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Atheists excel in religious knowledge - Comments

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 1 by Cartomancer

This is not at all surprising. Nor, in fact, is it particularly new. While attempts at quantification are somewhat modern, people have been doing surveys like this for centuries. During the counter-reformation the catholic church first tried to ascertain the degree of knowledge held by ordinary people about the religion they professed, and were shocked by how little knowledge most people had - even on questions such as "how many gods are there?"

I think the most important conclusion that can be drawn from this, however, is that for most people religion simply isn't ABOUT knowledge. It's about generating feelings of belonging or social allegiance, and the tying of ones colours to a mast.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:09:44 UTC | #526117

helen sotiriadis's Avatar Comment 2 by helen sotiriadis

why would it be surprising that religion and ignorance are related?

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:24:20 UTC | #526125

shaunfletcher's Avatar Comment 3 by shaunfletcher

I did their 15 question quiz, and expected to do badly as i dont consider myself especially knowledgeable. Apparently I am more knowledgable than 93% of people though which is shocking.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:27:16 UTC | #526127

David M (UK)'s Avatar Comment 4 by David M (UK)

Maybe believers in god tend to have an abundance of faith. So much, that they have faith that their faith is correct. They have faith in people of the same 'faith'. They seem to have faith they don't need any thing else, including evidence. I think faith is a bit lazy actually, thinking about evidence is not always easy, but we can't just give up.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:30:27 UTC | #526129

foundationist's Avatar Comment 5 by foundationist

I just made the short version of the test linked in the article and got 14 out of 15. Being german and not very interested in Mormonism means I know next to nothing about them. All the other questions are very fundamental stuff on the bible and the three Abrahamic religions and some very easy-to-answer questions about the separation of church and state. To score 16 out of 32 as the average american did sounds pretty bad to me. If you substract the people who were right by chance (there were 3 possible answers for most questions, meaning you'll get an average 11 out of 32 if you just hit buttons randomly), then this is a poor result indeed.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:33:06 UTC | #526132

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 6 by Stevehill

Ignorance is (heavenly) bliss, it transpires.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:37:30 UTC | #526135

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 7 by SaganTheCat

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics

who are atheists to make claims about religion?!

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:42:14 UTC | #526139

Anvil's Avatar Comment 8 by Anvil

Yeah, nothing surprising here. Still, this is a great quote that'll have pride of place on the office wall for a week or two:

“Atheism is an effect of ...knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”


Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:43:31 UTC | #526140

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 9 by Richard Dawkins

Where are you finding fifteen questions? I can only find six, all of which I got right. Am I looking in the wrong place (Left hand side: "Interactive Feature"). Where are the other nine questions?


Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:46:53 UTC | #526141

minium 's Avatar Comment 10 by minium

oh goody... it's delightful being part of the clever bunch

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:49:23 UTC | #526144

Anvil's Avatar Comment 11 by Anvil

Only people of Faith can find the other nine questions, Richard.

"Seek and ye shall find!"


Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:49:28 UTC | #526145

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 12 by Cartomancer

The quiz is at this location:

Though it doesn't have a question on Maimonides on it, so I am confused as to where that particular piece of information came from. Is there another survey?

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 11:50:58 UTC | #526147

Logicel's Avatar Comment 13 by Logicel

Wonder if Shook (the one who regards atheists as know-nothings) would be shaken by these results?

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:00:14 UTC | #526150

Daisy Skipper's Avatar Comment 14 by Daisy Skipper

There are other articles that discuss this survey. Maybe each asks different questions. The NYT article I read talked about Maimonides.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:02:18 UTC | #526152

Logicel's Avatar Comment 15 by Logicel

I got 15 out of 15.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:04:30 UTC | #526153

RichardofYork's Avatar Comment 16 by RichardofYork

WOW go me 100% I have a talent for this . Anyone up for some fast money making ? Quizism is the fastest growing religion in my house

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:05:39 UTC | #526155

Logicel's Avatar Comment 17 by Logicel

I knew that Sabbath began on Friday because of my Jewish co-workers telling me that (otherwise I would have thought Saturday). All the other questions were very easy.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:06:45 UTC | #526156

rsharvey's Avatar Comment 18 by rsharvey

Comment 9 by Richard Dawkins :

Where are you finding fifteen questions? I can only find six, all of which I got right. Am I looking in the wrong place (Left hand side: "Interactive Feature"). Where are the other nine questions?


They are linked to in the body of text. Here it is anyway

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:11:05 UTC | #526158

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 19 by Mark Jones

Rats! Only got 14. Muddled up my Great Awakenings.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:11:19 UTC | #526159

AntonAAK's Avatar Comment 20 by AntonAAK

This is rather ironic when coupled with the fact that the apologists criticise Richard and others for not having a deep enough understanding of theology.

I have always found it strange that you have to have studied theology in order to be a credible non-believer but any old ignoramus is entitled to believe with no knowledge whatsoever.

Surely they should make their followers pass exams, showing that they are sophisticated believers, before being allowed to attend church or make donations...

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:15:19 UTC | #526164

CarolineMary's Avatar Comment 21 by CarolineMary

15/15 (I admit one was a guess). Worship my awesomeness!

Oh, wait...

Seriously, I am glad to see that schools are allowed to do comparative religion. So much of human history is bound up with it, it seems ridiculous not to learn such things.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:16:20 UTC | #526165

Anvil's Avatar Comment 22 by Anvil

Maybe we should start our own RDF Quiz on Religion & Public Life. I propose Question One should be:

1) What is the prescribed penalty for Adultery in Iran?

A) Stoning? or B) Hanging?

Discuss without the presence of a Lawyer.


Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:20:22 UTC | #526170

keithapm's Avatar Comment 23 by keithapm

I was a little worried at first about taking the test. I would have been devastated not to have gotten a score comparable to my fellow atheists. I needn't have worried. I could have breezed it back when I was twelve. 15/15. I know I shouldn't gloat... But I will anyway.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:21:07 UTC | #526171

jez999's Avatar Comment 24 by jez999

13/15. Jewish Sabbath is a Friday? Bahhh, they don't even follow what God, through Moses, says in their own religious text!

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:21:34 UTC | #526172

davrosfromskaro's Avatar Comment 25 by davrosfromskaro

Cartomancer published the best link (this should actually link to the page)

US Religious Knowledge

14/15 I suspect the one I got wrong was one about what teachers in the US are allowed to teach...

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:25:17 UTC | #526174

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 26 by Jonathan Dore

The full questionnaire is at

The 15 questions in the interactive version are only a sample. The footnote at the bottom of the 15-question results page says:

"This online quiz includes 15 of the 32 religious knowledge questions that made up the telephone survey. The order and context of the questions are not exactly the same in the online quiz and telephone survey. To ease the administration of the online quiz, the wording of some questions is slightly different from the wording used in the telephone survey."

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:34:50 UTC | #526178

Jonathan Dore's Avatar Comment 27 by Jonathan Dore

Comment 24 by jez999

13/15. Jewish Sabbath is a Friday? Bahhh, they don't even follow what God, through Moses, says in their own religious text!

The Jewish Sabbath begins on a Friday (at sunset), which is what the question asked.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:36:29 UTC | #526179

GermanHumanist's Avatar Comment 28 by GermanHumanist

It doesn't surprise me either.

I'm a lifelong agnostic humanist (if you can call yourself "lifelong" at 36), but I have always been interested in a wide range of religious, spiritual and philosophical ideas and issues, although my own mind is relatively firmly grounded, if occasionally wavering, in the absolute conviction that there is no "creator", nor a god.

Just because I am no subscriber to any theistic (or deistic) belief, does not mean that the subjects of faith and religion don't interest me on an intellectual level. Much of it can be downright fascinating to ponder, including the fact that the human brain seems to be hardwired to invent religions (if just by the misfiring of basic human instincts, as proposed by Professor Dawkins in The God Delusion).

I think that the less religious you are yourself, the more it opens your horizons to different religious and spiritual convictions in general. You don't see the world through the lens of your own religion being beyond argument, being the absolute truth. That does not mean I don't regard my own agnostic beliefs to be true and, as far as I am concerned, beyond doubt, but there is still a difference, whether you feel that the mere existence of other religions offends "your" god, as many religious radicals claim, or you simply see religions in general as a subject of intellectual study and pondering.

Also, I absolutely love this quote from the article:

"I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists."

I spent a year with a Southern Baptist host family in the U.S. as a teenager on a student exchange program. I think even at such a young age, being appalled by their dogmatic, radical religious lifestyle that was diametrically different from my previous liberal upbringing in my native Germany made the single biggest contribution to me becoming an agnostic humanist.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:36:41 UTC | #526181

Art Vandelay's Avatar Comment 29 by Art Vandelay

Seems fair: most religious people think they know about physics than Stephen Hawking.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:42:51 UTC | #526185

Art Vandelay's Avatar Comment 30 by Art Vandelay

Couldn't edit typo: meant to say

Seems fair: most religious people think they know more about physics than Stephen Hawking.

And of course they all trump Richard on evolutionary biology.

Tue, 28 Sep 2010 12:54:31 UTC | #526190