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Human Origins Broader Social Impacts Committee

The Smithsonian’s Human Origins Initiative has 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 dialogue surrounding the exhibition ‘What Does It Mean To Be Human?’ and outreach efforts in human origins. The members of the committee were invited to participate, and the committee meetings were convened, by the co-chairs.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 science of human origins in light of potential responses by diverse faith communities to the subject of human evolution.The BSIC co-chairs, 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; and Jim Miller, a broadly experienced writer and researcher on historical and theological perspectives on science and religion and current General Missioner for the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith, both participated in external stakeholder reviews of the exhibition script and outreach materials during development, and their comments were helpful in ensuring that these materials encourage respectful dialogue. BSIC members also participate in public forums to explore varied models of how scientific and religious perspectives may develop more constructive relationships in American society.

The objectives of the BSI Committee include:

  • Help NMNH develop resources that complement our educational/outreach efforts and enable the Museum to reach audiences affected by potential challenges at the intersection of scientific findings and religious reflection.
  • Advise NMNH staff and exhibition volunteers to better prepare them (a) to address questions about the science of human origins that are rooted in religious concerns, and (b) to respond with sensitivity and respect to the diversity of religious perspectives and reactions to the topic of human evolution.
  • Assist in developing plans for public events that bear on these objectives, and serve as an ongoing resource to the Smithsonian in answering inquiries about human evolution that require a specific religious perspective in order to seriously address the questions.

A message from the BSIC co-chairs:

The Smithsonian’s Human Origins Initiative 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.  Recognizing just how profound the exploration of human origins is, and that for many people the question “What does it mean to be human?” is informed by religious and philosophical perspectives as well as scientific, the Smithsonian has, in our opinion, taken a bold and insightful step by inviting us to form a broader social impacts committee.

As illustrated below, 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 visions 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.  However, as a group we are in favor of contributing to a dialogue that moves beyond the common conflict motif and we are grateful to the Smithsonian for creating opportunities for such a dialogue to become reality.

We hope that the materials and events developed by the Broader Social Impacts Committee to support the Koch Hall of Human Origins will encourage and inspire you to continue exploring for yourself “What does it means to be human?”

Page last updated: September 14, 2018