OCEANOGRAPHY – “Let the waters be gathered.”
In the last twenty-five years, a complete reversal of our understanding of the history of the earth has occurred. It is generally known as the geological revolution, and it has been produced mainly through the efforts of ocean scientists.
Oceanography is a young science. In the years between 1900 and World War II, the United States established its first two permanent oceanographic institutions. They were meagerly funded, and stayed close to home in their explorations. Efforts by government agencies during that same period (the Navy, the Coast and Geodetic Survey) and by fisheries were modest and practical.
The status of ocean science changed dramatically during World War II. Antisubmarine and amphibious operations required a great deal of knowledge about the ocean, and that meant research. As a result ocean science agencies ballooned. An entire generation of oceanographers, including most of the present leaders in the field, drifted in after having had their formal training in other fields such as physics, geology, or engineering. The appearance of large numbers of young Ph.D.’s in oceanography did not come until the late 1950s. Today the government has had new practical interests in the oceans as its mineral resources were discovered: gold and diamonds on continental shelves and copper and nickel in the manganese nodules of the deep sea. In addition, the national awareness of the deterioration of the environment, with serious effects on the ocean, opened up a whole new field of applied ocean science.
As a result of this research and the publicity surrounding it, there has been a growing interest among the public in the ocean with its amazing life forms and its beauty. Television programs and books about the sea are common now, and a Jacques Cousteau film attracts audiences as large as more conventional entertainment.
The Origin of the Ocean
Most books on oceanography begin with a discussion of the origin of the earth and its oceans. Any science begins with the question, why is there anything to study at all?
“But there must have been a time when there was no ocean – when there was not even a container to put the water in. The present containers are deep basins in the crust of the earth, but these were not always there. How did the earth obtain a crust with deep depressions in it, and how did these depressions become filled with water?” 1
Until recently, most theories of earth history began with a molten earth. As the molten earth began to cool, chemical and gravitational forces began to separate the iron core from the lighter materials destined for the crust. The difference in elevation between continents and oceans tallies with the difference in the density of their rocks. The continents are made of relatively light material and the rocks of the ocean floor are much heavier. Both float on a “sea of plastic magma.” As cooling continued, according to this theory, the earth ‘s crust became rigid, and the continents have been more or less frozen in place since that time. The cooling caused the earth to contract tens or even hundreds of miles, pushing up mountains and wrinkling the ocean floor, and kneading the strata we see today.
This portrait of a cooling earth provided a mechanism to separate the sea floors from the continental masses, but it does not explain the peculiar shapes of the continents or why they are located where they are. There have been other theories proposed for the formation of the ocean basins. George H. Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin, noted that the moon is slowly receding from the earth. He extrapolated backward in time, and inferred that the moon must once have been much closer, perhaps even part of the earth. Darwin proposed, in 1879, that the material that now forms the moon was actually thrown off the earth when the earth was still in the molten state. The gaping hole left in the earth forms the Pacific Ocean basin. The landmasses on either side of the Atlantic were originally a single continent that fractured and drifted apart to fill up the hole.
Another theory scientists have toyed with is the possibility that the ocean basins are the sites of meteor impacts. Large meteors have undeniably hit the earth and left scars on the crust, just as they have on the moon. Although meteor impact may explain the existence lunar craters up to a few hundred miles across, few scientists accept the idea that it is responsible for ocean basins a few thousand miles across.
Since the 1960s, another explanation of the oceans has become widely accepted. It is not so much a new idea, as the revival of an old one. In the early part of this century a German, Alfred Wegener, published Die Enstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane (The Origin of the Continents and Oceans). Wegener proposed that all the main land masses of the world belonged to a single supercontinent, which he named Pangea (Greek for “all-earth “). In the distant past this continent broke into separate blocks that drifted apart like great icebergs, opening the Atlantic, Arctic, and Indian Oceans.
Wegener’s thesis generated a lot of controversy. Much of his support for it came from the obvious similarity in shape of the coastlines on opposite sides of the Atlantic, particularly of Africa and South America. As geological and paleontological exploration proceeded, similarities in geological formations and fossil types were also noted, especially among those in Africa, South America, India, and Australia. It was convenient for those in the biological sciences to accept the theory. But the geophysicists argued that it was impossible for continents to plow through the oceanic crust. Thus, for the period between 1930 and 1960, only a few geologists openly supported the idea of continental drift.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, data became available which brought a remarkable change of outlook. Until then, most geologists had thought of the ocean floors as featureless and flat. This seemed reasonable. There was little erosion in the depths, nor was there enough sedimentation to build up the mile-thick strata seen on land.
Some sort of depth finder is required for surface ships to “see” the “lay of the land” beneath the sea. For nearly four thousand years, the standard depth sounder was the sounding line. Even the more advanced sounding lines did not allow overall patterns of the ocean floor to be seen. It was the invention of the echo sounder that revolutionized sea-f1oor mapping. The echo sounder completely demolished the idea that the ocean bottoms were flat and smooth.
It became obvious that the ocean waters hide a tremendous array of mountains, trenches, and ridges. The Atlantic Ocean covers up one of the major features of our globe: a long mountain chain comparable in size and roughness to the Rockies. Called: the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, it is 40,000 miles in length, and more than one thousand miles wide at most places.
In addition, installation of a worldwide network of highly sensitive seismometers for defecting underground nuclear explosions provided much more detailed seismic data on the earth. They showed that almost all oceanic earthquakes lie in narrow zones associated either with the submarine ridges or the deep ocean trenches. The earthquakes indicate that there is a lot of tension in the earth’s crust in these areas.
Heat-flow measurements along the floor of the rift have demonstrated that several times more heat flows, through the crack than through the ocean floor proper. Echo soundings of the ocean bottom indicate only a thin veneer of sediment over most of its surface. The crests of the ridges paralleling the rift seem to be built of fresh basalt and are not covered by sediment. And drill cores of the oceanic sediments reveal microfossils only of late Mesozoic identity or younger. It would be difficult not to conclude that hot plastic material from the mantle is extruded along the rift, forming the oceanic ridges.
There is only one region of the globe that the rift seems to avoid: the north central and northwestern Pacific Ocean. Many of the Pacific earthquakes originate in regions near the deep-sea trenches that fringe eastern Asia and South America. The echo sounder has also been of great assistance in sketching out the features of a system of great crevasses that ring the Pacific basin. In contrast to submarine canyons in the continental shelves that are scoured out by erosion, these trenches appear to have been created by large-scale deformations of the earth’s crust. The trenches are sharp, V-shaped wrinkles which extend almost seven miles below sea level. They parallel the strings of volcanoes in the Pacific “ring of fire.”
As this information began to appear in the technical literature, a dramatic picture began to unfold. It appeared that sea-floor spreading and continental drift had indeed occurred on a grand scale. The Atlantic was the result of spreading from its mid-ocean ridge to separate North America from Europe, and South America from Africa. The Arctic Ocean involved separation of Eurasia, North America, and Greenland. The Indian Ocean appeared when Africa, India, Australia, and Antarctica separated.
If the sea floor is spreading and new oceanic crust is being created at the ridges, a problem presents itself: where is this new crust going? Scientists have considered two possibilities. First, the surface area of the earth may be increasing, which would imply that the earth is expanding. Since most of the ocean floor is quite young, the rate of expansion suggested by this theory is too fast for evolutionary scientists to accept. This would imply that the earth is far younger than they would like.
The second possibility is that to compensate for the new crust formed at the ocean ridges, an equal area is being destroyed. This means that the older oceanic crust is constantly destroyed by subduction at the ocean trenches. The theory that emerged is known as plate tectonics, and it has gained almost universal acceptance among earth scientists during the last ten years. It is hailed by many as one of the major scientific breakthroughs of the century. It is the “geological revolution.”
What is the basic model for the earth in this theory? Think of the outer layer of the earth as made up of a set of slabs of plates that are relatively rigid and from 30 to 60 miles thick. These plates float on an underlying material, which, because of extreme heat and pressure, can flow almost like soft plastic. The plates are very large and include both continents and oceans. The only plates that consist only of ocean floor are in the Pacific.
Now imagine a frozen river. When spring comes, the ice breaks up and ice floes start traveling downstream. They are pushed both by the current and by collisions with other floes. Thus we think of a moving current deep in the earth, in the material beneath the plates.
What moves that current? It could be the result of differences in temperature. The source of heat is said to be radioactive decay and it is believed to create a convection cell. The model is analogous to a saucepan of soup on a stove. In the center, the hotter and less dense fluid rises toward the surface, where it spreads to the sides and cools against the walls of the pan. It becomes more dense and sinks to the bottom. If conditions are right, a geometrical pattern of rising and descending currents will be established and each geometrical element is called a cell.
Several types of movements between plates are possible. Plates that drift away from each other produce a gap where hot material wells up from the interior, cools and forms new crust. These are the mid-ocean ridges. When two plates collide, what happens next depends on whether they are of equal or different density. If one is of oceanic type at its margin, and the other continental, the oceanic is heavier and will under-thrust the other to sink into the softer material below. Such under-thrusting is known as subduction, and it leaves its marks in the form of a deep trench in the sea floor, such as those that ring the Pacific basin. This action results in earthquakes, volcanoes and mountains built by compression on the edge of the overriding plate. The South American Andes are an example of a continent-ocean collision.
A second kind of collision edge occurs when two plates of equal density meet. Since neither can go under they compress each other’s edges into spectacular mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas, where India and Asia are said to have collided.
Finally, plates may move with purely lateral relative motion, resulting in a vertical fault, usually marked by a zone of shallow earthquakes. The San Andreas fault in California and the great faults of southwestern Alaska are examples of this type of boundary between the North American and the Pacific plates.
The Earth Was Divided
What is the creationist position in regard to these matters? Most creationists see no contradiction to creationism in the theory of continental drift. In fact, it has a decidedly “catastrophic” flavor about it that disturbs uniformitarians. In Mysteries Beneath the Sea, William Corliss notes which “considerble opposition developed” to the concept of a Mid-Atlantic ridge because “the vision of a cracked earth is hardly Uniformitarian.”2 Of course, proponents of the continental drift theory have put it in uniformitarian terms by assuming that drift occurs extremely slowly. Yet, the evidence is that the continents have migrated only in recent geological history. According to Corliss, drift has taken place “during the last 5 percent of the planet’s history,”3 implying a speed that very nearly puts continental drift outside the definition of uniformitarianism.
Among the papers given at the 1979 Bible-Science convention was “Global Tectonics: A New Synthesis” by John R. Baumgardner. He accepts the theory of continental drift, but argues in favor of an expanding earth to make room for new material coming from the ridges instead of constant subduction. He writes:
“The framework given in the Scriptures is a finished creation including all forms of life, followed several centuries later by a Flood catastrophe of sufficient magnitude to destroy all air-breathing life not in the ark of Noah. Examination of the rock record leads one to correlate the beginning of the Flood with the earliest Eocambrian sediments and to place its end somewhere in the Tertiary. This is consistent with the sudden appearance in the stratigraphical record of the great diversity of highly complex life forms in rocks of lower Cambrian identity. It also agrees with the abundant evidences throughout the record of very high-energy water processes of widespread nature.
“Within this framework, the period of extensive sea floor spreading responsible for the modern ocean basins, namely the mid to late Mesozoic and Tertiary, falls during the latter stages of the Flood catastrophe. “4
After reviewing the evidence for an expanding earth, Baumgardner considers expansion as an explanation for the subsiding of the waters from the Flood. One of the problems facing flood geologists is, where did all the water go? If the earth is increasing in size, the area of the ocean basins is also increasing. “Thus a significant increase in the area of the ocean basins results in a considerable lowering of the water level relative to the continents. Opening of the Atlantic, Arctic and Indian Oceans, if coupled with only a modest increase in area for the Pacific, would imply a fall in the sea level of at least two kilometers.”5
Dr. Bernard Northrup, a creationist geologist, also accepts the theory of continental drift. In the May, 1980 Bible-Science NEWSLETTER, he writes that he, too, believes that “minor continental division is the cause of the draining of the land mass when God caused the oceans to retreat after 150 days of the Noahic flood. ” (p. 4). Continental movement continued, however, for the next 500 to 1000 years.
“In this period lies the Tower of Babel and the migration of man to various parts of the great single continent. In this period also is the division of the continents, identified in Scripture by the division in Peleg’s days (Genesis 10:25). …This movement produced the great Atlantic basin. I have pointed out previously that there are no Noahic flood deposits in the Atlantic basin. The reason for this, of course, is because the Atlantic Ocean bottom is the magma trail left by these moving continental plates after the Flood. “(p. 5)
Here we enter an area of controversy among creationists. Genesis says that in the days of Peleg “the earth was divided.” But whether or not this is a Scriptural reference to continental division is debated. In The Genesis Record, Henry Morris argues that the verse could be referring merely to the linguistic division of the nations at the Tower of Babel.6 On the other hand, Walter Lang points out in Five Minutes with the and Science’ (January-February, 1971) that the verb used in this verse which refers to the earth’s division is the same verb used to refer to a canal which divides land areas. The word which refers to language division in Genesis 10:32 is a different word (p. 10). There is also a drop in life span of 225 years between Eber and his son Peleg possibly implying drastic climactic changes, which would certainly follow upon such a catastrophe.
The Birth of the Ocean
Most books on oceanography open with some account of the origin of water on our planet. They begin with a review of theories of earth formation from the sun or from whirling dust clouds in space. The evolutionary picture continues by picturing the newly formed earth as extremely hot and covered with a dense envelope of gases. Water vapor in the rocks worked its way toward the surface and added steam to the atmosphere. As the earth cooled, the steam condensed and torrential rains poured down upon the planet, filling the ocean basins.7
In The Genesis Record, Henry Morris gives an alternative account based on study of Genesis chapter one. He believes the initial creation on day one was the creation of the basic matter of the time-space-matter continuum. The elements were only later to be formed into planets and stars. The word “deep” in verse 2 is the Hebrew word tehom and refers later to the waters of the ocean. Initially, however, the earth had no form, and so, neither did the waters. According to Morris, “The picture presented is one of all the basic material elements sustained in a pervasive watery matrix through the darkness of space. The same picture is suggested in II Peter 3:5, ‘… The earth standing out of the water and in the water’”8
There is an important reference to the initial formless condition of this watery suspension in Proverbs 8:24,27, “When there were no depths (same word as ‘deep’), I was brought forth when he set a compass upon the face of the depth (or ‘deep’).” The word “compass” is the Hebrew chug, which is a striking reference to the fact that the earth is round. It is especially appropriate in referring to the shape of the ocean, since it is from the spherical form of its surface (sea level) that we make all our measurements.
The fact that this “compass” had to be “set” on the face of the deep shows that the deep originally had no such shape. It was formless. Elements of matter and molecules of water were present, but not yet energized or organized. The force of gravity was not yet functioning to draw such particles together into a mass with a definite form.
Then “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The Hebrew word for “moved’. (rachaph) occurs only three times in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 23:9 it is translated “shake” and in Deuteronomy 32: 11 it is translated “flutters.” The idea seems to be a rapid back and forth motion. In modern scientific terminology, the best translation would probably be “vibrated.” It is significant that the transmission of energy in the universe is in the form of waves: light waves, heat waves, sound waves, and so on. Waves are rapid back and forth movements, and it is most appropriate that the first impartation of energy to the universe is described as the “vibrating” movement of the Spirit of God.
Dr. Morris concludes: “As the out flowing energy from God’s omnipresent Spirit began to flow outward and to permeate the cosmos, gravitational forces were activated and water and earth particles came together to form a great sphere moving through space. Other such particles would soon come together also to form sun, moon, and stars throughout the universe. There was now a ‘compass’ on the face of the deep, and the formless earth had assumed the beautiful form of a perfect sphere.”9
At this point the earth was nothing but a shoreless ocean. Morris suggests that all other material elements were probably randomly dissolved or suspended in it. The light had been divided from the darkness on the first day of creation, the waters above the firmament had been divided from the waters below the firmament on the second day. Now, on the third day, the dry land was divided from the waters on the earth.
The energizing agent was the Word of God: “Let the dry land appear!” Morris writes: “Tremendous chemical reactions got under way, as dissolved elements precipitated and combined with others to form the vast complex of minerals and rocks making up the solid earth-its crust, mantle, and core.” 10
Heavier materials, such as iron, sank to the core of the earth, while lighter materials “floated” toward the crust. Great earth movements were also under way, until solid earth appeared above the waters. An intricate network of channels and reservoirs opened up in the crust to receive the waters retreating off the rising continents.
“And God called…the gathering together of the waters seas.” These were, of course, not the same as our present seas, since both the flood, and possibly continental drift, have altered the arrangement of continental and marine areas.
The Ocean –The Womb of Life?
Pick up any book on oceanography and you are sure to find a section on the origin of life in the ocean. Although we have dealt more completely with the origin of life in previous Five Minute issues, here we want to consider whether the ocean is a likely place for life to originate.
Experiments by Miller, Fox and others have shown that under special conditions, small amounts of amino acids, the building blocks of life, may be formed spontaneously. Presumably, these may then combine to form proteins, although the actual formation of a protein such as is found in living things has never been observed. Many believe these experiments virtually solve the mystery of the origin of life.
Among the many problems with this scenario is the fact that the bondings are reversible. When two amino acids combine, they must release a water molecule in order for the chemical bonding to take place. When any group of amino acids (a peptide) combines with another peptide to form a protein, again a molecule of water is released. Thus this type of reaction is called condensation.
Condensation is, however, reversible. That is, although amino acids may combine to form peptides, peptides may also revert back to amino acids. This event occurs depending on how much water is present. If the water molecules released are immediately removed, then peptides may be obtained. If, on the other hand, water is added to the reacting mixture, no peptides (or only a few) will be formed.
Thus, if excess water is present in the reacting mixture in the first place, peptide synthesis does not take place. This principle is a well-known fact of organic chemistry, and is valid for all reversible reactions. Such reactions may either “go forward,” leading to complex molecules, or “go backward, ” reverting to their original components. The direction of the reaction is determined by the relative concentrations on the initial components and the products. The application of this principle to the origin of life is clear. Amino acids will combine only in small amounts, if at all, in a primeval ocean because there is too much water. And any polypeptides that might be formed will be broken back down into amino acids by the excess water. A.E. Wilder-Smith concludes, “The ocean is thus practically the last place on this or any other planet where the proteins of life could be formed spontaneously from amino acids.” ll
Thus the theory of the spontaneous, random formation of the proteins of life founders on the simple, well-known laws of organic chemistry. Yet nearly all textbooks on biology and oceanography teach that the ocean is the cradle of life. How is it that fundamental laws of science are not taken into consideration when proposing theories of life’s origin?
Dr. Wilder-Smith suggests that the motivation for ignoring these facts is philosophical: “…has materialistic Neodarwinian philosophy overwhelmed us to such an extent that we forget or overlook the well-known facts of science and of chemistry in order to support this philosophy?” Later, he answers that for many modern scientists that is sadly the case: “Today spontaneous biogenesis is only supported because it conforms to the present materialistic philosophy of life.”12
The Evidences of Design
“Ours is indeed the watery planet; there is no other like it in the solar system.” So begins the Time-Life book on the ocean.13 It is remarkable that the oceans exist at all. They do so only because the surface temperature of the earth falls within the very narrow range within which water remains a liquid. Nearly all of the matter in the universe is either flaming gas, such as the stars, or frozen solid. The earth is unique. Indeed, it gives every appearance of having been carefully designed.
That is precisely what creationists conclude. Donald England, in A Christian View of Origins, writes: “If there is a tangible miracle in the physical universe then it must be water. Water is clearly nature’s singularly unique substance, possessing at least twelve properties peculiar to itself…. Life, as we know it on earth, would not be possible if it were not for this unique combination of properties with a single simple molecule, H²0.”14
But even non-creationists cannot resist using the word “design ” as they describe the wonders of water. The Time-Life book quoted earlier goes on to say, “In a surprising variety of ways, the properties of water -liquid water-seem almost to have been designed expressly to make the world hospitable to life.” It then lists a number of the ways in which water makes our planet capable of sustaining life: it stores heat, moderating the climate; it floats when frozen, allowing sea creatures to survive cold weather; it is essential to living things, which carry on an amazing variety of chemical reactions which can occur only when water is present to dissolve the reacting substances and bring their molecules together. 15
In this discussion of the ocean we must mention the organisms that inhabit it. We can hardly avoid the impression that design was also involved in the creation of the sea creatures. The Time-Life authors resort again to describing our world in terms of purposeful design: “Water is almost 800 times denser than air. As any swimmer or ship designer will testify, it relentlessly holds back anything that tries to speed through it. But the fish has been engineered to beat the ocean’s drag The fish body is a slippery, water-cutting form that is usually lens-shaped like the wrasse’s, or long and narrow like the flying fish’s. Inside there is often a bladder filled with gas. This swim bladder enables a fish to hover at its characteristic level with minimum effort.”16
No matter what part of nature we study, be it ever so far removed from the central issues of the creation- evolution controversy, we are reminded of God’s character as it is revealed in His creation. In the ocean, we see His care for us, His immense power His intelligence in the design of the creation, and His incredible creativity revealed in the variety of the sea creatures.
This detailed design and care for every living thing of the creation not only points to God as a designer, but also tells us more about Him. We learn that He does care about even the smallest details, and we see that He cares about even the most unimportant (to us) forms of life. We can make use of these facts, which, as we have seen, become obvious to even the most committed eyolutionist, to not only stress God, but Who He is and His most earnest concern and desire for man in the Gospel.
1. William J. Cromie, Exploring the Secrets of the Sea (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962) p.3.
2. William R. Corliss, Mysteries Beneath the Sea (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1970) p. 33.
3. Ibid., p. 58.
4. John R. Baumgardner, “Global Tectonics: A New Synthesis” in Repossess the Land, the 1979 Conference Book published by the Bible-Science Association, p. 31.
6. Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976) pp. 260-261
7. Cromie, pp. 14-15.
8. Morris, p. 50.
9. Ibid., p. 52.
10. Ibid., p. 61.
11. A.E. Wilder-Smith, The Natural Sciences Know Nothing of Evolution (San Diego: Master Books, 1981) p. 14.
12. Ibid., pp. 14 and 34.
13. Leonard Engel, The Sea (New York: Time-Life Books, 1968) p. 9.
14. Donald England, A Christian View of Origins (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972) p. 58.
15. Engel, pp. 10-11.
16. Ibid., p. 31, emphasis added.
Photo: Oceanographic Museum in Monaco. Courtesy of Stanimir Stoyanov. (CC-BY-SA 4.0)