American atheists and agnostics know more about religion than professed believers

A new Pew survey on religion in America finds that atheists and agnostics are more likely to be well-versed about different religions' beliefs and practices than people who profess a belief in those religions. For example, atheists and agnostics are more likely to know that during Communion (Catholicism's central rite), the wafer and wine are meant to transubstantiate into the literal flesh and blood of Christ -- they aren't merely symbolic, as 40% of Catholics believe. Atheists and agnostics are also more likely than Protestants to know that Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation (the majority of Protestants could not identify him).

Interestingly, Mormons are, on average, better versed on the traditional New Testament Bible than evangelical Christians and mainstream Christians, many of whom consider Mormonism to be apostasy.

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

The groups at the top of the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey were followed, in order, by white evangelical Protestants, white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, people who were unaffiliated with any faith (but not atheist or agnostic), black Protestants and Latino Catholics.

Atheists, agnostics most knowledgeable about religion, survey says (Thanks, Quercus, via Submitterator!)