Faithful to Science

blog on science and religion

Year: 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Science jokes

For my Christmas blog, here are a few assorted jokes. They are mostly but not all science- or maths-related. My favourites are the ones that hint at existential angst. (For any that look a bit blurred, click for a sharper image.)

 

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Hopping Mad

Once upon a time there was a race of bipedal creatures. They ran around all over the place, meeting, exploring, finding food, going hungry, hurting themselves and each other, taking care of themselves and each other, and gazing at the stars.

These creatures had an unusual sort of anatomical feature: their two legs needed different types of food. Many foods could nourish their whole body, including both legs, but some types of food were only good for the left leg, some for the right. So, as a result of this, most of the creatures had one leg longer than the other and they walked about in a sort of lurching way. They did their best to find foods for both legs.

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R.S. Thomas: poetry, religion and spirituality in a scientific age

The reputation of the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), already strong in his own lifetime, has been rising since. He was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964, and in 1996 the prestigious Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature and the Horst Bienek Prize for Poetry. He is a major poet of the twentieth century, and one of the finest religious poets in the English language.

I am not an expert on Thomas, but I have read the biography by Byron Rogers (The Man Who Went Into the West: The Life of R.S.Thomas, Aurum Press Ltd), I have read a lot of the poems, and I have read various essays on the man and his work. My chief claim to some sort of right to comment is that I feel a lot of affinity for what is going on in his poetry. Seamus Heaney once remarked that “the only reliable source” for teaching about a given poem was “the experience of having felt the poem come home, memorably and irrefutably”. [1]

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The New Mariner

 
 
   The New Mariner
 
In the silence
that is his chosen medium
of communication and telling
others about it
in words. Is there no way
not to be the sport
of reason? For me now
there is only the God-space
into which I send out
my probes. I had looked forward
to old age as a time
of quietness, a time to draw
my horizons about me,
to watch memories ripening
in the sunlight of a walled garden.
But there is the void
over my head and the distance
within that the tireless signals
come from. An astronaut
on impossible journeys
to the far side of the self
I return with the messages
I cannot decipher, garrulous
about them, worrying the ear
of the passer-by, hot on his way
to the marriage of plain fact with plain fact.
 
 

This poem by R. S. Thomas was originally published in Between Here and Now (1981) and can be found in Collected Poems: 1945-1990, R. S. Thomas.

Augustine says it all

Vittore carpaccio, visione di sant'agostino 01

It is quite disgraceful and disastrous, something to be on one’s guard against at all costs, that [non-Christians] should ever hear Christians spouting what they claim our Christian scripture has to say on these topics [astronomy, biology and so on], and talking such nonsense that they can scarcely contain their laughter when they see them to be toto caelo, as the saying goes, wide of the mark. And what is so vexing is not that misguided people should be laughed at, as that [biblical] authors should be assumed by outsiders to have held such views and, to the great detriment of those about whose salvation we are so concerned, should be written off and consigned to the waste paper basket as so many ignoramuses!

I am indebted to my friend Stan Rosenburg for bringing the above quotation to my attention. This passionate statement could have been made at any time in the last hundred years, or the last ten years, or yesterday, especially in large parts of America, but also in plenty of other places, wherever we have to face the embarrassment and the tiresome vexation of Christians spouting ridiculous nonsense which they claim to find in the Bible. But what is striking about the quotation is that it does not date from yesterday or last year. It is from good old Augustine of Hippo, born in the year 354! It is from his de Genesi ad litteram (Detailed Commentary on Genesis) 1.19. Yes, back in the fourth and fifth centuries, well-informed study of the natural world was already going on, and ridiculous misapplication of the Bible was alive and well too. Continue reading

Gregor Mendel, Augustian Friar and Scientist

Gregor (Johann) Mendel

There seems to be a bit of a tussle going on over who can lay claim to the work of Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk who pioneered the quantitative study of inheritance and thus genetics. Was he a religious man doing good scientific work, an example of the fact that the two not only go together, but the former can promote the latter? Or was he a deist, perhaps a closet atheist, making a pragmatic choice to go along with some irksome religious constraints in order to gain the leisure to practice science without any genuine recognition of the role of prayer, or of the leadership shown by Jesus of Nazareth? For example, in his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins (writing a brief statement on this) chose to say

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Richard Feynman Quotes

At the web site “Alternative Reel” I found a list of quotes from Richard Feynman, the brilliant physicist, eloquent writer and humane and insightful person. Some of the quotes are in the area of science and religion, so I will comment on them. First I will simply allow Feynman to speak in his own words. There are ten quotes, presented by “Alternative Reel” as follows:

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What is the story of life on Earth?

Well, it is the evolutionary story, of course. The story of simple beginnings, and gradual development; the story of characteristics inherited through genes, with slight adjustments that accumulate over the generations. The story of finite lifespan in an environment offering limited resources, with the consequent filtering process known as natural selection. All this can be discovered by scientific research, and it has been so discovered by all the people who joined in with the mainstream scientific community.

But what is the story of this story? What kind of a narrative do we have here? Is it tragedy? Or a comedy of errors? Or a heroic epic? Or farce? Or is it a tale of boundless exploration? Or a triumph of the aggressive? Or a triumph of the adaptable? Is it the story of brute force? Or is it the story of courage in spite of brute force? A story of increasing depth of experience? Is it a good story? Is it a story of good? Is it good?

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The Eager Gene

In the animated film Shrek ( PDI/DreamWorks 2001) there is a memorable scene in which the ogre Shrek asks if anyone knows where to find the ruler Farquaad, and Donkey jumps up and down shouting out “Pick me! Pick me! Me! Me!” It is memorable because Shrek does not particularly want to pick Donkey, and because Donkey is brought so much to life by the actor Eddie Murphy, in what must rank as one of the greatest ever animation voice-overs, and because we recognize the scene. It is the scene played out in classrooms, sports-fields, magic shows, family parties, toddler groups, wherever a bunch of eager children want to have a go at something that looks fun, though they don’t necessarily know what it may involve.

180px-shrek_donkey

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Making something of the world

So far my posts in this blog have been concerned with treading carefully around the meaning of words like “religion”. I have pointed out the dangers of tribalism, and I have offered the term reconnection for anyone who has been taught to equate religion to superstition and tribalism. It is time to say something more about the good that is continuously finding expression in the world, and also continuously being thwarted, but responding with generosity and, in people who campaign for justice, creative anger. This good is what we embody when we are at our best. This is what we fail to live up to when we are at our worst. This is what makes demands, and can legitimately make demands on us, because to recognise the legitimacy of the call to make the world better is what being fully alive involves. Continue reading

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