by Alex Rattee
In this blog post I want to defend the view that:
(1) If there is an available action that saves one life and another that saves ten lives, then all other considerations being equal, a Christian who can do just one of these actions has reason to take the action that saves ten lives over the action that saves one.
I hope that many Christians will find the above plausible, yet I think few of us realise that the principles that lead us to affirm (1) also mean that we have reason to affirm the following:
(2) If there is an available charity that will alleviate more suffering than another if given extra money, then all other considerations being equal, a Christian has reason to donate their money to the charity that will alleviate more suffering with the extra money over the charity that will alleviate less.
The reasons that Christians should affirm both these principles is because the lives of individuals matter greatly to God, and so we have strong reason, to guarantee the flourishing of as many people as we can. Matthew 10:29-31 speaks vividly of the great value God has for us:
‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’
It seems to follow that if we are placed in a position such as that described in the first statement, then an understanding of the great value that God has for people will lead us to take the action which preserves as many of those valuable lives as possible. It should be noted that one need not make a commitment to any particular ethical theory to affirm this, all that it takes is a commitment of stewardship towards that which God values.
Caring for those who are physically suffering is a prime example of such stewardship, and one for which there is a great deal of biblical warrant. It follows that when considering how to fulfil our obligations to the physically suffering, all else equal, we should act such that we alleviate as much suffering as we can. Empirically it seems that for most of us a powerful way of doing this will be to give to the most effective suffering alleviation charity we can find.
If my argument has been successful, then we have shown that Christians should, all other considerations being equal, give to charities that alleviate the most suffering.
Yet what considerations might mean that all else is not equal when choosing between charities?
- If we have stronger relational ties to the group one charity serves?
- If we are geographically closer to the group one charity serves?
- If a charity serves Christians rather than non-Christians?
- If we have stronger relational ties to one charity over another?
- If a charity serves people who are more morally deserving than other charities?
- If a charity does evangelism alongside its suffering alleviation?
- If we feel a stronger care for the issue that one charity deals with?
- If we feel led by God to give to one charity over another?
As we start to consider the relationship between Christianity and Effective Altruism we will do well to examine considerations of this sort to see whether they provide strong reasons to deviate from giving to the charities that are the most effective at alleviating physical suffering.