Your Favorite Joke? (RJS)

The interview with John Polkinghorne discussed in the post Tuesday concludes with Dean Nelson asking for Dr. Polkinghorne’s favorite scientific joke. Dr. Polkinghorne responds with the requested scientific joke and his favorite theological joke (27:15 in the audio; 54:20 in the video).

DN: I think you have your favorite science joke – what is your favorite scientific joke…

There are three  scientists who are traveling together through the highlands of Scotland. One of them is a mathematician, one of them is a statistician, and one of them is a cosmologist. And they look out of the car and on the hill side they see a black sheep.

The cosmologist responds by saying all hills in Scotland have black sheep on them;  cosmologists just generalize rapidly from particular experience.

The statistician says there is a non zero correlation between hills in Scotland and black sheep.

The mathematician says there is at least one hill in Scotland, on which there is at least one sheep, at least one of whose sides is black.

All good jokes are serious jokes, and that does illustrate certain differences of intellectual discourse between different aspects of science.

All good jokes are serious jokes, and sometimes telling a joke or a story is the best way to get a point across. Polkinghorne’s favorite theological joke is below.

What is your favorite joke with a purpose – scientific or theological?

Dr. Polkinghone’s science joke also has, I think, a point in the context of the dialog between science and the Christian faith. Scientists from various disciplines look at the data and deal with data in somewhat different ways. As Christians is is perfectly appropriate to look at the data and wrestle with the data in a context where faith plays a role. In particular there is nothing unscientific about rejecting or questioning overarching claims, particularly claims of scientism, which is an insistence that the natural world is the limit of all that is or could be. But a claim that discounts or plays havoc with the data is rightfully dismissed as ridiculous.

But on to the theological joke:

There is a man who is caught by a flood, and he has to go up to what you would call the second floor of his house, and he is looking out of a window and a man comes along with a ladder and says you climb down and I’ll carry you from your house. And he says no, no, no, God will look after me, I don’t need that. So the man goes away and the waters continue to rise. Somebody comes in a boat and says come on jump in the boat, I’ll take you away. The man says  no, no, no, God will look after me. Eventually he’s up on the roof things are getting so desperate and a helicopter hovers overhead …  no, no, no, I don’t need that, God will look after me.

He drowns.

When he appears before the Lord he says Lord, why didn’t you look after me?

God says to him, I sent you a ladder, I sent you a boat, I sent you a helicopter. What more do you want?

The serious message of course, is that God works as much through people as through any other way.

Dr. John Polkinghorne is, I think, one of the people God has sent to help us as a church through these issues of science and faith. He is not an infallible prophet,we can certainly interact with him, question some of his conclusions, and disagree at times. But Dr. Polkinghorne is a reliable witness to both science and faith, well worth listening to.

What’s your favorite joke?

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  • Kyle J

    Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: Just one, but it takes a really long time and the light bulb really has to want to change.

  • ChrisB


    NASA wanted to launch a cow into orbit, so they called together the nation’s premier engineers, biologists, and physicists and asked them all to return with a plan.

    When they came back together, the engineers were flumoxed. The bilogists said it was impossible. The physicists said it was no problem.

    “What?! How?” the biologists and engineers demanded.

    “First, assume a spherical cow….”

    Q: How many Samaritans does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A: Two. One to change the bulb. One to declare it as fine as any lightbulb in Jerusalem!

  • DAK

    A guy went into a bar every Tuesday evening and ordered three beers. He would line them up in front of him and drink each one in turn, and then leave the bar. This went on for weeks, until finally the bar tender asked him why he always ordered all three beers at the same time. The guy responded that he has two brothers who live in other states, so each Tuesday evening at the same time they would each go to a bar and order and drink three beers as a way of remembering each other.

    A few weeks went by, and one Tuesday evening the guy showed up and only ordered and drank two beers. The bar tender was quiet for a while, but finally could contain himself no longer, and said to the patron that he was really sorry, since something dire must have happened to one of the brothers.

    The guy responded, “Oh no, my brothers are okay. It’s just that I joined the Baptist church, so I can’t drink any more.”

  • Travis Mamone

    A Buddhist walks up to a hot dog vendor and says, “Make me one with everything.”

  • :mic

    Q: How many Brethren does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A: Change!?!?

  • :mic

    Q: How many United Methodists does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A: This statement was issued: “We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a lightbulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that a lightbulb works for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your lightbulb (or light source, or non-dark resource), and present it next month at our annual lightbulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of lightbulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and tinted – all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.”

  • Ken Starzer

    Two peanuts were walking down the road and one was assaulted.

  • Phillip

    I think my favorite theological/church joke is about the man who is rescued after being stranded for years on a desert island. Before he leaves, he shows his rescuers a little hut with a cross on top and tells them, “This is where I go to church.” The rescuers ask him about another hut with a cross on it a little distance away. “Oh,” he says, “That’s where I used to go to church.”

  • Daniel

    A Catholic Priest, a Baptist Preacher, and a Rabbi all served as chaplains to the students of Northern Michigan University in Marquette. They would get together two or three times a week for coffee and to talk shop. One day, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn’t really all that hard – a real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another, and they decided to do an experiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it.

    Seven days later, they all met together to discuss their experience. Father Flannery, who had his arm in a sling, was on crutches, and had various bandages on his body and limbs, went first. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him, I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb. The Bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation.’

    Reverend Billy Bob spoke next. He was in a wheelchair, had one arm and both legs in casts plus an IV drip. In his best fire-and-brimstone oratory, he claimed, ‘WELL, brothers, you KNOW that we don’t sprinkle! I went out and I FOUND me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God’s HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to do with me. So I took HOLD of him and we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, up another and down another until we came to a creek. So I quickly DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus…Hallelujah! Can I have an ‘Amen’?

    The priest and the reverend both looked down at the Rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He was in a full body cast and traction with IVs and monitors running in and out of him. He had two black eyes and a broken nose and one ear partially torn off. Many of his teeth had been knocked out. To say the least, he was in really bad shape. The Rabbi looked up and said: “Looking back on it, … circumcision may not have been the best way to start.”

  • DavidS

    An old Far Side comic shows two scientists standing at a blackboard looking at a set of complicated equations. The caption reads:

    “No doubt about it, Ellington – we’ve mathematically expressed the purpose of the universe. God, how I love the thrill of scientific discovery!”

    The final line of the work on the blackboard sums up their discovery:

    … = 0

  • Karl

    Q: How do you keep a Baptist from drinking all your beer when you take him fishing?

    A: Invite someone else from his church to go, too.

  • Kevin Jackson

    What are the three things God does not know? (Catholic version)
    1) What the Jesuits are thinking.
    2) What the Franciscans are doing.
    3) How many orders of nuns there are.

    What are the three things God does not know? (Protestant version)
    1) What process theologians are thinking.
    2) Who’s in charge of the Baptists.
    3) What the Pentecostals are saying.

  • DRT

    Wow, only 2 hours into it and both of mine are taken, the flood in the original post (though I thought I wrote it here but googling it does not show it), and the spherical cow, which is surprising how many people have not heard it.

    Here is how Wikipedia tells the S.C. joke:

    Milk production at a dairy farm was low so the farmer wrote to the local university, asking for help from academia. A multidisciplinary team of professors was assembled, headed by a theoretical physicist, and two weeks of intensive on-site investigation took place. The scholars then returned to the university, notebooks crammed with data, where the task of writing the report was left to the team leader. Shortly thereafter the physicist returned to the farm, saying to the farmer “I have the solution, but it only works in the case of spherical cows in a vacuum.”

  • DRT

    Karl@11, I am going to steal that :)

  • Brian

    Two guys walk into a Navy recruitment office and sit down. The recruiter asks, “Do you guys know how to swim”?

    One guy replies, “Why? Aren’t there enough ships”?

  • Matthew Y.

    A unitarian goes on a canoeing trip with Jesus on day. While on the trip, the unitarian dropped his favorite oar in the water and it began to float downstream. Jesus, seeing his distress, got out of the boat, walked over and picked it up and walked back to the boat.

    A couple of days later one the unitarian’s buddies asked him how he enjoyed fishing with the Lord. The unitarian responded, “It was okay. But would you believe that guy can’t swim!”

  • Michael W. Kruse

    A man of God is walking down the street and sees a man with his head in his hands, weeping. He asks “What’s wrong?” The man replies that he is blind and wants to see. The man of God says “If you will put your faith in Christ, you will be healed.” The man said “I do believe.” Instantly he could see and he went away rejoicing.

    The man of God walks on down the street and sees another man with his head in his hands, weeping. He asks “What’s wrong?” The man replies “I have a terminal disease and I’m going to die.” The man of God says “If you will put your faith in Christ, you will be healed.” The man said “I do believe.” Instantly he could feel the disease leave his body and he went away rejoicing.

    The man of God walks on down the street and sees yet another man with his head in his hands, weeping. He asks “What’s wrong?” The man replies “I’m a Presbyterian.” The man of God sits down and weeps with him.

  • Ray Ingles

    A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer are asked the following question:

    “All the boys in gym class are lined up against one wall of the gymnasium, and the girls are lined up on the other wall. Every ten seconds, the boys step forward so they cover half the distance to the girls. When will the boys and girls meet?”

    The mathematician says, “Never.”

    The physicist says, “In an infinite amount of time.”

    The engineer thinks for a second and says, “Well, in about a minute and a half they’ll be close enough for all practical purposes.”

  • John W Frye

    A priest, a rabbi and a pastor walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “What is this? Some kind of joke?”

  • nemo

    Luther, Calvin, and Barth have all died and gone to heaven. In successive order, each is given an audience with the Lord.

    Luther walks in and spends several hours with the Lord. He eventually makes his way out and remarks to the others, “Boy, I understand justification so much better now.”

    Calvin then enters the Lord’s house and remains there for several hours. Eventually, he exits and remarks to the others, “Boy, I understand election so much better now.”

    Barth then enters and is inside for a very long time. He’s really in there for a long time. Eventually, God walks out and remarks to the others, “Boy, I have no idea what that guy is even talking about!”

  • Larry Barber

    A mystic, Protestant pastor and a fundamentalist preacher all died at the same time, when they arrived at the gates of heaven, they were told that they would be interviewed by Jesus to see if they merited heaven. The mystic went first, and after a short interview came back out and said “I’m so relieved, I was afraid that I had gotten it all wrong”. Next up was the Protestant pastor, he came out a couple of hours later saying “I don’t see how I could have been so wrong.” Now it was the fundamentalist’s turn, so he picks up his well-worn Bible and goes into the interview room. After 3 days Jesus came out saying “I don’t see how I could have gotten it so wrong”.

  • Bob Brague

    You think this drought is bad? I remember one year when the drought was so severe that the Baptists switched to sprinkling and the Methodists were using a damp cloth.

  • Terry

    Three men were playing golf. The course was a wicked dogleg with a large water hazard.

    The first man stepped up to the tee and hit a sharp slice into the water hazard. He walked up to the water; it parted and he lofted his ball within one foot of the hole.

    The next man stepped up and hit the ball. Sure enough, he sliced it so that it landed on top of the water. He walked across the surface of the water and hit the ball within six inches of the hole.

    The third man stepped up, hit the ball, and sliced it. The ball was just about to land in the water when a trout jumped out of the water and grabbed it in his mouth. An eagle swooped down, scooped up the fish, and flew off. As the eagle banked over the green, lightning struck it, it dropped the fish, the fish dropped the ball, and it landed in the hole for a hole in one.

    Moses turned to Jesus and said, “I really hate playing golf with your Dad.”

  • Dura Mater

    Q: How many Congregationalists does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: Change the light bulb?! You can’t change that light bulb! My grandmother gave that light bulb!!

  • Calebite

    It doesn’t work as well writing it, but my kids and I love this one:

    #1 -Knock, knock.
    #2 – Who’s there?
    #1 – Impatient cow.
    #2 – Impatient cow (#1- MOOOO!!) who?

  • Theo

    All my church jokes are taken, so a musical one:
    How many bluegrass musicians does it take to change a light bulb?

    It doesn’t matter as long as everyone gets a solo.

  • Greg

    Jesus and Moses were out playing a few holes of golf. Upon coming to a difficult shot, Jesus says, “I should probably use my 2 iron but I saw Tiger Woods make a similar shot on with a 4.”

    Upon swinging the 4 iron, Jesus hits his ball directly into the water hazard.

    “Man,” shouts Jesus,”that was my last ball.”

    “Ok, ok, I’ll help you this time,” says Moses.

    So with a swift motion of his hand, Moses parts the water hazard and Jesus walks in and claims his ball.

    Jesus sets the ball down again in the same spot as before and brings out the 4 iron again.

    “Jesus, what are you doing?” asks Moses. ”You know you can’t make this shot, you just tried and failed.”

    Jesus turns to him and says, ”Don’t worry, I saw Tiger Woods make a this shot last week, I can do it, relax.”

    So, Jesus takes his club back, swings and sends the ball straight into the water hazard again.

    So being who he is, Jesus calmly walks on top of the water in search of his last ball.

    While on top of the pond, some club members drive by in their golf cart, and notice a man walking on top of the water.

    One man shouts out “Who does that guy think he is, Jesus?”

    Moses shouts back at them, “He is Jesus. He thinks he’s Tiger Woods!!”

  • Dr Know-It-All

    I am very surprised that John Polkinghorne’s telling of the black sheep on the Scottish hillside is incomplete. There were, in fact, four scientists traveling together. The fourth scientist was a physicist. His observation followed that of the mathematician, and he said to the others, “Gentlemen, at the risk of being overly pedantic, the most accurate observation to be made is that there is at least one hill in Scotland on which there is at least one sheep with a side that is black at least part of the time.”

  • Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Knock, Knock.

    Who’s there?

    Schrödinger’s cat… or is it…

  • Ron Stone

    After a very cold winter, a Sunday morning dawns bright crisp and clear. The Senior Pastor of the local Assemblies of God congregation listens to the earthly side of his heart and decides to call in sick and ask the Youth Pastor to preach for him.

    The Pastor then packs his golf clubs and heads to a country club in another town to play 36 holes of golf. He does horribly! Every hole he’s slicing, he’s hooking … he dumps half his clubs in the water hazard and then FINALLY, on the final hole, with his only club left… he swings with all his might! The ball slices, ricochets off a tree limb, bounces off a golf cart parked near the green and rolls to a stop less than an inch from the hole. At just that moment, a bird lands on the green and pecks at the ball, knocking it into the hole … a hole in one.

    God, Jesus and Moses are watching from heaven when Moses admonishes Him, “You really shouldn’t do stuff like that.” Jesus shrugs and says, “Who’s he going to tell?”

  • tallandrew

    An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar. The first orders a pint. The second orders half a pint. The third orders a quarter of a pint. The bartender says “You’re all idiots!” and pours two pints.

  • Rog

    A man stranded on a deserted island for many years finally flagged down a passing ship. He offered to show the captain around his island before leaving. He took the captain to a clearing with 3 huts he had constructed over the years. He proudly showed him the middle one. “This is my house.” Then he pointed to the hut on one side and said, “That is my church.” The captain asked, “What’s the 3rd hut?” “That’s where I *used* to go to church!”

  • AHH

    I hear the Unitarians have started a branch of the Ku Klux Klan.
    They go around burning question marks on people’s lawns.

    Science-related is the intelligence test where people are asked “what is 2 + 2?”
    The mathematician, after some time, says “I can prove that it is a positive integer”.
    The engineer pulls out his calculator and, after some time, says “4.000000012″.
    The lawyer immediately says “What do you want it to be?”

  • Ray Ingles

    John von Neumann was famous for being able to do rapid calculations in his head. Two of his colleagues made a bet, and one came up to him and posed a problem for him to solve. There were two ways to solve it – a clever way and a laborious, tedious way.

    He says, “Two trains are 100 miles apart, heading toward each other. One is moving at 30 miles per hour, the other at 20 miles per hour. A bird is flying between them, at 120 miles per hour; each time it reaches one train it turns and flies to the other. How far has the bird traveled before the trains collide?”

    Von Neumann instantly replies, “240 miles.”

    His colleague, chagrined, says, “Drat! I bet you’d solve it the hard way.”

    Von Neumann, embarrassed, slaps his head and cries, “Ach! There’s an easy way!”

  • BradK

    Four great spiritual truths:

    1) Muslims do not recognize the Jews as God’s chosen people.

    2) Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

    3) Protestants don’t recognize the Pope as the head of the Church.

    4) Baptists do not recognize each other at the liquor store.

  • Troy J.

    Q: Do you know why Baptists are against fornication?

    A: They’re afraid it will lead to dancing.

  • RDH

    The preacher goes to visit an old couple who have been members of his church a long time. They’re out weeding the garden, and he stands there watching them while talking. As he looks around, he remarks on the beautiful garden with the lush foliage. The lawn is mowed. The fence rows are clear. The orchard is grand. The old couple’s house and property are beautiful, the result of years of hard work. “My, my, my, folks,” says the preacher. “You and the Lord have certainly done a wonderful job making this a beautiful place.” The old man stops and mops his brow, eyes the preacher, and says, “Well, thankee, preacher, it has taken a lot of work, because you should have seen the way this place looked when the Lord had it all to Hisself.”

  • Sid

    Karl in #11: I have an expansion of your joke this time with Mennonites.

    Why do you always take two Mennonites fishing with you?
    If you take one, he will drink all your beer. If you take two, he won’t drink any.

  • Sid

    Mennonite joke #2
    A Rabbi goes to visit the neighborhood barber. When it comes time to pay, the barber refuses saying “No charge. You are a man of the cloth. I could never take anything from you.”

    The next day, the barber arrives to open and finds on his doorstep a bag full of bagels with a note from the Rabbi–”Blessings to you for your act of kindness.”

    That same day, a priest comes in for a haircut. When it comes time to pay, the barber again refuses saying, “You are a man of the cloth, I could never take anything from you.”

    The next day, the barber arrives to open and finds on his doorstep a lovely basket of fruit with a note from the priest–”Blessings to you for your act of kindness.”

    That same day, a Mennonite pastor comes in for a haircut. When it comes time to pay, once again the barber refuses saying, “You are a man of the cloth, I could never take anything from you.”

    The next day, the barber arrives to open. On his doorstep he finds three more Mennonite pastors.

  • Grupetti

    #19 John W Frye -That’s one of my favorite jokes of all time.

    Yet another light bulb joke:

    Q: How many blues musicians does it take to change a light bulb?
    A: Don’t matter. Nuthin’ matters now the old bulb is gone.

    A farmer asked an engineer, a physicist and a mathematician to help him figure out how to fence in the largest area with the smallest length of fence . The engineer set up a fence in a circle and said that for any length of fence, a circle would enclose the maximum area. The physicist set up a piece of fence in a straight line, then said “First assume the fence is of infinite length…”, then explained that fencing off half the earth would give the optimal solution. The mathematician set up a short length of fence in a small circle, jumped inside, and said “I now declare myself to be on the outside.”

    A topologist is someone who can’t tell the difference between a coffee cup and a donut.