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Some Reflections of a Participant in Pentecostalism and Science

In the second category, the perception and appraisal of past spectacular historical events, I would single out four of these dramatic and physically unexplainable attention-getting events in which Ruach Elohim may be suggested as playing a creative role. First, the discovery of the beginning of the universe in 1965, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978, immediately enhanced the stature of the Genesis narrator worldwide and ignited the serious inference that a beginning signaled a beginner. The possible existence of God became a much more attractive philosophical speculation. Arno Penzias, one of the Nobel laureates, commented at the award ceremony to this effect.23 Agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow, former director of NASA, in his very popular tome describing this discovery, quipped that “For the scientist who had lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”24 Second, the discovery of a cosmic beginning, via finding the heat radiation left over from the hot big bang, led, in 1992, to what Stephen Hawking called “the discovery of the century, if not of all time.” A well-respected physicist at Fermi Lab in Chicago (Michael Turner) announced to the world press that this discovery was “Unbelievably important . . . The significance of this cannot be overstated. They have found the Holy Grail of cosmology.” The discovery made the front page of the London Times for five consecutive days. George Smoot, the experimental team leader, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006, told the media that “It’s like looking at the face of God.”25 I have suggested that if humankind is at all able to define ages and times it seems quite a good idea to think of ourselves now as having passed into the “Age of the Glimpse of God, based on the two spectacular cosmic discoveries cited above.26

Thirdly, the world-wide explosion of shelly creatures, in a narrow window of time–perhaps less that a million years–following the onset of the Cambrian geological period, certainly raises otherwise passive macro-evolutionary eyebrows. These animals appeared suddenly and simultaneously 520 million years ago. Seventy body plans of the Cambrian animals have been reported, but only thirty of those body plans exist today.27 Similar to this widespread surge of diverse speciation in the Cambrian period is the equally mysterious surge of speciation in the preceding Ediacaran period. Here we find another rapid diversification, this time of soft-bodied animals, at various sites and times that show no appearance of macro-evolutionary change and, amazingly, were “not ancestral to Cambrian life at all.”28

Lastly, I single out as representative of spectacular discoveries that are both suggestive of non-natural events and compatible with the creative involvement of Ruach Elohim, the experimental finding that modern humankind is genetically distinct from and unrelated to the last of the hominids. The presumption that humankind was ancestrally related to Neaderthals was a long-held lynchpin of macro-evolutionary theory. The original finding,29 of which I have my theology and science students read portions so that they can satisfy their questions of “How do we know?” and “Why do we believe?,” has been independently confirmed by four other subsequent studies from different Neanderthal fossils and I expect will continue to be further confirmed, even though it is in no doubt whatsoever (most scientists, like the experimental biologists here, appreciate repetitive experiments to confirm a major finding). In conclusion, it seems clear enough that the sudden geochronological appearance over a few million years of these various upright bipedal animals, which precede the creation, on my argument, of wise man (Homo Sapiens) some 50,000 years ago, is consistent with their genetic separation from modern humankind. There is no physical evidence for a macro-evolutionary increase in complexity to modern humankind from the hominids. This suggests two things to me, that God enjoys creating and experimenting and that when he thought the time was right, a new “day” in a progressive cosmic plan was initiated.

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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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