Trust the experts

PhilPapers recently conducted a survey of opinion among academic philosophers, the results of which have been posted here. Here’s how all respondents from the survey’s “target faculty” answered when asked where they stand on the question of God’s existence:


Accept or lean toward atheism 72.8%
Accept or lean toward theism 14.6%
Other 12.5%

And here’s how the results came out for respondents in two key subdisciplines:


Accept or lean toward theism 72.3%
Accept or lean toward atheism 19.1%
Other 8.5%


Accept or lean toward atheism 41.1%
Accept or lean toward theism 29.4%
Other 29.4%

Quite a difference. And regarding the last (Medieval/Renaissance) set of responses, it is worth pointing out that the fine-grained results show that “Other” includes a lot of agnostics, and that when the “lean towards” are excluded, atheism and theism are tied at 23.5% each, so that there are far fewer convinced atheists within this group than it might at first seem. It would also be nice to know what the results would have looked like if we separated out the medieval and renaissance specialists. (I would speculate that most Renaissance specialists approach their field out of interest in its relevance for understanding early modern philosophy rather than out of interest in medieval philosophy; and if so this is likely to reflect, on the part of Renaissance specialists, more familiarity with early modern philosophy than with medieval philosophy.) It seems very likely that the results for specialists in medieval philosophy specifically would have been more like those for specialists in philosophy of religion, especially for medieval specialists whose interest is in philosophy of religion related topics rather than in general metaphysics/epistemology, history of logic, etc.

Now, what do these results mean? You can be sure that some atheists will read the latter two sets of results as evidence only that many people who believe in God for non-philosophical reasons have flooded into philosophy of religion and medieval studies. And they will read the former results as evidence that philosophers who don’t enter the field with a religious ax to grind are more likely to be atheists.

But of course there is another obvious way to interpret the results in question – as clear evidence that those philosophers who have actually studied the arguments for theism in depth, and thus understand them the best – as philosophers of religion and medieval specialists naturally would – are far more likely to conclude that theism is true, or at least to be less certain that atheism is true, than other philosophers are. And if that’s what the experts on the subject think, then what the “all respondents” data shows is that most academic philosophers have a degree of confidence in atheism that is rationally unwarranted.

This dovetails with the judgment once made by the atheist philosopher Quentin Smith (in his paper “The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism”) to the effect that “the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false.” And it also dovetails with the evidence we have examined in several earlier posts (e.g. here, here, and here) indicating that the more confident an atheist philosopher is that there are no good arguments for God’s existence, the more likely it is that he demonstrably does not know what the hell he is talking about.

In any event, it turns out that the people who are most likely to know what they are talking about on this subject tend overwhelmingly to believe in God, or at least (as in the combined medieval/renaissance results) to reject atheism. And as certain atheist philosophers like to insist, we should trust the experts, right?
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