WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will open a new permanent exhibit on to the “discovery and understanding of human origins” next March and convene a panel of experts to bridge the gap between religion and science.
With input from more than 50 scientific and educational organizations and 70 distinguished scientists and educators, the museum launched a Broader Social Impacts Committee to address the interaction between religion and science.
“There’s a long history of very dynamic interaction between religious ideas and the introduction of Darwin in America,” said Jim Miller, co-chair of the committee.
According to Miller, who is also an official with the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith, the evolution exhibit is “a scientific exhibit so it’s not there to make a religious point.”
Still, the committee will help educate museum volunteers on how to answer questions visitors may have and to “encourage folks to engage the material there in a constructive way.”
Miller has witnessed many religious people in America who divorce their religious beliefs from their understanding of the world’s origins. He hopes the exhibit will provide an opportunity “for sound scientific discovery to enrich religious experience.”
The 15,000-square-foot exhibition hall will offer visitors a “unique, interactive museum experience” that documents some of the major landmarks in human evolution. It will include several features, including a display containing more than 75 cast reproductions of skulls, an interactive human family tree illustrating 6 million years of evolutionary evidence, and an area that addresses climate change and humans’ impact on the earth.
The opening of the $20.7 million exhibition hall will occur March 17, 2010, a date that also marks the museum’s 100-year anniversary on the National Mall.