Go forth and multiply - or not

The Herald ran a report on the weekend called Australia 2050, speculating about what life will be like in 40 years. One projection suggested there would be 36 million people in our land by that time - and that we couldn’t possibly afford the infrastructure necessary for that number.

The population debate is not new, and it’s certainly not restricted to Australia. For years, certain segments of the environmental movement have been telling us that we must stabilise (or even decrease) the human population, or face disaster.

Where should Christians sit on this issue? Is it ok for a Christian to support zero or negative population growth? Sermons on this subject invariably return to Genesis 1:28, where God says to humanity,  “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”. Zero population growth, some say, is contrary to this command, and so should be treated with great suspicion.

I used to buy into this thinking, but now I’m not so sure. It seems to me that Genesis 1:28 is possibly the only command of God that humanity might reasonably claim to have obeyed. The earth has been filled, and it has been subdued. Unless someone figures out how to colonise Mars, maybe we can tick that command off.

Are there any other texts that might inform this debate? Well, my mind was recently drawn to 1 Timothy 5:8 - “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” It establishes an obligation to provide for our family, especially our immediate family.

Given this obligation, a very poor man might decide not to have any more children because he cannot afford to provide for them. If that seems a reasonable position, then it also seems reasonable to discuss how many people the planet can afford to “provide for”. It’s about good stewardship. This argument seems plausible to me, and so I believe it’s possible for conservative, Bible-believing Christians to advocate zero population growth.

Now, I’m not saying this is my position - merely that I think it is a valid position within biblical Christianity. As far as my own opinion goes - well, I already have 3 children, and I think it’s likely I will have a few more. You can draw your own conclusions from that…

Craig Schwarze heads Sydneyanglicans.net's music review team and contributes regular thoughts on day-to-day Christianity. He is an everyday Christian who lives in Sydney's inner west. By day he works in the IT industry; by night his interests are music, theology, writing and mixed martial arts. Click here to read Craig's blog, his everyday blog.

Comments (48)

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  • Mark Short
    February 10, 10 - 2:43am
    Hi Craig,

    Thanks for raising what will be an increasingly important issue in the year ahead. It surfaced in a debate at our Diocesan Synod last year. It was clear from the discussion that
    (i)Genesis 1:28 remains a key text for Christians
    (ii) Many of us are wary of population policy for fear of the methods that may be adopted by governments to achieve it - eg more widespread abortion, restrictions on the number of children per family.

    As I pointed out in the debate the measures which have been shown to have the greatest impact on population growth - such as improving literacy, especially among women - are relatively uncontroversial.

    It's interesting that alongside 1:28 the book of Genesis contains texts such as 13:5-6 which suggest the ability of the land to sustain population may be finite, at least at the micro level.

    But there's undoubtedly a great deal more theological work to be done.

  • Luke Collings
    February 10, 10 - 7:21am
    This is a question that has been of interest to me for a while and I am hoping to do more theological work on it over this year. As we begin this conversation we must beware of either excessive focus on the environment or family history/plans/preferences shaping our approach to the issue. Might I suggest three starting points:

    1. Population growth is a theological issue not just a sociological one. Our obedience to the commandment of Gen 1:28 should also be seen as corrupted along with our obedience to rest of God's commands. The question is whether in real terms this has translated into overpopulation or whether we still have some 'wiggle room'.

    2. The gospel does not destroy the concept of family or the goodness of children. Our families must remain open to the welcoming of children into them even while remain focused on God rather than the children (as so many of our modern families appear to be).

    3. The gospel must inform our methodology. What difference does Jesus make to our concept of family and reproduction? Should the promises of descendents made to Abraham still apply in a genetic way to us today or does the gospel direct us to put aside building our own family and instead point us towards the interests of the family of the alien and stranger?

    Any other thoughts?
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 10, 10 - 7:24am
    @Mark - thanks for your thoughts. I must have missed that debate. Were any motions passed at the end of it?
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 10, 10 - 7:25am
    @Luke - good to hear from you mate. I'd be very interested in seeing you flesh out a theology of population a bit more. To your knowledge, has anyone done any theological work on this area?
  • Joshua Bovis
    February 10, 10 - 7:49am

    There is no where in Scripture where I am aware of that speaks of children as being a liability. Yet to my understanding, the implication behind zero population growth is that children and their children are a liability.

    Also what is benchmarch for deciding who is contributing to population growth? Is it parents who have more than three children?

    This is off the cuff Craig, but I think the command of Genesis 1:28, since it is said in the context of blessing from Yahweh, I think the command to fill the earth and subdue it is also an endorsement for married couples to have numerous children.

    Other texts: Proverbs 17:6; 20:7; Psalm 127:3-5;
    All the passages of the gospels which show Jesus obvious love of children.

    Given this obligation, a very poor man might decide not to have any more children because he cannot afford to provide for them. If that seems a reasonable position, then it also seems reasonable to discuss how many people the planet can afford to “provide for”. It’s about good stewardship. This argument seems plausible to me, and so I believe it’s possible for conservative, Bible-believing Christians to advocate zero population growth.

    I agree with the first half Craig regarding limiting the number of children one has in terms of stewardship. (Though I would check this by mentioning that one of the most obvious examples of God's sovereignty that we see in Scripture is conception!) continued...
  • Joshua Bovis
    February 10, 10 - 7:52am
    But I do not believe that this stewardship extends to the planet. When it comes to people and the environment, I believe that people come first and that this is consistent with the created order. For Christians to advocate zero population growth I think is filtering Scripture through the grid of an environmental idealogical grid, a grid that places the environment and people on an equal playing field.

    Nice work bringing up this topic. Good for my brain. ;)

    Hope you are well.

  • Mark Short
    February 10, 10 - 8:49am
    Hi Craig,

    I'm in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn so there's no surprise you missed the debate. The conclusion was basically to send the matter onto our Bishop-in-Council for further theological reflection.

    Some speakers did point out that the issue is consumption of resources rather than population per se, and that it can look like a bunch of Western over-consumers telling developing world under-consumers to have fewer kids.

  • Joshua Aldersley
    February 10, 10 - 9:59am
    A worthwhile discussion piece Craig. Kudos to you.

    I must say I'm surprised that no-one has really questioned the prescriptive nature of the common interpretation of Genesis 1:28. God's directive does appear to be directed towards two people, whether the text is to be read literally or analogically. While I'm not suggesting that this dictates reading this text as being descriptive rather than prescriptive, nor is such a reading necessarily precluded from what I can see.
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 10, 10 - 10:47am
    @JoshB: I don't think ZPG says children are a liability - it simply suggests that we should only have as many children as the planet can reasonably support.

    I'm not really advocating ZPG myself - but I do believe that this should be an area of Christian freedom, rather than the more prescriptive approach that has been taken in the past.
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 10, 10 - 10:49am
    @Mark: Thanks for that mate. If any sort of document comes out of it all, please let me know.

    @JoshA: Good point - more work needed on that verse. It's use has been a bit proof-texty...
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    February 10, 10 - 11:15am
    This is a good topic.

    I think that Joshua at #8 has hit the nail on the head about Genesis 1:28. Is God really going to say to 6.5 billion people on the planet today, "Go forth and multiply", in the same way he said it to Adam and Eve? I don’t believe so. Genesis 1:28 is undeniably in the context of God speaking to these two specific people. Therefore, I don’t believe that this verse can be seen as prescriptive for Christians (or anybody else) today.

    The earth definitely has a finite ability to support the human population living on it. If you think that it does not, then, theoretically, you would support the idea of one trillion people on the planet (ie. 1000 billion). I don’t believe that the planet as it is can support one trillion people.

    In relation to us Westerners being "over-consumers" in contrast to the "under-consumers" in developing countries, I believe that we Westerners have more sensibly sized populations in relation to our resources and therefore can consume enough to meet our needs. In developing countries like India, China and the continent of Africa, which each have populations of about one billion people (which is about fifty times the population of Australia), the people there are "under-consumers" because there are not enough resources to satisfy all of the people's needs. In short, their populations are too large.

  • Andrew Mackinnon
    February 10, 10 - 11:16am
    The populations in Africa, India and China have grown so large for a wide range of reasons. It’s very interesting to get on the net and identify social customs which drive such explosive population growth. I believe that these places have now become dysfunctional as a result of their over-sized populations. They should aim for negative population growth through natural attrition.

    For myself, I believe it is irresponsible to have children if one cannot afford to look after them properly. The phenomenon of families in developing countries having children and then not being able to afford to look after them properly does not make sense. I understand that there are extenuating circumstances where children simply materialise or where a family hits rough times that they didn’t foresee when they first had the children. However, I believe the basic guideline for being responsible is, “If you can’t afford to take care of children, don’t have them.”
  • Luke Stevens
    February 10, 10 - 11:16am
    I think, for context, we need to realize that:
    - We all practice population control in the developed world; it's called contraception
    - We all inflict population control on the developing world; it's called economic development (as mentioned)
    - It's worth understanding just how exponential population growth has been in relatively recent times, see this graph for example. It really is extraordinary.

    With those things in mind, comments like:
    For Christians to advocate zero population growth I think is filtering Scripture through the grid of an environmental idealogical grid, a grid that places the environment and people on an equal playing field.

    seem completely nonsensical to me. It's a question of pragmatism, not ideology, and it's one that we almost universally practice and encourage anyway.

    Shouldn't we address the pragmatic before the theological? Look at the earlier graph -- I don't think Moses has that sort of growth in mind, so I think we can say 'mission accomplished' for populating the earth!
  • Michael Canaris
    February 10, 10 - 11:26am
    We all practice population control in the developed world; it's called contraception

    I thought it's called garlic. Besides, I know quite a few people in NSW who oppose contraception.
  • Roger Gallagher
    February 10, 10 - 12:05pm
    One interesting historical point to this whole debate is found in Rodney Stark's book The Rise Of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries. In chapter 5 The Role Of Women Shark argues that the Roman Empire faced population decline, despite immigration and government policies to encourage families to have 3 or more kids. The Romans commonly practiced both female infanticide or abortion, leading to male/female ratios as high as 140/100. Add to this the great plagues of the 160's and 250's [Chapter 4], both of which Stark estimates took between 30 to 40% of the population.

    In contrast, Christians were against female infanticide and abortion, Christian women married at a later age (20% under the age of 15, compared to 44% for pagans), Christians opposed divorce and had a high view of marriage. They also survived the plagues in greater numbers due to the better medical care they offered each other. The result was larger families, so that even without conversions, demographics was on their side.
  • Luke Collings
    February 10, 10 - 12:56pm
    @Craig - I am not aware at this point of anyone doing specific theology of population work (though I would be glad of any leads). In my mind the issue is not merely about numbers but community. If we have an eschatological mindset that includes a multitude of nations gathered around the throne of God in praise then a gospel-shaped view of family will also consider the good of the families of other nations who will share in the blessings to come. My immediate objection to those of the Quiverfull movements (primarily in the United States) is that their extremely large families presuppose that a) a growth in the Kingdom should be achieved primarily by genetic reproduction, and b) that this will have no impact on other families who do not share in their social advantages.

    @Luke - If we choose pragmatism over theology we run the risk of serving our own interests above those of God or our neighbour. In my mind there does not have to be a conflict between theology and pragmatism as good theology should lead to positive action that honours God, which includes a right stewardship over all creation. We lose nothing by taking a breath before jumping in, especially as this appears to be an area where prior reflection is a bit thin on the ground.
  • Duncan W MacInnes
    February 10, 10 - 10:05pm
    I think that we can have population growth - more children and sustainability, if we reduce our carbon footprint, little things going a long way, that can be done with little change in lifestyle - as former London mayor Ken Livingstone says 'not flushing the loo when we don't have a sit down', so much unnessary wastage.

    The Australian population debate is interesting from a British perspective. We have a fertility rate the same or higher than Australia, and have had a high immigration intake (cut back substansially the last year), we are looking at a population of 72 -76 million by 2050, and we would cope well with that. British standard of living is as high as Australia, but hardly anyone here has a back garden swimming pool, and most people live in two storey dwellings or more, with 'postage stamp gardens'. If Australians wanted to keep the same standard of living with a population of 35 miilion , Australians need to start living like Europeans.
  • David Palmer
    February 10, 10 - 10:25pm
    Perhaps Duncan you might explain why so many Brits are settling in Australia.
  • Duncan W MacInnes
    February 10, 10 - 11:58pm
    Well, thats one reason why we need more immigrants here, to replenish those that have left for Australia. Brits move primarily to Australia because of the outdoors lifestyle, and backyard pools - Australia now has the biggest new build houses in the world (overtook the US this last year). Without being nasty there are drawbacks to the rose tinted view of OZ emigrating Brits overlook; tyranny of distance, high skin cancer rates etc.

    I repeat, the British standard of living is as high as OZ in GDP, and many health indicators, but scores below OZ in the human development index and 'livable cities' many OZ cities appearing in top 10 lists usually, but never any British cities. So its swings and roundabouts on that one.
  • Michael Canaris
    February 11, 10 - 1:09am
    Whatever happened to Southern Spain, then?
  • Sheldon Ryan
    February 11, 10 - 1:25am
    The Moops invaded.
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 11, 10 - 1:29am
    What is a Moop?
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 11, 10 - 1:31am
    Hi Duncan, you are no doubt right that Australia could support more people if we adopted similar standards to those found in London and other densely populated cities. But it seems doubtful that the entire world could afford to live the way westerners presently do.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    February 11, 10 - 2:04am
    The reason that the entire world can't afford to live the way Westerners presently live is because the entire world is overpopulated, which Luke's linked graph at #13 demonstrates so dramatically.

    The answer for the future is not to increase Australia's population so that we are just as densely populated as the rest of the world and have similar reduced living standards. The answer for the future is to reduce the population of the rest of the world through natural attrition and reduced birth rates so that the living standards of the rest of the world increase.
  • Sheldon Ryan
    February 11, 10 - 2:25am
    Oh im sorry i the moores
  • Jeremy Halcrow
    February 11, 10 - 3:02am
    Sheldon, its 'Moors', not to be confused with the theological college :)
  • David Palmer
    February 11, 10 - 3:46am
    A few random facts/thoughts

    Whilst past historical trends are always interesting and not to be ignored - here I'm thinking of Luke's post #13, it is the forward forecast that needs to be considered.

    Wikipedia have a helpful discussion here. The UN modelling actually shows a wide range in forecasts from further uplift after 2030 to decline post 2030. They include this comment: In the long run, the future population growth of the world is difficult to predict which I think is a comment with applicability to another subject.

    There are parts of the world: southern and eastern Europe, Russia, Japan, Korea, which look to be in terminal decline because of very low fertility rates. Even the UK at 1.66 TFR is not looking all that flash (of course if your interest is lowering population the Europeans are on the right track). Interestingly Iran's birthrate also is well below replacement level.

    The question is why the decline in birth-rates, and what does the future hold, especially when it is African nations filling 31 of the first 40 spots for high fertility rates?
  • David Palmer
    February 11, 10 - 4:24am
    Here is an older report which highlights the slowing population growth rate, decreasing infant mortality and increased ageing of the population, helpfully breaking the figures down to less developed, more developed nations.

    Another article well worth reading - what the author says about Islamic populations will be a surprise to many.
  • Allan Dowthwaite
    February 11, 10 - 5:20am
    This documentary, Demographic Winter, is a few years old now but is definitely worth a look in relation to this topic.
  • Duncan W MacInnes
    February 11, 10 - 7:10am
    David, at comment 27 says: "Even the UK at 1.66 TFR is not looking all that flash"; that statistic is taken from the CIA Factbook, many people's main source of population statistics. The UK Office of National Statistics, which is the official UK statistical body says UK TFR in 2008 is at 1.96, not far from the magic 2.1 rate, (heres the link: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?ID=951). I don't know where the 1.66 figure that CIA Factbook and hence Wikipedia state have got their figures from, but the UK fertility rate has been climbing, quite robustly year on year from a low of 1.63 in 2001. Even the UN Population Division has the UK TFR for the period 2005-2010 at 1.85, so 1.66 is way off the scale.

    I'd trust national statistics over others as my first port of call.
  • Tia Zheng
    February 11, 10 - 12:07pm

    I'm aurprised that no-one has yet mentioned the Malachi 2:13-16 text, which seems to indicate that godly offspring matter to God.

    I've heard the passage used as a reminder to full-time Christian mothers/parents that bearing then raising children to know, hopefully accept & live with Christ Jesus as Lord & Saviour is in fact what God wants
    - & it's one big reason why He wants His people to stay faithful/committed in their marriages (original context).

    The alternative to future generations of Christians being raised up (as I've heard some people theorise) may be future generations of Muslims, or of hardened atheists - which will make religious freedom, & thus freedom for us to preach the gospel, more difficult in the decades/centuries that may follow.

    (Sorry can't make the link to the passage work:
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Malachi 2:13-16&version=NIV).

    Hope this adds something to the discussion.

    Also hope I didn't offend anyone.

  • Peter Denham
    February 11, 10 - 12:41pm
    For myself, I believe it is irresponsible to have children if one cannot afford to look after them properly.

    Lots of people here seem to like this sentiment. I think I understand where it comes from, and also the great thinking behind it. But I don't quite like it, because it is more responsible to have a child than to not if you are already pregnant.
    The last few decades have seen populations worldwide expand dramatically, but this is a good thing (albeit with challenges). People are living longer, and published infant mortality rates are much lower. We should be thanking God, and planning under his hand to bring all these new people into discipleship.
  • Roger Gallagher
    February 11, 10 - 1:08pm
    Hi Marc,

    You're right, my phrasing in the sentence on infanticide and abortion was misleading. What it should have said was:
    The Romans commonly practiced both female infanticide and[/] abortion
    . The male/female ratios come from a 1958 work by a J.C. Russell entitled Late Ancient and Medieval Population[/]. One of the other scholars he refers to was a 1968 book by a Jack Lindsay (The Ancient World: Manners and Morals[/]) particularly
    a study of inscriptions at Delphi made it possible to reconstruct six hundred families. Of these, only six had raised more than one daughter
    which is mentioned there. One the subject of attitudes towards female infanticide, he quotes a letter from Egypt, dated to 1 B.C. by one Hilarion to his pregnant wife Alis:
    Know that I am still in Alexandria. And do not worry if they all come back and I remain in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered of a child, if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it. You have sent me word, "Don't forget me." How can I forget you. I beg you not to worry.
    (Naphthali Lewis, 1985 Life in Egypt under Roman Rule, page 54[/]
  • Roger Gallagher
    February 11, 10 - 1:46pm
    On the subject of the epidemics, it appears clear that many Christians did die from nursing the sick. Stark quotes (pp. 82-83) an Easter letter from the Bishop of Alexandria, Dionysius, written in 260, which praises those who died while nursing the sick during the epidemic. Dionysius claims that this was the opposite of the behaviour of the pagans, who abandoned the sick. In support of Dionysius' claims about the pagans, Stark quotes from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War (2.47-55); despite the separation of 700 years, Stark believes the treatment of plague victims witnessed by Thucydides in 431 B.C. Athens matches that described by Dionysius in 259 A.D. Alexandria.

    As to superior medical treatment, Stark quotes from a 1976 work by a William H. McNeill Plagues and Peoples, which points out:
    When all normal services break down, quite elementary nursing will greatly reduce mortality. Simple provision of food and water, for instance, will allow persons who are temporarily too weak to cope for themselves to recover instead of perishing miserably (page 108)
    . Stark then claims (without any supporting references) that
    modern medical experts believe that conscientious nursing without any medications could cut the mortality rate by two-thirds or even more.
    Stark believes that the behaviour of Christians described by Dionysius was typical, and therefore more of them would have survived the epidemics.
  • Roger Gallagher
    February 11, 10 - 1:47pm
    My apologies to all for this distraction from the main topic.
  • Andrew Mackinnon
    February 12, 10 - 12:22am
    Hi Peter at #33

    If you read my commments at #12, the post from which you have quoted, I think it is pretty clear that I am not advocating abortion in any form.

    The basic reason why populations worldwide have expanded dramatically is because of people having too many children, especially in developing countries. When they then can't even afford to take care of these children, so that organisations like World Vision and Compassion advertise for assistance, it doesn't make any sense.

    I think that what we should be thanking God for is that Australia doesn't get invaded and colonised by large developing countries such as India or China who are seeking out more land in order to solve the population problems that they have caused themselves in their own countries. Such massive populations could spill over into Australia and fill it up quite easily (although it is doubtful whether Australia could support them) but the world would still be too densely populated. It wouldn't solve the problem if Australia's population increased. It wouldn't make much difference at all.

    I think that you are looking at this issue through rose-coloured glasses. The real issue is the uncontrolled birth rates and social customs in places like Africa and India that have given rise to their massive populations, the size of which, especially in the case of India, are totally unsuited to the size of their land masses.
  • Martin Kemp
    February 12, 10 - 12:34am
    Getting us back on track...

    1. "Moops" (#21) = a Seinfeld reference. George is playing Trivial Pursuit, and refuses accept "the moors" as the correct answer to a question because the answer card has misspelt the answer "moops".

    2. As for ticking off subduing the world as a command now completed, Christopher Ash has some things to say about this in his book Marriage: Sex in the service of God.
    a. In many parts of the world the population is getting older, so there is a diminishing pool of capable workers, thereby making the task of subduing the world a difficult thing to continue, hence the need for more kids.
    b. The need for godly offspring is not offset by the increasing population, so the command is still particularly relevant for Christian parents.
    c. We should always be wary of watering down an activity [child rearing] which is always spoken of as a blessing. It is always good to participate in blessings from God.

    3. My own contribution to the debate would be that there are other ways to fight the perceived dangers of overpopulation. Fighting corruption would be one of them, allowing more resources to be spread among the populace.
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 12, 10 - 1:08am
    Thanks for that Martin, very helpful. I agree with point c, though it is not conclusive. It's interesting that many (most?) Christians in our circles are probably already effectively practicing ZPG. It's not about having zero babies, it's about having only 1 or 2 babies - anything that, on average, does not exceed the replacement level of 2.1.

    Regarding point b., is there a specific command to *have* Godly offspring, or does the Bible generally teach that we should raise in Godliness whatever offspring we have?
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 12, 10 - 1:09am
    It occurs to me too that many (all?) of the scriptural arguments against ZPG can be used against contraception in general...
  • Joshua Aldersley
    February 12, 10 - 1:23am
    Yes Craig, the thought had also occurred to me, but I didn't raise it for fear of being accused of travelling on a Catholic tangent. If we really wish to take the injunction to multipy as a literal command for today, then couples should aim to have as many babies as possible while both are still fertile. To the extent that couples that advocate large (both not enormous) families do not do so, they are disobeying their own standard.

    I'd also point out the ZPG and regarding a child as a blessing are not incompatible but can co-exist quite harmoniously.
  • Craig Schwarze
    February 12, 10 - 1:27am
    We are in agreement here Josh - better mark it down on the calender... ;-)
  • Luke Collings
    February 12, 10 - 1:36am
    @Martin - Christopher Ash's work has been very important and there is a lot there that I like. However I have reservations about his perspective which has led me to take an interest in this area. In regards to the points you raised I would ask the following questions:

    a. Does the dramatic rise in world population over the last century mean that we have moved from 'subduing' creation to 'exploiting'? Have the social and environmental impacts that we have seen occur in part come about because through our sinfulness we have not merely filled but overfilled the earth and that action of some kind to reduce population may be warranted as our current level of activity is unsustainable?
    b. Does the ongoing need for godly offspring come about primarily though sexual reproduction or evangelism? Being born by flesh into a godly family is one thing, but to be reborn by the spirit into the Kingdom of God seems to be something else. How should our responsibilities to raise children of faith be balanced against our mission to call the whole world to repentence?
    c. How should our participation in blessings from God be shaped by the gospel and love for our neighbour? For example, food is a blessing from God but if I eat while my neighbour goes hungry I have denied the teaching of Scripture. Similarly, how would my desire to have a 'large family' impact on my neighbour in his desire to share in the blessing of family?
  • David Palmer
    February 12, 10 - 3:07am
    "Even the UK at 1.66 TFR is not looking all that flash"; that statistic is taken from the CIA Factbook, many people's main source of population statistics. The UK Office of National Statistics, which is the official UK statistical body says UK TFR in 2008 is at 1.96, not far from the magic 2.1 rate

    Hi Duncan,

    I think part of the discrepancy may be due to different ways of measuring fertility/birth rates, but it may simply be the CIA World Factbook has not caught up with the uptick in a number of countries such as Australia and the UK(?).

    I noticed the same descrepancy in the Australian figures.

    The CIA Handbook gives an estimated TFR of 1.78 for 2009, whereas the Government's reported figure for 2008 was 1.97 (in the 2001's it reached its low point of 1.73). Anyway I find this very encouraging.
  • Tia Zheng
    February 12, 10 - 5:39am
    Re: "godly offspring", it's what God is seeking, though in MAL. 2 not in fact commanded, as such.

    The idea of seeking to raise your children to know God personally for themselves (through His Word, obviously) is certainly not limited to Malachi; in EPH. 6:4, believing fathers are instructed by Paul the apostle to bring up their children "in the training and instruction of the Lord".

    Another Bible text that seems to reflect God's desire for the children of His chosen ones to know Him is GEN. 18:19 - & then there's the Lord Jesus, who wants the little children to come to Him without hindrance, e.g. MK. 10:14.

    This is by no means comprehensive, however.

  • Jeremy Roake
    February 13, 10 - 12:50am
    I am surprised that there has been no comment on the relationship between wealth and population growth. Birth rates decline as people become wealthier. This is the case in Mexico, where birth rates are declining, especially among the new middle class, and I have been told by Indians that the birth rate in India declines among those who enter the middle class. Those who are poorer have more children not because they are uneducated, but because of the economic need for their own survival. Thus the solution to curb population growth is economic prosperity for all, which is achieved by numerous means, including education and good government.
  • Nola STEWART
    February 17, 10 - 4:27pm
    Craig and All, Is Genesis 1:28 to be understood as a 'blessing' rather than a command? As pointed out already, if it were a command it would be the only one we have carried out, so that should raise alarm bells as to its status as a command. To take another example, when a meal is served the cook may say to those around the table, 'Enjoy'. It is a blessing that is meant rather than a command. If Gen 1:28 is a blessing, than thanks is simply the appropriate response. Again, taking the serving of food as an example, Christians acknowledge food as a blessing by saying Grace at meals. It is not as though we are being commanded to eat and the more we eat the better we obey the command.

    If we take Gen 1:28 as a command, what do we think of Genesis 1:22, which readers would have noticed on their way to Genesis 1:28? In this verse the same words, to go forth and multiply and fill (... the relevant habitat) are given to aquatic creatures and birds and therefore by implication to other animals as well. Provision for the reproduction of plants is also made in Genesis 1:11. Does the 'command' to us in Gen 1:28 supersede or over-rule the command in Genesis 1:22 or the provision in Gen 1:11? We know that the greater the numbers of humans, the greater the decline in habitats of most other species, e.g. wildlife. So, would we need to obey these verses about plants and animals as well in order to 'obey' Gen 1:28, by acknowledging the need for limits on our own populations?
  • David Palmer
    February 18, 10 - 12:19am
    We know that the greater the numbers of humans, the greater the decline in habitats of most other species, e.g. wildlife.

    I understand and sympathise with your concern Nola but that's a bit of an overstatement, certainly less than a full statement, given the rise and fall of species before men even put in an appearance.

    It can be argued that men have encouraged some species to proliferate and diversify and in some cases acted for their survival.

    There is plenty in the commentaries on how Gen 1:28 is to be interpreted, and we should never ignore the command given in Gen 2:15 to guard and to work.

    In my mind’s eye I have this vision of an unruly creation full of potential given by God to his vice regent to develop, make productive, beautify and offer back to our creator Lord. The earth has enormous potential, far beyond a capacity for 9.1 billion human beings in 2050,. The problem of course which we have to deal with is the terrible effects of the Fall blighting our efforts, bring creation into cruel subjugation.
  • Nola STEWART
    February 19, 10 - 3:40pm
    Thank you David for your comment. I agree what I said was less than a full statement, as I was running out of space, so tried to condense it. Thank you also for sharing concern about wildlife.

    Gen 2:15 is important and even before it, Gen 1:26. One reading of Gen 2:15 is 'to serve it and safeguard it' but yours is also valid. A problem with our 'working' the Earth relates to our human numbers and is evident from the air on a plane flight - so much of the Earth has been taken over by forestry, agriculture, mining and,less obviously, fishing, to supply valid human needs and wants. These activities are where our footprint appears, at a cost to the habitats of other species in God's good Creation.

    The question may be not so much 'whether' we care but if we 'should' care. The answer (Yes) is in Gen 1:26. When writing some Bible Studies on 'Caring for the Creation', I was sent a book that had an illuminating insight into the Hebrew word usually translated as 'dominion'. 'Rada' means 'a point higher up on the root of a plant' and has no equivalent in English; but, as any gardener knows who has tried to get weeds out of the ground using the two-pronged garden tool designed for the purpose, 'rada' is the point at which the strength of the plant as a whole is centred. I was so pleased to have this information I wrote a short article about 'rada', which can be found at