Christic Peace

"Geography, Faith And Secular Science"

Geography, Faith & Secular Science

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The debate as to whether religion and science are compatible or not continues unabated. Many insist that they are concerned with different things, and therefore should be kept at arms length from one another.

However, I believe that the two are not incompatible, and in these pages, I try to explain why I say this, in relation to Geography, a field in which I spent many happy years of teaching and research, in many places.

What is geography about?

Geography is widely understood, practised and taught as a down-to-earth subject, the study of the real world and its human and environmental distributions and relationships. Refreshingly diversified and liberatingly untrammeled in its scope, geography is home for both specialist and generalist.

Broadly, geographers regard themselves as performing an invaluable bridging function, bringing together the human and physical sciences. However, geographers also look closely at the components of their discipline, or interdiscipline, which demand systematic inquiry and search. They also gaze with respect at the holistic ethos and capability of Geography, and in the process acquire integrative skills.

Geographical enquiry is undertaken under the secular banner, in a culture and an academic tradition that would keep the religious and the secular apart. Even those who write on the geography of religion (e.g. Sopher 1967) tend to do so in a secular mode. There is little attention to the faith content of religion, regarded as beyond the realm of legitimate geographical study, although Sopher (1981) has made a case for examining this aspect as well in as much as it affects the organisation of physical and social space.

However, from around the 1970s, a growing body of literature began to appear, in which geographers expressed a religious, mainly a Christian viewpoint, on a range of issues and problems. Suggestions were also made as to what the role of the Christian geographer might be.

Late in 1988, in response to a growing sense of need for formal association, a group of professional geographers from many tertiary institutions and countries met at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, where they formed a Fellowship of Christian Geographers. A report on this appeared in the journal, Area, in 1989. There it was asserted that “Christians like Marxists, humanists and positivists, have a ‘basis of faith’ which shapes their philosophic perspective on life and geography, and hence the way they actually live their lives and do their geography”.

The statement went on: “Christian geographers are attempting neither uncritically to apply theological dogma, nor to resurrect pre-scientific anachronism, nor to create some kind of spurious sub-field of the discipline. Rather … to adopt a scholarly approach to the whole discipline, emanating from a genuine, committed world-view…recognising the need for interdisciplinary, inter philosophical and inter methodological communication. We feel that a Christian perspective has a vital dimension to add to geographical debate, and to search for truth, hope and peace in our discipline and the needy world we study and in which we live”. [That account did not specify what a Christian perspective really was or is.]

The present discussion is an attempt to present the perspective of one who is both a geographer and one who tries to take Christ seriously, despite frequent shortcomings in the process. The views presented are personal, although it is hoped that they would stimulate debate.

There are questions to be raised. Is there a connection between faith and geography? If so, what kind of faith is it? This is asked because although every geographer probably has some basis of belief that affects his/her perceptions of the world and the manner in which geography is approached and practised, it does not follow that such faith is religious. Some geographers do not wish to see religious faith and geography brought together in any explicit manner. There is contentment with the way things are. This is because as a community, geographers are men and women of integrity and good-will, who care for knowledge, truth, people and the environment. One can understand the opinion that there is no need to bring religion, and with it possible controversy, into geography.

While such viewpoints are to be respected, they should not deter legitimate enquiry, as to whether geography could lead to religious faith; and then, how such faith might influence geography, and if so, how? If both answers are in the affirmative, whether there is interaction between faith and geography could be considered.

However, why geography grew as a secular discipline, just as most others did, may be asked for a start.

In their quest for knowledge,explanation and understanding, geographers usually turn to the “geographical method”. This is an adaptation of the scientific method, which is regarded as an invaluable means for discriminating between what is true and what is conjectural or spurious. In order to be objective and to base conclusions on evidence, data must be carefully collected, methodically analysed and hypotheses rigorously tested.

The scientific method was developed in the age of Newtonian science, in order to help understand the material universe, with mathematics, observation and experimentation at base. Through inductive and deductive reasoning, laws and principles governing the behaviour of natural phenomena were enunciated. Later, in the light of added information and new ideas, these were sometimes rejected or refined.

Paralleling this age of scientific enquiry was the 18th century philosophical movement, the Enlightenment, which emphasised reason as the best path to knowledge.

In their exploration and study of the world of matter, those engaged in scientific enquiry often came up with ideas and explanations at variance with those espoused by contemporary Christians. The latter regarded the bible as the literal word of God, and thus the repository of truth not only about God, but also about the material universe, and often attempted to use their power with the establishment to silence their challengers. But, anathema and influence were insufficient to staunch intellectual disenchantment with the prevailing ideas, and to prevent what appeared to be the unmasking of the forces of superstition and the fallacy of faith.

Unfortunately, out of this clash of seemingly irreconcilable opposites, there arose prejudice and arrogance born of mutually dismissive attitudes, contemptuous or suspicious of the other’s approaches to truth.For long, Christians remained obdurate in biblical fundamentalism. Exponents of the scientific method often resorted to scientism, writing off as inferior or as unworthy of serious scholarship and academic endeavour, fields of enquiry to which scientific methods could not be applied, or in which they were not applied.

The negative effects of those days of recrimination continue to taint and constrain today’s intellectual milieu. Despite recent criticisms of the positivist approach to ‘scientific’ enquiry made by humanist and Marxist geographers, scholarship continues to be equated largely with learning undertaken in or patterned on the scientific mode, whether in the physical or the social sciences, with the use of technological and statistical aids as indispensable tools in the search for truth. Expediency and pragmatism, whatever works, dispels doubt and provides appropriate answers and solutions to problems, are norms underlying enquiry.

That spirit, which prevails widely, marginalises theology and metaphysics, even relegating them to the anachronistic and the irrelevant. The resulting mind-set is secular, whatever protestations to the contrary may be, and is consonant with the values of societies of advanced technological and material development: individualism, commercialism, consumerism and the imperialisms of the times. Truth is regarded as relative and moral values as socially conjured, contingent upon the prevailing mode of production and a response to demand.
The melding of the scientist-rationalist traditions, a la Newton and the Enlightenment, profoundly affected the way in which people saw the world and themselves, and how they related to that world and to one another.

There grew the belief that through the understanding of the part, one was able to comprehend the whole, and that the whole was no more than the sum of its parts. The universe, the world, the human, were seen as no more than complex machines which mathematics, physics and the appropriate technology could or would explain, and would also help to control and manipulate with increasing ease.

The lament of the poet John Donne remains as valid today (if not more so) as when he first voiced his concern and pain that:

” ’tis all in peeces, all cohaerence gone”. For ours became and still largely is a fragmented world, where the study of the part, the specialism or sub-specialism are what matter and signify excellence. Thus, there is no music. There are notes. There is no poetry. There are words. There is no mystery. There are facts.


The outlook fostered by all this was one which made for disintegration rather than integration, both without and for an often deeper fragmentation within. It seemed to matter not if life was lived in compartments, or if the individual wore many faces and was unsure of her/his place in the order of things, unsure of identity, or out of contact with the true inner self.

Today, preoccupation continues to be with the facet, and the whole is largely overlooked, or has been so until very recently. There may be thought and even brilliance, but is there wisdom?

Moreover, there are no fundamental values, only laws governing the behaviour of structures, components and processes, and to which adjustment should be made in order to minimise the risk of failure, penalty or injury, to optimise well-being and to enhance security. But how these interact, and their synergistic effects, remain unappreciated. There is no consistency in principles or in the ethic of life, only ad hoc-ery in the present paradigm.

What is even more pervasive and insidious, be it in scientific, philosophical or theological circles, is the assumption that education and learning are almost exclusively the functions of the intellect, through, we are told, the exercise of the left-lobe of the brain. Experiential, heart-based learning, involving the right-lobe, is devalued or ignored because it does not fall within the scope of the rational scientific method.Thus the whole is not encompassed. The Yin is separated from the Yang. Decisions must be based on rational criteria, equated with shrewd practicality, with little or no reference to emotion and feeling, however exalted. Security and profit rank high above love and compassion. Justice, where allowed to influence judgment, is legalistic and devoid of mercy. Balance is lost, judgments are flawed, the human is dehumanised. Understanding of the world, the universe and the very Godhead suffer.

Impact on Geography and Geographers

Geography was the beneficiary and victim of all this, largely due to the way in which geographers saw themselves and thus their subject.

As seen earlier, because of the nature of geography, many geographers believe that through their interdisciplinary experience they acquire integrative skills and a greater holistic capability and commitment than many of those in the specialist sciences. Geographers were thus able, within their subject, to realise and appreciate that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (gestalt).

Because of this, geographers and geography could have challenged the rationalist-scientific status quo. Few did so. The flirtation with holism was superficial and brief, such interest being confined mainly to the study of the region.

As the product of their intellectual milieu, many desired scientist status, which they sought through emulating their peers in other sciences. Many geographers opted for specialisation, maintaining a quasi-holistic attitude, such as must prevail in all disciplines in the interest of balance, and intelligible writing.

Today, holistic pretensions linger on, surfacing periodically at conferences, seminars and introductory lectures on geography: a motherhood principle reiterated, toasted and then forgotten. But even here, the holism of the geographer is less than holistic. It is constrained by taboos: by secularism which excludes the spiritual and by intellectualism which excludes right-lobe (of the brain) aspects of learning and being.

Holism is commonly seen as a function of scale. To be holistic, all that is thought necessary is to enlarge the size of one’s canvas, or to include more variables in the equation, provided the latter are deemed scientifically worthy.

In the interests of objectivity and scientific analysis, preference continues to be for the observed and the observable, the tangible, the measureable and the quantifiable. Until recently, the past and the present were regarded as more appropriate for study than the future. They were data. The future had yet to eventuate. The geographer chose to become an observer, an analyst, a reporter and a commentator, detached from the subject and its content for the sake of objectivity. The geographer, as did the scientist, felt more comfortable looking in upon history, rather than as one who would shape it. The geographer became like his/her scientist peers, shackled by the intellectual culture of the times and its self-imposed limits, subscribing to its practices, assumptions and misconceptions. In the geographer’s quest for sophistication, excellence and self-advancement there has been preoccupation with the segment and the fragment.
Such pursuit has usually been interesting and by no means trivial. For this reason, most geographers remain unconvinced of the value and the need for a genuinely holistic perspective. The tendency is to avoid asking the deeper philosophical questions. Often there is a feeling that to do so as geographers would mean talking to the wind.

Nonetheless, geographers, like other academics, remain people of faith: faith in the work of those on which they build their case, faith in themselves, faith in their instruments, and very specially faith in their methodology.

The last has been added to as a result of developments in human geography.

1. Geographers look not only for facts, but where these are fraught with uncertainty, content themselves with probabilities. Upon these are erected logical superstructures seemingly true but often less reliable than the foundations themselves because of subjectivity and guess-work.

3. From here, there may be passage to agenda-setting or to application. The results of the last venture may be unintended: an exacerbation of problems to be solved or the creation of new ones.

These observations are not meant to belittle geography or academic endeavour. They are made to demonstrate that geographers value faith. As the scriptures have it, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1).

Limitations of science and its method

Over the last few decades, the limitations of science and the scientific method and its variants as the only source of and path to truth have gained wider recognition in academia. While indispensable for unraveling certain types of truth, they are inept and inappropriate in the case of others. The trouble here is not so much with science and its method, as with those who argue that for truth to be truth, it should be demonstrable through scientific means.

They would place in a ‘black-box’, disregard or even deny what they cannot understand or explain by scientific means, thereby vitiating the very purpose of scientific endeavour: the recognition of the truth. By so doing the implications of the unseen and the inexplicable tend to be side-stepped.

However, there are phenomena that neither reason nor science can explain away. Moreover, as science delves deeper into the study of existence it finds itself facing the realities of the unseen, and of having to confront the questions they pose; as also do humanism and Marxism, and even those responsible for criticisms of positivism and reductionism.

Scale and faith

Scale is a concern of both the geographer and the physicist, among others. The geographer’s interest in size and distance ranges from very small particles to the earth as an entity, roughly from around 10-4cm to 1010cm.

The scales along which the physicist operates range from the “sizes” of elementary particles to astronomical scales  involving distances that are in millions of light-years, and spaces in which the earth is but a speck of dust in our galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains many tens of billions of stars (suns), and which itself may be but a speck of dust in its wider setting among other galaxies and nebulae. Such sizes are only concepts and abstractions in the human mind, although they may be cryptically captured in mathematical formulae. Thus, “In both the micro- and the macro- physical…the limits of knowledge become absolutely clear, but so too does man’s peripheral position in the totality of the cosmos” (Küng 1985: 274).

This induces wonder and awe and impels the question “Why?”, a question that may be summarily dismissed or lead to deeper search along the dimension of belief and unbelief.
The geographer could choose to back away from such a question, regarding it as unscientific and undemonstrable, consigning the problem to a ‘black-box’. But, the one with a genuinely holistic outlook would be less inclined to do so, for holism knows no frontiers or boundaries. Least of all would such a person shrug aside the most profound of questions.

Both the geographer and the physicist realise that the evolutionary process, whether of life species or of the cosmos, is ongoing. And so, reality cannot end at the point where one’s experience of reality comes to an end (Küng 1985: 272). The study of the real world carries the enquirer into the realms of philosophy and to the threshold of transcendence.

Holistic renewal

Of paramount significance today is the fresh impetus that the holistic quest and ideal are being given by those who seek planetary preservation, development and life enhancement. The litany of problems and needs facing people and planet demands world vision and with its appreciation of interdependence (Fox & Swimme 1982; Simmons & Cox 1985: 54-57; Johnston & Taylor 1986). This is rendered more feasible through the application of systems-theory and computer technology. It is encouraged by the growing realisation that everything interacts with everything else. But even here the tendency to confuse scale with holism persists. Extending the search along the same plane does not automatically generate a holistic outlook. Holism is a way of seeing things, vision that is multi-planar.

Through the work of Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Niels Bohr and others has come the recognition that at its most primal level the world is an undivided whole. Whereas the classical scientific symbol of the world could well have been a billiards table with balls glancing off one another, today’s symbol, more appropriately, may be the musical symphony, for with the symphony it is necessary to begin with the wholeness of the music before attempting to analyse or discuss it (Fox & Swimme 1982: 11-12).

Quantum field theory, meditation and faith

Of interest is the attempt through quantum field theory to conceptualise the ultimate material reality which physics deals with and to regard it as a single field. All phenomena are thought to be excitations in it, with particle and force simply corresponding to different modes of activity in the field. The field is thought to be boundless, without detectable qualities, and the source of all phenomena which come from its interaction with itself. Most working physicists, realising how little they really know about particles and sub-particles and their divisions, are only concerned with theory as a device for getting from one observable situation to another. Other physicists and philosophers of science wish to ascertain what goes on beneath the observable. They ask the deeper questions.

The philosopher of science, eg. Professor R.L. Franklin (1987), sees a marked similarity between the characteristics (or the non-characteristics) of the quantum field and the pure consciousness that could be attained through stilling of the mind in deepest meditation.

Moreover, a unified quantum field and pure consciousness would be similar in most respects to the ‘ground of all being’, the pure, attribute less Brahman of Hinduism, and to Isvara, the personal aspect of Brahman, who is Creator and Lord (Panikkar 1968: 122-124). This foreshadows the Christian proclamation: “Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God…Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him” (John 1:1-3). For the Christian, “Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God … For through him God created everything … the seen and the unseen…” (Colossians 2:15-16).

Much more remains to be discovered, discussed and worked out before science and faith come together in a more formal sense. However, there seems to be good reason for expecting future convergence on a wider scale than today, as physicist, philosopher, metaphysicist and theologian discover commonality. In the process each person is inexorably drawn closer to the threshold of decision, to deciding in an act of mistrust or trust, whether to accept an ultimate groundlessness and meaninglessness, or a primordial ground and primordial meaning of everything, a God who is Creator and Finisher of the cosmic process (Küng 1985: 276; de Chardin 1949-1950: 282-302).

Faith Responses of the Christian Geographer

The geographer imbued with faith realises that for faith to be meaningful it must be lived. From this issues concern for deeper realities and needs. Geography may then become normative, a vehicle rather than a destination. Theory may be developed but practice must flow from it. The geographer who is Christian, who therefore takes Christ seriously, would probably endeavour to respond to the call of Christ, cognisant of and sensitive to the imperative of love, which invites to service, to becoming an instrument for forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and peace. The hope would be cherished that through research, teaching and/or practice these aims would be realised.

There is also the possibility that some may not have the opportunity to teach, research or apply their geography along obviously Christian lines. Nonetheless, such persons may seek wholeness, holiness, through the integration of faith and life, rejecting the prevailing anthropocentric model, or even that which is ecological. Balance could be sought through giving recognition first to the Creator and then creation, seeing God in all creation.

In work, this may be done through engaging exuberantly in any branch of geography, in the knowledge shared by Teilhard de Chardin (1926-27: 66): “By virtue of the Creation, and still more of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see”. There is confidence in the message of the hymn continually echoed in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours (Week One of the Divine Office):

“O blessed Lord, Creator God,
In you all things are rendered pure,
By you are strengthened to endure.
O blessed, holy hand of God,
All things are sanctified by you;
Adorned, enriched, you make them new…”


In living up to a vocation which calls to truth, the Christian geographer may experience tension between faith and the story of science. A dialectical process leading to mutual enhancement might then ensue. For the Christian geographer’s first premise is that

  • God is the creator of all, including earth, the home of the people of God (no one excepted).
  • To lead people to growth, freedom and fulfilment God became human in Jesus the Christ.
  • The scriptures are the repository of the essential public message of God’s love, purpose for and invitation to all people.


But the scriptures have to be understood.

For example, in the face of evidence for and theories of planetary, geological and biological evolution, the scientific narrative demands attention, despite gaps and loose ends.

Faced with twin and seemingly contradictory forms of revelation, resolution and reconciliation become necessary.

Either the scriptural account is literally true, or else the bible has to be taken as the word of God written in the words of men and women, in the context of a culture distant in time.

In the latter event it would not be seen as a strictly scientific or as an historically factual statement, but rather as the story of God’s concern, love, mercy, invitation and promise, and the call to peace in its fullness: shalom (Häring, 1986: 8; Paterson 1986).

Shalom, however, is only possible through the power and grace of the risen Christ, through joyful partnership with the Lord: He the Michelangelo, we the brush.

Peace is to be sought not in eschatological time, after the Second Coming of Christ, but even here and now: “Thy will be done on earth…”, through the power of Someone who has irrupted through and beyond the confines of time, space and death, the Cosmic Christ of all eternity.

Cooperation with and response to the call that rings through the scriptures requires a joyous, creative spirituality founded in the guided by God. This in turn depends on a trust, an openness and a willingness to change on our part, as individuals, as Church, as peoples, without fear or hardness of heart: metanoia. Even the historical Jesus had to grow in wisdom and in the favour of God and people (Luke 2:52).

The Christian would probably recognise that the alternative to enjoining the process of growth and change is stark: to witness the human species continuing to wallow in immaturity, for the Christian church to lose relevance, to run down as a collectivity towards a state of maximum entropy, reduced to salt that has lost its savour; in short, to impede the realisation of the Kingdom of God in our world, which the Christian prays for.

An Emerging Paradigm

The present human and planetary predicament point to the need for major change in outlook. However, a change of vision, a paradigm shift, cannot take place until it is accepted that there is something amiss in the presently-held view of the world, and until a new pattern or paradigm emerges that is more meaningful. That such a change is necessary may be hotly denied by those with a vested interest in the status quo, and by those who can offer nothing better than more of the same.

As the world finds itself at the beginning of a new millennium, it is apparent that a post-secular age which values the spiritual is dawning, heralded by the convergence of diverse strands of thought earlier considered to be incompatible. Wider recognition is expected that reason can only organise and relate sense-knowledge; that reason cannot transcend the empirical cosmos and therefore is limited in its capability; that reason may lead to a knowledge or awareness that there are realities that are supra-sensible and supra-worldly, without being able to penetrate them.

To enter the suprasensible calls for a higher form of knowing: revelation – intuition – faith, through which the human may pass beyond the contingent to the uncaused cause, from something to Someone. That transition has begun, and a new paradigm gradually emerges, one which should duly replace the one that has been in place.

It is a paradigm rooted in the Yahwist tradition of the Hebrew bible, in the holism of mediaeval saints and mystics such as Hildegarde of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart. It is one shaped by Vatican II, by the Peace and Green movements, and by men such as Albert Einstein, Teilhard de Chardin, Mahatma Gandhi, Bernard Häring, Thomas Merton, Carl Sagan, Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox. The new paradigm is honest, humane and holistic. In it, the secular encounters faith and provides a richer, more aesthetic, better balanced and more authentic view of life, of environment and of purpose. Emphasis is upon wholeness, the interconnectedness and interdependence of all that is, and their spirituality.

The geographer who has faith in Someone, and more so the geographer who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the good news of God, and who takes him as the standard, is likely to welcome the emerging paradigm. Difficulties in accepting it may arise where a mechanistic, reductionist view of the human and of the environment is taken, for such a position involves a de facto rejection of gestalt in the wide sense.

However, geographers, who have absorbed some of the beneficence of their discipline are sure to find that they subscribe already to many aspects of the paradigm proposed for tomorrow, whether or not they regard themselves as Christian. For, geographers are a humane breed, who, like others of goodwill, are in search of greater maturity and integrity.

It is also well to recognise that in final analysis the justification for geography surviving as a discipline is not academic inertia, as may be the case at present. Many of the tasks performed within geography could well be fulfilled within other disciplines. What makes geography distinctive, that which constitutes its core, is its integrative, holistic ethos, which should be rediscovered, not disdained.


If geography is concerned with the study of environment, of the real world, it would be honest to accept that there is more to this realm than meets the eye; that there are realities and dimensions that the geographer has overlooked or dismissed on account of personal or cultural reasons, or because of inertia. It follows that the geographer needs to extend the ambit of geography to include both the aesthetic and also the spiritual. Indeed, the spirituality of matter and of the earth would have to be acknowledged (Berry 1979). The invitation and the need lie in honest commitment to holism.

If geography is more than an echo that re-presents facts, if it is regarded as educative, it would be well for the geographer to appreciate that education has dual tasks. One is e-duco, a leading from, and the other is ad-duco, a leading towards. The latter implies a sense of direction, which goes beyond merely serving the status quo. It implies that the geographer bears a responsibility for the morrow, for human development. And, human development is more than quantitative, materialistic progress.

Anne Buttimer (1979: 9-37) speaks of the need for generating life-supporting ideas. She emphasises the importance of becoming, as opposed to being. In so doing she calls for a dynamic. Lebret (in Goulet 1974: 23-47) did likewise. He recognised human development as the transition from a less human(e) to a more human(e) phase; to a phase which is consistent with the capability of the planet’s life-supporting systems. Moreover, if geography is to civilise and lead towards greater maturity and a higher quality of life, it would be well to remember that geographers have said that the teachings of religion would have to be given serious consideration (Griffith Taylor 1957: 607).

Thanks to a more humanistic geography which takes peoples’ perceptions of their environment into consideration, thanks to a growing interest in the future and in futures, and thanks to concern for global understanding as a basis for explanation, problem-solving and futures’ planning, the horizons of geographers are being extended. If an appreciation of a greater holism is developing everywhere, especially in response to planetary problems and aspirations, whether of pollution, global warming or of peace, what then might the special task of the Christian geographer be?

The answer appears to lie in becoming a catalyst: to help bring about the paradigm shift; to widen the concept of environment; to be the bridge that spans the gulf that presently separates the secular from the spiritual; to articulate the need for making the transition from the pragmatic to the principled, and for consistency in principle.

Such a person would be a witness to something, to Someone, greater than the discipline, and look to the Ahead, forward-looking, hope-filled; not as one who is the object of history, a reporter, but as one who would try to shape history qualitatively rather than quantitatively, in the interests of society and planet earth. Such a person would try to persuade people to relocate, in their occupance of philosophical space, from categories where preoccupation with the things of earth results in a denial of the spirit, or with fixation on the past which stultifies growth on account of the fear of risking change and unwillingness to alter the status quo.

This would require such a person to regard Geography not only as a lens, but as a mirror also, illuminating and questioning not only what is out there, but within here, within the viewer as well. In the process, geography and faith would engage one another in a dance of mutual enjoyment, exhilaration and enhancement, each leading the other to new levels of perception and adventure, honesty and truth, integration and growth.


We have a wisdom
To offer those who have reached
Not a philosophy of our age,
Still less
Of the masters of our age…
The hidden wisdom
Of God,
Which we teach…
Is a wisdom
That none of the masters of this age
Have ever known…
The things
That no eye has seen
And no ear has heard,
Beyond the mind of man.

(St. Paul: 1 Corinthians 2:6-9)

Table 1

Faces of Geography

Geography: literally, description of the earth
: the study of the earth as the place where people live, work, meet and mingle, transforming its surface into their habitat (Broek & Webb, 1978)
: the science of spatial relationships
: the study of place
: the discipline that stands transitionally yet centrally between the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. In its concept and content it is an integrated whole (Monkhouse 1965)
: both holistic and reductionist: functions which are complementary (Simmons & Cox 1985)
: fish, flesh, fowl; hybrid, cosmopolitan; a garden where a thousand flowers bloom. (Swan, 1980)
: what geographers do.

Table 2

Contrasting Faiths in Geography

(Faith 1, Faith 2)

Perspective and orientation
(Faith 1) Positivism-reductionism
(Faith 2) Holism
Perception of reality
No more than the sum of parts
Greater than the sum of its parts
Anthropocentric pragmatism (utilitarian)
a) anthropocentric
b) spiritual
Holism, interconnectedness
a) secular
b) transcendent
Goal & process oriented
a) goal more important
b) process more important
Approaches to problem-solving or handling
Ad hoc, mechanistic, symptoms-treating
Cause seeking and treating
a) semi-radical: treat apparent causes out there
b) radical: treat causes within and without
Transient (short-term)
a) medium term
b) long term

Note: Geographers are very much the product of their times with their challenges and opportunities, and their prejudices and beliefs. Moreover, they are subject to peer group pressures which urge conformity. It is for the individual to decide whether to function with reference to the norms of the group or to go his/her own way with attendant risks of penalty or praise.

Table 3

Scale and Faith

1) Scale in Geography:  from ten to the power of minus four cm, which includes the tangible, visible, experiential world which we call real.  Breeds anthropocentrism and secularism.

2) Scale in Physics: from ten to the power of minus sixteen cm and beyond unending, which includes the invisible, the intangible, the conceptual) [from a ten thousandth of a millionth of a millionth of a centimetre to millions of light-years]  It  rejects anthropocentrism, and narrow concepts of materialism, and challenges the physicist to faith or mistrust.

Table 4

Routes to Holistic Understanding

1. Include more variables in the equation?
2. Enlarge scale or the size of the canvas?
3. Both these, but include the transcendent as well

Table 5

Who is a Christian?

(a soliloquy)

One who accepts that

“Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place”. (Colossians 1:15, 17)

“He always had the nature of God but … of his own free will he gave up all he had and took the nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6, 7)

“Because of his love, God … decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his…” (Ephesians 1: 4, 5)

“The Word became a human being and lived among us.” (John 1: 14))

Jesus said, “What I teach is not my own teaching, but it comes from God, who sent me” (John 7: 16)

Christ is “the way, the truth and the life”. (John 14: 6)

Christ confides, “I love you just as the Father loves me”. (John 15: 9)

“The following of Christ is what distinguishes Christians from other disciples and supporters of great men, in the sense that Christians are ultimately dependent on this person, not only on his teaching, but also on his life death and new life”; and “The criterion of what is Christian … is not an abstract something nor a Christ idea, not a Christology nor a Christocentric system of ideas: it is … Jesus as the Christ.. [who is] the standard. (Hans Küng, 1974: 545,549)

One who cleaves to Christ (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

One who takes Christ as Lord; who nonetheless may fall, even repeatedly, but who by the grace of God strives to get up again (The writer of this paper)

Table 6

Vision and Vocation of a Christian Geographer

(selected opinions in summary)

The notion that man is the measure of all things must be rejected
The universe is the field of purposive action of a personal Creator (Iain Wallace 1978)
Man is created in the image and likeness of God, with a capacity for interpersonal relations with God (Iain Wallace 1985)
We are accountable to God for the creative adaptation of our setting (Iain Wallace 1978)
Our real task is not merely to understand the world but to change it (R.T. Harrison & David N. Livingstone 1980)
Inequality and poverty are a consequence of humanity’s estrangement from God and our resultant self-centredness. (Deryke Belshaw 1988)
The city is an ecology for evil, the expression of those who built it. Its problems are to be overcome through a revolution that is spiritual as well as institutional. (David Ley 1974)
There is a need for a new environmental ethic rooted in Christian values. (David N. Livingstone 1983, Henk Aay 1972, J.M.C. & R.L. Roper 1978)
It is critical that Christian scholarship have as its governing interest the bringing about of shalom: peace in its fullness (John L. Paterson 1986)

Table 7

Navigational Beacons for Human Civilisation

(paradigms of yesterday and tomorrow)

Life compartmentalised


Parts-mentality, tunnel vision

Wholeness, integrity




Planetary home

Man: predatory overlord

Human stewardship





Having more

Being more, becoming


Challenge and change

Original sin

Original blessing

God out there

God in all, God in here

Words, laws, rules

Christ: Cosmic Lord, Living Word of God, Light for the world


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Peace requires wisdom and continual conversion, a dying to self.