Atheists know more about religion than believers

Jesus Christ

US survey finds that Jews and Mormons are the most knowledgeable people of faith

BY Jonathan Harwood LAST UPDATED AT 16:12 ON Wed 29 Sep 2010

It will come as no surprise to those who blame religion for the world's ills, but a survey in the US has discovered that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than those who say they are believers.

The poll discovered that most Protestants did not know about Martin Luther's role in the Reformation, and that almost half of Catholics were unfamiliar with the idea of transubstantiation - the concept that the Eucharist becomes the blood and body of Christ.

Those of the Jewish faith were the second most knowledgeable group after atheists and agnostics - although 43 per cent of them did not know that the philosopher Maimonides was actually a Jew.

In third place, behind atheists and agnostics and Jews came Mormons.

The poll, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, posed 32 questions on different aspects of religion. The 3,400 people who took the survey were asked about the teachings of the Bible, world faiths including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism and the role of religion in US public life.

On average, atheists and agnostics answered 20.9 of the questions correctly (65.3 per cent), while Jews and Mormons were close behind on 64 per cent and 63.4 per cent respectively.

White evangelical Protestants were the most knowledgeable Christians, but they answered only 17.6 of the 32 questions correctly. Catholics had the worst results; on average they got only 15 of the answers right.

Too few Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists took the survey for those religions to be scored.

The poll also found that fewer than half of Americans know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist, only 38 per cent identify Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism and only a quarter of Americans are aware that most people in Indonesia – the country with the world's largest Muslim population – are Muslims.

One person unsurprised by the findings was Dave Silverman, president of the non-believers' group American Atheists. He told the New York Times: "I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people. 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." · 

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