Atheists and Mormons Know The Most About Religion

According to a recent Pew Survey, most Americans are woefully ignorant of religious teachings and doctrines, including their own. The groups of people who know the most about religion? Atheists and agnostics, closely followed by Mormons, who are more familiar with the teachings of the New Testament than Evangelical Christians.

Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. john personna says:

    I read a similar article a little while back. It included an anonymous quote from a clergyman along the lines “I don’t know how anyone could come out of seminary with faith intact.”

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Since they are woefully ignorant of most things why should religion be an exception. I don’t find the greater knowledge of atheists and agnostics particularly suprising since they are much more likely to be better educated and intellectually curious people than those placing blind faith in the divine clockmaker. In the case of the Mormons it’s probably explained by the fact they are trying to convert people to their cult and so need to be familiar the opposition’s arguments.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    The results showed stronger corolation with income than religion, and different religions and non-religions are also markers for income.

    I took the survey and all of the answers correct, but I would be more interested in a survey that tested one’s knowledge of one’s own professed beliefs. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that a group doesn’t know what Nirvanna is, if they don’t believe in it.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Sorry, I meant education level, not income.

  5. Ben says:

    This definitely fits my anecdotal experience as well. The great majority of my friends are atheists, and they certainly know a lot more about the bible (and sometimes can quote chapter and verse) than my Christian friends. And even though I know its so that they can have intelligent arguments with Christians, sadly the Christians can’t usually keep up in the arguments about their own religion.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    Ben, I don’t believe the survey supports you experience. Mormons, followed by White Evangelicals scored the highest on topics relating to the Bible and Christianity. Jews, followed by Athiest/Agnostics scored the highest on topics relateing to non-Christian religions and Religion in Public Life (Constitutional constraints on government and religion). It seems that people know about their own interests and less about others.

  7. Franklin says:

    Also, I suspect that a large percentage of current atheists were formerly religious. The fact that many of them consciously changed their mind indicates that some thought was put into it, so I’m not too surprised that they have an idea about what beliefs they are rejecting.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    One of the weird things about the atheist/agnostic category is that there is a separate category for those whose religious views are “nothing in particular.” I’ve not seen that before, and the “nothing in particular” score much less knowledgeable about religion that atheist/agnostics. They look like the “chreasters” of the church of non-believers.

  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    lol *****Atheists and Mormons Know The Most About Religion*****sure they do…..

  10. Tano says:

    Actually, looking at the full survey, what emerges is that athiests are not only more knowledgeable than Christians about religion, but also about everything else. There were a series of non-religious questions asked, about general cultural and historical knowledge – with the same type of results.

  11. Brummagem Joe says:

    G.A.Phillips says:
    Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 13:37

    “lol *****Atheists and Mormons Know The Most About Religion*****sure they do…..”

    Why lol?…I’m a non believer and I’ve just finished reading a book about early 19th century religious practice, evangelical christianity, The Clapham sect, Tractarianism, etc etc. But then I’m sure you’re an expert on pre-millenarianism.

    “Actually, looking at the full survey, what emerges is that athiests are not only more knowledgeable than Christians about religion, but also about everything else.”

    Probably because, as I suggested, atheists are the best educated section of the population. They’re hardly likely to pay a lot of heed to a set of beliefs and fantasies that were framed by wandering middle eastern tribes 2-3000 years ago.

  12. sam says:

    So, GA, I’m genuinely curious. How does the Holy Spirit help you finesse the apparent falsehood that begins the New Testament?

    Matthew 1-17:

    The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4 And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 5 And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her [that had been the wife] of Urias; 7 And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 8 And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 9 And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11 And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: 12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 13 And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 14 And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 15 And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17 So all the generations from Abraham to David [are] fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon [are] fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ [are] fourteen generations.”

    Now, that cannot be right. Joseph was not the father of Jesus (see Matthew 1:18). If anything, the human genealogy of Jesus would have to show his descent through Mary, right? Not a word about that in the above. In fact, how can that passage show Jesus is of the house of David at all?

    I’m serious when I ask this: How do you understand that passage? Literally (given the problems) or figuratively?

  13. sam says:

    BTW, GA, you do know that Glen Beck is a Mormon, right?

  14. Sue says:


    Joseph and Mary were cousins.