**Science
in Christian Perspective**

**Letter to the Editor**

**
On World and U.S. Population Growth:
Or Is It Growth?
**

Department of Physics

Covenant College

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee 37350

From: *JASA ***29***
*(September 1977): 143-144.

**T**his communication is the outgrowth of a lecture delivered at
Covenant College in the spring semester, 1975, in a course dealing
with the problems of population, world starvation, ecology and
energy. This lecture dealt
*only *
with world population numbers.

1. Consider a square 12 miles by 12 miles-the area of a good-sized city. The area of this square is about
*3.6 *
billion square feet.
If there was one person standing on every square foot, the entire
world population would fit into this 12 x 12 mile square.
Furthermore, it has been estimated that the world population is
doubling at the rate of once every
*30 *
years; ^{1} if such a rate were to
continue, it would take over
*300 *
years for 0.1% of the earth's
surface to be occupied by standing people. These numbers are
offered as "counter-rhetoric" to those who insist^{2 }that there will
not be any room on the planet in another 500 years or so.

2. There is a rightful concern about starvation, ecology, energy,
etc. Unfortunately, there appears to be a tendency to lump all these problems together, and to call this lumped
aggregate "the overpopulation problem." The difficulty here is that the label
"overpopulation" presupposes that the answer to each of the three individual problems (starvation, ecology and energy)
lies in the
active control of the world population by one means or another,
whereas the real answers to these problems may lie elsewhere. For
example, if a man is found starving in the street, one could take
him into one's home and feed him, thus solving this particular
problem. However, if
*overpopulation is *
the problem, then the
obvious answer is simply to pull out a gun and to eliminate the man.

*
3.
*
Not all countries have an increasing population. in Ireland,,
for example, the population apparently increased drastically
around the early 1800's to a peak of over 8 million. Then, a potato
blight struck, and about a million starved. The population
continued to dwindle somewhat, even after the blight, so that the
population in 1960 was about 4 million, (about
*half *
the 1835 peak). Ireland currently has one of the oldest marriage ages, one of
the lowest marriage rates,- and a relatively stable population. No
doubt there are other countries whose populations are quite stable.

4. There is serious question as to the accuracy of population
estimates of countries such as Mainland China. "Both the Chinese
admission that they have no knowledge of the previous growth
rates, and the round progression from 1.9 to 2.0 to 2.1 percent per
year, suggest some rather arbitrary estimates.^{4}
Therefore, it is
difficult to tell whether or not China's population is even growing,
let alone how fast it is growing.

Having made the above points about the world population in general, let us consider an analysis of the U.S. population in particular (which is measured to a high degree of accuracy) and evaluate the demographers' estimates of what the population is doing as a function of time. The procedure is to fit a mathematical curve to the census date from 1790 to 1970. Short-term predictions then are made by simply extrapolating the mathematical curve. In making such an extrapolation, it is assumed that the past and the present are the keys to the future, at least on the short-term basis. Assumed also is that there will be no drastic deviation in population growth unless a catastrophic or other significant event takes place, affecting everyone.

The curves are plotted on semi-log paper to show any deviation from exponential growth. The actual data (taken from the 1974 Statistical Abstracts of the U.S.) and the mathematical fit are shown in Figure 1. The data are represented by circled dots, while the mathematical fit is represented by the solid line.

Note several things:

(1) The population increases exponentially (doubling about

every 25 years) until about 1860.

(2) The projection of the population level at 1970 (based on extrapolation of data from 1790 to 1860) is 900 million! (What would have happened had we worried about our population "explosion" back in 1850?)

(3) The U.S. population started to deviate smoothly from exponential behavior at about 1860, without any government edicts controlling the population.

(4) Note the smoothness of the curve, even through depressions

and wars.

(5) The net population effect of the 1930 depression and the
post World War 11 boom was to affect a cancellation and to
put the population trend back to where it was in the 1920's
as shown by the curved dotted line in Figure 1.

How about predictions of things to come? Demographers have
calculated what are called A, B, C, D, E, F, and X curves, based
on fertility rates (assumed in all cases to reach a constant level),
and a constant rate of immigration. The A curve has the *highest
*fertility rate, and the F curve has the *lowest *rate. Reference 5 (a
1971 pamphlet) pointed out that in 1971, curve A had been
dropped and curve E had been added. Then, in the 1974 Statistical Abstracts,^{6
}curve B was dropped and curves F & X were added.
Curve C assumes a leveling off birth rate of 2.8 children/woman;
D has a final rate of 2.5, E is 2.1 (so-called replacement rate) and F
is 1.8 (below replacement rate). Curve X has a birth rate of 2.1
with no immigration, while curves C-F assume an immigration rate
of 400,000 per year. The projections for curves C-F and X for 1972
are quite good, but by 1975 the C and D projections start to show
considerable deviation from the actual data, while curves E, F and
X, together with the mathematical fit of Figure 1, seem to predict
the 1975 population the best.
^{
14}

Why can't demographers come up with a good model? Why must they keep adding and dropping curves? The primary reason (as they themselves have stated) is that they are trying to second-guess the birth rate of people free to make their own decisions about their families, a Congress and an Executive branch capable of regulating immigration, and a Supreme Court capable of legalizing abortion. Let us consider each of these three aspects separately.

The demographers in *each *of their separate graphs are assuming
a leveling-out process for the birth rate. Does past history justify
this assumption? The rate dropped drastically in the 1930's, rose
by almost a factor of 2 from 1935 to 1960, and then fell again by
close to a factor of 2 from 1960 to 1970.^{8 }Therefore, assuming
constant (or nearly constant) fertility rates over *decades is *a *very
*risky business, based on past history.

How about the second assumption - constant immigration? A
drastic plunge in immigration rate from close to I million/year in
1900-1910 to less than 0.1 million/year in 1931-1940 has occurred
within the time span of 30 years.^{9 }Clearly, past history shows that
the assumption of constant immigration rates is not a good one to
make. The laws affecting these immigration rates are outlined in
Reference 10.

Abortion is an issue not directly incorporated in *any *of the
assumptions involved in curves C-F and X. How much of an effect
is the abortion ruling recently made by the Supreme Court?
According to the New York Times Index," legal abortions are estimated to be about 900,000 in 1974. It is estimated that 1/3 of
these would *not *have been made if the Supreme Court ruling had
been unfavorable toward abortions. This suggests, therefore, that
there were 300,000 less people in the U.S. in 1974 as the result of
this Supreme Court ruling. Since this reduction is close to the
immigration rate (about 400,000/year), it would seem that
abortion ought to be considered by the demographers.
Furthermore, abortions are on the *increase *at a rate of more than
25%/year since 1972.^{11} An extrapolation shows an abortion rate
of 100 million/year by 1996, a figure no more ridiculous than some
of the current world population extrapolation figures,^{12 }in the
author's opinion.

The demographers themselves are at variance with one another.
Estimates of the increase in the U.S. population by the year 2000
range from 20 million to 100 million, or a variation of a factor of
5, depending on the demographer.^{13} If in a situation in which the
data *are *well known, demographers vary in their predictions of
U.S. population growth by a factor of 5, over a 30 year period,
what about their predictions of world population growth, where
the data are *not *well known?

One should be very cautious about advocating *control *of world
population. One cannot adequately control what one does not
understand. The solution to starvation, ecology and energy may lie
elsewhere.

The author gratefully acknowledges discussion and comments
from Dr.'s Nicholas Barker, James Hurley, and John Muller, all
of whom are professors at Covenant College.

^{1}Associated Press article, *Chattanooga News Free Press, Sept*.
19,1971.

^{
2} *Penthouse Magazine, *Isaac Asimov, "The End," Vol. 2 No. 5,
Jan. 1971, 26-28.

* ^{3}Expanding Population in a Shrinking World,
*
Marston Bates, P.
16f - cited in

^{
4} China: *Population in the People's Republic, *Population
Reference Bureau Bulletin Vol. 27 No. 6, Dec. 197 1, p. 9 & 10.

* ^{5}The Future Population of the United States,
*
Population
Reference Bureau Bulletin Vol. 27 No. 1, Feb. 1971, p. 15.

^{14}1t should be noted that a *very *recent revision has been made in
the curves used by demographers for the U.S.A. population.
Specifically, in an Oct. 1975 issue of *Projections of the Population
of the U.S., p. *25, No. 607, all of the lettered curves A-F & X, have
been replaced with curves labeled 1, 11, 111 & II-x, with changed
demographic assumption, (i.e. lowered birth rates, etc.). Needless
to say, most of these most recent curves fit the July 1, 1975 data
quite well!

*
Editor's Note:
*
In connection with Dr. Keister's assessment of
the U.S. population growth problem, it is interesting to take note
of a 1960 prediction for world population set forth by von
Foerster, Mora and Amiot:

N = 1.79 x 10

where N is the world population and t is time measured in years.
A.D. Serrin
^{
2}
points out that this expression fits world population
figures very well from 1750 to 1960. In 1975 the above equation
predicted a world population N - 3.65 billion persons, whereas
the best estimate for world population as of that date is 3.97 billion
persons. The equation predicts a world population of 5 billion
persons in 1990, and of course a rather catastrophic occurrence
late in the year 2026!

1. H. von Foerster, P.M. Mora, L.W. Amiot,

2. J. Serrin,

*
Such concerns as war and peace, environmental pollution, discrimination, and so
on, are far from unimportant. They are indeed criticical, . . . But these matters are
nonetheless footnotes on the main text, namely, that God has spoken and that what
God says
*
*is what bears determinatively an all existence and life. The unmistakable
priority of Gods people, the church in the world, is to proclaim Gods revealed Word.
Divorced from this calling, the church and Christians are undurable and unendurable
phenomena. By stifling divine revelation, they are, in fact, an affront to God. Devoid
of motivation for implementing Christ's cause, they become both delinquents and
delinquent in neighbor and world relations. *

Carl F. H. Henry

*
God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. Il God Who Speaks and Shows,
*
Word Books, Waco, Texas
*(1976), P. 22.
*

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