Trends of Atheism and Naturalism among Professional Philosophers

It is difficult to deny that there is a strong negative correlation between professional expertise in the field of science and traditional monotheistic beliefs. 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences doubt the existence of god, while an almost reversed proportion of 92% of adults among the general American public do believe in a deity. While different polls have slightly different numbers, and while the specific views people hold about god can vary within many shades of grey, it is still hard to deny that there is an inverse relationship between one’s expert background in science and their belief in monotheism [1].

I do not mean to argue or imply by any of this that such a trend discredits monotheism. That would be an appeal to authority that I have no intention of making. What I do wish to address here is a reverse appeal to authority that I have heard repeated by many apologists:

“Sure, if you just read those scientists like Dawkins and Harris, you are going to think that science disproves God, but you need to study what philosophers have to say about God!”

I have seen a number of apologists make this appeal to authority. The typical approach in this argument is to claim that science does not explain everything and that once one opens herself up to philosophy, she will see how philosophy can reconcile a skeptic to god and religion.

What puzzles me most about this argument is that my main objections to the existence of a deity are in fact philosophical. I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, and I mostly refute apologetic arguments about god that are based in history and, yes, philosophy. Further peculiar is this notion that professional philosophers are all shaking their heads at skeptical scientists, who supposedly don’t understand philosophy and thus have poor reasons for doubting the existence of a deity.

Unlike science, does studying professional philosophy increase one’s chances of believing in monotheism or religion? Nope, and in fact positive trends towards atheism, and even naturalism, are almost as strong among professional philosophers as they are among professional scientists. Is philosophy the magical tool that can save belief in god in the modern age? I don’t think so, and it turns out that most professional philosophers agree with me. This does not make me right in any sense at all. Most professional philosophers could be wrong, but it does show that apologetic appeals to authority in the field of philosophy are wrong not only due to the fallacious nature of the argument itself, but even due to the flawed premises often assumed by the apologist.

Analyzing a recent PhilPapers survey of professional philosophers will show just where most philosophers stand on the key issues that are debated between atheists and theists. If one wishes to make appeals to the majority opinions in philosophy, she will find that the results far more often come out favorably for atheism rather than for theism.

We’ll start with the basics. How many professional philosophers believe in god? The PhilPapers survey shows (for target faculty):

God: theism or atheism?

Accept or lean toward: atheism 1257 / 1803 (71.1%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 295 / 1803 (18.4%)
Other 251 / 1803 (10.5%)

Wow! So virtually 70% of professional philosophers are atheist? That puts theologians like Plantinga and Swineburne in quite a minority. Now, an astute religious studies expert might point out that atheism does not necessarily entail naturalism. There are, after all, atheistic but non-naturalist worldviews. So even if most philosophers are atheist, are naturalists still philosophical bumpkins with no support among professionals? Well, the study shows:

Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?

Accept or lean toward: naturalism 912 / 1803 (49.8%)
Accept or lean toward: non-naturalism 474 / 1803 (25.9%)
Other 417 / 1803 (24.3%)

Well, I guess naturalism, even if by a smaller margin, is once more the dominant position among professional philosophers. Apologists who think that naturalists are just closed-minded scientists who don’t understand philosophy apparently don’t know about most professional philosophers.

On a number of other key philosophical issues that are debated between atheists (or naturalists) and theists, the results likewise lean towards atheist/naturalist positions among philosophers.

For example, I have argued previously that abstract objects (e.g. tableness) do not exist beyond patterns of matter and energy that humans perceive and assign names to. Am I taking a fringe stance in philosophy? Well, the results show:

Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?

Accept or lean toward: nominalism 736 / 1803 (39.3%)
Accept or lean toward: Platonism 655 / 1803 (37.7%)
Other 412 / 1803 (23.0%)

The numbers are close here, but nevertheless nominalism has more support among philosophers than Platonism. Not believing in immaterial universals and abstract objects is certainly not an unphilosophical position.

As a follow up to that issue, apologists also frequently argue that certain types of truths, such as mathematical truths, cannot be known empirically (how this supports the existence of a deity escapes me). I have pointed out, however, that logical and mathematical truths are all tautological and belong to analytical knowledge. Full-bodied knowledge about the external world can only be known empirically and explained through analytical paradigms, the combination of which produces what philosophers call “synthetic knowledge.” This distinction allows for 1+1=2 in an analytical capacity while all substantive knowledge is still derived from perceptual experience. Do philosophers think that this is a valid distinction? Apparently, most do:

Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?

Accept or lean toward: yes 1115 / 1803 (64.9%)
Accept or lean toward: no 517 / 1803 (27.1%
Other 171 / 1803 (8.1%)

Why is there this assault on empiricism anyways? Well, the simple fact is that absolutely no empirical evidence suggests the existence of a god or the supernatural. Apologists are thus eager to find some epistemology to that fits better with their religious beliefs. Rationalism and innate truths fit their theology better and thus many apologists take rationalist epistemic positions. Do most philosophers agree with them? No:

Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?

Accept or lean toward: empiricism 687 / 1803 (37.2%)
Other 647 / 1803 (35.0%)
Accept or lean toward: rationalism 469 / 1803 (27.8%)

How about free will? Frequently apologists argue that material determinism excludes the possible existence of free will. This assumes a libertarian definition of free will, where an agent must break free from the chain of cause and effect. There is another position on free will, however, compatibilism, which maintains that determinism actually allows agents to determine their own decisions and destinies. Can this position possibly reconcile the scientific observation of determinism and the concept of free will, without having to appeal to supernatural and immaterial concepts? Most philosophers apparently think so:

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

Accept or lean toward: compatibilism 1004 / 1803 (59.1%)
Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 301 / 1803 (14.9%)
Other 265 / 1803 (13.7%)
Accept or lean toward: no free will 233 / 1803 (12.2%)

What about mind-body physicalism? Science, neurology, and psychology all point towards our minds being solely material objects, without the existence of any soul or immaterial components. Even if scientists say this, can philosophers possibly agree? Surely one will realize that the mind must be immaterial if they are philosophically erudite, correct? So the apologist assumes, but actual philosophers more often than not agree with the naturalist:

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?

Accept or lean toward: physicalism 981 / 1803 (56.5%)
Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism 521 / 1803 (27.1%)
Other 301 / 1803 (16.4%)

Ah, but what about the philosophers who specialize in cognitive science? Surely, they must realize that it is philosophically naive to say that the mind is purely physical, right? Nope, and, in fact, physicalism increases among philosophers of cognitive science:

Accept or lean toward: physicalism 91 / 122 (76.8%)
Other 23 / 122 (17.9%)
Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism 8 / 122 (5.4%)

So, is there anything unphilosophical about being an atheist, naturalist, nominalist, empiricist, compatibilist, and physicalist? Not at all, and, in fact, the typical apologetic and theistic positions on these issues are in the minority.

I repeat that this does not mean that atheism and naturalism are correct. I am making no appeal to authority. I am showing, however, how apologetic appeals to the authority of figures such as Alvin Plantinga, to argue what “philosophers” think about these issues, are often non-representitive. Plantinga is a minority among professional philosophers who are mostly atheists and naturalists [2]. This doesn’t make atheism and naturalism correct by itself, but it is very interesting how not only studying science increases one’s atheism, but studying philosophy as well.

I once encountered an apologist who repeated to me the following quote about atheism and philosophy:

“A little philosophy makes men atheists: A great deal reconciles them to religion.” -Francis Bacon

Well, is this true? The numbers suggest otherwise. The PhilPapers survey shows the following trend in theistic beliefs as one’s degree level in philosophy increases:

Undergraduate

Accept or lean toward: atheism 135 / 217 (62.2%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 44 / 217 (20.3%)
Other 38 / 217 (17.5%)

Graduate

Accept or lean toward: atheism 527 / 829 (63.6%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 173 / 829 (20.9%)
Other 129 / 829 (15.6%)

Faculty or PhD

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

Well, as this trend shows, the higher one’s degree is in philosophy, the more likely she is to be an atheist. Contra to what apologists claim, a little philosophical training correlates with a higher rate of atheism and a lot of philosophical expertise correlates with an even greater degree of atheism. Perhaps this is not a causal trend, but it certainly shows that there is no widespread causal relation between studying philosophy and “reconciling” people to religion (in fact, there is more evidence to suggest that the opposite is true). The same holds true in science, and while I am not aware of a similar survey in Classics, I would not be surprised if one’s expertise in Classics and ancient history likewise corresponds with a higher degree of skepticism towards Christianity. New Testament Studies is a field fairly heavily stacked by theists, but even former theists–such as Bart Ehrman, Hector Avalos, and Robert Price–have likewise lost their faith after becoming experts in their former religion.

A particularly interesting trend is that, even in philosophy of religion (which is more weighted with theists than other philosophical sub-branches, as is discussed in footnote 2 below), the direction of belief revision caused by studying the arguments in PoR actually leads more professionals to revise their beliefs from theism to atheism. Helen De Cruz in a qualitative study has found the following about philosophers of religion who changed their beliefs as the result of their studies:

“An interesting theme that emerged was philosophical training and engagement led to belief revision. The direction of this revision was most frequently in the direction from theism to atheism, in line with recent work in cognitive science of religion that indicates that analytic reasoning and active reflection discourage religious belief. Several authors stated that they held unreflective religious beliefs before they studied philosophy, which they subsequently began to question, and abandon, as a result.”

In response to such trends, many apologists accuse atheists, particularly those who have deconverted from religion and theism due to intellectual doubts, of only putting up “intellectual smokescreens” when they abstain from religion. These forms of personal attacks are particularly prominent in the polemics of apologists like William Lane Craig, who claims:

“I firmly believe, and I think the Bizarro-testimonies of those who have lost their faith and apostatized bears out, that moral and spiritual lapses are the principal cause for failure to persevere rather than intellectual doubts. But intellectual doubts become a convenient and self-flattering excuse for spiritual failure because we thereby portray ourselves as such intelligent persons rather than as moral and spiritual failures.”

So which is the correct interpretation of the data? Is atheism merely a “self-flattering excuse for spiritual failure,” or does the increased ratio of atheists among professional scientists, philosophers, and even the majority of philosophers of religion who undergo belief revision suggest that there are, in fact, genuine intellectual doubts that lead to skepticism of theism and religion? I leave it to the readers to decide.

-Matthew Ferguson

[1] As noted above, the percentage of theists among the general population versus the scientific community varies depending on the study; however, virtually all professional surveys on this issue note an inverse relationship between scientific expertise and traditional monotheistic beliefs. For example, in addition to to the Gallup poll and NAS survey cited above, there are also recent Pew studies which find that 83% of the general American public believes in god, while only 33% of scientists who belong to the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) believe in god. While this gap is slightly smaller than the gap indicated by the Gallup poll and NAS survey, it still shows that considerably less scientists hold traditional monotheistic beliefs than the general population.

[2] A common apologetic retort to theism’s lack of support among professional philosophers is to point out that 72.3% of philosophers of religion identify as theists. A major problem with identifying professional trends within the the sub-branch of “philosophy of religion,” however, is accounting for selection bias. Studies have shown that most people who go into PoR are already believing theists, and many have an invested interest in defending theistic beliefs (in contrast, fewer atheists are interested in professionally working in PoR). For example, Helen De Cruz in a qualitative study about the motivating factors of people entering PoR, has found that some of the major motivations include :

“Faith seeking understanding: Several respondents indicated that they liked the cerebral, critical nature of philosophy of religion, and that this helps them to deepen their faith.”

And:

“Proselytism and witness: Several people who self-identify as theists indicate that proselytism and witness play a key role in why they do philosophy of religion.”

These motivations reflect how people do not often become theists from studying PoR, rather than that most people who go into PoR are already theists. In fact, Dr Cruz found that, in terms of “belief revision,” more people, whose views were changed from studying PoR, moved from theism to atheism:

“An interesting theme that emerged was philosophical training and engagement led to belief revision. The direction of this revision was most frequently in the direction from theism to atheism, in line with recent work in cognitive science of religion that indicates that analytic reasoning and active reflection discourage religious belief. Several authors stated that they held unreflective religious beliefs before they studied philosophy, which they subsequently began to question, and abandon, as a result.”

Likewise, it should be pointed out that, even if belief in theism is more common among philosophers of religion, it is still not higher than belief in theism among the general population. For example, in the United States, about 92% to 83% of adults believe in theism. While theistic beliefs vary between countries, and philosophy polls are not specified by region, this number is still greater than the 72.3% of philosophers of religion who adhere to theism. So, there is little statistical proof to validate the claim:

“A little philosophy makes men atheists: A great deal reconciles them to religion.” –Francis Bacon

To the contrary, surveys show that even in PoR, belief in god is not substantially greater than in the average population, and among the philosophy community as a whole, belief in theism is far less.

Furthermore, many of the theistic arguments that are made in PoR pertain to other sub-branches in philosophy, so that it cannot be assumed that PoR is the end-all-be-all authority on the question of god’s existence. For example, the apologetic cosmological argument pertains to physical science, and yet 77% of philosophers of physical science are atheists and 60.7% are naturalists. Furthermore, apologists within PoR who critique naturalism, such as Alvin Plantinga, have not had their views supported within other sub-branches of philosophy that pertain to their arguments. For example, Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism is an argument that pertains to the philosophical branch of epistemology. And yet 47.5% of philosophers of epistemology are naturalists (26.2% are non-naturalists and 26.2% are “other”), which is about the same ratio as the 49.8% of professional philosophers as a whole who identify as naturalists. This shows that Plantinga’s epistemological critique of naturalism has not gained substantial support among professional philosophers of epistemology. To the contrary, such indifference suggests that many of the arguments made in PoR are often insular and are not accepted by other philosophical sub-branches that are relevant to the same issues. This disparity is probably due to the fact, noted above, that many people going into PoR are already theists, whereas this trend is not common among the professional philosophical community as a whole. Regardless, there is no statistical proof or survey evidence which suggests that studying PoR increases one’s belief in god or reconciles intellectual doubts about theism.

Likewise, many philosophers within secular academia have questioned the validity of how PoR is currently structured as a philosophical sub-branch. Secular philosopher of religion Graham Oppy (Monash University), for example, in his new book, Reinventing Philosophy of Religion, calls for changes in how the subject is taught and researched within academia.

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20 Responses to Trends of Atheism and Naturalism among Professional Philosophers

  1. Dino Rosati says:

    Well said. Especially liked your clear description of the relationship between theory (analytical knowledge) and how they are compared with one another through empiricism (synthetic knowledge).

    I wonder what you think of Carlos Rodriguez on Bayes and knowledge etc. Check out this video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=9MJajvaTxWw

    • It is an area where apologists try to sneak in the idea of non-empirical knowledge, but it ultimately compares apples and oranges. There is a difference between knowing “January has 31 days” or even a more deductive analytical truth like “all grandmothers have children” rather than knowing “the average age of grandmothers in the USA is X.” The former examples are simply tautological whereas the latter is paired with empirical knowledge, which is the only knowledge that informs us of how the world actually is.

      I’ve been getting into Bayes’ Theorem from reading Richard Carrier and I even took a seminar last quarter on Inductive Logic where we started out reading Laplace. I blogged about applying Bayes’ theorem to miracle claims here: https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/history-probability-and-miracles/

  2. Survey Says!….

    Materialists v Apologists

  3. Lukas Xavier says:

    “Well, the trends show that the higher one’s degree is in philosophy, the more likely she is to be an atheist.”

    When I read that, I thought you might be overstepping. I wasn’t sure if the variation in the numbers would fall within statistical noise, so I did a chi squared test. I get a p value of < 0.01, so the trend seems to be reliable.
    In case anybody else was wondering about that.

    • Thanks for looking into that, Lukas. It would appear that the trend is not due to chance alone. I suppose someone could always argue for another causal factor, however. Perhaps all of the work, anxiety, and stress that goes into finishing a doctoral program and dissertation causes people to lose their faith in god 😄

  4. CaptainBlack says:

    “Well, the trends show that the higher one’s degree is in philosophy, the more likely she is to be an atheist. Contra to what apologists claim, a little philosophy makes many people atheist, a lot of philosophy makes even more people atheist.”

    “Correlation is not causation”, what the data show is the content of the first sentence: that the further up the philosophical food chain one is the more likely one is to be an atheist. As far as I can tell, for your purposes you do not need any more than this.

    • I was careful not to claim that this was a “causal” relationship in the blog, but I realize that the latter statement about how studying philosophy “makes” people atheists suggests a causal relationship. This was a mistake in word choice due to me mimicking the wording of the slogan that I was refuting. I have modified the wording of this statement as follows:

      “Well, the trends show that the higher one’s degree is in philosophy, the more likely she is to be an atheist. Contra to what apologists claim, a little philosophical training correlates with a higher rate of atheism and a lot of philosophical expertise correlates with an even greater degree of atheism. Perhaps this is not a causal trend, but it certainly shows that there is no widespread causal element between studying philosophy and “reconciling” people to religion (in fact, there is more evidence to suggest that the opposite is true).”

      Thanks for catching that! I believe that the rest of blog merely indicates that most philosophers are atheist (leaving the question of causation open) to show that appeals to the authority of the field are based on false premises. But if there is anything else going too far in suggesting a causal relationship, I will sign post and hedge back some of the implications.

  5. Xians & Actual Age of Universe, Ankerberg Show [AUDIO]

    Galileo Moment for Creationism?

  6. Pingback: Episode 40: Matthew Ferguson – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism (Part 1) | NonTheology

  7. Pingback: Episode 41: Matthew Ferguson – Metaphysical Naturalism and Secular Humanism (Part 2) | NonTheology

  8. Pingback: The heart of the matter: why “Creationism” is not scientific | Follow the Wheel: Journey of a Modern Wanderer

  9. Pingback: Five Reasons Why Secular Humanism Is Winning | Views from Medina Road

  10. david says:

    I don’t see how it’s fallacious to claim that if a majority of experts say the same thing about their topic, it is likely that they are correct. That’s just logical. It makes sense to trust a scientific consensus about evolution and global warming, for example, and it also makes sense to give more precedence to a naturalistic position if a majority of philosophers are naturalists. It would be fallacious to claim that the position is infallible because a majority of philosophers believe it, and it would be fallacious to claim that something unrelated to philosophy is more likely to be true because most philosophers believe it, but it’s just basic logic to believe an authority figure in the area they have authority in. Otherwise you’d be committing a fallacy every time you go to a lecture, or read the weather forecast, because you’re trusting the expert in the field of their expertise.

    • Well the Pope is an expert in the field of theology, and he claims that there is one God, the Christian god. According to your suggestion we should take his word just because he is authority.

      On the other hand R.P.Feynman was against any knowledge derived from argument from authority. This is not the scientific way of finding things out. And surely ain’t a philosophical one either.

    • Chrispy says:

      Yes of course! Unless that is, you could find a reason that the opinion might be stacked that way other than strict/good reasoning. Supposing our education system taught 2+2 is 5 (and even made it make sense somehow), the belief of the majority is understandable, so it can be seen to be false.

      It’s important to examine how a person/group of people thinks (the rules they use) to gain this perspective, and to find potential fault in the thinking of the majority.

      This is, after all, what skeptics have done to Deists. Should we turn the tables, we find other glaring flaws.

  11. Most Scientists are not atheist. Most Scientists are divided over God’s existence. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey and found that 51% believe in God or some higher power. Even if Most Scientists were atheist; that still wouldn’t matter because the question of God’s existence is not a Scientific question but philosophical. 70% of Philosophers of Religion are Theist.

    • Hey Dallas,

      As noted at the top of the article, different polls have different numbers about scientists and religious belief. What I particularly meant when I said that studying science correlates with a higher rate of atheism was that the majority of scientists in the upper echelons of science, or in the theoretical sciences (e.g. physics), as opposed to the applied sciences (e.g. engineering), are atheist. The upper echelons of science are predominantly atheist, as evidence by the fact that 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences are atheist. Likewise, almost all cosmologists are atheist, which is a heavily theoretical branch of science and arguably one of the most relevant branches to the question of God’s existence (hence, the cosmological argument).

      I do not think that we can say that the question of God’s existence is solely a “scientific” or “philosophical” question. It depends on how one conceives of the God hypothesis and of the type/quantity of evidence that could confirm it. Since theologians have produced such a wide array of theories about God and since the arguments for God are so diverse and random in their content, I do not think that we can neatly bracket the question of God’s existence into any one discipline. If anything, the inability to find any cohesive and uniform framework to evaluate the question of God’s existence speaks against the usefulness of theistic arguments in any academic context to begin with.

      I do not consider trends in philosophy of religion to be authoritative in evaluating the validity of theism. The reason why is that a lot of philosophy of religion takes place at religious institutions, which are not known for their impartiality. Furthermore, Helen De Cruz has done a qualitative study about the motivations of people going into philosophy of religion. She found that major motivating factors include:

      “Faith seeking understanding: Several respondents indicated that they liked the cerebral, critical nature of philosophy of religion, and that this helps them to deepen their faith.”

      And:

      “Proselytism and witness: Several people who self-identify as theists indicate that proselytism and witness play a key role in why they do philosophy of religion.”

      Such results indicate that most of the people who go into philosophy of religion are already believing theists. As such, polls about religious belief in philosophy of religion say little about the validity or strength of theistic arguments for God, and rather demonstrate that primarily religiously motivated people are interested in making such arguments.

      Another sign that philosophy of religion is not an authority on the question of God’s existence is the fact that so many of the arguments for God pertain to other branches of philosophy, such as epistemology, ethics, cognitive science, and physical sciences, and yet theism is neither central nor commonly accepted in any of these disciplines.

      For example, if Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism were so successful, why is that the majority of philosophers who specialize in epistemology are naturalists (naturalism: 47.5%; non-naturalism: 26.2%; other 26.2%), and atheists (78.1%)?

      If the moral argument for God were so successful, why is it that the majority of philosophers in meta-ethics (79.4%), normative ethics (78.4%), and applied ethics (70.5%) are atheists?

      If theological arguments about the immaterial nature of the mind were so successful, why is it that the majority of philosophers in the philosophy of cognitive science are mind-body physicalists (76.8%), naturalists (85.7%), and atheists (91.1%)?

      If the cosmological and fine-tuning arguments were so successful, why is it that the majority of philosophers in the philosophy of physical science are atheists (77%)?

      Such results indicate that philosophy of religion is largely insular and out of touch with mainstream views in the other branches of philosophy, including those branches where many theistic arguments are pertinent, such as in the philosophy of epistemology, ethics, cognitive science, and physical science. The fact that atheism is dominant in all of these fields shows that theism and appeals to God are largely irrelevant and extraneous when answering serious philosophical questions about epistemology, ethics, cognitive science, and physical science.

      A final note is that the majority of professional scientists, philosophers, and even philosophers of religion all have a lower rates of theistic beliefs than the majority of the U.S. population (and most other countries). So, given that the majority of the population already believes in God, studying any of these disciplines does not increase the rate of theistic belief. If anything, there is more evidence to suggest that studying philosophy, science, and even philosophy of religion, on average, tends to correlate with a decrease in theistic beliefs.

      • Matt says:

        Hello, Adversusapologetica,

        To be honest, I don’t find your response to Dallas persuasive. It kind of reminds me of a response by John D and several other comments made over at commonsenseatheism:(http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=5552). For one, you cite a survey, while accurate in some areas( like Most or many philosophers being atheist and Philosophers of religion being mostly theist) it nevertheless has a low response rate(58%). On top of that, the survey conducted by Chalmers and Bourget also excluded many theistic philosophers at accredited Christian Colleges. Now you made the point of trying to show that Christian colleges can make statements of faith. However, that can not be said of all colleges that identify as Christian. And even if true, I don’t think that should allow one to exclude members of that college if that college is accredited, and has faculty with real PhDs on their staff. You also say that most scientists are atheists and that you were referring to the top echelon’s, however, the survey that Dallas was talking about is conducted by the Pew Research Center and it covers scientists who are apart of the AAAS(Americans Association for the Advancemetn of Science), which is the most prestigious scientific community and has over 120,000+ people. These people are just as educated and prestigious as the NAS. You also object to Dallas’ remark about God not being a scientific question but science can’t prove or disprove God’s existence. Science is about investigating the natural world and God is beyond the natural world.

        You then bring up different philosophical fields within philosophy and how alot of them are atheist as a response to Dallas’ argument that Philosophers of religion are not up to date with current research. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and I think you might have it the other way around. Most philosophers are atheist but then again most philosophers don’t specialize in religion. This is important because if most philosophers are working in other fields outside of PoR, then that means they will know very little, if anything at all about the arguments for/against God’s existence. Don’t take my word for it, look at what these philosophers say about Philosophers outside of religion:

        http://theosophical.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/philosophy-the-last-academic-stronghold-of-theism/

        http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/logical-take/201402/why-62-philosophers-are-atheists-part-i

        This is not to say that philosophers working outside religion can’t make an argument for/against God’s existence, nor is it to say that fields within philosophy don’t overlap. All it is to say is that Philosophers of Religion will know far more about arguments for/against God’s existence because that is their AOS. Philosophers working in other fields aren’t interested in religion and so they will not be engaged with the work of PoR, but rather work within their own field.

        Helen De Cruz’s survey may show certain reasons why people become PoR, but it doesn’t follow that this is the reason why most PoR are theists. That would be a non-sequitir. There are all sorts of reasons(which her survey shows) why people join PoR. However, what follows from that? Nothing. All that tells us is the reason why most people become PoR, and nothing about the arguments. I guarantee that if one took a survey of Bible scholars, a lot would say that they became scholars to grow in their faith, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t trust their opinion on the Bible itself. Dr. Cruz herself has said on one of her blogs that much of the work in PoR is not apologetic in nature.

        At the end of the day, opinions are still opinions(even though they add weight) and so one needs to give arguments. I hold to theism because of the evidence and the opinions of experts(PoR). If you have any arguments for atheism, I am willing to hear them.

        • Dear Matt,

          “To be honest, I don’t find your response to Dallas persuasive.”

          This should read, “In my opinion, I don’t find your response persuasive.” We all have different opinions, which is fine, but words like “honesty” can often be loaded terms. Also, when you state at the end “If you have any arguments for atheism, I am willing to hear them,” you should know that I am someone who blogs regularly about why I disagree with the arguments of apologists, theologians, and conservative biblical scholars, among others, and who does research on related topics as part of my work as a graduate student. I also do things like attend the SBL/AAR and hope to eventually work in Religious Studies after I complete my PhD, so that I will be writing even more on these topics. Obviously I have written plenty elsewhere on why I believe in atheism.

          This essay, in particular, is about the correlation of studying professional philosophy and increased rates of atheism and naturalism versus the general population. I will link to some other things that I have written at the end, but please see my “Comment Policy” about keeping comments related to the topic of each post. I also highlighted your two statements above, because I sense a slight aggressiveness in your comment. You were not overtly disrespectful, but I would advise curbing the tone just a bit if you wish to have a constructive dialogue. The rest of your comment was substantive, and so I shall respond about why I disagree with some of your points.

          “I hold to theism because of the evidence and the opinions of experts(PoR).”

          As is discussed multiple times above, this essay is not about trying to affirm the truth of atheism or theism by citing professional trends, but is particularly interested in whether increased study of philosophy, including PoR, leads to reconciliation with theism and religion. This is in response to the claim of Francis Bacon:

          “A little philosophy makes men atheists: A great deal reconciles them to religion.”

          That claim I do not believe there is any evidence to support. First, I will start by discussing increased trends in atheism and naturalism from studies outside of philosophy.

          “You also say that most scientists are atheists and that you were referring to the top echelon’s, however, the survey that Dallas was talking about is conducted by the Pew Research Center and it covers scientists who are apart of the AAAS(Americans Association for the Advancemetn of Science), which is the most prestigious scientific community and has over 120,000+ people. These people are just as educated and prestigious as the NAS.”

          I say in the essay:

          “It is difficult to deny that there is a strong negative trend between professional expertise in the field of science and traditional monotheistic beliefs.”

          And the Pew Center study found that only 33% of scientists believe in God (18% believe in a universal spirit or higher power), which is substantially lower than the general population. Accordingly, professional study and involvement in science correlates with increased rates of atheism, as both the NAS and Pew surveys show. That is what this essay is about.

          I could also point to other similar trends elsewhere. For example, Miron Zuckerman has done a meta-analysis on the correlation between intelligence and faith and found that higher intelligence likewise corresponds with atheism, even with children who are more intelligent being more skeptical. Now, I nowhere in this essay state that such trends make atheism true. The purpose of this essay is to investigate whether philosophy is the grand exception, where studying more philosophy instead correlates with higher rates of theism.

          “For one, you cite a survey, while accurate in some areas( like Most or many philosophers being atheist and Philosophers of religion being mostly theist) it nevertheless has a low response rate(58%). On top of that, the survey conducted by Chalmers and Bourget also excluded many theistic philosophers at accredited Christian Colleges.”

          If you have another more comprehensive survey that you think better summarizes dominant views among professional philosophers, I’d love to see it. But 58%, compared to many statistical surveys, seems like a pretty high response rate. At the very least, this is the most widespread survey aimed at gauging professional philosophical opinions on these issues that I am aware of. I’ll discuss your concern about the Christian colleges more below.

          “You then bring up different philosophical fields within philosophy and how alot of them are atheist as a response to Dallas’ argument that Philosophers of religion are not up to date with current research. This couldn’t be farther from the truth and I think you might have it the other way around.”

          You repeatedly want to depict philosophers of religion as “experts” on the existence of God. I do not think that is the case. I would instead call them experts on “theology.” But the arguments put forth in theology pertain to other branches of philosophy, which is why, as I explained to Dallas, I do not consider PoR to be the “end-all-be-all” authority on the question of God’s existence.

          Take, for example, apologetic moral arguments for the existence of God that belong to PoR. Most philosophers of ethics do not believe that God is necessary for moral realism to exist, as professional ethicist Shelly Kagan explained in his debate with William Craig (a debate that even many Christians think Craig lost). Now, Shelly Kagan is an ethicist, not a philosopher of religion, but I do not think that he needs to be in PoR to know that God is not necessary for moral realism, and he also (IMO, successfully) rebutted all Craig’s theological arguments to the contrary, even as someone who is not a professional theologian. The reason why is that he studies ethics professionally and is aware of many equally plausible secular accounts of moral realism that can be built from the ground up in an atheistic manner. And, when that is the case, the theological argument that God is necessary for morality falls apart, regardless of whatever is dominant in PoR, because Philosophy of Ethics does not support the premises that theological arguments are relying on. This is why one cannot just look to opinions within PoR on the question of God’s existence.

          “You also object to Dallas’ remark about God not being a scientific question but science can’t prove or disprove God’s existence. Science is about investigating the natural world and God is beyond the natural world.”

          This is not what I said. Here is what I said in context:

          “I do not think that we can say that the question of God’s existence is solely a ‘scientific’ or ‘philosophical’ question. It depends on how one conceives of the God hypothesis and of the type/quantity of evidence that could confirm it. Since theologians have produced such a wide array of theories about God and since the arguments for God are so diverse and random in their content, I do not think that we can neatly bracket the question of God’s existence into any one discipline.”

          Many theological arguments put forth do pertain to the natural world, such as cosmic fine-tuning arguments. It is also relevant that the vast majority of professional cosmologists do not buy these arguments, regardless of what theologians posit outside of the discipline. If theologians do not want God in any sense to relate to the natural world, then they need to stop making cosmological arguments, fine-tuning arguments, arguments from miracles, etc., because these all relate to evidence that can supposedly be found within the natural world.

          “Most philosophers are atheist but then again most philosophers don’t specialize in religion. This is important because if most philosophers are working in other fields outside of PoR, then that means they will know very little, if anything at all about the arguments for/against God’s existence.”

          For one, the paper that you cite from Quentin Smith (which has been popularized by William Craig quote mining it), claiming that naturalists are not familiar enough with the theological objections to their views, is rather old (2001) and probably out of date at this point. (In fact, I can’t even find it online in anymore; it’s link on the Secular Web is now dead. Perhaps Smith has now retracted this view.) Over the last decade there has been a wealth of naturalist literature that responds to the critiques of naturalism, such as Jack Ritchie’s Understanding Naturalism (2008), and that also provides naturalist counter-arguments to theism, such as atheist philosopher of religion Graham Oppy’s The Best Argument Against God (2013), among others.

          Moreover, a crucial point that Smith makes in that paper is the rise of theism in PoR is to a large extent a historical development, particularly when in the 1960’s Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne popularized Christian philosophy and recruited/encouraged other Christians to follow their lead. Personally, I think this development had to do with Christian apologists losing the debate over science in the middle of the 20th century and thus retreating into abstract philosophy as their last defense, but that is just my opinion.

          “Helen De Cruz’s survey may show certain reasons why people become PoR, but it doesn’t follow that this is the reason why most PoR are theists. That would be a non-sequitir. There are all sorts of reasons(which her survey shows) why people join PoR. However, what follows from that? Nothing.”

          De Cruz’s survey is important for identifying whether the direction of belief revision from studying PoR leads to increased belief in theism. De Cruz found the opposite to be the case:

          “An interesting theme that emerged was philosophical training and engagement led to belief revision. The direction of this revision was most frequently in the direction from theism to atheism, in line with recent work in cognitive science of religion that indicates that analytic reasoning and active reflection discourage religious belief. Several authors stated that they held unreflective religious beliefs before they studied philosophy, which they subsequently began to question, and abandon, as a result.”

          So, it cannot be said that increased philosophical training in PoR reconciles people to religion, like that Francis Bacon quote claims. Moreover, there is no evidence that there is a higher rate of theism among philosophers of religion than the general population. Furthermore, another major find in De Cruz’s survey was that the overwhelming number of theists in PoR are specifically Christian theists. In fact, only 4 Jews even took part in the survey and 1 Muslim. Yet, most theological arguments in PoR do not lead to specific religions and theistic traditions, but are natural theological arguments for a general God. But, why then aren’t more theists from other religions represented? I think that the answer probably has to do with historical developments like Plantinga and Swinburne encouraging Christians to go into philosophy, as well as the emphasis placed on philosophy in Christian universities around the mid-20th century. But, that does not prove that belief revision, as the result of philosophical study, is causing people to become theist, or Christian in particular. The study shows that a lot of people who enter PoR are already believing theists. That cannot be used to affirm Bacon’s claim, which this essay is responding to, that studying philosophy, in particular, inclines or reconciles people to theism.

          Finally, there are other problems of selection and sample bias. People who are theist tend to be more interested in going into PoR than atheists. Even most atheists in the discipline are former theists who came from highly religious backgrounds that got them into it. Others, like Keith Parsons, have left PoR because they no longer think its work is valuable. Personally, I think more atheists should get involved in PoR, particularly in defending atheism and naturalism against apologetic attacks, which is a reason that I plan to write more in PoR as a continued part of my academic work.

          “I guarantee that if one took a survey of Bible scholars, a lot would say that they became scholars to grow in their faith, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t trust their opinion on the Bible itself.”

          Personally, as someone who studies antiquity within an entirely secular discipline (Classics), and whose research emphasis specifically overlaps with the origins of the NT (Roman Empire in the 1st-2nd century CE), and who reads both Classics and Biblical Studies articles/books regularly, I have noticed substantial differences in methodology and motivated reasoning, which leads me to think that certain aspects of Biblical Studies are being contaminated by non-academic agendas. That does not mean that there is nothing scholarly and critical in Biblical Studies (there is a ton), but I think that the field shows considerably more bias than Classics (at least among certain authors and publishers). This is odd, since theoretically the two disciplines should use the exact same methods, but it turns out that nobody has an interest today in proving Pagan miracles or the inerrancy of Pagan texts. Instead, many people want to affirm the reliability of the Bible, which I think (sometimes) contaminates the professional study.

          I personally think that both the fields of Biblical Studies and Philosophy of Religion need to be substantially reformed, with changes in their emphases of research and the publishing process. Professionals within each discipline have called for such changes. I agree with biblical scholar Hector Avalos in The End of Biblical Studies and philosopher of religion Graham Oppy in Reinventing Philosophy of Religion about some of the major changes that need to take place in these disciplines. Until those changes are made, I do no think that I can endorse any appeal to authority in these disciplines, because there are too many problems with how they are currently structured.

          “Dr. Cruz herself has said on one of her blogs that much of the work in PoR is not apologetic in nature.”

          And I agree. I myself presented at a PoR conference here at UCI in Spring 2013. Most of what I think is valuable in the discipline is descriptive and historical work about religious and theological beliefs and traditions, but not prescriptive work that claims to reach authoritative conclusions about our ultimate reality, such as God existing. There is one area though where I do not take PoR work seriously at all:

          “Now you made the point of trying to show that Christian colleges can make statements of faith. However, that can not be said of all colleges that identify as Christian.”

          First, when it comes to evangelical universities, we are not just talking about casual statements of faith, but proscribed doctrinal commitments that faculty have been fired for. Biola University, for example, has a very large philosophy department and works night and day trying to prove the existence of God. And yet this is what this institution says in its doctrinal statement:

          “All those who persistently reject Jesus Christ in the present life shall be raised from the dead and throughout eternity exist in the state of conscious, unutterable, endless torment of anguish.”

          I do not take any research from such an institution seriously, not only because it makes bigoted, violent, and hateful statements against people like me, who do not belong to the institution’s religious affiliation, but also because I cannot think of any equivalent policy within secular academia that would make such a statement. Biola, in my opinion, should not be considered a mainstream academic institution.

          There are, as you note, other Christian universities that do not have such doctrinal commitments. Concordia University, for example, is a more mild Lutheran University near UC Irvine (one of our PhD graduates here from UCI is now a faculty member there, and also one of our current graduate students got his BA at Concordia). Now, Concordia requires that you be Lutheran and a theist to be a faculty member at the university. So, if it turns out that all of the philosophy professors there are theist, I wouldn’t be surprised. I can still accept that faculty work there with legitimate PhDs and research (some come from my own program), but I will not endorse appeals to authority of the number of theist philosophers at these universities, because that has to do with hiring practices.

          On a final note, I also think that PoR is a problematic discipline even in secular academia. Paul Draper and Ryan Nicholes have a paper about biases in PoR, in which they note that the discipline is too partisan and one-directional. I have noticed this trend even at secular universities. For example, a couple of years ago there was a “God and Evil” class offered at the University of Arizona (where I got my MA), but the class only explored ways to reconcile theism to the problem of evil (with readings from Swinburne and Plantinga), without exploring arguments and positions in the opposite direction. The class never explored the possibility that the problem of evil may be a genuine defeater of theism (I later joked that it was a class about a hundred ways to try to make a square circle, with the option that a square cannot be a circle never being on the table). If there are problems with PoR within even secular academia like this, I can only imagine the partisan agendas at Christian universities.

          “If you have any arguments for atheism, I am willing to hear them.”

          As for your challenge at the end, I would recommend that you first look at my essay “Defining Theism, Atheism, Supernaturalism, and Naturalism” (which I am currently expanding into an academic paper) as a starting point for how I conceptualize atheism and some of the reasons I deny theism, in which I interact with the writings of professional theologians. You can also read my History & Philosophy FAQ where I provide a summary and index of some of the essays that I have written in the last two years since I started this blog. I plan to write more as I continue in my academic career.

          “I hold to theism because of the evidence and the opinions of experts(PoR).”

          And I am persuaded by the evidence and opinions of experts like, for example, ethicist Shelly Kagan, who argues that theism and theology are an unnecessary assumption in studying ethics. I also agree with epistemologists like Paul Churchland and Konrad Talmont-Kaminski that theism and theology are unnecessary for explaining cognition and truth-finding faculties, and that naturalism can adequately explain the origin of logic and reasoning. These are not philosophers of religion, but professionals working in related fields that have found that everything about these fields can be explained in purely secular and atheistic terms. It’s not just that they make arguments against God, but they show that the concept of God and theology is extraneous and unnecessary to philosophical discourse, which can instead be done from the ground up in a purely secular fashion.

          Theologians, in contrast, argue that God is a necessary being and necessary to answering certain philosophical questions. I agree more, however, with the counter-arguments of a-theologians, like Graham Oppy, Paul Draper, Keith Augustine, Keith Parsons, and John Mackie, that God is not necessary, and that there are no successful philosophical arguments that should persuade an atheist or secularist to be a theist. Theism is simply extraneous to my philosophical worldview.

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