Population Control?

This past weekend, the world’s 7 billionth person was born. I remarked to some friends this morning, “We’ll see at least three articles this week about population control.” Less than 24 hours later, my Yahoo! News headline read: “Should The World Adopt a One-Child Policy?”

Thankfully, the article’s answer was, “No.” Even staunch population control advocates agree that a one-child policy (like the one currently in place in China) is coercive and leads to massive social problems. However, what the article did propose was no less unsettling. The basic solution: do whatever it takes to discourage women from having children.

Robust debate about population growth – like robust debate about anything – is good and healthy and welcome. But what’s increasingly disturbing about these sorts of debates is the absence of any coherent anthropology. A debate about population is, after all, a debate about human persons. So before we decide that we should limit the existence of human persons, it seems like we should back up and have some robust debate about what a human person is.

Never is the frailty of a Darwinian, materialist worldview more apparent than in this sort of discussion. The materialist point of view denies that a human person is anything more than a lump of atoms randomly existing in a purposeless universe. If that is the case, of course, then why bring more such lumps into existence? To paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge: let them get on with dying, and decrease the surplus population.

But if, perchance, a human person is something more than matter, then any debate about it bears a great deal more weight. And if a human person is an image-bearer of God (as the Judeo-Christian tradition holds), all of a sudden we are treading on holy ground.

The Yahoo! News article is fraught with assumptions that beg to be questioned by a thoughtful contrarian:

  • “Bongaarts advocates a three-pronged approach to reducing fertility rates that are at unsustainable levels.” Who decides what level of fertility is “unsustainable?” And by what measures are such things judged? Are the calculations accounting for advances in agricultural  production?
  • “First and foremost, he says, is getting contraceptives out there and educating women on what they are and how they work.” Ah, yes, let’s bow in reverence to the omnipotent condom. Might a better approach be to help women consider the connection between sexuality and personhood?
  • “Next is education: building schools and introducing incentives to keep girls in school is key, as women with higher levels of education tend to have fewer children.” Unless that education causes them start reflecting philosophically on what a human person is. In which case they might actually desire to have some children.
  • “Finally, Bongaarts suggests a delay in child bearing, which he says can limit a mother’s options if it happens at too young of an age.” (The “option” it doesn’t limit is the option of raising kids – an option obviously frowned upon by the article’s authors.) But recent research has shown that many women who delay childbearing in order to pursue their careers feel unfulfilled in their work and end up leaving their careers in order to become mothers. Could it be that humans are deeply spiritual beings, and that mothers feel a spiritual connection to childbearing that no amount of (re-)education can erase?

The whole tenor of this article would be humorous if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. It betrays a worldview that exalts the individual to the point of non-existence. If we all pursue our selfish goals to the exclusion of childbearing, soon there will be no more individuals to pursue selfish goals.

The only way out of this self-refuting madness is to embrace a philosophical anthropology that does justice to the frightening, perplexing, holy enigma that is the human person. Like the one Christians have had for millennia.


Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply