The Story of God with Morgan Freeman (2016) s01e04 Episode Script


1 Morgan Freeman: My home is here in Mississippi.
I've lived in many other places.
New York, la, San Francisco, Chicago, but this place defines me.
Got him when he was four and a half months old, undernourished, but he had attitude.
Got a great walking gait.
It's the smell of grass in the spring, the sound of birds.
I just know I'm home.
My parents lived right here on this land and you can't understand me without understanding where I was created.
Every religion has a creation story, so, what do those stories tell us about who we are and where we came from? I'm setting out to discover where we began Jodi magness: Jerusalem is conceived of as Eden, as paradise.
Morgan Freeman: To unearth civilization's oldest roots Man: This is the Mayan part.
Richard Hansen: This is the Maya Genesis story.
Morgan Freeman: To locate the Genesis of religion itself Amy bogaard: People are literally living with ancestors.
Morgan Freeman: And I'll go back to the dawn of time Benda paranjape: Hindus do not believe in one creation.
They say that these are cycles of creation.
Morgan Freeman: To discover if science and religion, can co-exist.
Monsignor sorondo: The big bang is not creation because we don't know what was before the big bang.
Morgan Freeman: There are billions of us on this planet.
It's hard to believe we all came from one man E but we did.
Who were they? When and where did they live? Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions trace us all back to Adam and Eve.
The book of Genesis says they came from a place called Eden, near the tigris and euphrates rivers somewhere in the ancient near east.
No-one has yet found the location of the garden of Eden, though many have tried, but why do we want to find it? Well, the reason is interesting.
The garden of Eden doesn't just represent the beginning of humanity, it is the beginning of our conversation with god and finding out when and where that took place would tell us an awful lot about who we are.
So I'm off to Jerusalem.
This is one of the oldest cities in the world.
There's evidence of people living around here for more than 7,000 years.
Today, it's the religious center of the Jewish world.
It was around here that Genesis was first written down, about 2,500 years ago.
Archaeologist Jodi magness is taking me to the church of the holy sepulcher, where there is a little known link to the garden of Eden.
So this is it, this is the church of the holy sepulcher.
Many christians believe this is the site where Jesus was crucified and buried, but another ancient tradition says it's also the burial place of Adam.
Jodi magness: The area that we're walking into here is underneath the rock of golgotha, which is the rocky outcrop on which christians believe Jesus was crucified.
And this is called the chapel of Adam.
There's a tradition which goes way back in christianity which connects this spot to Adam, the first man.
When Jesus was crucified on top of the rock above us Morgan Freeman: Mm-hmm, yeah? Jodi magness: His blood flowed down through a crack in the rock and Adam, the first man, lay buried underneath and when Jesus' blood flowed onto Adam, Adam was then resurrected.
Morgan Freeman: Almost 1,700 years ago, when Roman emperor constantine built the church, he also made a shrine around this crack in the rock of golgotha, the chapel of Adam.
But doesn't this contradict that section of the Bible that says that the garden of Eden was located somewhere near the euphrates and the Jodi magness: Tigris.
Morgan Freeman: Tigris? Jodi magness: Well, the version of the story that ended up in the book of Genesis seems to place the garden of Eden somewhere in mesopotamia, which is the area of modern Iraq.
Morgan Freeman: But how do think tradition Jodi magness: Mm-hmm.
Morgan Freeman: Of Adam gets to be here in Jerusalem? Jodi magness: Well, i think Adam probably does have a very special connection with Jerusalem.
The garden of Eden, or paradise, becomes conceptualized as the spot where the presence of god dwells.
In early judaism, in the time of Jesus, the presence of god dwelled in the temple, on the temple mount, and hence Jerusalem was conceived of as Eden, as paradise.
Morgan Freeman: So you are saying Eden could also be a metaphor? Jodi magness: Right, well, yes, of course, Adam was the first human and in Hebrew the word Adam, Adam just means man.
Morgan Freeman: Hold up, hold up.
You just said something now, the word just means man.
Jodi magness: Yes.
Morgan Freeman: Adam Jodi magness: Yes, also, the name Adam, if you take off the a and you just leave d-a-m, in Hebrew, dam, that means blood.
Or if you add an a-h to the end, adamah, means land.
Morgan Freeman: Land itself into blood.
Jodi magness: Yep.
Morgan Freeman: Ok, all right.
Could the story of Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden also have metaphorical meanings? Adam and Eve lived in a land of plenty, but when they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, they were cast out and forced to work the land.
In other words, they became the first farmers.
I'm heading to a region where researchers are digging up some of humanity's oldest farming communities, in central Turkey.
I'm interested in finding out if the birth of farming and the birth of belief in god are connected.
Could this have been Eden? Amy? Amy bogaard: Hello, come on over.
Morgan Freeman: Archaeologist Amy bogaard has been digging with a team here at chatalhÃyük for two decades.
Amy bogaard: Welcome.
Morgan Freeman: Thank you.
So, chatalhÃyük, 9,000 year old settlement.
9,000 years old.
Amy bogaard: Amazing, isn't it? So at its maximum extent, it's 13 hectares.
That would be like 20 football pitches, Morgan Freeman: Ok.
Amy bogaard: In extent.
Morgan Freeman: Mm-hmm, right, NFL football pitches or soccer pitches? Amy bogaard: I don't know, probably soccer.
Morgan Freeman: Ok, but they're all pretty much the same size.
Amy bogaard: Yeah, you can see that these houses are densely crowded together.
There isn't much space between them.
Morgan Freeman: There is no space between them.
Amy bogaard: Yeah.
Morgan Freeman: They had no windows or doors.
Amy bogaard: Every house would have its own entrance from above.
Morgan Freeman: It would? Amy bogaard: Yes.
Morgan Freeman: ChatalhÃyük was a city with no streets.
The people who lived here walked across town over the rooftops.
Roofs were also where they worked.
The people of chatalhÃyük were some of the world's first city dwellers, but I want to know whether they were also some of the first believers.
Did they think their world was created by a god? Amy takes me to a house that may hold the answers.
What's the point of that, red rimmed hole that looks like a very definite, has a definite reason? Amy bogaard: It's a typical sort of feature that's found at chatal which is a niche for hiding things away, like the cash obsidian, you know, volcanic glass, 'cause it's a valued, you know, cutting material.
Morgan Freeman: You actually don't find it everywhere.
Amy bogaard: Right.
Morgan Freeman: The most important hiding places archaeologists have found at chatalhÃyük are beneath the sleeping areas.
Ok, so what are those holes up there? Amy bogaard: Those are actually burial places, those are burial pits, where Morgan Freeman: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait.
A human being is not gonna fit in there.
A baby, maybe.
Amy bogaard: The way they can fit mature adults in pits like that is to bind them up very, very, very tightly in a flexed position and the holes are periodically reopened and new individuals added through the lifetime of the house.
Morgan Freeman: Wow.
Amy bogaard: People are buried under the platforms so that people are literally living with ancestors.
Morgan Freeman: It sounds like this has some religious content.
Amy bogaard: I think you're right, and they start to raise questions about what you might call ritual practice, which seemed to have been crucial for life in this community.
Morgan Freeman: Could these burials be evidence of belief in god? Anthropologist Harvey whitehouse is trying to get inside the heads of these early city dwellers.
Harvey whitehouse: So this is a pretty authentic mock-up of what a typical kind of house in chatalhÃyük would have looked like.
These are the kinds of objects that we'd expect to find in one of those houses.
Over here, we've got examples of wall art.
You know, here we've got bull heads.
We often find these inserted into the walls.
In one case, I've seen them arranged almost like a sort of protective shield around one of these clean spaces; and we know that these clean spaces were used for sleeping on.
Morgan Freeman: So, Harvey, you're an anthropologist Harvey whitehouse: Mm-hmm.
Morgan Freeman: So you're more into what people are mentally into, right? Harvey whitehouse: Well, my imagination runs riot in an environment like this because I've seen the kind of stuff that comes out of the walls and that they've been taking out of the floors.
We know that there were very interesting rituals surrounding the burial of human remains, but those objects would be periodically in many cases brought out.
What they were doing with them, we don't really know, but in many cases they were put back very carefully and replaced.
It's almost as if this isn't just a domestic dwelling, this is like a kind of living temple.
Morgan Freeman: You used that word, temple.
Harvey whitehouse: Temple.
Well, what is a temple, you know, if not a sort of, an environment in which the ritual life of a community is conducted? And I think that's what is going on in these houses.
Morgan Freeman: Here in chatalhÃyük, there were obviously all kinds of rituals, particularly burial rituals, but no sign of an organized religion, so the question remains unanswered for me.
Did religion allow man to live together, grow food? Or did civilization give rise to our belief in god? While in chatalhÃyük, i heard about another excavation just a few hundred miles to the east that may hold the answer for me.
It's an 11,000 year old site that lies between the tigris and euphrates rivers, the biblical location of Eden.
Harvey whitehouse: Ok, we're now in enclosure d, the best preserved of the enclosures that we have here, so we've had radiocarbon data and they've come back as 9,400 bc, plus or minus.
Morgan Freeman: It's called gÃbekli tepe and here I may find evidence of the very first moments humans worshipped the divine.
Stone age architects built 20 monumental sectors here made from large t-shaped pillars.
Archeologist Lee Clare leads the team trying to decipher its mysteries.
Lee Clare: The two central pillars stand in the middle of a round oval building and the wall surrounding it, at regular intervals we see smaller t pillars.
Morgan Freeman: Fearsome animals were carved into some of the pillars, but the stones' t shapes may represent the human form.
They could be men or they could be gods.
Lee Clare: If you look closely around the top, the t is the head and then we have on the side, the broad side, the arm coming down.
You can see a belt buckle here.
They could be mythological ancestors.
Alternatively, they could be really the first deities, first gods, that these people were possibly worshipping in this circular structure.
Morgan Freeman: Lee and most archaeologists believe these stone circles were used for rituals, but no-one appears to have actually lived here.
The people of gÃbekli tepe were roaming hunter gatherers, not settled farmers, so why did they build a permanent place to worship tied to one spot? Lee Clare: It's one of the main questions we ask our self at this site, so why did they come? Now, the thing is, at this time the communities were growing larger and larger and there was more stress on the local resources and because communities were growing, there was obviously a risk of conflict.
People have problems keeping track of relationships, keeping track of networks.
Morgan Freeman: The growing population meant that people who scarcely knew each other had to work together.
That was a recipe for conflict.
[Grunting and thuds] The religious rituals at gÃbekli tepe may have eased those conflicts.
Possibly for the first time in human history, people from different groups came together around shared beliefs and, in those first formative moments of religion, they may have shared stories about where they all came from, stories that celebrated a shared past and drove them together to the future.
GÃbekli tepe traces the birth of religious worship back more than 11,000 years, long before there were muslims, christians, Jews, hindus, Buddhists.
People came together to talk, eat, worship.
It could be that the driving force behind our greatest achievement.
Civilization, was god.
But today, we no longer share one story of creation.
We live in a global society made up of many different cultures and science has given us a new perspective on creation.
It even claims to know the ultimate secret of our cosmic origins.
Can science and religion agree on creation? Morgan Freeman: The story of our creation has puzzled me ever since I was a boy.
It began right here, in a church in greenwood, Mississippi.
[congregation members singing inaudibly] [congregation members singing inaudibly] Morgan Freeman: I was about their age when it happened.
I remember the minister reading from the book of Genesis.
Minister: There are 807,361 words in the Bible.
It doesn't take 807,000 words for me to believe the Bible.
It only takes ten words.
"In the beginning, [congregation exclaiming].
God created.
" Are y'all gonna be with me? "The heavens and the earth.
" Morgan Freeman: But for me, this beginning was a profound puzzle.
One moment there was nothing, the next everything.
You're looking good.
Man: Trying to make it.
Morgan Freeman: If god created the universe, who was around to create god? When I got older, i heard scientists had found evidence of the big bang.
According to that theory, the entire universe burst out of a single point in an instant of fiery creation; and now that science knows so much about our cosmic origins, what place is there for religious belief in the beginning? I want to know about the islamic story of creation, so I'm going to Cairo One of the largest and oldest cities in the Muslim world.
Islam has deep roots in science.
Muslim astronomers were charting the heavens soon after the time of Mohammed.
I hadn't noticed that before.
What is it? Ahmed ragab: This is the minaret of al-Hussein mosque.
Morgan Freeman: Harvard historian of islam Ahmed ragab is taking me to one of Cairo's spiritual centers, the al-Hussein mosque.
[Imam singing in foreign language].
Ahmed ragab: So they start by forming lines all facing mecca and the lines are all closed.
You shouldn't have any kind of gaps.
Morgan Freeman: Space between? Ahmed ragab: Yeah.
Morgan Freeman: In other words, they just go toe to toe.
Ahmed ragab: Mm-hmm.
Morgan Freeman: Right, right.
Muslims come here every day to give thanks to god for all that he creates.
And afterwards, some head just around the corner to the two and a half century old El fishawy coffee shop.
Speak to me about the islamic concept of creation.
Ahmed ragab: In islam, the beginning of the story starts with this massive cloud of smoke, from which the heaven and earth are pulled from inside the smoke and then the earth after that gets formed into what it looks like before the beings are created.
Morgan Freeman: Interestingly, that is very, cosmic.
Ahmed ragab: Right.
Morgan Freeman: You think right away about the clouds of dust in the cosmos that formed worlds.
Ahmed ragab: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, so this ideas about these massive clouds and things coming out of them is actually very powerful in a lot of mythological traditions around the world and it is part of this islamic narrative of creation.
Morgan Freeman: In islam, the moment of creation exists alongside the scientific view of earth's formation.
The same is true for traditions much older than islam.
Aboriginal people have lived in central Australia for tens of thousands of years.
They've told the story of this land's creation for as long as anyone can remember.
Duane hamacher: Oh, this is beautiful.
Warren Williams: My grandfather's family have been caretakers for this place and now it's gotten passed down to me.
Morgan Freeman: Warren Williams and the arrernte people call this place home.
Duane hamacher: This place is so big, you'd have to see it from space.
You could probably see it on satellite image.
Warren Williams: Well, yeah.
Morgan Freeman: Cultural astronomer Duane hamacher tries to connect aboriginal creation stories to modern science.
So Warren is taking him to where his ancestors say it all began, a bowl shaped basin called tnorala.
It's traditional for the arrernte to tell their creation story at night, when they can see their creators, the sky guards.
Warren Williams: This sky tonight, it's gonna be really good tonight.
Duane hamacher: Oh, they're all coming out now.
Warren Williams: Wow.
Morgan Freeman: The story takes place in an era called the dreaming, when the sky guards lived in the milky way.
Warren Williams: The dreaming is a period of creation when everything was beginning, when the ladies were dancing at a ceremony and one of them had a little baby in her arms.
So she put the baby in a Turner, like a, it's a wooden cradle, but all that dancing started vibrating, shaking the milky way and the Turner fell out, and it fell to earth and created the crater that we see now.
Duane hamacher: That's fascinating because, according to scientists, it was an asteroid or a comet that hit the ground and what it did, you know, a massive explosion, created this big meteorite crater.
Morgan Freeman: Duane wants to know more about the Turner, or cradle, that Warren and his ancestors see as the cause of their creation.
Warren Williams: This one here.
Duane hamacher: So you can see the milky way quite clearly and that looks like that Turner from the front falling out of the milky way.
Warren Williams: Yeah.
Duane hamacher: In western astronomy, we call that corona australis.
That constellation means the Southern crown.
But you're right, it looks exactly like a Turner falling out the milky way.
Warren Williams: It looks like an upturned cradle.
Morgan Freeman: At daybreak, Duane asks Warren to show him exactly where the star baby landed.
Duane hamacher: Goes right through here? Warren Williams: Yeah.
Duane hamacher: Check it out.
Morgan Freeman: It's right in the center of the meteor impact crater geologists called gosses bluff.
Duane hamacher: So this is it? Warren Williams: Yeah, this is where it began.
Well, the rocks fell down here to the ground and formed this and the first man got created, the first woman got created and, like, now I'm here because of them.
It started here, just fell from the sky at night, made all this.
Duane hamacher: Science has never really considered some of these old creation stories to have any validity, and what we're finding out is that the creation story from the aboriginal perspective and from the scientific perspective, here at tnorala, Warren Williams: Mmm.
Duane hamacher: Are identical, they're exactly the same.
Morgan Freeman: For the arrernte, life began here and tradition requires a greeting to the ancestors whenever you enter this sacred space.
Warren Williams: Hey! [Foreign dialog].
Morgan Freeman: Science can live side by side with aboriginal and islamic accounts of our origins, now I'm curious about science and the judeo-Christian creation story.
So I've come to Rome, where Michelangelo's breathtaking sistine chapel ceiling depicts the book of Genesis.
In six days, god creates light, makes the sun and the moon and creates man.
I've come to speak with the pope's chief science representative, monsignor Marcelo Sanchez sorondo.
Now, you are the chancellor of the pontifical academy of sciences.
Monsignor sorondo: Exactly.
Morgan Freeman: When did that get started and why? Monsignor sorondo: In 1603.
Morgan Freeman: 1603? Monsignor sorondo: And three, yes, and the leader of the first generation was Galileo and the idea is to have a new academy to develop the scientific reason of things.
Morgan Freeman: So we have the two different approaches to the idea of creation.
There is Genesis and then as the big bang.
Monsignor sorondo: The big bang is not creation exactly because we don't know what was before the big bang.
Morgan Freeman: My question exactly.
Monsignor sorondo: And for this reason, creation is nothing to do with the big bang.
The other thing is the idea of the Bible is not a scientific idea of creation.
Morgan Freeman: In other words, science can't prove it or disprove it.
Monsignor sorondo: Exactly.
We say in the Bible is the idea of creation, but in the geological sense of creation, not the scientific Morgan Freeman: Not in scientific.
Monsignor sorondo: Sense of creation.
Morgan Freeman: Thank you, thank you, indeed.
The catholic church no longer sees the book of Genesis as the literal description of creation.
In fact, the first scientist to propose the big bang, George lemaître, was a priest and a member of the pontifical academy of science.
So how exactly does belief in god fit into modern cosmology? So this incredibly high vaulted ceiling, it's just like reaching for heaven.
Father tanzella-nitti: Yes, in a certain sense.
This is a representation of heaven.
Morgan Freeman: Oh! Father tanzella-nitti: Of a theological heaven.
Morgan Freeman: I'm meeting with father giuseppe tanzella-nitti, a scientist at the Vatican observatory.
I'm very, very fascinated by you.
You are an astronomer and you are a holy man.
Father tanzella-nitti: Yes, my field of study was radio galaxies, quasars, extra galactic objects and it was another kind of heaven.
I remember that, when we take a galaxy spectra, I used to pray during the waiting for the spectra and to say, "god, I thank you for this marvelous universe that you gave us.
" Morgan Freeman: There must have come at some point a question for you about the nature of creation.
We think that there's, like, a big schism between the biblical sense of creation and the other one is the scientific sense, the big bang, and it's all very different.
Father tanzella-nitti: Creation from a theological point of view is perfectly compatible with the big bang, because you need always a first cause.
God the creator is outside space time.
It's before any time, so the act of creation is an everlasting act because creation is the way in which god continuously holds the universe.
Morgan Freeman: For giuseppe and others like him, cosmology not only allows room for divine creation, it offers new ways to understand god as the master of space and time.
I like what father giuseppe says about creation as a continuum, that it didn't begin and end with the big bang, that it is god's ongoing activity which includes evolution.
Think what he was saying is god does not exist outside space and time.
God is space and time.
The idea that creation is ongoing sounds like a new one, but it's not.
In the depths of the Guatemalan rainforest, lost cities reveal the endless creations of the ancient Maya.
Morgan Freeman: What if there was not one moment of creation, but many? I'm heading out to explore the remains of the ancient Mayan empire Richard Hansen: There's a little swampy grounds where we're going.
Morgan Freeman: Where a new discovery sheds light on their Genesis story.
Few roads cut through the dense jungle of northern guateala today, but archaeologist Richard Hansen tells me that 2,000 years ago this was one of the great cities of the world.
Richard Hansen: We like to think of Los Angeles and New York as being a modern city, but these guys had the same perspective of their own cities.
Morgan Freeman: Right.
They had water delivery systems, they had freeways Richard Hansen: Oh yeah, very first freeway system in the world.
Welcome to El mirador.
This pyramid is one of the largest structures in the world in terms of volume.
It's more than a half a mile long at the base.
Morgan Freeman: At a site called El mirador, Richard found the remains of an ancient city the Maya knew as the snake kingdom.
It's such a rich archaeological site, he set up a permanent camp in the jungle to explore it.
Richard Hansen: This is the laboratory.
This is our doctor.
If you ever get in a problem, he can fix you right there.
Morgan Freeman: Really? Richard Hansen: He's an outstanding doctor.
Morgan Freeman: I got this.
[Foreign dialogue].
Miguel: Miguel.
Morgan Freeman: Miguel? Morgan.
Miguel: Morgan Freeman, si.
Man: Nice to meet you.
Morgan Freeman: Yeah, it was nice to meet me, wasn't it? Man: It was, it was very nice to meet you.
[Foreign dialogue].
Morgan Freeman: Set? Richard Hansen: Ok, let's do it.
Morgan Freeman: Richard is taking me to see something he's only just uncovered.
Richard Hansen: Ok, this is one of the most interesting excavations we have right now.
Morgan Freeman: Oh my goodness! Richard Hansen: This is art that was carved in stucco hundreds of years before Christ and it has incredible scenes showing the entire pantheon of the Mayan religion.
Morgan Freeman: So what we're talking about is, this is the actual story of creation here.
This is the Mayan Bible.
Richard Hansen: This is the Maya Genesis story with all the deities that are needed to tell the story.
Morgan Freeman: Yeah, this is unbelievable.
I mean, if you just think about the fact that it wasn't done in the 15th century or the 16th century.
It was done 2,000 years ago at least.
This is the oldest version of the Maya's sacred story of creation that's ever been found.
The focus is on two swimmers carrying a severed head.
Richard Hansen: It's this head right here that gave us the clue who this might be at the first place.
We think this is hunahpu.
This is father of the hero twins that serves the whole process of creation.
Priestess: Gracias a hau.
Gracias al corazon del cielo.
Gracias al corazon de la tierra, gracias al corazon del agua.
Morgan Freeman: Fragments of this creation story survive even to this day in a religious ritual in which I am privileged to take part.
Ritual leader: Gracias, al corazon de fuego.
Morgan Freeman: The ritual recalls the saga of the corn god being tricked into going down to the underworld, where he's decapitated.
His sons, known as the hero twins, set off to rescue him but they can only get to the underworld by being burned to ash.
Richard Hansen: The ash represents the hero twins.
She'll mix up the corn with the ashes and that goes into the water.
Morgan Freeman: As their ash sinks into the subterranean waters, the hero twins regenerate.
They return to earth with the corn god's head and plant him in the ground.
It is from this corn that the first Maya people are made.
Richard Hansen: Now the hero twins are in the river, so this is what they're gonna be serving and passing around.
In a sense, we all become a part of the hero twins' story by doing this.
Morgan Freeman: We don't perform rituals to celebrate Adam and Eve, but the hero twins were crucial to Mayan culture.
Their story of death and rebirth was tied to the growth of their staple crop, corn, an act of creation that the Maya depended on every year.
And, Richard tells me, their architecture also focused on creation.
It mirrored a source of power they saw in the heavens.
To show me how, he takes me 40 miles away to the ruins of the city of tikal.
The temples here are arranged in groups of three, a triad.
So Richard, now, I can sense here that there is a pattern, but something's missing.
What am I missing? Richard Hansen: Well, there is a pattern, Morgan, this is a definite pattern here and it's consistent through centuries of time.
There's one big building over here with the stairway facing inward, another building over here with the stairway facing inward.
Morgan Freeman: Ok, and a third one, what, what? Richard Hansen: The third one was right in front of us.
Morgan Freeman: Oh.
Richard Hansen: There's the third structure.
It's been dismantled, of course, it's gone now, but the big building was right in front of us, it was as high or higher, which was built to make the triad, three stones.
Morgan Freeman: Richard and other experts believe that this arrangement of stone temples is a deliberate echo of a triangle of stars in the constellation Orion.
At the center of the three stars is a fiery nebula, a cosmic cloud of star creation.
Richard Hansen: We know from contemporary Maya that there is a celestial heart.
The inside of Morgan Freeman: A celestial Richard Hansen: Orion, it's in the constellation of Orion.
Morgan Freeman: Even today, when the Maya light a traditional fire, they begin by flagging three stones.
A fire of creation emanates from their center, just as it does with the triad of stars in Orion.
You're telling me that the Mayans got this triad, this manifestation of creation, from the constellation Orion? Richard Hansen: It looks like this is what they were looking at.
We know that they were very aware of three primary stars, so the Maya were able to replicate that pattern with these three stones in these three structures and that is replicated over and over and over again.
They're tying us to the heavens.
They're letting us see the creation symbolically.
Morgan Freeman: Looking around here, I'm struck by the scale of what the Maya created.
Huge cities, colossal pyramids.
It was a civilization whose religion was focused on creation and the continued regeneration of creation.
And yet it all crumbled.
Everything the Maya created, collapsed.
It strikes me that we don't spend enough time celebrating the paths our ancestors trod to get here, or giving thanks for the forces that sustain our lives.
But there is one culture that gives thanks for its creation every day and I'm in varanasi, India to see it.
India is home to a billion hindus, the third largest faith in the world.
It has many gods and many creation stories.
One of the best known centers around the river that gives them life The Ganges or ganga.
Benda paranjape: Morgan, now we are at the river ganga.
Morgan Freeman: Ganga.
Benda paranjape: Ganga, the holiest of the holy rivers and the center of hindu universe.
It only exists because it is the sacred, the pure, the holy from the heaven.
Morgan Freeman: It only exists because Benda paranjape: You believe.
Morgan Freeman: You believe it's true.
Benda paranjape: Yes.
Morgan Freeman: Ah, ok, love that.
I love that.
Historian benda paranjape takes me to a shrine to ganga.
Benda paranjape: Careful.
Morgan Freeman: Yes, ganga's not only a river, but a goddess.
Benda paranjape: So the idea is that you bow down even before you enter the shrine, but not for a short person like me.
Morgan Freeman: Ah! [Laughs].
Benda paranjape: And then you'll come to a place where you see mother ganga.
Morgan Freeman: What's she holding in her upper left hand? Benda paranjape: She's holding a lotus.
That is supposed to be a Morgan Freeman: A lotus? Benda paranjape: A mark of purity, Morgan Freeman: Right.
Benda paranjape: Because lotus emerges out of mud, but it does not take any stains of mud.
Morgan Freeman: In the beginning, hindus believe ganga flowed in the heavens, but she was held captive by the creator god brahma.
Then brahma decided to send the river ganga down to earth.
Benda paranjape: But there is one problem, that ganga has got such mighty force and if she comes in the earth, the earth will drown.
Morgan Freeman: So the god Shiva, blocked ganga's fall, gathering her waters in the locks of his hair.
Benda paranjape: So Shiva just opened one lock of his hair and the ganga flow.
She's the mother because she gives birth to everything.
Morgan Freeman: This holy river came from the river in heaven that we call the milky way.
Benda paranjape: They say that milky way actually is a reflection that you see in those waters which are still beyond.
Morgan Freeman: Scientists have dated the universe to about 14 billion years, best we can figure.
Hindus have it at what? Benda paranjape: Hindus do not believe in one creation.
They say that these are cycles of creation, Morgan Freeman: Ok.
Benda paranjape: And the primordial creation could be something like 8.
6 billion years old.
Actually, this whole creation, it is very difficult to comprehend because we say that gods like brahma has created the universe, but then they ask a question, "who created brahma?" Morgan Freeman: Right.
Benda paranjape: And then Morgan Freeman: That's always the question, though.
Creation happened and then the gods happened.
Benda paranjape: They say that the sages, when they were in their trance, they got that revelation, that how the creation happened.
But since it isn't that level of consciousness, you and me, we commoners will not understand it, so we believe that it's beyond us.
Morgan Freeman: The hindu philosophy is not to try to solve the riddle of creation that happened long ago.
It's to give thanks every day for the forces that allow us to be here and continue to sustain us, including the river Ganges.
Benda paranjape: You can come a little close.
We are going to see the ritual, which they call it aarti.
Morgan Freeman: Aarti? Benda paranjape: Yeah, it means showing the lamb to the god.
Morgan Freeman: The aarti has taken place on the banks of the holy river every night for hundreds of years.
Benda paranjape: The prayer is that 'god, you are like my father, you are like my mother, ' Morgan Freeman: My mother.
Benda paranjape: 'My whole existence is you.
' Morgan Freeman: My whole existence is you.
Benda paranjape: You.
I'm just like a shadow.
Morgan Freeman: I am a vessel.
Benda paranjape: That contains you.
That's wonderful.
Morgan Freeman: Seven priests offer all the elements to ganga Water, air, earth in the form of flowers, and the most important of all, light, which represents our souls.
As the ceremony closes, people gather at the water's edge to place the light of their own souls in a tiny vessel.
Benda paranjape: This is our individual way of offering ourselves to the river and, uh, candles that take our soul to the river.
Morgan Freeman: It's the light of my soul.
Benda paranjape: My soul and it says that you take it wherever you think it good for me.
Morgan Freeman: The hindu version of creation appeals to me.
It says the gods weren't even around at the original creation.
They have this great saying from the rigveda about the beginning.
There was neither non-existence nor existence.
It's saying the idea is beyond human definition, beyond human intellect.
Just, accept it.
[Explosion] Where did we come from? A man and a woman banished from paradise, who began to work the land? Hero twins planting the corn they need to start a civilization? A great river that gives life to an entire people? These ideas about where we came from are the oldest stories we have.
They are shared words and distant memories that form the glue of our civilization.
We don't all share the same creation story.
We all come from different places, but all of us, whatever we believe, can share in one thing, the wonder and gratitude that we are here at all.
It is my fervent hope that people will open their hearts and minds and see that, our beliefs don't have to divide us.
They have the power to unite us, to allow us together to achieve remarkable things.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.