“The press and the public like certainty and affirmation of popular biases. But real science thrives on the capacity for doubt.”
– Wendy Kaminer
“The press and the public like certainty and affirmation of popular biases. But real science thrives on the capacity for doubt.”
– Wendy Kaminer
Jesus: And he walked by on the other side leaving the man helpless, but then who should wander by, but a Samaritan, of all people, and he actually helped the man.
Disciple: Hang on, master.
Jesus: – No, he did, he went over and actually…
Disciple: – No, sorry…
Jesus: – No, no. I mean, this is what I’m saying. That a Samaritan, all right – so, have a good think about your attitudes – went and helped…
Disciple: – Yeah, no, I see.
Jesus: – No, no, stick with it. Because what I’m saying is that he was a “Good” Samaritan. That’s “Good Samaritan”, if you could imagine such a thing.
Disciple: Yes, yes, I can. I think we all can. I know there’s a lot of prejudice against Samaritans, which is terrible, but I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that there are loads of really nice Samaritans!
Member of the public #1: Yeah, some of my best friends are Samaritans.
Member of the public #2: Me and the wife went on holiday to Samaria last year, and they were lovely people.
Member of the public #3: – Couldn’t do enough for you.
Disciple: – Yes, so. What I’m finding offensive – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – is your unreflecting acceptance of this cliché that all Samaritans are wankers.
Jesus: No, I’m saying he was good!
Disciple: But you’re implying that “the fact that he was good” is worth a story in itself. It’s some kind of weird curiosity, like an albino Nubian.
Jesus: No, I’m saying that goodness comes in unexpected places.
Disciple: And I’m saying that the fact that you wouldn’t expect goodness from a Samaritan betrays your inherent racism!
Jesus: OK, OK. Alright, that’s a big word. Let’s just take a deep breath here. I didn’t mean to offend. That’s the last thing I intended. I didn’t realise there were any Samaritans in the room.
Disciple: – That’s not the point!
Jesus: Or Samaritan sympathisers. You know, Sammy lovers.
Disciple: – I can’t believe I’m hearing this.
Jesus: No, no, no, no. I didn’t realise it was such a PC environment here and I suppose I thought that having what was only intended as a fond pop at our Samaritan neighbours, friends even, if you like, would not be inappropriate in the context of a story which is after all about goodness, and at the end of the day, it is only a parable.
Disciple: – What? It didn’t really happen?
Jesus: – Of course not. A Samaritan tosser wouldn’t do that for his own grandmother!
– That Mitchell and Webb Look (2006) Season 1, Episode 4. [No. 4]
Over a decade ago, National Geographic organised a global survey to measure the developed world’s geographic literacy.
On average, fewer than 25 percent of young people worldwide could locate Israel on the map. Only about 20 percent could identify international news hotspots like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
‘Geographically Illiterate: Someone who sucks at geography.’ – Urban Dictionary
More recent research shows no improvement. When the Russian Federation invaded the Ukraine in 2014, the Washington Post conducted a survey which showed that only 16% of Americans was able to locate the Black Sea nation on a map.
More importantly, it was found that this lack of geographic knowledge is related to preferences and decision-making: namely, the farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force.
Whatever your views on this political squabble, the following conclusion is inevitable: whether people are in possession of a certain geographic fact determines their opinion in a certain way.
As for geography, knowledge of the location of places and the physical and cultural characteristics of those places are a requirement to function more effectively in an increasingly interdependent world.
On top of that, knowledge of the geography of past times and how geography has played an important role in the evolution of a society, their ideas, and its environment are not only prerequisites for historical knowledge, but also necessary for making sound decisions in the present.
“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” – Lennart Meri
These findings only underline the importance of teaching Geography. However, as always with formal education, it does not tell the whole story: besides teaching Geography as a core subject on the national curriculum, National Geographic researchers found that geographic knowledge also increases through travel and language proficiency.
In the highest-scoring countries of the National Geographic Survey (Sweden, Germany and Italy) at least 70 percent of the young adults had travelled internationally in the last three years, and the majority spoke more than one language (at the time, no less than 92 percent of young people in Sweden).
In the U.S. and Mexico only about 20 percent of young people had travelled abroad during the same period and the majority spoke only one language.
“All I ever wanted was a world without maps.” – Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
‘Our daily lives are interwoven with geography. Each of us lives in a unique place and in constant interaction with our surroundings. Geographic knowledge and skills are essential for us to understand the activities and patterns of our lives and the lives of others. We move from place to place, aided by transportation and navigation systems. We communicate using global networks of computers and satellites. We strive to live in healthy physical and social environments. We work to avoid the negative consequences of exposure to natural and technological hazards. We search for interesting destinations and vacations. We observe and learn about our own culture and other cultures around the world. We want to lead satisfying lives and contribute to the welfare of our communities. Geographic knowledge and understanding is fundamental to reaching our goals, and in attaining a higher quality of life.’
– Why Geography Is Important (2005), Grosvenor Centre of Education
 The National Geographic–Roper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey polled more than 3,000 18- to 24-year-olds in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden and the United States.
According to Robert Pastor, professor of International Relations at American University, in Washington, D.C., “The survey demonstrates the geographic illiteracy of the United States.”
About 11 percent of young citizens of the U.S. couldn’t even locate the U.S. on a map. The Pacific Ocean’s location was a mystery to 29 percent; Japan, to 58 percent; France, to 65 percent; and the United Kingdom, to 69 percent. Less than 15 percent could locate neither Israel nor Iraq.
“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” – Ambrose Bierce
 From March 28 to 31, 2014, The Washington Post asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: in addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, they also asked the survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. The newspaper wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. The survey also found that 5 out of 2,066 Americans thought the Ukraine was located in the U.S. corn belt.
 The importance of geographic knowledge is of paramount importance, not only for a better understanding of historical and present geopolitical issues, but also as a scientific measuring device to help humans to make better decisions about the environment. Consider the intellectual poverty of young people who are ignorant of:
‘Billions of people share your belief that the creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of our books. Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and they make incompatible claims about how we all must live. Competing religious doctrines have shattered our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continual source of human conflict.
In response to this situation, many sensible people advocate something called religious tolerance. While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its problems. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us unwilling to criticize ideas that are increasingly maladaptive and patently ridiculous. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves—repeatedly and at the highest levels of discourse—about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality. Our competing religious certainties are impeding the emergence of a viable, global civilization. Religious faith—faith that there is a God who cares what name He is called, faith that Jesus is coming back to earth, faith that Muslim martyrs go straight to Paradise—is on the wrong side of an escalating war of ideas.
Religion raises the stakes of human conflict much higher than tribalism, racism, or politics ever can, as it is the only form of in-group/ out-group thinking that casts the differences between people in terms of eternal rewards and punishments. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religious faith. Consequently, faith inspires violence in at least two ways. First, people often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it. Islamist terrorism is a recent example of this sort of behavior. Second, far greater numbers of people fall into conflict with one another because they define their moral community on the basis of their religious affiliation: Muslims side with other Muslims, Protestants with Protestants, Catholics with Catholics. These conflicts are not always explicitly religious. But the bigotry and hatred that divide one community from another are often the products of their religious identities. Conflicts that seem driven entirely by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are often deeply rooted in religion. The fighting that has plagued Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians and animists), Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea, (Muslims vs. Christians), Ivory Coast (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), Philippines (Muslims vs. Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few, recent cases in point.
 This long-standing civil war is distinct from the genocide that is currently occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan.
And yet, while the religious divisions in our world are self-evident, many people still imagine that religious conflict is always caused by a lack of education, by poverty, or by politics. Most nonbelievers, liberals, and moderates apparently think that no one ever really sacrifices his life, or the lives of others, on account of his religious beliefs. Such people simply do not know what it is like to be certain of Paradise. Consequently, they can’t believe that anyone is certain of Paradise. It is worth remembering that the September 11 hijackers were college educated, middle class people who had no discernible experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise.’
‘Consider Darwin’s original phrase natural selection: everything from Cuckoo Birds that lay their eggs in the nest of other birds, to giraffes whose long necks are good for reaching food in high trees, to humans whose brains make up for their fragile bodies, are selected for, naturally.
An even better phrase would be non-random selection or maybe even non-random elimination. While all genetic mutations are generated by a random copying error or random variation completely beyond the animal’s control, the selection of those traits is not random.
Successful variations that allow you to survive and reproduce are determined by the very specific circumstances of your environment, where elimination – death – might not be far away.
So, the selection of your traits is done by a very specific and sometimes brutal list of criteria. This is why people who say that they don’t understand how all animals could have “evolved by chance” don’t really understand how evolution works.
Here’s another phrase that doesn’t get it right: “evolution is just a theory”. In everyday speech, theory means guess; but in science, a theory is something that was tested time and time again, explains many different observations and is backed up by a mountain of evidence.
Evolution is a theory like gravity is a theory, and you don’t go jumping out your window because gravity is “just a theory”.
Why are we so certain? Emily knows:
Evolution is one of the most tested, most utilised and most widely accepted theories in science. It’s backed up by literally tonnes of fossil evidence which can show us shared traits with species that no longer exist, and help us map out lines of descent for creatures that are around today.
DNA sequencing further tells us about lines of descent and you can measure the commonality of the DNA possessed by two animals to tell how closely related they are, and when they may have split off from a common ancestor.
Radiometric dating allows us to assign dates to various fossils, further helping us map out lines of descent.
Then there’s the simple fact that extinct species are always found in the same rock layers you’d expect to find them. Which is why you don’t see a bunny skeleton in Cambrian rock layers from half a billion years ago. That’s also how we know that Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur.
Closely related species are often geographically distributed near one another. That’s not to mention that we can see evolution happening before our very eyes: whether it be the discovery of a new species that recently moved into a different environment, the development of newly adapted bacteria into superbugs, the evolution of new breeds of rapidly reproducing insects, or the almost constant changes in gene distribution in animal populations all over the world.’
“A thief believes everybody steals.”
– E. W. Howe