Atheist Myth #4: Ignorance of God

This is a guest post from Mary Ellen Sykes, who runs the American Secular Census. It’s the third in a series of five posts that will run this week. The first myth and the introduction to this series are here. The second myth is here. The third is here.

Myth #4: Atheists disbelieve because they are ignorant about God and religion.

American Secular Census logo, bar graph next to organization name.

More than 71% of those providing religious background data to the Secular Census have a former faith, most dating back to childhood. 30.9% received religious training in a theistic congregation, 16.7% attended religious schools during all or most of their K-6 years, and 12% during all or most of grades 7 through 12. It can’t be a lack of exposure to theology that leads to atheism.

Blame it on knowledge: by far the most frequently cited reasons for leaving the fold are “Became too educated to remain religious” (79%) and “Too much skepticism about basic tenets” (78%).

Because the journey to atheism is a rational, exploratory one rather than a burning-bush conversion, many atheists know more about dogma and practice than their religious counterparts, an irony confirmed in 2010 when atheists and agnostics scored higher than believers on a test of religious knowledge given by the Pew Forum for Religion & Public Life.

“If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist,” wrote the Los Angeles Times.


Tomorrow: Myth #5: Atheists are waging a War on Christmas.

Mary Ellen Sikes is the founder, president, and developer of the American Secular Census. She became involved in the secular movement in the early 1990s, went on to found and lead a local humanist group, and has served in various staff, officer, advisory, and board positions for regional and national organizations, most recently as a co-founder of Secular Woman.

Screen capture of American Secular Census About page.

American Secular Census methodology: Because not all registrants complete every form or every question, sample sizes vary from topic to topic and cannot be generalized. Until the Census reaches a 5-figure registry overall, analysis should be considered suggestive rather than statistically authoritative; however, most questions now have sample sizes approaching or exceeding those of nationally recognized surveys.

Atheist Myth #4: Ignorance of God

2 thoughts on “Atheist Myth #4: Ignorance of God

  1. 1

    I went through decades of studying various religions trying to find one that made sense to me before I finally gave up on believing. That’s not unusual in my experience with other atheists – most of us can clean the clocks of the vast majority of Christians especially in quizzes about their religion.

  2. 2

    Same, busterggi. I studied multiple Christian denominations (reading copious lengths of different bible translations in the process) as well as paganism, buddhism, Judaism, and some Islam for good measure. The end of result of that – atheism.

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