Sep 29 2010

Atheists and agnostics are most religiously literate

Honestly, I have nothing to add to this interesting Pew study since other bloggers have already done a good job. I just wanted to stop getting emails about it from you guys, haha.

Consider this an open discussion about the study. Just because I don’t have anything to add doesn’t mean you don’t.


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  1. 1
    Andrew Hall

    The only reason why we look so smart is that there is a lot of dumb running around.http://www.laughinginpurgatory

  2. 2

    This, in my opinion, is no different than surveys which show most American teenagers can’t point to Iraq on a map, or whatever. But it pulls the teeth on the argument that we’re atheists because we don’t know what we’re talking about. We’re atheists because we DO know what we’re talking about.

  3. 3

    Seems to fit. The amount of Reading I’ve done has always been inversely proportional to the level of religion in my life. In the few years since I became an Atheist, I always seem to have a book or two with me.

  4. 4

    Really, it’s Atheists/Agnostics, Jews and Mormons know slightly more religious trivia than anyone else, but still don’t know very much.

  5. 5

    Did any one else take the shortened version of the test?http://features.pewforum.org/q…(I got 15 of 15, but one was total guess, another I wasn’t 100% sure on)http://furtherthoughtsfortheda

  6. 6
    Peter Madsen

    So, as an ex-Mormon Atheist, I guess I’m among the theological elite. :DAlthough, if there are any Jewish-born Mormon converts who recently turned Atheist…

  7. 7

    Personally, I think more atheists should get degrees in theology. I actually considered it a few years back. It sounded fun… like getting a degree in the alternative world of Harry Potter or becoming an anthropologist who studies hobbits.

  8. 8
    Gus Snarp

    For me as an atheist this survey didn’t exactly come as news. Of course we tend to know more about religion than religious folks. That’s why we’re not religious. But it won’t affect the fact that religious proselytizers continue to assume that we’re only atheists because we’re just ignorant of the clear truth of their religion. Or possessed by Satan.

  9. 9

    Actually, nobody knows what they are talking about. Even the atheists could only answer 20.9% of the questions correctly.

  10. 10

    Correction…On average, Atheists could answer 20.9/30 questions, not 20.9%.

  11. 11

    But did the shortened version of the test have the same difficulty as the official one? As ChrisZ noted, it was on the level of religious trivia. I got 14 of 15, the last question being too US-centered for a European like me. Although I was sure that Billy Graham wasn’t the answer.

  12. 12

    As Hemant had said before, most atheists are atheists because we’ve learned so much about religions, especially the one we escaped (if we were formerly theists). It’s a natural conclusion and end result of knowledge regarding religions.

  13. 13
    Natasha Turnbull

    Am I the only one who wants to see some p-values and some confidence intervals before I start congratulating myself for being in the ‘smart’ group?

  14. 14
    David's Not Here

    Yay! Jewy atheists totally kick ass on this quiz!

  15. 15

    Normally I’d want to see p values and all that, and I still would, but look at how huge the difference was – more than 1/6th of the total # of questions. With a spread that large, and a survey this large, I can’t imagine that the p value would be over 10 to the -6, well less than an alpha of 0.05.

  16. 16

    If you’re interested the full questionnaire can be found here. The online survey doesn’t have all of them, but the ones on it did appear on the telephone survey.Also, everyone needs to keep in mind that these numbers are an average. I’d actually like to see the bell curve of each group, and, like Natasha, the confidence intervals.On that note, do I think I’m better educated than the pew sitting Christian on compartive religion issues? Yes. Do I think I’m better educated than the pew sitting Christian when it comes to the details of their religion? Possibly to probably. Do I think I am more familiar with the Bible than someone who studies it for a living? I doubt it.I would like to see a breakdown of how each group answered each question, especially the ones about Martin Luther and Communion.

  17. 17

    Forget who knows what about religion. How about the question ‘who is the current US VP?’ and the number of people who didn’t know or got it wrong.

  18. 18

    Took the quiz and I (white main-line/evangelical Christian — I span the chasm) got a perfect score. Granted, I have a degree in Religious Studies from a secular school (UC Santa Cruz — it was an independent major) but… even in my pre-Christian days, I would probably have gotten at least 12/15 or 13/15 because a lot of those questions have to do with history or geography. Heck… I could have scored passably in 5th grade because we did the history of places like India, the Middle East, as well as the Protestant Reformation in my non-Christian school.I think it’s a lack of social studies education rather than intolerance that sparks this.

  19. 19

    You may be interested in this. It breaks the information down further, and gives more details.

  20. 20
    Natasha Turnbull

    That answered my questions about sampling method, but there’s still no information about tests of significant differences between groups. If they just put some CI’s on those mean scores I’d be happy.

  21. 21
    Natasha Turnbull

    Not really, the mean score for Atheists was 20.9/32 the mean score for White Evangelical Protestants was 17.6/32 that’s only about a 10% difference. Since we don’t know the variance of either group, we have no idea if that’s a significant difference.

  22. 22
    David L

    Does this news surprise anyone? It is well known that the swiftest route to atheism is studying religion.

  23. 23

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H…But hobbits are real! and anthropologists study them!

  24. 24

    http://pewforum.org/Other-Beli…You can judge for yourself in Appendix B : )

  25. 25

    Thanks for the link Haley! Very cool. I was thinking about Bilbo Baggins and his buds… ;-)

  26. 26

    That is a big difference. Is 70% a high or low score?

  27. 27

    I’m mostly surprised that Jews scored second highest, as we don’t really care about other religions all that much. Probably all the liberal Jews who were bored with their own religion and decided to learn about someone else’s

  28. 28

    The tricky question about the sabbath skewed it, I think. I got it because I’d seen the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm with the chairlift etc., and it made me go read about the Hebrew calender. It’s neat! it’s wonky! Leap month!

  29. 29

    I find the explanation that knowing more about religion naturally leads to atheism very tempting. It fits well with the story I like to tell myself about atheism and how it relates to knowledge and education. But the #3 position in this survey is still bothering me. There is really almost no difference between the atheists and Mormons in religious knowledge. Does this mean that knowing almost as much about religion as an atheist leads one naturally to being Mormon? Can we come up with a plausible explanation as to why this explanation applies to one case but not the other?

  30. 30

    It’s average. The average of the atheists who took the test. But if you grade on a curve, the atheists as a whole would have scored significantly higher than all but the Jewish and Mormons.

  31. 31

    Nope… I think it leans more toward how the groups have to deal with stereotypes. At least, in the U.S.

  32. 32

    Everyone has explained the reason why atheists know more about religion. Has anyone explained why blacks and hispanics are at the bottom of the list? Why do these people get a worse education than other ethnic groups?I tend to think there was a cultural bias towards topics most known to white protestants in the quiz. For example, if you’re a guy who just arrived to America from Mexico with your Catholic family, you’re unlikely to know who Brigham Young was. Can’t we see the actual questions instead of just the results?

  33. 33

    I understand the score is an average. I am wondering if the 70% score means atheists are well or poorly informed about religion. I don’t know enough about the test to answer that question.

  34. 34

    There are a couple more questions like the last on the short quiz. But the rest aren’t that hard. I got 15/15 on one and missed 1 on the long.

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