A 2013 survey ‘What Do Philosophers Believe?‘ discovered that a large percentage of western philosophers are atheists (1). The authors of the study, David Bourget and David Chalmers, surveyed 1972 western philosophers from 99 leading philosophy departments across 30 different philosophical issues.
It is important to note that only 931 responded to the survey (a 47.2% response rate). Given that God, conceptions of gods, and arguments for God are big questions in the philosophy of religion it is hardly surprising that several of the questions involved relatable issues,
“What are the philosophical views of contemporary professional philosophers? Are more philosophers theists or atheists? Physicalists or non-physicalists? Deontologists, consequentialists, or virtue ethicists?”
The study found what the authors claim to be “surprising” results. The meta survey suggested “that many of the results of the survey are surprising: philosophers as a whole have quite inaccurate beliefs about the distribution of philosophical views in the profession.” Philosophers differ across the board on numerous important philosophical issues. However, when it comes to the theism-atheism debate, most fall on the side of atheism. The study found that a majority 72.8% of western philosophers identify as atheists while theism only accounts for 14.6% (other = 12.6%).
Questions have been raised in response to this study and its results. On the question as to why atheism dominates the academy, William Lane Craig, a Christian-theist and influential Professor of Philosophy who has been named among the 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers today (2), questioned the study sample. In an interview, he explains that “When this survey came out I was immediately puzzled because I thought, “I never received any such survey.” Neither did any of my colleagues at Talbot. There are seventeen professional philosophers on our campus. None of them were surveyed” (3). Craig wonders about,
“exactly who received this survey. Well, when you look into it what you find is that this survey only was sent to 1,972 philosophers – less than 2,000 philosophers. It was sent to faculty only from 99 selected departments of philosophy. Just 99. Only 62 out of the 99 were in the United States. The rest are foreign – in Europe and Australia and so forth. Of the 1,972 that were surveyed, do you know how many actually responded? Less than half. Only 931 philosophers completed this survey. Yet this is supposed to be a comprehensive study of the belief of philosophers about God.”
Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, also sitting alongside Craig in the list of the 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers today, stated that philosophy is a unique beast when it comes to its representation of atheism. If 72.8% of philosophers are atheists “then the proportion of atheists among philosophers is much greater than (indeed, is nearly twice as great as) the proportion of atheists among academics generally,” says Plantinga.
2. TheBestSchools. The 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers. Available.
3. Gutting, G. 2014. Is Atheism Irrational? Available.