Atheists score higher than religious on religious survey

Pew has a new and unsurprising poll about what Americans know about religion.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age and racial differences.

“Even after all these other factors, including education, are taken into account, atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons still outperform all the other religious groups in our survey,” said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

One head of an atheist organization has an idea why we’re seeing these results.

That finding might surprise some, but not Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers that was founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “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.”

And for some, I suspect, the deep conflict between science and religion helps to inform people about the religions of the world. People see the truth of what science has to tell us, then they hear the lies of religion (miracles, for example), and they look into both more deeply. I lend much more weight to Silverman’s more straight-forward explanation, but I think there’s something to be said of my suggestion; people want to know what’s true and religion hasn’t a single answer.