Bible knowledge in decline

Knowledge of the Bible is in decline in Britain, with fewer than one in 20 people able to name all Ten Commandments and youngsters viewing the Christian holy book as “old-fashioned”, a survey said.

Atheists, however, were not unduly worried about the decline in the Bible’s popularity.

“It shows really that religion is becoming less important to people,” said Pepper Harow, campaigns officer at the British Humanist Association.

I got the article link from the BBC’s Big Question forum. Here was my own response at the time.

Whether you are a believer or not the Bible and the Church of England is part of our national culture and heritage. How can you hope to understand and appreciate the Reformation, The English Civil War or The Enlightenment without some idea of what the bible meant to people. Our language is resplendent with biblical references, our laws are often derived from biblical sources and overturned because we have no secular reason for keeping them.

We should have an awareness of the bible even if we believe that it is myth because people took it very seriously for a very long time. How can you argue against something if you don’t know where the idea came from. If you support stem cell research then you must know about the objections that are derived from Christian dogma as well as those that come from ethical considerations. If you support a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy then you need to understand how others object to it. If you support free education then you need to understand the basis for it and how Christianity was instrumental in creating the public school system.

Some responses lament the decline of knowledge in the general populace.  “We are becoming dumber” they say.  I disagree though that knowledge is in decline.  In the 21st century we have unprecedented access to knowledge on almost any subject you can imagine. I can read Ulysses online, go to a library, order it from Amazon or even borrow a copy. I can discuss the references in a forum with people all over the world if I wish and can even search for one if I don’t know where to find one. I can join a correspondence course, arrange to meet up with Joyce or Tennyson enthusiasts or just write a blog about it. None of this was possible even 10 years ago on the scale we have today.

I think what is in decline is interest. We are becoming the Eloi and the Morlocks, neither is a fate I find particularly appealing.  Do you disagree?  Should we lament the loss of our history or allow that which has served it’s purpose to pass unremarked and unmourned?  Is the decline of biblical knowledge, as I believe, a symptom of a society that has grown bored and indolent, that seeks only survival and entertainment.  If we are losing the roots of our history then is this a step to replacing these old myths with something better for everyone?


Filed under Atheist, Debate

5 responses to “Bible knowledge in decline

  1. Ed

    I think every generation spends it’s time on that knowledge that helps it with it’s life. If this generation is spending less time on studying the Bible it’s because that information is not seen to being as relevant to their lives.

    I find the Bible a very difficult document to read, as I will guess most other people do, including many of religious faith. There are so many different Bibles, and different interpretations of every word in it. I think the majority of this, and likely future, generations, are not going to want to take the hours, days, years, it takes to study all the different passages. “Devote” Christians, Jews and Muslims, etc, will make studying their holy book part of their daily routine, as long as their family, and the society they live in, make such study an important part of it’s daily life.

    I agree with you that “knowledge” is not on the decline. Overall people have more information stored in their brains now, than any previous generation, as will the next generation, and the next.

    “I think what is in decline is interest.”

    I don’t agree. I think young people today are more interested in learning how the world works, because information is no more readily available, and they can make, and create more things using this information. The young may prefer to learn how to get to the next level of a video game, instead of doing a crossword puzzle, but both activities involve solving a puzzle. This generation is just interested in different subjects that older generations, and this will repeat itself with future generations as well.

    “If we are losing the roots of our history then is this a step to replacing these old myths with something better for everyone?”

    As our base of knowledge increases, which it is exponentially, and each generation is given more freedom of choice in how it uses this information, which seems to be the trend, I believe our societies will continue to evolve for the better. I think natural selection works the same for societies, as it does for organisms. Those that are more efficient, can adopt better, will survive.

    Will these future generations be more, or less, “moral” if they don’t study guides to behvior like the Bible. On the most important moral questions of intolerance and violent conflict, I have seen nothing but improvement in my lifetime, however slowly it has happened. I think this positive trend will continue in the future, hopefully at a faster pace.

  2. No-one in society could say that knowledge is in decline. The 20th century was the century of the Knowledge Explosion unequaled but chased by the human population explosion.

    We now have far more ‘knowledge’ than ever before at any point in out history.

    Part of this is due to our interest which i don’t believe is decreasing – simply changing. Part of it is due to more ‘complacency’ as a result of economic development which results in less international conflict or time dedicated to non-knowledge related time consuming activity. Part of it is due to the greater amount of ‘leisure time’ as opposed to working time caused by the movement from an agricultural to an industrial society and the increase in individual wealth that has ensued.

    For many decades this was a predominantly western culture thing, however China and India are two regions where this no longer applies and other non-western countries (like Arab Emirates) are catching up.

    Knowledge however is moving ‘past’ the longest standing repository of widespread human knowledge ( at least again in the west – the Bible)

    Personally i find this a sad thing as i do believe The Bible contains invaluable and much needed information that is not being ‘researched’ or developed by a large section of our modern society who are ‘losing out’ as a result.

    They may believe or feel that what they are losing is compensated for by the vast amount they are discovering ( or re-discovering in some cases) but many will completely lose a major part of what the Bible has to offer.

    And that is very sad i feel.

    For what is it if a man gain the whole world, but lose his Soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his Soul? (Matt 16:26)

    i see precious little in the modern world that is growing in interest and ‘popularity’ that seems to offer mankind ‘something better’ than that which the Bible has, (but which has also often been imperfectly grasped by the masses).

    You may believe in the future of humanity coming into possession of something ‘better’ by reason of man’s ‘reason’ – but i can promise you it will be as badly misunderstood by the mostly mindless masses as religion has been the last 2000 years.

    Knowledge may increase but man’s nature and intelligence changes but VERY slowly. There are people (many of them) living today in today’s world who are not all that far removed from cavemen, intellectually and habitually (and spiritually).



  3. Francis


    I was disappointed to see that the CS Lewis posts had come to an end. So I decided to peruse further what has been written by the host.

    I was surprised by both this post and the two comments, and I believe that all three demonstrate the thesis of the cited publication.

    To the host: You switched knowledge with access to knowledge. Now if you were defining the parameters and the definitions of the discussion, you may have a point, but the clear direction of the authors is that knowledge is defined by what people actually know. They are not addressing information (a more accurate term for your thesis) that is “out there” but instead, “in here”, as it were.

    The fact that there is less interest could be either a symptomatic or causal correlation to the central thesis of the cited authors, but that is yet another post.

    Now, the two commenters both accepted your erroneous equation of personal knowledge (the clear bent of the article) with collective information. Neither noticed your “switch”.

    A solid education in rhetoric and logic, such as a riguorous 18th or 19 century education would have provided, would be a buttress against accepting an erroneous premise in a loose syllogism, such as you provided. This education would be “knowledge” in the manner which the cited authors were addressing. The three persons in this thread were not able to detect this impositional error, thereby, demonstrating a decrease in knowledge in the matters of logic and rhetoric, thereby upholding the cited authors’ thesis.

    Keep poking!


  4. Frank, Concerning your last sentence.

    For this to be in any way logical or correct you would need to provide evidence that for whatever period you are comparing so as to ‘prove’ a ‘decline’ between knowledge ‘then’ versus ‘now’ that any three typical commenters would have not made the same ‘error’. i challenge the veracity of your conclusion that Hov, Ed’s or my ‘failure’ shows there to be a decline in knowledge in the total population which ‘upholds’ the Author’s thesis – which by the way was that BIBLICAL knowledge was in decline in the general population of Britain. Nothing whatsoever to do with Rhetorical or logical knowledge.

    And for your further edification:

    Hov was not in error ‘challenging’ the Author’s conclusion regarding biblical knowledge in the manner you suggest but was referring to comments made by others to the report concerning a decline in the knowledge of the population.

    Certainly there is a little room for doubt concerning the point of knowledge versus information but Hov was making a NEW postulation about access to knowledge rather than misinterpretting either the original Authors or the subsequent commenters to the articale.

    Not reading the article the first time i chose instead to address my reply to Hov’s argument and hence i did not ‘notice’ the transitional error because a) there wasn’t one and b) it was not necessary to the objectives of my and Hov’s comments.

    Finally, for there to be a decline in personal knowledge it would need to be demonstrated that there was a quantitative or qualitative decline of such knowledge (not specified in the article) and not merely a switch in focus of the knowledge, like from say, The Bible to computer operation or celebrity status, for the various groups (the entire British Population circa 2009 or the 900 survey participants) for such other earlier group as to which the comparison is being made.

    Hope that clears up a few points? 🙂


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