69.7% of Philosophy PhD Holders “Accept or Lean Towards” Atheism

Last November, PhilPapers did a rather thorough and comprehensive survey of both professional philosophers and aspirants to the profession which explored our views on a number of major philosophical issues. Here’s a breakdown of the survey’s participants:

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

Of the 1803 philosophy faculty and/or PhDs, 1257 (69.7%) reported that they accepted or leaned towards atheism, 295 (16.3%) reported that they accepted or leaned towards theism, and 251 (13.9%) listed their views as “Other”.  Here’s the full breakdown of their specific responses:

Accept: atheism1041 / 1803 (57.7%)
Lean toward: atheism216 / 1803 (11.9%)
Accept: theism210 / 1803 (11.6%)
Agnostic/undecided117 / 1803 (6.4%)
Lean toward: theism85 / 1803 (4.7%)
The question is too unclear to answer30 / 1803 (1.6%)
Accept another alternative28 / 1803 (1.5%)
Reject both26 / 1803 (1.4%)
Accept an intermediate view14 / 1803 (0.7%)
Skip14 / 1803 (0.7%)
There is no fact of the matter11 / 1803 (0.6%)
Other9 / 1803 (0.4%)
Insufficiently familiar with the issue1 / 1803 (0%)
Accept both1 / 1803 (0%)

Among 829 graduate students the totals were 527 (63.5%) accepting or leaning towards atheism, 173 (20.8%) accepting or leaning towards theism, and 129 (15.5%) identifying their views as “Other”.  Here is the full breakdown of graduate student opinion:

Accept: atheism414 / 829 (49.9%)
Accept: theism123 / 829 (14.8%)
Lean toward: atheism113 / 829 (13.6%)
Agnostic/undecided63 / 829 (7.5%)
Lean toward: theism50 / 829 (6%)
Reject both15 / 829 (1.8%)
Accept an intermediate view11 / 829 (1.3%)
Accept another alternative10 / 829 (1.2%)
There is no fact of the matter9 / 829 (1%)
The question is too unclear to answer8 / 829 (0.9%)
Accept both5 / 829 (0.6%)
Skip5 / 829 (0.6%)
Other3 / 829 (0.3%)

David Bourget and David Chalmers, the survey’s editors explain how the survey came about and addressing frequent criticisms of it here.

There are many more interesting findings of the survey to which I will hopefully have occasion to return.  In the meantime, I thought this particular finding would be of most immediate interest to my readership.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Jen

    Hey, Dan.

    I’ve read an argument by a theist somewhat recently who wrote that even though most philosophers are atheists, those most qualified to shed light on the question of whether or not God exists are philosophers of religion … and that most of them are theists. What would you say to that?


    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      Philosophers of religion are not the most qualified to shed light on whether God exists. Atheists are usually not interested in philosophy of religion because they don’t think it has any truth in it (except maybe psychological/sociological relevance). Philosophy of religion is largely composed of theists who are trying to do philosophy instead of theology and it is embarrassingly often indistinguishable from simple theology and not worth very much.

      The real test is what metaphysicians think as there’s no inherent bias towards or against religion among them. In fact, they’d be the most likely to be sympathetic in principle to strange abstract entities. And what do we find among them? Only 18.8% lean either strongly or only a little towards theism.

  • Jen

    Thanks for your response, Dan.

  • Dwight Welch

    I discovered that religious naturalism and even Christian existentialism doesn’t seem to have much of a place among philosophic theists. Not even process philosophy. It’s mainly Analytic and heavily evangelical protestant. So even as I should obviously pick theism as a pastor, I don’t think I’d be keen on hanging out in those circles on the philosophic spectrum. Tillich yes, Plantinga I think not.

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