B. Ward Powers


(a) How Things Started Out: the Creation Mandate


The Bible records that when God created the first man and the first woman, he explained his purpose and intention for them (Genesis 1:28): “Be fruitful and multiply [NIV: “increase in number”], and fill the earth [with your descendants].” There is no record of how many children Adam and Eve had; the account simply states (Genesis 5:4),“After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.” Later, there are repeated promises to Abraham and his descendants that they would have a great many descendants, and that this was the fruit of God’s blessing upon them. “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.” (Genesis 13:16; so also Genesis 16:10 and 28:14.)


The Bible describes children as “from God[1] — for it is God who forms each new child in the womb; he is the source of the new life that thus begins.[2]


In the biblical account of the many centuries which followed, children are shown as a cause for rejoicing and happiness (Psalm 113:9; Psalm 127:3-5; Proverbs 17:6) — so then, blessed is the man who has his quiver full of them (Psalm 127:5). And it was a cause for rejoicing when God opened the womb of a barren woman[3]  — and similarly so in the New Testament on the occasion of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:58).


In these (and other) passages we see the attitude towards having many children: they are a joy and delight and are to be enthusiastically welcomed — they are a blessing from the Lord in accordance with his injunction to humanity to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with your descendants.” And, in accordance with this injunction God has also given to humankind a strong instinctive desire to propagate, and to have numbers of children. This, tracing back to Genesis 1, is frequently referred to as the “Creation Imperative” or the “Creation Manifesto” or the “Creation Mandate” or sometimes the “Multiply Mandate”. It is certainly one instruction from the Lord that has been by and large vigorously and enthusiastically followed throughout human history.


Yet, until the nineteenth century, the world’s human population, while increasing, was growing at a modest rate — overall (though with some ups and downs) it was reasonably stable and its total numbers appeared almost flat.


In the time of Jesus Christ, most of the people on earth (wherever they lived) did not know much, or anything, about the existence of the rest of the planet’s population. While (naturally) no accurate figure for the size of world population at that time is possible, yet there are ways nonetheless by which reasonable estimates can be made. And these estimates are that the total number of people on earth in the time of Jesus would have been somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter of a billion.[4] There are reasons for the relatively slow growth; the factors restricting population increase have been described by some as “the four horsemen of the Apocalypse”:[5] “ by sword, famine, plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”


This begins to change during the period from AD 1 to AD 1650. The estimates for 1650 placed the total population then as being about half a billion. That is, it is calculated that in the 1650 years between the beginning of the Christian era and that time, it grew to half a billion i.e. the world’s population had doubled.


Then the next doubling occurred in an interval of just 200 years, so that by 1850 the population had reached one billion. And these changes continued to gather momentum: with improved methods of agriculture, advances in medical science, the opening up of new continents through the discovery by Europeans of the greater part of the rest of the world, and then its colonization; and developments in world trade, the invention of means of using fossil fuels — and behind all this the changes in employment and lifestyle resulting from the Industrial Revolution.


After 1850 the next doubling took 77 years, and the doubling after that required just 47 years. Present world population is approximately 7 billion (actually, it is now more than 7.5 billion,[6] but for the sake of ease of explanation in principle, I am going to use round figures). Far and away the largest part of this number — six out of these seven billion! — has been added since 1850. A snapshot of all this growth (dates are estimates, calculated by historians on best information):




In Christ’s time, world population was approximately

      0.25 billion

Population doubled in  1650 years;

in 1650 it was        0.50 billion

It doubled again in         200 years;   

in 1850 it was        1.00 billion

It doubled again in           77 years;

in 1927 it was      2.00 billion[7]

It doubled again in           47 years;     

in 1974 it was        4.00 billion

It added 2 billion in          25 years;     

in 1999 it was        6.00 billion

The next billion took        13 years;     

in 2012 it reached 7.00 billion[8]


Have we really taken on board the significance of these figures? The world’s population when Jesus Christ was born was just one quarter of a billion. By 2012 it had grown to 7 billion. And since then it has continued increasing further. That means: for every single person alive in Jesus’s day there are now twenty-nine to thirty people alive on earth. And that’s a fact. But it took all the years from the time of Adam and Eve to the year 1927 to reach to 2 billion. Which includes nineteen hundred and twenty-seven years to grow from a quarter of a billion in Christ’s time to that 2 billion.


Then (as these figures show) it took just 85 years — from 1927 to 2012 — to grow from 2 billion to 7 billion. The world’s population has increased by 5 billion persons — it has much more than tripled — during not many years more than the time I myself have been alive on earth!


And this is in spite of the world wars and several dozen other major and bloody conflicts, and droughts and famines in various places, and diverse diseases and epidemics.


Some of my fellow-Christians insist, “This population increase is as it ought to be. This is clearly as the Creator intended. This is obeying the Creation Mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with our descendants.”


But it is now being widely recognized that this 29-fold (or more) population increase in the last two millennia — from about a quarter of a billion to well in excess of seven billion at the present time — is in fact creating a worldwide problem in many ways.


Moreover, this population increase continues apace: these are the estimates:








  131.4 million

   55.3 million

  76.1 million


  10.95 million

   4.61 million

  6.34 million


   2.527 million

   1.063 million

  1.464 million


















In addition to feeding the more than 7 billion population presently in the world, we also need to provide food for the new arrivals: and this Table[9]  is showing that there are currently about 131.4 million new arrivals into this world every year, 250 new babies born every minute — this is a huge number of newcomers who need postnatal and early-life health care, and then schools and education (and trained workers in all these fields), and who, after they have been taught and trained and educated, will hope for jobs for themselves when they are ready to enter the work force. This is the situation the world faces today. And these figures indicate that the issue of coping adequately with this continuing stream of newcomers presents us with a huge problem indeed.


Moreover, this problem is steadily compounding, because the birth rate of 250 each minute is subs­tantially more than twice the death rate of 105 per minute — so that the rate of growth of the world’s population is 145 per minute. It is a little difficult for us to take in the immensity of this growth rate. This will help:


Visualize a 747-8 or an A380 aircraft coming in to land carrying 580 passengers (which is equivalent to the world’s population growth rate for four minutes). Then four minutes later another such plane lands and disembarks its 580 passengers. Four minutes after that 580 more passengers land. Can we visualize that? This is the rate at which the world population is increasing. In another 4 minutes another planeload of 580 arrive. Then 4 minutes later there is another ... This continues hour after hour, day after day, week after week without any let-up, month after month without any break ... This is over 76 million people in a year. And it is continuing year after year. This is the population increase which is occurring.


And this increase in the world’s population of 76.1 million each year is two million more people than the total number of all those who were killed during the whole of World War II, which is calculated as being about 72.5 million.[10]


Remember, these are not figures for the number of new arrivals into the world: these are the real-time numbers for the global population increase. This is the increase in the numbers of additional humans of earth hour by hour, day by day — all of whom need energy, water, food, and space to inhabit. Plus jobs, health care, and sanitation. And they will claim a credit card (the banks will see to that — the entire economic system that we presently have depends upon it!).


Each individual person has a unique impact on the planet’s environment. Some people may be relatively less damaging than others but no living individual is without an ecological footprint. In other words, each person needs basic resources — and almost all people aspire to utilize significantly more resources than are required by their basic needs. And when each person’s individual needs and aspirations are multiplied by a population factor of 7.5 billion (and growing rapidly, day after day and year after year), the stability of the planet’s ecosphere has been, and will continue to be, severely compromised. The magnitude of this increase, coming on top of the unprecedented growth that has occurred in the last half-century, will be felt in all aspects of life. It will certainly further stress already strained ecological systems.


Moreover, some of the planet’s people refuse to impose any self-control on their procreation, and many parents claim a right to have as many children as they please. This self-indulgence in procreation is killing the planet. (This circumstance I will discuss later.)


One of the major causes of unrestricted multiplication is the deadly curse of “immediacy” of thought in time and space: if a couple feels like adding another child to the family, the immediate desire wins. The woman becomes pregnant with another child (and sometimes, one after another, with more than one). The couple's immediacy of thought also leads to focus on self. When confronted with overpopulation, the couple thinks: “What is the big deal? We are only having our third child. One more child on earth will make no difference in the overall population.” The couple fails to understand that the earth has a billion of other families with the same complacent and thoughtless attitude. Is it a crime for them to have a second, third, fourth, or fifth child? To them: apparently not.


Some say that reducing the population growth to three children per family would significantly alleviate the consequences of overpopulation, but this opinion is naïve. Any family that has more than two children increases the population.


China’s one-child policy was unpopular, and so in October 2015 it was officially announced that by popular request this would be revoked, effective 1st January 2016. So the world’s most populous nation (with around 1.37 billion people) is now primed to increase its numbers at a faster rate.


We are on track to continue this current increasing repeatedly into the foreseeable future. Never before in human history have we asked our governments, our infrastructure, social institutions, earth's environment, and the social fabric of our civilizations to respond to and accommodate such mammoth increase numbers in such a compressed period of time.


We need not only to see the obvious that the Earth is a finite sphere and cannot endure infinite growth by any single species, and also to remember that Earth’s current web-of-life  is irreplaceable. For, on a finite planet, a world of ongoing stability and sustainability is only possible when birth and death rates are in balance. Ian Lowe reminds us:[11]


“We face a fundamental biological fact: no species can keep increasing its numbers in a closed system. Sooner or later, the population is stabilised or it is reduced by natural forces: predators, disease, the limits of the food supply, the limited capacity to process waste.”



Paul Lutz (Professor of Biology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro)  further clarifies the nature of one of the most influential factors which lie behind the human population growth:[12]


“Society has been practicing death control by trying to eliminate it or push it as far into the future as possible. The entire medical and paramedical professions are committed to the saving of lives and the promotion of health. ... The spectacular growth of the human population during the last 200 years has been the result of an imbalance in the ratio of birth rates and death rates. ... But the death rate has not been permitted to keep pace with the decreasing birth rate. ... This means that birth and death rates must be brought into equilibrium in order to achieve a stable, constant population.”


The question of course is how this can be achieved by voluntary and humane means rather than by a further increase in the population restraints that we have experienced during the past century: war, disease, starvation and the effects of malnutrition.


Should the Christian response to these facts be: “Problem? We have no problem: that’s God’s worry, not ours. We are just doing what we are told: behave fruitfully, and multiply. When we multiply like this — when we have our large families — we are doing precisely what we are told to do in the injunction of Genesis 1:28! As to what happens after that? Well, it’s up to God to work it out. We simply obey what we are instructed.”


There are numbers of exegetes who see this verse as primarily the pronouncement of a blessing upon humanity. The blessing is that they have children (as the animals before them in the context — see 1:26 — have been blessed in producing progeny); and then the children themselves are a blessing in themselves (as we have seen).


Other exegetes see this verse as very much an instruction or dominical command­ment to produce children, so that failure to have children is a failure to fulfil one’s destiny. Moreover (on this view), it is desirable that one should produce numbers of children. There can hardly be any question about the logic of holding to this assessment in biblical times — and indeed also in the centuries since then: not solely on the basis of a sweeping biblical command, but also because of the very obvious practical advan­tages for each family in most of the common circumstances of ordinary everyday living.


It is therefore counter-intuitive and very much contrary to the traditions of most cultures to face a situation today in which (for whatever reason) it is being asserted that it is personally advantageous and also globally imperative no longer to value, and seek for, large families.


CONCLUSION: For most of the history of the world, large families have been a blessing and an advantage in every way. But from 1927 to now world population increased from 2 billion to 7.5 billion. This changes everything.


But where then does this leave the Creation Mandate, the biblical imperative? Does this Mandate not instruct those who respect the Bible and its teaching? For if we were to turn away today from continuing to advocate large families, would we not indeed be going against the clear and ongoing permanent intention of the Creator? In assessing this question we need to consider seriously and carefully the nature of the Mandate in Genesis 1:28 to ensure that we really understand its force in relation to the world in which we now live. Can the nature of this Mandate change from being a blessing and indeed an instruction into something quite different?


Actually — yes, it can. And it has. For whatever else we say about this verse and its nature, the one thing we cannot say is that it constitutes an instruction or command that is applicable to Bible believers today. Because of its clearly-stated inbuilt curtailment — a termination point. Clearly-stated? Yes — so, let me explain this, for we need to examine more fully exactly what the Creation Mandate says.



(b) The Two Different Types of Commands


It is undoubtedly clear beyond question that in creating mankind as male and female, and endowing them (as part of their creation) with the capacity for sex, so they could be fruitful and increase in number, God was establishing procreation as the purpose of sex. And this is implicit also when he says (Genesis 2:24), “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh” — a passage quoted by Christ in his endorsement of marriage (Matthew 19:6//Mark 10:7-8).


There are, though, two further aspects of this situation which it is important for us to consider. The first is, Whether we are meant to understand from this that procreation is intended to be the sole role of sex in the relationship of husband and wife. Paul assists us to clarify our understanding of this aspect, and we will consider his teaching shortly, later in this Chapter. And the second is, The duration of the command “increase in number” or (in many translations), “multiply”.


In the Bible (and, indeed, in life generally), commands are of two kinds: those related to a specific situation (and, thus, which point to an inbuilt circumstance of their fulfilment), and, those of continuing applicability. To understand this point, let us reflect further upon commands of Jesus.


Many of the things Jesus commanded are intended to have a continuing and ongoing relevance. When he called to people “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19//Mark 1:17, and numerous other places), he intended this as a call for them to begin and to continue to follow him. When he instructed his followers with the two great commands, to love God and to love their neighbour, this was to be a guiding attitude of life for them. Similarly for a great many other New Testament commandments: Do good to others; Seek justice and mercy; Always tell the truth and shun lying, falsehood, and deceit; and so forth.


But many other commands had a specific function, and what we could call a “built-in termination point” or a “circumstance of fulfilment”. Thus Jesus gave the servants at the Cana wedding the instruction, “Fill the jars with water (John 2:7).” This command had no further validity once the servants had carried it out, and filled the jars. When the command had been obeyed it was fulfilled, and ceased to apply.


Similarly Jesus instructed the blind man whose eyes he had anointed, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (John 9:7).” When the man had done this, he gained his sight. There was no expectation that he would thereafter need to continue to wash in the pool of Siloam. To someone else Jesus instructed, “Pick up your bed and go home (Matthew 9:6//Mark 2:11/Luke 8:24).” When the man got home he put down his bed and was under no requirement to carry it any further. And so on, for hundreds of other instances: in the life of Christ, and in the narratives of the whole Bible — and in our normal experiences of everyday life.


What makes the difference between these two types of instructions? How do we identify the difference? We do this by means of the context of situation: when (and to whom) the command was given, and this is usually indicated also by the wording of the command itself. Jesus issued the instruction “fill the water jars with water” at a time when the water jars were not full. Which is indeed why he gave the instruction.


These commands “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” and “Pick up your bed and go home” and “Fill the pots with water” have the format, “Do something and when you have done it the command is fulfilled, and extinguished.” In each instance, in this type of command, when they have done what they are instructed to do, they stop.


This has particular relevance here, for these commands exactly parallel the form of the Creation Mandate. For this Mandate “Be fruitful and multiply” also indicates a built-in termination point: “fill the earth”.


It is noteworthy that this command to multiply is given on three particular occasions in Scripture: First of all, to Adam and Eve when the earth was empty of people; and then it was reiterated to Noah and his family after the flood when the earth was again empty of other people (Genesis 1:28; 9:1, 7), and it is also repeated to Jacob (Genesis 35:11) — and thereafter this commandment to multiply and fill the earth is not repeated again. Subsequently, though, God’s people were promised the blessing of multiple progeny, given at a time when the world was far from filled.


And then, even later in Bible times, there was still no particular need to reflect on this implied limitation upon the Mandate’s scope and its duration — for the earth was still far from filled. “Increase in number and fill the earth” was not an issue in past centuries. Not until now.


But now the issue of the earth being filled with people arises, and it has become a factual issue rather than a theological one: Is the earth in fact now full of people? For to “increase our numbers” ceases to be a command applicable to us when we have done what it instructs us, so that we have indeed filled the earth with our descendants.


How did the servants know when the water jars were full? Silly question: they watched what they were doing, so they could see how they were progressing with carrying out their instructions! It was simply a question of fact. What then did the servants do when they saw the water jars were in fact full? When they had filled them to the brim (John 2:7), then they recognized that they had completed what they were instructed to do, and they thereupon ceased adding water.


How do we judge the situation in regard to world population? Professor Ian Lowe reports how one of the reviewers of his book made his particular judgement about the issues of concern that he (Lowe) had raised in that book: “I just looked out the window [said the reviewer] and things look fine.”[13] What was this reviewer thinking of? What would he need to see to convince him that the population issues Lowe raised were serious and pressing? Perhaps, not until he could see outside his window a situation of standing-room only? Rather, what we have need to assess is whether we all (all the inhabitants of this planet, i.e. our neighbours whom we are to love, according to Christ’s teaching — Matthew 19:19; 22:39//Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27) have available to us an adequate portion of what we need, on the widest basis, in order to support a fair lifestyle.


So, as I say, it has become a factual matter: on what basis do we judge when the earth actually reaches what we should regard as “filled”?


CONCLUSION: It is estimated that in the time of Christ the total population of the earth was about a quarter of a billion people, less than one twenty-ninth of today’s population. That is to say, there are now more than 29 people alive on earth for every single person on earth in New Testament times. To continue to appeal to the Creation Mandate as applicable to any of us today is to ignore the inbuilt limitation it contains: that it only applies until the earth is filled. People may still wish to have numerous children, but they no longer can legitimately claim the mandate in Genesis 1:28 for this.


(c) How Have We Been Filling The Earth?


On the basis of a careful, realistic, and factual assessment of the earth’s resources, its carrying capacity, and the requirements of its varied life forms, is the earth “filled”? And related to that: how did things get to be what they are?How did the world’s population get to be more than 7 billion?


Now, I know it was through men and women producing children. But that answer is a bit simplistic. Let us consider the basis facts. The world’s population has taken this giant leap upwards during the past century for one major reason only.


No, during the past century it is NOT because the average couple is having more children than previous generations — it turns out that this is NOT the case. In his book The Economic History of World Population, Carlo M. Cipolla, Professor of Economic History, sets out (in his detailed figures in his Table 14), “Crude birth- and death-rates” covering a wide spread of years, and countries and territories. These show the statistics for those countries for which they are available, for the last couple of centuries, for as long as statistics have been kept for the different countries: and one is hard pressed to find a single period for a single country where the actual birthrate has been increasing.[14] In virtually every country throughout the last two centuries the birthrate has been falling decade by decade.


So then, if the birth rate per mother has been steadily decreasing, what is the reason why  the world’s population is increasing in the way it is?


The reason is: because people are living so much longer. And as modern medical science conquers one illness or disease after another, and as this medical science penetrates throughout the world, so this life expectancy continues to increase. More than half a century ago, congregat­ional minister Dr. Richard Fagley clearly identified how the population pressure arose:[15]


The war against human disease has won unprecedented victories in our generation. This is the great paradox in our situation. The chief cause of the mounting pressures of population is the beneficent and spectacular progress in modern medical science and its application to public health programs in the less developed countries. It is this which causes the dramatic declines in mortality, the main factor in the upsurge.


However, hidden within this fact is another crucially relevant piece of information: that in centuries gone by, a mother would, on average, give birth to six children, and only two of them would survive. Now through the advances of medical knowledge and medical care, the death rate before puberty has been cut to a very small proportion of total births, so that far more children grow to reach reproductive age and then proceed to have children — for whom the same thing is then also true.[16]  And then far, far, more of these people live into old age than was ever the case before the twentieth century.


And there is, moreover, in what I have just said, another reason for the world’s population increase: I wonder have you picked up on it, or did it slip by you?


So, why then has the world’s population exploded as it has in the past century? We have seen that the answer is: Because of the advances of modern medical science. Now, then: How was the benefit of modern medical science originally and most significantly brought to the people of most of the underdeveloped countries of the world? It has been carried by modern medical missionaries. Wherever the gospel has been taken, so too Christians have taken their deep concern for the total welfare of people. Fagley comments further[17] that


the less developed countries are experiencing rapid drops on mortality principally through the impact of new and relatively inexpensive health measures on infectious and epidemic diseases, [drawing attention in particular to] decades of patient work on tropical diseases by missionary hospitals and foundation research.


So Christian missionaries have built hospitals and staffed them with doctors and nurses; and missionaries have taught the people basic hygiene and nutrition and sanitation; and so on. In other words: in the underdeveloped countries of the world — the countries where most of the children died young, so the parents would deliberately have large families to ensure that some children survived into adulthood — Christian missionaries have arrived and taught people the way of death control through modern medical science, and their death rate has dropped substantially in consequence.

But (as a generalization) these Christian medical missionaries have not taught them birth control. So these people — by far the majority of whom live in poor circumstances in the less developed countries of Asia and Africa — have con­tinued to have large families, as their ancestors always did before them: and now almost all their children survive and most of these children have then done exactly the same thing: they in turn produced large families.


Cipolla provides two graphs showing the relationship between birth rates and death rates during the time between 1750 and the twenty-first century.[18]


His graph covering developed nations shows a significant fall between 1800 and 1970 — over a period of 170 years — in both death rate and birth rate.


However his next graph shows how, in the thirty years between 1940 and 1970, the death rate in developing countries fell from 36 per thousand to 16 per thousand (a fall of 20 per thousand), while at the same time the birth rate fell from 44 per thousand to 40 per thousand (a fall of only 4 per thousand). Let’s set out this information in a Table:



RATES (per 1,000)




In 1940




In 1970




30-year decrease



 but  16   Increase


As the growth rate is the birth rate minus the death rate, we can see that the difference — that is, the growth rate for these developing countries — increased from 8 per thousand in 1940 to 24 per thousand in 1970. That is, in these thirty years the actual birth rate dropped but the population growth rate tripled!


So then, let us ask: while they have been ministering in these developing countries, why have our medical missionaries not taught birth control as well as death control? For two reasons, in the main.


Firstly, missionaries could see the urgent need that the people had for medical help in order that they and their children would survive, but the missionaries did not see any such urgent need for help with birth control. (They did not foresee what the problem would be if the people continued to have large families.)


Secondly, because the fact is that there have been many professing Christians — and still are! — who oppose birth control. I have had missionaries tell me privately that they did in fact (and still do) seek to provide assistance for needy families who ask for their help in this area of contraception, but they have had to do this quietly, and they dare not mention it back in their home country because it would have upset their constituency, and would have caused some of their supporters to withdraw their support.

And not only so, but some Christian groups have also lobbied — often most successfully — against the governments of Western countries like America and Australia providing or financing such birth control assistance to underdeveloped countries who have been begging them for it. There is vehement vocal opposition to birth control from some Christians.


As long ago as 1993, Dr Maurice Strong (in a lecture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK),[19] emphasized the seriousness of the danger posed by population growth, and challenged Christians to rethink their attitudes:


I am focusing on the subject of population first because it is the fundamental root of the environment crisis and the most important issue to address if there is to be any future for humankind. The issue of population is also the one which the Church tends to ignore most, or even oppose discussing because of the ethical issues involved. The basic statistics about population growth are simple and obvious, but the consequences of ignoring them are dire. ... The greatest challenge of the next forty years is the stabilization of world population. This is often an unpopular subject with governments and religions, but it is vital that it is not ignored. ... Can we rise to this challenge? Can the church also respond to this?


Even in some countries with a low birth rate (such as in Europe) the population is continuing to rise, (a) because children of the “population explosion” of twenty and more years ago are now themselves of childbearing age, (b) because of immigration, and (c) because of the extended life expectancy factor as a result of medical advances and public health measures.[20] 


(Some of the countries which have low birth rates are regarding this as deplorable, and are seeking to encourage the birth of more children. We are, all of us together as a planet, racing towards a population catastrophe — and yet some countries are upset because they are falling behind in this race!)


CONCLUSION: Although the birth rate in developing countries has been dropping, the death rate has been dropping in a much more spectacular way, so that the total population has still been increasing significantly. This affected world population.


(d) Where Are We Now?


According to the United Nations World Population Division, the population of the world consists of (in rounded figures):


2 billion children who are between 0 and 14 years of age,

2 billion people who are between 15 and 29 years of age,

1 billion more who are between 30 and 44 years of age,

1 billion who are aged 44-59, and then

1 billion who are 60 and over.


And the 3 billion who are currently within childbearing age of 15 to 44, are adding to the world's 7 billion (as we saw in Table Two) at the rate of over 131.4 million more per year — which means, when we allow for annual deaths 55.3 million, that there is a net population increase every year of some 76.1 million.[21]


In 2012 Hans Rosling, in his lecture Overpopulated,[22] uses these fifteen-year blocks to illustrate the developments he sees happening in the next forty-five years. He expects the first group of 2 billion will thus in 15 years time have become the 15- to 29-year-olds, while there will be a new group of 2 billion children (he is assuming that from now on we can maintain a “replacement only” birth rate); and the 2 billion of present 30 to 44-year-olds will become aged 45 to 59; the present 45-59 group will become the “over 60s” and the present “over 60s” will largely die off. Thus he expects that in 15 years’ time total world population would have become 8 billion.


This then (he explains) continues to happen until in forty-five years’ time the total world population is 10 billion: at which point (and at which size) the total population can stabilize. Though, Rosling says, if life expectancy continues to increase during this period, there would come to be more people in the “over 60s” group at that time who are still alive than there are now. Hans Rosling’s projection can be set out in a table:










15 years ago







At Present







+ 15 years







+ 30 years







+ 45 years








Rosling points out that in his explanation he is using round figures of billions, to enable us to see with maximum clarity the effect of the last increase in population (which reached 7 billion in 2012) and the way in which this will inevitably move through the age groups as these newly-born children grow up, enter their reprod­uctive years and have their own children. In order that we can readily see this same generation moving through the Table, I have shown it in bold. Rosling takes it that this world population increase to 10 billion, as shown in this Table, is inevitable.


Note that Rosling’s outcome is completely predicated upon the birthrate continuing from now on at the level of replacement only (2.1 children per couple). He believes that the probable higher reproduction rates in some parts of the world will be compensated for by further falls in other parts. He also expects that the extra one billion children added to world population each fifteen years (as shown in this Table) will be Asians and Africans.[23] He presumes that present educational and medical efforts will succeed, so that all families worldwide will be enabled to have the means — and also have the willingness — to restrict the number of  their children to two.


CONCLUSION: Rosling’s projections indicate that if the average number of births were to fall to, and continue to stay at, replacement rate of two children per couple, then even on that basis, world population must inevitably continue to grow during the next 45 years to 10 billion.


At this news, there are many who will cry out strongly, “Well, what’s wrong with that? We need population growth! Growth is good.”


Do we? Is it?


(e) “Growth is Good


Whyever should this growth worry us — why would we want to limit it? Surely there are many advantages to every community, to the entire world, that flow from this growth! The more people the better! We welcome them all!”


It is undeniable that there are some parts of the world, and for many industries, and for many people, where growth is a good thing. The building industry is an obvious example — for while a population is growing there will be a constant demand for more homes, more appliances with which to equip them, more services to them, more utilities connected (the infrastruc­ture of water, gas, electricity). And more cars, more roads for them, more hospitals, schools, shops (and goods to fill them). Then there are all the manufacturing and marketing industries, and the service industries ...


So in other words (it is being said), it looks totally obvious, when you think about it: bigger means better. “More jobs to go around, more prosperity, a higher standard of living. When growth is so good for everybody, who then could be against it? You must be a hopeless misanthrope to be against having more and more people in the world!”


Then John C. Schwarz, in Global Population from a Catholic Perspective, cites a different, penetrating comment concerning this potential population of ten billion:


Two University of Michigan scholars, Bruce Oakley, biologist, and William Anderson, botanist, in an incisive article on population ask, “Is the earth overpopulated?” [“The Prevalence of People,” The University Record, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan June 21, 1993] ... They then offer this trenchant observation: “It is difficult to fathom assertions that ‘the world can support ten billion people,’ when it is patently obvious that we are already failing to provide humanely for half as many” — a somber, realistic statement of weighty implications.[24]


So: what is the reason why should anyone be concerned about an increasing world population, these billions more people? It is because people do not inhabit a vacuum or live on air. Each one of them will require space, and resources — food, water, yes, and air. And all the products of the earth: metals, minerals, and the goods that are fashioned from them, on which our way of life is built. These are not in such unlimited supply on a finite planet that their continuing availability can be taken for granted!


    Professor Rosling makes no comment upon whether the world will be able to cope adequately with gaining the additional three billion citizens within these next forty-five years, which he expects will inevitably happen. Yet this question of whether the world’s resources can adequately support a world population of 10 billion is precisely the issue that this present book is discussing, for the earth’s resources (some of which are non-renewable and others which renew at a steady rate that does not increase in step with the size of an expanding human population) can not meet the escalating demands to be made upon them. The evidence says that right now — not at some indeterminate date in the future — we are bumping up against the limits upon our space and upon the adequate availability of our resources.


Moreover, there is another real question here: Rosling does not give consideration to the situation, with all its implications, that will exist if parents worldwide were to continue (as now) to produce, on average, more than two children per couple. Yet the most recent figures at the time of writing[25] show that the rates of the twenty countries with the highest fertility rates are all well over twice replacement rate (all are higher than 4.8 children per couple). So it would require very specific and determined efforts on the part of all concerned to enable present fertility rates to fall. If there still continue to be many larger families of three and more, then in coming years the world’s problems will be a great deal worse. But even if the world succeeds in bringing average births throughout the entire planet down to an average of two per couple, Rosling shows that we will still see the population of the world increase to become 10 billion in forty-five years’ time.


CONCLUSION: Rosling expects there to be a fall to a world average of only about 2 children per family: but will this happen? How can this be done? Indeed, why has not more been done in this area in generations past? And what should we do now about this issue?  Indeed what can be done? How should we as Christians be involved?


I am currently completing a book about this and related issues entitled “The Earth God Gave Us – a Christian Perspective on the Planet: Climate Change, Population, and Poverty”.  Watch out for its publication!


[1]Thus see for example Genesis 17:16 and 20; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 29:31; Genesis 33:5; Ruth 4:12-13

[2]Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15

[3]Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:5, 11, 20; 2:21; similarly, Judges 13:2-3, 24.

[4]That is, a thousand million. In researching  accessible estimates I found more than a dozen of them readily available in books and online, made by scientists based on the available evidence, and they fell primarily in the range 0.17 to 0.30 billion. The figure of 0.25 billion in the table below appears to be about as close an approximation as we can get; cf. Ehrlichs The Dominant Animal (Washington: Island Press 2008) 143-144; Paul E Lutz An Interdependent World, in Ecological Renewal (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972) 59; also and

[5]See Revelation 6:1-8, especially verse 8 which specifically mentions “to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth” — and throughout history these four have ever been the recurring factors restricting population growth; Revelation here reflects more widely the reference in Ezekiel 14:21-22 to God’s judgement upon Jerusalem: “I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgement: sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence ... the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem.”


[7]John C. Schwarz Global Population from a Catholic Perspective (Mystic, CT: Twenty-third Publications, 1998) 22; this number was reached in 1930 according to Gillean Prance The Earth under Threat (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 1996) 28, Paul and Anne Ehrlich The Dominant Animal (Washington: Island Press 2008) 144.

[8]The United Nations Population Division calculation puts the date of reaching 7 billion as October 31, 2011. The US Census Bureau calculates the date of 7 billion world population as March 12, 2012.

[9]These figures are taken from Do not be misled by the apparent precision of these statistics: there are various other online population websites  (; www.census. gov; www.worldometers. info/world-population, which however differ amongst themselves. Their origin is the aggregation of national surveys and census returns, modified as updated information becomes available, and extrapolated for intervening years in line with observed national population trends. They are thus calculated approxim­ations; absolute accuracy is impossible in the nature of the case, and the figures are being modified on an ongoing basis as they are updated with later information. They present as accurate an idea as possible of the scale of what is happening. What they reveal is a growing world population that is all too real.

[10]This is (country by country) 72,468,900:

[11]Ian Lowe A Big Fix (Melbourne: Black Inc, 2nd Edn, 2009), 59

[12]Paul Lutz An Interdependent World, in Ecological Renewal (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972), 62-65

[13]Ian Lowe A Big Fix  1

[14]Carlo M. Cipolla The Economic History of World Population (London: Penguin, 7th Edn 1979) 92-93

[15]Richard Fagley The Population Explosion and Christian Responsibility (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), 36-37

[16]Professor Hans Rosling explains in his lecture “Overpopulated” (at 19 minutes into the lecture): “Child survival drives everything. ... Why did the world population grow so slowly before 1800? Well, throughout history, all historical records show us that on average two parents got more or less six children ... but four of the six died before growing up to become parents themselves.” His full lecture is available at several sites on the internet: search for Hans Rosling “Overpopulated - BBC Documentary”.

[17]Fagley 1960, 37-38

[18]Carlo M Cipolla 106

[19]Cited in Ghillean Prance The Earth Under Threat: A Christian Perspective 1996, 28-30; and cited again in R. J. Berry (Ed) The Care of Creation (Leiester UK: IVP, 2000), 115

[20]Martin Rees Our Final Hour (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 103

[21]For population numbers and rate of population growth, go to, or, or, or The estimates on these sites differ a little from each other, but they do give you the idea. They also each feature a changing “world population clock” which gives a moment-by-moment calculation of the numbers of people alive on earth.

[22]Hans Rosling, 24 minutes into his lecture Overpopulated: BBC documentary

[23]Since the middle of the twentieth century Africa’s population in particular has been increasing at an unimaginable rate: historian Paul Kennedy notes that in 1950 it was half that of Europe’s; by 1985 it had drawn level — about 480 million each. (John C. Schwarz Global Population, 117)


[24]John C. Schwarz Global Population 25-26

[25]. Go to, then enter “search” for “highest fertility rate countries”