Southern Religion

Atheists & Agnostics, Jews and Mormons score best on test of religious knowledge

Atheists/Agnostics, Mormons and Jews score best on test of religious knowledge

From the Executive Summary of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey

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.

Atheist PZ Myers did a restrained victory dance.

Get Religion suggests that as a nation we do in fact need to be better informed about religion. Lest Americans continue to excel at believing without knowing.

Matthew C. Nisbet, associate professor in the School of Communication at American University, argued that the survey’s outcome was to be expected, scientifically. He sees it all “in the context of research I have conducted with my colleague Dietram Scheufele on like those shaping political knowledge more generally.”

He explains:

(1) Each of the highest scoring groups is a very small minority in a U.S. culture [that is] dominated by other belief traditions. Under these conditions of minority status, there is much higher motivation for members of these groups to seek out, acquire, and retain knowledge about their own beliefs, the beliefs of others, and the legal protections afforded religion.

(2) This motivation to acquire and retain knowledge is amplified when these minority individuals also anticipate engaging in conversations or arguments with others–where as a small minority–they often have to defend their own beliefs.

In other words, contrary to some of the claims made today, it’s not that atheists are smarter or superior to other groups, but instead, the social climate in the United States encourages and motivates atheists to acquire higher levels of religious knowledge.

While members of more dominant groups feel secure in their relatively uninformed lassitude.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | Education, Religion | , , , , | 1 Comment