The Population Bomb

    In 1968, Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich famously declared that "the battle to feed humanity is over." He predicted that during the 1970s, "the world will experience starvation of tragic proportion [and] . . . hundreds of millions of people will starve to death." It didn't quite turn out that away. In fact, almost none of the dire predictions associated with what Ehrlich called "The Population Bomb" came to pass. That's because the doomsayers didn't understand what it really means to be human. Ehrlich's was only the most dramatic expression of a worldview that saw reducing birth rates as the key to not only humanity's, but the entire planet's fate. In this view, people were akin to parasites. They consumed resources and gave little, if anything, back. Population had to be contained both for our sakes and for the sake of the earth. As a 1970s Smithsonian exhibit put it, "Population: The Problem Is Us." The fear was so acute that groups like Planned Parenthood recommended making abortion not only legal, but compulsory. They proposed tax penalties to discourage marriage and proposed governmental encouragement of homosexuality. Well, it turns out that all we really had to fear was our irrational fear about population growth. It goes without saying that Ehrlich was wrong about mass starvation. The only deaths from starvation since The Population Bomb was published have been the result of war and man-made famines. What's more, not only is there food in abundance, natural resources haven't run out either. In 1980, economist Julian Simon made a wager with Ehrlich that any five metals Ehrlich picked would be cheaper in 1990 than 1980. Simon won the bet hands-down. Today, many natural resources, including oil, cost less, if you adjust for inflation, than they did in 1980. The population doom-and-gloomers were wrong about almost everything. Yet, their predictions and policy recommendations shaped an entire world's attitude toward population. Their mistakes were more than math errors. Their worldview didn't permit them to see what makes man unique. Their naturalism -- the belief that the natural world is all there is -- caused them to see man as just another animal -- an animal that consumed food and other resources at a much higher rate than other animals. Remarkably, this static understanding of man made no allowance for human ingenuity. It never stopped to consider that our God-given intelligence would enable us to find a way to feed our growing population. Or that our intelligence would help us find resources where previous generations hadn't thought to look. Instead, it made us the equivalent of sheep, rabbits, and other animals. And that's why they were so spectacularly wrong -- and why we shouldn't listen to them now. This goes to show you that any account about the nature and destiny of man must start with the biblical account of who man is. Man, alone among the creatures of the earth, is created in the image of God. Any worldview that doesn't acknowledge this fact, and grasp its implications, will inevitably fall into error, as we saw with the population doomsayers. Because the problem isn't people. The problem is not appreciating the true significance of our humanity.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary