The Resurgence of God in Academia

Vince Vitale, a philosopher and professor at Oxford University makes the surprising and bold claim in a new video that God is alive and well at the highest levels of academia.

Vitale excoriates the so-called “new atheists” who are “not engaged in current philosophical scholarship,” attributing their brand of atheism to the “old scholarship” at the academic level. Vitale said, “More recently, in the last fifty years or so, what we’ve had is a remarkable resurgence of professional philosophers who have thought long and hard about the evidence and have come to the conclusion that God exists. God is not dead. He is very much alive.”

He cites Quentin Smith, a contemporary philosopher who has published twelve books and over a hundred articles. Smith, an atheist, discussed in a paper in Philo in 2000 an assertion by non-theist philosopher Richard Gale:

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that “no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith…”

Quentin Smith goes even further than Gale, saying that the non-theists would lose: “I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.”

In the paper Smith goes on the blast his fellow atheist philosophers for losing so much ground to the theists:

This philosophical failure (ignoring theism and thereby allowing themselves to become unjustified naturalists) has led to a cultural failure since theists, witnessing this failure, have increasingly become motivated to assume or argue for supernaturalism in their academic work, to an extent that academia has now lost its mainstream secularization.

Smith concludes that, “God is not “dead” in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”


Vince Vitale says that God is also alive and well in the field of sociology. “Fifty years ago sociology was convinced that God was on the way out, says Vitale. “The scholars had bought into ‘secularization theory’ … the idea is that the more modern and technological the world becomes the more secular it will become.”

Peter Berger, Vitale says, was one of the leading proponents of secularization theory. He has since completely abandoned it. At an academic conference in Miami in 2011 he suggested that the reason he changed his opinion on this matter is simply because the evidence demanded it.

Berger wrote in The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics,

The assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world today, with some exceptions…is as furiously religious as it ever was and in some places, more so than ever. This means that a whole body of literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled “secularization theory” is essentially mistaken. In my early work I contributed to this literature. I was in good company — most sociologists of religion had similar views…

Vitale’s final example is Richard Swinburne, whom he calls “probably the most influential British professor of religion in the last fifty years.” After Swinburne’s retirement as a Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford in 2003 he published a book called, The Resurrection of God Incarnate, in which he concludes that on the available evidence it is 97% probable that Jesus miraculously rose from the dead, proving that he is the God that he claimed to be.

Vitale says this further proves his point. “That someone of his intellectual credibility can make that claim in print, have it published by Oxford University Press, and then ably defend it at top academic conferences all around the world, as I’ve seen him do, speaks to the fact that the intellectual taste for the Christian faith is extremely strong.”

Finally, Vitale shares part of his own journey, explaining that during his time as an undergraduate at Princeton he began to question whether it was intellectual barriers that kept him from faith or it was something else. “If I was honest with myself I had to admit that I hid in my heart what the famous atheist Friedrich Nietzsche was bold enough to put to paper: ‘If there were gods, how could I bear not to be a god?,’” Vitale said. “If we think that it is our minds that keep us from God, then we may not be dealing with the arguments at the highest level. Here in Oxford and at Princeton and in philosophy faculties — top faculties — around the world, God is not dead. God is alive as he ever was.”