Category: geology

Field trips in a wet climate and the problem of unresolved gratitude

By , 3 October 2008 7:30 pm

I don’t often write about my job on this blog, which is just as well as I found out today that at least one student regularly reads it. Hi Ioan! Teaching geology has one slight problem attached to it: the need to do fieldwork. In theory this is fine, as in South Wales we live in an area where, within a day’s drive, we can see some very fine geology. But when am I supposed to take my students out? Term starts in early September, but for the first few weeks my first-year students know very little geology and fieldwork presupposes at they have least some knowledge. And by the first week in October temperatures have started to drop and the autumnal gales and rain are upon us. So should I leave it and do it all in late spring? That is hardly acceptable from the teaching point of view and anyway, in some years the weather doesn’t really improve until mid-April. But as our exams start in mid-May we are already in revision mode by then and my colleagues are less than happy at losing students from their classes. So my habit is to try to get the fieldwork in at the very end of September.

Yet here matters are made even more complex by the fact that almost all our best rock sequences are on coastal sections. ‘So what?’ you say. Well, we live in a part of the world that has the second highest tidal range in the world (9-10 metre tides are perfectly common) and the omnipresent health and safety legislation means that I can only really work on a falling tide. So the dates of my field trips are more or less chosen for me and this week was the week: I had three full-day trips. The weather was bad on one day but good on the other two; by the miserable standards of 2008 a very good result. In fact even the field trip on the wet day went well and I actually had some pleasing feedback. I’ve been very glad to get them out of the way because the temperature today has really dropped and there is a feel of late autumn in the air. We also had on the radio that message which is for Brits the first harbinger of true winter: a warning of snow on the Scottish Highlands.

Anyway I’m very grateful for the good weather and am happy to attribute it to answered prayer. I am well aware of this raises lots of problems (what about those who, for whatever reason, prayed for bad weather?) but I’m content to let my praise sound out. This whole issue raises for me one of the most telling arguments against atheism and one which I think is insufficiently discussed. It is this: when faced with some potentially disastrous situation that, in the event, goes right, we all – atheist and believer alike – feel the urge to give thanks. Yet for the atheist this is the most frustrating of all desires: there is simply no one to give thanks to. It may be that if the problem of pain is the strongest objection to Christian belief, the problem of pleasure is atheism’s Achilles heel. The atheist cannot admit for a moment the existence of ‘blessing’; that would require the existence of a Blesser.

Latest news

By , 12 September 2008 9:05 pm

First of all many thanks to those who prayed, because things are now a lot better with young Simeon, our young and somewhat ailing grandson. On Monday the diagnosis of CAH (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia) was confirmed (although there are various different types). Anyway Simeon will have to be on steroids for the rest of his life, but the specialist is quite encouraged and encouraging and it sounds like he should be able to live a normal life. His parents will however have to do quite a bit of chemical juggling early on and there will be some fairly regular blood tests. At the moment he is still in hospital but merely to see his weight built up. But the outlook is good. Thank you Lord.

What else is news in this part of the world? Well, today was something of a small but significant landmark for me. I taught nothing but geology today in all four 1.5 hour teaching slots. In other words I have enough students who want to do geology that I now have two groups at AS level (year 12) and two at A2 (year 13). In fact my total student numbers are now around 70 which is a college record. Clearly I must be doing something right. This, of course, feeds into the whole issue to do with writing. Yes, I would love to do nothing but full-time writing but teaching provides a regular salary and frankly this year I am probably going to make nothing whatsoever from my fiction books. Not only that: I am apparently quite good at what I do as a teacher. My college is also actually a pretty good place to work; a fact brought out by the kindness and sympathy of my colleagues in the last week. So I really don’t know when you’re going to get this promised Seventh Ship manuscript. I also seem to be preaching almost every Sunday for the next couple of months as well. I really must learn to say ‘no’!

A good friend and sometime reader of this blog sent me an article from the British newspaper The Guardian pointing out that in a recent survey of nearly a quarter of a million university students geology achieved the highest satisfaction level with 95% of students being happy with the subject. Why this should be the case is not immediately clear but I suspect several factors contribute to it. Geology is very varied and you never stick with one topic too long, we do lots of nice field trips and at the moment there are lots of jobs available at the end of the course. There is one other factor and it is this; geology has resolutely resisted postmodernism and almost all of types of modern philosophical outlook. It is something of – to use an apposite phrase – a dinosaur. Unlike some geography departments (on whom be peace) we do not do such things as ‘Concepts of Lesbian Space’ and ‘Masculinity and Maps’. Geology departments are much more prosaic, and again to use an apposite phrase, are ‘down to earth’. They centre on facts and the training to use those facts in life outside the campus. I suspect there are implications here for Christian ministry but at the end of the first full week of teaching I am too tired to draw them out.

Blessings on you all.

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