What Makes The New Atheists So Charitable?

Co-authored by Tee Barnett, Programs and Educational Officer at Charity Science

Before getting to know your local atheist, it’s very much worth rehashing the ABCs of non-belief that run the risk of remaining little known, especially now that the skeptic community has become more interested and active in charitable causes. Public intellectuals frequenting bestseller lists on our behalf are swift to go on the offensive, but there’s something to be said for shoring up the defense as well. A real uneasiness toward atheists and their intentions seems to flow from a very common and endlessly parroted assumption–that without belief in god, anything would be allowed. Divine reprimand and reward are ultimately credited with keeping us on the straight and narrow, and often said to have provided the moral foundation for our society. A charitable movement populated with skeptics and atheists would seem counterintuitive or even completely bananas then, but nonetheless, a number of causes under the umbrella of Effective Altruism (EA) are blossoming. How do we account for this? Should we credit our learned behavior to a society built on these heavenly mandates, or is it something else?

Spoiler alert: the answer is something else.

Whether it comes from the prosaic lips of Ivan Fyodorovitch of The Brothers Karamazov, in the more contemporary form of Dinesh D’Souza, or confronted you recently one way or another, the common argument sees morality as having originated from the outside. Without a punishing set of external pressures imposed from up high, so it goes, mankind will naturally veer off into a wilderness of undesirable behavior. If we care to reexamine the ABCs of atheism, we could start with what Elizabeth Anderson aptly describes as the atheist commitment to “the expansion and growth of the human mind.” Of course, this might seem —> Read More