IRAS Webinar: The Human Mystery: Unraveling the Past, Exploring the Future

May 14, 2021

Please join IRAS for the May session of our monthly webinar series, Science, Religion, and Society. On May 14, 2021 IRAS will host a live session, featuring Dr. Ron Cole-Turner, teaching at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where he holds the H. Parker Sharp Chair in Theology and Ethics

Initial Respondent: Dr. James Miller, Co-chair, Broader Social Impacts Committee, Human Origins Program, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

May 14, 2021 at 4:00 pm Central time, 5:00 Eastern time

Presentation Overview:

New discoveries in human origins research complicate the scientific interpretation of our past. Until recently, it was widely believed that our species, Homo sapiens, appeared in a unique form in East Africa around 150,000 years ago.  Spreading throughout the world, this new “species” simply replaced all other human variants that they encountered.  It was also generally believed that human culture appeared almost in a flash, a kind of “cultural big bang,” centered in Europe.  Counter-evidence, whether newly discovered or reassessed through powerful new techniques, supports a major reinterpretation of the once-accepted “recent out of Africa” perspective and the accompanying “cultural big bang.”  The new interpretation, however, is not without its problems.  The new view undermines a Eurocentric view of culture, but it prompts puzzling questions about why cave art should appear at almost the same time in widely separated locations.  The evidence for the Paleolithic interbreeding of various forms of humanity (Neandertals, Denisovans, and probably many others) presents a fundamentally new view of the hybrid nature of our species.  At the same time, it reawakens old anxieties about our diversity and unity as a global species.  Perhaps not as a coincidence, the new view of our past comes just as we acquire the technology to influence the future of human evolution by using advances in fields like genetics (gene editing).  What do new interpretations of our origins mean for human beings living today at this pivotal moment in evolutionary history?  What do they suggest about human unity in light of human variation?  Can religious perspectives offer affirmations of human unity and inspire a hopeful human future?

Presentation Background:

Ron Cole-Turner teaches at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, where he holds the H. Parker Sharp Chair in Theology and Ethics.  For over thirty years, he has explored the impact of science and technology on religious perspectives (especially Christianity), with special attention to human evolution, past and future, including the expanding powers of technology to modify humanity, becoming “transhuman” or “posthuman.”  Recent publications include Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement (edited, 2011) and The End of Adam and Eve: Theology and the Science of Human Origins (2016).  He is a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, serving now on the Executive Committee.


The IRAS webinar is FREE but registration is required