Why Are So Many Philosophers of Religion Theists?


72.8% of the 3226 philosophers who took the PhilPapers survey in 2009 said that they accept or lean towards atheism. Among philosophers of religion, though, 72.3% accept or lean towards theism. What explains this difference? Adriano Mannino considers the question in a post at the group blog Crucial Considerations. Of these figures, he writes:

On the face of it, there are two hypotheses which could explain the data, one of them worrying for atheists, the other less so:

Expert Knowledge: Philosophers of religion possess expert knowledge on the arguments for and against God’s existence. The arguments for God’s existence are just overall more convincing and render God’s existence more probable than not.

Selection Bias: People often become philosophers of religion because they are religious, or at least have a high credence in God’s existence. Theist often become philosophers of religion, not the other way around.

He then makes use of the results of the data from the study by Helen De Cruz (VU University Amsterdam) of why philosophers of religion went into that field and how their beliefs concerning theism and atheism changed over time. He ends up concluding that the evidence is best explained by the “selection bias” hypothesis. He says:

The theists to atheists/agnostics ratio is even higher before exposure to philosophy of religion. This confirms the impression we got from considering philosophers’ motivations for doing philosophy of religion: most philosophers of religion were already theists when they started, so there is a strong selection bias at work.

Moreover, there are more philosophers of religion updating their beliefs toward atheism and agnosticism than toward theism, so we can reject the hypothesis that although there is a strong selection bias, expert knowledge favouring theism is still reflected in the fact that philosophers of religion convert more often to theism than to atheism/agnosticism while acquiring expertise in the field. The numbers show that the ratio of theists to atheists/agnostics declines with exposure to philosophy of religion.

The whole post is here. Some previous discussions of philosophy of religion at Daily Nous are here and here.

(via Helen De Cruz)

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