Antithesis Magazine V1N4

Population Growth as Blessing or Blight? by E. Calvin Beisner

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Population Growth as Blessing or Blight? by E. Calvin Beisner

On our way into the hospital for the birth of our first child one bright and shiny day in 1985, my wife and I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Beam me up, Scotty. This planet sucks!” We laughed. Little did we know.

“The world has cancer,” said a top Rockefeller Foundation official in 1962, “and that cancer cell is man.”

No longer are people desirable in themselves. Indeed, they are a curse on the land. They are the “population bomb,” a “population explosion,” and “people pollution.” Or as Kingsley Davis puts it, “In subsequent history the Twentieth Century may be called either the century of world wars or the century of the population plague.”[1]

Why such a gloomy view of people? Because there are too many of them, that’s why. At least, that’s what proponents of population control believe, and they have frighteningly vivid ways of telling us:

The current rate of growth, continued in 600 years, would leave every inhabitant of the world with only 1 square yard to live on. By the year 3500, the weight of human bodies on the earth’s surface would equal the weight of the world itself. By the year 6000, the solid mass of humanity would be expanding outward into space at the speed of light.[2]

Or take this cheery picture:

A British scientist recently calculated that with the population of the world now about 3 billion and doubling every 37 years, we will reach the ultimate terrestrial limit of 60 million billion humans in somewhat less than 1,000 years. At that state, people will be jammed together so tightly that the earth itself will glow orange-red from the heat.[3]

(Do these statisticians, calculators in hand, ever consider that people might lose their taste for making love long before these prognostications come true?)

What’s Happening With Population?
Statistical games can be fun. They can also be misleading, which I suppose is why someone coined the aphorism, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In fanning the flames of the population scare, statistics are more misleading than fun.

Consider, for a moment, applying statistical growth-rate projections to another sort of population: inmates in American state and federal prisons. In 1980, there were 315,974; in 1981, there were 353,674, an increase of 10 percent; and in 1982, there were 396,072, another 11 percent. Suppose this same growth curve continues, so that we add 12 percent the next year, 13 percent the following, and so on. In the year 2012, 415,389,484 Americans will be in state and federal prisons. Now that is a frightening prospect, particularly granted that the total U.S. population projected for that year is only about 315 million.[4] Apparently we’re going to have to find an extra hundred million people just to fill our prisons; and that doesn’t even address the question of who will guard us all. (Juvenal’s old enigma, Sed quis custodiet ipsos Custodes?–“But who shall guard the guards themselves?”–suddenly takes on new meaning!)

What’s wrong with this projection of prison population? The computations are impeccable. The trend sample, the method of defining the trend, and the assumption that the trend will continue forever are wrong. Why assume that the prison population will grow by 1 percent more each year than the last? Why not average the growth rates of the three years and use that as a steady rate? That would have yielded far lower long-term growth. Furthermore, had we looked back a few more years, we would have found that prison population actually fell by about .2 percent per year in 1961 through 1965 and by about 1.4 percent per year in 1966 through 1970; that it grew by only about 4.5 percent per year in 1971 through 1975; that it grew by 6.2 percent per year in 1976 through 1980; and that it grew by about 2.8 percent per year in 1951 through 1960. Overall, from 1950 through 1982, prison population grew an average of only about 4.3 percent per year, and the occasional declines show us that any increase at all is not inexorable.[5] From this longer-term perspective we might have learned that trends can slow, quicken, or even reverse, dependent on outside variables.

Furthermore, while prison population as a proportion of total population continued to rise through 1986,[6] public pressure to reduce prison expenditures began to rise, too, so that today there is growing pressure for alternative sentencing, especially for nonviolent offenders, that could result in substantial reductions in prison populations, both absolutely and as a percentage of population.[7] Statistical trend projections often fail to take into account external variables like this–variables that can quicken, slow, or reverse trends.

Projections and Retrojections
So what’s wrong with the population projections cited above? A simple question might cast doubt on their validity: What happens if we figure population retrojections instead of projections using the same criteria? Take, for instance, the projection based on population’s doubling every thirty-seven years (i.e., annual population growth of 1.945 percent). What if we halved the population for every thirty-seven years into the past? The projection was made in 1965, with the population at roughly 3 billion. So in 1928 world population would have been 1.5 billion, in 1891 750 million, and so on, back to when Adam and Eve were created not (pace Archbishop Ussher) in 4004 B.C., but in A.D. 818! Poor William the Conqueror might have been surprised to learn that he could have brought not 7,000 men with him to the Battle of Hastings in A.D. 1066, but, at most, 143 men, women, and children–the whole world’s population aside from his enemy King Harold and himself.

Okay, let’s be generous. Let’s assume that population growth has only been half as fast in the past as it is today–doubling every seventy-four years (.973 percent per year) instead of thirty-seven. Then creation occurred in 267 B.C. How about half as fast as that–doubling every 148 years? Creation in 2623 B.C. Half as fast yet (annual growth .24 percent)? Creation in 7211 B.C. The population scaremongers are in deep trouble unless they’re prepared to endorse young-earth (or at least young-mankind) creationism. [8]

What’s wrong with population growth projections (and retrojections )like the frightening (and humorous) ones cited above is that they arbitrarily, and stubbornly, assume steady growth rates over long periods of time. But growth has never been steady over long periods. Sometimes it has been fairly rapid, sometimes very slow, sometimes even negative.

Growth and Equilibrium
In fact, reliable estimates put world population as recently as 1650 somewhere between 465 million and 545 million.[9] Assuming the lower figure for a moment, an average population growth rate of roughly .67 percent per year would yield the present population in the intervening 340 years–by and large, the healthiest centuries in humanity’s history, and hence probably the centuries of fastest population growth. Earlier growth was surely much slower, viewed as a long-term average; Braudel suggests about .173 percent per year from A.D. 1300 through 1800, which is only about one-tenth the present rate.[10]

Regular growth, in fact, is the exception, not the rule of history. More often, population rises and falls in various regions. For instance, population in the lower Diyala region of Iraq grew from about 10,000 around 4000 B.C. to about 90,000 in 2000 B.C., but fell to about 15,000 in 1000 B.C. It skyrocketed to about 300,000 at the time of Christ and to about 840,000 in A.D. 900. But it plummeted to under 400,000 in the next two hundred years and by about 1800 was only about 50,000. Then it skyrocketed again in the next 150 years, reaching about 750,000 in 1950–still about 90,000 less than it was a thousand years before.[11]

Again, the population of central Mexico plummeted from nearly 26 million in the early sixteenth century to under 2 million in the early seventeenth.[12] The population of Egypt went from about 2.5 million in 700 B.C. to 25 million in 525 B.C., then fell to about 7 million around A.D. 75, rose to nearly 30 million in A.D. 541, fell to about 10 million in A.D. 719, rose to about 25 million in A.D. 1010, then fell in fits and starts to about 2.5 million around 1750, after which it rose to about 30 million by 1966.[13]

Forecasts of stable population growth rates assume that governmental, political, economic, and social organization remain unchanged and that no major wars, epidemics, or natural disasters occur.[14] Yet none of these assumptions has proved true over long periods of time in any part of the world. Indeed, the stable growth forecasts even assume that no minor fluctuations in such naturally unstable things as agricultural harvests occur. Yet historical studies indicate that parents in heavily agricultural societies time births by harvests, having more children when harvests are good and fewer when they are bad.[15] The steady trend forecasts also ignore the complex variety of reasons why birth rates fall as societies progress from less developed to more developed.[16]

The Demographic Transition
Why, then, has there been such sudden–some call it explosive–population growth all over the world[17] in the last century or two? Will such growth continue, or will population level off (or even decline)? The answer to the first question gives us pretty good footing for a tentative answer to the second.

Population specialists refer to this century or so as a period of demographic transition, a time when population patterns went through a major change. Before this period, most populations were characterized by high birth rates and high death rates. Average life expectancy was low–in the late-twenties in most countries–and infant and child mortality was high. Hence few people lived to old age, and lots, in some countries and periods as many as half, never made it to childbearing age. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the great multiplications of per-capita income that it brought, however, death rates plummeted: fewer people died in childhood, and more people lived to old age. But birth rates, for a while, stayed what they had been. As a result, there were far more people alive at a given time. Soon, however, birth rates began to fall toward equilibrium with death rates. Parents no longer had six or eight children, hoping to see three or four grow to maturity; instead, they bore the same number of children they expected to see mature.

The result of this transition has been a sudden and steep increase in population, followed by a leveling off of population at new, higher equilibrium levels. Population levels historically have not been described by a sweeping, exponential curve, but by a series of wide plateaus, each followed by a sudden upward curve. Indeed, the most accurate long-term picture of population growth rate was probably given by Ronald Freeman and Bernard Berelson, who saw it as holding almost perfectly steady at about .1 percent per year from 8,000 B.C. to A.D. 1800, shooting up to about 2 percent around 1950, and collapsing back to about .1 percent a century or so later after which it will stay there for many centuries.[18] On a line graph, the result is a long straight line with a narrow upward spike in the middle of it spanning the years 1800 to 2000.

The demographic transition has occurred at different times in different countries, is still in process in some, and is just beginning in a few, but it seems likely that if the pattern of the transition continues, worldwide population will level off around the middle or end of the next century, probably somewhere between 8 and 15 billion, mostly likely around 10 billion–from 60 percent above to double or triple the present population.[19] Population forecasts that fail to take the demographic transition into consideration and therefore warn of incredibly high populations in the foreseeable future are absurd because they assume that a short-term pattern is actually a long-term trend.

Nonetheless, while the long-term forecasts of the doomsayers may be indefensible from the stand point of legitimate demography and statistics, there is no denying that there are more people in the world today than there have ever been at any one time in the past.[20] That can raise the specter of crowded living conditions; shortages of food, even to the extent of widespread famines; exhaustion of natural resources; and life-threatening pollution. In the face of these perceived threats to human well-being, many influential people, especially in civil government and the media, call for increased planning and control of population and economic growth by the state. Determining what we, as Christians, should think about such matters requires our seeing what the Bible says about population and examining carefully the empirical interrelationships among population growth and various aspects of human well-being.

Now let’s look at two questions: (1) What does the Bible say about population and population growth in general? (2) Is the world, or are various parts of it, full already?

The Bible on Population
While it nowhere explicitly addresses questions about population growth and its effects on human well-being, the Bible still has a good deal to say about people–particularly about people begetting more people.

We begin at the beginning, even before the creation of man. When God had made the creatures of sea and air and declared them good, He “blessed them, saying, `Be fruitful and multiply, and the fill the waters of the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth'” (Genesis 1:22). From the very first, then, it is apparent that the God of Scripture favored bountiful life. Indeed, the depopulation of the earth at the time of the Flood was the effect of His judgment for sin (Genesis 6-7). Abundance of life, not scarcity, is God’s plan for the world. This applies not only to the animal world, but also to mankind. For precisely what He said to the birds and fishes, He said also to Adam and Eve after creating them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

The piling up of words with similar meanings in these passages indicates the intensity of God’s intention. It was not enough that He should say, “Be fruitful;” He added, “and multiply.” And it was not enough that He should say, “Be fruitful and multiply;” to make the goal clear, He added, “and fill the earth.” Three Hebrew words work together to express the strength of this intention: pârâh, “blossom, bear fruit.”; râbâh, “become many or numerous, become great, grow, increase”; and mâlê “fill, overflow.” [21]

Fill the Earth
In light of fears of overpopulation, the last word, mâlê, is crucial. Moses used the same word in writing that the glory of Yahweh “filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34, 35).[22] Elijah used it when he told men to “[f]ill” pitchers with water (1 Kings 18:33). In the absolute, it is used to describe the Jordan River overflowing its banks (Joshua 3:15). The Greek verb plero’o which translates mâlê in the Septuagint, precisely expresses its meaning; it means to fill completely so that nothing is left over.[23] Is the earth “filled” to this extent? Certainly not, and it appears unlikely that it will become so in the foreseeable future, particularly with the slowing population growth rates that historically have accompanied industrialization and economic betterment. (We will return later to the empirical, yet value-laden, question of whether the earth is getting crowded.)

This preference for fruitfulness, multiplication, and filling the earth continues after the creation narrative. Following the Flood, God told Noah to release the animals and birds from the ark “that they may breed abundantly [literally, “swarm,” NASB margin] on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 9:1). And shortly thereafter, by mandating capital punishment for murder, He made more explicit than ever the preference for life: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate [literally “swarm in,” NASB margin] the earth abundantly and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:6, 7). The Hebrew word translated “swarm” in these two verses is the same verb used to describe the plague of frogs that swarmed over Egypt (Exodus 8:1-15). It conveys the idea of a tremendous number of objects densely populating an area.

Population Growth Is a Blessing
It is important to note that in each of these instances, the command to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth and swarm in it (Genesis 1:22, 28; 8:17; 9:1,7) comes in the context of God’s blessing. “God blessed [the fish and birds], saying, `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill . . . `” (Genesis 1:22); “God blessed [the man and woman]; and God said to them, `Be fruitful and multiply and fill…'” (Genesis 1:28); “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, `Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth….Swarm in the earth abundantly and multiply in it'” (Genesis 9:1, 7). A teeming population, then, should normally be thought of as a blessing, not a curse.

This is the general principle in regard to all mankind, represented first in Adam and then in Noah. If anything, it is intensified in regard to the elect people of God, as we see in God’s promises to Abraham: “…I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you…” (Genesis 12:2); “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them….So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5); “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly….And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations….And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you” (Genesis 17:1-6). This promise was renewed to Isaac (Genesis 26:4, 24). So it was a sign of God’s blessing on Israel that the nation, by the time of the exodus, had grown to be “as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deut. 10:22; cf.1:10; cf. Genesis 47:27). [24]

Growth didn’t stop being a blessing after that. Instead, it was promised as a blessing on Israel’s obedience: “And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle.” (Deut. 7:13; cf. 30:5). In contrast, a decline in population was one form of curse God might send on His people if they rebelled (Deut. 28:62, 63; Lev. 26:22). [25]

Not only in mankind in the aggregate, but also in individual nations and families, population growth appears in the Bible as a blessing from God. “In a multitude of people is a king’s glory, but in the dearth of people is a prince’s ruin” (Proverbs 14:28).[26] As with nations, so with families: “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. . .” (Psalm 127:3-5). “How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD….Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine, within your house, your children like olive plants around your table” (Psalm 128:1, 3). It is difficult to reconcile the present preference for small families–usually not more than two children per couple–with this Biblical view of children. Ordinarily, Christians should welcome, not try to avoid, additional children.

As we approach New Testament times, the promises of numerical growth to Israel broaden to include a prophesied extension of the people of God, the believing Gentiles who would be grafted into the olive tree (Romans 11:17-21). For “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:8), and hence rightful heirs of the promises to Abraham (Romans 4:13-16). This is how it comes about that “the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and…that, in the place where it is said to them, `You are not My people,’ it will be said to them, `You are the sons of the living God'” (Hosea 1:10; cf. Romans 9:26). This new body, including believing Jews and Gentiles alike, will grow so large that, like “the host of Heaven” and “the sand of the sea,” it will be innumerable (Jeremiah 33:22).

God’s original intention, then, was for man to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). That intention was renewed in the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1, 7), and again with Abraham (Genesis 17:2) and Isaac (Genesis 26:4, 24), then with the nation of Israel (Deut. 7:13). Then it was renewed with all believers (Hosea 1:10; Romans 9:26). And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul tells us that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26, emphasis added). Clearly the Bible envisions, as part of God’s purpose, a tremendous human population spread over the globe.

Is the Earth Full Already?
Nonetheless, the Bible is not specific about the magnitude of population that corresponds with the idea of filling the earth. After all, we’re not frogs, and perhaps what it means for people to swarm is not quite what it means for frogs. Is it possible that mankind is on the verge of filling the earth, or has reached it already, or has surpassed it, so that now we suffer from overpopulation? Anyone who travels extensively, whether by ground or by air, certainly doesn’t get that impression.

Is the World Crowded?
Are teeming cities gobbling up the world’s land? Certainly not. One study in 1974 indicated that all human settlements–including everything from tiny tribal encampments to multi-million-person cities–took up only about 1 percent of the land surface of the earth.[27] The percentage isn’t likely to have grown much since then, especially since population growth has tended, worldwide, to be more rapid in densely populated than in sparsely populated areas. Even if only one-fourth of the earth’s land surface were suitable for human habitation, total human settlements would cover only 4 percent of that area. And as the market value of habitable space rises, new technology will be found to make more land suitable for habitation.

If the United States, with their population density of roughly 68 per square mile, aren’t crowded, what about the world, with its density of about 96 per square mile (excluding Antarctica)?[28] On the average, hardly. That density equates with 290,400 square feet per person, or space equivalent to 237 median-sized American single-family homes or 9.68 foot ball fields. Put another way, if all the people on earth were spread evenly over its land area (excluding Antarctica, but including inland waters), each would have a square to himself measuring 539 feet on each side. If each person stood in the middle of his square, his two closest neighbors would be 539 feet away (the length of 1.8 football fields), and his next two closest would be 1,078 feet, or 3.6 football field lengths, away.

We can get another perspective on world population density by asking what would happen if the world’s population were packed into a smaller area. If all of the projected 5.32 billion people living in 1990 live in the United States, population density would be 1,470 per square mile, about 7 percent less than it was in Taiwan and about 24 percent less than it was in Bangladesh in 1987.[29] If everyone were to live at densities equivalent to the 1980 density of America’s central cities (3,551 per square mile), they could live in a single city with four equal sides measuring 1,224 miles (i.e., about 41 percent of the U.S. land area). If everyone lived in Texas, population density would be 20,304 per square mile (1,373 square feet of land area per person), slightly under twice the density of Singapore and three-tenths the density of Macau in 1987.[30] In that case, Texas would form one giant city with a population density less than that of many existing cities, and leaving the rest of the world empty. Each man, woman, and child in the 1984 world population could be given more than 13,300 square feet of land space in such a city (the average home in the United States ranges between 1,400 and 1,800 square feet). If one-third of the space of this city were devoted to parks and one-third to industry, each family could still occupy a single-story dwelling of average U.S. size.[31]

Or if all 5.32 billion were invited to a giant party in Anchorage, Alaska, each could stand in a ground area of nine square feet (a square with three-foot sides), leaving all the rest of the world empty. [32] (An architect friend, by the way, tells me that this is about the room-occupancy density at which discomfort begins to turn to panic.)
What About the Future?
In general, then, the world is not “overpopulated” in any meaningful sense of the word. Crowding exists in some places–mainly in inner cities–but it is not necessarily bad. For many people its advantages outweigh its disadvantages. Mankind is a long way from filling up the earth (Genesis 1:28; 9:1, 7).

But how long will things stay this way? Are we on the verge of overrunning the earth’s capacity to provide all that we demand? Before we look at the future, though, we need to address one misconception.

It is not the earth that provides what human beings demand. In fact, aside from a marginally adequate biosphere, the earth provides us with very little. Only about 25 percent of the surface of the globe is land, and of that only a small part is suitable for habitation without man’s building shelter to protect himself from the elements. Even land itself–for agriculture, industry, transportation, and habitation–is as much a product of man’s making as it is a given; most land is unsuitable for most uses without considerable alteration. Mere hunting and gathering would, in those parts of the world where they are rewarding at all, afford sufficient food for only one to two person per square mile, It is man’s mind operating through his body–both gifts of God–that provides most of what man wants and needs as he reshapes, reconstitutes, and recombines what he finds in nature. In an important sense, the earth has no resources; it has only raw materials, materials that man, by applying knowledge and muscle and machine, turns into resources.

This cautionary note taken, what of the future? Will population overrun the supply of land? What, in fact, will population be at various times in the future? Unfortunately, reliable population forecasting over the long haul is probably impossible, as demonstrated by repeated failures in the past. Consider, for instance, Julian Simon’s brief review of authoritative population projections:

. . . we have seen some astonishing flip-flops in world population forecasts. As of 1969, the U.S. Department of State Bulletin forecast 7.5 billion people for the year 2000, echoing the original UN source. By 1974, the figure quoted in the media was 7.2 billion. By 1976, Raphael Salas, the executive director of the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) was forecasting “nearly 7 billion.” Soon Salas was all the way down to at least 5.8 billion. And as early as 1977, Lester Brown and the Worldwatch Institute (which the UN is supporting) dropped it down again, forecasting 5.4 billion people for the year 2000. This change must be astonishing to laymen–to wit, that the forecast for a date then only twenty-three years away, when a majority of the people who will then be living were already living, could be off by 2 billion people, a change of more than a third of the total current forecast. Does this example of forecasting “science” give us any reason to be impress by population predictions?[33]

Simon then adds, “Nor is there reason to believe that contemporary forecasting methods are better than older one.”[34]

Why? A variety of reasons might be given. Clearly the population-control efforts supported by the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development, and a coterie of semi-public agencies based mostly in the United States have had some effect in reducing population growth rates.[35] By attaching conditions of government-sponsored birth-control programs to promises of U.N. and U.S. aid, these efforts have reduced birth rates in a large number of developing countries.

More important, however, is the simple unpredictability of much human action. People are not machines; they cannot be programmed and expected to behave as ordered. They have imagination, hopes and fears, emotions, volitions, and goals. These and many other determinants of human action change relative to a constantly changing environment. Begetting and bearing babies are human actions, and like all other human actions they are determined by humans’ constantly changing hopes, fears, goals, and choices. In a world in which so many things change so rapidly, it is intellectual suicide for anyone to pretend to predict with accuracy and reliability what large numbers of people will do over long periods of time.

What will happen to population after the next century or two? Will it continue in equilibrium, grow slowly or quickly, or fall slowly or quickly? It is impossible for finite, time-bound minds to know. While there are good reasons to believe that population growth rates will diminish considerably from what they have been in the last two centuries, probably dropping to about a tenth of a percent per year,[36 ] we cannot unfailingly project what will happen by extrapolating recent and present conditions into the distant future, precisely because the recent and present conditions will not obtain at that time. From the Christian perspective of faith in a God of providence, however, we can be confident that human population will never present an insuperable problem.

One thing that should be clear by the end of this discussion, however, is that if historical trends[37] continue (and there is no reason to think they are reversing themselves), there is no rational basis for believing that population will ever outgrow its ability to provide for itself using the resources it develops–including the resource of space in which to live and work and play (which is what we really mean, after all by land). On the contrary, what we learn from history is that over the long haul and on the average per-capita health, economic well-being, and psychological well-being tend to improve faster than population grows. Contrary to what seems common sense, we get more land, food, and other resources, and less pollution per person, as the world’s population grows. This view indicates not an idealistic faith in man (something entirely contrary to my belief in original sin and total depravity), but faith in the marvelous providence of God working through His creatures despite their moral corruption.


[1] Kingsley Davis, “The Climax of Population Growth: Past and Future Perspective”, California Medecine, vol. 113, no.5, p. 33.

[2] “How Many Babies is Too Many?” Newsweek, vol. LX, no. 4 (July 23, 1962), p. 27.

[3] “Population Explosion and ‘Anti-Babyism'”, Life, vol. 58, no. 16 (April 23, 1965), p. 6.

[4] U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1984, p. 194, Table 325; p. 8, Table 6. This takes the highest of three estimates, of which the middle is aobut 285 million and the lowest about 260 million.

[5] Viewing the prison population not as an isolated phenomenon but as a proportion of total population reinforces the lesson. In 1950, federal and state prison inmates consituted .1103 percent of the population; in 1960, the proportion was .1186 percent of the total population; in 1965, .1095 percent; in 1970, .0967 percent; in 1975, .1133 percent; in 1980, .1392 percent; in 1981 .1534 percent and and in 1982, .1702 percent. Recalling that baby-boomers began to reach their late teens and early twenties, ages at which crime rates tend to be highest (Statistical Abstract…1984, p. 194, Table 324) from the late 1960s through th 1972, and that sentencing was relatively lenient during the late 1960s and became tougher throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, gives rational explanation to the increase in prison population. We can expect a marked decline in prison population as proportion of total population (and probably also in absolute numbers) as the median age of the population rises.

[6] U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1988, p. 175, Table 305.

[7] See Charles Colson and Daneil Van Ness, Convicted: New Hope for Ending America’s Crime Crisis, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989).

[8] No wonder some creationists think population retrojection is a plausible way of giving support to the idea of recent creation. See, for example, Henry E. Morris, ed,. Scientific Creationism, General Edition (San Diego; Creation-Life, 1974), pp. 167-169, where Morris argues: average population growth of 1/2 per cent per year would give the present population in just 4000 years. [More precisely, 4,464 years retrojecting from three billion 1965.] This is only one-fourth the present rate.

…It is essentailly incredible that there could have been 25,000 generations of men with a resulting population of only 3.5 billion. If the population increased at only 1/2 per cent per year for a million years, or if the average family size were only 2.5 children per family for 25,000 generations, the number of people in the present generation would exceed 102100, a number which is, of course, utterly impossible (as noted in an earlier chapter, only 10130 electrons could be crammed into the entire known universe.

[9] Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism 15th–18th Century, 3 vols., Volume 1: The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, trans, Sian Reynolds (New YOrk: Harper & Row, 1985), p. 43. Baudel lists three estimates of world population in 1650: United Nations Bulletin, December 1951 (estimated 470 million); Carr Saunders (estimated 545 million); Kuczynski (estimated 465 million).

[10] Ibid, p. 41. Compare Statistical Abstract…1984, p. 857. Table 1503. A growth rate of .173 percent per year, bu the way, if held constant, would put the creation of Adam and Eve in 10, 937 B.C.

[11] Julian Simon, The Economics of Population Growth, (Princeton, NY: Princeton University Press, 1977), p. 15.

[12] Ibid, p. 17.

[13] Ibid, p. 18.

[14] Van Bueren Stanbery and Frank V. Hermann, Population Forecasting Methods, (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Public Roads, Urban Planning Division, June 1964), p. 6, cited in Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Myth of Overpopulation (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1969)m pp. 18f.

[15] See, for example, Simon, Economics of Population Growth, pp. 317, 331.

[16] Two major reasons for declining birth rates with increasing economic development are : (1) In less-developed countires, where agriculture constitutes a large proportion of the economy and is conducted mainly by physical labor rather than with extensive use of machinery, children mean additional farm labor which makes them economically advantageous to their parents, giving parents an economic incentive to maximize their reproductivity. But in more-developed countries, where manufacture and service industries predominate and are conducted by extensive use of machinery requiring extensive education and training, children do not constitute such a clear economic advantage to their parents; indeed, they usually constitute an economic drain to their parents, giving parents an economic incentive to lmit family size. (2) In less-developed countries, infant and child mortality rates tend to be high, so that parents need to have more births than the children they hope to have. (And when more children survive than they expect to, they count it an economic blessing since those children can help with agricultural work.) But in more-developed countries, infant an child mortallity rates are low, so parents need only bear th number of children they hope to raise as countries develop economically, see Simon, The Economics of Population Growth, Part II: “The Effects of Economic Conditions on Fertility.”

[17] Actually, the rapid growth didn’t occur simulateneously “all over the world”. It occcured first in the more-developed countries and later in less-developed countries. The timing in both groups of countries was determined largely by the coming of an economy capable of producing the food, medical care, and other forms of wealth that could significantly lower infant and child mortality rates and lengthen acult life expectancy.

[18] Ronald Freeman and Bernard Berelson, “The Human Population”, Scientific American, September 1974, pp. 36-37, cited in Herman Kahn, William Brown, and Leon Martel, The Next 200 Years: A Scenario for America and the World (New York: Wiliam Morrow and Company, 1976, p. 29, Figure 4.

[19] For a discussion of the demographic transition, see Paul Demeny, “The Wrold Demographic Situation”. in World Population & U.S. Policy: The Choices Ahead, ed. Jane Menken (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), pp. 26-66; Kahn, Brown and Martel, The Next 200 Years, pp. 32-34; Simon, Economics of Population Growth, pp. 25-27 (Simeon cautions that the theory of demographic transition might be brought into question by recent population trends in some countries, where the birth rate does not appear to be declining following industrialization as rapidly as it did in Western industrialized countries, if at all; p. 26); Max Singer, Passage to a Human World: The Dynamics of Creating Global Wealth, (Indianapolis: Hudson Institute, 1987), p. 332, note. Singer has a good common-sense qualifier to predictions made on the basis of the theory of the emographic transiton:

Persoanlly I am sckeptical about the standard view that poplulation will “level off” — if that is taken to mean constant world population. I don’t see why each country should come to exactly the level of fertility necessary to keep population constant. I believe that some countries will have growing populations and other declining populations, and that many will fluctuate above and below net replacement rate(over period of generations or centuries). Nor do I see why countries with declining populations shoudl exactly balance those with rising populations. So in the run world population may rise or decline from the level at which it reaches [sic] when the current burst of growth ends. The current burst comes from the transition from poverty to wealth. We can see why that burst will end; what we can’t see is the long-term impact of continued wealth, or of widespread great wealth (i.e., US levels of income or higher).

Fo the 10 billion people worldwide, equilibrium figure, see Demeny, p. 65, and Singer, p. 332 (where he depends on projections by the World Bank, the Population Reference Bureau, and the United Nations). For projections of equilibrium for individual nations, see International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, World Development Report 1986 (New York/Oxford/London: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 2228-229, Table 25; of equilibrium for the world, see Demney, pp. 448ff., et al.

[20] “[A] comon misleading impression about world population is that a large proportion of all the people who have ever lived are alive now. This is very far from the truth. A well-though-out-estimate is that 77 billion human beings wer born from 600,000 B.C. too1962 A.D.: 12 billion up to 6000 B.C., 42 billion from 6000 B.C. to 1650 A.D., and 23 billion from 1650 A.D. to 1962 A.D. Compare this tohe 4-5 billion who may be alive now.

Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource, (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), p. 161. Simon’s calculation assumes a much longer human history than young earth creationist Christians would agree to, but even granted a shorter human history his basic point is probably still defensible.

[21] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Oxford: Clerendon Press, [1907] 1978), pp. 826, 915, 570.

[22] Cf. 2 Kings 8:10, 11; Isaiah 6:1; Jeremiah 23:24; Ezekial 10:3; 43:5; 44:4; 2 Chronicles 5:24; 7:1, 2.

[23] See J.B. Lightfoot, “On the meaning of plero’o” in J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’e Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, [1879] 1974), pp. 257-273; R. Schippers, plero’o, in article “Fullness”, in Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1979), ol. 1, pp. 733-741.

[24] Estimates of Israel’s population at the exodus vary. The one firm figure we have is that there were 603,550 men twenty years old and above. Some scholars extapolate from this a total population of 2 million (e.g., Ronald B. Allen adn Kenneth L. Barker, notes to Numbers in Kenneth L. Barker, general editor, The NIV Study Bible, [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1985], p. 190). This figure is based on the assumption of one wife and two children to every man twenty or older. However, demographics of less-developed agricultural peoples indicate that assumption may be far from correct, leading to serious underestimate of Israel’s population at the time. Marriage in such societies tends to come around the ages of fourteen to sixteen, and birth rates tend to be considerably higher than mere replacement rates. An assumption of four to six children to each man over twenty and his wife would not seem unlikely. This would yield a total population estimate for Israel of 3 million to 5 million at the time of the exodus. As an aside, it might be interesting to consider Israel’s population density in Goshen (the region in Egypt in which they resided) prior to the exodus. At 2 million, their density would have been 800 to 1200 persons per square mile. (Goshen’s specific area is not known. Rough estimates indicate that it was roughly forty to fifty miles square — i.e., 1,600 to 2,500 square miles.) At 3 million, thier density would have been 1,200 to 1,875 per square mile. At 5 million, their density would have been 2,000 to 3,125 per square mile. Very few modern countries have such high population densities.

[25] See also Jeremiah 42:2; 5:6; 14:16; 15:3; 16:4; Ezekiel 14:15.

[26] This proverb sets forth a view of population precisely contrary to notions common to the modern population-control movement, which sees large, dense populations as weakening rather than strenghtening nations. As we proceed in this chapter and the following, we will see why the Biblical view is consistent with empirical evidence that refutes the modern anti-growth notion.

[27] C.A. Doxiadis and G. Papaioannou, Ecumenopolis, the Inevitible City of the Future, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1974), p. 179, cited in Jacqueline Kasun, The War Against Population: The Economics and Ideology of World Population Control, (San Francisco: Ignatius Ptress, 1988), p. 37.

[28] Statistical Abstract…1988, p. 19, Table 21 (U.S., 1986,) annd p. 795, Table 1378 (world, 1987).

[29] See Ibid, pp. 794-795, Tables 1376, 1378.

[30] For Texas land area (262,017 square miles), see Statistical Abstract…1988, pp. 795-797, Table 1378.

[31] Kasun, War Against Population, p. 37.

[32] For Anchorage’s land area (1,732 square miles), see Statistical Abstract….1984, p. 28, Table 29.

[33] Simon, The Ultimate Resource,, pp. 169-171.

[34] The United Nations Fund for Population Activites recently forecast a world population in the year 2100 of 14.2 billion (Linda Feldmann, “UN: World Population Heads for 14 Billion”, Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 1989, p. 7). Only time will tell whether that projection is any more sound that those we say earlier.

[35] For an excellent survey of the various population-growth- control groups, see Kasun, The War Against Population, Capter 7, “The Movement, Its History, and Its Leaders”, Kasun shows how the group are related, where they get their money, and how they often circumvent federal rules against the use of federal money to support abortion and coercive birth control programs.

[36] Kahn, Brown, and Martel adopt as reasonable a projection by Ronald Freeman and Bernard Berelson of decline in population growth rate from the worldwide rate in 1976 of just over 2 percent per year to about .1 percent per year (roughly the rate throughout prior human history until 1776 and resuming before 2176, according to the model). On that assumption (population doubling every 720) we could expect the world’s population to reach 40 billion about 2,000 years from now. See the graph showing popluation growth rates from 8000 B.C. to A.D. 8000 in The Next 200 Yearsm p. 29, adapted from Freeman Berelson’s “The Human Population”, Scientific American, September 1974, pp. 36-37.

[37] Here, as we did above, we are distinguishing trends from patterns. The historical trend is for the product of labor and capital to grow faster than population. A recent pattern (the demographic transition discussed earlier) had been for population to grow rapidly (but still less rapidly than economic production). The pattern has a reasonably definable beginning, middle, and end; the trend seems likely to continue indefintely.

[*] Nevertheless, the mythology continues…

The Humanist magazine ran the following fallacies in their May/June 1990 issue in a Werner Fornos article entitled, “Gaining People, Losing Ground.”

“The dangers inherent in a world population outgrowing its environmental rescources demand a new commitment to reshaping our future. We in the industrialized world — especially the United States — need dynamic political change…”

“Meanwhile, the world’s population of 5.3 is expected to reach 6 billion by the middle of this decade, and, at the present rate, it will double within fourty years. What most people don’t realize is the exponential nature of the population explosion…”



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