Oceanography and the Nature of Science

Submitted by Hannah D. on Thu, 06/27/2013 - 19:17

According to mainstream science, no debate exists between evolution and creation. This is because science is defined as being inherently Naturalistic – a view held by atheists and Intelligent Design proponents alike. Naturalism, the belief that physical matter is all that exists, is the source of evolution and millions of years. If this is the case, that science is Naturalistic by its very nature, we would expect current research to confirm this. One area of rapidly expanding research today is marine science.

The oceans are truly the last frontier on earth. With rapidly expanding fields in physics, geology, chemistry, biology, meteorology, and mathematical scientists alike, it is not uncommon to discover hundreds of new species on a single voyage or to chart a previously unknown vent system on the sea floor; it is rather expected.

The oceans are a source of rapidly expanding discovery and research. At the sea floor, hydrothermal vents, mid ocean ridges and subduction zones offer geophysicists glimpses into the tectonic history of the planet. The physics and mathematics of ocean waves currently contains research towards the cause of Rogue Waves. In biology, coral reef formation remains an important part of the naturalistic timeline, and even more physical and social complexity is being discovered among marine organisms, particularly the marine mammals.

In taking a look at geology, the physics of waves, and various fields in biology, the study of science can be shown to either confirm naturalistic expectations or not. While Naturalism itself cannot be proven or denied in science alone (as science, being tentative in nature, can prove nothing) the question of whether science is inherently Naturalistic (and its supporting beliefs of evolution and millions of years) can be much less tentatively determined.

--Geology of the Sea Floor--

-A Brief Introduction to Plate Tectonics-

Before discussing the current research and questions seeking answers by scientists of the sea floor, it is necessary to describe the known processes of plate tectonics and the basic geography of the ocean’s bottom. Geological oceanography begins at the mid-ocean ridges, a global stretch of volcanic mountain ranges from which is made the basaltic oceanic crust.

The mid-ocean ridges can be thought of as a conveyor belt. Lava spews from them slowly, but they harden quickly in the cold temperatures of the abyss. The new sea floor pushes the old, beginning the long trek the sea floor takes from the ridges to the continents. This is called sea floor spreading.

Once the sea floor reaches the continents, it is still being pushed by the creation of new floor, but it can no longer spread over the earth. The continental crust and oceanic crust are pushed against each other with great force, causing the heavier, basaltic sea floor to sink underneath the lighter granite continent. The sea floor eventually falls beneath the crust, melts in the mantle, and fuels volcanic activity and earthquakes. Places where old oceanic crust is pushed underneath the continents are called subduction zones. Among the most tectonically active subduction zones are the ones in the Pacific, with America’s west coastline and the ‘Ring of Fire’ off Japan.

The places where lava spews out from the mid-ocean ridges also allows cold ocean water underneath the crust. This water passes over the mantle, its dissolved gases catalyzing the melting of rocks. After being heated to around 400˚ Celsius, it is forced out of the hydrothermal vents on the sea floor. This has significant ecological effects in the abysmal environment that will be explored later in this paper.

In summary, plate tectonics describes the spreading of the sea floor from the mid-ocean ridges to the subduction zones, while volcanic activity, earthquakes, and hydrothermal vents are fueled along the way, having great effect on the environment and ecosystem.

-The Cause of Plate Tectonics-

Research in plate tectonics helps us predict natural disasters and improves our understanding of marine life. However, it can get rather complicated in all its little details. A still unanswered question in plate tectonics today is simply the cause of it all. According to an oceanography textbook by Alan and A(?) Duxbury, “The actual mechanism that drives the plates apart is still not really understood.”

This is not to say suggestions have not been made. Seafloor spreading is a likely contributor, as are the density of the oceanic plates. But their lateral motion requires a great deal of force, and the energy of these plates is very, very low. Geologists are still looking for what caused it all.

It is altogether possible, and has been studied by a few geologists, that that source of such incredible force as to set the plates into motion was a geological catastrophe of global proportions. A catastrophe of this size is contrary to naturalism, whose geology is founded in uniformitarianism – the idea that present-day slow and gradual processes have always existed. Major catastrophes – especially global ones – are not considered viable, but such is the only possible explanation for the original movement of the plates.

If such a cause really set plate tectonics in motion, there ought to be evidence for a single worldwide catastrophe. Plate tectonics and the global mid-ocean ridges are just the beginning. Rocks of marine origin are found all over the world, from the Himalayas to deserts. Diatomite (rock made from the exoskeleton of marine plankton), fossilized marine fish, and continuous sheets of sedimentary rock that can be found covering parts of the United States, Europe and Asia all point to a Flood of epic proportions. While naturalists are intent on there being no evidence for the Global Flood as accounted in the Bible, evidence confirms quite the contrary. There is also evidence of rapid plate subduction as well as rapid and erratic magnetic changes throughout the sea floor. Both of these changes are further evidence for catastrophe; uniformitarianism presumes slow, constant subduction rates and changes in the earth’s magnetic field. Furthermore, the processes we know are keeping plate tectonics going today cannot possibly be the original cause of it all.

-Hydrothermal Vents-

One aspect of marine geology currently undergoing massive research is that of the sea floor. Once thought a vast and featureless plain of silt, it is now known to be the home of some of the most fascinating – and most undiscovered – life on the planet. Scientists send robots to the sea floor or head down themselves in Alvin, observing and cataloging new species and behaviors of these creatures.

For example, one scientist recently found that blind shrimp can actually detect light waves with frequencies too high for ours to see (Van Dover). The purpose of this was unknown until soon after when invisible light waves were found to be emitted from the hydrothermal vents. Apparently, shrimp use them for navigation in the inky blank waters.

It is from these vents that 400˚ water is spewed from under the crust of the earth, feeding and supporting a chemosynthesis (and detritus) based ecosystem. Instead of being based off of photosynthesis and photosynthetic organisms, a complete lack of sunlight forces an environment of a completely different kind. Due to the limited nature of such a place, these ecosystems are filled with very symbiotic creatures, several of which house the bacteria in their gut. Tubeworms, clams, and crabs all do this.

Detritus is the other source of food in the deep. When an animal dies and sinks to the bottom – say a large whale – it is very suddenly taken over by waves of crabs, brittle stars, sea cucumbers, fish, and jawless fish. One after another they eat away at the flesh and bones until scarcely anything is left, after only a few days! However, the real mystery here is how the animals find their way around in the inky blankness in the first place. Save for the hydrothermal vents, the abyssal plains are relatively featureless. Even if they could see or feel about somehow, how do they do it so quickly? How do they not get lost? And how can they find a fallen whale in less than a day?

Another mystery of the sea floor is the construction of new ecosystems. After underwater volcanic explosions, hydrothermal vents form, and seemingly out of nowhere animals come in to populate. It is known that creatures such as deep-sea clams grow much faster at such vents than elsewhere on the seafloor. Could it be that ecosystems grow faster here as well? Geologists, chemists and biologists alike hover over these growing ecosystems to observe how everything can come together. It will likely unlock several mysteries that scientists are now puzzled by.

There is reason to expect a great deal from such discoveries, especially considering what we already know between geology, chemistry and biology in the abyss. The seawater taken underneath the crust at the mid-ocean ridges contains dissolved gasses such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen – gasses that catalyze the melting of rocks into magma. Along the way, the water picks up plenty of nutrients that the animals will need for chemosynthesis when it is spewed from hydrothermal vents. This helps to fuel plate tectonics and support an ecosystem – both of which will affect the entire planet.

Such interconnectedness, such congruous and vital correlation between hydrology, geology, chemistry, biology and ecology, is incredible and a source of awe for many practicing scientists. At the same time it is common all throughout the world, and especially at the seafloor. Such complexity at the microscopic and macroscopic level, between ecological and geological processes that affect the whole planet, is difficult for evolution to explain, at best. Evolution and random processes cannot explain a build-up of complexity from simplicity, be it in the genome of a living organism, the intricacy of a cell, or the symbiosis and elaborate connectedness of an ecosystem between life and earth.

--Biology and Coral Reefs--

-Coral Reef Growth-

One of the commonly cited evidences for uniformitarianism is coral reef formation. The corals grow on a reef made of dead corals and limestone that grow very, very slowly, at today’s rates. As is the case with most arguments against uniformitarianism, it is reasonable to suggest that today’s rates are not the same of the past.

According to most scientists, the average rate of coral, while varying due to environment, is about 5-25 mm per year. When the coral reef is growing, it can reach rates of 600-800 mm in four and a half years, but growth slows when they reach sea level.

The reefs that corals grow on are made of limestone, which is from the buildup of skeletons of dead corals and such. In some of these reefs, the limestone deposit is hundreds of feet. The Eniwetok Atoll is 4,050 feet deep. According to the principles of uniformitarianism, such large reefs could only form in millions of years.

However, in the case of the Eniwetok Atoll, limestone rock did not form the reef; limestone mud (formed by microbes) made it up. To add to this mystery, cavities exist in the reef, places where the limestone has been eaten away somehow in little pockets. This has puzzled geologists for some time. But as the reef is built on top of a volcano, a process called geothermal endo-upwelling is one proposed explanation.

Upwelling is the motion of warm water below the surface moving up. This is simply due to the fact that warmer water is less dense that cold water, so it will naturally rise to the surface. In the case of geothermal endo-upwelling, water rises because it is heated by the earth (hence the prefix “geo”); in other words, it is heated by a volcano.
The Eniwetok Atoll is situated directly above a volcano. Dr. John C. Whitmore, paleontologist and geology professor, believes he can explain the formation without millions of years at all:

“Microbes living at depth…may have produced the mound of ‘chalky’ limestone material on the underwater volcano. Hot acidic water from the volcano may then have dissolved some of the limestone, making the large caverns that the drilling encountered. As warm water rose upward, cooler nutrient-rich water was drawn into the lower caverns from the surrounding ocean. This process has been described as geothermal endo-upwelling…It has been described in modern reefs and is suggested for some of the ancient Pacific reefs, including the Eniwetok Atoll.”

Would such a process a long time? No; the limestone would build quickly and coral would thrive over it with the warm, nutrient rich waters.

In summary, the very large reefs usually considered to necessarily require long ages to form need no such thing. They are made of limestone mud-rock that could easily be formed rapidly by productive microbes in a nutrient-rich environment.

-Coral Reefs and Paleontology-

Coral reefs are also found in the fossil record. They are of great size and thickness and thus are alleged further evidence for an old earth. However, a closer look will show that they are evidence of something quite more catastrophic.

The first clue that fossilized coral reefs may not be what they seem is that they have different sizes and structures than today’s modern reefs. They also do not appear very regular. Fossilized coral reefs are not orderly in that they do not appear to have grown on gradually built limestone; everything is quite jumbled. The corals and rocks they presumably grew upon are all meshed together as though in a heap of debris. Noted geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling concluded,

“[M]isidentified ‘fossil reefs’…are reefs that grew before the Flood but were eroded, fragmented, and carried by debris flows. These fragments were then deposited as large chunks of rock mixed with finer sediment debris…or are simply piles of broken shells and other body fragments that were later cemented together by lime muds. In other cases, former reefs have been transported and buried elsewhere en masse. Therefore, no long time periods were required for any reefs to grow in place…”

In other words, fossilized coral reefs are not, as uniformitarians claim, a single place where the coral slowly built up. They had been growing peaceably until some cataclysm tore them up and deposited them in one large heap (a heap deep enough to appear, at first glance, as though it were quite a bit older). Coral reefs in the fossil record are not evidence for uniformitarianism or Naturalism, but are evidence for another theory of science – Flood-based catastrophism.


-Seals and Dolphins-

Marine mammals are many and diverse. Order Pinnipedia reflects this in including seals, sea lions, whales and dolphins. Known for their intelligence and often there trainability, they are also incredibly designed creatures with surprising, newly discovered mathematical aspects. Two relatively new discoveries in this field include the sense of hearing of ‘earless’ seals and the even more recent speculation that dolphins use nonlinear algebra in echolocation.

The earless seals were once thought to not have a sense of sound. Not only were they lacking earflaps (although ear holes were present), the thick, fatty layer around their head appeared to make it impossible for sound waves to penetrate. Further probing, however, proved something a bit more sophisticated was in place.

The fatty layer around the seal’s head was actually filled with hollow channels. They were set up much like a trumpet; except that they were much more mathematically precise, perfectly made to magnify any sound their heard. Scientists decided that seals had a quite acute sense of hearing after all.

Even more incredible was the realization that a dolphin with a linear-based sonar system cannot discern depth or detail when it detects an object; it simply sees a ‘blob.’ Wouldn’t dolphins, whose echolocation was the basis for our sonar system, be unable to detect this as well? Yet when hunting fish they create a net of bubbles to contain a school; in doing so they are still able to differentiate between the bubbles and the fish. This would appear as a single big blob on a linear sonar system.

On a hunch, scientists experimented with nonlinear algebra – that which deals with curves and slopes – and were able to ‘see’ individual objects, such as fish and bubbles grouped together. Using such a system, dolphins would have no difficulty finding the fish amidst the bubble mesh. This would require, however, the ability to process complex, nonlinear mathematics.

Such incredible design is common throughout the world, yet is often overlooked as something evolution has ‘made’ or ‘created.’ While such personification is good for creative writing, it has no place in scientific explanation, and may even be cited as an err in logic.

-The Physics of Waves-

If mathematics is the language of science, than physics, the most fundamental of the sciences, ought to be intrinsically mathematical. Not only is this in and of itself a problem for Naturalism, but the sheer amount of mathematical complexity and unity in science is quite extraordinary.

In physical oceanography, the study of waves is built upon trigonometry. Waves follow periodic motion, which is based on sinusoidal functions – that is, functions that follow sine or cosine patterns, moving up and down. Thus, they follow mathematical patterns in formation, motion, and interaction with other waves. For example, the speed of a wave is measured by dividing wavelength and period (the amount of time it takes for a wave to move from one top to another). Period is measured without difficulty, but wavelength requires a bit more effort. Actually there is a direct relationship between wavelength, period, and gravity. It is as follows:

L= g/2π T^2

This turns out to be approximately 1.561T^2 meters; g = acceleration due to gravity (9.8 m/s^2) and π = 3.1415.

Using basic methods to determine period, and then using this equation to determine wavelength, we can determine wave speed (represented ‘C’):

C= L/T= (g/2π) T

However, it must be noted that these equations only work for deep-water waves; that is, they are moving in water that is deeper than half their wavelength. Once the wave reaches shallow water, its shape and speed is changed.

The reason for this lies in the nature of ocean waves. The wave itself is nothing but energy travelling through the ocean; the water molecules it travels through do not move along with it, but instead travel up and down in a circular fashion. If the wave is in deep water, the water molecules move up and down freely as the wave travels. But if it nears shore, some of those water molecules hit the sandy bottom, and they slow down. This means the water is travelling faster on top than it is underneath, and eventually, it breaks. It also slows down and flattens out in the process.

As may be expected, however, the speed of a wave depends on more than just its period and wavelength. Waves interact with each other quite often. A slow wave is followed by a faster one behind it, and the two overlap. Or two waves meet from different directions. When the high point (called the crest) and the low point (called the trough) meet each other from two different sets of waves, they overlap and cancel each other out; the sea is calm. But when the crests combine and the troughs combine, the wave increases in height and gets larger and the sea becomes a bit more dangerous. Both of these interactions can be graphed mathematically.

Waves are formed in a windy patch in the ocean that marine scientists refer to as ‘the sea.’ They move together in groups called swells. Each wave swell has a different speed and energy (determined mostly by period and wavelength, but outside factors such as wave interaction affects it as well). The Duxbury textbook explains that waves with long wavelengths and long periods

“have a greater speed than those with short periods and short wavelengths. These faster, longer waves move gradually through and ahead of the shorter, slower waves…they carry considerable energy, which they lose very slowly.”

In this way, large wave swells can travel from the equator to Alaska without losing too much speed or energy. Incidentally, the speed of a swell of waves is half of the individual waves’ speed. The speed of a group also equals the speed of the energy transport.

Clearly, then, waves move mathematically, and in much more detail and complexity that can be covered here. There is one simple fact underneath all of this, however: mathematical patterns and relationships are a central part to the motion of waves. This is devastating to the modern notion of Naturalism, as teacher of mathematics Dr. Larry Zimmerman concludes. “Nothing could be more damaging to the theory of evolution than the fact that God orders the universe mathematically.”

How’s that? The fact that mathematics governs scientific processes in the universe – they do, after all, spread far beyond the study of ocean waves – is “damaging” to evolutionary thought. This is because evolution (and its parent belief, Naturalism) is founded in a world in which physical matter is all that exists. Mathematics is certainly not a physical entity. It is not an object to be studied under scientific reasoning; it is the method by which we reason. If matter is all that there is, why does it obey the nonmaterial realm of mathematics, and on so complex a scale?

Mathematics spreads beyond one particular field of science and is, fundamentally, a part of it all. Dr. Zimmerman writes of it,

“[T]here [are] so many unifying elements [in mathematics] such as sets, functions, and vectors, interlacing what initially appeared to be diverse ideas invented independently by different people at different times in different parts of the world.”

Mathematics, whether its trigonometry or patterned number sequences, is connected in and of itself. Bridged in ways that boggle even professional mathematicians, there is a unity within it that could never have been imagined by all the people involved in discovering each (apparently disconnected) idea. What’s more, these ideas describe and predict phenomena in the scientific world. Using abstract and conceptual mathematical theorems, scientists have discovered ways to describe things they can’t even see, from atoms to radio waves to dolphins’ perception systems and wind-created ocean waves.

Zimmerman continues,

“It certainly appears that mathematics is an entity which someone designed, parts of which mathematicians discover.”

The very existence of mathematics dismisses Naturalism as a scientific theory of the universe’s past and present. As a physical and material religion, it cannot explain the nonphysical and nonmaterial of mathematics. Considering the fact that such abstractions are the starting point for all of science (which is supposed to only be naturalistic), the assumptions of evolution and uniformitarianism become less and less convincing.

--Summary & Conclusion--

After considering sundry aspects of oceanography – plate tectonics, deep-sea ecology, coral reefs & paleontology, mathematical biology, and the physics of waves – it is clear that the sea is a source of sometimes fascinating, sometimes fantastic design and complexity. Consider again the foundational beliefs of Naturalism: uniformitarianism, the geologic theory that the present is the key to the past, and evolution, the biologic theory that all living organisms share a common ancestor.

In plate tectonics, today’s energy source for their motion is limited and running out. A single major geological process had to have been the cause of it. This defies the idea that observing the present answers questions about the past.

In deep-sea ecology and hydrothermal vents, we find organisms tied closely to their physical environment in ways that affect the entire planet. How can evolution, a slow-and-gradual, step-by-step process, explain an ecosystem that would fall apart by the extraction of particular species and processes from it? In other words, the ecosystem relies on every one of its parts as much as organelles and proteins in a cell do. The irreducible complexity in a cell is comparable to the irreducible complexity of ecosystems.

Coral reef growth is a much faster process than previously recognized, in certain scenarios. So many factors can come into play that it is wrong to state that the earth must be old because we know coral reef growth rates are not steady or certain enough to reliably date anything else.

Coral reefs in the fossil record show more evidence against uniformitarianism. Being unstructured and full of debris, they are the jumbled debris of some catastrophe not going on today. While they are in accord with a Global Flood, scientists who presume ‘the present is the key to the past’ cannot consistently explain these as being formed gradually.

The mathematical complexity of nature is another evidence for design that random chance simply cannot account for. If seal ears are structured mathematically and dolphins can process complex mathematics, where did these mathematical rules and formulae come from?

The mathematical complexity of waves follows the same line of reasoning. Naturalism is the belief that physical matter is all that exists. Where did non-physical mathematical laws come from, and why do they govern the material world?

Of course, all these phenomena can be explained not from a Naturalistic worldview, but from a Christian one. For Christianity is the antithesis of Naturalism. God’s omniscience, wisdom and design can account for the beauty and complexity of His creatures and the world they live in, and He has described in the Bible a Global Flood with the power to rip up coral reefs, lay down the fossil record and tear apart the continents. The world we live in confirms the glory of its Creator and the truth of His Book, the Bible, and science, the study of it, exemplifies this. We should only expect modern research in any science, including new discoveries in oceanography, to confirm this.


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Author's age when written

This paper and Global Warming were written for my Research Papers class this past school year. (Which may help to explain their relative dryness. ; ) Also, I can't figure out how to bold or italicize anything, hence the strange use of dashes to identify a new section.