

We have evidence that intelligent agents can produce such wonders, but we have no evidence that such wonders can be produced by unintelligent, impersonal forces. The naturalist's belief that they can and have is simply an expression of blind faith.