Hinduism: beliefs about creation and evolution
- Cosmology is the study of the universe, and humanity’s place in it.
- One of the theories put forward by cosmologists is the Big Bang theory. This suggests that about 15,000 million years ago there was a massive explosion. This was the point at which all matter in the universe began; space and time began then too. Over time the universe that we know, and human and animal life, emerged.
- This theory is generally accepted by scientists as being the best theory they have to explain the origins of the universe.
- If this theory is true, then it could mean that the universe ‘just happened’ and that it did not emerge as a result of the activity of a creator God.
- Some people suggest parallels between the process of creation as described in the Hindu sacred texts and the scientific understanding of the universe, especially the Big Bang Theory.
- Some scientists have suggested that, following the Big Bang, the process of the expansion of the universe will eventually be reversed and at some distant point in the future will start to contract, eventually imploding into a `Big Crunch’. This could lead to another ‘Big Bang’, with a new universe being formed. This presents a picture of the universe as a process of creation and destruction occurring over vast timespans.
- In Hinduism, the Vishnu Purana describes Vishnu as creator, sustainer, destroyer and then re-creator of the universe. This process takes place over a vast period of time called a Kalpa (nearly 9 billion years). The creation, sustaining and destruction of the universe is also told in the stories about Shiva, who is often shown as ‘Lord of the Dance’.
- The idea that life might have evolved was first mentioned as early as the 4th century CE by St Augustine, who wrote that God probably only created very simple life forms and that these developed over time.
- Today we associate evolutionary science with scientists such as Charles Darwin who wrote ‘On the Origin of Species’ in 1859. He argued that life began with very simple cells and later developed into what we see today. He said that Natural Selection was one of the major mechanisms driving evolution.
- Darwin upset many people with his views and even some respected scientists such as Philip Gosse argued that the fossils, which were discovered in the ground, had been placed there by God deliberately to fool people.
For most Hindus, however, the issues and concerns raised by modern science are not important. Some Hindus are interested in these issues, and study them at a high level, however for the majority they are more focused on the purpose of life, which is to reach moksha (the ultimate freedom from reincarnation).
Science and Hinduism represent two contrasting understandings of the universe.