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The Story of God: Morgan Freeman talks creation, evil, and science

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Matthew Paul Turner/ National Geographic Channel

Morgan Freeman has wowed as God onscreen — remember that glorious white suit in Bruce Almighty? — but now his focus has shifted to understanding his higher power. On National Geographic Channel’s The Story of God With Morgan Freeman, the host travels the world to ask believers and experts for answers to some of humanity’s biggest questions: Who is God? Where did he come from? How did we get here? And why does evil exist?

The six-part docuseries — produced by Revelations Entertainment, the company Freeman founded with fellow executive producer Lori McCreary — concludes Sunday at 9 p.m. ET with a deep-dive into miracles. Read on for what Freeman and McCreary told EW about learning from their passion project, whether evil is hardwired, and much more.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you want viewers to take away from the finale?

MORGAN FREEMAN: What we came away with at the end of the series is the fact that all religions and beliefs share remarkable similarities, these commonalities. There they are, so we should celebrate them rather them let them cause rifts between us.

LORI McCREARY: Personally, I was enlightened about some other religious beliefs and celebrations that I didn’t know about. And I was quite frankly enlightened about some Christian beliefs that I wasn’t clear about and some places on the planet where they worship in interesting ways. I’m hoping that it leads to more conversation between people of either the same faith or different faiths [and reveals] something that we have in common that we might not have known about before.

What inspired you to pursue a docuseries about God?

McCREARY: One of the things we try to do at Revelations is … we call it revealing truths. We like to reveal truths. Especially today, with everything you hear on the news — a lot of sound bites about religious strife — it felt like it was time to have a deeper conversation about our religions around the world and our differences and our similarities. It turned out that we found a lot more similarities than differences, and that to us was a great outcome.

What has been the most powerful thing someone has told you about their reaction to the show?

FREEMAN: We’ve had remarkable feedback from people who found it very interesting and enlightening and watchable. That’s the best I can do.

McCREARY: The very fact that there’s a program out called The Story of God starts conversations amongst people that I would never have had before. I mean, I have never walked down so many red carpets — not about this show, not on a National Geographic red carpet — where people have said, “We hear you’re working on the story of God. Tell us about that.” God is not usually the subject of a red carpet discussion. So I find it very interesting.

And because it is about God, did you find it was difficult to get the project made or did you receive a lot of support?

FREEMAN: We received a really enormous amount of support throughout the world, wherever we went. People were very forthcoming and seemed excited about the idea that we were doing it, from everywhere from the Vatican to Varanasi, India.

McCREARY: The great thing is people opened up to Morgan because he was really curious about what they believed, what they thought, what they think about miracles or life after death. It was more of a conversation. So I think we were able to get a real inside look at people and places that we may not have otherwise gotten if it hadn’t been for the most divine Mr. Freeman.

FREEMAN: For instance, we were in India and I was speaking to a Hindu instructor about reincarnation, which the Hindus believe in. He informed me reincarnation is not an end unto to itself. Like, heaven is an end unto itself for us. When we think about heaven, you know, you die and then go to heaven. The Hindus think you die, and if you haven’t done it right, you’ve got bad karma and you’ve gotta come back and try it again. So reincarnation is not an end — it’s a process. And they’re not all that thrilled about it.

You also visited a prison. Had you ever been to a prison before? What did you take away from that?

FREEMAN: I’ve worked in many prisons, but I’ve never gone there to interview anyone on the presence or the existence of evil. This was in an effort to somehow discuss it around human existence within in it. In other words, why does evil exist and when does it take root in the human existence, in the human experience? In some cases, you find out that it starts with children pulling wings off flies or setting fire to cats. Things like that. It’s a very fascinating subject. And you talk to someone who has grown up doing that sort of thing, and the most remarkable part of that is they’re remorseless.

McCREARY: The doctor we were speaking to who has done research on psychopaths is able to basically pinpoint an area in the brain very early on in 10, 11, 12-year-olds that is just a part of the brain that is maldeveloped. That oftentimes lends itself to these men, in their older years, committing atrocities. It leads to a very big question for society, which is, what do you do when you find that in a child?

FREEMAN: And is it hardwired? This guy’s research says those people who grow up like that could be hardwired to be evil.

At the same time, people have claimed there’s evidence for the existence of God. What did you learn?

McCREARY: We do show the ability to measure a person’s — we don’t know if it’s a connection to God or the ability to meditate on God. There’s a gentleman who studies praying nuns and chanting monks and looks at the brain. And then he also takes people who don’t believe in God and asks them to concentrate on God. And there are very different parts of the brain: the frontal lobes in the praying nuns and chanting monks have a lot of activity that is generated there by all these experimentations. We put Morgan into that same state to see where he fell in that spectrum.

FREEMAN: Morgan felt very high up.

Downloading the human brain is something else you explore. How is science and technology influencing the way that we think about God and religion?

FREEMAN: I think early on there was an expectation of a large separation between technology and theology. But turns out, that hasn’t come to pass. For instance, one of the interesting things we learned about science and religion was that the Vatican had established an academy of science 400 years ago. And it’s still in existence. The Vatican has a science department that delves deeply into the study of cosmology, astronomy, all of that.

McCREARY: And the Big Bang.

FREEMAN: The Big Bang. And they have very credible answers for all of these phenomenons that are scientific. For instance, the Big Bang is the scientific explanation for creation. The church asks, “Okay, so what was before the Big Bang?” There’s no answer for that but God.

McCREARY: [One] scientist we spoke to at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, we asked if they could coexist. He said, “Exactly,” because the Big Bang was the scientific explanation of creation, and the Bible and scripture was the theological explanation for creation. I think that the smarter we get, the more room we have for things that are not measurable and understandable.

How did this project change the way that you personally think about God? Did it open you to something you hadn’t considered before?

FREEMAN: I didn’t change anything at all about how I think of God or my belief in God. It just enlightened me to how other cultures do it.

McCREARY: For me, because I’m a trained computer scientist and I come from the scientific world, there’s always been a little bit of an eyebrow raise when I spoke to people and told them that I’m a Christian. Like, “What? How does it work that you’re a Christian and scientifically-minded person?” I think, somehow, through this exploration, it really helped me reconcile those two sides of who I am — which is that you don’t have to believe in the Big Bang and not creation. You don’t have to believe in evolution or only be a creationist. You can actually be someone who believes all of this. They don’t contradict each other. That was a really great thing to confirm for me.

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