Atheists-Agnostics Have Most Religious Knowledge

In a recent poll of over 3,400 Americans, the Pew Forum on Religion ironically found that atheists and agnostics know more about religions than do believers.  Here is the abstract:

Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.

On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.

Over at The Atlantic, Heather Horn comments and collects various reactions:

A new Pew survey is pretty much guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of the faithful. In a survey of religious knowledge, Americans did fairly poorly, displaying little knowledge of world religions. More provocatively, Americans did not even know much about their own religions. A shocking forty-five percent of Catholics incorrectly answered a question about Catholicism and Communion, for example. To make matters worse, it seems that those who scored highest on this survey were, in fact, atheists and agnostics. The next-highest scoring groups were Jews and Mormons.

There are several explanations for these unsurprising findings and I will address them in tomorrow’s post.

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