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Helping Haiti because it makes us feel good

Whenever natural disasters strike, there follows an outpouring of humanity. We have a deeply evolved psychological need to help people who are suffering, especially when heart-rending images enter our home. The tear-streaked face of an orphaned child, or the look of desperation in a father's eyes as he searches through rubble for his family touch our hearts. We are shaped by Darwinian natural selection to be empathetic.

Most people never think about the reasons such behaviors have arisen in humans. In fact, there is often such a simplistic view of Darwin's theory that many people argue such generosity toward others, especially strangers, is impossible.

That's where the religious apologists step in. Atheism, many claim, is just too 'selfish' a world-view to do good.

The real facts, however, are very different. All humans, independent of their religious identity, fall along the normal bell curve of generosity, kindness, and caring. Some are generous, some are not, and it has little to do with whether or not they are religious. But whereas religious people often give through their churches, when atheists commit acts of kindness they usually don't identify themselves as such. This omission feeds the myth that atheists are not involved with the community because they have no god to tell them what to do: no divine instruction manual to feed them the meaning of 'good'.

Over the past week, I've witnessed an incredible outpouring of atheist generosity. On Jan. 16, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) along with a dozen other secular organizations and bloggers formed Non-Believers Giving Aid (NBGA), a permanent fund set up to assist secular disaster relief organizations. In the case of Haiti: Doctors without Borders and the International Red Cross.
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