Saturday, October 20, 2012

Paths in the Sea -- Matthew Maury

Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!  From Psalm 8.

Matthew Maury, Photo From Library of Congress
My mother used to tell me about the man from Tennessee who found the currents or paths in the ocean.  This Tennessee native, Matthew Fontaine Maury, is often called the Father of Oceanography -- a title which is recognized worldwide.  Maury was born in Virginia in 1806 but grew up in Franklin, Tennessee.

In 1825, Matthew Maury joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman (officer in training). His father was angry with Maury for accepting it, since Matthew's brother John had joined the navy and had died of yellow fever on ship.  Maury went on to become an officer and continued his naval career, even after an injury meant that he could no longer work at sea. 

A Christian, Maury's study of the Bible led him to many discoveries about the world's oceans.  Likewise, his curiosity about the seas he sailed motivated him to observe things such as ocean winds and currents.  He kept complete logs of his adventures on ship.  He dropped thermometers, attached to ropes, into the water so that he could chart changes in water temperature. He studied old ship.  By his studies, he discovered  and charted the currents of the oceans.  After he published a book locating the ocean currents surrounding South America, sailors were able to sail much more quickly around the continent.

Why was Maury so intent that the ocean must hold "paths" or currents?  He drew inspiration from Psalm 8, which talks about the paths in the sea.  He reasoned that if God said that there were paths in the sea, there must be paths.

Maury studied every navigational book that he could find, including ones that the U.S. Navy hadn't studied.  Then, he wrote his own navigational book, which was considered the best navigational textbook ever written by an American. Throughout his book, he included Biblical passages of meteorological and other scientific interest. 

One passage that interested him was Job 28:25 which refers to God's making the weight for the winds.  Here are his thoughts about that:

‘. . though the fact that the air has weight is here so distantly announced [in Job], philosophers never recognized the fact until within comparatively a recent period, and then it was proclaimed by them as a great discovery. Nevertheless, the fact was set forth as distinctly in the book of nature as it is in the book of revelation; for the infant, in availing itself of atmospherical pressure to draw milk from its mother’s breast, unconsciously proclaimed it.’
Maury organized a an international conference, during which he persuaded a number of countries to keep records of every ship's log.  This material was used to  prepare charts of the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean between the U.S. and Europe.  This hinted at the possibility of laying undersea cables.

Maury died in 1873.  He was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.

For Maury, science and faith did not conflict, and his faith became a springboard for his scientific explorations.