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Some Reflections of a Participant in Pentecostalism and Science

19 James K. A. Smith, “Advice to Pentecostal-Philosophers,” JPT 11 (2003), 235-47 (246), parenthesis his.

20 Smith, “Advice,” 245.

21 Of course Heisenberg was not thinking about this, or about how his discovery would later be misused by some secular humanities and religion scholars to invoke a “postmodern” age of relativism, but his own words (Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science [World Perspectives 19; New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958], 144-45) are still appropriate: “The physicist must postulate in his science that he is studying a world which he himself has not made and which would be present, essentially unchanged, if he were not there. . . . we see that the statistical nature of the laws of microscopic physics cannot be avoided, since any knowledge of the ‘actual’ is–because of the quantum-theoretical laws–by its very nature an incomplete knowledge. The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation is impossible, however.”

22 Also, in this first category of using experimental results responsibly, a counter-example is the leap taken by some secular humanities and religion scholars who posit that humankind inhabits a “postmodern world,” based upon the supposed tiny indeterminism that physicists find with respect to dynamic variables in sub-atomic systems. This ambitious and naïve leap leads these scholars to deny authorial intention, denigrate meaning of texts, applaud relativism, and denounce the scientific method of gaining knowledge by observation and experiment. I do not find the use of modern physics to support such a theory at all persuasive. Therefore, I am glad to see a Pentecostal journal publish an article which convincingly demonstrates that the invention of “modernity” and “postmodernity” cannot be based upon modern physics, cf. John C. Poirier and B. Scott Lewis, “Pentecostal and Postmodern Hermeneutics: A Critique of Three Conceits,” JPT 15 (2006), 3-21. I have always wondered whether these literary and religious theorists, when traveling by air, would look out the window at a jet engine and consider what would happen if the aircraft industry employed their methodological relativism in the manufacture of jet engines. I have also wondered if they pause to consider why the great liberal arts of modern science, engineering, and technology have nothing to do with their methods and conclusions.

23 At the ceremony the Nobel committee also stated that “The discovery by Penzias and Wilson was a fundamental one: It has made it possible to obtain information about cosmic processes that took place a very long time ago (13.7 billion years ago) at the time of the creation of the universe” (Physics Today [December 1978], 18), parenthesis mine.

24 Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (2 edition; New York: Norton, 1992), 107.

25 For the story of the first glimpse of mystery of how the cosmos went from primordial concentration to one hundred billion galaxies, cf. Keay Davidson, Wrinkles in Time (New York: Avon, 1998).

26 Paul Elbert, “The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Review Article,” Trinity Journal 23 (2002), 81-101 (96)

27 Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe (New York: Springer, 2000), 125-56.

28 Martin Brasier and Jonathan Antcliffe, “Decoding the Ediacaran Enigma,” Science 305 (2004), 1115-17 (1115). Very interesting too is the recent discovery that the first Ediacaran animals in Newfoundland, complex multi-cellular animals, appeared abruptly 5 million years after substantial amounts of oxygen reached the deep sea 580 million years ago (Richard A. Kerr, “A Shot of Oxygen to Unleash the Evolution of Animals,” Science 314 [8 December 2006], 1529). These Ediacaran animals arrived on the scene suddenly 575 million years ago when the oxygen levels rose high enough to support them. The cause of the higher oxygen levels is unclear, but it is difficult to imagine that these animals quickly evolved from some less complex life due to an environmental change. Alternatively, one may suggest their creation after the preparation of requisite conditions.

29 Matthias Krings et al, “Neandertal DNA Sequences and the Origin of Modern Humans,” Cell 90 (1997), 19-30.

Originally presented at the 2007 annual convention of the Society for Pentecostal Studies held at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. The 2007 meeting had the theme of The Role of Experience in Christian Life and Thought: Pentecostal Insights.


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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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