This seems discouraging. If an atheist argues with a deeply religious person over a matter of faith, the atheist likely knows more about the issue.
But look closer at the actual survey results: What it says is that atheists/agnostics and Jews know more about world religions, while Mormons and Evangelicals know more about Christianity. That means the 32 multiple choice questions were essentially a pop quiz, a simplified Double Jeopardy category where you get a name (Joseph Smith) and you provide the question (Who was a leader of the Mormon faith?).
The survey is saying the truly faithful don’t care to know anything about religions other than their own. That means anyone who argues with the devout won’t get anywhere bringing up what other people believe, since it won’t really factor in the debate.
For example, go to an evangelical rally and say Jesus appears in the Koran. You’d probably start a riot because a lot of the faithful would consider that blasphemous. But Jesus and Mary, and a lot of other major figures in the Bible (including Abraham, Noah and Moses, who are also in the Torah) are in Islam’s holy book. So when a certain group of zealots in Gainesville, Florida, talk about buring Korans to commemorate 9/11, that pretty much falls in line with the Pew survey results. They know their faith, they don’t care about anyone else’s.
The survey says it factored in educational background in analyzing the results, so the overarching premise stands on who knows more about what. But that seems to be a general slap at the U.S. education system. If people believe you can’t teach comparative religion in schools, few are going on their own to learn anything about other religions. Then again, if you tried to teach comparative religion in schools, the faithful would protest that as an effort to indoctrinate children into other religions.
Perhaps that’s why atheists/agnostics scored the highest: They’re the most likely to have looked at alternatives outside the faith they were raised in, and found nothing that satisfied them.
One other thing: The survey had some general, nonreligious questions. This one always amazes me: four in 10 Americans don’t know who the vice president of the U.S. is.
I can hear Joe Biden saying: “Oh, my God!”