Dispatches from the Creation Wars

This certainly doesn’t surprise me. A new Pew survey finds that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than those who practice religion.

A new survey of Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Some details:

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish.

The nasty explanation: Of course believers know less about it than non-believers; if they were more educated they’d stop believing. The more reasonable explanation: Non-believers tend to know more about religion because most of them started out as believers and at some point they did some real thinking about the issues, something that the average person in the pews rarely does.

Most people simply are what their parents were. They rarely do any real thinking about their beliefs or engage in study to determine whether those beliefs are true — they accept it merely because that’s what they were taught and they assume it’s true. There are exceptions, of course, but that’s how the average person tends to operate.

That’s why I’m happy to have been raised the way I was, in a religiously divided home. I couldn’t just accept what my parents believed because they believed radically different things. It required me to have to think and research and evaluate and I think that benefited me a great deal. For me, the Pew poll was easy and I got 15/15.


  1. #1 Blotto von Bismarck
    September 29, 2010

    For the actual survey the Pew Foundation did, here’s the link. For the results on which group got what questions right, here’s that link.

    15/15 here, and atheist. Easy quiz, although I probably would have missed the question about Maimonides if it was on there.

    What’s notable is that on the Bible and Christianity questions, atheists and agnostics came third in average # of questions answered correctly, behind only evangelicals and Mormons. That’s quite sad.

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