Atheists know most about religion

Posted on September 28, 2010


An interesting result in a Pew poll that’s just come out concerning knowledge of religion among US residents. The atheists and agnostics came out on top in terms of knowledge of Christianity and other world religions. They managed to beat out everyone from Evangelicals to Catholics, with only the Jews and Mormons coming a coles second and third to them. Not surprisingly, the ‘Nones’ did fairly poorly showing once again that atheists and agnostics should be separated out from that category in many contexts. Some of the most striking results (as given in NYTimes):

Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

Obviously, it is the second of these figures that is the most interesting, particularly from the point of view of work on theological incorrectness.

Update: Tom Rees, over at Epiphenom, makes a couple of interesting points about the same poll.

Update II: Something more needs to be said to appreciate the numbers in the examples above. The question about holy communion was multiple choice, same as the other questions, and only had two choices: symbols or actual blood/body. This means that guessing randomly 50 per cent of Catholics would answer correctly. This suggests that the percentage of Catholics who do not know the correct answet to this is very much more than 45 per cent. Indeed, assuming that all those who did not know answered randomly (half correctly and half incorrectly), you get the figure of 90 per cent of Catholics not knowing this central dogma of their faith. The assumption is sure to be not quite right given that the symbol option sounds rationally much more plausible but still!!!

Posted in: atheism, religion