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In Theory: On this test, atheists and agnostics set curve

October 01, 2010

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life just published the results of a survey on religious knowledge in America. On average Americans correctly answered 16 out of the survey's 32 questions about core religious teachings, and the history and major figures of the world's major religions. The survey found that atheists and agnostics on average had the highest number of correct responses, 20.9 out of 32 questions, followed closely by Jews and Mormons, who averaged 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers. However, Protestants as a whole and Catholics as a whole averaged 16 correct answers and 14.7 correct answers, respectively. As a religious/spiritual leader or commentator in the community, what is your reaction to this and how do you explain that atheists and agnostics performed the best on this survey?

The reason atheists have the higher scores is that they did their due diligence. Atheism is a very individualistic discovery. One does not turn away from their childhood indoctrination easily. There is no "born-again" atheism or "church of atheism." As one studies their religion rooted in the bronze-age era, one sees the contradictions and sometimes barbaric ideologies of that religion.

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"Why were so many people killed by a loving god," one might ask.

I will boldly assume that it is easier to believe in the supernatural as long as one doesn't question it. The "slippery slope" starts with questions and turns into inadequate explanations of a belief system. Some apostates know had a very tumultuous time leaving their faith. The ex-Mormons of my local discussion group, backyardskeptics.com, have the courage to "come out" even though they know their friends and families will ostracize them and even divorce them.

Once one turns to atheism, it's easy to see why we know more about it — we have to know more if we are to leave in institution of supernatural superstitions.

Bruce Gleason

Director, Freethought Alliance

Backyardskeptics.com 

The survey showed a clear relationship between educational attainment and religious knowledge. The more education respondents had, the better they did answering general knowledge questions and the higher they scored on questions which were specifically about religion. Jews and Mormons were just fractions behind atheists/agnostics. What values, traditions, conditions and other factors contribute to educational attainment?

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