Population Bloom: Toward an Ethics of Population Growth in the Anthropocene

This paper examines the ethics of population growth, asking whether God’s commands to be fruitful and multiple (Gen 1:28; 9:1) authorize unlimited population growth. After tracing the history of population alarmists, this paper argues that population growth is, on balance, a good thing; that maximum fertility is not mandated; and the greater challenge Christians should help address is how to properly steward the created order to prevent exhausting available natural resources.

From Malthus to Ehrlich to the ahumanist movement, concerns about human population growth continue to rise from environmentalists. Arguments for abortion on demand, forced and voluntary sterilization, and government funding of contraception have been presented by ethicists on the grounds that there are simply too many humans. The problem, some argue, is there are simply too many people.

Although the debate over population is certainly not new, there is an increasingly misanthropic element to it. Rather than simply calling for limiting population growth, some activists are now lobbying for human extinction. Some recent arguments for human extinction, such as the one offered by Patricia MacCormack in The Ahumanist Manifesto, treat humanity as an alien species on earth that should be allowed to die off for the sake of the ecosystem. In MacCormack’s mind, abortion is a moral necessity, euthanasia a positive, and sterilization warranted to make the world a better place. At the same time, even abortion advocates like Betsy Hartmann, writing in Reproductive Rights and Wrongs, note that abortion for the sake of population control quickly becomes the cause of human rights abuses. Additionally, as Mei Fong shows in One Child, the inversion of population ages, with few children born, is a foreshadowing of economic collapse. In short, both the means used to control population growth and the result of population growth deny the goodness of humanity and deprive those humans that survive of the opportunity to flourish.

My goal in this paper to illuminate the underlying ideas that run through most population control movement, then to meaningfully engage those arguments from the Christian tradition. The purpose of this is to demonstrate the coherence of this generally anti-human movement with a view of enabling others to better interact with those who argue for human population control.

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