In the June 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation James Peterson gave a wonderful quote of St. Augustine. It seems he saw a little girl marching industriously into the surf with a pail. She then walked back up the beach and poured the water into a little dip in the sand. He asked her what she was doing, and she lifted the pail and said: “Today I am going to empty the ocean with my pail.”
“I can picture that the girl felt the waves tugging at her feet. She knew the taste of salt water on her tongue. She could hear the roar of the surf. She could see the blue water stretching to the horizon. She knew the ocean with every sense she had, and as completely as she could. But she did not even begin to conceive that the water stretched all the way to the other coasts. She had no inkling that in the water before her there were mountain ranges and canyons, whales and walruses, icebergs and tropical islands. There is a parallel here with how we know God. All who God is—beyond any one way of knowing, and even with all our ways of knowing together—ultimately, is beyond our current best human comprehension, but we can truly know God with all the ability that we have, including from our ability to experience nature. If one knows God by God’s self-revelation, one can then recognize God’s presence in the serene moonrise rippling across a lake, and in the fierce, and as it turns out, life-giving, forest fire.”
“Living in this material world is a generous and complicated gift that can enrich our understanding and experience of God. What we discover and experience of our material world through the sciences, can sometimes help us to recognize more of its Creator.”
In 1910 an Arctic explorer by the name of Alfred Wegener coined the term continental drift. Wegener saw the same fossils in South America that he had seen in western Africa, and he proposed that the two continents had been connected at one time. Wegener’s proposal was ridiculed by the scientists of that day who saw the Earth’s crust as too solid to allow any model of that kind to work.
Over the years studies of earthquake epicenters have shown that there is movement of huge slabs of rock called tectonic plates. The rock material bends more and more steeply until the slabs eventually melt into the mantle–the molten interior of the earth. These slabs and everything on them do in fact move.
In 1952 an ocean cartographer by the name of Marie Tharp began making profiles of the Atlantic Ocean floor going from west to east. Her profiles showed a ridge down the center of the Atlantic with younger material in the center and older material on both sides. She proposed that molten material was coming up from the mantle and pushing the two slabs of ocean floor material away from each other. Where the slabs hit the edges of the continent, the material is deflected downward making trenches in the floor of the ocean.
All of these discoveries flew in the face of the accepted geological theory at the time, and Tharp was ridiculed. In time scientists came to understand that the Earth is made up of plates sliding along the surface and sliding down into the mantle when a continent is reached.
There is a message in all of this that what is considered to be scientifically impossible, sometimes turns out to be true. At the same time, a pet theory can ultimately be proven incorrect. One of the beauties of science is that eventually it cleans up its own mistakes.
Another message is that sometimes God addresses a problem long before humans know there is a problem. This whole process is one of the greatest recycling systems of all time. As nutrients and minerals get eroded off the continents, they are deposited on the ocean floor. The movement of the ocean floor ultimately returns this material to the mantle to be recycled back to the Earth’s surface.
Imagine a creature that has no backbone, no ribs, in fact, no skeletal structure at all. It can weigh up to 200 pounds (90 kg), and its arms can be almost seven feet (2 m) long. It has three hearts, and the color of its blood is blue. Its limbs are covered with hundreds of tongues which have taste receptors, and its body is embedded with cells that sense light. Its eight arms are covered with suckers that can be moved independently and have tongues and taste receptors embedded in them. This “alien” creature is not as alien as you might think. It’s the octopus.
The octopus is the dominant member of a class of marine animals called cephalopods which number some 750 known living species. Octopuses have about 300 species, and they are far and away the most intelligent of the cephalopods. Trying to keep an octopus in an aquarium is almost impossible because they always find ways to escape. Since they have no skeletal structure, they can squeeze through the smallest crack. They can unscrew a jar lid, fit into a drain pipe, and camouflage their activity by releasing a cloud of ink. In an article on “Animal Intelligence” in the “News and Notes” section of our November/December 2016 printed publication, we told the story of “Inky” the octopus. Inky squeezed through a narrow gap at the top of his tank at the National Aquarium of New Zealand. After flopping to the floor, Inky scooted across the room to the opening of a drain pipe. He got into the pipe and dropped 164 feet (50 m) to where the pipe entered the sea, and there he escaped.
Most of us know what a Swiss Army Knife is. The one I had as a kid had a knife, can opener, bottle opener, nail file, corkscrew, screwdriver, and scissors all built into one six-inch container. You pulled out of the container whatever you wanted to use. While it didn’t always work well, it did a large number of things.
The mangrove is a tree which God has created to do a large number of different things. The design of the tree is ingenious. The roots of the plant filter out 90% of the salt from seawater so the plant can grow along any ocean shoreline. The leaves of the plant are waxy and thick so that the water inside the plant is stored efficiently. The roots make the plant look like it is on stilts, but their design gives stability even in the worst of storms. Those same roots sequester carbon four times more effectively than tropical rain forests.
In addition to all of those things, the mangrove is home to a wide range of living organisms. The root system is a protective breeding ground for many different species of fish as well as crustaceans, mollusks, barnacles, and turtles. Many varieties of sea-birds such as egrets and warblers nest in mangroves. There are about 60 species of mangroves in the world, and they are all beneficial. Not only do they protect the shorelines from beach erosion and shelter fisheries, but the wood is used in a variety of ways.
One of the most studied fish in the ocean is a three-inch long shore fish called the frillfin goby (Bathygobius soporator). This little fish has even gotten attention from the New York Times which ran an article about studies by Dr. Jonathan Balcombe on this fish and how it survives (May 15, 2016).
This fish lives in the intertidal zones in the Atlantic Ocean. When the tide goes out, the fish lives in small tidal pools which are isolated and free of the large predatory fish which pose a threat when the tide is in. The problem is that these small pools can be hunting grounds for shorebirds and crabs so sometimes the fish needs to change pools. The goby does this by jumping out of its pool and landing in a nearby pool that offers better protection. The obvious problem with making this jump is knowing where the next pool is to land in it and not on bare rock. In 1971 a study was done at the American Museum of Natural History to see how the frillfin goby learns where to jump and how far to jump to land in the pool. Their conclusion was that the goby swims over the area at high tide and makes a mental map of the topography of the sea-floor. It can use this mental map 40 days later to escape from a predator. Essentially they have a mental GPS that allows them to make what would otherwise be a very dangerous escape.