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The Design Method of Small Incremental Changes is Useless for Designing Something From Scratch

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/19/2015 Category: Science
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,958 times Debate No: 68440
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (51)
Votes (1)




(please only serious challengers.)

Premise 1: There is a wide variety of different types of complex functional systems in life forms and their complexity is very high.
This should be self-evident for anyone who has studied nature.
some examples: eyes of mantis shrimp, nematocyst in jellyfish, bill of platypus, hibernation system of bears, periscope eyes of spook fish, etc.

Most scientists maintain that The design method of small incremental changes (random mutations coupled with natural selection) was responsible for this engineering complexity.

Premise 2: if this is so, then this method ought to be employed by a human being to build some things of moderate complexity FROM SCRATCH (where the human induces a series of small changes which he calculates each one will improves the device somehow.)

I maintain that this is not possible and that the method is useless for designing things of moderate complexity from scratch.

The successful challenger will show me a detailed step by step scenario of how he built a motor or a mechanical watch etc. FROM SCRATCH by small incremental steps.

Here is a functional mechanical clock:

and a motor:

The challenger may look for intermediate or precursor functionality in the in between steps provided each small step adds some improvement over the previous step.
(the idea is to assemble a functional device of moderate complexity. if you cannot build the above motor or the above mechanical clock then please specify what device you would like to build in the comments so that we can agree it is also something of comparable complexity)

The challenger may use a warehouse of nuts, bolts, springs, gears, metal plates, small motor components, etc. and every kind of raw materials available in a hardware store, but must follow the limitation that every tiny step which he induces improves the device.

As an engineer, I maintain that this method is completely useless for producing a moderate functional design from scratch.

This debate is NOT about living things or evolution - only about the power of the design method of small incremental changes.

This debate is NOT about whether the human body could be designed in a better way or how existing functional proteins can combine to produce new functionality.

It is solely about demonstrating the ability of the method of small incremental steps to assemble a device of moderate complexity.

please be sure to understand this before joining this debate. The first version of this debate was wasted in clarifying the topic of the debate see:

If you would like to assemble a different device than the above mechanical clock or motor, please confirm the device and its function in the comments (to make sure it fits the above criteria of moderate complexity, etc) so that we don't also waste this debate on a bad example.


Very simple, any step will improve the device because if it doesn't improve the device, then it clearly isn't a step in the first place and you thinking that a non-improvement step exists in the process of building the product will lead you to build a different product that is malfunctioning for the purpose of the original one.

We build the clock by moving cogs and bolts around until the clock is finished, if any step involved was not improving the design of the lcock or building of it, then it wasn't a step and was you misfollowing what the real step was.
Debate Round No. 1


So you agree that you cannot provide a step by step example from scratch leading to the mechanical clock or motor?


I agree that you cannot provide a useless one.
Debate Round No. 2


gruntel forfeited this round.


wowwhatwhy forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
51 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by gruntel 2 years ago
@ramshutu the topic of the debate was that it is impossible or at least highly, highly, improbable to make a device of moderate complexity by small changes. the functionality is a secondary point.

Perhaps, I will try to make a new debate with a real biological system as an example. hopefully we can then all agree on the parameters. but then people may say that it is too scientifically advanced or who knows what.
Posted by Ramshutu 2 years ago
IT's not possible to evolve a clock exactly of the form you describe. I explained why. So I have just explained that i have something mechanical that does the same job as a clock and what components it is comprised of it has gearing, levers and a one way ratchet mechanism similar to a clock. If that isn't sufficient I want you to tell me now rather than say it doesn't count during a debate.

I was pretty clear in my explanation; if you are still adamant you want something more or won't agree to my cheats below then this is a disingenious debate for the reasons stated
Posted by gruntel 2 years ago
@ramshutu is it a mechanical device? does it qualify as moderately complex, i.e. having a similar number of interdependent parts as the mechanical clock or motor i described?

honestly, i no longer have the time and energy to repeat the same comments over and over again
Posted by TheAnonymousTipster 2 years ago
Obviously you're not up to date with the science of artificial intelligence. Designing artificial intelligence is pretty useless and limited once you stop writing code, so the preferred method is to basically design DNA systems and have artificial intelligence evolve basically from scratch. It works.
Posted by Atmas 2 years ago
Despite any example someone tries to give, they would only be falling into the trap you have laid out. You're asking for something specific, a goal, a result, a linear path towards a solution, which evolution (Let's not be coy here, this is exactly what you're arguing against) does not do or have. You 'can' build a chair by gluing together thousands of wood fragments if you really wanted too, but you have to realize that you're building a chair. In the not too distant future, we will be literally building stuff from the atomic level up (it's a required invention for proper space travel and you can't get more incremental than that) but the very fact that we're "building" something immediately negates it's similarity to the process of evolution.

By asking for something designed to be crafted in the way biological systems are, you're working off the assumption that the bio systems must be designed as well, because then the two (Non-bio and bio) could be developed in the same way. In this manner, your logic is already flawed because nothing in nature is designed.

Now, to answer this in another way. Evolution (and Natural Selection) do have an almost neutral net gain when it comes to mutations and survivability and species will live and die by how positive and negative these changes are. These changes are never very large but they add up over time.

This is a common issue with people who don't want to accept evolution, they think of it incorrectly, they don't quite know how it works, and so they assume it must be complex, but it is so simple and easy to understand. Once you get it, you'll get it, until then, you just don't get it.
Posted by Bertie1987 2 years ago
I think the design method of small incremental changes can be seen in many complex things around us:

- A pc started off as a simple mechanical calculater.
- The insanely fast processors of today started off as very basic electronics.
- The amazingly complex operating systems found on pc's started of as a very simple piece of software which only had text-based commands.
- A car started as a wheeled cart without engine, later a horse was added in front and later the horse was replaced with better and better engines.
- The currently sophisticated internal combustion engine was first a pretty simple steam engine.
- At first humans used simple wooden rafts, now we have cruise ships.
- A long time ago humans lived in caves, nowadays we built skyscrapers. That didn't happen in a single step.
- At first humans pulled up stuff on a rope, now we have elavators that go many stories high at the push of a button.

But there are some reasons why your debate is very hard to accept:
- Humans have inventions, allmost all things around us came from a combination of inventions and small incremental changes.
- Very often multiple systems are put together as an improvement on an existing device. For example a small version of the existing steam-engine was used to replace the horse in front of the wheeled cart.

Would you consider a skyscraper as complex enough for the debate?
Then I mean a multistory construction made of concrete and iron, having doors and windows.
Posted by Ramshutu 2 years ago
Oh and the end result is the mechanical devixe I describe. Intermediate steps are not all mechqnical.
Posted by Ramshutu 2 years ago
How about this:

I think I can create a mechanical time keeping device that counts seconds, minutes and hours accurately as it is based on deterministic properties though I don't know how this stacks up against clocks. It can run for 1 week without human interaction.

This can be produced with the addition of one mechanical or non mechanical aspect and uses the selective criteria of readability, accuracy ease of use and reliability for analysis of whether each step is an improvement. At each step the device becomes better at those things for reading time.

It uses cogs, a ratchet, several levers, and spring loading. It is gravity powered rather than spring powered.

I have assumed attaching a lever or an element is acceptable as a single step but at no point are there two components added at once.

The initial starting point is 1 ball bearing.

I will accept this debate if the above is acceptable and you are not allowed to argue from the position that:

A.) It doesn't look like a rudimentary clock.
B.) It doesn't work quite like a clock.

The criteria is that the end result is mechanical, it operates on a similar principle (power source plus one directional ratchet and some gear equivalent) and provides a device that is functionaly equivalent of a rudimentary clock. As a result if it has those things it can be considered as complex as a rudimentary mechanical clock.
Posted by niwrad 2 years ago
The right question for evolutionist is this: can you answer the question you never saw? Like, I write down on paper one random question and ask you to provide an answer. You say: but.... that is impossible... how can i answer a question I never saw???

Well, this is necessary for evolution to be true. For example, eukaryotic cell needs gene transcript without introns to function. But we know that eukaryotic genes have exon"intron structure. So, without RNA-splicing machine, which is estimated to contain 200 components, the cell is dead. Evolution is not conscious and has no intelligence so how can evolution provide an "answer" to this cell constraint(question) and create RNA-splicing machine with small incremental changes resulting with right parts in the right place at the right time? What is the criterion for selection? Evolution has no long-term goal, the criterion for selection is always short-term, either simple survival or, more generally, reproductive success.

This is like trying to answer the question you never saw. If there is no question to serve as a criterion for selection it is impossible to provide an answer. Evolution does not "know" that introns need to be removed in order for the mRNA to be able to direct the production of proteins. Knowledge of this cell constraint and associated selection of the correct RNA-splicing machine parts is possible only for intelligent agent.
Posted by gruntel 2 years ago
i changed the wording of the debate to define the complexity more clearly.

It is important to stick to the point and avoid conjecture.

though it is not the topic of this debate, nevertheless, I assert that if the method of random small incremental changes were responsible for the high level complexity of life, then it should be trivial to do a small example like this by an intelligent agent.

cells for example, are far more complex than the latest intel CPU as one can see in this video
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by salam.morcos 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Conduct was poor for both sides. They both ff the last round - Tie Spelling/grammar is ok - Tie No source were used - Tie I think con didn't fully understand the challenge, and pro didn't do a great job of refuting con's rebuttal. I think that this debate should have not been accepted in the first place. I vote Pro because his argument wasn't refuted.