Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Know What We Don't Believe

A new survey given by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has shown something I have found to be pretty much the norm: atheists know more about religious than believers do.  Yeah, we know about the claims of religions -- that's why we're atheists!

Questions were asked to people of all faiths, including atheists and agnostics.  While most of the reports I've seen stat that on this survey label "atheists" as "people who say there is no god" and "agnostics" as "people who just aren't sure".  If you're a long-time reader (or someone who's remotely familiar with the issue), you'll know that those definitions aren't entirely correct.  But for the sake of this survey I'll let it slide.  The study found that that on average, most atheists and agnostics scored higher on all questions (average 21 correct out of 32 questions), while religious people scored poorly on questions about their own religion and even worse on questions about other faiths.  These were multiple-choice questions where things like, "What religion was Mother Teresa?" or "In what city was Jesus born?".

We atheists tend to be a thinking bunch.  We are generally well-educated and highly analytical.  As Pew director of research Alan Cooperman said, "[Atheists] are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

And we do.  We care more about whether or not what we think is true rather than if it makes us feel good.  We want to know how the world works.  We listen to claims of religions (and scientists, politicians, ghost hunters etc.) and we think critically.  Most religious people either can't be bothered to -- or have been trained to -- not analyze what they're being told.  The just accept it as truth and repeat it.  In Brian Flemming's documentary, "The God Who Wasn't There", he asks random church-goers questions like "Have you ever heard of Dionysus?" or "Who was Mithras?" and the believers just respond with umms and aahhs and "All I know is Jesus, man; it's just all about Jesus!"

Some believers also seem to think that they can spend two minutes on the internet and are thus qualified to tell a field scientist he's wrong.  This is particularly popular with Evangelical creationists, but no believer is immune. 

So if you are a believer, ask yourself why.  Ask yourself if you can name one of Hinduism's holy texts.  Do you know who Joseph Smith is?  What were the first Ten Commandments given to Moses?  In what century was Mohammad born?  You don't have to be highly intelligent or all that educated, just learn when you don't know something, and learn how to look into it.

Actual survey here (PDF) or test yourself here.