What Overpopulation Problem?

Tom Flynn’s op-ed “Beyond Ponzi Economics” (FI, December 2007/January 2008) describing his concerns about overpopulation is needlessly pessimistic. With so many Bible-believing Christians asserting the Bible to be the Word of God, all that needs to be done is to get Christians to act upon the wise, loving advice of their Lord and Savior.

Jesus said, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection”(Luke 20:34–36).

Jesus rebukes Christians of “this age” who marry and engage in the lustful act of sexual intercourse. These Christians are only concerned with earthy, short-term objectives. Only those Christians who abstain from such earthy, flesh-gratifying behavior are “worthy” of the age to come and the resurrection.

Lest anyone be tempted to backslide and change his mind, Jesus offered a more certain and permanent answer to the sex problem. He said, “There are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (Matthew 19:12).

The Center for Inquiry should assist America’s eighty million Bible-believing Christians desirous of proving their love of the kingdom of heaven and hoping to “attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead.” We can accomplish this heavenly task by providing “Eunuchs for Jesus” facilities throughout America. These facilities would provide counseling on male castration and female genital mutilation for Christians who truly love Jesus with all their hearts. Undoubtedly, these facilities will be overwhelmed with clients anxious to please God and assure their eternal destinies while at the same time helping to solve this pressing overpopulation problem. Praise the Lord!

Lee Salisbury
Stillwater, Minnesota

I’m so glad Tom Flynn asked for help in his op-ed piece, “Beyond Ponzi Economics.” As a loyal and grateful reader, I humbly offer the following:

The source and consequences of unlimited economic growth are both simple and benign. The source of unlimited growth is mutually agreeable trade. The consequences are mutually beneficial.

When I report for work on Monday morning, I go because the money my employer pays me is worth more to me than additional leisure time. The weekend was fun, but it doesn’t pay the bills. The services I provide to my employer are worth more to him than the money he pays me. If this were not true, I would be looking for a new job on Tuesday.

My employer and I both receive more than we give. This is better than the alternative, regardless of what anybody says.

Together, my employer, my coworkers, and I manufacture a product that we offer for sale. Our product is worth more to our customers than its price. Otherwise, they would not choose to be our customers. We and our customers receive more than we give.

My employer makes a profit that he can blow in Vegas, or he can invest it to expand production and create more jobs. When I spend my paycheck, the things I buy are worth more to me than the price I pay. And when I spend my money, I contribute to the growth of other businesses. Everybody gets more than they give. It’s a win-win-win situation all around.

We are not all scrambling to grab bigger pieces of the same pie. We are continually making the pie bigger.

I’m pretty happy with the way this works out. My employer seems happy. My coworkers don’t complain much, most of them. Our customers must be happy; they keep coming back. So, what’s the problem?

Two hundred years ago, Thomas Robert Malthus inspired the epithet “dismal science” for economics when he argued that economic growth would cause a population explosion and mass starvation. History proved him wrong.

For a better explanation of the nature and beneficence of of market economies, Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose and F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom are a great place to start. The writers, both Nobel laureates, are the two most influential economists of the past century. They successfully put to rest the fallacious theories of Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. And they write for a general audience. Their books have sold millions of copies.

I hope this will be helpful.

Dave Coyne
Goshen, Indiana

Tom Flynn addresses a valid point about the limitations to growth. But the problems of growth are exacerbated in the developing countries. For instance, take the case of Kenya: 60 percent rural population; 4.8 births per woman; 2.8 percent growth rate (=26-year doubling rate); 42 percent are age fourteen or less. Many other African countries have higher rural populations with corresponding growth rates. Rural populations in developing countries mean that services (such as energy distribution) are difficult to provide, leading to massive deforestation for fuel as well as for subsistence farming. This is Flynn’s “carbon-loading, global-warming” scene—according to the United Nations, deforestation accounts for about 30 percent of greenhouse gases. It is also Flynn’s “impact on biodiversity” scene (see www.appinsys.com/GlobalWarming/RS_Kenya.htm, for example). Tom is right—”urbanization alone may trigger population decline” and with it a reduction in the problems caused by rural populations—but in many countries, sufficient urbanization to take the pressure off the environment seems to be a long way off.

Alan Cheetham
Seattle, Washington

Thomas Flynn replies:

A libertarian myself, I’m familiar with Friedman and Hayek. They demonstrated that individual initiative outperforms central planning. But they said little about resource scarcity; nor did Marx or Keynes. The market’s capacity for “making the pie bigger” fades quickly when we start to run out of crust and filling!

Malthus got his specifics wrong—though population grew more or less as he projected, technological advances in food production he did not foresee staved off famine. Likewise, 1960s-era catastrophists like Paul Ehrlich failed to anticipate the Green Revolution. However, they were right in principle: continued population growth must inevitably lead to calamity the first time a powerful technological “fix” fails to materialize in time. As it turns out, the Green Revolution was a flawed “fix.” It boosted crop yields but expanded monoculture, increased energy consumption to fuel farm equipment and produce fertilizer, and swamped croplands and watersheds with pesticide-laden runoff.

What rabbit will we pull from our hat when the globe has nine billion inhabitants, many of them newly middle-class Indians and Chinese aspiring to American standards of consumption? Absent a sudden breakthrough in nuclear fusion or cheap mass water desalination—neither of which seems likely in the short term—we’re running out of clean water and anywhere to put the carbon dioxide we’re pumping out. And those are just the most obvious problems.

In my op-ed I asked, in essence, whether anyone since Malthus had tackled the economics of resource scarcity. If this time around we don’t find a technological magic bullet, I’d prefer to avoid a mass human die-off by famine, disease, or war. I’d also like t
o avoid a totalitarian future where states ration scarce resources and license reproduction. To my mind, the best outcome would be a market-based solution that continues to provide economic opportunity even as we shrink toward a sustainable population . . . if we have an economic model for doing that. And of course, we need governments to stop exacerbating the problem by encouraging rapid immigration and incentivizing fecundity.

Alan Cheetham is right about the heightened ecological impact of urbanization in the Third World. When I noted urbanization’s welcome role in reducing human fecundity, I never suggested that urbanization alone could solve the population problem! Rather, I cited it as one of several reasons why shortsighted political leaders seeking to stave off the problems of demographic contraction by promoting rapid growth—ecological consequences be damned—might wind up failing to meet their foolhardy targets.



What about the Facts?

Inasmuch as I always appreciate the information in “Church-State Update” by Tom Flynn and Edd Doerr, there seems to be something wrong in the December 2007/January 2008 issue. I think Flynn may have overlooked editing Mr. Doerr’s actual contribution.

Doerr’s diatribe, entitled “Al Gore and Overpopulation,” really belongs on some other page, or maybe even in some other publication. It is not based on any exposition of facts or line of reasoning, nor does it have anything to do with the stated purpose of the page. It is simply a one-sided political opinion masquerading as “Church-State” news. I might suggest that, since Mr. Doerr obviously feels strongly about what he calls a “judicial coup d’etat,” FI should invite him to support his opinion with facts and rationale in a complete article.

Whether your readers (or I) agree or disagree with him is quite immaterial to this complaint. Unsupported opinions have no place in this magazine.

Otherwise, keep up the good work.

Chuck Adcox
Anderson, Indiana

Edd Doerr responds:

My commentary about Al Gore and overpopulation very definitely dealt with a church-state issue: the suppression of the Nixon/Ford administration’s 1975 NSSM 200 report on overpopulation, doubtless due to the report’s conclusions that universal access to family planning education is essential, and that the problem cannot be solved without legalization of abortion, conclusions strongly opposed by conservative theocrats. Theocon attempts to use government to restrict freedom of conscience on reproductive matters, as has occurred under the last three Republican administrations, is clearly a church-state issue, one of deep concern to humanists.

My reference to the questionable 2000 presidential election outcome (well received by my 2001 international humanist listeners) was simply a way of introducing the subject and is a widely shared view. I wonder if Mr. Adcox actually read past my first paragraph.



In Defense of Paula Kirby

I have been reading my latest copy of Free Inquiry, and “Reassuringly Rational” by Paula Kirby. I was really delighted to read this article, because similar thoughts have been going through my mind for years. My personal feeling is that we scientifically oriented people who find belief unnecessary and are constantly thought of as weird by our believing associates, pay too little attention to what might be called the psychobiological or psychomechanical aspects of religion. Why, in other words, are people who are rational and reasonable in all other respects simply unable to handle the application of the same principles to issues of belief?

I am convinced that this has to do with interaction between behavior, especially repeated behavior, and some sort of imprinting. I remember many years ago reading Konrad Lorenz’s studies of geese. If a gosling emerges from the egg and its first sight is a human being instead of a goose, it spends the rest of its life thinking that it is human and even attempts to copulate with humans. If someone tells me, when I am a child, that walking under a ladder is bad luck, I will avoid walking under ladders even though I am not at all superstitious and know that this behavior is harmless. I nonetheless get a very uncomfortable feeling that something bad is going to happen if I do. During my working career, I was required to travel by air almost constantly all over the world. At one point, I was musing on takeoff and developed a mantra. Even though I know that this is a meaningless superstition, I will always say this mantra on takeoff because of some deep-seated fear of bad consequences if I fail to repeat it.

Bill Stenwick
Auburn, California



Reassuringly Angry

Paula Kirby’s “Reassuringly Rational” was singing my song—until she quite unexpectedly attacked alternative therapies as unscientific as well.

As a massage therapist for the past sixteen years, I have done my share of work and research, and the beneficial physiological effects of massage are well documented. Kirby’s broad-based dismissal of alternative therapies is rather unfounded and unfair.

The tightly controlled power of medical deities (MDs) share similarities with the all-knowing religious powers. They, too, make their way the only way. Obviously, abuse exists in all spheres. However, not all alternative therapies are just selling “hope,” and to throw us all into the “spiritual energy camp” is deeply offensive.

Martha McPherson
Aiken, South Carolina



Albert Ellis, a Rehabilitation

Paul Kurtz, in his article, “Albert Ellis, Scientific Practitioner and Secular Humanist” (FI, December 2007/January

2008), gave a partial account of the great Albert Ellis’s contribution to the world. One important element to Mr. Ellis’s life was his ability to communicate his incredible insight into human behavior on a level that allowed Mr. Ellis’s readers to make radical, productive changes in their lives. Oftentimes scientists (especially philosophers and psychologists) write only for other academics. Albert Ellis wrote to every human being. After reading Rational Emotive Therapy, I had a solid foundation for identifying irrational thoughts in my own critical thinking. This foundation continues to allow me to re-enforce my rehabilitation through reasoning. The world will never know the full extent of Dr. Ellis’s amazing contributions to the human race.

Edward King
Airway Heights, Washington



Thinking Positive!

Far be it from me to wish ill of anyone, let alone Katrina Voss (Love and Marriage in Central Pennsylvania,” last issue), but I would greatly enjoy reading more of her humorous accounts of the irrational troubles that come her way.

John Forester
Lemon Grove, California

What Overpopulation Problem? Tom Flynn’s op-ed “Beyond Ponzi Economics” (FI, December 2007/January 2008) describing his concerns about overpopulation is needlessly pessimistic. With so many Bible-believing Christians asserting the Bible to be the Word of God, all that needs to be done is to get Christians to act upon the wise, loving advice of their Lord …

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