Saturday, November 26, 2011

Are atheists more charitable? Maybe, maybe not

I was kind of sorry to see Skeptic's Dictionary author/editor Bob Carroll to post a link to a site that made that claim on less-than-rigorous evidence.
Atheists, non-believers, secular humanists, skeptics—the whole gamut of the godless have emerged in recent years as inarguably the most generous benefactors on the globe. 
Inarguable, eh? It would be one thing, and possibly bad enough, to say that was an arguable claim. But, to say it's inarguable is even worse. The site goes on.
The current most charitable individuals in the United States, based on “Estimated Lifetime Giving,” are:
1) Warren Buffett (atheist, donated $40.785 billion to “health, education, humanitarian causes”) 2) Bill & Melinda Gates (atheists, donated $27.602 billion to “global health and development, education”) 3) George Soros (atheist, donated $6.936 billion to “open and democratic societies”)
A century ago, one of the USA’s leading philanthropists was Andrew Carnegie, atheist.
Sorry, but, this sounds like cherry-picking. Picking out the top couple of individuals, and noting their religious belief, is different than general research polling. Gates and Buffett are the two richest people in America, as well as being atheists. (If they are. Many "famous atheist" websites either don't have them or list them as agnostic.) Beyond that, and also per the post, there are relatively few "secular" aid charities, so a place like Kiva will likely attract a higher concentration of secularists. It's no big deal for secularists to outraise Christians there. Similar might be true at a place like The Heifer Project.

Arthur Brooks, at Hoover, claims the religious are more charitable even to non-religious charities. However, Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy shoots down his methodology.

Some people like Brooks claim that the religious invest more time in charities, too. Well, religious, or non-religious but moral-based charities (like pro-life groups) expect that. Certainly, explicitly religious groups do.

This all said, the little I can find on this question to "settle" it one way or the other.

Of course, that gets back to the link Bob Carroll posted. Since there is little evidence one way or the other, it's an unsupported claim.

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