Now, for sake of argument assume that no humans are self-aware and we just debate this like sophisticated automatons, wouldn't the debate be exactly the same if our programming was sophisticated enough? Wouldn't our entire lives be exactly the same from the outside?
Unfortunately you seem to ignore the basic logic that there is no evolutionary benefit to come from questioning your own existence. Animals do not work that way.
Neither is there an evolutionary benefit from a species that goes building nuclear bombs and drop them on each other, but that happens too?
Species die out you know because they start displaying things that have no evolutionary benefit a lot. Very few species are evolutionary perfect actually, they all have traits that pretty much work against survival, they can get ill, some just jump of a cliff, they kill each other et cetera.
The point is that evolution is not a process of design, it's the idea that in the competition for the available food (energy) only the best survive, but the best are by no means perfect. The enlarged cerebral cortex and tongue bone in humans gave them the ability to reason and communicate that reasoning, it provided for them a skill in toolcrafting, it also enabled them in the end to make weapons whose power they couldn't responsibly handle, and it made them so able to suppress their instincts that some actively practice birth control, commit suicide and indeed quaestion the use of their own instinct.
Evolution is not about perfection, far from it.
Now assuming that they were programmed by an outside force, that outside force would surely have to be self aware to script this debate, and even then that would require it to give the automatons some degree of self-awareness in order to be able to compensate for unexpected intrusions from a possible 3rd party.
No, not programmed by an outside force, programmed by trial and error. (evolution)
It's in AI called a 'self-learning system', the idea is very simple, you have a programming that just tries out random things, if they work it keeps trying them and variations thereon, if they don't work it stops doing it. This is how human cognition evolves, both genetically and in babies.
The idea is that babies for instance at fast pace made completely random neural connexions in their brain, but the neural connexions that are used a lot, that seem to have a purpose stay, and the others die out. It's a self learning system, it tries out random things and keeps what works.
Physics has very little place inside a debate such as this. Biology? Yes. There is a clear biological advantage to a creature who has evolved to the point of sentience. Do note how we are the smartest creatures on the planet and we alone have dominated it.
Physics has all the more place in it than biology, the point is that physics at this point provides no explanation whatsoever how any thing in this universe possibly could be self-aware. In the current physical model, humans, or any thing for that matter 'shouldn't be self-aware it's some thing that physics can't explain. Accordingly physics, humans should indeed be soulless automatons that just execute sophisticated instructions via the wiring of their nerves, they get in input via their senses, process it and deliver output via motion et cetera.
This is also the biophysical model of the human brain.