It's a question debated over coffee, at excavation sites, within sanctuaries and in college classrooms around the world: What does it mean to be human?

If you go

WHAT: 14th annual Darwin Week

WHEN: Today through Thursday

WHERE: Various sites around Charleston

COST: Free, open to the public.

MORE INFO: Go to or call 953-8087.

With new brain imaging showing chemical foundations of faith, new fossil evidence bridging species and new views of space underscoring the possibility of other life forms, the 14th annual Darwin Week starting today aims to explore the question amid new discoveries.

Rob Dillon, a College of Charleston biology professor, launched Darwin Week in 2001 to oppose those who wanted biblical creation taught in science classrooms alongside evolution. Since then, the event has drawn national speakers to the Holy City to discuss research and new ideas that explore relationships, and whether they can exist, between evolution and religion.

"Darwin Week sits on that ragged edge between science and faith," said Dillon, a scientist and a Christian. The week runs today through Thursday.

Dillon said he especially is excited about Darwin's birthday, celebrated Wednesday, which features an interfaith panel at the Church of the Holy Communion in downtown Charleston titled "What Does It Mean to Be Human? An Interfaith Conversation on Science, Religion and Being Human."

The 7 p.m. panel will include an internationally known paleoanthropologist, a physicist and retired Methodist minister, a Catholic priest and moral theologian, a Reform movement rabbi, and an AME Church presiding elder, among others.

The paleoanthropologist is Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian Institute's Human Origins Program and curator of its David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. He also wrote the exhibit's companion book, "What Does It Mean to Be Human?"

The Smithsonian exhibit includes a hall exploring human origins with, among other things, an interactive human family tree with 6 million years of evolutionary evidence from around the world.

It begs the question, while examining evidence over such a long stretch of time and change: At what point did a life form become what we consider human?

"It challenges you to answer that question yourself," Dillon says.

Potts, who spends much of his time leading excavations in sub-Saharan Africa, has dedicated his career to piecing together the record of Earth's environmental change and human adaptation to it. In addition to the panel, he will speak at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the College of Charleston's School of Sciences and Math Auditorium.

The entire week of events kicks off today at 11 a.m. at Circular Congregational Church when the Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, the church's senior pastor, will discuss living religiously as a naturalist.

Other speakers during the week will discuss findings that show religious impulses are related to chemical activity in the brain, transitional fossil species exist, other planets could support life, and intelligent design doesn't constitute good science.

All Darwin Week events are free and open to the public. For the full schedule, go to

The events coincide with Charleston's Piccolo Darwin Week, the area's first celebration of evolutionary science aimed at children and teens. A link to the events, part of Charleston's STEM Festival, is available on the Darwin Week's site.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at