This post is about the injunction that God gave to Noah and his family to, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (1) And in the story of Adam where God said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” (2) Since the argument I am discussing is based on this verse, it is usually associated with Christians, since mostly Christians would know about the verse. And I think it is one of the most irksome arguments that one can come across in advocating for the environment.
But I don’t want this to sound like I’m bashing Christians. Faith is such a positive thing, most of the time — at least in the “majors”, as they call them. It initiates your pursuit of God, goodness, peace and so many things. Those are commonly the biggest things we need in life. But so many other things, the little things, are things we don’t get with faith; they’re things we have to learn — little by little.
I had a friend once, who thought when it said, “as it is to this day,” in the books of Kings and Chronicles (in the Old Testament), that what was actually intended was, “today,” to this day in 2007. It didn’t take long to correct him, but it shows how silly we can be sometimes.
And the little things can sometimes make a difference. Things like, how did we get our Bible? When and by whom was it written? How was the canon formed? What is the nature of inspiration? What was the context of this or that prophecy? Or even, what is the Bible really about? All these things we have to learn. And although they’re little things, they may in their totality even influence our faith, our direction, our sensibility.
I have always thought that seeking knowledge and becoming more informed and educated was fundamental. To me, knowledge is still one of the majors.
Which is why I take offense when I say something like, “The key issue today is overpopulation,” and someone quotes the above verses to contradict me — “Be fruitful and multiply.” We’ve done that already. We’ve already filled the earth, maybe 2 to 3 times over again. Why do we need more people on the planet, all competing for resources? When you say that population is the problem, the key to the problems of our environment, shouldn’t that be rather obvious? Shouldn’t we be seeking a solution already?
Look at China today. Its policy of one child per couple has had its sordid side, but look at their economy. Reduced population hasn’t reduced their ability to grow, it actually seems to have helped them.
There just isn’t any way the writers of the Bible could have anticipated our present situation. I know they were prophets and could tell the future, but I just don’t think it would have ever occured to them. The Bible is about the covenant between God and man (and the creation). 2,000 years later we have a global population problem – I don’t think they were thinking of that. About as close as I would come to a real prophecy for today’s environmental crisis would be in the Book of Revelation where it says of a time of testing, “‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.'” (3) Now there’s a prophecy that might have something to do with a coming environmental crisis. (According to the NASB’s notes, a denarius was commonly a day’s wages, so that, basically, a day’s food cost a day’s wages.)
And not to forget, when God gave the injunction to “Be fruitful and multiply” — in Adam’s case there was only Adam and Eve — two people in the whole world; and when he gave the injunction to Noah, only Noah’s family had survived the flood — eight people.
We should note that God gave the same injunction to the animals as he gave to Noah and his family. He said, “‘Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you, birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, that they may breed abundantly on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.'” (4) If God gave the animals the same injunction as he gave to man, one might even argue for some kind of parity between man and the animals. They received the same injunction, didn’t they?
I’ve been trying to find population figures for top mammals like ourselves and have been running into difficulties. What is the population of white-tailed deer in the U.S., for instance. Is it 1 million, 2 million? (5) I’m only guessing. But managers will often say that we have an overpopulation of deer in our preserves (where rare native plants are being overbrowsed). We can talk about the population of white-tailed deer being too high, why can’t we talk about our own species in the same way?
And I wish we didn’t have to keep defending the natural world against, should I say it, every misapplied verse of the Bible. Does God really intend for us to keep or destroy this amazing world he’s created?
(1) Genesis, chapter 9, verse 1.
(2) Genesis, chapter 1, verse 28.
(3) Revelation, chapter 6, verse 6.
(4) Genesis, chapter 8, verse 17.
(5) Note: 11/14/07 – I guessed about right. I found a site called NatureServe Explorer Online Encyclopedia (www.natureserve.org/explorer/) that lists estimated populations for thousands of plants and animals. It lists them under conservation status once you bring up a species’ file. This site estimates white-tailed deer at 1,000,000 worldwide (that includes North and South America).
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible, the NASB. The NASB is a very accurate, word-for-word translation.