Philosophers and Atheism

I was recently pointed to this interesting survey of professional philosophers (i.e. philosophy faculty members). Of the nearly 1000 professional philosophers queried, when asked the question “God: theism or atheism?”, these were the results:

Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
Other 117 / 931 (12.6%)

So only 15% of the philosophers are theists or lean towards theism, while about 73% are atheists or lean towards atheism (the ‘other’ category includes such answers as: agnostic/undecided, intermediate view, another alternative, skip question, unclear question, and reject both). When you adjust the settings to include those with a PhD in philosophy (but who do not fall under philosophy faculty) the results are the same:

Accept or lean toward: atheism 1257 / 1803 (69.7%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 295 / 1803 (16.4%)
Other 251 / 1803 (13.9%)

While it would obviously be foolish to imply a causal link here (it is only a statistical correlation), I am curious as to why more philosophers identify with atheism than theism. This is just speculation on my part but perhaps there is a bit of statistical bias going on in this survey. What I mean is that people who study philosophy and wind up in the theist camp are perhaps more likely to become theologians than philosophers. Every academic theologian I am familiar with interacts with various fields of philosophy, so I think one could perhaps say that those with a philosophical bent, yet who also believe in a deity, might have a tendency to become theologians instead of philosophers (there are, of course, many exceptions to this sweeping generalization e.g. popular Christian apologists, William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga, are philosophers who are theists). In other words, academic philosophy (which is generally analytic philosophy) is what one might want to label as ‘secular’ philosophy, while academic theology encompasses theistic philosophy.

Anyway, check out the survey and peruse the questions. It’s very intriguing to catch a glimpse of the trends of philosophers in regards to specific philosophical issues.

4 responses

  1. I think you’re right about statistical bias. I remember
    seeing a survey among philosophers of religion where that
    percentage of theists was significantly higher and atheists
    correspondingly lower. Which would make sense in light of your
    point about religious philosophers leaning towards theology and
    philosophy of religion. Can’t find those numbers anywhere though,
    so I might be mistaken. Maybe one of your other readers

  2. “This is just speculation on my part but perhaps there is a bit of statistical bias going on in this survey.”

    No, the real answer to your question can be found in the Asch conformity experiments. Check out the following video:

  3. Interesting. On the survey I linked to, you can adjust the results for answers from different areas of specialty. If you do that for philosophy of religion, then it gives you 73% are theists, 20% are atheist, and 7% other.

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