WACO, Texas (CBS Houston)– A new study suggests that the more naturally beautiful a person’s surroundings are, the less likely they are to be part of a mainstream religion.

Baylor University researchers compared religious affiliations of Americans by county with assessments of natural beauty and optimum climate, as reported by IFL Science!. The authors used data from the Department of Agriculture on average weather, humidity, and topography preferences.

Researchers are unsure why the correlation exists and it’s not clear whether non-believers are more inclined to surround themselves with natural beauty. Though no conclusion was supported by the statistical methodological used, experts emphasize that the findings need further support and analysis due to the several factors that influence religious affiliation.

Experts say one of the more crucial factors could be wealth, as it’s been argued that material security is connected to declining religious beliefs. If a correlation between wealthy people and more scenic surroundings is found, it could indicate a number of things.

“When a person hikes in a forest to connect with the sacred, that individual may not feel a need to affiliate with a religious group because spiritual demands are being met,” study author Todd Ferguson told IFL Science.

“We’re not claiming that residents in areas richer with natural amenities are more likely to create a ‘Church of nature,’” Ferguson adds, emphasizing that no conclusions have been formally reached.

The study’s findings also indicate a possible correlation between a beautiful environment’s calming effects and an individual not feeling the need for religious protection against disaster. Further research is needed to strengthen the findings and explore why the data lines up the way it does.

The research was published in the journal Sociology of Religion.

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