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The overpopulation scare has been proved wrong over and over again

Yet Malthusianism is as fashionable as ever

By on Friday, 20 July 2012

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Peter Oborne of the Telegraph wrote a perceptive article recently about the new director-general of the BBC and what his appointment tells us about the BBC’s general stance on politics and religion. For those who don’t know, it is Left-wing and secularist, if not actually atheist. Conservative-minded Christians – like the celebrated Lord Reith himself, the first director-general – need not apply for the post. I was reminded of this when reading an article last week by Tom Bailey, who is working as a student intern on the on-line contrarian magazine, Spiked, entitled “How neo-Malthusians demonise dissent”.

He quoted Michael Buerk, popular host of the Radio 4 programme, “The Moral Maze”. It seems that Buerk claims that the issue of human population growth is the “invisible issue of the twenty-first century”. Bailey asks, “Why is population growth the great unmentionable of our time? Because, as Buerk puts it, of the “population deniers”. This evil constituency seems “to regard the whole issue as bad taste, a kind of disguised racism”. As a result overpopulation “does not seem to be up for discussion.”

As Bailey points out, this is untrue; high-profile people often discuss this “invisible issue”; indeed it is almost a dogma in some quarters. He also rightly holds up the use of the phrase “population deniers” as a cheap way of bracketing those who dissent alongside Holocaust deniers. Once this emotive connection is made, any capacity for clear thought goes out the window. And, let’s be clear, the argument about overpopulation is covertly racist.

The Spiked article reminds us that Thomas Malthus’ own prejudiced view of the English working class “is now projected on to the people of Africa and Asia by today’s neo-Malthusians.” Their purported concern always centres on the dark-skinned peoples of the Third World, never on overpopulation by white-skinned people nearer to home. The perspective of the “overpopulation” thesis is also drearily pessimistic; it sees human beings as “a plague of locusts that consumes all it can. They don’t take into account that… humans are also producers, [that] each mouth to feed also comes with a pair of hands and a brain.” Bailey concludes that the problem of poverty in the Third World is not due to “Africans’ feckless, contraceptive-averse behaviour”; it is the result of economic stagnation.

His argument is eloquently bolstered by the writer and philosopher Roger Scruton in his latest book, Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet. Scruton writes that Malthus’ heir was Paul Ehrlich who, in 1968, “initiated a worldwide movement of anxiety with his book The Population Bomb, which predicted that global overpopulation would cause massive famines as early as the seventies. Demographic studies showing that birth-rate declines as wealth increases were largely ignored in the ensuing panic, and it is only now the truth is widely accepted that famines are for the most part political phenomena, the result of military conflict, of state control of the food economy or, as in Soviet Ukraine, of a policy of genocide.”

Old mental habits of the “overpopulation” lobby die hard, however. Scruton cites another scare-mongering book, commissioned by the Club of Rome in 1972, called The Limits to Growth “which revived the thesis for which the Reverend Thomas Malthus is so well known, namely that human demand constantly rises while resources diminish as they are used, so that eventually resources must fail.” Scruton comments, “The book has been profoundly controversial and its worst predictions have already been refuted.”

Perhaps Buerk and his ilk should read less of Malthus and more of Scruton?




  • JByrne24

    I am a Conservative voter, and have been for a very long time. But I do not believe that the BBC has a Left-wing bias – although once-upon-a-time I did so.
    The BBC has no business being a religious organisation of any kind, and I’m pleased that it understands this. It broadcasts a fair amount of religious matter of different kinds and also some atheistic material. I see no harm in any of that, although one can argue, in different directions, about the balance: is there too little Christianity? Too much Christianity? Too much Islam or too little – too much atheistic thought, or too little….? etc..

    I am extremely glad that in recent years its Director General (DG) has been a very different character from the late Lord Reith. A person of Reith’s outlook seems to me to be much more suited to the role of a Catholic Herald journalist than the BBC’s DG. He too would have made a good Telegraph journalist: producing the manner of material that would have well-pleased its comfortable (like me) like-minded (not like me) readers, allowing them to give “knowing nods” to each other. Reith too would have made a fair Tory party leader in the Harold Mac days.
    But as DG of the BBC he was a scary character: remarking that the British government was obviously “for the country” and the BBC was also obviously “for the country” and deducing from this that the BBC should (obviously) be always “for the government”. 
    This comment is scary enough in itself, but it also illustrates a rigid, authoritarian mind.
    Fortunately the BBC has moved on, and in very-much the right direction.

  • mrkipling

    Do you think that China should have a population of 1.7 billion rather than 1.3 billion? Obviously they that resources DO matter and probably are finite. Remember Malthus was writing at a time when the full effects of the industrial revolution could not predict how well we as a species control our environment.

  • Recusant

    Are you not writing at a time when we cannot predict the revolution in biotechnology? Or maybe a revolution yet to come? Here is my prediction : free enterprise by humans will always provide enough resources for humanity, regardless of the number of humans. Remember, finite is still a very large number. 1.7 billion Chinese would be lovely, they are a great people. It would be even lovelier, and less likely to lead to starvation, if they were 1.7 billion free people. But that is another matter.

    Malthus’ teachings were hideous and demonstrably wrong. His immediate pupils were in charge of Ireland during the famine, and yet this lesson of needless suffering is not learnt by the fools who subscribe to the lie of over-population.

  • TreenonPoet

     It is true that we cannot predict the revolution in biotechnology, but you proceed to make such a prediction. What special knowledge do you have about the future that you are hiding from the United Nations?

    Until any predicted technology becomes a sustainable reality, it is wise to be cautious. In the absence of such technology, we need to reduce the global raiding of the biosphere. If not through population reduction, then how?

  • TreenonPoet


    Fortunately the BBC has moved on, and in very-much the right direction.

    Perhaps one day they might even allow an atheist’s opinion on Radio 4′s Thought For The Day.

  • Jonathan West

    it is undeniable that the present rate of population growth is entirely unsustainable in the long term. if the present rate of population growth (1.159% pa) were to continue indefinitely, within 500 years the entire land area of the globe will have the same population density as Manhatten. If such an event were to come to pass, there would be no animal life on the planet except for man, his pets and his parasites. 

    So, at some point within the foreseeable future before we reach that population density, the rise in human population will have to end. It can be done with great suffering, with wars and famines killing off the unsustainable excess, or it can be done by means of preventing the further rise of population before it reaches such levels.

    The situation might not become critical in the next 20 or even 50 years. But the day will come when this issue has to be tackled unless the population stabilises of its own accord. It shows no sign of that at present. if it does stabilise without unpleasant measures such as the Chinese “one child” policy, then I suspect that easy access to contraception will be a key element.

    I suspect that at some point the Catholic church will have to reconsider its stance on contraception. You might as well start thinking about it now.

  • TreenonPoet

    And, let’s be clear, the argument about overpopulation is covertly racist.

    The continents of greatest concern with respect to population are Africa (because of the rate of population growth) and Asia (because their consumption far exceeds the rate of resource replenishment, not because of race. Your racist accusation is an attempt to shut down the debate; something you deny is happening.

  • Recusant

    I don’t claim that my prediction is based on any special knowledge. I don’t even claim that it has any particular weight. But think of it like this : extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. My claim is quite ordinary : that things will bumble along pretty much as they always have done. People claiming over-population is a problem are making an extraordinary claim : that widespread famine will occur due to overpopulation. This has never happened before – famine is always and everywhere a political phenomenon, not a problem of finite resources. 

    The people make claims about over-population have a terrible track record. Paul Erlich claimed (in the 1968 book eluded to in this article) that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famine – hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” What rot! Malthus and his descendants talked dangerous, malicious, unsupportable rubbish. I think it very likely over-population is similar junk.

    As to how to ration resources, that’s easy : the price mechanism in a free market is proven to be by far the best way to help people provide for themselves. The signals the free market sends to producers and consumers have lead to abundance and mass nutrition wherever they have been applied.

  • Recusant

    Oh, the dangers of extrapolation. You make exactly the same error as Malthus and Erlich. These predictions have been made for hundreds of years and never even come close to coming true. How long do you have to hold a point of view before you submit it to some actual evidence?

  • JByrne24

    Maybe – who knows?
    But, seriously, they could usefully consider this. It could lead to a much deeper knowledge of, for example, the Bible – and the teaching of Jesus.

  • theroadmaster

    The scaremongering of the neo-malthusians and the population control lobby has become the accepted wisdom promoted by western elites with regard to population forecasts and the supposed future scarcity of land, water and food resources, in recent decades.  The truth is that there has been a sharp fall in  global demographics  right across the developed and developing nations to below fertility replacement levels i.e  2.1 children per family.  Population experts expect the total world human population to peak at around 8-9 billion around the middle of the 21st century, before it starts to recede.  With the latest scientific technology regarding food production and optimization of resources, it is possible for the world community to sustain itself with relative comfort.  The real impediments to the development of nations are tyrannical regimes, wars, famines caused by unfavorable weather etc.  As the writer of this perspicacious piece , Francis Phillips points out , it seems to be always the populations of the developing nations in Africa or Asia, who are targeted by the control freaks of the population control lobby.  There is an unpleasant eugenic undercurrent to this philosophy which is represented by the promotion of contraceptive pills and devices.  It seems that certain peoples constitute a future competitive threat to the dominant countries, in terms of  their socio-economic potential which will grow with the consumerist demands brought about by population growth.

  • theroadmaster

    It seems that the atheist or liberal humanist mindset dominates much of the BBC’s output regarding religious and social matters. People of Faith are treated rather like dotty old aunts who are to be patronized and ridiculed.  The “Thought for Today” slot on the morning “Today” programme on Radio 4, is hardly compensation for this, but it does allow religious people to convey their thoughts to a wide audience for around 3-4 mins.  So I don’t think that the atheists can complain too much, as much of the BBC’s programming would not be out of sympathy with their viewpoint.

  • JByrne24

    Not so, in my view. “These predictions”, as you call them, have NOT been made in a respectable scientific format before modern times.
    The danger of over-population is very great. One has only to read the views of the best qualified individuals (say Professor Rees, Master of Trinity College Cambridge until June this year and President of The Royal Society) to understand this. These views are quite different from those of environmental scientists such as Dr Ehrlich, whose statistical and other skills were lacking.
    It is best to keep in mind the fact that ALL animal and Human life depends TOTALLY on the health of the Earth’s botanical biosphere. 

    The world has only survived in its present state due to the widespread practices of birth control and contraception already in operation (increasingly over the last couple of generations) and, sadly, to the vast numbers of deaths in the Third World from lack of food and from disease. The day of reckoning will possibly be delayed by a “new agricultural revolution” (non-added fertiliser and GM crops) and the further, even wider, spread of contraception – despite the ignorant and shameful protestations of the Church.
    However, quality of life is not solely a matter of enough food and standing space: there are many other factors, chief among them the health of the botanical biosphere.

  • James H deserves credit for its stance against ‘neo-Malthusianism’. Despite being quite anti-religious, they’re refeshingly, even delightfully sceptical of all the chattering-class nonsense: overpopulation, gay ‘marriage’ and priests-as-paedophiles.

    Overpopulation is a myth: spread the word

  • Parasum

     “Thought for the Day” is little more than a sop to those religious loonies & their daft (& incomprehensible) ideas.

    That is the attitude, ISTM. They have to be accommodated – & TFTD is the nursery they are dumped in.

    The time allowed for specifically Christian broadcasting in this country is simply pitiful. There is Premier Radio, there is EWTN (from abroad !), bits of Vatican Radio (ditto), and “Songs of Praise”. And not a lot more. And that is more than there used to be.

    Atheists & agnostics have the vast majority of the BBC (to mention no other channels) to themselves, at least informally.  A couple of hours for those benighted religious types is not exactly swamping the media.

  • TreenonPoet

    Can you give an example of a BBC programme that promotes atheism?

  • TreenonPoet

     You posted the link to that video two months ago, to which I responded:

    That video selects the most optimistic UN population projection and yet encourages people not to worry about population levels, which is hardly the attitude likely to result in the optimistic outcome. Even with the optimistic scenario (the low-growth variant), the ecological footprint per person will have to reduce substantially.

    Yet you link to it again and still claim that overpopulation is a myth! Do you think that if you link to it often enough, and encourage others to, that it will somehow become true?

    Please note that the organisation behind the site you link to is religiously biased and is funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

  • theroadmaster

    I agree totally with your analysis in relation to the pitiful coverage it receives from the main TV channels such as the BBC, which seems to reflect a less than nuanced bias in favor of atheism and liberal relativism.  A dedicated Christian channel may have to be considered but it may fall into the trap of niche tv programming which may only attract the converted.   It will also need to speak to the seekers after truth as well as the mildly interested and totally indifferent.  Such programming would need to be appealing, professional while remaining true to the foundational truths of the Christian Faith.

  • Jonathan West

    What I have described is a projection, not a prediction. You do need to understand the difference. If population growth continues at the present rate, then in about 500 years the average population density worldwide will equal that of Manhatten today.

    Of course, population growth may not remain constant – it might increase, it might decrease. But unless it decreases to zero, then the scenario I described will eventually come to pass even if it is not in precisely the timescale described in the projection. That is a simple arithmetic certainty.

    Do you think such a population density us sustainable for the Earth? Do you think that the earth can continue sustaining even higher populations for ever? if not, at what point do you think we will have to stop?

  • LocutusOP

    You are certainly right, Mrs. Phillips, and it’s always other people’s overpopulation which seems to be the problem.

    I suggest that everybody who believes there is an overpopulation starts solving it by starting with themselves. If down the line they are proved right, well, then so be it.

    As servants of God, however, we cannot take the attitude that there is or can ever be such a thing as excess human life.

  • Peter

    Billions are spent in rich countries keeping old people alive and active, while millions of under 5′s die every year through lack of food, clean water and medicine.

    The £12,000 it costs to give an old person a new hip on the NHS would feed 1000 African children with a daily school meal for a year.

    Both have an equal right to life and health, yet it is the latter who are disadvantaged.

  • TreenonPoet

     I am not a servant of God, I am a servant of life on Earth doing what I can to improve the average quality of life. As long as I can make a positive contribution to that, killing myself is not going to help.

    At any given time, there is an optimum range for the number of humans on Earth. To aim outside that range is perverse. The same applies at national level, and there are plenty in England who rationally argue that England is overcrowded, for example, but if the problem is even worse abroad, don’t stifle debate about it by asserting discrimination.

  • TreenonPoet

     The assertions of the Christian Faith (which you claim to be truths) should not be conveyed as facts because they are only matters of faith. In the absence of evidence, they cannot be supported by rational arguments. The favoured religious technique is ongoing subtle indoctrination and reinforcement. The BBC already provides this, not just in the programmes that blatantly promote Christianity, but in others that, for example, mention ‘God’ casually as if there was no question of God’s existence, or that wheel on a bishop for comment on a moral issue as if that was their expertise.

  • TreenonPoet

     I agree in principle about the distorted priorities. However, the real population issue is about whether there will continue to be enough resources (food, water, clean air, energy, etc.) for everyone even in a fair world. (In our unfair world, there already isn’t).

  • Lzardo2003

    So, old people should be left to die, so new people can be born without control?

    I´m surprised you didn´t wrote that those billions of dollars are WASTED on old people…

    These 1000 africans could not even exist had their parents access to contraception and education, so, old africans could have access to medicine as well and to a better life at older age.

    But, as usual, proponents of unrestricted growth just care about numbers, never quality of life

  • Lzardo2003

    You are not a servant of God, you are a servant of the Church and of that book of lies, God would not be that stupid as to force us to breed until extinction.

    And, yes, I started population control with myself, I´m not an hypocrite.

  • Lzardo2003

    The very people who can made a far more accurate prediction about how much people this planet can feed are the ones alerting us of the coming population problems.

    Norman Bourlaug, the architect of the green revolution, the very reason this planet can now sustain 6 billion people (1 billion already starving) warned us that population policies should be put to work or else…

    But, what do scientists know? 

  • Agent Provocateur21

    The famine in Ukraine was NOT some kine of policy of genocide as the author shockingly suggests. Certain Russian parts of the Soviet Union experienced famines at that time too. The myth of political genocide is certainly popular among neo-nazi Ukrainian movement and certain circles of Western society, but it’s just a myth. 

  • theroadmaster

    I agree that Christianity in terms of proof, would not be susceptible to scientific inquiry in terms of empirical proof being found in experimentation etc.  It involves a lot of Faith, mixed with considerable reason.  One purifies the other.  Science is not an enemy of Reason, as many of the great Scientists e.g.Pascal, Galileo and Newton were firm believers in a Divine Creator.  Indeed the recent discovery of the Boson particle invites speculation to the complex order which undergirds the Universe at a sub-atomic level, and it’s ultimate source.  Here Science meets Theology and they can complement eachother

    Oh please, why should there not be a program(s) specifically devoted to Christianity and other religions, as people of Faith are BBC license payers as well as anyone else?  The BBC should reflect the broad diversity in terms of the general UK population in their programming as part of their remit, and not ideological leftist or atheist positions. Your intolerance is clearly showing regarding the expression of a religious viewpoint on one of the main channels.  As a matter of right and decency, promulgators of a Faith-based positions should be able to explain and debate their positions like everyone else.

  • JByrne24

    Well that question has served a useful purpose!

  • TreenonPoet

     I did not say that there should not be programmes devoted to Christianity. I was objecting to covert Christianity. As you say, the BBC should reflect the diversity of the UK population.

    My “intolerance” regarding Thought For The Day exists because its title and scheduling do not hint at its nature, yet no atheists have been allowed to counter the religious platitudes in that slot in 40 years. Does that not demonstrate an intolerance of atheism?

  • Mario

    Europe and North America have actually been the hardest hit targets of population control. While India and China are reaching close to 2 billion each, Europe and the US are losing its population fast. Immigration form Muslim countries to Europe, and Mexican immigration to the U.S. are the only things masking their fast rates of decline.

    It is Europe and America that are committing biological and cultural suicide with its people eventually destined to be wiped out.  Europe should at least facilitate immigration by descendants of their respective countries such as allowing skilled Italian descendants like myself to move to Italy. That or major incentives for families (not single people) to procreate are the only things that could save a dying out Europe.

  • theroadmaster

    Your use of the term “covert” Christianity betrays a begrudging willingness to tolerate Christian programs but with constricting boundaries set for those who have pro-Faith views.  In other words, they can talk about their beliefs without trying to present them in a reasonable light as they might be accused of proselytizing.  What good what that be, as it would defeat the whole purpose of presenting a program on why people might believe as they do.  We need a level playing field here, and this includes the right of religious people to put across their views in a reasonable and appealing way.
    As for your response to my points concerning your attitude to “Thought for Today”,  this slot was specifically created for those who were inspired by a religious Faith and thus atheists(unless you consider atheism a religion) are not specifically involved. Perhaps a rival 3-4 mins slot could be created for agnostics/atheists, but that might just duplicating the format of the “Thought For Today” and somehow may not be feasible as Faith beliefs cover such a wide variety.

  • Paul English

    O dear!!  You should try reading the Bible TreenonPoet.  It conveys knowledge acquired by experience using the empirical method.
      It recounts the longest and most significant experiment in history.  From Genesis through to Maccabees, in countless case studies, it shows what blessings come from relying on the God of Israel, and what curses come from turning aside to other gods. 
      The Jewish people, under God’s guidance, were modeling empirical method three thousand years before the term was invented.

  • TreenonPoet

     Oh dear!! You should try getting out more if you really believe that the Earth is flat, as the Bible describes (even the New Testament, thus ignoring empirical knowledge that had already existed hundreds of years BCE). A flat Earth cannot even be ‘interpreted’ to mean roughly spherical. The Bible is consistent regarding the flat Earth, but in many areas it contradicts itself, so how do you know which bits to believe? One can only conclude that the Bible cannot be trusted.

    I have just watched a debate on BBC1 about creationism. The studio panel of three included two creationists who attempted to use the Bible to justify their views. Can you imagine a BBC presenter announcing the caveat that I have just given in my first paragraph?

  • JByrne24

    The Human Race is a single species, and each individual living in a country is part of that country’s population. This may seem fairly obvious to some people, but you seem not to grasp it.

    However if we (at least provisionally) accept this proposition as true, your posting is then saying that, were it not for the fact that the populations of most countries/regions are increasing (including those of  Europe and the US), then they wouldn’t be.

    Europe and the US are doing fine (much too fine, in my view). In Europe it is only Germany, Italy and Poland who are seeing modest population drops – each probably for different reasons.
    (The Poles have been only quite recently been liberated from ghastly Communism – and increasingly from the necessary “antibiotic” of traditional Catholicism).

  • Les Knight

    Isn’t that four words? As a member of the chattering-class, I recommend “Debunking Overpopulation is a Myth.”

  • William

     Regardless of the fact that we are all children of the same God, irrespective of differences in how we view him, it is a fact that some countries are overpopulated while others are simply holding their own or losing population slightly. These are just facts and if we reach a point where we can’t even have a factual discussion then what is the point of discussing anything at all.

  • Paul English

    You’re on the wrong subject, Treenonpoet.  The Bible is not about cosmology, or geology, or archaeology, or paleontology.  It is about something much, much more important.  It is about the living God who called Abraham and sent his Son into the world.  It’s approach from beginning to end is experience based, empirical.
       Don’t take my word for it.  And don’t listen to those who have never bothered to read it.  Read it for yourself.  You will be very surprised.

  • rjt1

    European countries have birth rates below replacement level and will have difficulty in future in sustaining their aging populations. Perhaps in 20 years time, promoting contraception and abortion will not seem to have been a sensible policy (leaving aside the issue of morality).

  • rjt1

    There are too many selfish people in the world.

  • TreenonPoet

     The Bible says quite a bit about cosmology. That so much of it is incorrect must seem surprising to those who believe the Bible is inspired by the being who was supposed to have created the cosmos.

    It seems to me that it is you who has not read most of the Bible. You do not appear to have read most of my post either, which would figure considering that you do not think I have read the Bible and therefore you do not consider me worth listening to.

    No point in my continuing.

  • JByrne24

    Some of those countries (possibly all of them) who are ” ….holding their own or losing population slightly.” are already very well, and probably even over, populated.  
    Certainly Italy does not have the wealth to support its present population in the manner in which they have been accustomed. 

  • Paul English

    Can you read it, TreenonPoet.  I don’t want to be lectured about the Bible by someone who has not read it.  If you still think it is there to teach you cosmology, you still need to read it.

  • John Jackson

    Surprising as it might seem, I recall Roger Scruton and his book (well worth the read) actually being given some air time on Radio 4, near the time of its publication.  Shocking that.  And as equally shocking, was the choice of Niall Ferguson for this year’s Reith Lecture.  Both Scruton’s work and the lectures were magnificent and perfectly antithetical to just about everything that the BBC is on about.  Shame that no one in the organisation seems to have read Scruton or listened to Ferguson or paid any attention at all.  No surprise there.

  • Parasum

     “The overpopulation scare has been proved wrong over and over again”

    ## That it will always be unjustified, an alarm without foundation in reality because unjustified for all time to come, does not follow. Sometimes, even those who cry “Wolf !” do so because there is one. That they may have destroyed their credibility affects their behaviour; not the existence or behaviour of the wolf.

    The planet can’t be raped, pillaged, & poisoned for ever. And as matters in fact stand, the more room humans occupy, the less room there is for other species. Or for other humans & their cultures. Eventually, the prophets of doom are going to be right – unless we cull the human race every few generations.  One need not be George Monbiot, or even care for his ideas, to be aware that the earth is finite, which means its resources are finite. And no one claims they are justly shared so that all have what they need – how much longer can that last ?

  • Parasum

    The News for a start. “Thought for the Day”, “The Moral Maze” – the lot. The universe-view assumed as valid is atheistic or agnostic in just about everything that’s aired. The problem is an intellectual & spiritual environment; not particular instances of its results. How people view the universe, permeates everything about them, including their words & deeds & omissions. So if a broadcaster has non-Christian assumptions about reality, they will colour what he or she broadcasts. If people don’t think as Christians, that will eventually show itself.

    There is far more to spreading atheism (or any creed, religious or no) than an explicit manifesto. Is Communism confined to the written works & programmes that propagate it ? Of course not – it is primarily a spirit, an outlook: & it is from that outlook or spirit that the published expressions come. The open profession of a creed is possible only because the impulse from which that creed arises is present in the heart before it is published. Which is why censorship to destroy (say) “liberalism” is misguided – the only way to get rid of it, is conversion of the person. Censoring expressions of is a superficial, though not entirely useless, remedy for it, as it does no more than scotch it. And so with any other outlook deemed pernicious in a society.

    So here – the Godless & anti-God expressions of the BBC come from an implicitly anti-Christian POV. If a POV is not Christian, it is anti-Christian, even if unthinkingly so. And presumably the BBC is atheistic or agnostic because the culture of this country is.

    If you think or know that “pagan” would be a more accurate description that “atheist” or “agnostic”, fine. The use of “anti-Christian” does not imply hostility, conscious or otherwise; just rejection, conscious or otherwise. Whether in a particular case the rejection is in fact hostile – Professor Dawkins comes to mind – is a different issue.

  • Parasum

    ## What has the shape of the earth, or mistaken ideas of its form, to do with morals ? 

    “I have just watched a debate on BBC1 about creationism. The studio panel
    of three included two creationists who attempted to use the Bible to
    justify their views. ”

    ## Please explain what “creationism” means in this context – I can think of three different meanings:

    1 A thesis about the human soul

    2. Belief that God created all things.

    3. Belief that He did so in six days, & so, in the anthropomorphic manner described in part of Scripture.

    You’ll find a lot of Catholics hold to 2 while rejecting 3 – even if it suits many ex-Christian Fundamentalists to treat 3 as the doctrine of Christians.

    As for that second sentence: whether their attempt was justified, depends on what they were trying to justify, and how. People quote the Bible for all sorts of reasons, just as they quote any author for all sorts of reasons. Why should Jews & Christians not quote it ? Is Plato to be unquoted because some of him can be quoted to justify unpopular ideas that may well deserve to be unpopular ? People have tunnel vision: many of their criticisms of the Biblical books are foolish because these criticisms see only the Bible as a carrier of ideas: if they were consistent, they would have to reject Plato, Homer, Aristotle, Cicero, the Twelve Tables, the Codes of Hammurabi, the Enuma Elish, the Middle Assyrian Laws, & a lot more; for all these contain material like that which brings the Biblical texts into contempt. Though by what moral standard the Biblical texts are being condemned, is never made clear: do the critics themselves know ?

    STM that a lot of ex-Christian Fundamentalist critics of the Bible make no attempt to compare what they find in it with what people of similar times & cultures thought. These critics seem to have no historical sense, for they compare Genesis 1 with modern science (of which the author of Genesis 1 could know nothing), instead of with comparable texts like the Enuma Elish or the Memphite Creation.

  • TreenonPoet

    So when you refer to atheism you do not mean atheism, but rationalism and naturalism (and you have not answered my question about atheism).

    Rationalism and naturalism are not assumptions, nor individual views of the universe, nor spirits, nor creeds. They attempt to get close to the truth by methods that have proven to be good for getting close to the truth. Movements that oppose them are, to use your interpretation of the ‘anti-’ prefix, anti-truth.

    The reason the BBC ought to be rational is not because the culture of the country is rational, but because that is the sensible way to be. Yet it often tries to strike a balance between sense and lunacy. An example is the way some faux-documentaries have discussed demons as if there was no question about their existence. This is a gross misuse of funds for a broadcaster tasked with informing the public. They should make it clear that demons are a religious concept so that listeners know the context of the discussion. Of course, any so-called ‘information’ they might give about demons can only, at best, be a generalisation of certain beliefs – individual believers will have their own ideas and cannot insist that their particular ideas are given prominence. Contrast that with independently verifiable facts that might be presented on a programme such as Radio 4′s Science Now, and which you seem to want to suppress.

  • TreenonPoet


    What has the shape of the earth, or mistaken ideas of its form, to do with morals ?

    Good morals are based on rational thinking, not on a book that promotes some immoral attitudes (for example, regarding slavery or women) and that reveals itself to be unreliable (as illustrated by my flat-earth example or, if you prefer an example related to morality, the support for the killing of children who do not honour their parents, contradicting the commandments).

    Please explain what “creationism” means in this context

    The debate was about the teaching of creationism in schools and was prompted by the approval of applications to run ‘free’ schools made by groups who do not accept the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection. If you are able to access it, the Sunday Morning Live debate can be viewed on BBC iPlayer until July 28th. It starts about 22 minutes into the programme and lasts about 16 minutes. Of the two panelists who believe in creation, one believes the Old Testament account (or one of the two accounts?) literally, the other allows the meaning of words like ‘day’ in the Torah to be bent to attempt to fit the science, but still holds that the scripture is true and so believes we know what science does not yet know!

    Why should Jews & Christians not quote it ? Is Plato to be unquoted because some of him can be quoted to justify unpopular ideas that may well deserve to be unpopular ?

    Deservedly unpopular ideas should not be given false merit by making misleading use of the authority of the quoter or of the source. One of the problems with quoting holy scripture is that some are brought up to believe that its contents are unquestionable.

    by what moral standard the Biblical texts are being condemned, is never made clear: do the critics themselves know ?

    There are difficulties in coding a comprehensive moral standard, but it is sometimes easy to reason why a particular rule of behaviour is wrong, even if one does not have the perfect alternative to offer. To add a valid exception to a general rule is an improvement (even if the result does not sound so snappy). For example, “do as you would be done by” is a reasonable rule of thumb, but is rather ambiguous for cases where the other person would not like to be treated the way you would like to be. The correction becomes cumbersome and not so quotable, but is no doubt more moral.

    STM that a lot of ex-Christian Fundamentalist critics of the Bible make no attempt to compare what they find in it with what people of similar times & cultures thought. These critics seem to have no historical sense, for they compare Genesis 1 with modern science (of which the author of Genesis 1 could know nothing), instead of with comparable texts like the Enuma Elish or the Memphite Creation.

    Why should critics of the Bible compare it with contemporaneous writings? The best picture of its failings is gained by comparing it with the latest knowledge. It is the current applicability of the Bible that is in question. In particular, statements that might have been true 2ka ago about procreation do not necessarily hold for an overpopulated world.

    I am glad that you admit that the author of Genesis 1 made it up.