September 28, 2010
"Know nothing new atheists"
A few days ago had a discussion with a philosopher (himself not religious) who railed against those whom he called "Know nothing new atheists" who argued against religion on a very low-level and were not aware of the best of modern theology. I pressed him to name names but the ones he gave (Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers) do not fit this category at all. In fact, they know quite a lot. But I occasionally find the philosopher's attitude among atheists and agnostic accommodationists who seek to separate themselves from people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Coyne, Myers, and other mean old new/unapologetic atheists (like me), and accuse us of ignorance.
Hence it was amusing to get a link (thanks to reader Norm) to an article giving the results of a new Pew survey that found that atheists and agnostics were the most knowledgeable about "the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life." You can read all the survey questions and the results for each here. (Not to boast, but there was only one question for which I did not know the answer and one for which I was not sure.)
Of course, the philosopher could argue that this survey tested largely low-level factual knowledge and not deep theology. But I am willing to bet that if a similar survey were done on theology, atheists and agnostics would again come out on top. It is because we have studied theology at least to some extent that we realize how content-free it is. In fact, I suspect there is a causal relationship: the more you know about religion, the less likely you are to believe in god. As Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, said, "Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That's how you make atheists."