Bryan Caplan  

Rational Religious Ignorance?

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People aren't just rationally ignorant about politics and economics; they also seem to be rationally ignorant about religion.  The latest Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll weighed, measured, and found wanting the religious knowledge of over 3000 adult Americans:
More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

In addition, fewer than half of Americans (47%) know that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist. Fewer than four-in-ten (38%) correctly associate Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism. And only about a quarter of all Americans (27%) correctly answer that most people in Indonesia - the country with the world's largest Muslim population - are Muslims.

Fun fact: Atheists and agnostics are Pew's two highest-scoring groups!  This result admittedly fails to adjust for education, but it's striking nonetheless.

Now consider: If people sincerely believed that their eternal fates hinged on their knowledge of religion, their ignorance wouldn't be rational.  If you could save your soul with 40 hours of your time, you'd be mad to watch t.v. instead.  Unfortunately for religious believers, this leaves them with two unpalatable options:

1. Option #1: Deep-down, most religious believers believe that death is the end.  (This is consistent with the fact that even the pious mourn their loved ones at funerals, instead of celebrating the good fortune of the deceased).  Even if this covert atheism is mistaken, the idea that most of the people in church aren't true believers seems threatening.

2. Option #2: Most religious believers are so stupid and/or impulsive that they'll knowingly give up eternal bliss for trivial mortal pleasures.  But why then do so many believers show intelligence and self-control in other areas of life?


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COMMENTS (50 to date)
fructose writes:
OneEyedMan writes:

"Now consider: If people sincerely believed that their eternal fates hinged on their knowledge of religion, their ignorance wouldn't be rational."

Most religions demand belief and obedience, not understanding. That means there is another rational ignorance explanation. They do not care why their religion does what it does because it has no effect on their salvation.

Will Ambrosini writes:

"If people sincerely believed that their eternal fates hinged on their knowledge of religion"

Why would they believe that? I don't remember "get a doctorate in theology" was one of the conditions of my confirmation.

Brian Clendinen writes:

I would be interested in the response rates for though who attend church regularly. Add into it how much money on average the knowledgeable verse unknowable people give to their confessed religions institutions. I think though who give and attend regally will have a much higher rate. Many people call themselves a specific religion but very few of them are persuaded in that religion that is they try to live and understand the religion they profuse to follow. So the response does not surprise me at all. Unless one gives their time and money to the religion, I would say they are religious in name only. Time and money show you actually value something.

Andy writes:

I think this is a biased post. This is the first post I have ready by on religion and immediately it is evident that you are an atheist.

Non-sequiturs

1. From a Christian point of view, eternal fates do not hinge on knowledge of religion. It seems like u understand this, though.

2. Christians have funerals. Fact. Christian funerals explicitly recognize that the dead are in a better place. Fact.

3. That said, deaths are definitely emotional and could be looked at as sad for a number of reasons even though that person is in heaven.

a. That person was young and in their future would have converted many people to Christianity. Billy Graham dying very young would have been a tragedy.

b. That person was loved by the survivors and they are sad to see them go.

c. Remember, life is just a moment in time compared to eternity so its not like Christians are in a rush to get to heaven.

4. I have no idea what your saying in Option #2.Are you saying that religious believers self-identify as such but know that they are in fact not because they do not have much religious knowledge?

RobertB writes:

There's a third option, that most believers don't truly believe that their eternal salvation depends on specific doctrinal knowledge. I think this is consistent with the fact that most religious people recoil instinctively from the thought that all 6 billion people who aren't members of Sect X are doomed to damnation, even if that's formally part of their church's doctrine. Also consistent with the popularity of evangelical religions that claim that simply accepting Jesus is enough to save you, even if you don't know anything about doctrine.

mattnewport writes:

Atheists and agnostics are still the highest scoring even after controlling for education:

This survey and previous Pew Forum studies have shown that Jews and atheists/agnostics have high levels of educational attainment on average, which partially explains their performance on the religious knowledge survey. However, even after controlling for levels of education and other key demographic traits (race, age, gender and region), significant differences in religious knowledge persist among adherents of various faith traditions. Atheists/agnostics, Jews and Mormons still have the highest levels of religious knowledge, followed by evangelical Protestants, then those whose religion is nothing in particular, mainline Protestants and Catholics. Atheists/agnostics and Jews stand out for high levels of knowledge about world religions other than Christianity, though they also score at or above the national average on questions about the Bible and Christianity.
drobviousso writes:

I can't speak for other religions, but I don't think most Christians think their eternal fate hinges on their knowledge of religion, but on their acceptance of faith.

I read the entire poll (link via MR commenter). There was exactly 1 question that had to do with Christian faith (two, if you lump in biblical a question about literalism). Most questions were about religious trivia (what denomination was Sister Teresa?).

Questions that have to do with faith, at least for Christians, produce different correct answers based on sect. Grace or works? Purgatory? Original Sin? Born again...ism? They don't make for good, objective sounding poll results about understanding in a population.

Justin Martyr writes:

That study was flawed.

First, if you dig down you see that white evangelical Protestants know more about Christianity than atheists. It is just that atheists know more about world religions.

Secondly, I don't think the questions were truly about religion. I suspect that atheists would be more likely to know that Martin Luther launched the Reformation simply because atheists tend to be better educated and know more about history. I suspect we'd see an even wider gap if the test were about Biblical literacy instead of history. Case in point: Caplan doesn't seem to recognize that for Protestants, salvation is by faith and not by works. Knowledge of the Bible will not get you into Heaven.

Of course, I think we'd still find that most Christians are appallingly ignorant of the Bible. But even that ignorance has a rational basis. It is a backlash against the denominational fights in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most churches turned towards emphasizing a personal relationship with Jesus (which is good) but at the expense of knowledge of doctrine and the Bible (which is bad).

Carl writes:

I'm wondering what the commenters say Christians think their eternal fate hinges on. OK, so it's not knowledge of religion.

Is it adherence to the lifestyle Jesus insisted they adhere to?

Or adherence to commands of the Bible?

Because 99.9% of American Christians don't do these things either.

Hmmm...

Evan writes:

While it is true that most religions don't require extensive knowledge of their precepts for salvation, it still seems kind of weird and surreal that people don't know more about them. I remember watching a comedian (can't recall their name at the moment) who asked: "So the Bible is like one of those software licensing agreements? You just scroll down to the bottom and click 'I agree'?''

Maybe that doesn't make believers deluded or hypocrites, but it does kind of make them seem like jerks, that they can't even be bothered to learn about an entity that's supposed to have done so much for them. It makes them seem like that obnoxious acquaintance who always asks you for favors, but when pressed can't even recall your last name.

John Jenkins writes:

Religion makes me laugh. Think about a poor peasant from 2000 years ago and what he knew about the world. Assume that he is a Christian. Today, virtually everything he "knew" we know to be wrong. The only beliefs that any person today shares with that peasant are absurd and counter to everything we have ever observed about the universe, yet by calling those beliefs "religion," we give them some kind of exalted status, as though they did not reflect horrible ignorance.

It seems to me that the reason that agnostics and atheists know more about religion than believers is that knowledge of religion is a precondition to rejecting it. The more you know about religion and its absurd claims, the harder it is to reconcile those claims with reality. To be more than a child and maintain any kind of faith, you simply cannot inquire deeply into theology. You just have to ignore it and take the C.S. Lewis route ("Mere Christianity") to which RobertB alludes.

Justin Martyr writes:

Hi Carl,

Protestants hold that salvation is by faith alone (Rom. 10:9, John 3:16). Catholics hold that salvation is by faith, works, and sacraments.

Secondly, your assertions are empirically wrong. I know of the Barna studies and whatnot, but they are flawed. If you look at better studies like the General Social Survey and the Pew Religious Landscape survey you find that Christians do indeed have lower rates of things like divorce. See Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites for an accessible tour of the survey data.

Third, and I've found this a difficult concept to explain on philosophy blogs but it should be easy on an economics blog, is the role of signaling. Let's suppose that Christians are "good types" and that non-believers are "bad types". Because Christians are good types people will preferentially cooperate with and affiliate with them. This means that some "bad types" will adopt the public signals of Christianity even though they aren't really believers. They will try to give a deceptive signal of being a member of a good type.

On this view, hypocrisy is not evidence against true religious belief, but rather, evidence for it. People only give deceptive signals of things that have objective real world significance.

Pat writes:

You're really reaching here. RobertB is right

"If people sincerely believed that their eternal fates hinged on their knowledge of religion.."

Strawman!

Some religions teach that eternal fate hinges on their belief in that religion. As long as you believe it, why do you need to learn about other religions?

Other religions teach that eternal fate hinges on living a good life and not turning away from God (knowing the truth of God but then rejecting it.) This leaves room for the ignorant.

You're better than this. Rational ignorance is your hammer, everything in this world and beyond looks like a nail

MikeP writes:

For most Christians, the entirety of their eternal fate is found in two brief passages:

John 3:16...

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Ephesians 2:8-9...

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Taimyoboi writes:

Brian Clendinen has it right I think. The results from the quiz note that individuals who attend service at least weekly outperformed those who seldomly or never attend service (52% to 49%). Presumably never attends captures atheists and agnostics, and not just lapsed religious.

Loweeel writes:

At least from everything I've seen, Atheists/Agnostics together comprise the ONE group with the best scores. I haven't seen any story or data related to this study that breaks apart the two groups as opposed to lumping them together. I'd be very interested as to how they differ from each other.

And given the closeness of their score to the score of Jews, I wonder if the difference is even statistically significant. I also wonder which category it includes agnostic/atheist/non-religious Jews (which, as we should remember, is still largely an ethnic group that is largely co-extensive with a religion, rather than "just" a religion).

liberty writes:

I agree with the other comments that your choices are way off base. Either they are utter morons or "most religious believers believe that death is the end."

Really? Only an adamant atheist would choose that as the only alternative explanation. How about, "most religious believers believe that their fate won't hinge on knowledge but faith" or "most religious believers believe that there is little they can do to change their fate" - or some combination, or something else similar.

As an "agnostic" or non-atheist with no formal religion, I would not say that I think that "death is the end" so I doubt many more religious people believe that either. Yet, with so much uncertainty and so little assurance that any number of hours will really help, it isn't surprising that people choose to focus on the things they think are most likely to help, if anything might help, such as being a decent person, perhaps going to church sometimes, trying to have some faith perhaps, etc.

Kurbla writes:

Bryan is right about this. Religion is the best example of rational irrationality.

In my opinion, Protestant Christian cannot defend his lack of knowledge with simple idea "Oh, I know that belief saves, not knowledge, so I'm over with this." Why not? Because that simple idea hides horrific truth: the best thing he can do in his life is - to kill his children while they still believe in Jesus. If they grow up they might become atheists.

If faced with this, Christian simply - do not care. They find ad hoc answer, and move on. They ban the messenger from mailing list because he disturbs them.

(Meta question: who is guilty if some Protestant kill his children after reading this comment? Kurbla? Econlog? God? Meta answer: Satan. Now we can move on.)

Blackadder writes:

Controlling for education isn't sufficient. You need to control for IQ. If you do that most of the differences disappear, except for Mormons, who end up looking even more impressive.

Incidentally, nonbelievers are actually broken up into two categories in the survey: "Atheist/Agnostic" and "Nothing in particular." People in the "Atheist/Agnostic" category know a lot. "Nothing in particular" not so much. If you look at data on IQ you find the same thing. People who describe themselves as atheists or agnostics tend to be fairly smart; people who give some other description of themselves that amounts to agnosticism are much less so. I suspect that the survey data makes atheists and agnostics look smarter as a group than they actually are, because stupid agnostics don't know what the word agnostic means.

Pat writes:

Kurbla, that would be really smart except for the thou shalt not kill and eternal damnation stuff.

Azazello13 writes:

"Not surprisingly, those who said they attended worship at least once a week and considered religion important in their lives often performed better on the overall survey. However, level of education was the best predictor of religious knowledge."

that sounds about right to me. people who just nominally "believe in god" but don't make it a big deal in their lives (probably a large minority, if not an outright majority of americans would fall into this category) tend not to dig very deep, and therefore don't attain much knowledge. people who make it a commitment in their lives did well in the survey. people in the atheist/agnostic camp often feel as if they're taking sort of a renegade position compared with most of society, so they often try and arm themselves with some "debunking" knowledge -- they're certainly more concerned/interested with the information than the great mass of merely nominal "yeah sure, I believe in God, but whatever" believers. that's what this poll seems to reflect.

MikeP writes:

...stupid agnostics don't know what the word agnostic means.

It takes one to not know one.

rapscallion writes:

I agree that in many ways most religious people don’t really “believe” what they profess, but I don’t like the argument of point 1.

I don’t think it’s fair to accuse religious people of hypocrisy because they are sad around funerals. Sadness in the face of death is an instinctive, arational reaction that all people have and for which religious doctrines serve as palliatives. Indeed, consoling the bereaved is one of the primary functions of religion. Most religious believers acknowledge that logically they ought to be happy—so their state of mind can’t be fairly labeled as hypocritical. Also, one could just as well argue that atheists ought to be happy at funerals if the death eased pain.

BV writes:

Bryan,
How often do you change your mind after posting? Do you still believe that there are only two options?

*IF* I take a literal meaning to your conditional:

(If people sincerely believed that their eternal fates hinged on their knowledge of religion, their ignorance wouldn't be rational)

*THEN* I think you're on solid ground. Unfortunately I don't think that's the way you intended this post to be interpreted.

William writes:

Exceedingly few Catholics or Protestants believe that knowing when Mormonism was founded will allow them to get into heaven. Nor whether or not teachers can read the Bible in school as literature, according to the Supreme Court.

These questions and more like them are on the actual survey. You are wrong about the survey's implications.

EricK writes:

I don't think Bryan's arguments are as easy to dismiss as some people here are claiming.

Consider this:
True believers believe that their religion is important - even of infinite importance.

Therefore true believers believe that choice of religion is of importance - even of infinite importance.

Therefore true believers would study as much religion as possible to ensure they are making the right choice.

The fact that so many don't do this casts doubt on their belief altogether.

This is especially true of faith-based religions. Presumably deed-based religions can believe that even good atheists will go to heaven.

Kurbla writes:

Another interesting (but less dramatic) corollary of "Belief saves" is "Satanism saves." Kid Satanist who insult Jesus and performs blasphemous rituals in his garage with (boring) sounds of Gorgoroth in the background is on the safe ground. Only at the moment he says "oh, those things do not exist, and Lady Gaga is way sexier than this freaky singer", he is doomed to eternal death (or kinda.)

Blackadder writes:

Kurbla,

Your hypothetical would make sense only if Christians thought that belief in anything saved, which they do not.

Is it too much to ask that people know something about a belief system before they criticize it?

Justin Martyr writes:

Hi Kurbla,

In my opinion, Protestant Christian cannot defend his lack of knowledge with simple idea "Oh, I know that belief saves, not knowledge, so I'm over with this." Why not? Because that simple idea hides horrific truth: the best thing he can do in his life is - to kill his children while they still believe in Jesus. If they grow up they might become atheists.

It is not clear what happens when children die.

1. All children go to heaven. But God wants everyone to be saved. Would killing children lead to effective evangelism over the long haul? The answer is almost certainly no. It would repulse non-believers (it is worth noting that pagan religions in Canaan routinely practiced child sacrifice, something that Jews and Christians rejected).

2. God judges children based on counterfactuals. If they lived until adulthood would they believe in Jesus?

3. The Catholic doctrine of limbo is actually pretty compelling, and I say that as a Protestant. God punishes sinners based on their deeds but also based on their knowledge of the law, including what is written on the heart. Small children have original sin and cannot have faith in Christ, but they are essentially innocent in terms of intentionally sinning. They have done nothing to merit punishment. Limbo is a term that conceptualizes the "outer reaches" of hell. It is a separation from God, but without any punishment. Instead it is a perfectly pleasant place, but without oneness with God.

Any of these positions answers your challenge. In my experience, the vast majority of atheists live in an echo chamber and have not seriously engaged Christian thought. They may read Matthew Yglesias when they want to understand progressive, but when it comes to Christianity, they seek out the most ignorant believers they can find.

Steve Sailer writes:

How much different would the rank order turn out -- atheists and Jews doing best, black Protestants and Latino Catholics doing worst -- if the test were not about knowledge of religion but about knowledge of, say, geography or history or math or whatever?

Guy in the Veal Calf Office writes:

Wouldn't the survey have been a better jumping off point for your notion if it, say, asked Catholics whether they believed in the affirmations in the Nicean Creed, instead of Historical Trivia questions?

Peter writes:

@ EricK:

You logic doesn't work. True believers believe their religion is the only truth hence anybody who doesn't believe in it is false or bad. The part you are missing is the believe as truth.

If a scientist believes the earth is round (and can see it for himself), there no point for him trying to read hundreds of years of flat-earth literature as a need to confirm his belief in a round earth is true.

Once you adjust to the fact that true believers take whatever as a law of nature as much as gravity then rest is easy to follow. True believers in gravity don't know much about the history or science of gravity either yet it doesn't mean they secretly don't actually believe in gravity or are simply stupid.

Daniel writes:

As an agnostic and former Christian, let me pile on Brian with most of the rest of you: knowing who Martin Luther was has NOTHING to do with getting to Heaven according to ANY version of Christianity.

It really was a silly thesis, and Brian desires the piling on. You remember Devon's old joke about how economists would "study" a horse? They wouldn't observe them. They'd go into their offices and ponder the question, "What would I do, if I were a horse?"

This is just Brian's "What would I do, if I were a believer in Religion X?".

That said, even as a Christian, I wondered why Christians, good and mature Christians, feared death. Sure, no one wants to leave your wife and kids behind, but the fear of death seemed to go way beyond that.

And to take a leaf from Kurbla's book, I still wonder how they don't see what a good deal, worldwide, abortion is. The aborted die in innocence and go straight to Heaven. In fact, the number of people who are going to Heaven because they were aborted must rival or exceed the number going because they accepted Jesus!

All this is a subset of one basic fact: very few evangelical Christians live like you think that they would if they really believed their religion (and had a planning horizon commensurate to it).

It's like someone once said: there's really only one good arguement against Christianity: Christians.

Pandaemoni writes:

It is an interesting survey, but as others have noted, having a command of the certain details of religion and religious history (some might say the minutiae of one's religion) isn't necessarily the test of the subjective validity or value of that religion. I think that especially true when it comes to identifying historical figures within one's religion, like Martin Luther or Maimonides. Even Lutherans are not in any spiritual trouble if they fail to know who Martin Luther was (although that ignorance might be it hard to get through their catechism).

I still do think that it is curious that, by some accounts in certain religions, the expected payoff to believers should be extremely high, yet people in those religions devote such a seemingly limited amount of time to the practice and/or doctrine. Extra devotion or religious knowledge may not be required to receive the benefits of the religion, but surely it must help one to better follow the religion's tenets and avoid pitfalls that might inadvertantly lead one to go astray. (If not, what is the point of all the "excess" observances and/or doctrine in the first place?) On the assumption that the extra effort does help, it often does seem to me that certain believers underinvest in the religious components of their lives.

Perhaps I am simply underestimating the effect of time value calculations on the benefits that will arise only after death, although in perpetuity. (It does seem that as people age or come into dangerous situations that their piety increases, suggesting some rationality to the process.)

On the other hand, much as humans are nototiously bad at rationally analyzing low probability events, perhaps we have a similar bias in analyzing unobservable events. One may sincerely believe in a perfect afterlife, or that believers will become gods themselves, etc., but thanks to the cognitive bias, one underinvests in the awesome, but unobservable outcome. I can easily imagine such a cognitive defect being benefically adaptive in an evolutionary sense, since it would focus one on worldly concerns and thereby possibly enhance survivability.

That is all rank and superficial speculation on my part, of course, but I do find it interesting to think about.

Steve Reilly writes:

Bryan, are you sure the test doesn't control for education?

The Pew site's server is too busy now so I can't check the original study, but the NY Times quotes someone from Pew as saying, "“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”.

agnostic writes:

Religion is not about belief but practice, even for so-called faith-based religions. Why do faith-only religious people go to church, operate good will stores, donate blood, allow other community groups to meet in their church basement, etc.?

That's why the average religious person is into religion -- not because they got a doctorate in theology and are true believers, but because they want to participate in the practices and maybe learn about how to live a better life, again through practices rather than beliefs.

And that's why atheists and Jews did really well -- they see religion more from an intellectual viewpoint. It's one more source to mine for factoids that will help them dominate the next game of Trivial Pursuit. Those looking for better practices have no use for non-actionable bits of knowledge.

Greg Ransom writes:

Add Obama to the list of the rationally ignorant.

According to what Obama tells people, the President believes that the core doctrines of Christianity are based on a phrase in William Tyndale's translation of the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel story, and a 1950's version of the Golden Rule.

Ryan Vann writes:

Seems differentiating between jews and atheists is redundant to me. Eerily close test results reinforce my skepticism.

Bob Murphy writes:

I have to pile on here too, Bryan. Like Steve Landsburg, you don't seem to be thinking very hard about this. The only two hypotheses you can think of, are that religious people are liars or stupid?

As others have said above, evangelical Christians don't believe you need to know who Martin Luther is, in order to get into heaven. I admit I was surprised by your statistic; I would like to know exactly what the population was. I would be stunned if fewer than 75% of the people who attend my church at least once a month, don't know who Martin Luther is.

(For example, would you be willing to test the validity of free-market economics by polling the knowledge of everyone who identifies him or herself as "a believer in the free market"?)

In any event, why such hostility? Look at how you worded Door #2:

"Most religious believers are so stupid and/or impulsive that they'll knowingly give up eternal bliss for trivial mortal pleasures."

Was it really necessary to use such strong wording? Is that the way a disinterested Bayesian goes through the set of possible beliefs?

If you were really being careful and neutral, we readers wouldn't be sure which side you were on, right? And yet I would be willing to bet the farm you aren't a believer.

Bob Murphy writes:

* Oops I meant I would be stunned if fewer than 75% of the people who go to my church DO know who Martin Luther is.

I am rationally ignorant of double negatives.

Carl writes:

"Secondly, your assertions are empirically wrong. I know of the Barna studies and whatnot, but they are flawed. If you look at better studies like the General Social Survey and the Pew Religious Landscape survey you find that Christians do indeed have lower rates of things like divorce. See Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites for an accessible tour of the survey data."

Justin,

In the Bible, Jesus commands his followers to renounce all material possessions and personal wealth. The Bible also strictly forbids sex outside of marriage and for any reason besides procreation. The Bible could not be more clear. How many Christians do you know that follow these commands? I know thousands of Christians and zero who do so.

eccdogg writes:

This is a very dumb survey and should be given no amount of credibility in anything.

I took the survey and got 93%, but there were very few questions that actually dealt anything that would be necessary for a Christian to know to live thier lives in a Christian way.

Most of the questions were religous trivia and were for religions other than Christianity.

For questions where Christian's might need actual knowledge the scored fairly well.

For instance Catholics scored well on the church's doctorine on communion.

This study is meaningless and Bryan I think you are better than this to use such a crappy instrament to make your point.

hsearles writes:

This is a classic example of confirmation bias.

Argosy Jones writes:

[Comment removed for supplying false email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

My father gave the eulogy at my Grandmother's funeral. He was in tears as he explained that what we miss is not having the person with us anymore. He said, he was (by extension, human beings are) selfish. He would no longer have his mother sitting there at her table when he came to town. He would no longer have his mother to call and tell about his new grandchildren. He would no longer have his mother to visit and to hug. She has parted from his life. He then explained it is ok to be selfish.

A funeral is a parting, and we morn no longer having that person to be with. Imagine your best friend were to take a long trip to China and you would probably never see them again. Would you be moved to tears?

The real question is, why do atheists morn? Atheists believe we are the byproduct of random chemical reactions. Atheists believe we have no inherent value, and those who logically follow their own beliefs realize that under atheism, mankind means nothing. We are no more valuable than an ant. Any value we assign ourselves is made-up value. Irrational and stupid people morn the death of their Sims (video game) characters. Why would intelligent atheists morn anyone?

@Daniel
"I still wonder how they don't see what a good deal, worldwide, abortion is. The aborted die in innocence and go straight to Heaven."

I guess you would advocate Cutting Up Chuck (google "cut up chuck"). Nevermind that Christians are told to abhor "doing evil that good may come", abortion has more casualties than just the baby. There is the mother, who emboldens her hatred of God, society who becomes increasingly bloodthirsty, and an increasing hatred of innocence. If you kill unborn babies, why not Dylan Walborn, why not anyone?

You are a sick human being Daniel. I guess you might advocate nuking the earth over to avoid any problems you see in current life from continuing in the future.

Doc Merlin writes:

Actually, none of the above. Reread the study, then think about it for a moment. I took the questions , and found the study doesn't test if you know more about YOUR OWN religion than Atheists do, just if you know more about "religion." It had questions about all sorts of religions in it. So, you can't make the conclusions you did from the study. Sorry, Bryan.

Btw this is a pretty huge mistake! I'd appreciate it, if you made a retraction.

It looks to me as though what the poll shows is that the farther outside the religious mainstream one is, the more religious knowledge one has. So mainstream Christians have least, non-Christian believers (Jews) and members of Christian sects outside the Christian mainstream (Mormons) have more, and nonbelievers have still more.

That doesn't seem surprising to me. Dissenters tend to know more about the dominant paradigm than adherents of the dominant paradigm know about dissenters, for the same reason that a squirrel sharing a bed with a hippo knows more about the hippo than the hippo knows about he squirrel. Similarly, I reckon that libertarians tend to know more about mainstream liberal and conservative ideology than vice versa.

Thus I would predict that in a society where atheism was the norm, religious people would have more knowledge about the atheism-religion debate than the atheists would.

I wrote:

Thus I would predict that in a society where atheism was the norm, religious people would have more knowledge about the atheism-religion debate than the atheists would.

I just thought of a partial confirmation of this: among academic philosophers, atheism and agnosticism are the norm; and it's my impression (I don't know that any polls have been done) that, by and large, theist philosophers know a lot more about the theism-atheism debate than atheist philosophers do.

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