Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Christians Beaten by Atheists, Jews and Mormons on Biblical Knowledge

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life just published an interesting new survey about how much Americans really know about religions. Much to everyone's surprise, the atheists and agnostics came out on top!

The headlines are filled with stuff like Atheists Outdo Some Believers (NY Times) or Atheists and Agnostics Know More About the Bible than Religious (National Public Radio).

But not so fast! It turns out that Atheists didn't really win, it was more like Christians lost. The atheist/agnostic category got the best score at 20.9 out of 32 questions. But look at how it really went down:
White Evangelical Protestant17.6
White Catholic16.0
White mainline Protestant15.8
Nothing in Particular15.2
Black Protestant13.4
Hispanic Catholic11.6
Notice anything peculiar? All of the non-Christians, including Atheist/Agnostic, are grouped closely together in the 20-21 range, and all of the Christian groups are dramatically lower. Why do you suppose this is?

I have a couple of theories myself. One is that it's merely a coincidence, a correlation rather than a causal relationship. Jews, Mormons and Atheists are better educated than the average American; in fact, religion goes down dramatically with higher education. It shouldn't be a surprise that well educated people know more than less educated people, even about the Bible. The fact that Jews, Atheists and Mormons know more is perhaps predictable.

But another possibility is that this is an example of the Anti-Rationalism Meme hard at work. When faith and reason collide, the Abrahamic religions claim that faith wins. Since education is the foundation of reason and rational thinking, it's natural that the more fundamental versions of Christianity are not big advocates of higher education.

Ironically, this leads to the rather embarrassing situation where Atheists, Agnostics and Jews know more about Christianity than Christians do!


  1. The study was on religious knowledge, not biblical knowledge.

  2. Yeah, this is a no brainer to us but I know to many people this is a shocker.


  3. if folks would read that Bible instead of just hitting other people over the head with it, they might know what it actually says...

  4. Mormons are actually Christians, too. We are only pegged as not being Christians because we believe that the Trinity are three separate persons with one purpose; instead of three persons in one substance. But we do, in fact, worship Christ as our Savior and we believe the Book of Mormon is a witness of Christ's personal ministry in America just as the Bible is a witness of Christ's personal ministry in Jerusalem. We teach from both books in our worship services. It is the power of the duplicate witness that we believe "proves" Christianity.

    And although I appreciate the assumption that Mormons are, in general, better educated, I would not necessarily agree that most Mormons are. We teach constantly that higher education is ideal, but we are still a very diverse Church that spreads through every single class and race, including a vast number of 3rd World countries.

    However, we do have 3 hour church service and we do spend a great deal of this time educating our people about the history of religion, the Bible, and the various doctrines of Christianity, which may explain why we did better than most Christian groups.

    I must add, too, that I don't intend for this comment to be argumentative. On the contrary, I have known many Atheists whom I respect for their willingness to ask questions and find answers. In fact, I often tell people that if I were not a Mormon, I would belong to no religion at all simply because none of them make any logical sense to me. Mormonism does make complete and absolute logical sense to me, but you are right that it didn't get to that point without the use of faith in the interim of doubts and questions.


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