Theism in Philosophy of Religion

I have made a point of saying a number of times that about 1/6 professional philosophers are theists (which is a significant minority given that the number of theists merely one generation ago, in philosophy, was so low as to be unworthy of mention). However, interestingly, surveys apparently show that the significant majority of philosophers who specialize in philosophy of religion, are Theists. About 73% of philosophers of religion are themselves Theists, and find some or all of the arguments on offer for the existence of God compelling. To see the numbers and an elaborate discussion of the statistics here, see the work of Helen de Cruz. If this is true, then it is a powerful argument from authority for thinking that the arguments for the existence of God are probative, or else are good enough that they have the power to persuade the majority of critical thinkers.

About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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9 Responses to Theism in Philosophy of Religion

  1. TxLostWolf says:

    I have been reading this with interest and, while I am completely unqualified, I would like to pose a question, if I may. Given Heisenburgs’ uncertainty principle ( I do realize I am pushing this) , why can’t both positions be right from their different observational positions? It seems possible that if a theist and an atheist opened Schrodinger’s box they might observe the cat in entirely different states simultaneously.

    • Hello TxLostWolf, welcome to the blog.

      So, in response, I think I should just point out that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is a principle of chaos theory which, it has to be understood, is deterministic, but postulates that the smallest changes can entail the greatest observable effects, such that we cannot predict what difference an apparently insignificant event will have. Heisenberg’s principle does nothing to legitimize contradiction. I also think it is an analytic truth that: “either God exists, or God does not exist.”

      Now, concerning Schrodinger’s cat, that, if it were taken seriously as a metaphysical suggestion, would legitimize contradiction. However, physicists do not take it to be literally true about metaphysics (the real world as it is even absent observation) but rather take it to be a manner in which we can think about some physical events in order to better understand or model our physical world. For instance, sometimes we assume that certain particles will go off in every direction at once as a mathematical idealization, and then physicists can calculate which directions would cancel each other out, leaving only a few options for which way we predict the particle will actually go – in other words, Schrodinger’s cat example is just supposed to be an idealization, like the mathematical idealization with respect to the assumption that some particle will travel in every direction at once, for the sake of effectively predicting or modelling the physical phenomena in question.

      What the Atheist and the Theist are talking about, however, is not merely physics (which is only the world as it appears to us, and the models we have for best understanding the world as it thus appears) but metaphysics (which is the world as it is in itself regardless of whether it appears that way or not). The Atheist says (or at least the strong/positive Atheist says) that the proposition “God exists” is false, whereas by contrast the Theist says that the proposition “God exists” is true. One or the other of these claims is true, and the other is false, regardless of what anyone perceives of believes. The only way they could both fail to be true is if the proposition “God exists” was empty of propositional content, but almost everyone, including the Atheist and the Theist (not to mention even the Agnostic), agree that there is propositional content there, and that, therefore, at least one of them is true.

  2. William says:

    Hi, Tyler Journeaux. Very nice blog.

    An argument from authority is legitimate only if there are good reasons to think that the purported authority knows more about the issue in question than laymen do. However, most atheists will not agree that philosophers of religion know more about the issue of God’s existence than laymen do, because most atheists don’t think that there is any knowledge to be had in philosophy of religion.

    So, how would you respond to that objection?


    • Thanks for the compliment Occam.

      Well, of course an argument from authority is only as good as the authority to which it appeals, and it is only as compelling as one’s interlocutor thinks the authority is. If one is willing to argue that philosophers who have spent their careers thinking critically about God’s existence know no more about it than lay people do then appealing to their authority won’t do very much good for such a one. I would be tempted to invite that person to take a hard look at the arguments themselves (and of course I mean the most sophisticated versions of the arguments which are immune to facile objections). However, I think that most Atheists do take seriously the authority of philosophers who specialize in philosophy of religion, even if they don’t take the authority so seriously that the argument above would compel them very much. The argument is really intended to push such an Atheist to think it over again, seeing as the majority of the academic and intellectual elites who are the top authorities in this area disagree with them.

      Of course, overall the majority of philosophers reject Theism, and that’s worth something. However, suppose we knew that 90% of dentists believed in God’s existence. Would that persuade us at all? No. We might rightly object ‘well, what do dentists know about that stuff anyways?’ Similarly, suppose we knew that 40% of scientists believed in God (and 60% didn’t). Would that count for anything? Maybe a little more than dentists, but we could raise the same objection – what, after all, does a scientist know about that stuff? Now, if we knew that more than 80% of philosophers rejected theism, wouldn’t that count for more? That should give us more pause, because they aren’t so easy to dismiss – they plausibly do know something about that stuff. Then suppose we found that, surprisingly, more than 70% of philosophers who have spent much of their careers engaged with the question of whether God exists believe that Theism is true. Could there even be a better authority than them?

      If one charges that there is no knowledge in philosophy, or at least no knowledge in philosophy of religion, then I think they’re just misled. Surely there is some knowledge there. For instance, there is knowledge about which thinkers have proposed which arguments. There is also knowledge of how well those arguments stand after scrutiny. Given such knowledge, couldn’t we say minimally that the philosopher who specializes in this area is in a better position than a scientist, a dentist, or some other lay person, to assess the plausibility of Theism’s truth?

      • William says:

        That depends what method the philosopher of religion has been using to assess the plausibility of theism’s truth. If the philosopher of religion has been flipping coins or reading tea leaves in order to discern whether or not God exists, then, no, his beliefs on the subject are no more justified than a dentist’s beliefs on the same subject.

      • Right, of course that’s true, but nobody takes seriously the suggestion that that’s how philosophers specializing in any area do their work.

      • William says:

        So, how are the methods that philosophers of religion use validated?

      • Well, the arguments they present are found to be valid in form (that is to say, they are truth preserving, such that it isn’t logically possible that the premises all be true and the conclusion false) and then the premises are either self-evidently true (which is extremely rare) or else arguments are presented to make a case for how each of the premises are more plausibly true than false. So, the form has to be valid, and the premises have to be plausible, and so arguments are presented which are intended to persuade the widest range of people that the premises are true. Arguments are presented for and against premises which are intended to convince any reasonable person. Philosophers who specialize in an area not only make contributions, but they have read and carefully thought through most of the most compelling arguments for or against various premises.

        That’s basically a description of how all of philosophy is done professionally.

  3. matt says:

    Actually, 1/4 to 1/3 of philosophers are theist. The survey you referred to skipped accredited Christian institutions and had a 48% response rate.

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