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What Americans Know About Religion

Jul 23, 2019

By the Pew Research Center

Most Americans are familiar with some of the basics of Christianity and the Bible, and even a few facts about Islam. But far fewer U.S. adults are able to correctly answer factual questions about Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and most do not know what the U.S. Constitution says about religion as it relates to elected officials. In addition, large majorities of Americans are unsure (or incorrect) about the share of the U.S. public that is Muslim or Jewish, according to a new Pew Research Center survey that quizzed nearly 11,000 U.S. adults on a variety of religious topics.

Our surveys often ask people about their opinions, but this one was different, asking 32 fact-based, multiple-choice questions about topics related to religion (see here for full list of questions). The average U.S. adult is able to answer fewer than half of them (about 14) correctly.

The questions were designed to span a spectrum of difficulty. Some were meant to be relatively easy, to establish a baseline indication of what nearly all Americans know about religion. Others were intended to be difficult, to differentiate those who are most knowledgeable about religious topics from everyone else.

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13 comments on “What Americans Know About Religion

  • I got 14 of 15 on their quiz. Missed the one about who was eager to sacrifice his son to god.

    Most christians I know have very poor knowledge of theology. It’s great fun to correct them and ask why a heathen knows more about their religion than they do.


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  • I agree Skepticj.  I always point out to them, that I am still able to serve mass in Latin, which none of them would be!  Theology and religion are fascinating subjects, and absolutely core to understanding history, literature, politics science;  in fact, pretty well everything.  I still believe that the biblical accounts in Genesis (there are two, differing accounts) should be taught, very briefly, as an hors d’oeuvre, to contextualise evolution.

    To MODS  On a separate matter, for the pic used to tag biblical articles, I suggest that you open the bible to Numbers 5, 12 – 31.  That passage confirms the husband’s ownership of his wife, but more importantly demands abortion as a condign, religious punishment for adultery.  The fundamentalists don’t often quote this, but it is Mosaic Law.


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  • eejit

    To MODS  On a separate matter, for the pic used to tag biblical articles, I suggest that you open the bible to Numbers 5, 12 – 31.

    Hi eejit. We don’t post the articles, but in any case, where there’s a picture with them, it is always the one used in the original source.

    The mods


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  • @eejit:

    “[…] the biblical accounts in Genesis […] should be taught […] to contextualise evolution.”

    Why should a specific ancient creation myth be taught to “contextualise” a particular scientific theory (or any other, for the matter)? Especially if the theory contradicts said creation myth (which is full of contradictions anyway)?

    If you’re of the opinion that Christianity is foundational to the way modern Western societies came to be (which would only be semi-correct, because ancient Greek philosophy played no small part in that), then all you need to do is to teach history. There’s absolutely no need to teach the specific fable or parts thereof, especially when there’s no evidence whatsoever to support said magical fable.

    “Theology and religion are […] absolutely core to understanding […] pretty well everything.”

    Bold statement there. Can’t remember hearing anything about ancient fables in any physics lectures I had. Weird.

    And if you want to “contextualise” religion (in order to understand the phenomenon), you’d absolutely need biology, especially the theory of evolution. Theology won’t do you any good there.

    So theology and religion being core to understanding “pretty well everything”?

    Only in the religionist’s wildest and wettest dreams.


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  • (which would only be semi-correct, because ancient Greek philosophy played no small part in that)

    I am of course well aware of the roles played in the development of Christianity by Greek philosophy.  It came into Christianity by way of Augustine (Platonic) and Aquinas (Aristotelian), as well as many, many other classical and medieval thinkers.

    Galileo’s famous jettisoning of weights from the Leaning Tower was done specifically to debunk the Christian academy’s insistence on enforcing the orthodoxy of Aristotle’s theories about motion – which in turn gained their primacy and authority because his theory of substance and accident gave a handy explanation of Transubstantiation – which was how the magic was explained to me by the Christian Brothers.  Before they were named, Galileo used some of the primary scientific procedures, it’s probably correct to say that he invented them, Experimental Design, Testability and Falsification, to refute a previous theory.  Teaching students how and why Galileo performed his stunt gives students an insight into how science actually works.

    Similarly Darwin began life as a pious youngster, with a leaning to enter the priesthood,  In the Voyage of the Beadle his Christian beliefs gradually unwind, although he never says so; it can be intuited as a sort of sub-text, which he himself was unwilling to embrace or openly announce.  Another example of science in action, finding patterns which refute previous beliefs, surely much sounder basis for students than slapping the laws on the blackboard and telling them to learn them!

    Also, science is riddled with immutable laws which turn out to be false, where scientists have to go through intellectual and personal pain to get the truth of new ideas accepted, just like Darwin and Galileo did.  Come to that, there is not much difference between the way superannuated professors hang on to their implausibilities, and the way divines of past ages held on to theirs. I’m sure that the genuine scientists on the site could give plenty of examples.

     

    Bold statement there. Can’t remember hearing anything about ancient fables in any physics lectures I had. Weird.

    I have always been told that science is a process, not a collection of facts.  Your teachers short-changed you.



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  • “[…] Experimental Design, Testability and Falsification, to refute a previous theory. […] gives students an insight into how science actually works.”
    And this is exactly why science rules supreme when it comes to figuring out about the world. Contrary to what Postmodernism likes to tell people, there’s true progress there. And that’s one of the many differences between science and religion: science advances.
    “Also, science is riddled with immutable laws which turn out to be false,[…]”
    Which ones? Off the top of my hat, I can’t think of any modern theory/law that is immutable or has turned out to be false. In the past, yes. Nowadays?
    “[…] where scientists have to go through intellectual and personal pain to get the truth of new ideas accepted […]”
    Correct. But that’s the point: data. Verifiability. If data comes in that contradicts an existing theory, and is confirmed repeatedly by independent teams, then the theory has been falsified (see Cold Fusion). That some scientists (who are human, after all) don’t want to give up on their theories which they have spent a lifetime pusuing, is more than understandable. And yet in the end the new ideas won out because of data.
    “[…] and the way divines of past ages held on to theirs.”
    Except that no one could show that what they believed in was wrong. Theologians don’t know more about their gods today than people 1000 years ago. No data, no experiments, no falsifiability, no good philosophical arguments. All the supposed progress in religion stems from the need to adapt to outside pressures due to societal changes in order to stay relevant (e.g., Mormons and black priests), not because someone has found evidence that their specific kind of fable is true. Quite the contrary. All supernatural explanations for natural phenomena have been replaced by natural explanations. It’s never been the other way around. When people are truly honest and follow the data where it leads them, faith loses out.
    “I have always been told that science is a process, not a collection of facts. Your teachers short-changed you.”
    No, they haven’t. They have taught me, by way of science, critical thinking, not to take anything at face value, and to be open-minded, but not so much that my brain falls out. If you’d go to a university to study one of the sciences, you’d get both: a collection of facts and how they became facts (aka the scientific process).
    So, theology and religion being core to understanding “pretty well everything”?

    Still only in the religionist’s wildest and wettest dreams.

  • theology and religion being core to understanding “pretty well everything”?

     

    Spot of the old misrepresentations there, my friend.  The whole tenor of what I wrote, is that to understand the modern world, you have to understand where it came from, what drove its development and how the Renaissance and Enlightenment challenged the shibboleths of religion.  I believe that in the examples of Galileo and Darwin, I sketched just how those irrational beliefs were challenged successfully, with experimentation, observation, facts  not to mention with considerable personal courage.  Critical thinking is just what the two heroes employed, and along with Copernicus, Bacon, Descartes, Hume and ten thousand others, at serious risk to their comfort, careers, social position and even their lives.

    Still, you seem determined to expunge any mention of intellectual inquiry or scholarship before 1592, when Galileo’s balls are said to have dropped, so I suppose that there is not much point in pursuing the matter.

    Thank you for pointing out that data trumps irrational belief – I don’t think that I could have worked that out without your strident assistance.

     


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  • To the mods: I accidentally punched the “Report abuse”-button. Scratch that. Nothing abusive about eejit’s post. My bad.

    @eejit:

    Sorry for “abuse reporting” you. Pushed the wrong button. If it’s caused you any inconvenience, my apologies.

    “Spot of the old misrepresentations there […]”

    Not really. I knew what you were going for, but you chose your words poorly, juxtaposing science and religion in a way that makes it seem as if they are on par (yes, I’m one of those people who think there’s a conflict between the two). Your latest post is what you should have written in the first place, making your intentions very clear, because your initial posts are far less transparent than you now make it seem.

    “Thank you for pointing out that data trumps irrational belief – I don’t think that I could have worked that out without your strident assistance.”

    You are welcome. If you need further strident assistance, I’m amenable.


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  • Hazmat

    I had no difficulty understanding what eejit wrote, or getting the point he was making. When someone’s been posting for a long time it’s not reasonable to expect them to explain exactly where they’re coming from every single time – they’re known, most other users will know exactly how to interpret their comments.

    Maybe you just hadn’t encountered him before, but even so, his initial comment didn’t *have* to be interpreted as advocating religious belief or suggesting it as the equal of science. It’s perfectly possible and reasonable to argue that religion has played a defining role in much of human history and is therefore worth studying from that point of view, without suggesting for one moment that it is actually true. No need for so much heat!


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  • No, I’ve never encountered him/her. But just because his/her initial comment didn’t have to be interpreted like I did, it very well could. Suggesting (among other things) to teach religious content as a contextualizer to scientific theories is merely trying to obfuscate the boundary between the two, implying there’s something to religion that’s on par with science. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Of course it’s true that religion shaped societies around the world in various important ways, and that it’s a phenomenon worthy of study. But the way s/he made that point suggested to me that s/he thought there was a truth content to religion that’s just not there. That’s where the heat came from (diplomacy is not my strong suit).

    His/her last post was far more clear with regards to his/her intentions, and much less suggestive.


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  •  

    Thanks for your kind support Marco.  I must admit that my initial post was not worded with my usual crystal clarity, I’m very glad that you accepted my clarification Hazmat.  No hard feelings, you’ll get used to my rants in time.


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