November 14, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

It’s Hard to Break a Bone

People wearing a cast right now may not feel comfortable, but should be thankful it’s hard to break a bone.  Scientists at Max Planck Institute discovered “a novel construction principle at the nanoscale which prevents bones from breaking at excessive force,” making them “nearly unbreakable.”  Because of the way the rigid components of bone tissue are arranged in a hierarchical structure, the ability for bones to deform and absorb strain far exceeds the ability of the components themselves.
    There was no mention of evolution in the press release, but there was mention of “natural design principles.”  The scientists also thought bone design could be utilized by engineers:

The natural design principles quantitatively observed here in bone – hierarchical deformation, matrix sensitivity, and nanoscale strengthening – may provide guidelines for the development of bio-inspired and new nanocomposite materials as well.  Furthermore it may help bone biologists to understand how a molecular level change can cause whole bones to become more prone to fracture in diseases like osteoporosis.

The press release is based on a paper by Gupta et al in PNAS,1 “Cooperative deformation of mineral and collagen in bone at the nanoscale.”  There was no mention of evolution there, either.  They ended,

We believe that the effective load sharing mechanism between mineral and collagen may result in damage shielding, which prevents the fibrils from being exposed to excessive strains.  The hierarchy of deformation mechanisms observed in bone may guide us in designing new strong nanocomposite materials.


1Gupta et al, “Cooperative deformation of mineral and collagen in bone at the nanoscale” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0604237103, published online before print November 9, 2006.

“Natural design principles.”  Interesting phrase.  It has the D word, but is nondescript enough to avoid tripping red alarms on the NCSE radar.  Maybe they need to tighten their algorithms.  If a paper mentions design but not evolution, alert the ACLU.
    The theory of intelligent design states that certain features of the natural world are best explained as the result of intelligent causes, rather than as the result of undirected natural causes.  How could you get a hierarchically arranged system by undirected natural causes?  Suppose there was deformation at the nanoscale, but not at the millimeter or centimeter scale.  Bones would not be nearly as resistant to breakage.  How many fish and amphibians had to die of broken bones before all the levels of the hierarchy arrived independently at their own optimum design principle?  Remember, evolution does not allow for coordinated effects toward a common design goal.  Do an experiment: try the Random Mutation Generator simultaneously at the letter, word, sentence, paragraph, page and chapter levels independently, and see if you get a meaningful book.
    This article illustrates again that science would get on just fine without Darwinism.  The authors had no need of that hypothesis.  They would have done the same experiments with the same equipment, drawn the same charts and graphs, and reached the same conclusions had they been working explicitly on the basis of intelligent design.  Tacking on a Darwinian tale about how bones got this way would have been useless and pointless – a mere wishbone.  Thinking “design” at the outset, by contrast, would have motivated them to expect to see design, and to find it.  Furthermore, it would have stimulated even more interest in imitating the design.
    So we’ve got a bone to pick with the Darwin Party.  The strain of accumulating facts has deformed your theory beyond the breaking point, leaving it limp and lame.  Intelligent design is the biology and biophysics of the 21st century.  No dead-Charlie bones about it.

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