Be fruitful and multiply!

27-04-2022. Own translation of the Dutch article of 20-11-2011

Was it a wish or a command from God that we read in the first chapter of the Bible? Does this distinction matter to a believer when it comes to God? The fact is that human fertility is part of the exhortations and commandments He gave to his reason-gifted creatures, beginning with our earliest ancestors. God created the framework in which human reproduction can proceed optimally. Within this framework, He left man free to determine his/her own individual role in this mission to mankind as a whole.

Fertility is therefore an important fact in the life of a Christian community. From excavations we know that this has been the case in all possible cultures since prehistoric times. The tendency to renounce this or to reduce fertility, on the other hand, is a typical fact within ideologies that do not recognize God or have replaced Him with artificial deities (of Reason, of Pleasure or Quality of Life, the Superiority of one’s own race, Progress…).

A heavy argument with which such ideologies regularly call a halt to the normal evolution of human reproduction is that of “the danger of overpopulation”. This argument, too, is actually ancient. An incredible number of wars were fought for fear of shortages in the food supply or the possession of precious raw materials. So that fear is, as it were, ingrained in the subconscious of man. Jesus taught us to put that fear aside: “Do not worry about what you are going to eat tomorrow, but seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and everything else will be given to you in abundance.” How “rational”, by the way, is that fear?

Rationalists, such as professor emeritus Etienne Vermeersch, seize every opportunity offered by the media to stir up that fear. However, their argumentation is not always a textbook example of logical thinking. In a recent interview, for example, it was stated that humanity needed large population groups to be able to develop the necessary innovations. Our most influential Flemish thinker, such as prof. Vermeersch is labeled, refuted this in his well-known half-furious style by stating that most important inventions took place  within relatively small population groups.

That is more or less true, but it does not refute the proposition presented. For example, in ancient Greece there was a concentration of scholars for several centuries who laid the theoretical foundation for our current technological civilization. But their learning did not come out of the blue. It was based on prior research by other scholars from other civilizations, stretching mainly from the Far East to nearby Egypt. So our emeritus had forgotten that for a while. The same can be said of other concentrations of human ingenuity. All major discoveries are broadly the end result of two factors indebted to human fertility: the search for progress within sufficiently large well-organized populations and the availability of people with exceptional abilities. One must not have studied philosophy to know that such specimens of the human species are rather rare. For some, it is safe to say that the odds of them being born are on the order of magnitude of one in a million. In addition, they must then be given the necessary opportunities, i.e., being born at the right time and the right place.  (Who knows how many exceptional geniuses have been aborted in recent decades?)

Also (or perhaps especially) in academic circles circulate quite a few silly stories and misconceptions about the subject of “overpopulation”. The best-known scholar who developed a scientific theory about this problem is the preacher and economist Malthus (1766-1834).  Of his theories, especially the “Malthusian overpopulation catastrophe” has remained known. It claims that food production cannot keep up with population growth and that famine and mass mortality will result. Practice showed that he had thoroughly miscalculated, because food production rose faster than population growth. As a believer, despite his pessimism, Malthus continued to oppose abortion and contraceptives. Of course, this was not the case with adherents of materialist ideologies, who have since included his doomsday scenario of overpopulation in their fixed package of arguments for the right, or rather the duty, to strict birth control by all possible means (cf. the aforementioned Famous Fleming).

In the meantime, we learned that we share this planet with about seven billion of our own kind. How bad is that? Will we suffocate in our own pollution, will the raw materials be depleted, will the climate run wild, …? Scholars of all kinds continue the tradition of Malthusian pessimism. They regularly hit us with predictions that make our hair stand on end, while pointing the finger of blame at the irresponsible behavior of those who never stop giving birth to new co-consumers and polluters. But although we are not specialists in the field, we also have enough brains to think about this and to form a realistic picture of the situation, its causes and its evolution, as well as of the possible measures that may be taken.

What should we imagine with the current total of the world’s population? Suppose that all people had 30 m2, then they would collectively occupy 210 billion m2, or 210,000 km2, which is just under seven times the area of Belgium. If we were to accommodate that population in one large block of houses with seven floors, they would therefore have ample space on an area the size of our country. Anyone who has a globe at home can see that it only draws a small spot on the Earth’s surface. Such construction is of course not a realistic possibility to carry out, only a part of a thought exercise.

But let’s play our imagination a little further and assume that our engineers are building a giant raft somewhere on the ocean, in a  well-chosen place, not far from the mainland, with durable materials resistant to the seawater. It would be suitable to support taller buildings, but the maximum building height is set at seven floors. The complex will be equipped with sewers in channels between the raft sections and the water supply will come from desalination basins, rain collection and recycling of waste water. The flat roofs are alternately covered with solar panels and roof terraces. Wind farms and generators powered by the fluctuations of sea level take care of the rest of the energy needs. Connections are provided with the mainland, via sea and air transport or fixed connections, depending on local possibilities. On the mainland there are associated industrial, agricultural and recreational areas. Administrative tasks and services are performed on site. All traffic on and around this raft is electrically powered. In short, human ingenuity provides everything needed to live well and reasonably comfortably, with all the amenities of a modern metropolis. What would be the benefits of this?

A major advantage of such a floating city complex would be that it cannot suffer from tsunamis or earthquakes at all since it floats on the ocean. The size of the whole and the quality of its mechanical construction can provide ideal protection against storms. Due to the sea location and the fact that there is no polluting industry on site, the air quality would be optimal. Since the complex is new, the entire arsenal of know-how and technical gadgets can be applied extensively to it, so that the residents have everything that modern technology can offer, with an extremely low burden of defilement and energy consumption.

Everyone would have the opportunity to move into such sea cities on a voluntary basis and as the world population increases, this system of living on the water (that has actually been around for a long time on a smaller scale) is gradually being expanded. Let it be clear that we are talking about a purely theoretical possibility, which – if it proves feasible in practice – could solve or reduce most of our current environmental problems.  Although it is (for now?) a fiction, we can learn something from it.

First of all, it points us to the fact that human ingenuity has more than enough possibilities to solve the technical side of almost all material problems, including those associated with a growing world population. Professional pessimists will, of course, counter that, despite all the facilities, our globe will one day have reached the limits of its capacity, if the number of people continues to increase indefinitely. That may be the case, but that statement contains a number of unknown factors. Who can determine what the earth’s capacity for food production, including the oceans, really is? The mesolithic hunters of the drying North Africa, who eventually found shelter in the fertile Nile basin, could not do that. Malthus could not do that either, because he did not have a crystal ball and did not know what human ingenuity was going to produce. Even today’s scientists do not know that, because they cannot look into the future either (“futurists” aside).

We also don’t yet know what the extraterrestrial life possibilities are, but we already know that people can live there for months or years with a food reserve that takes up very little space and an energy supply that comes directly from the sun. In addition, we live on a planet that still surprises us every day and has not yet revealed all its secrets and possibilities. After all, what everyone knows or should know is that on average at least one generation (about 25 years) is needed for a partial population increase, while a pandemic (never to be ruled out) can wipe out large parts of the world’s population in one year or less. This is one of the REAL catastrophe possibilities that humanity will always have to consider, instead of being frightened by the looming horrors of overpopulation with unreliable predictions.

Finally, we conclude that the doomsday thinking about “overpopulation” is driven more by ideological compulsive thoughts that fuel instinctive fears, than by sober scientific thinking. A second conclusion is of a religious nature: Jesus was right, we should not worry too much, because mankind has been given everything by God to deal efficiently with the earthly problems. For a believer, it is clear: the most important thing that humanity lacks is the unified recognition, faith, and trust in its Creator. But this should not lead him/her to close his eyes to the current serious problems and the fact that many are starving. What are the causes of this?

We have known for a long time that these are not due to population growth, nor to a shortage of food production. Every year, masses of food are simply thrown away because they do not yield enough. If they had to be distributed to the hungry, part of the problem was already solved. But despite that massive waste, there is absolutely no food shortage;  the problem is the distribution of food. The recent images of the famine in Somalia and the neighbouring countries gave a poignant illustration of this: piles of food for emaciated people who remained unreachable because of the unsafe situation in their country. The lust for power of some, fanaticism of others, ideological short-sightedness, greed of the rich who never have enough, …: these are the causes of the major world problems, including poverty. The rather stupid statements of the Flemish “11 11 11” solidarity organization that play on the doomsday thinking about climate change are beside the issue: our uncontrolled air pollution affects our own lungs in the first place and has nothing to do with landslides in Peru, which existed from the creation of the Andes chain and with which the inhabitants of that mountain range will probably be confronted for many thousands of years to come.

Adam and Eve were instructed or invited by God to multiply, considering his will. The people multiplied, but otherwise many ignored God’s will. The new Adam, as Christ is called by Paul, gave his followers a new command: “Go and teach.” The acceptance of Christ’s teachings of love, obedience, and trust in God lays the groundwork for solving all the misery with which humanity has struggled since the fall of our ancestors. Its main cause is not a demographic or geographical phenomenon, but has to do with a moral deficit, which in itself is the result of a broken relationship with He who created material reality, with all its possibilities and dangers. Disagreement, shortsightedness, pretentiousness, greed, indifference (the latter, according to Mother Theresa, is the true opposite of love, not hate) …: that is where the core problems lie.  So, let’s fight it by giving reparation to God, proclaiming his will, and leading by example ourselves.


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