Evolution and the Population Problem
Dr. Henry M. Morris is Director of the Institute for Creation Research and Academic Vice-President of Christian Heritage College, San Diego, California. He is the author of several outstanding books, among which are Evolution and the Modern Christian, The Twilight of Evolution, Many Infallible Proofs, Biblical Cosmology and Modern Science, and The Genesis Flood (co-authored with John C. Whitcomb, Jr.).
This article is reprinted by permission of the Institute for Creation Research.
Few issues today are more emotionally charged than that of population control. Sociological alarmists insist that the growth of human populations must be stopped by whatever means are available. Not only the usual contraception methods, but even such anti-Scriptural practices as abortion and homosexuality, have been promoted as desirable to help attain the goal of zero population growth.
The intellectual and educational establishments today assume it as self-evident that population growth should be halted. Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, in the lead editorial in a recent Issue of Science, says:
“The United Nations Population Conference, which concluded on 31 August in Bucharest, passed by acclamation a World Plan of Action that dramatized the growing global concern for the planet’s plight… At Bucharest it was affirmed that continuing, unrestricted worldwide population growth can negate any socioeconomic gains and fatally imperil the environment…
Those governments for which excessive population growth is detrimental to their national purpose are given a target date of 1985 to provide information and methods for implementing these goals.”1
So urgent do the experts consider this problem to be that the United Nations Organization actually proclaimed 1974 to be “World Population Year.” It can be shown, in fact, that if the population continued to increase at the rate of 2% per year, in less than 700 years there would be one person for every square foot of the earth’s surface. Obviously, the present growth rate cannot continue indefinitely.
Nevertheless, many creationists find such arguments unconvincing. Since the evidence for a purposeful Creator of the world and mankind is exceedingly strong, the creationist can be confident that the world God made for man is large enough and productive enough to accomplish His purpose. That purpose will surely have been consummated before the population exceeds its divinely-intended maximum.
According to the Biblical record of creation, immediately after the first man and woman were created, God instructed them as follows:
“Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish (literally, ‘fill’) the earth, and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28). Essentially the same commandment was given to the handful of survivors of the great Flood (Genesis 9:1). Since man has not yet come anywhere near to filling the earth (the total population currently averages less than one person for every 400,000 square feet of land area), even to its maximum feasible “carrying capacity”, it seems unlikely that the earth has yet reached its optimal population, as far as the purposes of the Creator are concerned.
Throughout the Scriptures, a large family is considered to be a blessing from the Lord (note Psalm 127:3-5; 128:1-6; etc.), not a problem to society, assuming, of course, that these children are going to be brought up “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:3).
The historic fact of creation is prophetic of the future fact of consummation. That is, since God created the world for His own good purposes, we are justified in believing He will bring these purposes to completion at the proper time. Many current trends seem to have been predicted in the Bible and, therefore, suggest that the return of Christ and the end of the age may be near at hand. It is, therefore, at least a possibility that the Creator’s work of consummation may solve the population problem long before it becomes critical.
Even apart from Biblical revelation, however, there is no good reason for alarm over population. The earth is quite able to support a much larger population than it now possesses. Even with the present status of technology (available water for irrigation, potentially arable land, modern methods of soil treatment and improved crop yields, etc.), authorities estimate that the earth’s reasonable “carrying capacity” is about 50 billion people.2 Future advances in technology (solar energy, saline conversion, etc.), may well increase this still more.
Thus, even at the present annual increase of 2%, it will be 135 years before this maximum population will be reached, However, in order for this population to be achieved, modern technological knowledge will have to be employed worldwide, in the underdeveloped countries as well as in the developed nations. In turn, experience in the latter shows that population growth rates tend to drop off as a society’s technology increases. Revelle comments on this as follows:
“Here we are faced with a paradox: attainment of the earth’s maximum carrying capacity for human beings would require a high level of agricultural technology, which in turn calls for a high level of social and economic development. Such developments, however, would be likely to lead to a cessation of population growth long before the maximum carrying capacity is reached.”3
It is interesting that, for the most part, those intellectuals who are most vocal in support of population limitation (Margaret Mead, for example), are also strong believers in human evolution. This is probably because of their refusal to recognize divine purpose in the world. If there was no creation and therefore no purpose or goal in creation, then neither is there any reason to believe the Creator will accomplish His purpose at the end of history. Just as man’s past evolution was dependent solely on random natural processes, so must his future be controlled by naturalism, the only difference being that man now knows how to control those processes—or so he hopes.
One of the strange aberrations of the modern drive for ecological and population controls is the notion that the “environment crisis” is an outgrowth of the Biblical teaching that man should multiply numerically and subdue the earth. Professor Lynn White of U.C.L.A. first popularized the notion that this Genesis mandate has served as man’s justification for the exploitation of the earth’s resources.4 Professor Richard Means and others have even proposed that we should all revert to belief in a pantheistic polytheism in order to have a proper regard for all aspects of the world and its living things as they have evolved.5
This idea is a prime example of evolutionistic confusion of thinking. Christians who believe and understand the Biblical teachings on this subject have never used Genesis 1:28 in support of the careless use and waste of any of the earth’s resources. To the contrary, since everything is presented in Scripture as the product of God’s creative design and purpose, Biblical creationist Christians regard themselves, and man in general, as stewards of the creation, accountable directly to the Creator for its proper development and use.
On the other hand, it is very significant that all of the earth’s serious environmental problems, even its population crisis, have developed during that one century (say, from about 1860 to the present) when the evolutionary philosophy had replaced creationism in the thinking of practically all of the world’s leaders in education, science and industry. The earth has been exploited not because of any divine mandate, but because of social Darwinism, economic and military imperialism, secular materialism, anarchistic individualism, and other such applications of the “struggle and survival” rationale of modern evolutionism.
As far as reverting to pantheism is concerned, this is simply another variant of evolutionism and will inevitably lead to similar results. The most pantheistic of nations (e.g., India with its Hinduism, China with its Buddhism and Confucianism, etc.) are precisely those nations in which the population/resource ratios have been most severe. It has not been the Judaeo-Christian nations in which population has become a problem, but those with religions of pantheism. How then can pantheism solve the very problems it nurtures?
But there is an even greater inconsistency in evolutionary thinking relative to population. The same population statistics which supposedly presage a serious population problem in the future also indicate a very recent origin of man in the past, and therefore a special divine purpose for man in the future.
To illustrate the problem, assume that the human population increases geometrically. That is, the increase each year is equal to a constant proportion of the population the previous year. This relationship can be expressed algebraically as follows:
in which P is the population at any certain time, r is the proportionate annual increase in population, and Pn is the population n years later. For example, if the present population is 3.5 billion and the planet’s permissable population is 50 billion, the number of years before this number will be reached at the present 2% annual increase can be calculated as follows:
We have already discussed this result, however. Looking toward the past, instead of the future, equation (1) will also indicate how long it would take to produce the present population at 2% growth per year, starting with two people. Thus:
That is, an initial population of only two people, increasing at 2% per year, would become 3.5 billion people in only 1075 years. Since written records go back over 4,000 years, it is obvious that the average growth rate throughout past history has been considerably less than the present rate.
As a matter of interest, we can also use equation (1) to determine what the average growth rate would have to be to generate the present population in 4,000 years. Thus:
Thus, an average population growth rate of only (1/2)% would generate the present world population in only 4000 years. This is only one-fourth of the present rate of growth.
Now, although it is obvious that the present rate of growth (2%) could not have prevailed for very long in the past, it does seem unlikely that the long-time growth rate could have averaged significantly less than (1/2)%. Very little is known about the world population in earlier times, but everything that is known indicates the population has steadily increased throughout recorded history.
Dr. Ansley J. Coale, Director of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University, has discussed the paucity of such data in an important recent study.
“Any numerical description of the development of the human population cannot avoid conjecture, simply because there has never been a census of all the people of the world … The earliest date for Which the global population can be calculated with an uncertainty of only, say 20 per cent is the middle of the 18th century. The next earliest time for which useful data are available is the beginning of the Christian era, when Rome collected information bearing on the number of people in various parts of the empire.”6
The usually-accepted estimates of world population for these two dates are, respectively, about 200 million in A.D. 1 and about one billion in 1800 A.D. The first, however, may be vastly in error, since no one really knows the population in most parts of the world at that early date.
For earlier periods than A.D. 1, absolutely nothing is known concerning world populations. It should be emphatically stressed that all estimates of earlier populations except that recorded in the Bible (namely, that immediately after the great Flood, the world population consisted of eight people) are based solely on evolutionary concepts of human technological development.
“For still earlier periods (than A.D. 1) the population must be estimated indirectly from calculations of the number of people who could subsist under the social and technological institutions presumed to prevail at the time. Anthropologists and historians have estimated, for example, that before the introduction of agriculture the world could have supported a hunting and gathering culture of between five and ten million people.”
Such guesses are useless, however, because they are based on a discredited model, that of human evolution. The creation-cataclysm model of earth history fits all the known facts of man’s history much better than the evolution model does7, and it recognizes that man’s agriculture and other basic technologies are essentially as old as man himself.
In 1650 the world population has been estimated with perhaps reasonable accuracy to have been 600 million. In 150 years this had grown to approximately one billion. The average rate of increase for this period, therefore, is:
Since this period from 1650 to 1800 antedated the great advances in medicine and technology which have stimulated the more rapid population growth of the 19th and 20th centuries, and also since this is the earliest period of time for which population data are at all reliable, it seems likely that this figure of (1/3)%, rather than the (1/2)% previously calculated, could be used as the norm for population growth throughout most of past history.
In that case, the length of time required for the population to grow from 2 people to one billion people, at 1/3% increase per year is:
To this should be added the 175 years since 1800. Thus, the most probable date of human origin, based on the known data from population statistics, is about 6,300 years ago.
This figure, of course, is vastly smaller than the usually assumed million-year history of man. Nevertheless it correlates well not only with Biblical chronology but also with other ancient written records as well as with even the usual evolutionary dates for the origin of agriculture, animal husbandry, urbanization, metallurgy and other attributes of human civilization.
By arbitrary juggling of population models, of course, the evolutionist can manage to come out with any predetermined date he may choose. People should realize, however, that this does require an arbitrary juggling of figures, based solely on the assumptions of human evolution. The actual data of population statistics, interpreted and applied in the most conservative and most probable manner, point to an origin of the human population only several thousands of years ago. The present population could very easily have been attained in only about 6000 years or so, even if the average population growth rate throughout most of history were only one-sixth as much as it is at present. The burden of proof is altogether on evolutionists if they wish to promote some other population model.
The Biblical model for population growth starts with eight people (Noah, his three sons, and their wives) right after the great Flood. The date of the Flood is not certain; the Ussher Chronology dates it about 2350 B.C., but possible gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 11 may justify a date as far back as say, about 6000 B.C., with the probabilities favoring the lower limit rather than the upper limit.
Even using the short Ussher chronology, it is quite reasonable, as we have seen, for the population to have grown from 8 people to 3.5 billion people in 4350 years. This growth represents an average annual increase of only 0.44%, or an average doubling time of 152 years. Such figures are quite consistent with all known data of population statistics, especially in light of the fact that the human death rates were very low for many centuries after the Flood, and family sizes quite large. Thus, in all likelihood, the population growth was very substantial in the early centuries, at least as great as it has become in the present century. In turn, this means that the rate may have been much less than 0.44% during the long period in between.
In any case, the conclusion is well justified that the Biblical chronology, even in its most conservative form, fits well into all the known facts of population growth, much more so than does the evolutionary chronology of human history.
For further discussion, with a different analytical approach, on the evolutionary implications of population growth, see Biblical Cosmology and Modern Science, by Henry M. Morris, Chapter VI, “World Population and Bible Chronology” (available from I.C.R.)
1 Margaret Mead: “World Population: World Responsibility,” Science, Vol. 185, September 27, 1974, p. 1113.
2 Donald Freedman and Bernard Berelson, “The Human Population,” Scientific American, Vol. 231, September 1874, p. 31.
3 Roger Revelle, “Food and Population,” Scientific American, Vol. 231, September 1974, p. 168. Revelle is Director of the Center for Population Studies at Harvard.
4 Lynn White, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” Science, Vol. 155, March 10, 1967, pp. 1203-1027.
5 Richard L. Means, “Why Worry about Nature,” Saturday Review, December 2, 1967.
6 A.J. Coale, “The History of the Human Population,” Scientific American, Vol. 231, September 1974, p. 41.
7 See Scientific Creationism (San Diego, Creation-Life Publishers, 1974), pp. 171-201.