What We Do
Human Origins Broader Social Impacts Committee
The Smithsonian’s Human Origins Initiative formed the Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC), comprised of people from diverse religious communities from around the United States, to assist in public communication and conversation surrounding the permanent exhibition, “What Does It Mean To Be Human?,” and outreach efforts related to the sciences of human origins. The members of the committee were invited to participate, and committee meetings have been convened, by the co-chairs. The BSIC co-chairs of the committee are Connie Bertka, a lecturer in contemporary issues in science and religion, consultant for Science and Society Resources, and previous director of the AAAS Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER); and Jim Miller, a broadly experienced writer and researcher on historical and theological perspectives on science and religion, former senior program associate on the AAAS DOSER program, and former president of the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith. Both participated in external stakeholder reviews of the exhibition script and outreach materials during their development and their comments were helpful in ensuring that these materials encourage respectful conversation.
The exhibition is designed to provide a welcoming place where everyone can explore one of the most exciting areas of science – human origins – by seeing for themselves the fossil and genetic evidence. The Museum understands that visitors will bring to the exhibition many diverse perspectives, including those averse to the topic of evolution. The role of the BSIC is to offer support and advice regarding the public presentation of the sciences of human origins in light of potential responses by diverse faith communities to the subject of human evolution. BSIC members participate in public forums to explore varied models of how scientific and religious perspectives may develop more constructive relationships. The Committee also explores other topics at the intersection of the evolutionary sciences and American society. These topics include public science education, human environmental impacts, and racism.
A message from the BSIC co-chairs
The Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program has extended an invitation to all of us to reflect on “What does it means to be human?” By conveying in an accessible and engaging manner the contributions of decades of scientific research on human evolution, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins gives us an opportunity to glimpse our earliest ancestors, to imagine their experiences, and to discover their story. The exploration of human origins has profound significance. For many people the question “What does it mean to be human?” is informed by a wide variety of religious, philosophical, societal, and scientific perspectives. For these reasons the Smithsonian, in our opinion, took a bold and insightful step by inviting us to form a broader social impacts committee.
As illustrated on the Members page, the makeup of the committee is quite diverse. The committee members all agree that a conversation between science and society is necessary and worthwhile, yet we bring to the table many different ideas concerning the character of that conversation and its most positive outcomes. This is particularly true in terms of understanding the most appropriate relationship between scientific and religious perspectives on human origins. As a group we are in favor of contributing to a dialogue that moves beyond the common conflict motif. We are grateful to the Smithsonian for creating opportunities for such a conversation to become reality.
While the initial focus of the committee was on the relationships between religious and scientific understandings of human origins, it has also engaged the topics of evolution education, humanity's impact on our surroundings, and human diversity and racism. Today, global humanity faces immense challenges, many of which provoke social tensions and divisions.
Perhaps none is more serious than the divisions surrounding race and racism. There is a growing societal recognition that racism has, and continues to have, an unjust and negative impact on human societies. As one contribution to the work ahead for all of our communities in addressing this fact, the Human Origins Program and our committee seek to make the Statement on Race and Racism by the American Association of Biological Anthropologists widely available. We offer a link to it here and encourage you to read it.
We hope that the materials and events developed by the Broader Social Impacts Committee to support the Hall of Human Origins will encourage and inspire you to continue exploring for yourself “What does it means to be human?”.
The Broader Social Impacts Committee (BSIC), an advisory group to the NMNH Human Origins Program, is focused on improving public communication and dialogue surrounding the Hall of Human Origins exhibition, “What Does It Mean To Be Human?” and the Smithsonian’s outreach efforts with respect to human origins. The purpose of the BSIC is to offer support and advice regarding the public presentation of human origins and to identify potential opportunities for engagement, especially in the light of potential responses by diverse faith and philosophical communities to the science of human evolution.
Assist the Human Origins Program in the following ways:
- Help NMNH prepare staff and exhibit volunteers to (a) address questions about the science of human origins that are rooted in religious or philosophical perspectives, and (b) respond with sensitivity and respect to the diversity of religious and philosophical perspectives and reactions to the subject of human evolution.
- Participate in the development of resources that complement its educational/outreach efforts and enable the Human Origins Program to reach audiences affected by the potential challenges posed at the intersection of scientific findings and philosophical or
- Proactively identify and explore issues that are relevant to human origins and what it means to be human that could be pursued in terms of public engagement by the Human Origins Program.
1. Contribute to the development of resources to assist the Human Origins Program in discussing with the public, media, schools, and professional colleagues topics in which human evolution intersects with broader societal interests, including religion and human impact on the planet.
2. Participate in exhibit volunteer training as needed with a view to:
a. reinforcing awareness of religious and philosophical perspectives on human origins,
b. understanding diverse models of the science-religion relationship; and
c. encouraging respectful responses to questions about and potential objections to evolution generally and human evolution in particular.
3. Develop and participate in public events related to the exhibit and its theme, “What Does It Mean to Be Human?”.
4. Serve as an ongoing resource to the Human Origins Program in answering questions about human evolution that require specific religious or philosophical understandings in order to address the questions seriously.