Myth #4: Atheists disbelieve because they are ignorant about God and religion.

A secular census has recently been launched and Mary Ellen Sikes is doing a week-long blog series about the results.  She shot me an email this last weekend, which I just got to yesterday, and asked if I’d post them.  Seemed interesting, so here we go.  :)   (You can also find these posts over at Stephanie Zvan’s blog Almost Diamonds)

Post #1 can be found here.

Post #2 can be found here.

Post #3 can be found here.

More than 71% of those providing religious background data to the Secular Census have a former faith, most dating back to childhood. 30.9% received religious training in a theistic congregation, 16.7% attended religious schools during all or most of their K-6 years, and 12% during all or most of grades 7 through 12. It can’t be a lack of exposure to theology that leads to atheism.

Blame it on knowledge: by far the most frequently cited reasons for leaving the fold are “Became too educated to remain religious” (79%) and “Too much skepticism about basic tenets” (78%).

Because the journey to atheism is a rational, exploratory one rather than a burning-bush conversion, many atheists know more about dogma and practice than their religious counterparts, an irony confirmed in 2010 when atheists and agnostics scored higher than believers on a test of religious knowledge given by the Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life.

“If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.
Tomorrow – Myth #5: Atheists are waging a War on Christmas.


Mary Ellen Sikes is the founder, president, and developer of the American Secular Census. She became involved in the secular movement in the early 1990s, went on to found and lead a local humanist group, and has served in various staff, officer, advisory, and board positions for regional and national organizations, most recently as a co-founder of Secular Woman.

American Secular Census methodology: Because not all registrants complete every form or every question, sample sizes vary from topic to topic and cannot be generalized. Until the Census reaches a 5-figure registry overall, analysis should be considered suggestive rather than statistically authoritative; however, most questions now have sample sizes approaching or exceeding those of nationally recognized surveys.

  • Rob

    Because the journey to atheism is a rational, exploratory one rather than a burning-bush conversion

    I would say “can be” rather than “is” here. There is no requirement that atheism is rational, see Raelians or people rebelling against their upbringing.

    • RuQu

      When 78+% of the respondents cite a rational reason for atheism, I think it is safe to generalize and us “is” for simplicity of communication.

      This is especially true when there is a common assumption of the opposite, and that assumption is generalized to the entire group. If people assume that atheists in general are ignorant of religion, it is not unreasonable to counter that when your data says 80% are well-informed.

      Of course, there is a substantial sampling bias in this data, as only semi-activist atheists are likely to hear about this census and choose to participate. My wife, for instance, was raised without religion and knows very little about it. She also has no interest in filling out this census. I was raised catholic, engaged in almost constant argument with Christian peers in high school, and am pretty well informed about religion, particularly Christianity. So if you could get people like my wife to participate, how much would the % of religiously educated and informed atheists drop?

  • Jaime

    Fascinating. Are there studies on the average religious individual’s knowledge about religon as a contrast?

  • IslandBrewer

    Tomorrow – Myth #5: Atheists are waging a War on Christmas.

    Are you saying the war on christmas is a myth? ‘Cause I totally am getting my war on for that. Hell, yesterday I passed by a catholic church with some parishoners milling about outside and said “Happy Holidays” to them. They put brave faces on and smiled and return a mixed bag of “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” and acted like they weren’t phased, but I know I totally scored a direct hit on christmas. They’ll probably have to cancel it, now. Like totally.


    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      I gave “holiday” gifts to known Christians, so by accepting them they implicitly accept the monicker! Bwu-hahaha!

      • Stogoe

        My Yule presents are indistinguishable from Christmas presents to the untrained eye. I have given literally dozens of non-Christian Secular Holiday Gifts to avowed Christians over the years, and they were none the wiser!

    • Loqi

      “I totally scored a direct hit on christmas.”
      Let’s try B5. Dammit, you sunk my nativity scene!

  • Hitchslapper

    Most Atheists, after a long and careful examination of the ‘Evidence’ and their own inner selves…… have a great epiphany, a sudden awakening, when they realize clearly, for the first time… that their belief in a Ghod might not be a good thing to believe in, any more. That requires a great deal of growth, and the willingness to accept the fact that what you’ve been told for most of your life, might not be true…… But, the realization of the truth…. that will set you free.