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 IAmAnAtheist » Are Some Causes More Deserving than Others?

Are Some Causes More Deserving than Others?


We shouldn’t be spending millions of dollars sending probes to Mars when there are people starving right here on Earth.

Q1 Analysis

This may be a Q1 violation if you have an interest in pure science* or think you might benefit (even indirectly) from the space program.

Q2 Analysis

This may be a Q2 violation if there are some things you think it is worth giving money to that others consider less important than human starvation.


When you are considering giving money to charity or petitioning elected officials to direct government funds toward a specific cause, you must use some criteria to select a cause (or causes) to champion. It is tempting to look at available options and select those that either deal with the most immediate need or benefit the largest number of people.

Unfortunately, if those criteria were always followed, some causes that many people consider important would likely never receive funding — at least not until food, water, shelter, health, education, infrastructure, basic freedom, and conservation issues across the world had been solved. Causes that would not be funded might include art, pure science, exploration, aesthetic public works, protecting diversity, and historic preservation, among others.

The situation becomes even more complex when we try to choose among those issues that we consider most important. Should a remote area get electricity or sewage lines first? Should prevention or treatment get priority in a disease-ravaged area? Are women’s rights more or less important than education, or are the two issues intertwined?

In order to allocate funds to issues that seem roughly equal in priority and to ensure that at least some of these less-than-top-priority items are not neglected, it may be useful to create the equivalent of a moral budget. You might think that, for example, preventing hunger is extremely important, but that preserving historic artifacts also has some value, so although more effort and charity must be directed toward solving world hunger, historic preservation must also be supported.

Does this mean that when the time comes to choose a cause, you should choose hunger first and history second? Perhaps, but perhaps not. What if you had enough time or money to give to significantly aid a particular preservation project, but not enough to significantly impact world hunger? What if there were a historic item that needed immediate attention so that it would not be lost forever? What if efforts at addressing hunger in a certain area were being impeded by a corrupt local government to the point that no progress could be made until the political situation changed?

Extreme conditions and immediate needs may also impact your decision or cause you to make a short-term change in priorities. After a disaster, perhaps all resources should be turned to relief and rescue efforts. In the face of rampant disease or widespread hunger, it may be that little else is important enough to deserve discretionary funds.

Getting back to the space program: is Martian exploration important enough to be given any part of the moral budget? It may be, if you think that scientific knowledge has intrinsic value, the space program has significant civilian benefits (such as innovation, employment, or national pride), or that there may come a time when we need more resources than are available on the planet. It may not if the country considering pursuing extraterrestrial research has pressing, immediate needs at home.

*I use the term "pure science" to indicate scientific research that does not have an immediate, intended, practical goal. Calculating universal constants with incredible precision would be pure science; investigating materials for more efficient solar panels would not.

You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.

Posted on October 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Anonymous
    on October 23, 2010 at 8:50 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Was playing through your arguing atheist game and spotted a typo here; “http://www.arguingatheist.com/fy/index.php”
    I’m thinking it’s supposed to say “As a man of science, you certainly know that this /ISN’T/ true.”
    I plan on reading your blog when done with the game, I just wanted to post this before I forgot :P

  2. Written by sandra
    on October 29, 2010 at 7:41 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Those are really tough questions. I have actually thought about it and still don’t know. Seems to be my thing anyways.

    Because I can never really answer for certain which things should be first (with the exception of a real emergency) I think I have narrowed it down to which things above all else I would place the most importance on.

    1. Education: Though fixing the hunger problem is usually number 1, for whatever reason, it still isn’t fixed so I figure that there has to be a problem, not just academically but also socially.

    It could be that people really don’t believe that there really is a hunger epidemic. I figure that because on a daily basis, I do not see people starving. Therefore it might seem like there isn’t a problem yet, I became aware of the problem through education so I think that education will have to come first otherwise they wouldn’t know about the other problem.

    History falls well under education, history tells us everything! Personally I have never been good at remember dates which seems to be a downfall when testing because most test are not set up with the intention of allowing you to think. They are multiple choice and usually only consider the name, the date, and the place, the cause but they hardly ever get into the: conditions, the thoughts, the culture and those seem much more important to think about then remember the date because I think that gives you a more promising foresight in the world we live in today.

    With all that, we still know that hunger has always been a problem, politics has always been a problem and lack of education has always been a problem.

    And though on its own, a person believing in god is not something I would laugh at or think is just plain stupid however, when the belief wants to write policy and “enslave people to a certain “conditional” thought, then I have a problem and that has been a huge problem.

    Again, those problems come from the lack of education, the way of thinking things through, the ability to recognize a contradiction, the flaw etc. because the notion that the entire life history has been already written in a book that is only about 2000 pages long is so absurd that I actually question the validity of ‘teachers’ and their ability to discern and use logic.

    Anyways, what I was trying to say is that nothing will change unless the way people think changes. One of the most annoying and frustrating things that I hear come out of religion is that “god doesn’t change”.

    With the mindset that nothing will change, nothing will change and the outcome is only what they believe because things cannot change.

    They might believe that science is a crock of dookie and not valid because it does change and they cannot accept change. Sooo…..

    Next on my list is actually science, space exploration and yes, the search for extraterrestrial life and yes “pure science” as you put it. I know without knowing my thoughts about it, it sounds selfish and absurd and without regard for humanity and the moral obligations we have to each other. I understand how it really makes people angry and think I am selfish and evil.

    However if there is an answer out there, then we can find it. All we know for certain is that life will run out here, we will run out of resources (unless of course people change it through getting educated) but what will remain is the intrinsic need, desire to live, to survive because that is what we do and that is what we are capable of. I will never see that day myself so to call it selfish is pretty mean, I think. But I do regard our kids futures and I do still have those hopes for a better future and something so amazingly wild that I want my kid to say to my grave, “Mom, I wish you could have seen this”. Okay so maybe it is a little selfish. :D

    Selling life short for “religical soul money” is not an option and it does not feed the hungry. That said, everyone can and probably should (unless you really cannot afford it, which I do understand also) be helping the poor and feeding the hungry as a regular charity that doesn’t come with rewards. Nobody has to know that you do it, you just do it because you know it is right.

    You should just do it because you know it is there. Religions preach it all the time but haven’t done much to change it and most of them, though they really might be good hearted people, are so fearful of feeding a “bum” that they wont even consider it and that is ignorant, the is plain ignorance.

    Anyways, I am rambling now. I could go on trying to justify why I think education and science are the most important things we can do to fix the hunger problem and answer those questions that we need to answer to make life a better place.

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