How Ignorant About Religion Are Religious Americans?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released a new study on US Religious Knowledge.

The conclusion: Too many people know jack about faith.

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia –- the country with the world’s largest Muslim population –- are Muslims.

Yikes.

If you want to take a mini-version of the quiz yourself, click here. How’d you do?

The full version of the questionnaire can be found here (PDF).

At least there’s a familiar label atop the religious knowledge chart:

It’s not surprising that non-religious people know more about faith than people who are usually isolated within their own religious community.

Why is that? It’s easy to suggest it’s because we’re usually better educated than the rest of the population. But it’s probably more complicated than that. Hell, many of us left religion for a reason — we learned too much about it. That helped push us away from faith altogether.

Why else do you think we scored the best?

The LA Times is much more blunt about the results:

If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist.

Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term “blind faith.”

Why did atheists fare so well?

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

“These are people who thought a lot about religion,” he said. “They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

I should frame that…

According to Greg Smith, one of the authors of the survey:

Smith has a theory about why atheists did so well on the quiz — they have thought more about religion than most people.

“Very few people say that they were raised as atheists and agnostics,” he explains.

About three out of four were raised as Christians, he says.

“They were raised in a faith and have made a decision to identify themselves with groups that tend to be fairly unpopular,” atheists and agnostics, he says.

“That decision presupposes having given some thought to these things,” which is strongly linked with religious knowledge, he says.

Dave Silverman, the new president of American Atheists, adds:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”

There’s a whole different discussion in those last couple sentences, but I love that line: “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.”

The most interesting result from the survey deals with misinformation — it’s the kind that I see so often propagated within the evangelical Christian community:

… the single question that respondents most frequently get right is whether U.S. Supreme Court rulings allow teachers to lead public school classes in prayer. Nine-in-ten (89%) correctly say this is not allowed. But among the questions most often answered incorrectly is whether public school teachers are permitted to read from the Bible as an example of literature. Fully two-thirds of people surveyed (67%) also say “no” to this question, even though the Supreme Court has clearly stated that the Bible may be taught for its “literary and historic” qualities, as long as it is part of a secular curriculum. On a third question along these lines, just 36% of the public knows that comparative religion classes may be taught in public schools. Together, this block of questions suggests that many Americans think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are tighter than they really are.

Or in graphical form:

I’m not surprised here, either. They didn’t say this was only Evangelical Christians guilty of the ignorance, but it’s that group that tends to have unnecessary persecution complexes. They don’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between private practice of religion and public promotion of it.

Teachers can read the Bible in school if they want, but they can’t proselytize in the classroom. Politicians can pray in private if they want, but they can’t use taxpayer time to promote Christianity. Military leaders can keep a Bible in their desk, but they can’t force their troops to join them in a prayer circle.

It’s not that difficult to understand. But the truth would ruin the narrative that’s built up in so many megachurches. So many churchgoers remain ignorant.

Other quick nuggets from the survey:

Respondents who went to graduate school answered twice as many questions correctly as people who didn’t complete high school.

Overall, men scored better than women, whites score better than blacks and Hispanics, and Southerners did worse than the rest of the nation, Smith said.

In summary: The more steeped in religion you are, the less you know about religion as a whole.

We’re a nation of religious illiterates.

At least non-religious people are able to get a better sense of what foolish ideas everyone else has.

***Update***: This post has been added to since it originally went up.

  • PK

    A sample size of 3,412. Is there any source that further breaks down the demographics – black atheists, female protestants, etc. to provide context for the claim that white male Yankees performed best?

  • Hitch

    Interesting stuff, though indeed not surprising. That religiosity is inversely correlated with levels of education is well-known.

  • Justin

    I think a lot of religious people might actually be proud they don’t know much about other faiths. I remember seeing a documentary where someone was outside a church asking the members about other religions/gods and they were completely ignorant and proud of it, saying it was probably better they didn’t know about other religions.

    But this study doesn’t really suprise me at all. In my own life the non-religious people I know are far more knowlegdable about religion(s) than those I know who are religious. I think most atheists would tell you a similar story.

  • Calculon

    Here is the link to the questionnaire according to the Pew site:
    http://pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Belief_and_Practices/religious-knowledge-questionnaire.pdf

    I want to take it first before reading this post..lest I skew my own results.

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  • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    This is very timely as I have been dealing with these types of issues lately. I agree: it’s definitely not surprising!

  • Kevin

    I have to completely agree with these findings. I remember driving in a car with my parents who are devote Catholics, and explaining to them the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant. I remember saying “these things are important, especially for you believers.” Make no mistake I love my parents but it made me angry that I believed them when they did not even take the time to think about something so vital to their lifestyles.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I wonder if this is more to do with people being functionally atheist or religiously apathetic and simply not caring one way or the other about religion but still claiming some kind of faith. My partner calls it “hedging your bets” but I’m not so generous. What I mean is that many Christians are undoubtedly ignorant of religion but they don’t go to church often and have never read their bible or looked at any other religions.

    Active atheists who have made the transition to a positive claim of disbelief tend to have explored the ideas of gods in some detail. We actually care if there is a god or not and have concluded that this isn’t likely.

    I’d describe much of England in terms of apatheism. Although more than 70% claim to be Christian only 15% go to church once a month or more.

  • Sven

    But then again, theists do know a lot more about us antheists. About how we hate god, eat baby’s and were beaten by our daddy’s.

  • KeithLM

    Another point to consider is that atheists in our society are often attacked for not being religious, and if we wish to defend ourselves against such attacks, well the best defense is a good offense. So we study it.

    I’ve read Misquoting Jesus and The God Delusion in recent years, along with some other books as well as various blogs and websites. I even have to credit Bill Maher, in Irreligious he mentioned some similarities between the Jesus myths and some others, and pointed out certain Christian beliefs are entirely made up without support from the bible.

    Personally I left religion in my early teens, mainly because what little science I had been taught at that age made Genesis seem nonsensical at best, but frankly I new little of religion at that time. For a long time I was an apathetic atheist (but never agnostic), however in the last few several years I’ve become quite interested in the subject, and perhaps more militant, and man have I learned a lot in that time.

  • http://www.youtube.com/aajoeyjo Joe Zamecki

    I left religion because after years of being an unwilling participant in religion, I was finally released from it.

    Religion made no sense to me, but the driving force behind me wanting to be free from it, was the fact that I felt like a slave inside of religion. It not only made no sense, it hurt me, and I never once had the option of stopping it all and walking away. That is until I graduated church/school. I had to endure years of painful physical abuse, not sexually, but there are so many nonsexual ways to physically abuse people. I had to work for them, in the occupation of religion organizer. Never once did anyone ask me to. It was always mandatory.

    There needs to be more discussion about how religion pushes people out through the standard means of control and abuse, and about how many of the people involved in our movement actually had to escape religion.

  • Baconsbud

    I find this survey extremely interesting. I don’t think it is all about how intelligent someone is as much as how willing a person is to question what they are told.

  • Sue D. Nymme

    @Hitch:

    That religiosity is inversely correlated with levels of education is well-known.

    True, but not necessarily relevant here. From the LATimes article:

    …the survey found…that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

    In this case, it seems that religiosity is inversely correlated with levels of religious education. Which is also well-known.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    This survey is a welcome smack in the face to apologists who argue that atheists have no place criticizing religion unless we’re also theologians (Dawkins seems to get hit with this tripe frequently). Turns out, we’re a lot closer to it than most believers. To the surprise of none of us.

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com dantresomi

    @Hitch, that is too funny but they swear they know us even though most of them don’t know an atheist personally

    but the study doesn’t surprise me at all.

  • Claudia

    If anyone is interested, a smaller version of the quiz can be done online here. It’s dead easy so it kind of frightens me that people on average only get about half of the answers right.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    no surprise here. smartest guys teaching in my divinity school were the resident atheists. religion is a tool of control, and when you approach it like politics it’s easier to see it for what it really is. people who don’t like to know the hoary details of how the world really works likely won’t want to know about all those little holes in their theologies, either.

    i was just reading about the reformation and it was the same deal back then. the world is a shockingly different place when the little people read their holy texts without “interpretation” from a religious con artist. TPTB in our society have achieved much the same as the pre-reformation RCC. circuses and stage acts and con games, but actually knowing anything about the history and literature of the faith? that’s too much like studying, and where’s the fun in that? as a scholar of religion it often offends me (snobby, i know) to encounter the low level religious hucksters who know absolutely nothing but what they learned from the back of a matchbook, mail order ordination “training.” i guess that’s why religion remains the first, best scam. anyone without a conscience can get into it.

    i think we should stress that: this survey also reflects willful ignorance and a desire to remain faithful to a human personality (cf Bishop Long) in the face of (however much ignored) a world filled with reasons to be more critical and less slavish. people are afraid of knowing too much because they know it would sometimes make them sad.

  • Peregrine

    From the LA Times article:

    For comparison purposes, the survey also asked some questions about general knowledge, which yielded the scariest finding: 4% of Americans believe that Stephen King, not Herman Melville, wrote “Moby Dick.”

    *headdesk*

  • Luther

    I propose another test. Atheists vs. those who believe in creation.
    a)Who knows more about evolution
    b)Who knows more about creation
    c)Who knows more about the Constitution

  • Ron in Houston

    I know there are a lot of atheists/agnostics/humanists who know a lot about religion. I run into them all the time.

    However, the amount of stereotyping of religious people by the non-religious just boggles my mind. It’s apparent to me that many times it’s far easier to see logical disconnects in others than it is to see them in ourselves.

  • JustSayin’

    However, the amount of stereotyping of religious people by the non-religious just boggles my mind. It’s apparent to me that many times it’s far easier to see logical disconnects in others than it is to see them in ourselves.

    Please elaborate as to how your statement relates to this thread. All I can see that’s going on here is that religious folks are being called out for their ignorance of basic knowledge (albeit knowledge of fantasy realms).

  • muggle

    Luther, it’s pretty obvious how that will go.

    The results didn’t surprise me even the part that yet again I find offensive. That degradation towards those who don’t have a higher education. I got only one question wrong on the mini-quiz and never went past high school. Of course, I’ve never stopped learning. (And I learned something by getting that one question wrong, lol!)

    It says something to me looking back and when I went through rejecting Christ before gawd altogether and almost converted to Judaism. The rabbi was impressed at how much I knew and told me point blank that I knew more than most American Jews.

    Again from self-education. I’d studied Judaism on my own since grade school. I wish there was a way when they’re dividing up the education to separate those of us who never went on to college but also never stopped seeking knowledge. I frankly don’t think I will ever stop seeking knowledge. I love learning and value knowledge for its own sake. It’s a precious commodity.

  • Carlie

    The Pew site’s been done broke – swamped servers. I think that’s a good thing; obviously a lot of people are really interested in it.

  • Greg

    Claudia said:

    If anyone is interested, a smaller version of the quiz can be done online here. It’s dead easy so it kind of frightens me that people on average only get about half of the answers right.

    Wow, I have to agree Claudia – that was scarily easy. Two trickyish questions in the fifteen: ‘what day does the Jewish Sabbath start?’ (I can understand some people getting that wrong because it’s easy to skim over the word start, and it’s often stated wrongly in the media) and I found the last question tricky because I’m from the UK, and whilst I’ve heard of the First Great Awakening, I know next to nothing about it apart from it being an American thing. (I narrowed it down to two, guessed, and got it right! heh)

    I have to admit, most of these questions struck me as just being general knowledge rather than specifically religious.

    I really can’t get over the Catholics who don’t know what religion Mother Teresa was or whether the wine and bread is really blood and body of Christ.

    The people of Abrahamic faith who got the ten commandments question wrong brought a chuckle, too.

  • JustSayin’

    The people of Abrahamic faith who got the ten commandments question wrong brought a chuckle, too.

    And yet they think the commandments should hang above every blackboard in every public school. That’s what burns me raw–they couldn’t even list the damn things, yet they want to force them on everybody.

  • http://everydayatheist.wordpress.com Everyday Atheist

    I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.

    WIN!

  • JustSayin’

    I just completed the survey, and I got a 100% on it, although if I’m being completely honest I have to admit that my response to the last question, about the Great Awakening, was complete guesswork. What’s interesting to me is that now, Jews are at the top with 65%, while our group is immediately behind them at 64%. Granted, at this point, with people choosing to take the quiz it’s no longer a random, representative sample but a self-selected one. Still, what’s somewhat surprising to me is that Mormons are right behind us, at 61%. Then again, with a group that concerns itself so much with other people’s business (as evidenced by their leading the bandwagon pushing for Prop 8’s passing), I guess it’s not asking too much to expect them to know a little more about other religions than their theological peers.

  • http://olfroth.blogspot.com Ol’Froth

    My wife is the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she goes to church weekly, and sings in the choir. When we went to see The Reduced Shakespear Company do their take on the Bible, one for the first things the performers asked was “How many here have read the Bible cover to cover?” My atheist hand goes up, hers stays down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurenigma Lauren Besanko

    Well what about the confounding variables here. Minorities in the survey scored statistically significantly lower than everyone else where Jews, Mormons, and Atheist/Agnostics did not score statistically significantly different from each other. I feel this is more of a statement of how socioeconomic status correlates with education level. Jews, Mormons, and Atheists on the average tend to have more higher education opportunities than blacks and hispanics.

  • Ron in Houston

    @Justsayin

    The thread is about ignorance. Ignorance is very much an equal opportunity employer.

  • Jude

    I once “came out” as an atheist in a group of librarians. One of the librarians was shocked, but the former minister in the group explained to him that it just meant that I’d *thought* about religion more than the average person. I was bored in an old testament history class because I knew it all whereas the Christians in the class had never read the old testament before. This post makes lots of sense to me.

  • JustSayin’

    The thread is about ignorance. Ignorance is very much an equal opportunity employer.

    Uh, yeah, I’m aware of that. But the point I was making above–to which I assume you’re referring–is that, in this particular case, atheists and agnostics appear to be “smarter than your average bear.”

    Isn’t the point of Hemant having posted this article to underscore the fact that, on the whole, we have a better grasp of the world’s religions than their adherents do?

  • Siobhan in Vermont

    I went and took the test before I read any more about this. I only got one question wrong. I knew every one of the answers I got right. The only guess I made was on the one I got wrong, and there was only a 50/50 chance I would have gotten it wrong (there were three options, but I -knew- one of them wasn’t the correct one).

    I would have gotten almost exactly the same result if I’d taken it back when I was a born-again Christian (I might have gotten three wrong, I don’t think I knew much about Indonesia or India back then), though.

  • http://madfishmarket.etsy.com Madfishmonger

    I’d be interested to see how Canadians fare on the same sort of questionnaire. I wonder if there’s any significant difference.

  • Ron in Houston

    @justsayin

    Clearly the Pew data says that some atheists are “smarter than your average bear.” (I loved Yogi bear as a kid!)

    Doesn’t change the fact that many are not.

    Vjack has a post blasting CFI for saying basically the same thing.

    The CFI article was a post on Huffington post about atheist ignorance.

    I don’t call that atheist bashing. It’s just an observational statement. There are many atheists who are surprisingly ignorant about theists.

  • Greg

    If people are interested, all the questions of the survey along with how each group answered it are here. (They don’t get any harder)

    What I found amusing, is this line:

    …12% incorrectly say an agnostic is someone who does not believe in God…

    It seems they don’t know the answers to their own questions… I’m willing to bet that at least some of those 12% understand that agnosticism is to do with knowledge, and that atheism is to do with belief. :)

    I’d probably have had to have bitten my tongue if I were being questioned to stop myself querying their definitions… I guess it’s a hobby horse of mine… (Just because it directly leads to the claim that atheists are dogmatic believers that god doesn’t exist…) :-p

  • Claudia

    @Greg, you got one better than I. I also guessed the Great Awakening question, by eliminating Billy Graham, but I got it wrong. It was the only one I got wrong. I was blown away that any significant number of people could mistake Ramadan for a Jewish holiday. The whole quiz isn’t much harder, though to my shame I’ll admit that I got one of the Gospels wrong (it’s an open ended question).

    @Muggle I understand that you might not like the way of separating people by educational level, but it remains the simplest method. IThe amount of formal education correlates closely with the amount of knowledge, because people like you, who are self-taught, are outliers (I mean that in a good way ;-) ).

  • Nicole

    I had a brain fart and temporarily forgot who wrote Moby Dick! So embarrassing. Luckily I rememebred after a second–without looking at the multiple choice answers, which is how I was handling all of them. I had to use the PDF as the servers are apparently groaning under the strain.

    I didn’t know a few of these. Didn’t know who the Jewish dude was, or what day the Jewish sabbath started on (tricky, tricky), and also didn’t know about the Great Awakening. The rest of it was… pretty shockingly easy. =/

  • Dan

    @ Justin-

    You said:

    I remember seeing a documentary where someone was outside a church asking the members about other religions/gods and they were completely ignorant and proud of it, saying it was probably better they didn’t know about other religions.

    Was that “The God Who Wasn’t There“?

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    Lauren, regarding confounding variables, relevant quote from the study:

    “This survey and previous Pew Forum studies have shown that Jews and atheists/agnostics have high levels of educational attainment on average, which partially explains their performance on the religious knowledge survey. However, even after controlling for levels of education and other key demographic traits (race, age, gender and region), significant differences in religious knowledge persist among adherents of various faith traditions.”

  • http://www.freedomloversacademy.com Kristina

    Minorities in the survey scored statistically significantly lower than everyone else where Jews, Mormons, and Atheist/Agnostics did not score statistically significantly different from each other. I feel this is more of a statement of how socioeconomic status correlates with education level. Jews, Mormons, and Atheists on the average tend to have more higher education opportunities than blacks and hispanics.

    Blacks and hispanics can be Jews, Mormons, and Atheist/Agnostics. In this survey, black and hispanic Christians did worse than everyone else.

    I think that the reason you’re looking for is encouragement of learning/education. Jews, Mormons, and Atheist/Agnostics all value education/learning. It has been shown that many blacks and hispanics do not value education. That is also the reason why schools have such a hard time getting parents involved in education.

    Anyone who does not value education and learning will not go out of their way to learn, and you can bet your sweet bippy that churches aren’t preaching about other religions; well, at least not with any truth involved.

  • Jason Orlando Hawk

    29/32

    Honestly never heard of Maimonides. Got Joseph Smith Jr & Brigham Young mixed up. Missed the question about when Mormonism was founded.

    On the last two I missed, though, I was very close.

    Got all the general knowledge questions right.

    And I’m a southern, evangelical protestant. Granted, I’m also a minister, so I’m a bit more studied than a typical member of my faith.

    I do agree w/ Hover’s assessment that one of the hindrances in this study may be people who label themselves as “Christian,” but who attend very infrequently. In my particular denomination, there are often classes that teach basic facts about other faiths. Regular attendees would score very well on the questions in this survey, whereas “Easter & Christmas Christians” would be less likely to know these questions.

    In America, the most common cultural label is Christian, so many people may choose that by default.

  • Bex

    I find it interesting that followers of the Muslim teachings weren’t included in the poll… I find they typically know more about other regions as well in their quest for the absolute truth….

  • sc0tt

    Greg said:

    Wow, I have to agree Claudia – that was scarily easy. Two trickyish questions in the fifteen: ‘what day does the Jewish Sabbath start?’ (I can understand some people getting that wrong because it’s easy to skim over the word start, and it’s often stated wrongly in the media)

    Wait, if you follow the Jewish calendar, doesn’t Saturday begin at sundown on Friday? Seems like the proposed answers are wrong… or am *I* wrong?

  • Shannon

    I took the short one. I have to admit I had never heard of the Great Awakening so even if I had gotten it right, it would have been a guess. So 14 out of 15 isn’t bad.

    I was actually raised with no religion but I find it fascinating. Still, I had thought the things I knew were common knowledge but more and more I’m finding that the average person doesn’t know a lot of this. I’m not saying we need to be experts (I’m certainly not) but I still find it troubling that people have such a severe lack of knowledge about religious beliefs (and cultures in general) that are not their own.

  • Grimalkin

    This story was featured on One News Now: http://www.onenewsnow.com/Culture/Default.aspx?id=1187078

    Most hilarious comment?

    to the Athiest – you couldn’t begin to understand the Gospel if presented, because the Holy Spirit must be involved in order to do so. You have to want to know and be open to it. Otherwise it is like throwing pearls to swine…maybe when you realize you are lost, you will seek the truth. Only then could you be civil.

    In other words: “Sure, you know way more about the content of the gospel than I do, but that doesn’t matter because only I have access to the spirit of it!”

    Way to go, ignorant Christian. Way to go.

  • Mike

    I even have to credit Bill Maher, in Irreligious he mentioned some similarities between the Jesus myths and some others, and pointed out certain Christian beliefs are entirely made up without support from the bible.

    religion is a tool of control, and when you approach it like politics it’s easier to see it for what it really is

    Interestingly, I just (re)watched the movie Luther just two days ago with my son. By far his (Luther’s, not my son’s) biggest motivation in reforming the church was to get the “raw data” into the hands of the people. He saw and was infuriated that the church used religion as “blunt instrument” of control over the masses. Without general access to the actual content of the bible, the church could make all sorts of “entirely made up” claims and the people would be no more the wiser.

    It saddens me to know end that WILLFULLY so many are so ignorant about the faith they claim to follow. Unlike in the early 16th century, the masses DO have access to the bible and can read it for themselves.

    If you’ve read my other responses in this blog, you will know that I cannot stand having all Christians lumped together. I also cannot stand the equation of religion with religious institutions. Religion is not a tool of control no matter how much the more fundamental religious institutions try to make it so.

    Perhaps if more Christians were thinking Christians (same goes for other religions), we would find that the divide between us and aetheists is not really so wide, could get past the animosity, and begin honest dialog to both our benefit.

    I continue to follow this blog, not because I want to “keep tabs on the enemey,” but because I find it a very valuable tool to keep my faith honest.

    And for the record, I scored 14/15 on the mini-quiz. I had no idea what the First Great Awakening was and guessed wrong.

  • http://www.freedomloversacademy.com Kristina

    sc0tt said

    Wait, if you follow the Jewish calendar, doesn’t Saturday begin at sundown on Friday? Seems like the proposed answers are wrong… or am *I* wrong?

    Actually, the Jewish calendar isn’t about Friday/Saturday. The Jewish new day starts at sundown. So, Shabbat is on Friday/Saturday, but that’s not to say that Saturday starts at sundown the day before. Does that make sense?

  • Marcel Gregoire

    I was born, raised, educated at the undergraduate level as a Catholic!
    As a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines, I saw what the Catholic religion did to Filipinos: not a pretty picture!
    When I returned to the United States, I pursued graduate studies in Biology at state universities: Colorado for the MS, Vermont for the Ph.D.
    As a practicing scientist, I found religion to be irrelevant to my everyday existence and, since I was teaching Evolution to upperclass Biology majors, I never gave the loss of my faith a second thought. The human fossil record shows a remarkable, though still incomplete, progression from the simple to the complex in all aspects of human history on this planet.
    I presented those data to my students the same way that I received them: objectively, without judgment. They were as stunned at how convincing the record is in support of evolution as I was.
    I have never had any reason to regret the transformation: it must be akin to the relief that the adult butterfly feels at the final release from the chrysalis in its first flight to freedom!
    Dr. Marcel Gregoire (retired)

  • Traziness

    Survey must be broken! It must have chunked out in between questions cuz I counted 11/15 right and it said 6!
    I wanted to respond to the question of how Canadians do on the survey, but I wouldn’t have been a good representation anyway – I’ve hardly read any religious material (It hurts too much to slap my forehead so much) so I would certainly classify myself as NOT in-the-know.
    Although I am half way through God is Not Great and find it somewhat entertaining when I’m in the mood for it. :)

  • Yojimbo

    Yes it is broken. I scored 14/15, but it showed 2/15 with 13 not answered. And quite often I had to re-try to get the next question.

    As to the topic, it only makes sense that athiests would be generally better informed about religion, because almost all athiests have spent time thinking about it – something most religious don’t do much of.

  • Kimpatsu

    You answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly for a score of 100%.
    I thought that quiz was easy. And I’m not even American.

  • http://www.godtalkradio.com Jason

    @hoverfrog:

    I wonder if this is more to do with people being functionally atheist or religiously apathetic and simply not caring one way or the other about religion but still claiming some kind of faith.

    I think you nailed it here. As a religious person I am continually saddened by surveys like these. (I took the CNN version of this one and the questions were laughably easy and obvious.)

    I have heard it said before that many religious people have just enough “religion” to soothe their conscience. But not enough to save them from hell. How sad is that? There isn’t anything in this world that has more significance to me then eternity.

    Jason

  • ThilinaB

    Thanks for the link Claudia.

    i got 93% (1 wrong about when the Jewish sabbath is) and i also got one or two 50-50 guesses correct. But it is scary that so many people can get so many of them wrong, specially when they are the ones telling everyone how we should be behaving and acting based on the knowledge they are claiming to have.

  • Mariely

    4 out of 10 people are ignorant about bread and wine representing the body and blood of God..

    BIG DEAL..

    Everything in the new testament are purely miracles..

    Atheist dont know the reason why we would rather believe in God than in nothing.

  • sc0tt

    Kristina said:

    Actually, the Jewish calendar isn’t about Friday/Saturday. The Jewish new day starts at sundown. So, Shabbat is on Friday/Saturday, but that’s not to say that Saturday starts at sundown the day before. Does that make sense?

    Thanks for prompting me to do some interesting reading on the Jewish calendar. Your point appears to be that “Shabbat” is more than just the Jewish way to say “Saturday” and while that’s kind interesting given the names of the other days of the week, I’m not sure I buy it.

  • http://theautsajder.blogspot.com Autsajder

    I got 14/15. I am Jewish, on the agnostic side, quite interested in other cultures and religions.
    I had no idea what “great awakening” was.
    In terms of the survey itself, I think it depends also where they were making these calls. Big cities, small villages, North, South, may really influence the results.

    The level of education – no matter what religion – is crucial as well. Even though I’ve met beautifully ignorant people with BAs, there is still a higher chance for better results.

  • Greg

    sc0tt said:

    Wait, if you follow the Jewish calendar, doesn’t Saturday begin at sundown on Friday? Seems like the proposed answers are wrong… or am *I* wrong?

    Well, whether or not you follow the Jewish calendar (I don’t know if there is any difference or not – I rather doubt there is), I’d say it’s rather irrelevant as to whether the answers are right or not. I mean, the question is set in the calendar we use. Our calendar, not anyone else’s! :) It’s like dating the year something happened in China in our calendar rather than the Chinese calendar – it’s still correct to say it happened in 1754, say.

    Anyway, if you arrange to meet a Jew for a meeting at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday, trust me, you’ll meet up ok, even if the sun is down! ;) :P

  • http://theautsajder.blogspot.com Autsajder

    Greg, there is a huge difference. For Jews Shabbat begins on Friday with sunset and last till Saturday’s sunset.

    A lot of people might just know that it’s Saturday, without knowing that Jewish days are counted from sunset to sunset.

  • Beth

    You answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly for a score of 100%.
    That was pitifully easy. These findings fall nicely in line with my belief that a huge part of what people call “faith” is actually willful ignorance.

  • Craig

    15 for 15 on the mini-quiz on the Pew site (their main page is currently down… did we crash it?)

    10 for 10 on the sample questions via the CNN page.

  • Andrew

    Military leaders can keep a Bible in their desk, but they can’t force their troops to join them in a prayer circle.

    I was recently put in an awkward position. A soldier in my unit committed suicide during a training weekend. My commander asked that everyone stand, hold hands, and pray together. Being Atheist, I wasn’t sure if I should be offended (let alone the legalities of the request) or just follow along out of respect to the soldier. What would you do?

  • David

    This article butchers its own credibility by clearly showing dislike towards religious groups, and the sampling is terribly wrong. Religious Americans are a much bigger group, and very broad at that. This is an untestable theory, and unfortunately. If this article had a solid sampling of more than .000875 % of the total population, it might actual have some credibility. If I, as a Christian, went out and sampled less than 1 % of all atheists on their intelligence about religions,it would be thrown out as a credible subject. Try a little harder next time to make a valid argument, and be sociologically objective. Opinions and ethnocentristic statements like “…what foolish ideas everyone else has.” ruin your credibility. If you want to make a valid point, try and NOT judge other people’s values and ideas by YOUR standards, as many atheists jump to accuse religious groups of doing. This would have been a great academic read, if it was objective, but the obvious bias ruined it.

  • Twin-Skies

    Got a 13 out of 15, though to be fair, I spent all of my elementary and high school life in a Catholic school.

  • alex

    I’m kind of amused by performance of different denominations on questions specific to them: 7% of mormons don’t know what Joseph Smith’s religion was? 41% of catholics don’t know about transubstantiation?!!

    Also, FWIW, one must consider that some people who don’t know the answer would guess, so the number of correct answers might be higher than number of people who know them. In this light, how come that only 11% of total respondents got the last question wrong (I did, too)? Obviously, there is some kind of bias, but why? I think it’d be more interesting to see statistics for each question rather than the simple correct/incorrect makeup.

  • MH

    I thought the online test was pretty easy as I got 14 out of 15 correct. The Great Awakening question was the one I got wrong.

    I was raised Presbyterian but became a heathen after reading the bible in my late teens. I did take some world religion classes in college as well.

  • Atom Jack

    100%, though I readily admit I guessed the answer to the “great awakening”.

    Mariely, every atheist on this site, and I’d venture to say almost anywhere could smack you with the Paschal’s Wager fish.

    Just for grins…

    Everything in the new testament are is purely miraclesulous.. tsk, tsk, tsk.

    I don’t believe in miracles, either.

  • Atom Jack

    MH, you aren’t a heathen if you have studied the religion and found it coming up wanting. You have made an informed decision that it’s a bunch of made-up self-contradictory claptrap, and didn’t buy it. A true heathen is one who hasn’t had the sales presentation. Lucky them.

  • Atom Jack

    To me, the whole point of religion is that one will accept the authority figure’s dicta without question. This is a sure path to folly. AtomJack is not.equal.to sheeple.

  • SecularLez

    I made an 80%. I second guess myself too much. =/

  • MH

    Mariely, as Atom Jack points out Pascal’s wager is annoying for many reasons. My biggest beef is that belief is not about desire. It is something you have or don’t have based upon your standards.

    Atom Jack, I know but I kind of like the term heathen.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    32/32 on the full questionnaire for this atheist, thanks to a correct guess on the Great Awakening question. And I regret that I can’t now find the full quiz again; I think it was in the Guardian, but my Google Fu is wanting tonight.

  • Dylan

    Im a teen who is a sophomore in highschool, and I got a 100. :D

  • http://religionsetspolitics.blogspot.com/ Joshua Zelinsky

    David,

    Most of what you said is wrong. I’m going to address just one of those since it the one closest to my area of expertise: Percentage of a population used in a sample has very little to do with whether the sample is representative or not. What matters more is the size of the sample itself and the distribution of the sample. In this case, a sample of over 3000 people is more than enough. Please learn some statistics.

    (Incidentally note that the study was done by Pew which is generally considered to do very good, impartial studies. So unless you are now claiming that Pew has some sort of evil atheist bias…)

  • fritzy

    David:

    This article butchers its own credibility by clearly showing dislike towards religious groups, and the sampling is terribly wrong.

    Do you have any support for this claim other than you find the results personally unfavorable? Please explain.

    Religious Americans are a much bigger group, and very broad at that.

    Much bigger than what? As far as being broad, the full survey did a relatively good job of breaking down questions about religious affiliation into a many denominations. Breaking it down into every existing denomination would have been impossible. And they appeared to control for a great many demographics as well. Having worked for Gallup for several years, this is actually a very well designed survey.

    This is an untestable theory,

    What part is untestable and why?

    If I, as a Christian, went out and sampled less than 1 % of all atheists on their intelligence about religions,it would be thrown out as a credible subject.

    Your analogy is terribly flawed. You seem to see an agenda where none exists. If your sample of atheists was representative of atheists as a whole, one percent would be sufficient for a statistically sound study. And this wasn’t asking about the religious knowledge of any particular group–it was testing the knowledge of Americans as a whole, by random sampling, then breaking it down by many different demographics, including religious affiliation.

    If you want to make a valid point, try and NOT judge other people’s values and ideas by YOUR standards, as many atheists jump to accuse religious groups of doing.

    Why not? All people do this every day in every interaction they engage in. Who else’s standards would I judge the world by and why?

    This would have been a great academic read, if it was objective, but the obvious bias ruined it

    Again, explain your claim.

  • Claudia

    I was recently put in an awkward position. A soldier in my unit committed suicide during a training weekend. My commander asked that everyone stand, hold hands, and pray together. Being Atheist, I wasn’t sure if I should be offended (let alone the legalities of the request) or just follow along out of respect to the soldier. What would you do?

    Get into contact with others like you. I’m not military nor a veteran so I won’t presume to tell you what to do in such a situation. I’m 99% certain that your commander was not supposed to do that, but I’m also aware that this kind of unconstitutional bullshit is very common in the armed forces.

  • http://shrey-knows.blogspot.com/ Shrey Goyal

    As Eddie Izzard puts it, “You know, Catholicism, we believed in the teachings of Cathol, and everything it stood for…”

  • Greg

    Autsajder

    Greg, there is a huge difference. For Jews Shabbat begins on Friday with sunset and last till Saturday’s sunset.

    A lot of people might just know that it’s Saturday, without knowing that Jewish days are counted from sunset to sunset.

    Umm – I know, I said I got that question right, remember?

    I think you’ve completely missed the point I was trying to make.

    Namely, the question is set in our calendar, and our 24 hour clock. Sure people might not know that it starts on Friday, thinking it is just Saturday.

    But that’s kind of the point of the question – to see if you know that or not.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    I think the general idea of the topic of this post is that those that are raised in a religious home are simply accepting it without research. Most even as adults just simply accept it all. The exception here is the Mormons, who thanks to the over and over drill-it-in-your-head teachings, know more about their religion than others.

  • http://thebigreason.com Mark Eagleton

    I scored 14/15 on the quiz. You can take it online and compare your score with the full survey results. It’s actually pretty easy. Hemant linked to it in the article. Did anyone else take it?

    http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/

    I missed the question about the First Great Awakening. Googling it now.

  • gaga

    13/15.
    I’ve heard of the great awakening but I’ve no clue about the details. (I’m not from the States, BTW)
    Secondly, I have to quibble about the Joseph Smith’s question, ’cause I interpreted it as “which was JS’ religion before he invented mormonism” that is, christian of some stripe, I guess.

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  • Mike

    I was recently put in an awkward position. A soldier in my unit committed suicide during a training weekend. My commander asked that everyone stand, hold hands, and pray together. Being Atheist, I wasn’t sure if I should be offended (let alone the legalities of the request) or just follow along out of respect to the soldier. What would you do?

    It is, of course, presumptiuous to assume you can know exactly what someone else should do in any given situation. But as you asked….

    I am a scoutmaster and a Christian. I am VERY conscientious to never impose my personal religious beliefs onto any of the scouts. I do, however, feel that it is good for them to have exposure to religion so that they can determine in their minds what it means that a scout is reverent(*). So, whenever our troop is at an event that offers services, I strongly suggest that our scouts to attend, but never force anyone to go who feels very strongly against it.

    Last summer (2009), the camp we were attending offered a non-denominational service. While these typically are strongly influenced by Judeo-Christian patterns, the leaders usually do a good job to try to be inclusive of all world religions. This particular service, howevever, GREATLY crossed the line of being highly focused on a single Christian sect (to the exclusion of others). I felt embarrased for how this must be coming across to our Buddhist and aetheist troop members.

    I wanted to leave and take the scouts with me. But, I felt that the rudeness and embarassement this would impart to the scouts was a greater evil. Rather, I apologized to all the scouts in the troop once we got back to our campsite and explained the inappropriateness of the speaker’s position within the context of scouting. And more importantly, I “publically” complained to the camp program director at the next scoutmaster roundtable. My sentiments were echoed by well over half the other scoutmasters.

    What does this have to do with your question? I think the disrespect you would have shown the departed solider would have been the much greater evil than suffering silently due to the commander’s transgression. And, I think a complaint needs to be filed either privately or publically. If the commander is an upright guy who just didn’t “get it,” then privately pointing out his error should be sufficient. If the commander refuses to see what he did as wrong, then a public complaint (probably to his superior) may be warranted.

    Just my 2c (in a $1.95 wrapper)
    mike

    *My take has always been that for a person to be whole, they must realize that there is something bigger than themselves. While I have my ideas about what this “bigger thing” is, it is not my duty as scoutmaster to indoctrinate the scouts… just to ask them to consider in good conscience what this means for them.

  • Shannon

    Where are the answers for the full test? I need to check a few to see if I got them right.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    You answered 15 out of 15 questions correctly for a score of 100%.

    Easy quiz, IMO, although I admit I did guess on the last question. I know about the First Great Awakening (we studied it in school, U.S. History, eleventh grade), but I wasn’t sure if I remembered the names of the key players or not.

  • Shannon

    Yeah, I think I fail the IQ part of the test, lol! The articles say 32 questions, but my answers only add up to 30. And that includes the non-religion ones, like who wrote Moby Dick and who is the vice president.

    Oh well, fun anyway.

  • Greg

    Shannon said:

    Where are the answers for the full test? I need to check a few to see if I got them right.

    This may be the page which you found the questions on, already, and if you read each section you can discover what the answers were. Just underneath the questions themselves are sections talking about which groups got the questions right or wrong, and thus you can check your answers. :)

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Most depressing finding:

    Only eight of the 3,412 survey respondents got all 32 questions right.

    Only eight? I answered all 32 questions correctly (without cheating), and I bet many other people here did, too. They really weren’t that difficult. Take a look:

    Bible
    What is the first book of the Bible? (Open-ended)
    What are the names of the first four books of the New Testament, that is, the four Gospels? (Open-ended)
    Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born? Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth or Jericho?
    Which of these is NOT in the Ten Commandments? Do unto others…, no adultery, no stealing, keep Sabbath?
    Which figure is associated with remaining obedient to God despite suffering? Job, Elijah, Moses or Abraham?
    Which figure is associated with leading the exodus from Egypt? Moses, Job, Elijah or Abraham?
    Which figure is associated with willingness to sacrifice his son for God? Abraham, Job, Moses or Elijah?

    Elements of Christianity
    What is Catholic teaching about bread and wine in Communion? They become body and blood, or are symbols?
    Which group traditionally teaches that salvation is through faith alone? Protestants, Catholics, both or neither?
    Was Mother Teresa Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Mormon?
    What is the name of the person whose writings and actions inspired the Reformation? Luther, Aquinas or Wesley?
    Who was a preacher during the First Great Awakening? Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney or Billy Graham?

    Elements of Judaism
    When does the Jewish Sabbath begin? Friday, Saturday or Sunday?
    Was Maimonides Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu or Mormon?

    Elements of Mormonism
    When was the Mormon religion founded? After 1800, between 1200 and 1800, or before 1200 A.D.?
    The Book of Mormon tells of Jesus appearing to people in what area? The Americas, Middle East or Asia?
    Was Joseph Smith Mormon, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu?

    World Religions
    Is Ramadan the Islamic holy month, the Hindu festival of lights or a Jewish day of atonement?
    Do you happen to know the name of the holy book of Islam? (Open-ended)
    Which religion aims at nirvana, the state of being free from suffering? Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam?
    Is the Dalai Lama Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Catholic or Mormon?
    In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures? Hinduism, Islam or Taoism?
    What is the religion of most people in India? Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or Christian?
    What is the religion of most people in Pakistan? Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Christian?
    What is the religion of most people in Indonesia? Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Christian?
    Who is the king of Gods in Greek mythology? Zeus, Mars or Apollo?

    Atheism and Agnosticism
    Is an atheist someone who does NOT believe in God, believes in God, or is unsure whether God exists?
    Is an agnostic someone who is unsure whether God exists, does NOT believe in God, or believes in God?

    Religion in Public Life
    What does Constitution say about religion? Separation of church and state, emphasize Christianity, or nothing?
    According to the Supreme Court, can a public school teacher lead a class in prayer?
    According to the Supreme Court, can a public school teacher read from the Bible as an example of literature?
    According to the Supreme Court, can a public school teacher offer a class comparing the world’s religions?

    I can see the Great Awakening question tripping some people up, and possibly Maimonides, but most of the rest should be common knowledge. I can’t believe only eight people got them all right.

  • Atom Jack

    Mike-Scoutmaster-Xtian:

    Please give me the date the BSA allowed admitted atheists to even join, let alone earn the rank of Eagle.

  • http://www.freedomloversacademy.com Kristina

    Atom Jack,
    I was going to ask the same thing! My then 10 year old son got kicked out of Scouts when he came out about his atheism.

  • P.

    I got 15 out of 15 on that quiz, which makes me really happy. But that’s about all that makes me happy about this poll… It reminds me of the term “sheeple”. I firmly believe that if people knew more about religions and heard more differing viewpoints, the world would be a better place. We’d have more atheists, but I don’t think we’d ALL be atheists. It would just eradicate extreme radicalism and fundamentalism almost entirely, which would save hundreds of thousands of lives in the long run, come to think of it. It’s a shame there’s so much stigma about knowing about religions and making choices.

  • Aj

    I’m terrible at this, I got 12/15 on the Pew website. From the 32 questions I got 28/32, Bible:5/7, Christianity:4/5, Judaism:1/2, Mormon:3/3, World:9/9, Atheism:2/2, Public Life:4/4.

    I read about Córdoba and Maimonides because of that stupid “Ground Zero Mosque” thing, last month. In my defence, I knew the Jewish Sabbath was mostly Saturday. I couldn’t remember one of the names of the Gospels (which was not the authors name anyway), and I got Elijah and Job mixed up. I am not, and have never been, a Jew or Christian; the Bible has never been important to me. I’m not American, I think it’s impressive I even know there were three Great Awakenings (although I just looked it up and Wikipedia has four).

    The Catholic educated people I know claim that transubstantiation is symbolic, I don’t think it’s an error priests particularly care to correct. I guess it’s much like the Scientologists in the BBC documentary, who didn’t know about Xeno, volcanoes, and souls. I don’t know whether the ignorance is good because at least they don’t believe it, or bad because these are the people will defend “their” religion and religious figures.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Just a thought but if I were ever going to convert to a religion (which I’m not planning to) then I would want to know everything about it before committing. I’d want to be an expert on their beliefs, practices and history before marrying myself to such a church. If I wanted to bring a child into a faith (which I certainly do not) then I’d want them well educated in the church so that they could make a solid contribution towards it.

    See I’m thinking of joining the British Humanist Society but I’m putting it off because I really don’t have a thorough knowledge of what they do or how I would fit with the organisation. It made me think of the closest religious comparison. Why do they seem so happy in their ignorance? Perhaps they aren’t happy but just don’t know any other way. I don’t know.

  • Baconsbud

    Yes hoverfrog it is a good idea to know what you are getting into. You have to remember most people within religion have never converted to that religion but have grown up within it. I figure most within any religion tend to believe they already know all they need to know.

  • http://www.godtalkradio.com Jason

    @hoverfrog:

    You bring up a very valid and interesting point. It is my opinion (as a Christian) that most people go to church and call themselves religious out of guilt and duty. They feel that it is the “right” thing to do (for whatever reason) and don’t honestly care that much about what it is they are claiming to believe in.

    Obviously, for both you and me, this way of thinking doesn’t make much sense at all.

    Jason

  • Sinistra

    This totally reminded me of a conversation I had with a (very very Christian) coworker several years ago. I work for a nonprofit membership organization and we had a yoga studio join. My coworker and I were looking over their brochure, which advertised two classrooms: the Shiva Room and the Shakti Room. She pointed to the names of the classrooms, turned to me and said knowingly, “They must be Jewish.” I had to struggle so hard not to burst out laughing.

    This same coworker, who has two young children, has sheets from Lifeway Christian Resources taped up in her office that are billed as “children’s developmental checklists” — they have stuff on them like “5 years old: should be able to tie shoes, write own name, recite address, recognize that Jesus is a real person.” I think of them more as “children’s indoctrination checklists.” I literally got a chill down my spine when I first saw them.

    P.S. I only missed one on the mini-quiz.

  • http://fontofliberty.blogspot.com/ Rarian Rakista

    Have you people gone to a church and listened to them preach in the past 10 years?

    Even the Evangelicals aren’t reading much scripture anymore, instead I heard them heaping polemic on political issues or chastising their flock for not being charitable enough with the church’s collection plates. The only religious service I went to that read from an actual holy book was in a Reform Synagogue.

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  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    This is a little late, but The Colbert Report had a hilarious segment about the poll results:

    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/360640/september-30-2010/stat-of-the-union

    I always have a hard time remembering that Stephen is actually a believer. He parodies religion so well.

  • Frank

    As ignorant as nominal Christians are of Christology, they are not nearly as ignorant of it as are atheists and the like.


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