We're a hawk on the issues.

New Study Claims Watching BBC’s Planet Earth Inspires Belief in God

People who watch BBC’s Planet Earth are more likely to claim a belief in God and the supernatural, according to a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science. The research, conducted by Claremont McKenna College professor Piercarlo Valdesolo, demonstrated that after viewing awe-inspiring natural images from the British nature show, subjects expressed a much stronger belief in the divine and supernatural than control subjects that had not viewed the scenes.

Valdesolo’s inspiration for the study came from historical accounts of religious thinkers, like Jonathon Edwards, who sought out inspiration and the divine in the natural world.

“Many historical accounts of religious epiphanies and revelations seem to involve the experience of being awe-struck by the beauty, strength or size of a divine being, and these experiences change the way people understand and think about the world,” Valdesolo explained.

Yet, according to Valdesolo, it may not be the presence of the divine that elicits the sense of  nature but rather the other way around.  Therefore, he designed his research to study the hypothesis that instead of God inspiring awe in experiencing nature, “awe elicits the perception of the presence of the supernatural.”

To test his views, he divided his subjects into two groups.  The first group watched news programming while the other group watched spectacular nature scenes from BBC’s Planet Earth.  He then asked both groups a series of questions about whether or not they believed in a divine being and if that divinity was responsible for world events.

Those who viewed the awe-inspiring nature scenes were more likely to express a belief in God or divine entity.

“The irony in this is that gazing upon things that we know to be formed by natural causes, such as the jaw-dropping expanse of the Grand Canyon, pushes us to explain them as the product of supernatural causes,” Valdesolo said in response to the study’s results.

He further explained that, based on his research,  the understanding of the spectacular views as being made by divine hands may be one way a person tries to make sense of awe elicited by the grandeur of the natural world.

“The experience of awe may simply motivate us to search for explanations, no matter what kinds of explanations they are,” he stressed.

Photo Credit: Chenisyuan via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Tamar is a New York based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in over 15 publications. You can catch her work regularly on Issue Hawk, Latest, Jspace, and MediaGlobal.