ATHEISTS HAVE BROADEST RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE
“…Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth…” – 2Timothy 3:7
Atheists and agnostics have a greater general knowledge about major world religions than the average Protestant, according to a recent survey by Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Mormons and Evangelicals scored the highest on knowledge about Christianity and the Bible, but were far less informed about other religions like Buddhism and Islam. Catholics scored even lower than Evangelicals, and people who considered themselves to be religiously “nothing in particular” scored fairly low all around.
Between May 19 and June 6, 2010, Pew Research Center interviewed 3412 American adults on cell phones and landlines, in English and Spanish, and asked them 32 questions about world religions. The survey found that people who had higher levels of education and who talked regularly with others about religion tended to have the greatest general knowledge about religion. College graduates on average answered almost eight more questions correctly than people with a high school education or less.
Jews and atheists/agnostics tend to have higher levels of education in general and as a whole did the best on the survey. These groups are fairly small portions of the population and were oversampled to provide a large enough sample to analyze.
Catholics and mainline Protestants scored relatively poorly on the survey, averaging 16 and 15.8 answers correct respectively, while atheists/agnostics scored the highest, with an average of 20.9 questions out of 32 correct. Jews actually scored the highest on knowledge of world religions, with 7.9 correct answers out of 11. They also scored relatively high on Bible and Christianity questions, answering an average of 6.3 questions correctly out of 12, behind Mormons at 7.9 but ahead of Catholics at 5.4 correct answers.
On the whole, most Americans surveyed did know that Mother Theresa was Catholic (82 percent) and that Moses was the Bible figure to lead the Exodus out of Egypt (72 percent). Seventy-one percent of those surveyed knew that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Seventy-three percent did not know that most people in Indonesia are Muslims, even though Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population. At the same time, 52 percent of Americans know that Ramadan is a holy month in Islam, but only 45 percent could name the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
According to the survey, a majority of Americans think the Constitution offers less religious freedom than it truly does. While 89 percent knew that a public school teacher is constitutionally not supposed to lead a class in prayer, only 23 percent knew that a public teacher is indeed free to read from the Bible as an example of literature.
While atheists/agnostics and Jews scored the highest on the religious knowledge survey, they still answered just about two-thirds of the answers correctly, which on most exams is still a “D”. Mormons and Evangelicals had the highest knowledge of Christianity and the Bible, but still missed four – almost five – questions out of 12 on average. The average American only answered half of the religious questions correctly, and these were not particularly difficult questions. In a country in which children were originally taught to read so that they could read the Bible, the religious ignorance is concerning.
Sir Francis Bacon famously said, “Knowledge is power.” And he was right. However, knowledge is a tricky thing. Certain things are more important to know than others. As the wisest man in the world said (in Proverbs 9:10), “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.”
Atheists may be ever learning, but unless they come to a knowledge of the truth, it’s vanity. Yet, as one of our researchers once said, “It doesn’t glorify God if I’m ignorant.”
“Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.” – Proverbs 10:14