Programmed Machines Have No Rights?

When a belief system is irrational and unsupported by verifiable facts, its proponents inevitably get themselves snarled up in contradictory statements. That’s what just happened to the Discovery Institute in two recent posts.

One of their constant dogmas is that our DNA is like computer code, because it was literally coded by their intelligent designer — blessed be he! They insist that there’s no way — absolutely no way! — DNA could have evolved naturally. They just repeated all of that today in Cornell Researchers Find Another Epigenetic Code that Affects Messenger-RNA Productivity, which has no author’s byline.

We’ll skip their description of some recent research, and jump right to their conclusion. The bold font was added by us for emphasis:

The essence of a “code” is that it bears information.


What we see here is another Signature in the Cell [link to an ad for Stephen Meyer’s book]. Intelligent design advocates are not surprised to find codes and switches in irreducibly complex systems.


Darwinian evolution, by contrast, has a big challenge in explaining how multiple players mutated together by chance to hit upon a language convention. What do unguided, blind processes know about codes? What do they understand about information? In short, nothing.

Routine Discoveroid blather. And yet, this appeared at their creationist blog only four days ago: Robots Will Always Be Machines, Not Persons. It was written by Wesley J. Smith, a Discoveroid “Senior Fellow” and a lawyer. His specialty is “Human Exceptionalism,” which is Discoveroid code for “In His Image.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

The mechanical “woman” above [in a video] — through her human-written program — speaks of one day having a family and being a person. Indeed, many in transhumanism and bioethics one day hope to establish robot rights or machine rights.

Never. No matter how sophisticated a computer is, it will always just be a machine — dependent on its programming, whether or not self-written.

But … but … according to the Discoveroids, we too are dependent on the programming of our DNA. Why is Wesley so prejudiced against robots? He says:

And no robot could ever truly “create” art. Art is a distinctly human and subjective enterprise, not based on wired-in programming.

What? According to the Discoveroids, everything we do is based on the “information” programmed into our DNA by their transcendental designer. Wesley doesn’t care. He tells us:

By the way, I have been called a “bigot” for asserting that only humans — not machines, animals, nature, or plants — should have enforceable rights. That’s faulty reasoning. There is a proper hierarchy of moral worth, and humans are at the apex.

How many bigots have made exactly that claim on behalf of their group, so they could dominate their “inferiors”? Wesley continues:

Even enemies of human exceptionalism understand this, which is why they are always looking for analogous capacities among lesser entities — whether animals or AI computers/robots — as a means to bootstrap them into a position of moral equality with us. It’s not going to work.

Wesley obviously hasn’t seen The Measure of a Man, the Star Trek episode where Lt. Commander Data’s rights were the issue. And now we come to the end:

Only we have moral and legally enforceable duties. No machine, animal, plant, or river can ever be morally accountable for anything. Only we are true bearers of rights.

Something is wrong here. If human DNA is coded by the designer, we have no more rights than that female robot. It’s splendidly ironic that Wesley is oblivious to the problem created by Discoveroid dogma.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Programmed Machines Have No Rights?

  1. Thank you.

  2. The Measure of a Man is a favorite episode, but on an semi-serious note..
    I find this Intelligent design advocates are not surprised to find codes and switches in irreducibly complex systems confusing.
    Are they saying that something can be irreducibly complex and contain things that may or may not be irreducibly complex like codes and switches?
    So an irreducibly complex system that has a switch turned on for a function to do A is as irreducibly complex as the same system with the switch turned off that now does something completely different?
    I’d wait for a definition of irreducibly complex, but I think that’s going to be a long wait.

  3. michaelfugate

    One wonders why God did not reveal to humans how to do medicine, but instead designed other machines, similar to but not the same as humans, so that humans could take these machines apart to learn how humans work. Not to mention, these other machines do not function in entirely the same way – the genes and proteins differ to varying degrees so that they interact with the environment novelly. Does this seem like a God that cares?

  4. Oh oh oh, dear silly SC, you understand nothing. Nothing. While the Grand Old Designer (blessed be Him/Shi/It) has designed Homo Sapiens using the programming language DNA in the same way as Homo Sapiens has designed those robots using manmade programming languages there is also one huge insurmountable difference.
    The Grand Old Designer has breathed a soul into Homo Sapiens. Scholars who seriously have studied the issue don’t entirely agree yet when exactly this wonderful, metaphysical act takes place: at the conception or say 30 days after, but the evidence is undeniable and even quoted by you:

    “And no robot could ever truly ‘create’ art. Art is a distinctly human and subjective enterprise, not based on wired-in programming.”

    Of course it helps that truly created art is defined in such a way that only humans can produce it – but holding that one against this flawless argument only shows that you’re a darwinist communist fascist liberal materialist atheist evolutionist.

  5. Eddie Janssen

    Never thought of it in this way. A good argument!.
    Indeed, thank you.

  6. Oops. The Grand Old Designer has tempted me once again by making me screwing tags up. Well then, here we have another decisive test. Will the Benevolent Hand from Above once again demonstrate his Infinite Power by saving me from my erroneous ways? How dare I ask – as if there can be any doubt of His Infinite Power! I confess, repent and humbly lay my fate in Thy Miraculous Hands.

    [*Voice from above*] All is well, my son.

  7. Spelt wrong…Fixed …. The designer is a S/He/IT!

  8. mnb0: “darwinist communist fascist liberal materialist atheist evolutionist.”
    You left out “satanist” after “atheist”.

  9. Wikipedia: “Riker’s arguments portray Data as merely a machine constructed by man …, and in a striking final demonstration, switches Data off.”
    Happily, we can all be switched off and on again, which anybody who has been switched off for the duration of life-saving surgery can be grateful for.

  10. The Disco’Tooters are nothing if not masters of Orwellian doublethink.

  11. I’m lurking here more often because I have insomnia and no friends. So don’t mind me. What happens when a machine goes onto without us and becomes something like one of Iain Banks “Culture Minds”? Or “Colossus: The Forbin Project?” Do we get to be morally outraged once we’re no longer the apex of accountability?

  12. Interesting that creationists find the DNA of living organisms “irreducibly complex” when, in fact, it can b reduced and, also in fact, often is, by the deletion of a gene or even a set of genes, without harm (that, in fact, is one way in which isolated populations of a species diverge on their way to becoming separate species).

    “Irreducibly complex” is one of those terms creationists chant whenever they want to shut down debate, like “kind” and “information”; as they use it, it’s a rhetorical trick.

  13. No art outside of humans? Has he ever seen a bower bird’s mating structure? Crows gathering shiny objects into their nests? Other primates working with grass and sticks to “design” things that have no other use? Balderdash.