Argument: “the Internet probably hasn’t made people less religious”

Has the Internet led to decreased religiosity? One lab researcher and research assistant doesn’t think so:

Given these data, I think it’s really unlikely that the Internet has played any substantive role in bringing Americans out of religion. Everyone has a self-serving bias, and atheists aren’t immune. Atheist writers seem really optimistic — they say we have the truth on our side, information is widely accessible, and we’re growing in numbers. But it seems like these first two things don’t really matter that much, and our growth seems to be more in organization and political influence, rather than genuine conversion.

To me, this supports a focus on values rather than beliefs, and about this I’m optimistic — if America is becoming more socially liberal but remains God-fearing, then that’s fine with me. So long as we have a cultural momentum geared toward gay rights, secular government, and social justice, the politically liberal religiously unaffiliated can help to push this progress forward. And there the Internet might help, no matter what anyone believes about God.

This sounds like an interesting research question that would be the flip-side of a recent paper I co-authored where we looked at how religiosity affects Facebook use. I don’t know how this new question would turn out but it does get at a question we raise at the end of our paper: is the Internet more of a secular or sacred sphere? Are there more people promoting belief or unbelief, how many websites are devoted to each topic, how many visitors do such websites receive, and do certain groups have more appealing approaches and sites? And it may not even matter what exactly is being promoted on the Internet; perhaps it is a function of time spent online versus doing other things.

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