but should not set limits to imagination.
- Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)
Whenever one observes anything happening around us and asks how, one is essentially prodding a question in science. Perhaps that is how religion came into being (particularly religions that were not created by one man, but evolved over time, like Hinduism). Man observed the stars and planets and their movement in the sky, and first tried to understand their trajectory. On having discovered a regularity in their appearance and disappearance, he would have asked more fundamental questions like how they are traversing the heavens, and what their trajectories mean. On a more fundamental note, he might have wondered how it all began, how the universe came into being. Obviously answers to these were not trivial (and still are not), and there was no way hard knowledge (or even derivative logic) could resolve these questions. Science did set a limit to knowledge there, but did not set a limit to imagination. Without violating hard knowledge (i.e. what they knew were evidently true), they added layers of what they thought could be, to make sense of what is. The Vedas were born, which were perhaps not religious, but were aimed at understanding the universe and existence better.
With time, this imagination evolved and became religion that people started doggedly believing in. It became blasphemous to doubt the sacred texts. Knowledge (from experimental sciences) has also evolved along with this imagination, and instead of redefining this imagination (now religion) so as to fit it into the framework of hard knowledge, somewhere in history, they got divorced. Doubt and skepticism that were an integral part of our philosophical thought process, gave way to blind faith in a fantastic version of knowledge-derived imagination. People started taking religion too literally.
But if one goes back to the roots of Hinduism, the Rig Veda, we see insightful examples of the skepticism and rational thought that went into understanding the world around us. Let us take the Nasadiya Sukta (The Hymn of Creation) as an example. Every supposition that the poet makes here is doubted by the poet himself (perhaps he was a scientist of that era). Even the all-powerful being is hinted to have not been conscious of himself (or herself or itself) until the moment of creation and might even have been ignorant of the process of Creation. The last two stanzas as translated by Griffith, are as follows:
Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation? The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.
(the entire poem and the translation can be found here. )