Have you ever heard a Bible verse that so consumed your mind and heart that it drove your thoughts, actions, and pursuits for years upon end?
One of the Psalms contains a phrase that seized an already-successful man’s attention and dramatically influenced the course of his scientific life.
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:8)
This is the Bible phrase that prompted the Father of Oceanography to begin a search for paths in the ocean.
King David of Israel wrote Psalm 8 by Yahweh’s inspiration 3,000 years ago. Yet the “paths of the seas” he mentioned have only been known by modern peoples for two centuries.
The “paths of the seas” were discovered by Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), the Father of Oceanography.
Maury was a US naval officer whose attention was arrested by the phrase “paths of the seas” upon hearing Psalm 8 read aloud. He vowed to find these “paths of the seas.”
The story is told in the booklet A Brief Sketch of the Work of Matthew Fontaine Maury, authored by Maury’s son, Richard Launcelot Maury:
At one time, when Commodore Maury was very sick, he asked one of his daughters to get the Bible and read to him. She chose Psalm 8, the eighth verse of which speaks of “whatsoever walketh through the paths of the sea.” He repeated, “The paths of the sea, the paths of the sea. If God says the paths of the sea, they are there, and if I ever get out of this bed I will find them.”
Maury studied navigation, meteorology, winds, and currents. He pored over thousands of ships’ logs and charts. His 1847 Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic greatly reduced the lengths of ocean voyages by showing how to take advantage of ocean currents and winds. He shortened sailing time to California by thirty days, to Australia by twenty, and to Brazil by ten. His system of recording oceanographic current and wind data was used worldwide to develop charts for major trade routes.
Maury said this about ocean currents:
“There are rivers in the sea. They are of such magnitude that the mightiest streams of the land are rivulets compared to them. They are either of warm or cold water, while their banks and beds are water of the opposite temperature. For thousands of miles they move through their liquid channels unmixed with the confining waters. They are the horizontal movements called currents. The mariner can sometimes detect them by the different color of their stream, while, if they give no such visible sign of their existence, he can trace them by testing their temperature with his thermometer. There is an equatorial current sweeping from east to west all along on either side of the equator, and well nigh encircling the globe. There are polar currents setting from the polar regions toward the equator; and there are return currents setting from the equator toward the poles.”
(John W. Wayland, The Pathfinder of the Seas, The Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, 1930, p.81)
Maury’s lifelong effort at charting wind and ocean currents to find the most efficient paths for ships to follow earned him the sobriquet “Pathfinder of the Seas.”
In 1855 Maury published Physical Geography of the Sea, the first exhaustive treatise on oceanography. In it he wrote,
“I have always found in my scientific studies, that, when I could get the Bible to say anything on the subject it afforded me a firm platform to stand upon, and a round in the ladder by which I could safely ascend. As our knowledge of nature and her laws has increased, so has our knowledge of many passages of the Bible improved. The Bible called the earth ‘the round world,’ yet for ages it was the most damnable heresy for Christian men to say that the world is round; and, finally, sailors circumnavigated the globe, and proved the Bible to be right, and saved Christian men of science from the stake. And as for the general system of circulation which I have been so long endeavoring to describe, the Bible tells it all in a single sentence: ‘The wind goeth toward the South and returneth again to his circuits.'”
In Matthew Maury’s speech at the laying of the cornerstone for East Tennessee University on November 30, 1860 he said,
“I have been blamed by men of science, both in this country and in England, for quoting the Bible in confirmation of the doctrines of physical geography. The Bible, they say, was not written for scientific purposes, and is therefore of no authority in matters of science. I beg pardon! The Bible is authority for everything it touches.
What would you think of the historian who should refuse to consult the historical records of the Bible, because the Bible was not written for the purposes of history?
The Bible is true and science is true, and therefore each, if truly read, but proves the truth of the other. The agents in the physical economy of our planet are ministers of Him who made both it and the Bible.
The records which He has chosen to make through the agency of these ministers of His upon the crust of the earth are as true as the records which by the hands of His prophets and servants, He has been pleased to make in the Book of Life…
They are both true; and when your men of science, with vain and hasty conceit, announce the discovery of disagreement between them, rely upon it, the fault is not with the witness of His records, but with the worm who essays to interpret evidence which he does not understand.”
Clued in by the words of Psalm 8, Matthew Maury discovered the paths of the seas by mapping the major wind and ocean currents around the world. This benefited commerce and ocean-going ships all over the world.
Matthew Maury was a scientist who believed in the literal truth of the Bible. He believed in the harmony of Scripture and science and applied it to benefit all of mankind.
One of the monuments in Maury’s honor in Virginia (pictured here) is inscribed in part with these words:
Matthew Fontaine Maury
Pathfinder of the Seas
The genius who first snatched
from ocean and atmosphere
the secret of their laws.
His inspiration Holy Writ
Questions to Ponder
- If a statue were to be erected in your honor, what three objects would a sculptor show as characteristic of your life?
- Is Scripture as essential to your life as it evidently was to Matthew Maury?
Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the second in the Science in the Bible series of blog posts. While there is much science connected with Creation and Noah’s Flood, this series will focus on lesser known scientific truths that were alluded to in the Bible long before they were known to scientists.
Read the prequel:
1. Science in the Bible – Blood
Read the sequel:
3. Science in the Bible – Undersea Mountains
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday January 18, 2017 A.D.
Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)