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.