Enough evidence into response biases has now emerged to throw into question much of our accumulated scientific understanding of religion. Existing data on fundamental questions such as how many people believe in God and attend religious services have been shown to be inflated—perhaps substantially so. Given social pressures to adhere to local religious norms, it is likely that these biases extend to religion-related attitudes, such as support for Shar'ia law in Muslim-majority countries.
Lack of confidence in these data is concerning for three reasons:
One, erroneous facts about the rates and beliefs of atheists, Muslims, and others can perpetuate ignorant and negative attitudes. Two, research relating religiosity to happiness, health and moral behavior—constructs themselves vulnerable to response biases—may reflect shared measurement error rather than true relationships. Three, basic theories about the origins and nature of religion may be built on inaccurate data, and may thus be mistaken.
We propose an initial project of refining and validating a scalable methodology to mitigate response biases and thereby more accurately measure religious belief. This will be the beginning of the important process of accumulating more accurate data.
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