Overpopulation is often used to describe places like India.
Any Westerner visiting India for the first time is struck with the teeming masses of humanity, a seemingly endless sea of people wherever you look. My Indian host, a seminary grad and one of the most gifted Christian leaders I’ve ever met, lamented his country’s “overpopulation,” to which he attributed many of India’s problems: “We have three times as many people as you have in the US, on one third of the land, so we are nine times as crowded.”
Here’s some further perspective to my friend’s concern. India’s 2014 population density of 436 people/square kilomoter (PSK) is less than the Netherlands’ 501 PSK, less than South Korea’s 517 PSK, less than Taiwan’s 649 PSK. If India is “over populated,” these other countries are more so. If India’s problems arise from population density, you would expect these countries to have greater problems of similar nature. They don’t.
But never mind those examples. Consider Hong Kong. At 6,897 PSK, it has 16 times the density of India. Singapore, with a population density of 7,736 PSK is 18 times more populated than India.
While high population density might contribute to some of India’s problems, there is really something more fundamental going on here.
Despite the deep respect I have for my Indian friend, I believe that on this issue he’s been influenced by a cultural narrative. This view sees people primarily as mouths to be fed. In this view, human beings are consumers of resources rather than God-image bearers who discover resources and create wealth.
About five years ago we published Exploding the Myth of Overpopulation. That post has generated lots of responses. Some readers pushed back against the central thesis, i.e. that even in their fallen condition, people are a net asset rather than a net liability for the planet.
We have found that many people, including many Christians, have never considered this. They argue that too many people are bad for a nation. They comprise a drag on the economy, they generate pollution, they tear up the roads, strip the forests, leech the soil. In short, people are viewed as consumers of scarce resources.
What does our nature reveal (as affirmed by scripture)?
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:26-28 ESV)
After the flood, God repeated this mandate to Noah,
Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh– birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth– that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth. (Gen 8:15-17 ESV)
God’s position on the matter can hardly be mistaken. This is especially obvious given where in His story this mandate appears. Christ followers should get this. Too many don’t.
Is God concerned about “overpopulation”?
On the other hand, some people who make no claim to Christianity seem to be informed by biblical principles. One of these I recently read is aerospace engineer and author Robert Zubrin. He wrote, “Yale Professor Explains Hitler’s Malthusianism, Thinks There’s Something to It.”
Competition for scarce resources (land, food, energy) is effective as a demagogic myth, but it is not reality. There was no ecological crisis in the 1930s, any more than there is today. What there was then, as there is today, was ideological insanity. The Nazis’ war had no rational basis. Germany never needed more “living space.” Germany today has much less land per person, but a far higher living standard, than it had under the Third Reich. The problem was all in their heads.
Similarly, today there is no resource crisis. There are far more resources available per capita today than ever before in human history. That is because resources are defined by human creativity. Thus, contrary to Malthus and all of his followers, the global standard of living has continuously gone up as the world’s population has increased. The more people — especially free and educated people — the more inventors, and inventions are cumulative. [emphasis added]
When asked about his religious convictions in a recent interview, Zubrin said only that he believes in “Natural Law.” But he is clearly opposing any worldview that demeans human life.
In my 2012 book, Merchants of Despair, I exposed the role that Malthusian thought — the belief that the world cannot support a growing human population — has had in motivating most of the worst atrocities of the past two centuries, notably including those of Nazism and more recent antihuman movements operating under the “population control” and “environmentalist” banners.
God is pro-human in the sense that He created humans. He loves humans. He invites humans into his forever family. When Zubrin identifies Nazism as antihuman, he is aligning with the Judeo-Christian principle.
The fundamental question boils down to this: Are humans destroyers or creators? If the idea is accepted that the world’s resources are fixed, with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is enemy of every other race or nation. The ultimate outcome of such a worldview can only be enforced stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide.
As image bearers of God, we are creators. As fallen human beings we are destroyers of the world God has made.
Perhaps a more accurate question would be, “Are human beings primarily consumers of resources or creators of resources?”
Zubrin clearly regards humans as creators … and he’s right. God made the human to be His vice-regent, a secondary “creator” who takes the stuff of the world and makes things out of it: gardens, orchards, clocks, skyscrapers. This is the cultural mandate.
Those secondary creators are to be distinguished from the Primary Creator who makes the raw stuff itself, who speaks to emptiness and from emptiness come light, air, water, dirt, creatures.
However, the effect of the fall means that humans are also destroyers. The “stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide” Zubrin rightly repudiates are human actions. These behaviors and consequences are rooted in the nature of humans made in the image of God but broken by the fall. Humans are both creators and destroyers.
I don’t know what Zubrin believes about the God who created ex nihilo. I’m not sure what he understands about human sin and its effects. But he affirms the Judeo-Christian concept of the human as (secondary) creator. The world was not given to man as rich as man might make it. Zubrin is to be applauded for challenging the modern Malthusian paradigm.
- Gary Brumbelow with Darrow Miller