Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Are you smarter than an atheist?

If you identify yourself as religious and your answer to the above question is "yes" you might want to rethink your answer. According to a recent Pew Research survey, atheists and agnostics know more about the Bible and religion than the people who are believers.

According to articles in the New York Times and CNN, the Pew foundation called 3,400 Americans who were asked to answer 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other religions. Less than half answered the questions correctly. Also curious is that self-proclaimed Evangelicals scored lower than Jews and Mormons. This is interesting because many Evangelicals claim to read the Bible and are sometimes portrayed as "Bible thumpers" by the media. Apparently they should spend more time reading the Bible rather than thumping it.

What makes the survey results interesting is that the United States is one of the most religiously minded countries in the world with regular church attendance hovering somewhere around 40% of the population. What exactly "regular church attendance" means though, I am unsure.

This article caught my attention because of a previous post I wrote on "does anyone read the Bible anymore"? I lamented the fact that so many claim to know what is in the Bible, when in fact they are functionally illiterate as to the content and claims of the Bible. I have always been uncomfortable with the notion of America as a "Christian Nation". If this poll is correct, than it makes me wonder what kind of Christianity it is that we claim to have in this country.


  1. Although I agree that there is a great deal of Bible illiteracy today, (like, "who wrote the first 5 books of the Bible") I would have been surprised at the survey results if the survey addressed the Bible and Christianity alone. However, adding "Other world religions, religious history and geography" into the mix adds a new area of knowledge to the survey and could explain the results. (if the survey asks about the Bible AND the book of Mormon, then yes, a Mormon is certainly going to score higher than most evangelical Christians who have never read this book.)

    While I agree there is a "Bible knowledge problem" among many Christians, my one and only statistics course in college made me suspicious of "Polls". Answers can be skewed in a Poll if you ask the question in a certain way.

  2. Just a side note...if you read the NY Times article, about half-way down it states that Evangelical Protestants (and mormons) scored the highest on Bible/Christianity questions, and the atheists/agnostics scored the highest on the "world religion" questions (putting them on top overall). Be interesting to know how many of the 34 questions were specific to Christianity vs. other religions. I learned a lot about other religions over the past few years, but 10 years ago I would have nailed the Bible/Christianity questions, but failed miserably on the other religion questions which probably would have given me a horrible score overall.

  3. Mike and Jill (back together again!

    I agree, polls are tricky and I am not always sure what to make of them. I would like to see the questions myself. I should search it out and see if I can post it.

  4. This seems to track with Prothero's Religious Literacy book of a few years back. There is an option on the page to take the quiz - only 15 of the questions. I can see where a few of them may have been somewhat tricky. Your closing point is well taken as to what type of Christianity really exists in the current culture.