Database: What Do History’s Top Philosophers Think About God?

Philosophy has been going on for thousands of years. Many greatest and most influential names in the history of human intellect come out of the philosophical tradition. It is therefore interesting to look at what these great minds think about any issue – whether that be politics, religion, ethics, or anything else. Whether or not we agree with these great thinkers, thinking through their ideas is helpful in formulating our own.

The purpose of this article in my database series is to give some statistics on what some top philosophers across history think about the existence of God, and of religion in particular. Although such statistics cannot prove much, I’ve found it does help in dispelling popular misconceptions. For example, a lot of people seem to believe that the Christian church has always been anti-intellectual. If this were actually true, you’d expect to see almost no Christians among the most influential academics of history, and you’d expect any Christians you do find to be quite “bad Christians,” so to speak. Thus, looking at the religious beliefs of historically influential philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, historians, etc. could serve as evidence for or against a claim like “Christians are anti-intellectual.” And of course Christianity is just an example here – you could ask similar questions about atheism, Buddhism, certain political affiliations, or any other set of beliefs.

If there is significant underrepresentation of people with certain beliefs in a variety of academic fields, then that might possibly serve as evidence that those beliefs tend to draw those people away from those fields. Similarly, if there is an overabundance, it might be evidence that those people are particularly drawn to those fields. These conclusions would be especially true of groups with greater degrees of freedom to choose their careers – in other words, the more freedom you have, the more we can learn about you based on the decisions you actually make.

For these reasons, it is helpful to be aware of the beliefs of important intellectuals in various fields. It cannot actually prove anything about the truth of those beliefs, but what it does do is give us one piece of insight into how certain belief systems lead people to behave. As with my previous database on mathematicians, this database of philosophers is meant to eliminate as much bias as possible by letting history speak for itself. I have made this list of “Top 100 Philosophers” based on an article that doesn’t appear to be coming from either a religious or non-religious perspective.

Link: https://www.bookadvice.co/top-100-philosophers.html

  1. Aristotle – Theist
  2. Plato – Unclear (Platonic idealism)
  3. Socrates – Unclear
  4. Confucius – Confucianism (Founder)
  5. Pythagoras – Pythagoreanism (Founder)
  6. Guatama Buddha – Buddhism (Founder)
  7. Augustine of Hippo – Christian (Catholic Bishop and Saint)
  8. Thales – Pantheism (or perhaps polytheism)
  9. Immanuel Kant – Deism (maybe Christianity)
  10. Epicurus – Polytheist
  11. René Descartes – Christian (Catholic)
  12. Thomas Aquinas – Christian (Catholic Priest and Saint)
  13. Niccolò Machiavelli – Likely Atheist (maybe agnostic)
  14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Christian (Calvinist)
  15. Laozi – Taosim (Founder)
  16. Heraclitus – Theist
  17. Avicenna – Muslim
  18. Seneca the Younger – Theism (Stoic philosopher)
  19. Sun Tzu – Unclear
  20. John Locke – Christian (Protestant)
  21. Democritus – Likely Atheist (but pretty unclear)
  22. Plutarch – Greek Polytheism (Priest at Temple of Apollo)
  23. Friederich Nietzsche – Atheist
  24. Diogenes of Sinope – Unclear
  25. Georg Wilhelm Friederich Hegel – Christian (Lutheran)
  26. Thomas Hobbes – Likely Christian (Heretical)
  27. Thomas More – Christian (Catholic Saint)
  28. Anaximander – Unclear
  29. Desiderius Erasmus – Christian (Catholic Priest)
  30. Parmenides – Unclear
  31. Baruch Spinoza – Likely pantheist/panentheist
  32. Francis of Assisi – Christian (Catholic Friar)
  33. Protagoras – Agnostic or Atheist
  34. Zeno of Elea – Unclear
  35. Empedocles – Theism (Classical theism?)
  36. Anaxagoras – Unclear
  37. Plotinus – Theism
  38. Averroes – Muslim
  39. David Hume – Agnostic or Atheist
  40. Pliny the Elder – Likely Atheist (Naturalist)
  41. Arthur Schopenhauer – Atheist
  42. Friederich Engels – Atheist
  43. Francis Bacon – Christian (Anglican)
  44. Ludwig Wittgenstein – Atheist
  45. Lucretius – Atheist (or Agnostic)
  46. Charles de Secondat – Likely Deist
  47. Anaximenes of Miletus – Likely panentheist (in his case, ‘air is divine’)
  48. Peter Abelard – Christian (Catholic)
  49. Gorgias – Likely Atheist/Agnostic
  50. Auguste Comte – Atheist (positivist)
  51. Michel Foucault – Atheist
  52. Origen – Christian (Catholic, Church Father)
  53. Xenophanes – Deist
  54. Mencius – Confucianism
  55. Karl Popper – Agnostic
  56. Tertullian – Christian (Catholic, Church Father)
  57. Michel de Montaigne – Likely Atheist
  58. Epictetus – Unclear
  59. Isidore of Seville – Christian (Catholic Archbishop, Church Father)
  60. Zeno of Citium – Pantheism (Founder of Stoicism)
  61. Theophrastus – Unclear
  62. Arius – Christian (Heretical Catholic)
  63. Henri Bergson – Likely Jewish (seems complicated)
  64. Leucippus – Unclear
  65. Rudolf Steiner – Pantheist (Founder of Anthroposophy)
  66. Roger Bacon – Christian (Catholic Friar)
  67. Zhuangzi – Taoist
  68. Al-Farabi – Muslim
  69. Eusebius of Caesarea – Christian (Catholic Bishop)
  70. William of Ockham – Christian (Catholic Friar)
  71. Comenius – Christian (Protestant)
  72. Antisthenes – Theist or Henotheist
  73. Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius – Christian (Catholic Martyr)
  74. Nagarjuna – Buddhist
  75. Al-Ghazali – Muslim
  76. Philo – Jewish
  77. Diogenes Apollonia – Pantheism (A bit fuzzy)
  78. Nasreddin – Muslim (Sufi)
  79. Pyrrho – Unclear
  80. Mikhail Bakunin – Atheist
  81. Clement of Alexandria – Christian (Catholic, Church Father)
  82. Edmund Husserl – Christian (Lutheran)
  83. Søren Kierkegaard – Christian
  84. Jürgen Habermas – Likely Agnostic (Maybe Atheist)
  85. George Berkeley – Christian (Bishop in Church of Ireland)
  86. Johann Gottlieb Fichte – Likely Atheist
  87. Padmasambhava – Buddhism
  88. Aristippus – Unclear
  89. Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach – Atheism
  90. Walter Benjamin – Jewish (maybe agnostic/atheist)
  91. Herbert Spencer – Agnostic
  92. Zhu Xi – Confucianism
  93. Mozi – Likely pantheist (Founder of Mohism)
  94. Posidonius – Unclear
  95. John of Damascus – Christian (Catholic monk)
  96. Antonio Gramsci – Agnostic or Atheist (Marxist)
  97. Athanasius of Alexandria – Christian (Catholic Bishop, Church Father)
  98. Karl Jaspers – Theist (Likely Deist)
  99. Wilhelm von Humboldt – Unclear
  100. Carl von Clausewitz – Unclear

Statistics on Beliefs

Total Counted: 84 (Uncounted: 16)

Theist / Atheist + Agnostic / Other: 44 / 21 / 19

Christian: 27

Atheist/Agnostic: 21

Uncommitted Theist/Deist: 9

Muslim: 5

Jewish (religiously): 3

Buddhist: 3

Other: 16

Some Interesting Observations

  • Authority Figure in Catholic Church: 15
    • Includes Friars, Church Fathers, Martyrs, Saints, Priests, Bishops, Archbishops.
    • It is especially interesting to me that of the 27 Christians in the list (at the time of writing), 15 of these have some kind of religious role in the Catholic church. There is a huge preeminence of Catholics in the list.
  • Founders of Religions/Religious Schools: 5
    • Includes Confucianism, Pythagoreanism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Mohism.

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