Who Says Atheists Can't be Altruists?

Some might call me a "social Darwinist". Let's face it, evolution is all about adaptability and our monkey brains evolved to meet the demands of a time 50K years prior to our own. Someone wonders why we're all stressed out and on meds? It's no secret to me ... we're not evolved to meet the conditions of this time - and it's only changing faster.

So I'm pretty comfortable with those who can't hack it not being able to produce as many offspring as those who can. That's how the species improves as a whole. But before you going thinking I'm some kind of dick, just because I feel this way doesn't mean I don't want to help. Helping is in my nature. It's just that I prefer giving a hand up to a hand out.

I see it like Shantideva, the 8th-Century Buddhist monk, himself godless, saw it. He said:

May I be a guard for all those who are protector-less,
A guide for those who journey on the road,
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

For all those ailing in the world,
Until their every sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.


I understand that what benefits others benefits me as well. There's essentially nothing "altruistic" about altruism. We're all interconnected, and once we realize that, we understand that helping others helps us to. We may disagree about the means with which we help others (libertarian charity vs government socialism), but humans are so successful partly because we help each other and form social networks.

So, dichotomous individual that I am, I believe altruism is perfectly compatible with atheism and, in some respect, even more virtuous as I'm not being altruistic because I'm afraid of a god who will punish me because I'm not.

I do it because it's just good to do.

Views: 3

Tags: altruism, atheism, buddhism, shantideva

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Comment by Moonbeam on February 27, 2009 at 11:10pm
Evolution is not at the level of the species. Organisms do what benefits their genes, not what benefits the species. If we're talking about reproductive success, then stupid people and that prostitute are "hacking it" better, no? (Lojiko, I'm agreeing with you, but not about how evolution works.)

The problem with talking about altruism is always how you define it. If you define it as giving something when there is no reward other than it makes you feel good--then it exists. If you count the reward as a benefit, then it doesn't. Semantics.

I'm a libertarian who gives to charity and who thinks that birth control is enough of a benefit to society that it should be provided for free to anybody who wants it. (Probably some who don't too, but that's another issue.)
Comment by Lojiko on February 27, 2009 at 3:49pm
Stefan, I ask you this ... if the prostitute didn't serve a purpose, why does s/he exist?

That's the beauty of evolution and, by extension, libertarianism - there's no purpose to it, it just IS. It does whatever is necessary to propagate the species, not just what we think is right or good. And the funniest thing is, it actually works out to the benefit of the most people, most of the time.

I'm a psychology grad student who specializes in intelligence. Many people cliam "stupid" people are reproducing more than smart people, and they're actually right. What people who decry this forget is that "stupid" wouldn't be reproducing more than smart people if 1. There was not some reason that benefited the species that warranted such behavior OR 2. It was not a flaw in the species that would eventually destroy it against organisms with better social apparatuses.

That's the point ... it's a self-correcting mechanism. It doesn't matter that we think that we're the apex of evolution ... there is no apex. Everything just is.
Comment by Ash Miller on February 27, 2009 at 3:21pm
I am all for sticking my hand out to help someone who has fallen down, what i dispise is having to drag them forever because they refuse to do their part and contribute to their own survival.

I guess im a realist, sure i think we should have all kinds of programs to help others out, but in my opinion if someone else is supporting them, they should not be having children, because in this scenario everyone suffers: the person falling deeper into a hole, the children who will not be given the same opportunity as everyone else, and the person lending a hand that winds up with an undue burden.

I know its not this easy, but I say if we are going to lend a hand we should also help this person by asking them to get birth control shot every 6 months etc, that way people who genuinely want help can get it, and in more ways than one by not creating a larger problem for themselves by having children that they cannot support, society is helped by a povery percentage that will start to shrink instead of blowing out of control, and the taxpayers will win in that they will not keep getting milked until they are completely dry and the whole system collapses

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