Myths of Charity: The Enduring Sham of Arthur Brooks

Photo of an actual Louisiana Disaster Assistance debit card or automated benefit card, produced by the department of social services.Six years ago Arthur Brooks published Who Really Cares (which has gone through several subtitles, from America’s Charity Divide to Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters to The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism). This book is still triumphantly cited by many conservatives and libertarians as proving various dubious things, but especially two in particular: that atheists are less charitable than religious believers, and that privatizing all social welfare would improve social welfare.

But this book is largely a sham. It cooks the numbers and uses devious logical tricks to make it seem as though its conclusions are true, when in fact they demonstrably are not (or at best are demonstrably undemonstrated). A good skeptic doesn’t just believe what she reads; she checks the facts and the logic to make sure she’s not being snowed. Sadly, libertarians (usually men) who cite this book at me (as happened last year in a private communication) are bad skeptics. Because they don’t treat this book skeptically. At all. It just corroborates their ideology, so obviously it can’t be incorrect about anything, and one shouldn’t even think to check if it is.

This struck me the moment that exchange happened: a notable man claimed to me that data in Who Really Cares proves that “the working poor” give “three times more” to charity than anyone “on public assistance” at the same income level, and therefore public welfare makes people less charitable. Of course, right away I was suspicious, since it seems absurd to think someone who can only survive by receiving charity should be expected to give anything to charity. (Can you imagine badmouthing a disabled homeless person dependent on your soup kitchen and group home for not giving anything to charity…that lousy miser!)

But more importantly to today’s lesson, I was immediately suspicious of the statistic. [Read more…]

Consider the Poor

Alex Gabriel has produced an excellent summary of “10 things atheist groups can do to take on class exclusion,” available at Alternet as “10 Ways to Make Sure the Atheist Movement Is Not Just for the Wealthy,” tagline, “Life without God shouldn’t have to be a luxury.”

Anyone involved in decision-making for any atheist group, local or national (even if just as a voting or outspoken member) should bookmark that article, read it, and discuss it with their group’s leadership. That link is an excellent thing to have on hand and pass on to future leadership, too. I think it should be part of any org’s permanent toolkit.

Alex discusses the reasoning behind it on his blog here at FTB: [Read more…]

Shermer vs. Pigliucci on Moral Science

Ophelia Benson summarized Michael Shermer’s latest foot-in-mouth in his row with Massimo Pigliucci over whether and to what degree moral philosophy should become a moral science instead. Reading their exchange, I find Shermer is more inclined toward ideological biases and superficial worldview declarations than actual, sound, self-critical, well-thought analyses in this matter.

As a result, Shermer is doing a really awful job of defending what I actually agree with: that it’s high time moral philosophy began to be folded into the sciences (the same way philosophy of mind became psychology and cognitive science, for example). And that’s annoying. It’s like when awful Jesus myth theorists make it harder for me to argue that Jesus might not have existed after all, by their constantly using terrible arguments that then get falsely imputed to me. My case then gets judged by their failures. I now worry the same will happen here. So let me try to nip that in the bud.

The General Point

Pigliucci already exposes Shermer’s lack of understanding in this latest matter generally, so I won’t rehash all that. [Read more…]