A Pew Survey from 2010 seems to indicate that this could be the case, with the atheist/agnostic group outscoring all others on a 32-question quiz of religious knowledge.

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Obviously, this lone survey hardly constitutes definitive evidence, and could be skewed by confining its sample to the United States. I've been trying to look deeper into this, but cannot find much more than anecdotes and conjecture. Have there been other similar studies/surveys done worldwide?

Of course there is not likely ever to be a definitive yes/no answer to a question such as this, but statistically, among the general public: have those who self-identify as atheists been shown to consistently demonstrate a greater knowledge of religion than those who identify themselves as believers?

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    What an interesting study & question! Given that the questions are multi-theistic (i.e. tests knowledge of Judaism, Mormonism, etc.), the study doesn't really indicate that people of a given belief know more about their own religion, but rather what they might know about other religions. The study does not measure the depth of a specific religion. While I'm not surprised with the breadth of atheist knowledge indicated in this study, I'd be surprised if most atheists had the same depth of knowledge as most believers (which is not something the study tests or reflects). Aug 16, 2011 at 15:46
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    The question seems to contain the answer.
    – Suma
    Aug 16, 2011 at 16:24
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    Should Atheists (who specifically don't believe) and Agnostics (who don't take a position either way) really be grouped together? Aug 16, 2011 at 18:26
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    @Randolf (A)theism and (a)gnosticism are not different position on the same question; they relate to two different questions: Do you believe in god yes/no? That decides whether you are a theist/atheist. Do you believe that one could ever know for certain that there is a god? That decides whether you are an agnostic.
    – Lagerbaer
    Aug 16, 2011 at 19:20
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    @ran that doesn't make much sense: if they are not sure, they reasonably lack faith (which is by definition accepting something without proof). So both agnostics and atheists are non-religious, which is why they are grouped together.
    – Sklivvz
    Aug 16, 2011 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


Someone pointed out that the answer was in your question. But do you really mean, "Do atheists have a better knowledge of religion than believers, all other factors being equal?". What if atheists have a better knowledge of many things than beleivers, because they tend to be better educated. Your figures also showed Mormons and Jews to be exceptionally knowledgeable. Perhaps they too tend to be better educated?

Your source, The Pew Foundation, itself notes that

Data from the survey indicate that educational attainment – how much schooling an individual has completed – is the single best predictor of religious knowledge.

And even some theists concede (404) that

atheists have historically been drawn from upper social grades and higher education levels

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    Sorry, had to convert my +1 to –1 because you’re quote-mining and thus distorting the quotation: the Theos site actually concludes the opposite of what your quotation seems to say, namely that converts to atheism are drawn from low education backgrounds while converts to theism are drawn from high education backgrounds. (Personally I’m convinced that their research is BS but that’s irrelevant here.) Aug 19, 2011 at 15:13
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    Yes, they then go on to talk about converts. But they still seem to concede that atheists are in general better educated. Indeed, if atheists are generally better educated than theists, and the conversion were uncorrelated to education level, then naturally converts from atheism to theism are more educated than converts from theism to atheism.
    – Raedwald
    Aug 19, 2011 at 15:20
  • definite +1 for "all other factors being equal" Aug 22, 2011 at 20:11
  • @KonradRudolph I had to do the same. Jul 9, 2016 at 18:26

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