Do Philosophy Professors Believe in God?

We were just discussing the possible religious prejudices of American university faculty. I made the claim, based on my personal experience, that among the Arts faculty, a majority did not accept traditional, conservative religion. Someone asked me to provide some numbers, to back up my claim.

A thorough handling of the question would require a study of numbers from a wide range of departments: religion, philosophy, English, sociology, etc. I do not have time at the moment to undertake such a presentation, however, it is interesting how quickly I was able to find a major survey pertaining to philosophy departments in Anglo-American world. The study, published in 2013, can be found here:

The people surveyed are described as follows:

“… we chose as a target group all regular faculty members in 99 leading departments of philosophy. These include the 89 Ph.D.-granting departments in Englishspeaking countries rated 1.9 or above in the Philosophical Gourmet Report. They also include seven departments in non-English-speaking countries (all from continental Europe) and three non-Ph-D.-granting departments. These ten departments were chosen in consultation with the editor of the Gourmet Report and a number of other philosophers, on the grounds of their having strength in analytic philosophy comparable to the other
89 departments. The overall list included 62 departments in the US, 18 in the UK, 7 in Europe outside the UK, 7 in Canada, and 5 in Australasia.”

So over 2/3 of the departments surveyed were American departments, and the survey likely gives a pretty good idea of the situation in America, especially since Anglo-American philosophy, as the survey mentions, has been dominated by the analytical school, which means that we would not expect much difference between the situation in Australia, Canada, Britain, or the USA.

The survey covers a number of questions, not all of which are pertinent to our discussion, but one of the questions asked where the philosophy profs stood on the atheism/theism question.

The result was: 62% atheist, another 11% leaning to atheism, for a total of 73%.

Now, taking the lower figure, to be cautious, if 62% of philosophy professors are atheists, then at most 38% of philosophy professors can believe in a God of any kind, and therefore at most 38% of philosophy professors can believe in a traditional, conservative religious person’s idea of God. And the actual number is much less than 38%; part of the remainder was “leaning to atheism” (11%), and part (12%) was “other” (see pp. 7-8 for the meaning of the term), and only 14.6% explicitly called themselves “theists,” and of course theism is the minimal commitment for the traditional, conservative American religion we were discussing. So only about one in 7 definitely endorsed the minimal commitment required to be a traditional, orthodox, Christian, Jew, or Muslim.

If this survey is accurate, my generalization that philosophy faculty lean against conservative, traditional religion is justified, with a very large safety margin. Of course, other survey results could change the situation, and I’m open to adjustments to the numbers. But at the moment, it looks as if I called the situation correctly.

If I come up with anything similar for religion, English, etc. I will report on it.


The obvious omission here is in going from philosophers being mostly atheists to philosophers being prejudiced against theists.


If the majority of philosophers were conservative theists, would they be prejudiced against atheists?


I have no idea, and I don’t think that’s answerable because it depends on the unknown character of fictional people and the nature of their their response to the unstated arguments they are given by a different bunch of fictional people.

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I believe that is where @Eddie’s thesis leads.

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Yeah I just wonder where this kind of concern with real or imagined representation and prejudice in the academy leads.

Should 10-15% of pastors be atheists, or is there a prejudice against competently doing the work of a pastor, as an atheist? Is belief really required to do the job?

You might think, upon reading this screed, that our previous conversations were about what professors believe. You would be wrong about that.

You might also think, upon reading this screed, that its author assumes that people who believe in gods are biased against those who don’t. You’re probably right about that. (Meaning that you are probably right about the author’s presumptions, since they are implicit in what he has written. I would not, as he does, impute such motivations to other people.)

Both mean that the author struggles to make valid arguments but is adept at providing lengthy unreflective grievance reports.

There is a very important conversation to be had about academic culture and its evolution, with specific reference to belief systems (not just religion) and to the human beings who must navigate processes for learning about those systems, critiquing them, and deciding which ones even deserve a mention in a university (or a forum like this one). While I reject most of the crying about “cancel culture,” I agree with Steven Pinker and others who are raising legitimate concerns about how unpopular ideas or positions are treated in academia. @Eddie is showing us how not to do this, indeed how to obscure the important questions. I hope we don’t let that happen.

[Edited to add the parenthetical remark in the second paragraph and to add comment about “cancel culture” in the final paragraph.]


Could you quote the exact question this “someone” asked you?

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Nice that you agree that these are legitimate concerns. And note that, based on what you have posted here, and on what virtually all the scientists have posted here, nobody here is doing anything about these concerns. In fact, the majority of them who have commented on them have said either that the concerns are fictional, or at best overblown.

Then the challenge is for some of you here to do it better than I have done, as opposed to doing nothing about it at all – which, as far as I can see, is what most of you have done.

These comments are wild projection in one case and flat falsehood in the other. You have excused yourself from serious conversation.

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Ah, Art, the man who asked me for numbers. Tell me, in all that supposed research you did to help your kids pick universities, in all your supposed familiarity with what goes on in Arts departments, did you never come across this feature of Philosophy departments? And do you challenge the numbers, or the survey methodology, etc.? Do you have other surveys that provide correctives to the numbers above, if they are not accurate? Do let me know.

Ah, so it was you to whom @Eddie was responding.

Can you tell us exactly what you asked Eddie?

It was a pretty open-ended request. Numbers for philosophy professors is a reasonable response.

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Sorry, so are you agreeing with the thesis that, if the majority of academic philosophers were conservative theists, that this would indicate that they are biased against atheists?

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Determining that was not the purpose of my posting above. The purpose was to answer one of Art’s denials concerning my claims. He denied that the majority of Arts academics held views incompatible with traditional, conservative religion. The survey shows that at least for Philosophy professors – or at least for Philosophy professors in major Ph.D.-granting Philosophy departments, one of my claims was true. He said he did not trust my judgment or my experience, and demanded numbers. I provided them.

I grant entirely that the mere fact that philosophy professors tend not to believe in God doesn’t mean they are hostile to students who do, or practice unjust academic discrimination. Such a claim would need more specific evidence drawn from the experience of students in philosophy departments, from hiring patterns in philosophy department, etc.

I do know that hiring patterns and curriculum choices in religious studies departments – which I know more intimately than philosophy departments – are shaped by the biases of existing faculty. I’ve been to enough conferences, studied enough conference programs, read enough job ads, applied to enough jobs, been interviewed enough times, watched the outcomes of hiring enough times, studied enough calendar course listings, etc., to be quite confident of this. If and when I come across some numbers to confirm what I already know from experience, I will present them.

In the meantime, what we can discuss is the survey I’ve just cited. Are people here surprised that the number of atheists in philosophy departments is so high? Or is this result exactly what they expected? One gets the impression that it’s a result Art would have expected. Further, how could we confirm or correct this result? For example, would we need another survey, this time of more regional Philosophy departments, or of Philosophy departments that teach mainly undergrads, to make sure the grad-school focus is not skewing the numbers? If so, I would be very happy to learn of surveys that cover the missing schools, and what they say.

This isn’t news. Everyone knows the majority of philosophers are atheists. But the majority of philosophers of religion are theists. This was known with the PhilSurvey in 09. Like 73% of philosophers of religion are theists.


What is it that goes on in Arts departments?

What feature are you referring to?

What percentage of New Testament scholars are Christians?

I would think the overwhelming majority. But they probably aren’t conservative enough for Eddie’s liking.

Focus, @Eddie, focus. Here is the train of thought you are responding to: