Saturday, February 7, 2009

In Defense of Robots

Theists sometimes argue free will theodicy--that God permits evil in order that we might choose to obey his will freely. There is a part of this argument that I have never fully understood, and it is that for God to intervene directly in our choices would make us all into "robots"--beings incapable of making free choices, let alone moral choices. I have a couple of serious problems with this argument:
  • Robots can be programmed to make free choices in principle.
  • Our choices already appear to be determined by physical events inside our brains. That is, we are essentially flesh-and-blood robots.
Mainly, though, I just don't understand why God's presence would somehow affect our ability to choose to disobey him any more than a child is robbed of free will by the presence of his or her parent. As we all know, kids can choose to disobey even when the parent is glaring at them and muttering angry noises.

As for robots and morality, I leave you with Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
In fact, Asimov worked out ways in which robots could violate #1. They can behave just like Christians who go to war and kill, even though God commands that they not kill. There is always the "greater good" to motivate evil.