As DoSER explores ways to equip future clergy to address scientific issues with their congregations, the subject of human origins emerges as a key and often polarizing issue. Pastors across the country may be confronted with questions about evolution and human origins but many feel ill-equipped to answer them. With this in mind, participants in DoSER’s October 6th Scientific Horizons & Seminary Education workshop visited the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum of Natural History to tour the museum’s Hall of Human Origins. The group was joined Dr. Rick Potts, the Director of the museum’s Human Origins Program and Curator of anthropology. Our diverse crew of seminary professors, pastors, and scientists found the exhibit to be a fascinating catalyst for conversation about the relationship of science, particularly human origins, and the Christian faith.
The exhibit is framed by the question, “What does it mean to be human?”, and it considers not only our biological development, but also the emergence of such intangibles as emotion, imagination and altruism. Dr. Potts’ hope is that encouraging visitors to consider evolution in this wider context will allow the exhibit to be a safe place for people from all perspectives to explore the subject of human origins. While perusing the skulls, ancient musical instruments and genetic family trees, we discussed such topics as how to talk about science in congregations where multiple perspectives on human origins are represented and how seminaries can prepare future pastors to guide their congregations in this scientific age. The subjects of science education, Biblical interpretation, and even extraterrestrial intelligence also found their way into our engaging discussion!
In the span of two short hours the participants explored many promising ideas about how to promote a better relationship between the scientific study of human origins and religious communities, particularly with respect to theological education. For example, how would the science-religion discussion change if forefront science was incorporated into seminaries’ core curricula, if relationships were developed between churches and local scientific professionals, or if seminaries regularly brought scientists in to be guest lecturers? Overall, the tour was another exciting example of how positive and productive dialogue is spurred on as we encourage mutual understanding between the scientific and religious communities.
Also, be sure to check out some of the thousands of answers museum visitors have submitted to answer “What does it mean to be human?”
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