Monday, July 9, 2007

Real World Charity

Matthew Nesbit at Framing Science, in The New Atheism and the Purpose Driven Life, discussed surveys that showed that atheists were the least likely to participate in certain types of responses to poverty. These responses mostly centered around direct aid to the poor - providing a poor person with food, clothing, shelter, either directly or through an organization that provides such aid.

If I were to take such a survey, I would report that I do not engage in many of these activities. And yet I devote virtually every free hour of every day to trying to make the world a better place.

The reason that I do not spend much time and resources on direct aid is simply because I do not see much merit in doing something that provides temporary help to one or two people, when I can instead provide support for activities that will provide an enduring benefit to countless people.

For example, medical problems are a significant source of poverty and general lack of well-being. I could spend time in a hospital comforting a small number of sick people, or I could write posts that just might get the barriers to embryonic stem-cell research overturned, potentially bringing forth cures to hundreds of diseases.

I could provide some family with food. Or I could write a post condemning those who would promote global warming, which will rob whole countries of crop lands and promote starvation and famine on a global scale.

Atheists are among the best providers of care for the sick and starving. Atheist materialist scientists have discovered most of the cures to the world's diseases. They did not do this by visiting one patient and a time and reading them stories, but by devoting their waking lives to understanding some aspect of human biology to the degree that they could find a cure.

Atheists might not be the best at handing a bag of groceries to a starving individual, but through their understanding of biology and agriculture they have invented the scientific breakthroughs that feed the world.

Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama asks the state residents to pray for rain. This is not an act of charity. This is a waste of time and effort - time and effort that should go into enacting real-world solutions to the current problem and being better prepared for future problems.

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