Atheists outperform “protheists” on religion test

| 141 Comments

According to an article, “Basic religion test stumps many Americans,” in yesterday’s New York Times, atheists and agnostics scored better than “protheists” on a basic religion test administered by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Pew Forum telephoned 3400 people and asked them 32 questions concerning the Bible, world religions, well-known religious figures, and “the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.” According to the Times article, atheists and agnostics, Jews, and Mormons, with an average of 20-21 correct answers out of 32, scored significantly better than the rest of the population, even after the results were corrected for demographic factors. The majority of people answered barely half the questions correctly, and many could not even answer questions about their own religion.

The format was mostly multiple choice and included questions like, “Where was Jesus born? What is Ramadan? Whose writings inspired the Protestant Reformation? Which Biblical figure led the exodus from Egypt? What religion is the Dalai Lama? Joseph Smith? Mother Teresa?” Many people do not know much about their own religions either:

¶ Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

¶ Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

¶ Forty-three percent of Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the foremost rabbinical authorities and philosophers, was Jewish.

You might think that this survey gives new meaning to the old rhetorical question, “Is the Pope Catholic?” But, as it happens, 82 % knew that Mother Teresa was Catholic.

Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to read that 89 % of respondents knew that public school teachers are not permitted to lead a class in prayer. On the other hand, fewer than one quarter knew that a public school teacher is permitted “to read from the Bible as an example of literature,” and only one third knew that public schools may teach comparative religion.

Regular readers of Panda’s Thumb tolerate a lot of ignoramuses who think they know more about biology, geology, or cosmology than the experts; it now seems that they may know less about religion than the atheists.

Footnote: I did not read the source document, only the Times article, but one thing I noticed was that people who classified themselves as “nothing in particular” scored about 15 out of 32. If a very large fraction of these people were agnostics or atheists but did not identify themselves as such, then they would have brought down the score for agnostics or atheists.

Appendix: According to a graph in the Times, which I will not reproduce, average number of correct answers out of 32 questions: atheists/agnostics, 20.9; Jewish, 20.5; Mormon, 20.3; white evangelical Protestant, 17.6; white Catholic, 16.0; white mainline Protestant, 15.8; nothing in particular, 15.2; black Protestant, 13.4; Hispanic Catholic, 11.6.

141 Comments

There was a 10-question sample on one net article, and the questions struck me as mostly amazingly simple. Like asking “what color is the back of a greenback?”

The question of leading a class in prayer being answered correctly by 89% sounds better at first glance than it actually is. As Matt Young points out, that answer is simply consistent with the overall “understanding” that religion has been outlawed in schools. So the pattern of answers was: they can’t lead prayers, they can’t read from the bible, they can’t discuss religion even comparatively, teachers have to avoid all mention of religion under all circumstances.

Now they should compare knowledge of science between the two groups. Or even more so, compare the knowledge of science by those who accept evolution, and those who do not.

Glen Davidson

This is definitely in keeping with what I’ve experienced, I know way more Atheists who have read the bible than I do Christians.

~Rhaco

You can get the full report here. Right-hand side, look for “VIII. Download Full Report (3MB PDF).”

If you want to see a good example of a self proclaimed christian who doesn’t understand the bible, just go over to the bathroom wall where one has spewed 350 pages of nonsense.

I took the 15 question version on the Pew Forum site. Had a total brain-fart on the Jewish Sabbath one (forgot the technicality about when it starts; really ashamed of that one as one of my favorite instructors was an increasingly-observant Jew and we often talked religion between classes) and I confess to not knowing the answer for the last question, about the first Great Awakening. Wound up with 13/15. After passing the quiz around to everybody I know, the lowest score reported back to me was 11/15. All my friends are above average! Is… is this what it’s like to be in Mensa? ;)

That test is extremely basic (you can see what the questions were via eric’s link above).

I knew all the answers without even looking at the multiple choices, except for Edwards and the “first awakening”. And that one was pretty easy after I eliminated Billy Graham.

Anyway, I’ve said many times that Americans make vague claims to be religious, but are not religious in behavior. It’s also been shown by comparing church attendance claims with church parking lot vehicle counts on Sunday and so on.

Traditional Christian denominations provided major support for the civil rights movement. Since then, most of what is called Christianity has been just a backlash - actually an Orwellian device to allow people whose goals are mean-spirited, short-sighted, selfish in a foolish way, and largely motivated by unjustified hate and irrational fear, to claim to be “moral”. If all you know about the Bible is that some guy said that some other guy said that the Bible says it’s okay to stick it to the homos, and that you can do anything you want and still get 72 virgins eternal life if you say a magic formula every once in a while, well then, you probably won’t be able to identify the basic theme of the Book of Job, and you probably won’t care.

I’m not anti-religion, don’t use the term “atheist”, but most peoples’ religious claims, which I rarely care about, are usually at best harmless cultural characteristics and at worst enabling defenses which validate destructive behavior.

You can get the full report .…

Sorry - I should have given that link and not relied on the Times to supply it, but I had an attack of Shortheimer’s disease and um

With regard to the term atheist - I meet some peoples’ definition of the term and am not offended in the least to have it applied to me.

I simply slightly prefer the more accurate term “apatheist”.

To echo Flint above, it was interesting to me that after I did the 15-question sampler on the Pew site, I was reviewing the breakdown of how different groups answered specific questions. The white evangelicals seemed to correctly understand that a teacher shall not lead a class prayer (over 90% got it right), but only 11% of them understood that using the bible for comparative literature is okay by the SCOTUS. While their misunderstanding of the law is reflective of their overall culture-war/Xian persecution complex, I see it as a GOOD thing that they don’t think they can use the bible for comparative literature. I am thinking of all the secular kids being spared the nonsense and stealth proselytizing.

Wheels said:

I took the 15 question version on the Pew Forum site. Had a total brain-fart on the Jewish Sabbath one (forgot the technicality about when it starts; really ashamed of that one as one of my favorite instructors was an increasingly-observant Jew and we often talked religion between classes) and I confess to not knowing the answer for the last question, about the first Great Awakening. Wound up with 13/15. After passing the quiz around to everybody I know, the lowest score reported back to me was 11/15. All my friends are above average! Is… is this what it’s like to be in Mensa? ;)

I don’t know about Mensa - but allegedly that’s what Lake Wobegon is like :)

I got a 14/15 - missed the last question as well - the analysis is pretty good as well - I’d be curious to see the overall score of all PT posters (pro evolution vs con)

my bet - anti evolutionists don’t know anything about any religion but thier own (or they share the same mis-informed opinions so get the same questions wrong) so 7 or 8 of 15 at best

Most peoples religious identification is more tribal than devotional so it’s not surprising that they aren’t up on the details. It costs nothing to say that you believe in god and it helps to stay solid with your friends and family. It’s been said before but bears repeating that once you get down to actually studying what the scriptures say, your faith suffers so it’s not surprising that atheists know them better.

I’d be curious to see the overall score of all PT posters (pro evolution vs con)

I am a casual PT poster (maybe 5 times ever?) and scored 15/15. The friend that sent it to me scored 13/15, she was Catholic and is now lapsed, I would be considered a GA.

It’s been said before but bears repeating that once you get down to actually studying what the scriptures say, your faith suffers so it’s not surprising that atheists know them better.

The Times quotes Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, as saying,

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.

Perhaps I should have included that quotation in the original post. I have no idea whether the claim is accurate, but certainly unbelief increases with general education.

What got me was the Martin Luther question. 47% of Protestants? Seriously? How can you call yourself protestant when you don’t know who did the actual protesting or what they were protesting about.

The only rational explanation I could come up with is, 53% of the time a five-year-old answered the phone.

~=Apatheist, scored 15 (eliminated Billy G and then guessed the last question). Of course, growing up in the UK, I got 45 minutes of religious instruction/education a week, and a daily act of collective worship. It’s the law…

You asked for it, Jason. I’m only an occasional PT poster, but a longtime atheist, and my score was 15/15, though I had to guess on the last question too.

Just for the record: 15 correct out of 15. Affiliation: former Evangelical Protestant convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. (didn’t see any stats for Orthodox test takers at the site).

As I mentioned above, another 15/15 (might not have gotten the Edwards question if there had been more plausible wrong choices).

Apatheist, raised in a rural Baptist church in Canada; irregular attendance as a child, but all holidays. Never experienced any abuse or nastiness.

15/15: guessed on the last question as well. Affiliation: former Lutheran (minnesota type)and now knows that god(s) does(do) not exist after having read the bible three times (I can be a little slow). (is that a non-theist?)

Re: Low scores for fundagelicals - What can you expect from a cultural pattern that values scientific illiteracy and takes pride in its willful ignorance? And now we see it’s not just about evolution and science, but even their own religion - that’s some serious mental illness.

Some (most?) of that “nothing in particular” group will be the fluffy-brained people who regard themselves as “spiritual” (and believe in angels, healing crystals etc etc), since they don’t seem to have been given another option on the poll with which to identify themselves more closely. It would fit very well with their level of ignorance of the specifics of religion.

Hee hee, what fun! Full marks for me too, although I had to guess Joseph Smith’s religion and the 1st Great Awakener.

Grew up with the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian/Calvinist), but never quite managed to let Jebus into my heart, so was nevr really a Xian.

DNA_Jock said: …Of course, growing up in the UK, I got 45 minutes of religious instruction/education a week, and a daily act of collective worship. It’s the law…

DNA_Jock: you didn’t have the misfortune to go to a perverts’ paradise state run catholic school, did you? I had the Religious Education classes once a week for 2 years in high school, but not the daily brainwashing.

The Founding Mothers said:

Hee hee, what fun! Full marks for me too, although I had to guess Joseph Smith’s religion and the 1st Great Awakener.

Grew up with the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian/Calvinist), but never quite managed to let Jebus into my heart, so was nevr really a Xian.

DNA_Jock said: …Of course, growing up in the UK, I got 45 minutes of religious instruction/education a week, and a daily act of collective worship. It’s the law…

DNA_Jock: you didn’t have the misfortune to go to a perverts’ paradise state run catholic school, did you? I had the Religious Education classes once a week for 2 years in high school, but not the daily brainwashing.

No. Church of England boarding schools for me. Boy did we envy the Jewish lad: no chapel for him! Although it was something of a perverts’ paradise…

I bet FL would have failed this one, but only because “Jesus rode a velociraptor into town that day” was not a valid response to any of the questions.

The atheist probes for answers, and finding none, rejects the unsubstantiated supernatural claims of the pious. The believer, on the other hand, blindly accepts what he’s led to believe without question and need not trouble himself to ask for any kind of evidence.

15/15. Read the whole thing cover-to-cover several times in various English translations, plus large bits in Luther’s German Rendition, and a fair bit of the Greek stuff in Greek.

Some (most?) of that “nothing in particular” group will be the fluffy-brained people who regard themselves as “spiritual” (and believe in angels, healing crystals etc etc), since they don’t seem to have been given another option on the poll with which to identify themselves more closely. It would fit very well with their level of ignorance of the specifics of religion.

Of course, although I don’t believe in angels or healing crystals, I will note a couple of big differences between this type of belief and creationism.

There is no evidence for the healing power crystals, but the idea does not directly contradict cosmology, astronomy, geology, biology etc. Neither is it correlated with climate change denialism, HIV/AIDS denialism, or vaccine denialism http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2[…]_science.php

I am also unaware of - and I lived in New Mexico for a couple of years in the nineties - I am also unaware of any major political party being unduly influence by people who believe in the healing power of crystals. Nor of any attempt to contradict science in public schools and teach healing crystal dogma instead.

Wheels said:

I took their 15 question test. Misread one question too fast and got it wrong. I did not know about the Great Awakening. Got 13/15, though I deserve a 14/15.

And I am an agnostic Hindu. Not surprised at all by the survey results.

While many people here may have forgotten Edwards’ name, I bet they will recall his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” It’s the one that likens Yahweh to a sadist holding a spider over a candle flame—and yes, that’s meant to make you want to worship Yahweh.

I love it how you finish the bloody stupid set of questions - I got 40%, by the way, answering with my theist hat on for the nonce - and what you get at the end is an ad for a loans company.

“Christian” it isn’t. But then, neither is FL.

Taking the test in its entirety, is a good way to check out some of the huge differences between what the Bible teaches and what evolution teaches.

I’d pose the question of why I would want to know that – but then you might think I wanted an answer.

FL said:

I understand what you’re saying Mrg, but.…it’s a quiz on biblical creationism, NOT a quiz on evolution.

Taking the test in its entirety, is a good way to check out some of the huge differences between what the Bible teaches and what evolution teaches.

(Also a good way to test what you personaly know or don’t know about creationism at this time.)

FL

So how come neither you, nor this test explain where in the Bible Jesus said He would send any and all of His followers to Hell to burn forever for not reading the Book of Genesis word for word literally, and how come neither you, nor this test can explain why we should assume the entirety of the Book of Genesis needs to be read literally, save for the phrase of “windows of Heaven,” which must be read as a metaphor?

Is it because the test was written by an idiot, and you’re a bullshitting liar?

mrg said:

Taking the test in its entirety, is a good way to check out some of the huge differences between what the Bible teaches and what evolution teaches.

I’d pose the question of why I would want to know that – but then you might think I wanted an answer.

You also noticed how neither FL nor his inane test explain why we need to use the Bible as a science textbook under pain of eternal damnation?

Evolution doesn’t “teach”. It explains the evident inter-relatedness of pretty much everything living thing, the nested hierarchies of concurrent species, the geographic and temporal (time-line) nearness of close relatives, the correlations between genetic and anatomical and biochemical differences, the observed small changes over time in some living species, and no doubt lots of other things that an actual biologist could think of; this list is off the top of the head of an amateur in the subject.

Henry J

FL said:

I understand what you’re saying Mrg, but.…it’s a quiz on biblical creationism, NOT a quiz on evolution.

Taking the test in its entirety, is a good way to check out some of the huge differences between what the Bible teaches and what evolution teaches.

(Also a good way to test what you personaly know or don’t know about creationism at this time.)

FL

The Bible doesn’t teach anything, you idolater! Why do you keep mistaking a man-made BOOK for your God? MEN use the Bible to teach all sorts of silly things, and mindless ppl like you lap them up like dogs.

Actually, it doesn’t show us what the bible teaches. It shows us what a PARTICULAR and non mainstream interpretation teaches. Any Christian can accept evolution and still be a Christian.

FL said:

I understand what you’re saying Mrg, but.…it’s a quiz on biblical creationism, NOT a quiz on evolution.

Taking the test in its entirety, is a good way to check out some of the huge differences between what the Bible teaches and what evolution teaches.

(Also a good way to test what you personaly know or don’t know about creationism at this time.)

FL

Dave Luckett said:

I love it how you finish the bloody stupid set of questions - I got 40%, by the way, answering with my theist hat on for the nonce - and what you get at the end is an ad for a loans company.

“Christian” it isn’t. But then, neither is FL.

I rather liked the “Join our Christian dating chat room” ad that came up. Thought about it too. Must be an awful lot of easily taken in suckers users over there. {mutley}snicker snicker snicker{/mutley}

Malchus said:

…Any Christian can accept evolution and still be a Christian.

Actually, FL believes that the only Christian allowed to accept that evolution is true and still be a Christian is the Pope, and that’s only because the Pope has magical and mystical authority.

FL said:

So step up to the plate, all ye Pandas. Put your darwinian neurons to the REAL test, with a Creationism Quiz!!

(I’d wish you luck, except I don’t believe in luck. Sorry!)

Another sermon masquerading as a quiz.

FL said:

I understand what you’re saying Mrg, but.…it’s a quiz on biblical creationism, NOT a quiz on evolution.

No, it’s a quiz on whether you believe in Creationism. I couldn’t get a good score on it without lying. Now if it were to say, “Fundamenalist Creationists believe …” before each question, I’m guessing I’d get a 100% on it. But I couldn’t bring myself to lie to get a good score, and didn’t see any point in getting a zero by answering truthfully.

FL said:

Did anyone else notice that, despite his usual bluster, FL never mentioned actually taking the online test or what score he got (not that he couldn’t just lie about his result anyway,?)

15 out of 15, honestly. (I’m sure you’re being honest about your reported score too.)

FL

Umm…so you freely admit that your claim of 15 of 15 is false? LOL! You’re a piece of work, FL! Once again demonstrating that the last thing your particular take on “Christianity” provides you with is an a decent ethical system.

Couldn’t resist adding my comment as I took the test and got 100%. Not only am I an atheist but I’m English into the bargain!

The only thing that annoyed me was I couldn’t say so on the on-line test.

FL said:

Oh, I don’t know about all that. My own favorite is the CARM theology test, btw. ( http://carm.org/theological-test )

Looking at this “test”, I would add the following entirely consonant query:

I will stop beating my wife

[] Now

[] Tomorrow

[] Next week

[] Never.

And the next “question” in line will be

In the unlikely event that I ever decide to announce to the press that I am considering not beating my wife, the fallacious tissue of lies that I will attempt to fob off on the public will be

[] It was a mistake. Everybody makes mistakes.

[] She deserves it, but I am merciful.

[] I’m tired of trying to explain the difference between “love taps” and “beating”.

[] I’m tired of trying to explain the footage that shows up on youtube every few days.

FL said:

****

Side note for Leo: stick around and observe things a while. Eventually you’ll find that evolution is as much about religious belief, (a very negative religious belief called materialism), as it is about “science”.

The fact is that Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. (Irreconcilably, irreparably, and intractably incompatible.)

That constant element of tension, generates much interest and ensures that discussion of assorted religious topics will regularly surface within one thread or another. Enjoy!

FL

Again, FL (Frequent Liar?) you throw out the canard the “Evolution” and “Christianity” are not compatible

Those 2 words don’t mean (apparently) what you think they mean.

Billions of practicing Christians are able to reconcile the 2

jasonmitchell said:

FL said:

****

Side note for Leo: stick around and observe things a while. Eventually you’ll find that evolution is as much about religious belief, (a very negative religious belief called materialism), as it is about “science”.

The fact is that Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. (Irreconcilably, irreparably, and intractably incompatible.)

That constant element of tension, generates much interest and ensures that discussion of assorted religious topics will regularly surface within one thread or another. Enjoy!

FL

Again, FL (Frequent Liar?) you throw out the canard the “Evolution” and “Christianity” are not compatible

Those 2 words don’t mean (apparently) what you think they mean.

Billions of practicing Christians are able to reconcile the 2

According to FL’s previous handwaving lies, the “Billions of practicing Christians (who) are able to reconcile the 2” all don’t count, with the sole exception of the Pope.

Though, there was one time where FL pretended to be able to read the Pope’s mind, and claimed that the Pope was really lying about accepting Evolution as true.

FL said:

Did anyone else notice that, despite his usual bluster, FL never mentioned actually taking the online test or what score he got (not that he couldn’t just lie about his result anyway,?)

15 out of 15, honestly. (I’m sure you’re being honest about your reported score too.)

Meanwhile, would you boys like one more religious challenge? Of course you would.

So step up to the plate, all ye Pandas. Put your darwinian neurons to the REAL test, with a Creationism Quiz!!

(I’d wish you luck, except I don’t believe in luck. Sorry!)

Here ya go:

http://www.christianet.com/bible/creationism.htm

FL

I took it - 64%, however I suspect interpreted some of the questions differently than other (fundamentalists) might - I assumed poetic/ allegorical meanings where poetic language was used -

“Is the Pope.…. is not a rhetorical question, Like “Does Bear…etc. it is a device to answer a direct question, without actually saying “Yes”, or “No”.

Yes! 15/15 for me, although I guessed the last one by eliminating Billy Graham, and then gambling that Q14 and Q15 wouldn’t both use Option B as the answer, so I selected Option A, and Bingo. All the rest was easy-peasy, though. It really does show you that Xians have an unfounded persecution complex, when they mistakenly think teachers can’t mention religion at all, at all, at all…

I got 15/15 on that test. That was only the most basic information about those religions. How could anyone not get a good score on that?

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on September 29, 2010 11:41 AM.

98.77% Wrong was the previous entry in this blog.

How the Popular Press Writes a Science Report is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter