30 September 2010

Uncommon Commentary #131: Atheists, Agnostics, and Heretics? P-ew!

A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has found that believers in various faiths to be found in the spirituality spectrum of the USA are actually more ignorant about religion nowadays than are atheists and agnostics.  Atheists, and agnostics, if the latter are organized, doubtlessly will claim these results as proof that knowledge leads to the spurning of religion, but the truth is more complex.
Columnist Cal Thomas (a Christian) wrote in his 28 September column that the fact that nullifidians scored highest on the survey (correctly answering an average of 20.9 out of 32 multiple-choice questions) doesn't surprise him, for "To reject religion you must understand what you are rejecting."  Thomas ought also to have pointed out the glaring deficiency of the Pew poll, which is that the categories of people surveyed (from highest to lowest rank: "Atheist/Agnostic," "Jewish," "Mormon," "White evangelical Protestant," "White Catholic," "White mainline Protestant," "Nothing in particular," "Black Protestant," and, with a median of only 11.6 correct answers, "Hispanic Catholic") do not distinguish between persons who actually live their professed faith and those who don't take it very seriously.  In the analysis of the survey results, Pew Forum associate director for research Alan Cooperman—who shares Thomas's assessment that atheists do not reject religion without serious consideration—observed that "People with the highest levels of religious commitment – those who say that they attend worship services at least once a week and that religion is very important in their lives – generally demonstrate higher levels of religious knowledge than those with medium or low religious commitment," but he failed to specify how much higher.  Jews as a whole scored only four tenths of one percentage point lower than atheists and agnostics, and so it's completely justifiable to presume (especially given the large number of their brethren who are Jewish in name only) that devout Jews fared far better on this test than did the poll subjects who don't believe in anything; much the same must be true of Mormons, who finished a close third with an average of 20.3 correct answers, and, at least to a lesser extent, of members of Christian denominations "other than" Mormonism (which, sadly, is heterodoxy), the highest mean score for whom was 17.6.  Note also the low performance of the "nothing in particular" [in their heads?] crowd.
Unbelief does not proceed from superior intelligence and wisdom.  It's illogical not to believe in some sort of deity or deities, although the quest for understanding the supernatural does not necessarily produce the concept of a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent god, which is why we need divine revelation.  Don't invoke the cosmogony of Stephen Hawking, either; the scientific fact that the universe has a beginning argues for the existence of God, Whom theologians, long before the "Big Bang" theory, were already designating by the term First Cause, signifying an uncreated creator.  Truly did the author of Psalm 14, verse 1a, write that "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'"