February 20, 2018

“How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” St. Teresa of Calcutta

Poverty remains a perennial problem. It persists even after thousands of years of human civilization addressing it. Despite dramatic advances in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and communication, some people still do not have access to what they need for survival. This ought to concern us all, especially Christians called to love our neighbors in need.

Can the world’s resources support so many bodies? Should we encourage couples to procreate fewer children? May governments intervene if they don’t? Such suggestions became popular in the late eighteenth century. One (reverend!) Professor Thomas Malthus hypothesized that population multiplies geometrically while food grows arithmetically. He warned that unless birth rates decreased (by force, if necessary), apocalyptic consequences would occur.

While the catastrophes he forecast never came to pass, subsequent generations revived his ideas. Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich threatened in 1968 that global population surges were leading to imminent mass starvations. His prophecies have failed as well, and research has repeatedly and thoroughly discredited both Malthus and Ehrlich. Nonetheless, many contemporary environmentalists keep laying the blame for deforestation, fossil-fuel depletion, animal-species extinction, and climate change at the feet of unrestrained human fertility. They insist that lest we selfishly elevate our own desires over the welfare of future generations, we must all take responsibility for limiting childbirths—including via abortions.

Demographic data do not corroborate these conclusions. International authorities indicate that current food production could sustain ten billion people. Freshwater withdrawals have risen seven times over the last hundred years, but population has only gone up four-fold. Presently, fewer than eight billion bodies inhabit the planet. Every individual could have five acres of her own land, a whole half acre of it suitable for farming. An area the size of Texas could house us all, and the population density would still be lower than many cities. If all we needed was space to sleep, we could fit in Connecticut, leaving the rest of the world wide open.

Furthermore, experts are observing that population growth is slowing down. Many developed nations, like the U. S., have more people dying than being born annually. Some European countries already offer financial incentives to have more children, and the Polish and Danish governments have run advertising campaigns urging procreation. In Japan, each woman averages 1.21 children—not enough to replace the parents. Total population will fall 90% in just four generations at this pace. This puts further pressure on industries and economies, as the population gets older with fewer working-age people to support it. One model predicts world population reaching a pinnacle of 8.3 billion by 2050 and then dropping. Once this trend begins, it becomes increasingly difficult to escape, because fewer people have fewer children who have fewer children of their own and so on.

Of course, hunger and homelessness afflict too many among us. Indeed, they have proven problematic since long before anyone complained about overpopulation. Just because overpopulation isn’t causing the trouble doesn’t mean the trouble doesn’t exist. And compassion requires arranging daily bread for those who suffer in these circumstances before engaging them in debates. But For Life author Randy Alcorn maintains that “like most things, the answer to poverty isn’t any one simple thing. However, we can say with certainty that every method to alleviate poverty requires one primary ingredient: community.”

So, having more people actually turns out to be advantageous for the fight. History has continually confirmed that more minds and more hands equal more solutions. Whenever societies have overcome poverty, they have done so utilizing collective infrastructures. Sometimes certain segments of the public must become more comfortable with a less luxurious standard of living. If inadequate distribution bears more fault than insufficient production for poverty, then it seems beneficial to add more buckets to the brigade. On the other hand, devoting precious resources to “family planning” or “population control” measures only aggravates the predicament, particularly when impoverished people need bodily essentials instead of lectures about sex.

Overpopulation worries make poor warrants for abortion. Financial benefits do not nullify moral objections. Who wants to occupy a culture where innocent blood has bought our comfort? The disagreement about abortion can only be settled in response to one question: “Is the unborn child a human being?” As For Life educator Greg Koukl puts it, “If the unborn is not a human being, no justification for abortion is necessary. If the unborn is a human being, no justification for abortion is sufficient.”

From God’s perspective, more people means more blessings. Scripture only ever speaks positively of population increase. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28a). “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward … Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3, 5a). The promise of Abraham’s stars-outnumbering, sands-exceeding offspring represents the greatest benediction in Israel’s entire Old Testament history. (Scientists estimate seven quintillion grains of sand on earth and one hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone.) Likewise, Job epitomizes God-given righteousness (Job 1:8) and true riches (Job 1:3) with his 20 children (Job 42:12-13). Jesus Himself reinforces it: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Mark 10:13-14).

He who sends the mouths also sends the meat. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Ubiquitous sparrows provide substantiation: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) will multiply nourishment miraculously when necessary (Matthew 14:17-21, Exodus 16:14-15), enough to satisfy every stomach and then some.

For Christians, then, “too many people” is impossible. Each additional person affords another opportunity to love and give in the way that brings God Himself the highest joys. And in the neediness of every neighbor more we encounter and embrace Christ Jesus (Matthew 25:40). This communion supplies our subsistence even better than bread (Deuteronomy 8:3), until we enter together as innumerable multitude (Revelation 7:9) into the abundance of the everlasting resurrection.