Faithful to Science

blog on science and religion

Category: poetry (page 1 of 2)

Measuring poems with a ruler

— surveys of religious opinion, stupid questions, and hidden agendas

Sometimes you hear of attempts to measure religious opinion by way of methods such as a survey.

Suppose someone prepares a survey. Suppose they prepare a form with a set of statements, and people are asked to respond to each statement by choosing between “true,” “false” or “don’t know”.

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Song for Down Syndrome

I saw you, person who has the syndrome called Down’s syndrome (it is also called Down syndrome), and I wish to say simply that you are my brother or my sister. I am glad to have you around. I saw that you needed some extra support, but not as much, I noticed, as the support given to the rich by their hoards of servants and employees. I saw that some time and money goes in your general direction, but not as much, I noticed, as gushes through the pipeline to the successful, the “professional class” and the super-citizens, the “leading X of their generation”.

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Issa’s Cricket

 

 

 

On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.

 

 

Issa (Japan, 1763-1827)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

From the web site From Spiritual Poetry – 22 poems about spirituality and enlightenment, selected and with comments by Jane Hirshfield [http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/68606].

 

Metaphor and absolute reality

Last term I was privileged to be invited to give a sermon in Exeter College chapel here in Oxford. Here I am posting an extract from that sermon, with minor modifications to fit it to the blog format.

I began by talking about the fact that we all find it hard to know how to talk about God. Two ways which don’t work are as follows. First there is a rather obviously muddled way, in which people talk about something that has the appearance of being like other entities, only bigger and more powerful, located somewhere called ‘heaven’. Secondly there is an attempt to be more careful, but which often fails to carry real weight. This is when people speak in a more philosophical way, bringing in terms such as ‘omniscience’ and ‘omnipotence’, but all held at arm’s length, so that it all seems a bit artificial, like a word-game.

(the extract begins here)

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But the silence in the mind

But the silence in the mind

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
we launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

 

by R.S. Thomas, from the collection Counterpoint, 1990

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Mathematics is not as much about finding proofs as it is about finding concepts

Added note. This is a note added for readers in the Oxford area.

I am giving a lecture at Headington Baptist Church on 12 September. Doors open at 7:30pm; talk from 8:00pm, with questions and discussion afterwards. The subject is basically the theme of this blog and my book of the same name. The venue is the church building at 78 Old High Street, Headington, Oxford OX3 9HW; click here for a map.


 

Reading New Scientist magazine this week I came across a statement I very much like:

 “Mathematics is not as much about finding proofs as it is about finding concepts.”

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Hope

Hope

Here is my lovely sign of hope.
It will sound impossible, but bear with me.
It is everywhere, but you will not find it
by looking at any particular place.
It is far from you but also close,
as close as you are to yourself.
It is not on the map, and you will
not find it by digging, nor by sending
up balloons to assay the sky.
It is nowhere but everywhere, yet
in each place you can find the whole of it.
All this, because it is not a location
but a direction. It is not a place you
can claim but a way to look.

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The Place

image from http://wildlifesnaps.com/search_results.php?species_common=Martin,+House

Carnsore Point, Co. Wexford, Ireland. September 20th, 2009.

 

A poem by R.S. Thomas:

 

The Place

Summer is here.
Once more the house has its
Spray of martins, Proust’s fountain
Of small birds, whose light shadows
Come and go in the sunshine
Of the lawn as thoughts do
In the mind. Watching them fly
Is my business, not as a man vowed
To science, who counts their returns
To the rafters, or sifts their droppings
For facts, recording the wave-length
Of their screaming; my method is so
To have them about myself
Through the hours of this brief
Season and to fill with their
Movement, that it is I they build
In and bring up their young
To return to after the bitter
Migrations, knowing the site
Inviolate through its outward changes.

 

R.S. Thomas, included in R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems: 1945-1990

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Meeting

[image from https://mexicoinstitute.files.wordpress.com/ 2013/03/folk-art-community.jpg]

Particles in the universe come in two types, named bosons and fermions, after Satyendra Nath Bose and Enrico Fermi (“boson” is pronounced with a long ‘o’ and a hard ‘z’, to rhyme with “goes on”). Bosons include things like photons (particles of light), which can be absorbed or emitted in large quantities. Fermions include things like electrons and protons which form the building-blocks of matter. The chief distinguishing characteristic of these different types of particle is that bosons can congregate together in the same region of space and state of motion, all moving along together. Fermions, by contrast, only ever exist one at a time in any given place and state of motion. Photons in a laser beam are an example of bosons gathered together in the same motion. Electrons in different orbitals in atoms are an example of fermions avoiding one another. This leads to the fact that atoms with different numbers of electrons behave differently, which is the basis of chemistry.

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And stands about the woodland ride

 
 
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
 
 
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
 
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
 
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
 
 
A. E. Housman (1859–1936)

from A Shropshire Lad (1896) by A. E. Housman (1859–1936).  (copyright policy)

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