Grand Canyon: The Religious Power of Nature

We all feel religious this time of the year, especially when we see the Christmas lights and the holidays’ illuminations, and people celebrating love and family. It is very common to feel spiritual around the holidays, even though we do not feel attached to any particular religion. The rest of the year can be a little tougher though.

According to a recent study published in Psychological Science, there is a strong connection between nature and spirituality. Nature has the power to draw out spiritual feelings and make us contemplate a higher power. This study applies the non-spiritual scientific method to this phenomenon and confirms that the awe-equals-religion equation is a real and powerful experience — even among people who call themselves immune to such things.

The study, conducted by professor of psychology Piercarlo Valdesolo of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and psychologist Jesse Graham of the University of Southern California, was actually five studies, all of which were designed to evoke feelings of awe in subjects and see how that affected their sense of spirituality. In all of the tests, subjects were shown several types of video clip: a 1959 TV interview conducted by newsman Mike Wallace; light scenes of animals behaving in funny or unlikely ways; or scenes of nature — mountains, canyons, outer space — from a BBC documentary. Some of the subjects were also shown more surreal, computer-designed scenes: lions flying out of buildings, a waterfall flowing through a city street.

The subjects were all then given one or more questionnaires. One asked them straightforwardly, “To what extent did you experience wonder while watching the video clip?” Another asked them to respond to questions about their belief in a universe that either does or doesn’t “unfold according to God’s or some other spiritual entity’s plan.” Another asked them about their tolerance for uncertainty or vagueness.
Valdesolo and Graham’s working assumption was that spirituality and belief in God are not immovable concepts. They found out that while atheists and religious people don’t change their mind easily (though even they experience doubt), the rest of us are more impacted by these experiences. The study found out that the subjects who had felt more wonder while watching these videos would believe in a universe that proceeds according to a master plan, and consequently have less tolerance for

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So that means that we usually try to explain natural events with a spiritual answer, as we don’t know how to explain them otherwise. We are scared and we feel vulnerable at the same time, reason why we desperately seek an explanation, which religious people and atheists seem to find easier to find than the rest of us.

Wonder makes us believe in the presence and power of a supernatural being, even though the two scientists avoid all the questions about the validity of those beliefs. They only tried to figure out what might elicit religious feelings even in people who don’t strictly believe in God or any other spiritual entities. Valdesolo and Graham’s experiment also discovered that the subjects who had experienced awe were likelier to attribute it to God or a human entity, than to a nonhuman one.

On the other side we tend to look at religion more than science, while trying to explain a natural event. For example when looking at the Grand Canyon or the outer space, instead of explaining the phenomenon with the interaction of chemistry, physics and time – in other words nature – we usually led it back to a spiritual being.

People don’t seem to be satisfied by a scientific answer to explain the uncertainty that wonder evokes. In front of the Grand Canyon many people would be led to believe in a spiritual entity rather than simply nature. In the end awe seems to defeat science, so nature makes us feel more spiritual and religious than we thought we were.

Does Grand Canyon’s nature & panoramic views make you feel more spiritual?