Friday, May 18, 2007


This morning I attended my last ever lecture at Southampton University. Afterwards, my friend Ella and I grabbed a coffee and were talking about what it is we've achieved in the last three years.

The world hasn't changed enormously since October 2004. Its population now stands at closer to 7 billion than 6 billion. It has one more country (Serbia and Montenegro split last year). An estimated 28 conflicts are ongoing across Latin America, Africa and Asia (not including the "war on terror"). The reality of anthropogenic climate change seems to have finally been established.

Locally, the July 2005 terror attacks in London were both a result of and reason for our involvement in projecting power abroad. Close to a million eastern Europeans have arrived in the UK and have made their presence felt quickly in our cities.

So what do geography students do to learn about this world? Are we merely to describe it, or can we explain and understand what happens? Ella and I agreed that the most important thing we've discovered is not the mechanisms of globalisation, the development of third way welfare or the techniques of fieldwork - it's the ability to think critically. Accepting what we're told is a learning technique from school, where if a teacher says something it should be true. University inverts that process and teaches us to question authority, to analyse sources and develop our own viewpoints. When we read opposing explanations of the same phenomenon it becomes clear that they aren't both correct, but how are we to differentiate between philosophies and theories?

The Christian geographer has extra work to do. The modern vogue of 'poststructuralist' geography is predicated on all knowledge being 'situated' or biased. This makes sense, but it is in choosing viewpoints that the Christian has an advantage. The existence of absolute truth means that we can know, not just opine. For truth is not an abstract concept, it arrived in this world in the shape of God himself: the author of creation became created in order that we might approach the Unapproachable and know the Unknowable! Now that's what I call ontology.

I'm grateful to have been able to glorify God through studying his world, even though most of the time I've not had the mindset I just outlined.

The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world and
all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
(Psalm 24:1-2)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the
work of his hands.
(Psalm 19:1)

The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever. The
ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.
(Psalm 19:9)

No comments: