Smithsonian's Hall of Origins and creationism

Visitors examine a wall of skulls representing the various stages of human development.
Visitors examine a wall of skulls representing the various stages of human development. (Bill O'leary - Bill O'Leary - The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 2010

We had to ask: What about creationism?

"There's no Adam and Eve here," curator Rick Potts says flatly. If you believe that the world -- and man -- was created in seven days, and that it's only thousands of years old, you might have a little problem with an exhibition that talks about a process of 6 million to 8 million years. Not to mention with the wall panel stating that we're not just related to apes, but to the banana tree, too.

For the majority of people, regardless of their beliefs, the material in the Hall of Human Origins should not be about conflict. "This is not a classroom. Remember, the themes of the show are questions," Potts says. The scientific evidence is presented in such a way that most visitors can weigh it on the scale of the belief system they entered with. "We believe in putting all the fossil evidence out there," he says, "where everyone can see it."

That being said, the hall does make several strong arguments against certain claims used to rebut the theory of evolution, such as the assertion that the fossil record is weak or filled with unexplained gaps. "Some have said that you could fit all the evidence in a cigar box," Potts says. He gestures to the hall's vast array of early human skulls, more than 75 in all. "Well, no."

According to Potts, the Smithsonian's view is that there need not be any disconnect between science and religion. In fact, if there's anything he hopes visitors will take away from the exhibition, it's what he calls a "sense of the sacred."

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