A priest and a scientist walk into a bar…

So a priest and a scientist walk into a bar…for centuries, science and religion have squared off. Are they mutually exclusive, or can they coexist? Can a higher being be incorporated into scientific principles, or can science be used to explain the core beliefs of faith? Today’s guest post from Amy, our director of adult education, discusses your chance to answer these questions, as HMNS brings a priest and scientist together for a friendly discussion. Learn more about the two men and the issues at hand, and don’t miss your chance to hear both Father Coyne and Dr. Ayala speak at HMNS this upcoming Tuesday, April 27 at 6:30 p.m.

Science and Religion are portrayed to be in
harmony in the Tiffany window Education (1890).

In a world changing every day by science, many grapple with the debate of Science vs. Religion. Some think the two are not compatible, while others think the contrary. What kinds of questions belong to the discipline of science and what questions do not?  How can a scientist justify faith while insisting on scientific, empirical rigor in other matters?  Is such justification necessary? Questions like these will be addressed in a spirited discussion by Drs. Coyne and Ayala at HMNS.

Father Coyne first came to HMNS in 2003 to speak with Dr. Steven Weinberg in a program entitled The Presence of God in the Universe. Coyne returned in 2009 as part of the Darwin2009 Houston Lecture Series celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On The Origin of the Species.

San Diego, CA
Creative Commons License photo credit: Girl flyer

Dr. George V. Coyne, S.J. served as Director of the Vatican Observatory for 28 years. Father Coyne founded and hosted the Divine Action series of conferences to bring together scientists and theologians from around the world. He retired as Director in August 2006 but still serves on the research staff and is President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation, a development arm of the Observatory.

The Vatican Observatory, one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world (tracing its origins to Pope Gregory’s reform of the calendar in 1582) has been headquartered in the papal summer home of Castel Gandolfo since 1935, but it opened a branch in Tucson in the mid 1980s to take advantage of the area’s world-renowned astronomical facilities. In 1993, it inaugurated the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope on Mt. Graham, Arizona.

Dr. Francisco Ayala was also part of the popular lecture series hosted at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  You can read Dr. Ayala’ previous blog post here. Dr. Ayala is an evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist who has vigorously opposed the entanglement of science and religion while also calling for mutual respect between the two. He is a University Professor of Biological Sciences, professor of philosophy, and professor of logic and the philosophy of science at the University of California at Irvine. He specializes in evolutionary genetics and uses DNA to track the path and flow of evolution. This March Ayala was awarded the 2010 Templeton Prize which honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.

The mission of the museum is to “enhance in individuals the knowledge and delight in natural science and related subjects.” This lecture is a unique opportunity for our museum members, students and members of the community to hear two world-renown scientists address questions about Science and Religion to enhance their “delight in science” regardless of their religious beliefs.

The HMNS Distinguished Lecture entitled Science and Religion presented by Drs. Coyne and Ayala on April 27 is sponsored by KUHF 88.7 FM and the Center for Faith and Culture at the University of St. Thomas and is open to the public.  For ticket information click here.

Understanding Human Evolution: Fongoli Chimpanzees

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Jill Pruetz from National Geographic. In addition to being a professor of biological anthropology at Iowa State University, she is currently conducting studies for National Geographic on the evolution of the Fongoli chimpanzees of Senegal. Understanding how the Fongoli chimpanzees survive the harsh conditions of Senegal help us to comprehend how our own ancient relatives might have lived. She will be giving a lecture on the subject at HMNS on Tuesday, March 24. This event is part of the Museum’s ongoing celebration of Darwin2009.

My research focuses on a unique chimpanzee community. The Fongoli chimpanzees live in southeastern Senegal where the climate is very hot, dry and open for this species. Temperatures during the 7 month dry season can reach over 115 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, and rainfall is less than 35 inches per year. Chimpanzees here live in a habitat that is almost devoid of forest. Over 95% of their extensive home range (from two to nine times larger than the ranges of chimpanzees studied elsewhere!) consists of grassland or woodland, with tiny patches of forest making up the rest.

Grey day over the savannah
Creative Commons License photo credit: Julien Harneis

Other attempts at habituating savanna chimpanzees to the presence of human observers have not succeeded.  I believe that I was successful at Fongoli, in part, because chimpanzees don’t view most humans as predators.  Although they avoid humans – to this day, except for us – they do not react to them as if they are predators. 

People in Senegal do not eat chimpanzees as they do in many countries of Africa but consider them to be close relatives.  They include chimpanzees in their folktales and myths.  Even so, it took us four times longer (four years!) to habituate the Fongoli chimpanzees as researchers studying chimpanzees in more forested areas.

Creative Commons License photo credit: doug88888

The extreme environment at Fongoli is the reason I chose to work here.  This environment is similar, in many ways, to the mosaic of habitats that we associate with the earliest members of our own lineage – the bipedal apes that lived over 5 million years ago.  Hunting with tools, using caves, living with fire, soaking in water pools, and living in a more cohesive community are all behaviors that are fairly unique to the Fongoli chimpanzee community when compared to studies of this species elsewhere.  Each of these behaviors can be tied into the savanna environment in which they live. 

Understanding the behavior of our closest living relatives in this type of environment can help provide insight into how apes respond to the pressures associated with a mosaic habitat, something we knew little about until our study of the Fongoli chimpanzees.

For more information on Jill Pruetz and her work with chimpanzees check out her blog at http://www.savannachimp.blogspot.com and http://www.savannachimp.com

For more information on her lecture here on Tuesday, March 24, click here. This is just one of the many distinguished lectures available at HMNS.

Darwin speaks: NatGeo Live Blogging Event

Charles Darwin turns 200 this year – and in a neat coincidence, his book On The Origin of Species is 150 this year as well. (Very considerate of him to wait exactly 50 years to publish, so we can celebrate all at once.)

That’s one angry-looking turkey.
From National Geographic’s 
Morphed: From Dinosaur to Turkey

Darwin’s theories continue to revolutionize science – and as you might have noticed, they’re still kind of controversial, even a century and a half later.

This weekend, National Geographic is coordinating a live blogging event where you’ll have the opportunity to debate the facts and ask questions of several experts on the subject.

Check out their blog for the experts’ bios and information about the event; you can also submit questions in advance. it’s taking place this Sunday, Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. CT/7 p.m. ET in conjunction with the premiere of Morphed, a new series showing various species evolve as natural forces impact them over millions of years.

If that’s just not enough Darwin for you, come to the Museum this weekend for Darwin Day! You can see live animals, study adaptations in insects, and help create an evolutionary timeline that runs the length of the entire Museum, meet paleontologists, and explore representations of human evolution. In conjunction with Darwin2009, we’re also hosting Darwin-related lectures and classes all year long. You can also read more about Charles Darwin in anthropology curator Dirk’s post, An ‘Aha” Moment Worth Celebrating.

The draw of Darwin

Charles Darwin
Creative Commons License photo credit:
CATR *Recomiendo ver
fotos con su tamaño original

The world has been captivated by the theories of Charles Darwin for a over a century. Celebrating this legacy is what HMNS is all about!

When we introduced the concept of Darwin Day as a way to help convey the concept of evolution to children in the most fun way possible I had volunteers chomping at the bit to join in the fun.

Join us this Saturday to see live animals, study adaptations in insects, create an evolutionary timeline that runs the length of the entire Museum, meet Paleontologists, and explore representations of human evolution!

The fun is not just for kids, though, there is an entire series of events happening theough Darwin 2009 Houston – check out this page for all the happenings at HMNS. From teacher workshops and lectures to exhibits on The Origin of the Species – it’s going to be a year to remember one of the most influential scientists in recent history.

Darwin Day will be taking place at HMNS on Saturday, February 7 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and is FREE to the public!