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Some Reflections of a Participant in Pentecostalism and Science

To take advantage of this circumstance and to explore the relationship between the experimental findings of modern science and the past and present creative actions of the biblical God, Pentecostals in the United States need to do two things. First they must seriously disentangle themselves from the pseudoscientific propaganda served up over more than a quarter-century by the physical cessationism or young-Earthism devotees that function within the Evangelical community at the behest of businesses touting videos of dinosaurs riding in Noah’s ark.15 Physical cessationism is dispensational erasure extended to physical reality. Pentecostals need to recognize that every professional scientific organization in the United States, from the American Chemical Society to the American Paleontological Society, has issued a statement for the public good, advising and warning against this culturally harmful sect. Even smaller state academies have gone on record, like the Iowa Academy of Science, which equates adherence to the pseudoscience of “creationism” as equivalent to belief in levitation. Secondly, Pentecostals must disentangle themselves from the notion that the theory of macro-evolution is an assured result of modern science. It is not that at all, but a theory, based on an unknown phenomenon that requires the discovery of a heretofore unknown law of increasing complexity, and one that cannot provide an exclusively naturalistic account of the origin of life on our planet. While the experimental findings of experimental biology are often, but certainly not always, described with some reference to the theory of macro-evolution, this sector of the scientific community does not speak for the entire scientific community. Their theory, like a theory of divine intervention to effect the diversity of life-forms and/or provide Christian experience, is not a scientific theory since it is not falsifiable. In any case a working theory in other sectors of science guides experimental work. I don’t see this guidance in the biological sector with respect to this particular theory; rather new experimental findings are just automatically put back into the theory and coated with evolutionary language. While a few vociferous evolutionary biologists, perhaps due to some form of scientifically immodest “intellectual inebriation,”16 display hostility to religion in their public pronouncements,17 the majority of experimental biologists are wisely content to go about their research to benefit humankind without the dogmatic and evidently premature insistence that humankind evolved from some non-living molecule.18

The engagement of Pentecostalism with modern science can proceed in at least two quite profitable and outstanding ways and I would like to illustrate these by several examples. First, is the way of using previous experimental results responsibly. Second, is the way of developing ongoing familiarity and expertise with respect to spectacular experimental discoveries that do not fit, either easily or at all, into natural circumstance. These observable events may well be indicators to humankind that the invisible God does not wish to be rigorously invisible, but instead is now allowing intriguing clues of his involvement in past spectacular events to be able to be perceived, given the rational transparency he has built into physical reality, perhaps for this very purpose.

As to the first category, using previous experimental results responsibly, consider Smith’s exhortation for Pentecostals to eschew the “dominant rationalism (particularly in evangelical philosophical and theological circles) and provide a fund for unique developments in phenomenology and our accounts of knowledge. In ontology, the Pentecostal belief in a continually open universe, evidenced in the central belief in the miraculous and God’s continued activity in the world, should make a fundamental difference in the way we construct our metaphysics.”19 Smith advocates that a key aspect of a Pentecostal worldview should be “A positioning of radical openness to God, and in particular God doing something differently or new.”20 Since metaphysics is based on physics, and since the discovery of quantum physics and of a probabilistic uncertainty with respect to simultaneous exact knowledge of dynamical variables at the quantum level of physical reality21 is widely believed to afford a built-in openness to divine action, Pentecostals are right to espouse a worldview open to the miraculous and the supernatural. This worldview allows them to be able to understand past spectacular historical events and contemporary events within the framework of the potentially non-natural if scientific observations or contemporary experience would so warrant or suggest.22

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About the Author: Paul Elbert, physicist-theologian and New Testament scholar, teaches theology and science at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary. He is co-chair of the Formation of Luke-Acts section in the Society of Biblical Literature and is a research advisor to the Dominican Biblical Institute, Limerick, Ireland. His writings have appeared, for example, in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft and in Catholic Biblical Quarterly. He served as editor of two anniversary volumes for Old Testament scholars, Essays on Apostolic Themes (1985) and Faces of Renewal (1988).

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