Do Most People Enter Philosophy Already Atheist?

Do Most People Enter Philosophy Already Atheist?

I am now only months behind in answering emails. I have a string of excellent questions from readers that I will try to get to at weeks’ end.

From reader S: “I have a few questions if you don’t mind. I would greatly appreciate the help. The questions are intertwined and you should be able to answer them quickly. On the surface it appears that many current philosophers are atheists statistically. My questions are related to this.”

I haven’t made a survey, and I certainly can’t look into the soul of any man, but it’s a reasonable guess that professional, which is to say academic, philosophers are mostly atheists, sure. Or they have a non-classical view of theology.

Here, for example, is the list of philosophy dons at Cambridge. Lots of logic, metaphysics, epistemology, science and so forth. Nothing that cries out about theology, the Queen of Sciences, as Newman said. No classical religion either, but there are some feminist this or thats, priestesses of our modern religion.

Of course, metaphysics, and even to an extent epistemology, is where you’d find the philosophy of God, but there doesn’t appear to be a strong interest in that subject at Cambridge.

Surprisingly, religion is represented at Harvard. There’s even a guy who thinks about how people thought about God. But it’s not clear that he himself thinks about God. That could be because of standard academic risk aversion, of not wanting to go on record and be condemned as “intolerant.” I emphasize this gentleman may be orders of magnitude more faithful than Yours Truly, which, of course, is not saying much.

“1. Do most people enter philosophy already atheist and so there is a bias towards atheism?”

Those who enter it academically, yes, especially at the highest levels (grad school). It depends on the institution, there being a handful of genuine Christian academies, but elsewhere there is a definite bias against classical theism, which is outweighed, though, by the bias toward other matters, which all sort of assume atheism, even if they are not explicit about it.

“2. Do people enter philosophy and then lose their faith?”

No more than they do for entering other fields, such as any science.

I’ve said this a hundred times, but you can go to the “best” schools and earn a PhD in science and never even once have to do any reading in philosophy, which is why many scientists mistakenly believe science can do without a philosophy. But you can also earn a PhD in philosophy without having to do any reading in science or Christianity.

Of course, I mean serious reading and not the one or two obligatory courses they force people to take in disciplines not their own to keep up enrollments.

“3. How do you remain steadfast in your faith when so many of your contemporaries are atheists?”

I started, in school anyway, the same as they did, not believing in much of anything, even though I was raised Catholic. I got out of my unthinking atheism, such as it was, by reading philosophy. David Stove figured heavily in this, and he himself proclaimed himself to be an atheist, though I can’t, after reading him, see if really believed that. What was important about him, before I came to the more classical authors, was his willingness to laugh at the bullshit being produced in philosophy and in our declining culture.

So you see, it works both ways.

Staying this way is easy. I made the same mistakes most scientists did and do, and so now I can see them all clearly. I haven’t come across any new mistakes. Meaning I haven’t seen anything to challenge my beliefs. Not foundationally. I couldn’t now be convinced that the existence of God, for instance, is anything but necessary.

“4. Anything else you might want to say regarding this subject”

That academic philosophy is largely useless for most people is a clear problem, and it relates to university itself growing increasingly useless. It either imbues scientism or it indoctrinates worthy, while teaching less and less.

“I felt you would have some insight on this given your line of work

“Thank you”

Most welcome.


  1. IANAPP!
    (I’ll try not to get too wordy — but “wordy” is what I am: I got caught up in language philosophy, Ayers et al., thence to process and aesthetics; back to Wittgenstein’s language games: I was sorta saved by Logic, and Mathematical Logic… Kept busy by technical things, I was free to peruse anything that talked *about* the Good Life, including Politics. And Economics (not the “dismal” but the Moral…)
    (God talk was mostly shallow… But some few poets, atheist though they be, by profession, couldn’t help pointing to the infinite! And Beyond the “No matter; never Mind” quipping disregard of hard questions, philosophers joked *about* their superior useless-ness… Seeking the most convincing of non-answers…
    (But they lived differently. Else they were joyless!
    (Socrates -it seemed to me, early on- never converted to his way of thinking his star pupil. More’s the pity!
    (DesCarte converted the western world to his way of thinking! Pity aplenty…
    (We search for Truth, and find all the ways to avoid it.
    (What happened?
    (A “lost” poem helps to explain:)

    by Dylan Thomas

    Being but men, we walked into the trees
    Afraid, letting our syllables be soft
    For fear of waking the rooks,
    For fear of coming
    Noiselessly into a world of wings and cries.

    If we were children we might climb,
    Catch the rooks sleeping, and break no twig,
    And, after the soft ascent,
    Thrust out our heads above the branches
    To wonder at the unfailing stars.

    Out of confusion, as the way is,
    And the wonder, that man knows,
    Out of the chaos would come bliss.

    That, then, is loveliness, we said,
    Children in wonder watching the stars,
    Is the aim and the end.

    Being but men, we walked into the trees.

  2. Sheri

    I was in philosophy 40 years ago. My philosophy professor was an arrogant *** who refused to say whether or not he believed in God because he might influence us idiot students. (He was an excellent teacher, but as a human being…..) He was an atheist, most definitely, whether he wanted to influence us idiot students or not. He was that transparent and arrogant. I’m not sure if he entered philosophy an atheist or not. I would guess he did.

    I don’t know if students entered philosophy as atheists. Are they not mostly atheist anyway? I will say there are few religion/philosophy major combinations, though as religion becomes Satanic, I’m sure there are many more.

    People who lose their faith studying philosophy never had any faith.

    Faith remains steadfast only when it’s real. It does not depend on being held up or validated by others.

    I found philosophy fascinating, if you were not foolish enough to consider it serious. Logic was better, but only marginally and has been totally destroyed by the internet today.

    I did learn to defend any position without using God as a defense including abortion, etc. In that sense, it was valuable, because I learned there is rarely just ONE reason for something being right or wrong. Plus, going against an atheist professor, I still came out with a 4.0 average because I could approach subjects from multiple angles, going around his very, very real prejudices.

  3. RT

    Many years ago, when at Oxford, I attended the second and third years of a weekly evening lecture titled “Is there a God?” The don was also a Maths professor of repute. The lecture hall was crowded for hours with dons, professors, students, and visitors. (My tutor actually advised that I attend as student of Maths, Philosophy, and Education.) He used a rolling, spinning blackboard upon which he wrote never ending calculations (largely unreadable) reminiscent of the film, “A Beautiful Mind.” With his electrified white hair and academic black robe, he appeared to be Einstein playing The Absent Minded Professor.

    The day following each week’s lecture, I was asked by a chemistry don (who self-identified as an atheist) if the question was closer to an answer. I would provide updates, including the lecturer’s one time Maths assertion that he could prove women were equated with dogs (seemingly a diversionary tactic to awaken the sleeping audience members).

    The conclusion of the third year was the statement that god (lowercase) is dog in reverse and that would be a subject for the future. He never really proved or disproved the premise, but the lecture was fodder for many a sarcasm.

    My point here is I viewed this as one of the many idiosyncrasies of the University and its Colleges which also included a disdain for the very religious background of Oxford’s creation.

    Note: The chemistry don’s wife went to church every Sunday toting all three children and told me she prayed for his soul. He read the paper and waited for Sunday dinner. Maybe this is one of the reasons Oxford dons weren’t permitted to marry until 1877.

  4. Carlos Julio Casanova Guerra

    Hey, William, nice short article… I studied philosophy up to doctoral studies, including a magister. Not in the US, but in Venezuela and in something called “International Academy of Philosophy at the Principality of Liechtenstein and at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile”, so my doctoral studies are valid in Chile and Europe. This last institute is Catholic, so that doesn’t count much. Al right, said that, I have taught and traveled through a few countries and know some people. Nowadays, in the overwhelming majority of cases, people enter philosophy schools to “learn” about NIetzsche, let’s say, or how modernism crushed Christianity and, then, how NIetzsche and friends destroyed modernity. But, then, the main mistake is calling these schools “philosophy”, they are ideology, at best. I mean, Niezsche himself denied the ability to philosophize… In On the Genealogy of Morality he sets the program: science overthrew religion, but, now, it can’t come with claims on truth… So, no philosophy there and the father of all this mess is hidden in history: William of Ockham and his nominalism; but Joachim de Fiore and the hermetist-kabbalists-masons-etc’s. introduced gnosticism, very tough in progresivist circles, from Condorcet, Kant, Hegel on. And, with Comte and Marx all this made materialist turn (prepared by La Mettrie, Diderot, etc.). Then, all the pessimism of Nietzsche and the existentialists and you have the etiology of our spiritual landscape, in which we have to live and strive for what is good and beautyful and decent and true… It’s hard but is very worthwhile, if you know the sublime, I mean, Saint Thomas, Aristotle, Plato… and can see the foundations of the great debacle all this postmodern and modern nonsense is…

  5. C-Marie

    When Jesus was called good, He answered: “But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” mark 10: 18.

    Jesus also made the bold statement: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”

    So, it would not be surprising, if many of those who do not receive Him Who is the Truth, do not believe the truth, but look to the world and to the things of the world, for comfort in the realization that once we are conceived, we are on our way out of this world.

    Those who subscribe to life without Jesus Christ, are in very, very poor straits, for they may well have availed themselves of some truths … in math … in science … and more … and have discovered that which God has created, set in motion, made so, so as to when “man” makes his discoveries, they are that which are being used as God desires or are not … as in making babies in test tubes, and more.

    Anyway, why flounder around without Christ?? Be His, and live forever with Him.

    God bless, C-Marie

  6. HMI

    Old Guy Philosophy Teacher here.
    There probably is a tendency towards atheism in philosophy, since the discipline itself depends on discussion of questions by purely human reason without resort to authority, super-human or otherwise. In addition, it begins discussion from a skeptical stance towards most affirmations.
    That said, I’ve known more than a few religious men and women in the field. I’d be interested to see some research as to whether the incidence of atheism among academic philosophers differs greatly from that of either the general population or that of the university population.

  7. Charles D Robertson

    I entered into Philosophy as a theist, always say it as the handmaid of Theology, went on to M.A.s in History and Philosophy, and finally a Ph. D. in Philosophy. Where I studied philosophy at the graduate level was thoroughly Catholic and Thomistic. I certainly got the impression in my years of study that secular philosophy departments were doctrinally atheistic, scientistic, and materialistic, though one could get by if able to write well. I certainly do not expect to be hired by a secular philosophy department, and the market is very competitive for the positions at Catholic Liberal Arts Colleges!

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