Programme 1: Heavens Above

For millennia, the question of who and what we are - and who is watching - has been at the heart of World Faiths. And for all — whether religious or not — the ultimate question remains: is intelligent life on earth just the winning ticket in a cosmic lottery or might life have a deeper meaning and purpose?

In Heavens Above, we travel, with world renowned scientists from East and West, into the cosmos to explore how scientific explanations of its wonders square with the answers of Buddhism, Daoism and Christianity about where we came from, how and why.

This series recognises that the whole world is impacted by two great forces: science and religion. But are they in conflict? Does an intelligent understanding of science encourage us to dismiss all religious ideas – whether from East or West - as unnecessary? That question is at the heart of each programme. Religion has been deep rooted in society long before science, and subsequently technology, truly made their marks upon the world.

In China, traditional religion emerged from the mind of Laozi in the 6th century BC who tried to establish the ultimate truth about existence. He concluded that ultimate reality was focused in a concept called the Dao: the source of everything that exists. The traditional Chinese religion, Daoism, was born.

Meanwhile, in Western society, especially in Athens and Rome, the explanation of existence was rooted in a belief in mythological gods who – rather like human beings – had their own diverse personalities, priorities and responsibilities. Such ideas were gradually abandoned as rational thought took hold and built Western civilisation from around 500BC.

Also in this era, much further East, a prince we know as Buddha committed his life to making a better world. Recognising that any human quest for knowledge of the heavens was bound to be frustrated, he focussed attention not on the skies but to more earthly matters over which human beings have more control.

Following Buddha, the Chinese philosopher Confucius also taught the importance of focusing on earth, not heaven. Although attention was diverted from the heavens and questions about ultimate origin, neither philosopher eliminated the possibility of there being a transcendent governing force in the universe. Religion survived.

While Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism originated in human minds, Christianity makes a different claim. It is founded on the belief that a transcendent creator revealed himself in the form of a human being – Jesus of Nazareth – born two thousand years ago in the town of Bethlehem. Geographically and numerically, Christianity has spread across the world more than any other religion.

Although, especially in the twentieth century, there have been strong political efforts to eliminate religion, its influence remains widespread. But is it also threatened by scientific discovery? Or on the other hand, does science seem to confirm the handiwork of a creator in the natural world?

In this programme, discover the wonders of the universe, find out how even scientists continue to be amazed by its order and precision and ponder the great mystery: how could this come to be? What answer is given by Christianity, Buddhism and Daoism? And how do their responses compare and contrast? Do they conflict with science?