The secret of Leviathan’s body-armour?
From the fearful account of Leviathan described by God in Job 41, we learn that this creature’s body armour is resilient indeed. “Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail, nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.” (v. 26; similarly vv. 7, 13, 28–29)
There are creatures familiar to us today that are also wonderfully protected by resilient (yet flexible) body armour—e.g. the scaled skin of fish and pangolins, and the osteoderms (bony plates embedded in the skin) of armadillos and crocodiles. Perhaps these creatures give us an insight into the leviathan’s body armour? The crocodile’s exterior in particular is renowned for being highly resistant to puncture, able to resist arrows and even bullets. No wonder then that scientists and engineers have been avidly studying such natural armour as a guide to designing flexible protective coatings for industrial applications, personal body armour, and flexible electronics.1
One research team recently investigated one aspect that had not previously received much attention, namely, the interplay between the hard exterior plates and the soft underlying tissues of creatures with flexible armour.2 They point out that, from an engineering perspective, using such different materials would normally present huge problems, but nature actually exploits the difference:
“Combining materials with such large contrast of properties typically creates problems and precipitates failure due to mismatch of stresses. In this paper, we show how natural armors actually exploit this huge stiffness differential.”
The researchers then explained how they tested the puncture resilience of various combinations of hexagonal borosilicate glass3 plates (to simulate scales/osteoderms) on an underlying soft silicone rubber substrate (simulating animals’ soft tissues). While their test models of course weren’t exact replications of biological armour, the researchers say they nevertheless had “duplicated the main attributes of natural segmented protective system: hard and stiff individual plates of well-controlled shape and size, resting on a soft substrate several orders of magnitude softer than the plate.”
The researchers’ key finding was that the critical force required to puncture an individual hexagon in the synthetic armour was seven times greater than was necessary to puncture a continuous plate of the same material and thickness. This dramatic increase in puncture resistance (and ‘multi-hit’ capability) results from the interplay between the soft substrate and the reduced size of the hexagonal plates. However, the researchers emphasized that “this remarkable improvement” can only be achieved if the plates are at least 1000 times stiffer than the underlying substrate, “which is the case for natural armor systems”.
While people actually have long sought to copy the protective armour seen in nature (e.g. the famous lorica segmentata from Roman times, and the Japanese samurai’s lamellar armour), this is the first time that this particular aspect behind the effectiveness of natural armour has been quantified and reported. And it’s almost certainly not the last of the inherent design principles in the tough exterior of various mammals, reptiles and fish that research teams will uncover. Design principles that the Bible tells us didn’t come about by accident, but by design. And it seems that the leviathan’s protective armour was even more noteworthy than that of other creatures, for the One who designed them all says of Leviathan:
“Who can strip off his outer garment? … His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated.” (Job 41:13a, 15–17)
However, from Job 41 the message ultimately is about a matter of much greater importance than the leviathan:
“Can you fill his skin with harpoons or his head with fishing spears? Lay your hands on him; remember the battle—you will not do it again! Behold, the hope of a man is false; he is laid low even at the sight of him. No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up. Who then is he who can stand before me?” (Job 41:7–10).
In other words, given how mighty and strong is Leviathan, how much more so its (and our) Maker! Thankfully, however, there is a way that we can stand before Him—and that is through none other than Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
Title Illustration: Leading creationist authors have identified the fossil record’s giant crocodilian Sarcosuchus imperator (commonly called ‘SuperCroc’) as a likely candidate for Job 41’s Leviathan. This conclusion was reached independently by Booker, P., A new candidate for Leviathan? J. Creation 19(2):14–16, 2005, and Wieland, C., Dragons of the Deep.
Natural armours have probably served as inspiration for personal body armour for many centuries. For example, the lorica segmentata was armour made of several metallic plates used in ancient Rome, reminiscent of the scaly exterior of fish, snakes and pangolins. Traditional samurai armour contains small metallic plates sewn into thick fabric, providing both protection and flexibility, akin to the bony plates in the skin of armadillos and crocodiles. Note that snakes and crocodiles are reptiles, pangolins and armadillos are mammals. Evolutionists invoke ‘convergent evolution’ in a handwaving attempt to deflect attention from the challenge of how the various biological armour ‘solutions’ could have evolved multiple times, within and across such diverse classes. But a common Designer, not common ancestry, makes sense—see creation.com/lookalikes.
References and notes
- E.g.: Brown, M., Piranha-proof fish offer body armour inspiration, wired.co.uk, 13 February 2012. Return to text.
- Chintapalli R., Mirkhalaf, M., Dastjerdi, A., and Barthelat, F., Fabrication, testing and modeling of a new flexible armor inspired from natural fish scales and osteoderms, Bioinspiration and biomimetics 9(3):036005, 2014. Return to text.
- ‘Pyrex’ is a well known brand; borosilicate glass is much more resistant to temperature shock than ordinary glass. Return to text.