Are secular concerns about overpopulation science-based or science fiction?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson

Christian apologists should care about this Weekly Standard story, and I’ll explain why at the end of this post.

The story begins by profiling the king of overpopulation hysteria, a man named Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich’s hysterical predictions were at least partly responsible for rise in public support for secular causes such as abortion, euthanasia, global warming alarmism, eugenics, and so on. But, as the article notes, Ehrlich’s predictions were wrong. Basically, you can think of overpopulation as a the “Left Behind” doomsday story of the left.

One quick example of Ehrlich’s failure at predictions:

Of course, it’s been obvious that Ehrlich was not just misguided, but an actual charlatan, since the 1970s. The late economist Julian Simon spent most of his career exposing Ehrlich’s errors. You may remember the Ehrlich-Simon wager. In 1980, Simon bet Ehrlich $1,000 that over the course of the following decade the price of a basket of commodities—any resources Ehrlich chose—would drop, as proof that Ehrlich’s ravings about the relationship of population to scarcity was wrong.

Simon was correct. Ten years later Ehrlich sent him a check, with no note. Never prone to either civility or introspection—he frequently called people he disagreed with “fools,” “idiots,” “clowns,” and worse—Ehrlich later told the Wall Street Journal, “If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity.” Hell of a guy.

The part of the article I want to look at it is how this disproved charlatan was supported by the secular left:

In 1990—the same year he lost his bet with Julian Simon—Ehrlich was awarded a million dollar MacArthur “genius” grant and was simultaneously feted across the Atlantic with Sweden’s Crafoord Prize, which was worth just about half a million. In 1993 the Heinz Family Foundation bestowed on him its first Heinz Award. This little trinket came with $100,000 in cash and the most delusional praise possible, claiming that Ehrlich’s “perspective, uncommon among scientists, has made [him and his wife] the target of often harsh criticism—criticism they accept with grace as the price of their forthrightness.” Which is a peculiar way of explaining that Ehrlich was completely wrong and that he responded to all such evidence with ad hominem attacks. Five years later, in 1998, he was awarded the Tyler Prize,which comes with $200,000. The money train kept on rolling.

And it wasn’t just dumb philanthropists. “Serious” organizations continued to honor him. In 2001, the American Institute of Biological Sciences gave Ehrlich its “Distinguished Scientist” award. In 2009, the World Wildlife Fund featured him as a guest lecturer in their flagship speaker series. In 2012, he was inducted into London’s Royal Society, which is Britain’s nearly 400-year-old national academy of science. There is more. So much more.

Paul Ehrlich’s entire career stands as a monument to the ideological imperatives of the world’s elites and the extent to which they exist not just independent from, but in actual opposition to, both science, evidence, reason, and good faith.

So basically, we are dealing with a cult leader who makes false predictions and then is celebrated even as they are falsified. It reminds me of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For just one recent story on the demographic crisis, check out this one about Germany, which has the lowest birth rate in the industrialized world, and is set for long-term decline because of it.

I basically have two issues where I diverge from the consensus view: global warming and fully naturalistic molecules-to-man evolution. Of course, I have scientific reasons to doubt them. But I also have observed for people who support these myths behave – defending their heroes and painting the opposition as crazy. It’s an important lesson to learn. How far will people go to believe what they want to believe and try to convince others to believe it, too?

How is this relevant to Christian apologetics? Well, in Christian apologetics, you don’t just talk about the resurrection. You have to establish your credibility as a truth-seeker, and it’s better if you can do it in some non-religious area. For example, I have a secular Jewish guy who I talk to who is a strong supporter of abortion. He believes in global warming, Darwinism and this overpopulation nonsense, too. If you can show him the evidence that disproves any one of these, it exposes how he has deliberately chosen to believe things that he didn’t have evidence for because he wanted to believe it so badly.

Demonstrating mastery at disproving the secular left’s myths in one area clears the way for getting them to rethink what they believe and why in every area. It’s important for Christians not to appear desperate. We cannot just fixate on the gospel and salvation and try to rush people to a conversion in 5 minutes by threatening them with Hell. We have to show them that Christianity should be adopted because it’s true, because it’s the end result of a process of thinking clearly. Thinking clearly in one area is evidence to our audience that we can at least in principle be thinking clearly about religious issues, too.

And this is another reason to be responsible and wise with your life decisions. Don’t study junk in school. Don’t work easy jobs. Don’t waste all your money on fun and thrills. Don’t lack self-control. People judge your ideas by how successful you have been in your education and profession. So make decisions that show them that you are competent, not crazy. If you present yourself as a an irresponsible, out-of-control thrill seeker who has not succeeded in your education, career and finances, then you’ll have no credibility with a secular audience before you even open your mouth. Be a person who gathers respect because you know what you are doing. If you want to succeed at evangelism, you have to heed this warning and avoid doing the easy thing just because it feels good.

3 thoughts on “Are secular concerns about overpopulation science-based or science fiction?”

  1. “So basically, we are dealing with a cult leader who makes false predictions and then is celebrated even as they are falsified. It reminds me of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

    Making room in the WK Hall of Quotes for this one, as we speak.

    “We cannot just fixate on the gospel and salvation and try to rush people to a conversion in 5 minutes by threatening them with Hell.”

    OK, strike that one from my list of techniques. :-) Seriously, WK, this one does come in handy in certain limited situations.

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  2. Its a little of both. Ehrlich was off on the issues of widespread hunger and missed part of the improvements in technology that allowed food to get cheaper.

    How long those will last is unknown but many resources are finite.

    However there are large parts of the world that are well past societal carry capacity, Africa is not stable enough for such a large population and China and India have yet to catch up to the West in pollution management

    Even parts of the US have pretty big issues, the US has badly eroding infrastructure (getting a D-) and California may soon be unable to irrigate do to lack of any groundwater or rain. That is a big deal given how much food is produced here, People simply will have poorer food choices.

    This does mean that California at least is over its carrying capacity.

    Also I’d make an argument that the economic matrix we use in causing huge problems. In a healthy economy, there are fairly few expatriates and remittance workers yet countries as diverse as Mexico (who sent 25%! of its population to the US seeking work) Poland and the Philippines basically subsist very much on remittance labor

    This would suggest to me that Mexico for example is at minimum 25% overpopulated exclusive of underemployed and unemployed.

    Europe too has very high underemployment and unemployment so nations reaching 25% thus they too have too many people. And yes one could push women out of work if you removed the female franchise but with increasing automation and the ease of outsourcing, simply the demand for labor is shrinking anyway.

    This means the carrying capacity is shrinking too.

    Its basically 100% of why the US TFR is dropping. Germany has some of this and self loathing and Cultural Marxism too but simply, No good jobs, no babies,

    Now much of this is because the wealthy have conspired to arbitrage wages down they have essentially muzzled the ox that tredeth the corn

    This is of course is not a new problem and is mentioned at least as often in the Bible as avoiding envy.

    What is causing the confusion is we are used to the “poor will always keep us afloat” mentality but anyone with a triple digit IQ and low time preference doesn’t want to have children in poverty. Its a revolution of No!

    bringing in lower IQ high time preference foreigners is social suicide

    Now in the past the Church could push birth rates up but people see this is a cause of much unhappiness and are responding but lowering birth rates. Even the Catholic Philippines will soon be dealing with its population explosion with birth control, probably free and it will make the lives of people there much better.

    In order to combat this Christians will have to show how Christian Truth will make things better. Is it better than the twisted mirror of Christendom secular state we have, honestly the answer is a definitive maybe.

    The modern welfare state makes sure that most its members have food, safety and health along with some degree of freedom. Its not ideal and I think the excess egalitarianism
    and universalism poison it but on the whole, most people at least don’t starve in the developed world and the life they live while perhaps weak in spiritual graces is materially pretty tolerable.

    And without resorting to talk of the immortal soul something people do not mostly believe in, you will have to show how Christianity is better day to day, here and now.

    I myself would start apologetics with the joy of family and kinship , motherhood, fatherhood and even a sense of volk. Why Christianity makes this better . This won’t settle well with liberal “we are the world” Christians but they are part of the problem and often little distinguishable from the Leftist state anyway

    Make Christendom traditional, European , pro family and pro patriarchy and make it understood rationally why this is better and you might get there.

    Still even if such a plan takes along time to bear fruit , if a nation preserve their identity and can manage old age pensions there is no harm in a population decline for a long long time. Pretty much every nation on Earth could decline by as much as 75% and be just fine.

    A last thing, why you should not fear. The UK for example currently has about 34 million Christians or so. This is still 10x the number as existed in the Middle ages, the 12th century and nearly a dozen times as many as in the early 16th.

    Europe is yes more secular but the faithful are far more numerous and even if say 80% of the Christians in the UK are nearly heretical or faithless which is unlikely there are still twice as many as back then.

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  3. Hello. I’m a pro-choice, pro-same-sex-marriage, pro-evolution reader of yours who nonetheless thinks Paul Ehrlich’s philosophy is bunk. And no, I’m not trying to justify my reproductive habits: I have chosen to have only one child. I find it puzzling that people who laugh at Harold Camping (remember him, from 2011) and his failed predictions take Ehrlich as if he were Jesus Christ himself. Now perhaps if everybody were having 10 kids, Ehrlich would have a point, but the truth is that in almost all developed countries and a few developing ones as well, birth rates are below replacement level. Why isn’t the overpopulation crowd cheering about that? Don’t get me wrong: without wanting to go back to the Stone Age, I think preserving the environment is a worthy cause (and while I’m not a fan of unbridled capitalism, the Communism praised in some environmentalist circles doesn’t have a great track record in preventing pollution). However, individuals like Ehrlich and the people who support him aren’t doing environmentalism any more favours than the Jehovah Witnesses are to Christians.

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