The strange study, conducted by psychological scientist Doctor Piercarlo Valdesolo, of Claremont McKenna College, sought to test whether or not "awe-inspiring" sights are enough to change one's belief in a God.
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. We wanted to test the exact opposite prediction: it's not that the presence of the supernatural elicits awe, it's that awe elicits the perception of the presence of the supernatural.
Turns out, BBC is actually pretty good at converting the unbeliever. According to Valdesolo, individuals who were shown awe-inspiring clips from Planet Earth had a much higher tendency to change their minds about God than those who were shown unproduced news segments on the same subject.
"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 told reporters.
Perhaps the most interesting finding in the study was how atheists responded to scenes of awe: with discomfort. Researchers believe this response might be what drives some people to seek out explanations for the unknown through scientific means. In other words, now you know why that one skeptic friend of yours likes to argue with everyone about, well, everything.
Next on Valdesolo's study list? Research on how submissive postures, such as kneeling, might influence our perception of what exactly qualifies as "awe-inspiring."