Tag Archives: effective altruism

An Invitation to Christian Effective Altruism

Last month, I gave a talk on Texas A&M campus about effective altruism from a Christian perspective. While that presentation isn’t available, I recorded myself presenting the same talk (with a whole one additional slide) and it is now up on YouTube. In it, I introduce effective altruism, which is the idea that we should use evidence to determine which charities are most effective so that we can do the most good we can. I connect this with Christian thought, especially surrounding loving our neighbor as ourselves, especially when everyone in the world is our neighbor. In the end, I think that Christians should be effective altruists, and we should donate substantial amounts of our income to charities that are making the biggest difference in the world for the good of our global neighbors.

First, there is a noteworthy difference between the impact of charities and their cost-effectiveness. For example, helping a blind or soon-to-be-blind person using $78,000 (via a dog from Guide Dogs) or $20 (via a surgery for trachoma from SightSavers). Another example is of the importance of investigating various methods for providing help is when looking at school attendance for young females in East Africa. While providing free school uniforms was twice as impactful as merit-based scholarships and five times as impactful as providing cash incentives to families that send their daughters to school, merely informing the parents about their increase in potential future earnings from school attendance increased attendance 20-fold, for around 21 years of schooling increased per $100 USD. GiveWell investigates charities at a deeper level than typical charity evaluators, like CharityNavigator, by requiring evidence for high-impact, cost-effectiveness, and funding needs as part of their primary evaluation.

Second, we all have opportunity to make a difference with our donations. Someone making $50,000 per year after tax is in the top 1% in the world in income, graduate stipends around $25-30k per year are in the top 5% in the world, and minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (~$15,000 per year) are in the top 10% globally for income. And yes, all these numbers are normalized with respect to purchasing power, so the difference cannot be explained by cost-of-living differences (source).

Third, we can make a difference in our careers or graduate work. 80,000 Hours is an excellent resource (an organization and book) to talk about working at the intersection of what you are good at, find fulfilling and passion, and actually helps people. This can be done with earning to give, direct work (non-profits or global health or missions work), or leveraging your skills and connections to help others. Furthermore, Effective Thesis can help connect you to a network and provide resources and perhaps a graduate mentor to give you the chance to help people with your thesis research.

I invite everyone to be a part of the Effective Altruism for Christians community, who thinks that effective altruism is a valuable tool for helping us love and serve our global neighbors better. You can join the Facebook group here, and we have Zoom calls every Sunday at 1 pm central time (get the Zoom link in the Facebook group).

Finally, I challenge you all to increase your giving to charities by 1% this year (or start a giving goal of at least 1%). Effective Altruism for Christians has set up a giving campaign, partnering with One for the World that asks people to give at least 1% of their income to effective charities. You can pick from a few selections, all of which are based on GiveWell’s charity giving recommendations. The maximum impact fund is a great place to start, as that selects the top few charities every three months, continuously updating based on funding need, etc. Additionally, you can pledge to give an amount starting at some future date (e.g. when you graduate).

Ultimately, there are much need in the world (e.g. 7,000 young children dying daily of starvation and preventable disease) and much we can each do to help, I think we should do that when it is not incurring any greater moral cost to ourselves. Many more than just 7,000 ‘Good Samaritan’ type scenarios exist every day, where there are charities in place to help, and we know there is a need, so let’s help be the change for the better in the world. 

P.S. I talk about all of this in more depth and address a few common questions about effective altruism from a Christian perspective in the video, so I encourage you to check it out!

Recommended Reading
Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference by William MacAskill
Christians in an Age of Wealth: A Biblical Theology of Stewardship by Craig Blomberg
The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer
80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career that Does Good by Benjamin Todd