One day a famous scientist died and went to heaven. When he got to the pearly gates, St Peter said: "Are you Professor Percy Plowright?"
"Yes, I am," said the scientist. "Incidentally, can I ask you a question? These pearly gates - in what sense are they pearly? They are clearly not made of pearls. So does it refer to the colour? Or the texture?"
"Yes, you're Professor Plowright all right," said St Peter, referring to his notes. "Inquisitive... brusque... analytical... maddening..."
"Well?" said Professor Plowright. "Why are they called `pearly?'"
"You don't ask the questions round here," said St Peter. "I do. But I have one piece of information for you. As you have behaved tolerably well in your human life, God has agreed to give you a reward in heaven. You may ask Him one question of your choice, and He will answer it. It will be a chance to clear up any mystery you like."
"How long do I have to decide which question to ask?" asked the Professor.
"`How long?' is not a question that has any meaning up here," said St Peter. "Time does not exist in the same way, if at all. Now, hurry along, Professor - you're causing a queue behind you."
"But surely," said the Professor, "if time doesn't exist, the phrase `Hurry along, Professor' has no meaning..."
At an impatient sign from St Peter, the Professor was hustled away roughly by two burly angels. Some infinite time later he was ushered into the presence of the Almighty.
"Professor Plowright, I presume," said God omnisciently. "Have you decided on your question?"
"And do you wish to know how the Universe started?"
"No," said the scientist.
"How odd," said God. "Almost all scientists, given the chance to ask Me a question, want to know how it all started. Or what the purpose of it all is. Or how it's all going to end up."
"No interest to me," said the scientist. "Asking big questions smacks too much of the religious impulse. Religion should have no place in science."
"Hmmm," said God, stroking his beard. "And should science have any place in religion?"
"There is no place for religion at all," said the Professor, boldly. "It is a meaningless concept to a scientist."
There was general laughter, led by God. "Do you not think you should change your mind, in the present circumstances?" smiled God.
"Not at all," said the scientist. "Religion is a system of belief in the unknowable. Now I am dead and in heaven and face to face with God, there is nothing unknowable about the situation. So there is nothing religious about it."
"Hmmm," said God again. "There is something in what you say. Meanwhile, have you a question for Me?"
(It's interesting to note that God, being tradition-minded, always puts a capital M on the word "Me", but, of course, there is no way anyone can know that in conversation.)
"Yes," said Professor Plowright. "What causes crop circles?"
"Crop circles!" said God, smiling. "Funny you should say that, because I have often wondered where they come from myself."
"Oh, come on!" said the scientist. "You can do better than that! You are meant to be omniscient, after all."
"You are right," said God. "The truth is that one of your predecessors, another famous scientist, when given his free question, asked me whether I could not put something on Earth that would be so inexplicable and illogical as to baffle all known scientists. It appealed to me. We came up with crop circles."
"They were invented by a scientist?"
"Yes. It's obvious when you think about it. Crop circles are so unscientific in every conceivable way, they could only have been devised by someone intent on turning science on its head. Only a scientist could do that. Next!"
As Professor Percy Plowright was led away, he could hear the next man behind him asking, "I want to know if England will ever win the World Cup again", and he could also hear God laughing.Reuse content