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The Ever-Persistent, Always-Destructive Myth of Overpopulation

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overpopulationThe Nordic philosopher and priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) — the “Adam Smith of the North” — once asked:

Would the Great Master, who adorns the valley with flowers and covers the cliff itself with grass and mosses, exhibit such a great mistake in man, his masterpiece, that man should not be able to enrich the globe with as many inhabitants as it can support? That would be a mean thought even in a Pagan, but blasphemy in a Christian, when reading the Almighty’s precept: ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.’

Unfortunately, this mean and blasphemous thought was soon popularized as an obvious and incontrovertible fact by Chydenius’ contemporary, the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. In An Essay on the Principle of Population Malthus argued that excesses in population are held within resource limits by two types of checks: positive checks (hunger, disease, war) raised the death rate while preventative checks (abortion, birth control, postponement of marriage) lowered the birth rate.

Malthus’ views have been shared by a broad range of scientists, from Charles Darwin to Albert Einstein to Stephen Hawking, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the neo-Malthusian error has garnered a degree of scientific respectability. What is surprising is the degree to which this thin veneer of legitimacy has been used to justify global promotion of abortion, forced sterilization, and other “preventative checks” in the name of progress and sustainability.

It has even affected one of America’s most controversial legal decisions. In deciding Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s majority relied heavily on popular, but unproved and later disproved, 1970s-era evidence that there was an urgent need for population control in the United States. As legal scholar Clark Forsythe explains, “Fear of ‘the population crisis’ was a huge influence. [The Court] drank that in without any trial or evidence or expert opinion in the lower courts. There was no evidence. There was no record. They absorbed that through the media.”

Fortunately, the myth of overpopulation is easy to debunk as the Population Research Institute shows in their series of humorous cartoons on the subject.

Overpopulation: The Making of a Myth

2.1 Kids: Stable Population

7 Billion People: Everybody Relax!

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


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  • David

    OK, so don’t worry about population on a massive scale. The fact remains that population declines almost invariably when economoic development occurs. So let’s be on the safe side and work for the economic development of the third world.

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  • frishy

    Human beings aren’t long for this world. We’re destroying the ability of the biosphere to support human life.
    We’re destroying the ocean (dead zones and over fishing). We’re destroying the forests, and with climate change, it’s all happening ever faster.
    It’s not just overpopulation, it’s over consumption of scarce and quickly dwindling resources.

    But hey, enjoy your fantasy life…the world will have it’s way with us, and life will continue, without us, far sooner than you can possibly imagine. is the only moral solution, since having children, by anyone, anywhere, anymore is immoral. Period.

    • Simon

      From where do you get your morality? From invented human philosophy, the same humans who aren’t long for this world? Who invent things that destroy everything?

      Using the Internet uses valuable resources, from the parts in the device to the energy that powers it….and yet here you are, posting links.

    • MiddleAgedKen

      Voluntary extinction begins at home.

      • frishy

        Exactly right. Voluntarily have no children…no coercion, no government intervention, just individuals deciding to do what’s right.
        Besides, most research shows that having children does not bring happiness, quite the opposite, parents are less happy than those of us who remain child-free.

        For far too many in the world, even the CHOICE of being free of children isn’t allowed.

        • MiddleAgedKen

          To paraphrase Pauli, you’re not even wrong.

          The logical conclusion to the voluntary extinction argument is suicide, since the planet would begin to heal more quickly, would it not? Still, I’d rather you saw the light than did the logical.

          • frishy

            Sure, I understand what you mean, even if you don’t intend to wish me ill. The responsibility of the living is to make the future as bright as possible for those yet to arrive. In my case, striving to educate those who didn’t even realize that NOT having children is a choice (since convincing everyone not to have kids is Sisyphean) is part of my ‘mission’ in life. We don’t live long anyway, and the least destructive life is one that brings no others into this world, so I practice what I preach, and hope as a role model others won’t procreate…
            We honor the living, it’s the yet to be conceived we’re trying to avoid. VHEMT is a cause worth living for, not one to die for!

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  • john8

    If there is no god, then who cares. The fittest will survive, only to die like the rest. It can have no meaning. If there is a God, if that God is Yahweh, it changes everything regarding ‘overpopulation’ as well as everything else in life.

    • Dragonzord

      You can’t just want something to exist because you’re afraid of their being no meaning

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  • frishy

    2.1 children is absolute BALDERDASH. We live past the time we give birth, so, in the lifetime of a solitary woman, who has 2.1 kids, and those kids have kids, in the average age of Americans (something like 75 years old) this means growth of a huge amount of people…If women died (like salmon mating) when they gave birth, along with the husband, this equation might have some truth to it…but that wouldn’t do their kids much good. no kids is the only moral choice.

  • frishy

    7,000,000,000 people video above is INSANE, it doesn’t really matter if the total growth RATE is slowing, it’s the ABSOLUTE NUMBER OF PEOPLE AND OUR IMPACT ON THE PLANET THAT IS WHAT IS CONCERNING….try to comprehend the damage 7,000,000,000 people are having on the planet today, and then know that even if the rosy demographic transitions occur that there will be as many as 7,000,000,000 OR MORE for the next 100 years!

    Here’s some REALITY of what our “life styles” and the growth of the middle class world wide is having…TODAY, not to mention the billions more who will wish a meaty future…

  • frishy

    The State of Texas,REALLY? Sure, and how would we eat or poop? INSANITY and OSTRICH LIKE HEAD”S FIRMLY IMPLANTED WHERE THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE.

  • Timothy Foster

    LOL. I would be surprised if this anti-science “overpopulation is a myth” campaign isn’t tied to the right-wing agenda that denies evolution and climate change. I think some of the nation is going back to the Dark Ages. Read more books, please.