Robofish: a Product of Design, not Evolution

Author: Stephen Caesar
Subject: Biology
Date: 08/14/2004


By Stephen Caesar

Associates for Biblical Research

“‘Robofish’ a Product of Design, Not Evolution”

The August 2000 issue of the journal Smithsonian reported on the construction of an artificial bluefin tuna called RoboTuna II by David Beal and Michael Sachinis of MIT. Their creation is “biomimetic,” meaning it mimics a real-life tuna. RoboTuna is the product of years of research, design, and experimentation. According to Beal, one of the abilities given to their creation is “a little bit of intelligence so it can adapt to its surroundings” (p. 54).

Long before that point, however, RoboTuna had to be taught how to swim. According to Smithsonian, the only way fish learned to swim in the wild was through “several hundred million years” of evolution (p. 57). The creators of RoboTuna II, through intelligent design, “taught” RoboTuna to swim in a matter of months. One of the contributors to the project, David Barrett, accomplished this by using a mathematical theory called genetic algorithm, which is intended to mimic evolution (but, as previously discussed in this column, in reality it does not create new computer “species” but merely adaptations in “creatures” designed by outside programmers).

Barrett loaded these algorithms, each one designating a swimming possibility, into a “chromosome” of RoboTuna. In 20 attempts, the 10 best swimming possibilities were kept for the next cycle, until, finally, under Barrett’s watchful eye and helping hand, RoboTuna “learned” to swim. Rather than seeing intelligent design right before his face, Barrett compared his breakthrough to the theorized (but never actually witnessed) eons of fish evolution: “Just as in nature, the fish that swam well could survive and produce offspring. The poor performers were retired. If the fish’s tail could push, in the next generation, all tails pushed. We compressed 2,057 years of research into a single summer. It was amazing. We were watching evolution” (pp. 57-58).

What Barrett was watching, in fact, was intelligent design—and he, no less, was the intelligent designer. RoboTuna did not arise from uncounted millennia of evolution from a single-celled organism to a full-fledged, fast-swimming fish, but was the product of meticulous, pre-planned, hands-on creation by brilliant minds. No one was around to witness the theorized “several hundred million years” of fish evolution that the article claims took place to bring about natural fish, yet all the MIT scientists witnessed firsthand the very product of their own intelligent design.

Despite the amazing amount of brainpower and hard work that went into building this artificial fish, the article admitted that “RoboTuna falls far short of the real biological creature” (p. 58). This statement brings us to a logical bottleneck that has been discussed very often in this column: if RoboTuna required intelligent design, and yet is LESS complicated than the fish it is supposed to mimic, then why do evolutionists assume that the more complicated natural fish are NOT the product of intelligent design as well?

Intelligent design of artificial fish continues to develop. A “direct descendant” of RoboTuna II is the Vorticity Control Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (VCUUV), developed by Jamie Anderson of Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, MA. “We very much stood on the shoulders of RoboTuna,” Anderson said (p. 58). Despite the fact that VCUUV’s improvements are the direct and undeniable product of intelligent design, the designer himself believed he was imitating evolution: “[VCUUV] reinforces feelings that fish are doing something right, that it’s Mother Nature finding optimum solutions. We knew we would be successful if we were true to the fish” (p. 60). Again, he is missing the point. VCUUV does not copy “Mother Nature” (meaning the blind, random chance of Darwinian evolution); rather, it is the undeniable and specific result of an outside, intelligent entity designing an amazingly sophisticated creation.


Whynott, D. 2000. “Something’s Fishy about This Robot.” Smithsonian 31, no. 5.

Stephen Caesar holds his master’s degree in anthropology/archaeology from Harvard. He is a staff member at Associates for Biblical Research and the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science, available at

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