Friday, June 28, 2019

The Leviathon: May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

The Leviathon: May the Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

by Glenn R. Morton

This is part of my series on historicity in the Bible. The series really begins with the evidence for the existence of the soul followed by a way to read Genesis 1 totally scientifically and historically accurately. This may mark the end of the series as I have gone through all the issues that occupied much of my spare time in my life.   I believe that knowing the Scripture can be trusted, historically, is important for empowering our faith.  Why were the disciples so powerful?  Because they KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus had risen.  That empowered their faith.  Today we address Job 41, which is a much mocked part of the Bible. Atheists are fond of ridiculing this mythical animal, so they say.  Here is what they mock.
1Can you draw out aLeviathan with a fishhook?
Or press down his tongue with a cord?
2 “Can you put a rope in his nose
Or pierce his jaw with a hook?
3“Will he make many supplications to you,
Or will he speak to you soft words?
4“Will he make a covenant with you?
Will you take him for a servant forever?
5“Will you play with him as with a bird,
Or will you bind him for your maidens?
6“Will the traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him among the merchants?
7“Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
Or his head with fishing spears?8“Lay your hand on him;
Remember the battle; you will not do it again!9“Behold, your expectation is false;
Will you be laid low even at the sight of him?
10 “No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him;
Who then is he that can stand before Me?
11“Who has agiven to Me that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.12 “I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
Or his mighty strength, or his orderly frame.
13“Who can strip off his outer armor?
Who can come within his double mail?
14“Who can open the doors of his face?
Around his teeth there is terror.
15 His strong scales are his pride,
Shut up as with a tight seal.
16 “One is so near to another
That no air can come between them.
17“They are joined one to another;
They clasp each other and cannot be separated.
18“His sneezes flash forth light,
And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
19“Out of his mouth go burning torches;
Sparks of fire leap forth.
20“Out of his nostrils smoke goes forth
As from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21“His breath kindles coals,
And a flame goes forth from his mouth.
22“In his neck lodges strength,
And dismay leaps before him.
23“The folds of his flesh are joined together,
Firm on him and immovable.
24“His heart is as hard as a stone,
Even as hard as a lower millstone.
25“When he raises himself up, the mighty fear;
Because of the crashing they are bewildered.
26“The sword that reaches him cannot avail,
Nor the spear, the dart or the javelin.
27“He regards iron as straw,
Bronze as rotten wood.
28“The arrow cannot make him flee;
Slingstones are turned into stubble for him.
29“Clubs are regarded as stubble;
He laughs at the rattling of the javelin.
30“His underparts are like sharp potsherds;
He spreads out like a threshing sledge on the mire.
31“He makes the depths boil like a pot;
He makes the sea like a jar of ointment.
32“Behind him he makes a wake to shine;
One would think the deep to be gray-haired.
33“Nothing on earth is like him,
One made without fear.
34“He looks on everything that is high;
He is king over all the sons of pride.”1

This post was inspired by my son, who is a preacher who does a podcast on odd things of the Bible. He was preparing episode 8 and asked me what I thought about what Leviathan was. I told him I didn't know, but that the lack of fossils don't prove much because 97% of living species are not found in the most recent part of the fossil record!.

The fossil record is amazingly sparse.  Most species who have lived all through geologic history, have left no trace of their existence.

Colin Tudge observes,

"Logic dictates, too, that the oldest known fossils cannot possibly be the  oldest representatives of their kind.  Fossilization is a rare event, after all; and when animals first appear, they are rare.  The earliest fossil bones are therefore likely to date from a time when their erstwhile owners were already common.  Logic similarly dictates that if an animal is particularly unlikely to form fossils--as primates seem to be--then paleontologists are particularly unlikely to find the very earliest types.  In fact, this logic can be translated into a mathematical formula (see Robert D. Martin, ""Primate Origins: Plugging  the Gaps,"" Nature, May 20, 1993, pp 223-234).  The fewer fossils there are  (relative to the calculated number of extinct species), the older the group is  liable to be, relative to the number of fossils found."2
So, how rare is the fossilization of a species? To answer that, we must ask look at how many species alive today are found as fossils.   Consider what Foote et al,

"The number of living species that have been described is about 1.5 million...If we focus on the paleontologically important groups, present-day diversity is about 180,000 species. ...Suppose we assume that the present-day level of diversity was attained immediately at the beginning of the Cambrian Period and has been maintained since then. Then 25 percent of 180,000 species, or 45,000 species became extinct and were replaced by new species every million years.  In rough terms, the Phanerozoic is 550 million years log. this leads to an estimate that there have been 180,000+(45,000 X 550) or about 25 million species.  Comparing this with the 300,000 described fossil species implies that between 1 percent and 2 percent of species are known as fossils."3

So,98-99% of species were never fosilized.  That means the critics can't be sure Leviathan didn't exist.  Regardless of this, one might say I cherry picked a quote, but this concept of the rarity of fossilization is wide-spread. Prothero goes through the calculation in other ways:

"Let us start with some simple estimates. We have already estimated that there are 1.5 million described species, or as many as 4.5 to 10 million described and undescribed species of organisms alive on Earth today.  How many species are known as fossils?  It turns out that there are only about 250,000 described species of fossil plants and animals presently known, or only 5% of the total for species living today."4

He then goes  on to focus on marine invertebrates.  Marine invertebrates are the best animals to get fossilized.  They can't run from a landslide of sediment(turbidites) coming to cover them. Such things happen at earthquakes and when sediment accumulates so much that the pile sloughs off some of its mass.

"Let us just focus on nine well-skeltonized phyla of marine invertebrates and see if we come up with better estimates.  These nine phyla are the Protista, Archaeocyatha, Porifera, Cnidaria, Bryozoa, Brachiopoda, Mollusca, Echinodermata, and Arthropoda (excluding insects).  In these groups, there are about 150,000 living species, but more than 180,000 fossil species. To translate these numbers into completeness estimates, we need to know the turnover rate of species and the number of coexisting species through time.  Different values have been used for each of these variables, but the results of the calculations are remarkably similar. Durham estimated that about 2.3% of all the species in these nine phyla were fossilized. Valentine gave estimates that ranged from 4.5% to 13.6%.  No matter which method we use, we must conclude that 85% to 97% of all the species in these nine well-skeletonized phyla that have ever lived have never been fossilized."5

No matter how one estimates this, the number of species that are fossilized is quite small.

"About 300,000 species of fossil organisms have been described and the number is growing steadily. However, this number is only a tiny fraction of the species that have ever lived. We do not know how many species lived in the past but we have ways of making reasonable estimates. Of the present-day biota, approximately 1.7 million species have been named. The actual number of living species is probably at least 10 million, because most species of insects and mites (the animal groups with the largest numbers of species; see Chapter 32) have not yet been described. So the number of described fossil species is less than 2 percent of the probable minimum number of living species."6

To show the problem, back in the late 90s, I got into some online databases of paleontology(no longer there that I am aware of ) and collected data on all the fish genera found in geologic history. Here are what the numbers show (Pleistocene is the age 11,7000 to 2.5 million years ago): genera..extinct genera

One other thing which can be seen is the rarity of fossilization of genera. Today there are 3245 genera (the Recent period). The Recent period consists of only the past 11,700 years. Notice that only 12% of today’s genera (408/3245) are found as fossils. That number would be smaller if we were discussing species. Some genera have large numbers of fish, and when a genera is not found as a fossil, that not a single member of the genera was fossilized.

Further if we assume that the Pleistocene had as many genera of fish as we have today, it means that only 13% of Pleistocene genera were fossilized as well. This rarity of fossilization means that we can't say any given creature described by some society didn't exist.  If such a creature as Leviathan existed but was on the verge of extinction in Job's day, it is quite possible, indeed, highly likely that he didn't leave a fossil. Indeed the odds are 87% that he didn't leave a trace in the fossil record.
Because of this, fossilization is very  incomplete, when critics say that there is no way Leviathon could have existed, that it is ridiculous to believe in such a creature, what they  are effectively saying that every species that ever existed was fossilized and we don't see Leviathan.  Well, that is patently, and scientifically, false. Only a small percentage of species and even genera are found as fossils. While we can't say definitely that Leviathan existed, they can't state categorically that it didn't exist.  Given the statistics above, the odds are more in our favor than in the favor of critics. The vast majority of species have never left a trace of their existence. Next time you hear a Biblical critic drag Leviathan out of his bag of Biblical belly-aches, tell him these statistics.


1, New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Job 41:1–34). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

2.Colin Tudge, The Time  Before History, (New York: Scribner, 1996), p. 172

3. Michael Foote et al,   Principles of Paleontology, (New York, W. H. Freeman and Co., 2007), p 23

4. Donald R. Prothero, Bringing Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Paleobiology, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p.21.

5 Donald R. Prothero, Bringing Fossils to Life: An Introduction to Paleobiology, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p.21.

6. David E. Sadava, H. Craig Heller, William K. Purves, Gordon H. Orians, and David M. Hillis, Life: the Science of Biology,  (MacMillan, 2008), p.472

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