Philosophers aren’t so bad!

Maybe I have been talking to the wrong people. You know – the ones who use the words philosophy and philosopher when they actually mean theology and theologian. I have noticed a tendency for theists to hide behind the word philosophy – and use the word loosely to justify their own positions.

So I was somewhat reassured to read that only 14.6% of professional philosophers are theists.

This certainly is more consistent with my belief that there are philosophers and “philosophers.” In other words different schools of thought. And it is wrong to just use the term vaguely in justification of  a personal position.

David Bourget and David Chalmers have released the results of the largest survey of professional philosophers ever conducted. This produced the following distribution on the question of religious belief and adherence to naturalist or non-naturalist viewpoints:

72.8% atheism
14.6% theism
12.5% other

49.8% naturalism
25.8% non-naturalism (but not necessarily supernaturalism)
24.2% other.

I think the detail for religious beliefs changes as the group is divided into pre-graduate, graduate and faculty philosophers. Probably similar to what one would find for scientists.

Rather gratifying!

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5 responses to “Philosophers aren’t so bad!

  1. “25.8% non-naturalism (but not necessarily supernaturalism)”

    Presumably they mean a particular definition of naturalism here. What’s an example of a non-natural non-supernatural idea ?

  2. Yes, I guess naturalism can be defined in different ways.

    Also, I personally don’t like labels like this. I would say that science doesn’t reject “supernatural” phenomena. It investigates anything for which evidence can be gathered.

    If evidence can’t be gathered for a phenomenon – by definition – then why have a word for it? “Supernatural” really doesn’t mean anything.

    So I might to myself define my approach as naturalism – but because people have all sorts of different meanings I might publicly not define myself that way. Best to keep away from such labels.

  3. I still think “supernatural” is a useful category for things that are immeasurable, allowing you to group together disparate subjects like homeopathy and religion. It’s the same embrace of things that people couldn’t possible know, and it results in faith for no good reason.

    As you say science often investigates supernatural claims and once something supernatural is understood it becomes natural, and so I see “supernatural” as a useful word to categorise spooky claims. Religious people don’t tend to reject word either.

    The word “natural” or “naturalist” is sometimes problematic because people would like to think that their invisible friend, or their invisible homeopathic water memory, can affect the natural word. Advertisers don’t help by repurposing the word “natural” to mean “no-additives”.

    More generally (much, much more generally) I think that using words like “god”, or “spiritual” (spirits – like ghosts?) or even “transcendent” are too loaded with historical baggage to be used in a purely poetic sense as Einstein and Sam Harris do.

    Yet it is interesting to see people’s attempts to reclaim the language that was associated with religion and transcendent experiences. As Sam Harris rightly says people do experience transcendent feelings when they sit in a cave and meditate for months on end, so we must always investigate the supernatural or else we neglect parts of the human experience which will be scavenged by religious folk only too willing to say “god did it!”

  4. Mathew, I think you and I would have no problems in our communication using words like materialism, naturalism and supernatural. But, from experience, I know there are problems with others – particularly those of a theological persuasion.

    There is the attempt to “ring fence’ a part of reality, claim it is not knowable by scientific methods, it is supernatural. (Sometimes these people will actually define areas such as consciousness, origin of the universe and life, etc.) But, of course, their are “other ways” of knowing. By default religion gives us access to these!

    Similarly theological use of terms like materialism and naturalism never identifies this with evidence – but with a preconceived bias! Hence science cannot discover the truth because it automatically excludes the supernatural, etc.!

    And really, the way science works in practice it does not get caught up with terminology. It just considers evidence, without making any assumptions.

  5. Pingback: My Blog | Hello world!IN THE BEGINNING

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