Trivia kings, but bad thinkers: understanding over facts

In a Pew Forum survey released Tuesday, atheists and agnostic surpass all other groups in their knowledge of religion. How … Continued

In a Pew Forum survey released Tuesday, atheists and agnostic surpass all other groups in their knowledge of religion. How do you explain this? Educational level? That they have given more consideration to the religions they have rejected?

Is knowledge of religion important? Why?

As a boutique belief system in the United States, atheism has a good many advantages. There are so few atheists and agnostics that they do not run all the risks of a populist movement. Not for them is the burden of dealing with the masses of a global population, their idiosyncrasies, worries and all.

Since Christians make up three-quarters or more of the American general population, we have the burden of accounting for almost everybody’s problems. Sadly, we are much less well represented in elite education, media, and government. This is not because religion is incompatible with elite education, but because “skepticism” about religion has become a sociological way for the elite to mark themselves off from the rest of us. In this sense, anti-religion (and in particularly anti-Catholicism) serves the same function that joining the “right” church used to serve in another era.

The secular elite has provided most of us with wretched religious education by all but banning it as a topic for serious enquiry or discussion. Meanwhile, they know just enough about religion to get some “facts” right on a pop-religion quiz, but have no grasp on why, despite all temptations, some thoughtful folk remain religious. They know some of the lyrics of religion, but cannot hear the music.

You might blame Christian education in churches for this problem, except a culture of entertainment has reduced most Americans ability to tolerate difficult discussions. Pity the pastor, with seminary training in ancient languages and a carefully constructed sermon, who must face a congregation taught by television to anticipate education with Muppets and Katy Perry.

The rise of fundamentalist sects of religion may have more to do with this culture of entertainment than anything else. The kind of religion hucksters sell on television in the same time slot as quack diets is offered as religious as entertainment.

If atheism ever catches on, you can be sure that it too will suffer from hucksters and cultural deprivations. Google the music of atheist Dan Barker to see what the future may hold if atheism gets big enough in the general population to get some of the ills they have foisted on us. (See video below)

On the ground, government school teachers also are shackled by the same dulled students. Too much entertainment has made many students like the burned characters in an Oscar Wilde play without any of the wit. For that reason, most of us who teach rejoice in any student who challenges anything. As the default belief of American history, the cause of theism is supplied with students who affirm belief in a Creator, but are oft too numbed by cultural ugliness to grasp the beautiful idea that He has “endowed them with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Nor is it that serious intellectual endeavor and Christianity are incompatible. Safe to say few of us outthink Jonathan Edwards, let alone contemporary religious scholars such as Alvin Plantinga and Francis Collins.

Serious Christians do exist. I visit many churches where regular folk are carefully reading great books and wrestling with great ideas, but this activity is not encouraged in the broader culture.

Weirdly, Christians must clean up the mess of broader culture, but we have had little power to create pop culture in the last fifty years. The poor and the disadvantaged are always the first to bear the brunt of bad cultural ideas and only the religious remain on the ground to try to help. Christians, for example, try to keep people from doing the things that get men sent to prison, but then work hard to help prisoners once people fail.

In this sense it is easier to be an agnostic or atheist. You have rejected the mainstream of American history, which means you don’t have to take responsibility for its failures, though you can appropriate its successes.

In my experience an atheist or agnostic is mostly a Bible Baptist looking for social mobility, a function the Episcopal Church used to play before theological liberalism made it too nineteenth-century to take seriously in the twenty-first. If you want someone to provide intellectual uplift to Appalachia or to the inner cities, you are going to have to look to a graduate of Al Mohler’s seminary, because the “skeptics” will have all moved to gated enclaves where the only theist that will clutter their conversational space will be the man cutting their grass.

To their credit, secularists have rejected something, and this generally means knowing something about what one has rejected. This is true, if by “knowing something” one means getting quiz show questions right–not understanding.

Pew has released a study that shows if the average atheist and the average theist appear on religious Jeopardy, the theist is in trouble. However, wisdom and understanding are different from “just the facts.” It is good to know facts, but that doesn’t mean you get it.

Every year I have students who can tell me many of the details of the Republic, but cannot read a dialogue as a dialogue. They are worse than useless in any discussion, because once they have given us a Wikipedia overview of the text, they have nothing left to say. They have memorized an opinion (“Meno is about recollection. Recollection is an epistemological view that . . . “) and nobody is going to get them off topic. If you want to win Platonic Trivial Pursuit, they are your man, but if you want to understand Plato they are quickly left behind.

My experience is that “street level” atheism is often just this way. At some point, usually in junior high, the street level atheist sees intellectual problems in his childhood faith or the “hypocrisy” in the church. These problems, sadly, get no real answers and it does not occur to the young person that any group that upholds any standard will attract hypocritical behavior.

The budding secularist gets the delightful feeling of intellectual superiority and then does a Google to discover the fabulous world of Internet atheism! When you combine this new found sense of being an “insider” with relief that all those nasty religious demands to love the weak and to moderate one’s desires can be dismissed, you have a powerful force in anybody’s life. At this point, even exposure to the religious intellectual tradition will not help, as the trajectory has been set.

Of course, there is a wholly different secular tradition that came to atheism and agnosticism after hard work and thought. They might not believe in God, but they understand why some of their colleagues do. They get what is good about religion as well as its difficulties. These secular voices are too often drowned out by the bleats of Dawkins and the Internet atheists.

What should be done?

First, Americans must recognize that nothing has been done to us that we have not allowed. We must reject being entertained and demand to be educated. When television personalities like Glenn Beck sell tens of thousands of serious books by authors such as Hayek, I am more hopeful.

Second, religious Americans must reject the temptation to retreat into a comforting anti-intellectualism. For Christians at least, we are called to live by faith and faith is intellectual. It is not merely intellectual, it is driven by love, but head and heart can never be separated.

Third, we must demand that our government schools teach religion, not just the “facts” but with understanding. Wisdom will only come when we recognize why billions of the world’s people believe what they do. This means that majority Christians must also accept charitable expositions of other faiths. When the state of Texas demands less coverage of Islam this is a bad step.

We must do unto others as we would have them do to us. We must allow students to read books that come from different traditions, from atheism to paganism. The intellectual growth that will result will not be the sort that can be captured in a fill-in-the-blanks or multiple choice exam. Instead, we are going to have to support government school budgets that to allow for small discussion classes that can produce a deeper understanding of important ideas.

Ignorance about things vital to our fellow citizens is harmful to the Republic.

For example, one of the most influential books first published by an American is the Book of Mormon. It appears in almost no American government school curriculum, though it exercises a global influence and impacts the lives of millions of Americans. This is foolish. I am, to say the least, no Mormon partisan, but there are entire states in our nation that cannot be understood without some grounding in Mormon thought.

How many American college graduates have a more charitable comprehension of the indigenous culture of Paris than of Salt Lake City? Mormon Utah can only wish it were treated as gently as “other cultures” are in a politically correct curriculum.

Finally, Christians, the vast majority of the population, should demand that their churches do more intellectual work. Most pastors would be eager to teach more doctrine, if they thought their congregants would tolerate it. We must make sure they know we will not tolerate the Church worshipping at the altar of the entertainment idol.

The Pew Study demonstrates that facts are not enough. We need people that know the facts, but also know the meaning those facts have. All of us must recognize that the meaning we give “the facts” has been and will be challenged by other well informed citizens.

Last night hundreds of regular Evangelical people took precious free time to come to a university to hear a first-rate theologian, Fred Sanders, teach from his magnificent new book on the Trinity. Daily Sanders moves his high level scholarship into the pews and eventually this work with show up in surveys from Pew. Fred Sanders and the ministries springing up all over America like his prove there is a hunger for religious knowledge and this gives me hope for the coming generation.

They will be capable of winning Trivial Pursuit, but too busy pursuing wisdom to play.

John Mark Reynolds
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  • TheMediaProject

    This post doesn’t demonize atheists. It simply raises an important point to expand the public discussion beyond “smart atheists, dumb believers”, which is where it has stalled since the study came out. Atheism is indeed still a very small portion of the population and doesn’t have to contend with the difficulties of educating and contending with the masses in a movement. Also, kudos to Professor Reynolds for pointing out that truly understanding religion is essential for understanding the motivations and mindset of entire states in this country – not to mention understanding much of the developing world. Journalists and intellectuals alike would do well to learn that lesson.

  • kenk3

    I am intellectually superior to every single believer I’ve ever met; just like I’m intellectually superior to everyone I’ve met who believes in Santa.John, I hope to interact as little as possible with people like you during my lifetime.

  • ENGR_Matt

    JOEE2 is exactly correct. Rejecting claims of divinity and supernatural influence, which are based on absolutely zero evidence, does not imply that a person hasn’t experienced the feelings of spiritual transcendence and majesty that are often associated with religious experience. “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” -Douglas Adams

  • Secular

    Pity the pastor, with seminary training in ancient languages and a carefully constructed sermon, who must face a congregation taught by television to anticipate education with Muppets and Katy Perry.

  • SocraticGadfly

    A Ph.D. philos0phy professor wrote this drivel?

  • david6

    “The secular elite has provided most of us with wretched religious education by all but banning it as a topic for serious enquiry or discussion.”Why should I believe anything else you post here when you offer such a blatantly misleading claim so early in your article? Didn’t your Texas example give you a hint that you were mistaken? If we do not teach comparative religion in schools, it is becaue Christians of each sect refuse to allow fair exposition of other denominations and religions and refuse to have their own sect’s doctrines questioned in an open discussion. There are religious folks who are offended that science is taught to their children because the discoveries of scientists have shown that these religious folks are teaching doctrines that are demonstrably false. There are others who are offended that historians can show that other doctrines or supposed histories of their denomination are false.I’d be happy to include the discussion of religion in a critical thinking class. Do you want your kids to be exposed to that?

  • jienelle

    I came across this article when looking on Google for the original survey. After reading your appalling, stereotypical views on atheist, I will NEVER read from your newspaper biased newspaper ever again. As an atheist who has had spiritual experiences, I can attest that I am not a “Bible Baptist.” There are many atheists that are very sure of their spirituality and are not just looking for “mobility.”

  • david6

    “Also, kudos to Professor Reynolds for pointing out that truly understanding religion is essential for understanding the motivations and mindset of entire states in this country – not to mention understanding much of the developing world.”Right, but that does not mean that anything about any specific religion is defensible or true. Religions do affect people and how they interact with each other, but everyone seems to have their own implementation. Religion is used to justify both the most wonderful and terrible ideas that humanity has to offer. It appears to be nothing but skilled propaganda.

  • CMLosAngeles

    The music of religion may be beautiful and resonant, but it is the same music that can be found in all manner of the works of man. Art and music and literature are filled with the stuff of mankind’s loves and losses and struggles. Love of great stories, no matter how fervent, does not in itself confer them with fact, nor does their age or origin lend them greater credence. Claiming that any religion holds the ultimate truth fails because belief and fact are mutually exclusive. No one can scientifically prove one flower to be the most beautiful, nor make fiction into fact through force of will.

  • Sajanas

    Also, PZ Myers has just flayed Mr Reynolds over at Pharyngula.

  • Sajanas

    Trivia is important. That fuzzy feeling of goodness in religion? I think that is trivial, when you consider that the Koran mandates death for people who decided that Islam is not for them, or that the Bible mandates death for homosexuality, and all manner of other things. Because, although not all of the other branches of these religions believe that, you can BET that they will, the moment that the really zealous people have power again. Jewish history is a patchwork of people getting gradually tired of The Law, and then having it re-instituted again.

  • Ouabache

    No. You don’t get to take all of the credit for the good stuff and none of the blame for the bad stuff. As you say, Christians make up more than 75% of the population. That means that they are the majority when it comes to teaching, the consumption of entertainment, and even the prison population is overwhelmingly Christian. You can’t say that secularists are a tiny minority and then turn around and say they are solely responsible for how Christians act. You can’t blame atheists for the fact that your followers are unable or unwilling to learn the details of their own religion or the religion of others. Educate your own flock instead of blaming others for your failure.

  • Boomslang

    Philosophy seems to be like poetry in that there are more bad practitioners than good.

  • jordanlund

    “The secular elite has provided most of us with wretched religious education by all but banning it as a topic for serious enquiry or discussion.”Uh… no… Just… no… If someone doesn’t have a basic understanding of their own belief system that is NOT the fault of a “secular elite”. We have places in this country for people to go learn about their faith. It’s called “Church”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?The fact that so many are so ignorant of their own faith speaks to how poorly churches are doing reaching and educating people. The “secular elite” have no control over how churches operate, nor should they, but at no point can you blame religious illiteracy on folks who proclaim no faith.

  • Rashbam

    Among the most elite scientists in the U.S., which is to say among members of the National Academy of Sciences, Larsen and Witham in 1998 found that only 7% profess a belief in a personal god. 72.2% affirmed a personal disbelief and 20.8% were agnostic. Thus, scientists like Francis Collins are the exceptions which prove the general rule: elite scientists are overwhelmingly atheist/agnostic.

  • Rashbam

    Among the most elite scientists in the U.S., which is to say among members of the National Academy of Sciences, Larsen and Witham in 1998 found that only 7% profess a belief in a personal god. 72.2% affirmed a personal disbelief and 20.8% were agnostic. Thus, scientists like Francis Collins are the exceptions which prove the general rule: elite scientists are overwhelmingly atheist/agnostic.

  • lescap

    “ As a boutique belief system in the United States, atheism has a good many advantages. There are so few atheists and agnostics that they do not run all the risks of a populist movement. Not for them is the burden of dealing with the masses of a global population, their idiosyncrasies, worries and all.” Greater than 18% of Americans are “courageous” enough to admit they are not religious. Is Mr. Reynolds simply ignorant of the facts? Is he saying what he feels will earn him the most back pats or nods from his club members? Or is he just another employee of the “business” of religion, a propagandist, less concerned with reinforcing people’s religiosity than reinforcing their fear of not being part of the “majority”. A simple search for articles about America’s nonreligious would inform Mr. Reynolds, but, from what this man has chosen to say, we have no reason to believe “informed” matters much to folks like Mr. Reynolds.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    This is the weirdest essay, yet; and a little snobbish.There is an inherently superior attitude on display in this essay. Merely claiming to be a Christian, or any other religion, does not automatically make a person superior. Merely claiming, without any understanding, to be a Christian, is part of the problem.

  • bullet-504

    I’ve never seen such a long-winded and tiresome, “Oh yeah? Yo mama!”Yes, it’s so much easier to drag out old and tired stereotypes and continue the name calling than to even consider the truth: Atheists have examined religion and do understand it, yet still reject it.

  • flibble

    Hilarious!Does this charlatan think anyone other than his co-fantasists are going to take any of this drivel seriously.He’s been saying for years that we poor ignorant atheists don’t know anything about his superstition, so he’s just going to have to accept that thats one more item to add to the huge list of things he’s utterly clueless about.

  • effn55

    Wow. I was thoroughly disappointed by the content of this essay.

  • Boomslang

    Reynold’s sneering arrogance would be more effective if he wasn’t sniveling at the same time.

  • bergm138

    “…we must demand that our government schools teach religion, not just the “facts” but with understanding.”You have the temerity to call us outside the mainstream of American history? Utterly comical.

  • agnak

    Those Pew questions weren’t trivia in their context. Transubstantiation may be trivia for an atheist, but it is a key doctrinal point for Catholics.How can you claim that atheists are not deep thinkers? Are you claiming that their knowledge of religion is a marker of shallow thinking? Really?Those who think deeply and want to find out more about their religion will discover that the basis of religion is pretty flimsy. Built on sand, really. The Abrahamic religions contain internal contradictions that cannot be reconciled. When there are external contradictions as well (like YEC), then it is hardly a mark of ignorance to ditch the claptrap. When there are social evils perpetrated in the name of religion (cover up of child rape for one) then it is a mark of integrity to ditch that religion.When religion fails to honour the social contract of providing a community benefit, then it is time to leave the baseless nonsense behind.

  • gra_factor

    Oh boy, such self pity. And so fact-free. Although I agree that Dan Barker’s songs are not the best thing going for him. But you denigrate a good person whose path to freethought was long and painful and motivated by a desire to live his life according to what is true, not according to consoling fiction.

  • miffedone

    This is the biggest load of lard I have read in some time. It’s the secular schools fault that Christians don’t know about their own religion – but somehow atheists and agnostics do? How does that work? People get the information in school, but then get stupid when they go to their church and forget it all?Really, up is down, black is white, and everything is the other guy’s fault, because he doesn’t believe the same thing I do.Mommy, mommy! Make him stop! Phew. From the party of personal responsibility.

  • S_in_Durham

    When I heard about the results of the Pew study on this topic, the first thing I wondered about was how far of a reach the Christian Apologists’ defense would be. I guess I just found out. There’s a lot to argue with here, but here’s my question: even if this guy is correct in saying that Christians really are more spiritually enlightened than atheists/agnostics, how is it that a higher level of spiritual enlightenment would produce a LOWER test score? It’s like you’re saying “Yeah, I would have done better on that religion quiz, but I was too busy communicating to a being of infinite intelligence to answer the questions correctly” The explanation is really rather simple, and no, it’s not because atheists are so much smarter. The fact is that people who never (or rarely) question their own religion are much less likely to learn about other religions than people who are willing to question. I mean really, how many Christians have even read 20 pages of the Qu’ran? Or even the New Testament? For Pete’s sake, only half of all Protestants knew that Martin Luther started their branch of Christianity! Either they are unbelievably ignorant or they just don’t care. I suspect it’s mostly the latter. If they truly believed that their eternal soul was at stake, they’d be reading the Bible like crazy and building critiques of other religions to convert the “heathens” like myself, and schooling everybody on religion quizzes in the process. But that’s not what happens. Because, hey, why read about the path to eternal salvation when you can be watching “Dancing with the Stars”?

  • ledotter

    Biola University is a private, evangelical Christian, liberal arts university located near Los Angeles. Biola’s main campus is located in the city of La Mirada in Los Angeles County, California. AHH – that explains a lot. The literal foundation and beginings of FUNdamentalism! The difference between FUNdamentalists and a-theists/agnostics? The fundys like their comfort zone of belief and the A/As like to question the beliefs of their comfort zone.

  • RickK101

    Wow, you’re really afraid of secular thinking, aren’t you John Mark Reynolds? It must really burn you up to think that perhaps, just perhaps, the Pew study results indicate that on average atheists THINK about the foundation of their worldview than people of your faith. Or perhaps the reason is that your faith doesn’t promote education as much as those atheists, Jews and Mormons. Nope, it can’t be any of those things. It MUST be because atheists are better at games of trivia. So the fact that Maimonides was Jewish or Jonathan Edwards was Christian is “trivia”? Your dismissive insults in the first half are base and petty.For someone who is advocating tolerance and learning in one half of your article, you’re certainly not practicing what you preach.

  • Joee2

    It is disingenuous and somewhat demonizing to make the claim we atheists somehow dont know anything about religious or spiritual transcendent experience or feelings, thus you imply the reason why we have religious knowledge but unaccepting of theism. Maybe the answer is simple…Theism does not make logical sense and lacks positive empirical evidence when the world is objectively observed and objectively experienced..Is it possible to believe a lie to be true, when you know its a lie? Try as hard as I can and its impossible.

  • mcdoogs87

    .. way to generalize an entire world view.

  • BrentRasmussen

    This is goalpost-shifting at its finest, and one of the most blustery and sneeringly arrogant formulations of the Courtier’s Reply I’ve ever read.Atheists and agnostics score better on a religious knowledge quiz? Well, of course they don’t really *understand* religion, they are just parroting the easy, superficial answers.Religious folks score poorly on the same quiz? It doesn’t matter because they can hear the *music* as well as the lyrics – unlike those boorish atheists who are always lording their knowledge over everyone.Look, Prof. Reynolds, the Emperor is naked. These new clothes you speak of don’t exist. All the “wisdom and understanding” in the world won’t change that fact.Quit lying to yourself. You’re living in the fantastical convoluted magic land of theology and apologetics. It’s just sad.Join us over here in reality. We’d love to have you. 🙂

  • cornbread_r2

    Prof. Reynolds:I can assure you, not knowing the meaning of transubstantiation would

  • JJEII

    This article is supersaturated with failure from the first sentence onward.Sentence 1 is false: Atheism is not a belief system. The only thing you can say about the beliefs of any given atheist is that they lack belief in gods. That is it. Atheism, in and of itself, is not a belief system in any way whatsoever. (Most atheists do follow things up with a positive belief system in something, though—secular humanism, or whatever else.)Sentence 2 is false: There are not, in actuality, that few atheists/agnostics. In fact, religious demographic studies consistently show that the nonreligious rank second only to Christianity, in the USA. They outnumber all other minority groups. (Admittedly, not all “nonreligious” are atheists/agnostics, but a large proportion of them are. And, atheists/agnostics, specifically, still dramatically outnumber many well-known minorities—such as Jews, for example. The nonreligious also compose the only significantly large group that is proportionally growing; all the others are shrinking, including Christianity.)The rest of the article continues at a comparable level of failure. It brings to mind a Wolfgang Pauli quote: “That’s not right. It is not even wrong.”(What does that mean? Basically, many things have some degree of learning value—even when they turn out to be wrong, one can often learn something from them. Noting that something is “not even wrong” implies that it is so superlatively useless as to be utterly devoid of any learning value. It’s even worse than wrong.)

  • lifeonmars

    “In this sense it is easier to be an agnostic or atheist. You have rejected the mainstream of American history, which means you don’t have to take responsibility for its failures, though you can appropriate its successes.Wow, you’ve made a lot of assumptions about me.How does being an atheist mean that I’ve rejected American history? I’ve merely rejected a belief in god, not America or history! America is NOT god. Nor am I interested in social mobility, or at least I don’t expect my lack of religious belief to provide that for me. I simply do not believe in god. It’s not because it’s easier, or more convenient or that it allows me to feel “relief that all those nasty religious demands to love the weak and to moderate one’s desires can be dismissed”. As a Humanist I DO love the weak and I believe that it’s important to work to protect the rights of all people (including the ones you disapprove of). As for moderating my desires – well, I’ll bet I moderate mine better than the preacher who rails against homosexuality from the pulpit and then gets caught with a gay companion while he’s out of town! Being an atheist doesn’t mean I lack morals, it just means that I’m not moral because you or god tell me to be. It means that my morality is driven by MY ethics and values, not yours. Atheist doesn’t mean amoral, it means that we don’t believe in god. period.It means that my mind is not fenced in by my faith – that I’m free to learn, accept, love, and inquire. Perhaps that’s why atheists did better on the survey than Christians. I can only speak for myself and my beautiful atheist sons when I say that we are open minded, inquisitive, intelligent and perceptive. We love each other, gay people, people of other races and religions, and we talk, ask, explore and learn. Try it yourself sometime.

  • amelia45

    Wow. The Pew results really pushed this guy’s buttons. He is all over the place. He sounds like a burned out teacher. He is right about too many students who don’t think but spew back whatever is said to them. Our testing system rewards those who remember best and not those who think. Does Christian faith – any faith -encourage independent thought? Only to a certain degree, because adherence to the tenets of a faith mean you have to accept some things regardless of what science, history, or experience may tell you. Think about those who cannot accept evolution as a possible explanation for how man came to be – as if I were any less precious to God if I were a mote at the Big Bang or a mote in the creation of Adam from the dirt of the earth. When my daughter was in school, I was as concerned to keep her mind free from the dogmatism of those in her faith or of similar faith as I was concerned about her slipping out of her faith. We are Christian, although a lot of Christians would not claim us, because we believe there is God – and faith in Jesus – even in evolution, liberal democrats, and civil rights for homosexuals.

  • Brianrrs37

    The title of this opinion says it all, “understanding over facts”Translation “You must suspend questioning and scrutiny to ignore the facts”.FACT, it takes TWO sets of DNA to manifest into a zygote, thus making claims of virgin births absurd. I refuse to ignore those facts merely because someone else likes the claim of a “pure child”.FACT. human flesh cannot and never has survived rigor mortis. Thus making the death story of Jesus absurd.I understand people like these myths and I understand that the people who wrote these didn’t know any better at the time. But we know better now. The moon is not made of cheese and the earth was not created in 6 days and adult women do not pop out of a man’s rib.

  • Brianrrs37

    If a billion people went around shouting “PIXIES ARE REAL” would that make pixies real?All god claims in human history at their core require one to buy the concept of a disembodied brain that has no brain, no cerebellum or neurons, that has no location and has magical super powers.God belief is merely the wishful thinking of humans in wanting a super hero to protect them. If one can accept that the sun is not a thinking being, like the Egyptians did believe for 3,000 years, what makes any human today think they are not making the same mistake?If one can accept that Allah wasn’t around as a claim 1 billion years ago, what makes anyone think their god claim will be around 5 billion years from now?All god claims will die when our species goes extinct because there will not be another generation to pass the myth down to.

  • Asariel

    “Sadly, we [Christians] are much less well represented in elite education, media, and government.”Interesting statement. According to the Random House Dictionary, “elite” means”–noun “–adjective Was it really your intention, in this “us v. them” argument you’ve constructed, to make the case that Christians are poorly represented amongst the best that government, education, and the media have to offer?

  • darientrain

    When the news about this Pew survey study came out I did a “no-duh” about the atheist knowledge part and didn’t give it much investigation past that.In the past 48 hours I’ve stumbled onto a couple of these “holy man reaction” posts and have literally been stunned by how defensive and frightened religious advocates are by this study.This column is clearly written by someone who is seriously flailing to try and explain something to people who he has told the opposite to for a long time. In addition to that, I doubt that JMR was very surprised by the results of the study either. Any clergy member who’s argued with an atheist knows that they generally know their facts better than members of their congregation.So he’s both feigning surprise and trying desperately to spin this any way he can to retain his spiritual superiority over his online flock.I had no idea it was such a big deal to the holy man circuit but after reading a few of these “On Faith” posts I’m quite surprised at the effect it’s had.Keep writing stuff like this On Faith. Each disingenuous response dilutes your credibility further.

  • kenk3

    John Mark Reynolds seems like a seriously disgusting person after reading this drivel.

  • eneasz

    In the famous words of the internet:

  • crazyivan1

    What a disingenuous and misleading post. No sooner than the second sentence you made a verifiably false and dismissive claim. So few atheists and agnostics?There are more atheists and agnostics in this country than there are jews, muslims, hindus, bhuddists, all other non-christian religions and all non-protestant and non-catholic religions combined. We make up some 15% of the population (and more than 15% of the commentors on your article, I notice).No chance of a populist uprising? Hate to break it to you, buddy, but you are smack in the middle of an atheist uprising. You are a vestigial remnant clinging to an outmoded faith. I should also point out that atheism and agnosticism are growing while all christian faiths are shrinking. We’re getting bigger and we’re doing it my plucking the less gullible sheep from your flock.There are more atheists and agnostics in this nation that there are:- African AmericansThe US census list less than 2% of the population as atheist, but that is actually the number of anti-theists in the country. It lists the total percent of “nonreligious” people (by definition, atheists) at over 15%.Do the math, buddy, your side is losing and it is the pompous, dismissive attitude that is causing it. But by all means, keep your eyes closed while we take over.

  • TheTitaniumDragon

    Actually, the reality is what you cannot accept – atheism is prevalent in the top echelons in society not as a mark of elitism, but because atheists have an easier time rising high than others do. This is for a variety of reasons, but the simplest of all is this:Atheists are smarter than other people.Study after study has confirmed this. The more you educate someone, the smarter they become… and the more likely they are to be atheists. But even on the same educational level, the more intelligent are more likely to be atheists.The reality is that you are deluding yourself. You have failed to take into account the possibility that you are wrong.Atheists know trivia about these religions. We understand them, too. Believers don’t, it is clear, and it is not because of lack of education. Mythology class does indeed discuss religion, as does world history. These aren’t subjects which aren’t covered by school; they’re subjects you simply don’t understand.Jews and atheists are the two smartest groups in the US, and it is completely unsurprising that they did the best. The Mormons are well educated about religion, and also tend to be better educated (and therefore smarter) than the usual folk, and also do better. Shock and surprise. True believers, conversely, tend to be stupid, and we constantly hear about them butchering their own holy words – it is perhaps unsurprising they can be brought to demand blood when they know so little about their holy words themselves.I learned about religion because I educated myself, and those around me know because the public education system taught them about it.No, it isn’t the public education system that failed. It is you.The greatest hope for the coming generation is that there won’t be as many people like you in it.

  • HumanSimpleton

    Spoken like a theist!Fact-free sermon, playing the persecution card (does it not get tiresome, playing the oppressed minority?) as if that helps.I became an atheist by studying the Bible.What’s your excuse for not doing the same?

  • HumanSimpleton

    Incidentally, faith is not intellectual, it is lazy thinking, or more appropriately lack of it.That is why it is called faith, otherwise it’d be called reasoning.In addition to reading the Bible, please consult a dictionary

  • vwbus76

    all this is “flinging poo” with words.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Mr. ReynoldsI think that if you would let go of your Christian grudge against gay people and people who do not share this point of view, all the rest that is wrong with you would work itself out. Your skewed Christian perspective is definitely misrepresentative of a more pure way of Christian thinking. I am curious to see who you will blame for the unanimous opinons expressed here against you, and how you will blame them as well. You can be a better person than you are.

  • wmpierce

    This article is rife with logical flaw. For example, you use Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, and students regurgitating Plato as analogies for the Pew poll. However, you assume that success in matters of fact or trivia correlates to potentially inferior understanding. Imagine a game of Jeopardy in which one person beats her opponents in subjects such as Platonic Thought or American History. Your reasoning seems to suggest that the losers would be more likely to have a better understanding of these subjects. I would predict the opposite. Now, getting more answers right does not automatically equal having a better understanding, but it certainly has no relationship to having a worse understanding.Yes, it appears Americans have been somewhat lobotomized by hundreds of cable channels and the latest iPhone apps. At the same time, it appears that the average non-believer has retained more brain matter than the average believer.I would guess that “street level” is as roughly proportionally rampant as “street level” religion. The hypocritical Christians are terribly visible in American culture. But as for those Christians who live by the Sermon on the Mount, who vote by the values of Jesus, who love without judgment, they have sparsely populated a vast expanse of pretenders. It is my personal experience–take that for what it’s worth–that non-believers are more likely to embody those values while rejecting the accompanying Christian dogma.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    JOhn Mark,Calm down. As far as students are concerned, Americans are doomed. We are doomed, and we must accept that fact. It is part of our human condition. Knowing something, anything about Maimonides and Jonathan Edwards, two of histories greatest theologians is not trivia.But take some comfort in this. As three bloggers, including yours truly, quickly recognized, Pew’s answer to at least one of the Pew Survey’s thirty-two questions is, literally, incorrect. This, we found when Elizabeth Tenety published five of the questions. Now, even if Pew’s answers to the remaining thirty-one questions are correct, the findings are NOT VALID. This, you may check with any statistician at your university.I haven’t bothered to check the other questions, but you might want to. There is certainly an article in this.Regards,

  • norem

    Professor Reynolds, after reading both this column and your homophobe’s manifesto (found here: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”Perhaps your anger and bitterness could be more appropriately manifested in a humanitarian cause. How many children died of starvation while you were fabricating this insulting tirade?

  • RCofield

    HUMANSIMPLETON,”Incidentally, faith is not intellectual, it is lazy thinking, or more appropriately lack of it. That is why it is called faith, otherwise it’d be called reasoning.”Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the *substance* of things hoped for, the *evidence* of things not seen.Many of the great intellectual thinkers of history have been people of faith.”In addition to reading the Bible, please consult a dictionary”In addition to reading Dawkins/Dennett/Harris & Hitchens, please consult a bible.

  • twmatthews

    RCOfield quoted: Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the *substance* of things hoped for, the *evidence* of things not seen.Wow, quoting a meaningless verse from the bible to make a point. How about, a vapor is the essence of all that is rock solid? Or maybe you would prefer a scientist used as evidence everything their tests did not demonstrate. Really RCO you’d buy into a scientific theory whose evidence was based on what was hoped for and not on the actual test results? I sure am hoping this compound cures cancer. Would hope be enough for going to market with a drug?

  • RCofield

    TW!Where the heck have you been man?So…”meaningless bible verse” eh? It is probably meaningless to you because you are reading mail that was intended for someone else. Given your commentary, you obviously don’t understand what the passage is saying.I would have thought that a “substantive” and “evidence” based faith would have been fairly inoffensive to you, what with you being all about the all-sufficiency of science. Oh well. Whoddathunkit? :-)Besides, HUMANSIMPLETON was trying to make the case that faith is anti-intellectual, which does not square with the historical evidence. By the way, I never did get a response from you on what it was that you said you “understood” about my Commodore 64 computer analogy. Peace

  • twmatthews

    RCO, I’m great. We are officially empty nesters now and based on the If you clean the kitchen up before going to bed at night, it remains clean when you wake up the next morning. (This was not the case during the summer when 2 out of 3 sons were living at home). As if by magic, dishes were dirtied, food was (vast quantities) consumed and dirty laundry grew during the night, as if by magic. And no, I didn’t need to have faith in order for this to occur. It just did.Point #2 — when two or more sons are home and at least one of which is over 21, all your expensive, local micro-brewed beer will be transformed into Miller Lite. I know that you’re going to say that Jesus turning water to wine is a miracle. My sons turning the French Broad IPA into Miller Lite or sometimes Bud Lite is viewed by me as less than miraculous. Point #3 — There is no time too late for friends to come over for a visit. None of our friends would think of coming over after 9:00 pm. But during the summer, many times we woke up to find new cars in the driveway that weren’t there at midnight.Point #4 — I love having the boys use the house as a home base and although I have faith they are not drinking and driving. I much prefer the evidence of having them here all night long.So how have you been RCO? Are healthy and happy? I don’t really remember the Commodore 64 analogy but then again, I’m lucky I remember what I had for breakfast this morning. Did it have something to do with spontaneous upgrades?

  • onofrio

    BASICALLY:Biola boy boils at blatant besting of blessed blankbrained believers by burnworthy bratty blasphemers…brilliant barnstorm?

  • onofrio

    I understand that the effects of the Biola virus on the sufferer are particularly hideous to behold.First, condescension leaks from every orifice, starting with the gaze on the intense profile pic.Within a very short time, the sufferer appears piqued and undergoes a sudden rise in temperature, followed by the onset of delusions of significance. These often make the sufferer excessively voluble, and in serious cases may manifest as agitated rambling discourses and heavy blogging.The final stage of the disease is a sustained bout of bloviation, whereby the sufferer is unable to keep down the bile that has accumulated in his aching belly. Now in a convulsive lather of bile and condescension, the sufferer may grasp at anything close to hand to ease his agony, such as straws.Expiry is swift…

  • Brianrrs37

    QUOTE:”Besides, HUMANSIMPLETON was trying to make the case that faith is anti-intellectual, which does not square with the historical evidence.””Pretty metaphor” is nothing but mental blastermation. Faith is anti-intellectual. Once someone, not only tells you the earth is not flat, and they DEMONSTRATE that with evidence, and you still insist on having “faith” that the earth is flat, THAT is anti intellectual.”Pretty stories” do not make magic real. Humans did not pop out of dirt, and the sun and moon are separate sources of light, unlike what the bible falsely describes.It takes TWO sets of DNA to manifest into a zygote. Having “faith” in virgin births IS anti-intellectual.If you said to me now, that the sun was a thinking being, after I demonstrated that it was merely a burning ball of gas, I would call you willfully ignorant. Funny how you reject the claim of the Ancient Egyptians false belief that the sun was a thinking being, but yet you are unwilling to test your own “faith” with the same scrutiny that causes you to reject what the Egyptians falsely believed for 3,000 years.”Faith” is willful ignorance and is anti-intellectual because it mistakes pretty stories as being fact, merely because the person likes the story, not because they can prove the magical fantastic claims of the bible.

  • Seantzizl

    This article is trash. You’re ignorance of the atheist perspective makes this article a classic example of irony. It is exactly why I give less and less credit to even the most liberal of believers. That said, I completely agree with you about teaching world religions and about atheism in public schools, so long as it is from an unbias perspective. In fact, I did learn a lot about world religions in my high school civics courses, however, the point of view of renowned atheist thinkers was never mentioned.It might help you to talk to more atheist. You obviously assert that there is a blanket system of ethics that all atheist agree on. That is completely false. You mention Glenn Beck, and it happens I agree with him on a lot of things, but religion isn’t one of them. I’ve also read Hayek, and his fellow thinkers from the Austrian school such as Ludwig Von Mises and Murray Rothbard. Rothbard, I must add, was an atheist.

  • csintala79

    I suppose you would rather have open heart surgery done by an empathetic and emotional yet clumsy, poorly educated and misinformed surgeon, than an unemotional and pragmatic yet very skilled, well educated and knowledgeable one. I think one would want their surgeon to do well at Medical Jeopardy. Would you rather have your opration done by a clutzy and dull Christian surgeon or a skilled and brilliant atheist surgeon?

  • NoSacredCow

    “Atheism a boutique belief system”?Atheism as a philosphy has been around longer than “christianity” and as long as Judaism. It is not a belief system it is simply the absence of belief in a god or gods. It is the questioning of blind faith in imaginary superfriends and parent figures.Religion (especially the Abrahamic faiths; Judaism, Christianity and Islam) is the antithesis of critical thought.It’s all about the facts, not supposition based on the “god of the gaps” argument.It is quite tiresome when the “educational elite” such as John Mark Reynolds engage in apologetics by equating religion with wisdom.Talk about hucksterism. The world will be a far better place when more and more people realize that the Abrahamic religions constitute the longest continuously operated grifts in the world. “Without doubt the greatest injury was done by basing morals on myth, for sooner or later myth is recognized for what it is, and disappears. Then morality loses the foundation on which it has been built.” Herbert Samuel

  • ericholiphant

    “The Pew Study demonstrates that facts are not enough.”Of course, he fails to address that perhaps the study demonstrates that taking the time to learn the ‘facts’ is sufficient to dissuade one from embracing or continuing a life lived ‘on faith’.