The Religious Doubts (RD) Scale is de­ signed to measure the degree to which peo­ple experience doubts about traditional reli­gious teaching. The scale is composed of ten items. Each item is answered on a six­ point scale that asks the subject to indicate the extent to which he or she has had such doubts. The answer options range from 0 (none at all) to 5 (a great deal). The total score is simply the sum of the answers to the 10 items. The statements are designed to assess both intellectual and experience­ based hesitations about religious belief and commitment.

In a sample of over 500 University of Manitoba psychology students and a simi­lar-sized sample of their parents, the aver­ age interitem correlations were .32 and .36, respectively. The internal consistency relia­bility coefficients were .84 for the students and .86 for their parents. The mean of the single-item scores for the students was 1.89 (scale mean= 18.9); the mean for their parents was 1.45 (scale mean 14.5). As would be expected on theoretical grounds, RD scores correlated negatively with belief in Christian orthodoxy, intrinsic religious orientation, church attendance, frequency of prayer, loyalty to beliefs ac­ quired during childhood, belief in a final judgment, control of impulses, obedience to authority, and a belief in Satan. RD scores correlated positively with extrinsic reli­gious orientation and the importance of being good over holding beliefs. These trends occurred in both the parents' and stu­ dents' samples.

The interitem correlations, internal con­sistency reliability coefficients, and pattern of relationships attained with other mea­ sures suggest that the Religious Doubts Scale has good statistical properties and shows promise for use in subsequent re­ search. It has recently been replaced by a 20-item version (Altemeyer Hunsberger, 1997) that asks respondents to indicate both

the extent to which they have ever had questions about religion because of the is­ sues raised and (b) the extent to which they presently doubt religion because of these matters.


Altemeyer, B., (1988). Enemies of freedom: Un­derstanding right-wing authoritarianism. San Fran­ cisco: Jossey-Bass.

Altemeyer, B., Hunsberger, B. (1997).Changed lives. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Press.

Religious Doubts (RD) Scale

Appendix A The Religious Doubts Scale

Below are listed reasons that people sometimes give for doubting traditional religious teach­ings. Please indicate the extent to which you have had these doubts.

  • None at all
  • Only a little bit
  • A mild amount
  • A moderate amount
  • Quite a bit
  • A great deal
    1. Doubts that religious writings, such as the Bible, could really be the word of God, because the writings seemed contradictory, irrational, or wrong.
    2. Doubts about the existence of a benevolent, good God, caused by the suffering or death of someone I knew.
    3. The feeling that I had not really developed my own ideas about religion, but in­ stead was just a copy of other people's ideas. (Or, if you were raised in no reli­ gion, that Christians, Jews, et cetera in general do not develop their own ideas, but instead are copies of other people's ideas.)
    4. The feeling that religion didn't really make people better; people who went to church were still unkind, cheated on others, et cetera but pretended they were bet­ ter.
    5. The feeling that religion exists basically because people are afraid of death and want to believe life does not end then.
    6. The feeling that today's religions are based on a collection of superstitions from the past developed to "explain" things primitive people did not understand.
    7. The feeling that religion makes people narrow-minded and intolerant and causes conflict between groups who believe different things.
    8. feeling that the overall religious teachings are contradictory or that they don't make very much sense.

    9. Resentment or rebelliousness when someone (say, a minister, priest, or rabbi) tried to tell me how I should behave or what I should believe. (If you were raised in no religion, how resentful would you have been had this happened?)
    10. The feeling that religion makes people do stupid things and give up perfectly wholesome pleasures for no good reason.

Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Copyright © 1988 Jossey-Bass, Inc. 

DOUBTS VIGNETTES (Hunsberger, McKenzie, Pratt, Pancer, 1993)

Philosophical discussion and life experience suggest to us that there may be a variety of root causes of religious doubt. For example, one person may doubt because of apparent conflicts between religion and science, while another may doubt as a response to personal tragedy.

In order to assess the degree to which var­ious sources of doubt are germane to a particular case, Hunsberger, McKenzie, Pratt, and Pancer (1993) wrote a set of short vignettes, each of which is intended to be sensitive to a different reason for doubting. Ten vignettes were prepared. The subject was instructed to read each one and then answer the following question: "How much religious doubt does this type of issue arouse for you?" Response alternatives could range from (no doubt at all) to 10 (a great deal of doubt).

The ten vignettes assessed doubt rooted in the following causes: science versus religion controversy, a specific event such as the death of a close friend, truth claims of other religions, challenges to traditional teachings by scholars of religion, violation of self-in­terest such as unanswered prayer, shortcom­ings of organized religion, the idea that God may be a mere human projection, the failure of religious claims such as faith healing, and the perception that there is no need for God in attempts to explain the universe.

Responses to all of the vignettes corre­lated positively with the response to a single item, "If you were brought up under some religious influence, to what extent have you doubted the religious beliefs taught?" Re­sponses to 8 of the IO vignettes correlated negatively with religious emphasis during

childhood; the remammg 2 correlations were almost 0. The correlations between the scores for all vignettes and present and past church attendance were negative. These trends also held for the total vignette score.

These findings suggest that this method­ ology for measuring doubt, particularly its ability to pinpoint the particular source of that doubt, has potential for future research.

Hunsberger, B., McKenzie, B., Pratt, M., Pancer, S. M. (1993). Religious doubt: A social psychological analysis. In M. Lynn & D. Moberg (Eds.), Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion (Vol. 5, pp. 27-51). Greenwich, CT: JAi Press.

Appendix B Doubt Vignettes

  1. I. Darwin's theory of evolution has gained a good deal of acceptance in the scientific community. Can Darwin's theory and the Bible's story of creation both be accepted? (Scien­tific doubt)
  2. Suppose that a very close friend, an excellent student, who has been enjoying fine health, has been killed in a car accident. How can you explain such an incident relative to God's being a loving God? (Doubt generated by a specific event)
  3. There are many different world religions, including Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Many of these are very old and established, having many believers, and all seem to claim having "the truth." How do you deal with this, based on your religious beliefs? (Religion as self-deception)
  4. The Bible says that "God is love" (John 4:7). Life often seems to make that a lie, espe­cially if God is believed to be all-powerful. Natural disasters occur where thousands and mil­ lions die. The famine in Africa is an example of such massive disasters. Has this ever made you doubt that God is all-loving or that He exists at all? (Doubt generated by specific events)
  5. Many modem biblical scholars believe that many of the recorded sayings of Jesus were spoken by others, not by Jesus. These scholars suggest that many of the events in Jesus' life as recorded in the Gospels were probably myths used by the Gospel writers to increase the believability of what they wrote. Has any of this ever crossed your mind? (Referential doubt)
  6. If often seems that prayers go unanswered. The words don't go beyond the ceiling; they float into the air and are blown away by the merest breeze. Has this happened to you? (Vio­lation of self-interest)

  7. The Bible teaches that the second commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself." History shows that in the name of Christ, many atrocities have been committed. The war be­ tween the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland might be an example of Christians' hypocritically practicing their faith. Does this ever cause you to doubt Christianity? (Shortcomings of organized religion)
  8. Some people question the basis of religious beliefs, considering them to be man's cre­ation to explain how we came to be, rather than the divine inspiration of God as the Biblewould have us believe. To believe in God is thus really just a way of deceiving ourselves.

    (God as a projection)

  9. Faith healers become well-known quickly, and reportedly "cure" serious physical ill­ ness. Often, however, such healings simply don't occur. The healer is unsuccessful. Has this ever caused you to doubt that God can heal? (Ritual doubt)
  10. The more that scientists discover about the universe, the more it might seem that God is not present. There seems to be no physical place for heaven or hell, and in fact, science seems to explain the universe without any need to bring up the concept of "God." Has this ever crossed your mind? Have you ever doubted the existence of God? (Reactive and nega­tivistic doubt)

Hunsberger, B., McKenzie, B., Pratt, M., Pancer, S. M. (1993). Religious doubt: A social-psychologi­cal analysis. In M. Lynn & D. Moberg (Eds.), Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion (Vol. 5, pp. 27-51). Greenwich, CT: JAi Press. Copyright© 1993 JAi Press. 

SECRET DOUBTS (Altemeyer, 1988)

The above two ways of measuring doubt en­able us to assess those hesitancies about reli­gion that people can easily admit. But some people may have secret doubts about what they have been taught that they have never shared with another person. These would nat­urally be difficult to access, but Altemeyer (1988, pp. 152-153) developed a clever methodology for getting a glimpse of them.

Over 400 students in his general psychol­ogy course had learned about the "Hidden Observer" phenomenon in hypnosis re­ search. The Hidden Observer is a technique used in hypnosis research to see if subjects will reveal experiences that the hypnotist has told them do not exist. For example, your arm may be submerged in a bucket of ice water, which ought to feel very painful, but your hypnotized self feels no conscious pain (due to hypnotic suggestion to feel no pain). However, the Hidden Observer is aware that it hurts and can admit such if

asked. With this knowledge about the "Hid­ den Observer" phenomenon as a back­ ground, the students were later given the in­structions contained in Appendix C.

Of the 200 subjects for whom Altemeyer reports data, 101 high (top quartile) and 99 low (bottom quartile) in right-wing authori­tarianism, one fourth (50) of them said that the Hidden Observer indicated "secret doubts that s/he had kept strictly to her/himself." The high authoritarians are more likely to firmly adhere to conservative religious be­liefs. Yet for them, the Hidden Observer ex­ pressed secret doubts, ones that had never been shared with another person, at a rate of approximately one third. This method can be adapted in order to explore feelings, opin­ions, or tendencies that a person or group may not be inclined to openly discuss.

Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom: Understanding right-wing authoritarianism. San Fran­ cisco: Jossey-Bass.

Appendix C Secret Doubts Scale


You may recall the lecture on hypnosis dealing with Hilgard's research on the "Hidden Ob­ server." Suppose there is a Hidden Observer in you, which knows your every thought and deed, but which only speaks when it is safe to do so, and when directly spoken to. This question is for your Hidden Observer: Does this person (that is, you) have doubts that (s)he was created by an Almighty God who will judge each person and take some into heaven for eternity while casting others into hell forever?

Choose one of the following answers:

  • Yes, (s)he has secret doubts which (s)he has kept strictly to herself/himself that this is really true.
  • Yes, (s)he has such doubts, but others (such as parents and friends) know (s)he has these doubts.
  • No, (s)he totally believes this, and has no doubts whatsoever.
  • Yes, in fact (s)he openly says (s)he does not believe there is a God or an afterlife, but (s)he has some secret worries there might be.
  • Yes, in fact (s)he openly says (s)he does not believe there is a God or an afterlife, and (s)he has no doubts about this whatsoever. (emphasis in original)

Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Coyright © 1988 Jossey-Bass, Inc.