A question that bugs everyone is why, how and when this universe was created. Another one is on the emergence and progression of life. How was life enriched to the advanced stage of intellect and health, as it is seen now? What is our role in this universe? Are we expected to do something more than living a comfortable life or making it a bed of roses for those who depend on us? What does death have in store for us? Is there anything like afterlife? Both religion and science take shots at these questions. And if partial answers are unacceptable, both fail.
Religion is a collection of beliefs, which defines the purpose of life. For some it sets a lifetime mission that of streamlining the afterlife, and keeps them busy this way forever. For others, it gives guidelines for living in harmony with self, family and the society. Let us not forget that having a congenial group of people around ourselves, is no mean an achievement. Yet, the core concern in religion remains the relationship of humanity with spirituality. It lays guidelines that help this interaction to flourish. Some religions take this undertaking very seriously and prepare you for a good though uncertain afterlife, and the others focus more on the niceties of the foreseeable present life. Religion has provided sufficient, though not universal, guidelines for human behaviour. Certainly, these guidelines are more palatable than its spiritual decrees. No wonder religion has had appreciable influence on jurisprudence, law, politics and education systems. Though religion means different things to different individuals and to different societies. Yet one thing is certain, it needs unflinching faith and it abhors arguments or investigations.
Science on the other hand, conducts experiments and research to arrive at answers independently, but misses no opportunity to validate the answers given by religions. If one is intrigued by the universe and its relationship with humans, then science will not elucidate this relationship; at least for now. Religion may still satisfy our curiosity. Social sciences are conducting behavioural analysis of an individual with self, family, society, country and the global world, but they started only recently.
Religion expects you to believe there is God or a supreme power of that sort. Whether the universe is operated by this divine entity or nature, or it runs according to scientific rules that govern conversion of matter into energy, is the eternal conflict that few have been able to resolve. For the present generation as well the forthcoming ones, it is a serious decision whether to follow the age-old religions or the modern sciences; to what extent and to what purpose.
The Scientific Answers
According to the big bang theory, the universe was formed 13.75 billion years ago, by the process of cooling a hot and dense ball of matter. After its initial expansion from a singularity, the universe cooled and allowed energy to be converted into sub-atomic particles namely, protons, neutrons and electrons. While the protons and neutrons combined to form atomic nuclei within a few minutes of the bang, it appears that it took thousands of years for electrons to combine with them and create electrically neutral items. This theory is the most trusted one, in accordance with whatever level of knowledge science has, on date. But it applies only to the domains of matter and energy in this universe.
Another unproven theory about the universe is the ‘steady state theory’, which believes that the universe existed and will continue to exist on its own though as an aggregate of constantly changing forms. If proved it will underline the Buddhist and Jain religions. Metaphysics is the subject that assists scientists, philosophers and thinkers to elucidate the ambiguity connected with God. It also delves in the domain of the relationship between matter, energy and consciousness.
The emergence of life on this planet is another subject; equally fascinating and as much in mystery. Life is a kind of energy that is self-sustaining. It defies Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. It causes movements of limbs without external forces. There has been no satisfactory explanation on how life arrived in this planet, and how consciousness was coupled with it. Science, being in its infancy, gives only vague pointers, and religion, mysterious explanations. In 1952, Stanley Miller and Harold Urey at the University of Chicago tried to synthesise organic compounds from inorganic precursors. They were able to create 20 amino acids in simulated conditions similar to the times when life was created on earth. This is the closest that anyone has gone to creating life artificially. A parallel school of thought considers that life commenced by impregnation from aliens, who might have descended from the other planets. And then it evolved.
The question is not merely, how life came into existence but also how a living being acquired consciousness and intellect. Some ideas on this progression were put forward by Charles Darwin (1809-1882) through the medium of two books ‘On the Origin of Species (1859)’ and ‘The Descent of Man (1871)’. These ideas were revolutionary in the context of the erstwhile beliefs maintained by religions. Darwin’s theory states that all species on the planet have descended from a common ancestor. Their evolution is guided by natural selection where species struggle for survival, in a manner similar to the artificial selection carried out during selective breeding of species. He used this doctrine to suggest that humans, being superior, survived whereas many inferior animals perished.
Darwin also originated the idea, that the mental faculties of man were primarily the progression from the instincts of the lower level species, like animals. For the fear of opposition, he mentioned it only in the passing in the first book. Still, it attracted enough criticism and forced him to delay further elaboration for 11 long years, when he published the second book. Mental faculties of the species continued to develop and caused formation of societies.
Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish-Dutch philosopher (1632-1677CE), covered this aspect of human consciousness by his theory of emotions and a fully deterministic human psychology. Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884), an Austrian-Hungarian scientist, advocated for the first time, the scientific theory of genetics, about how hereditary characteristics are passed from parent organisms to their offspring.
Scientists of all disciplines are at it, these mysteries of the world and beyond. In 2012 a few startling discoveries were made by astronomers. Sugar particles were discovered 400 light years away, that have a possibility of being present before a planet comes into existence. Sugar is high carbon carbohydrate that helps in creation of life. In July 2012, two independent teams of researchers working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)  reported a possible existence of Higgs boson particle. Higgs boson is a no spin, no electric charge and no colour particle, but it can function as a quantum exciter and create mass. This creative ability gave Higgs boson particle the name ‘god particle’.
The recent discoveries of sugar and Higgs boson particles bring the scientist community closer to the understanding of life. Who knows they may ultimately create life. People are excited about this likelihood, but no one believes that imbibing consciousness in the life so created, will be a reality. All that we can do is to hope that someone someday will blow the lid off the whole mess of mystery shrouding creation of life. But for now, we can only wait.
The Religious Answers
In the religious domain, we have a matrix of a few dimensions, Abrahamic and Dharmic religions, monotheism and polytheism, monism and dualism, and a few variations of these. An inquisitive mind might take a whole life understanding these combinatorial ideas, and be left with insufficient time to practice whatever he learns. But for an average individual, such analysis is best ignored.
The Abrahamic religions believe the Book of Genesis has most of the answers, and so believe the Indian Dharmic religions in their numerous scriptures. The Book of Genesis states that God created world and placed man in it, as his regent. Man turned out to be disobedient and God destroyed the creation, by a massive flood. Only Noah, the patriarch, and his wife survived this calamity. The world recreated by the descendents of Noah’s sons Shem, Ham and Japheth was equally corrupt. We are told that God appeared in a dream to Abraham and called upon him to be the seed of salvation. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the followers of this line of thought.
Indians have a whole lot of scriptures supporting their faiths; out of these, Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagwad Geeta, feature predominantly in religious studies. Indian philosophy depends on at least six different schools of thought namely, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimansa and Vedanta. Samkhya and Vedanta out of these are relevant to the origin and continuation of world and life. Additional philosophies, derived from the primary religions, have influenced life in India almost equally. These are the beliefs like Sai Baba, Osho, Brahma Kumaris, Radhaswami, Nihangs and they have massive followings. For a good coverage of these faiths, the Indian media network offers a few full time channels.
Hinduism does not define clearly how the universe was formed or life was created. But it deals elaborately with subjects like God, the universe and human beings. It ushers in the concept of reality and virtuality.
According to the Samkhya school of thought, which is attributed to rishi Kapila in 1300 BCE, two entities exist in this universe; prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter) and purusha (consciousness). One could look at this concept as dualism. Jiva (life), is the state in which purusha is bonded to prakriti through desires, and when this bondage is broken, salvation (moksha) is said to have occurred. The purpose of life is named purushartha. Dualism as defined by Samkhya is very different from how it is understood in the west. The dualism of Rene Descartes makes the distinction between mind and body, which are both considered inanimate (jada) in Samkhya. The dualism in Samkhya is between the real self (as purusha) and matter (prakriti).
Vedanta, a name that signifies the end of the Vedic era, was propounded by Adi Shankaryacharya in 800 CE. Vedanta is a monotheistic (advaita – non-dual) school of thought, which states that Brahman (God) is the only reality in this universe. It can neither be defined by attributes, nor be visualised in our present state of consciousness. Human soul being a part of the whole is also real consciousness; it is named atman. An illusory power of Brahman called maya causes the world to arise. Maya makes God to appear as transcendental or an entity that is different from the soul. This illusion is the cause of all suffering in the world. With meditation and self-study, the illusion is disseminated and self-realisation takes place. Soul and Brahman are then seen as one substance, a concept akin to Baruch Spinoza’s God.
Hinduism considers God as the trinity of Brahmma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva or Mahesh (the destroyer). They manage the entire creation as an ongoing process. In all forms of Hinduism, the purpose of life is to achieve salvation, which is the ultimate union of purusha and prakriti, or atman and Brahman, or soul and God.
Buddhism considers this universe and life, as constantly changing entities. Both are transformed perpetually by processes that are not controlled by any eternal entity like God. Buddhism believes in the cycle of birth and rebirth but does not consider that soul is immortal. It clarifies that soul translates into a new form based on the aggregate of karma, ie human acts that are initiated under the control of a conscious mind. Buddhism expects people to understand that their material possessions are temporary; one that belongs to someone today will be another’s possession tomorrow. The sufferings that people take to their hearts, because of losing or fear of losing, are the results of this ignorance. Enlightenment is a state where this ignorance is obliterated.
People are intrigued by the mystery of life and death, and want someone, religion or science, to unfold this secret candidly, so that the purpose of life becomes clear. So far, they have been let down. Like what is said about blind men visualising an elephant by touching restricted parts of the animal. Colossal that this animal is, they all fail even jointly to visualise the object correctly. Hinduism, Buddhism Jainism and some shades of Sufism narrate this story to emphasise that the truth in religions is heavily eclipsed by fallacies. In spite of these uncertainties, doubts and fallacies it is amazing how strongly people feel about religion.
 The LHC was built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries, as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories. It lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres in circumference, as deep as 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva Switzerland. It is used for testing particle and high energy physics theories, by creating very high momentum collisions of particles.