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What about overpopulation?

So many of you took issue with Dr. B's take on "be fruitful and multiply" that we asked him to respond.


Question #1:

I plan on adopting children with my husband when I get married. I don’t want to have children because of the overpopulation. What are Dr. Budziszewski’s thoughts? And what about couples who decide to have only one or two children for the same reason? 

Question #2:

What you are saying is that Christians must have children and ignore the fact that the earth has a limit to how many people it can support. Certainly God called us to multiply and fill the earth. That was when there were 2 people. Not 6 billion. We’ve filled it already. God also called us to be good stewards of his planet. Not having children certainly is an option. Couples can adopt children. And what if couples choose not to have children and instead give their lives to God? That’s certainly not being selfish. 


Thank you for your questions. Actually, the planet could support far more people than there are now. Children starve because no one on the planet will give them food, not because there is no food on the planet to give them. Time and time again the don’t-have-children lobby has predicted that we will reproduce beyond the food supply, and each time the doomsayers have ended up with egg on their faces. Of course there are many local reasons for famine — for example inefficient traditional farming methods, natural disasters and socialism — but too many people on the earth isn’t one of them.

Warnings of “population explosion” have been inflated grossly. The U.N. has released three different population scenarios, each based on slightly different assumptions. According to the “low variant” model, overall world population may begin to decline as early as mid-century. Of course no one knows which of the three scenarios is correct, but fertility is already declining in every region of the world, and population growth has been slowing down since the late 1970s. In the developed countries, the net reproduction rate is 0.7 and dropping, which means that the next generation will be only 70% as large as this one. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute suggests that we may one day face not an explosion but an “implosion” of population.

What about the countries that are overpopulated now? Can they wait until midcentury, or whenever it is that population levels out? Curiously, “overpopulation” is in the eye of the beholder. China, everyone’s favorite supposed example, has fewer than 60% as many people per square mile as the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Obviously, then, China’s problem is not overpopulation, but underdevelopment. Many people think that population growth prevents the economic growth of poor nations, but a number of economists now suggest the opposite: Every new person brings not only another mouth to feed, but two hands with which to work. Misguided efforts to help poor countries by suppressing their natural population growth may actually hurt them.

Your arguments (and those of other readers, for which we have no space) seem to suppose both (a) that the poor should not have children because they cannot afford them, and (b) that the well-off should not have children because every bite their children eat means less food for the children of the poor. I think you are terribly mistaken on both counts. Of course parents may use natural family planning to space their children so that they can take care of them. But remember that God chose to send Jesus to a poor family; no Christian should suppose that He denies the gift of children to the poor.

As to the latter point — that by having a child in America you are somehow starving a child in Bangladesh — remember that agricultural economics is not a zero-sum game. Farmers want to make a living, so as demand increases, so does production. Not only that, but agricultural productivity has increased so rapidly that in some countries the government pays farmers not to plant crops in an effort to keep food prices from dropping.

For couples who consider self-inflicted barrenness a way of serving God, I suggest a glance at what God himself has said about the matter: “Has not [the Lord] made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth” (Mal. 2:15). As to the idea of adopting children instead of having them — why not do both?

We don’t need to treat the Lord’s command to be fruitful as though it had an expiration date. Earth is not overpopulated, and the rich-land fad of encouraging people not to have children must have another explanation. I think most of is that we don’t want to grow up ourselves; children interfere with our plans.

I hope this has been helpful to you.

Grace and peace,


Copyright 2000 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

J. Budziszewski

Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

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