Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Questions about the "Point of Need"
Herbert Schlossberg
5916 Oakland Ave. So.
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55417

From: PSCF 39 (September 1987): 187

Raymond Brand's article, "At the Point of Need," (JASA, March 1987) accepts without question the false thinking of the neomalthusian movement, and that leads him to erroneous conclusions. Is he unaware of the voluminous scientific literature that refutes the tendentious nature of the documents he cites? It is disconcerting that the Club of Rome reports, the Brandt Commission, and Global 2000 (Globaloney, as Herman Kahn called it) should be so complacently cited when he says, "The needs of mankind have been amply documented" in such writings. Even a quick look at the massive book The Resourceful Earth, (Basil Blackwell, 1984) edited by Kahn and Julian Simon would have made him wonder at what he was doing. In this response to Global 2000, we have a resolute refutation of the whole movement that Prof. Brand has uncritically accepted, written by specialists in physics, economics, nutrition, geography, mathematics, biology, demographics, forestry, geophysics, agriculture, political science and oceanography.

But even an ignorance of the scientific literature should not have kept Prof. Brand from recognizing the weaknesses in what he was doing. For the writings he relies upon are utterly naturalistic in their assumptions. There isn't the slightest understanding in them that the earth was created by a just and loving God, that its resources are not going to "run out" before their creator intends, that the exercise of stewardship is not in conflict with the responsibilities that God has placed upon us. His failure to get straight the bad theology of his sources has led him to place us in impossible situations. "However, the Christian is morally obligated to aid every human being despite the cost to the resources of planet earth." Implicit in that is a contradiction between our resources and our responsibilities. But no such contradiction exists.

The earth is overflowing with God's bounteous provision, as the Bible teaches. The "shortages" which plague us are a result of human sin and stupidity. From the energy crisis that began in the early seventies to the man-made famine in Ethiopia (the drought does not account for the severity of the disaster) the shortages testify not to the paucity of resources, but to the policies of coercion that keep the resources from our use. If there were any doubt about that, the plunging commodity prices of the last few years should have dispelled it. Prof. Brand speaks of the military expenditures in Ethiopia, but he does not consider the cheap food policies that are endemic in the countries without sufficient food production: politicians with their power base in the cities put price controls on food, thus making it uneconomic for peasants to produce and rendering shortages inevitable. The remedies for food shortages that he suggests will be unavailing if nothing can be done about the political oppression of those countries, oppression which is often assisted by foreign aid. We ought to be aware that these countries once fed themselves nicely without the "appropriate technology" that is now thought to be so essential. And the larger numbers of people are no barrier to that, as some nations with very high density populations have demonstrated.

If Christians want to do something about poverty that so exercises Prof. Brand it will have to be done by understanding the harmful cultural and institutional realities of those areas, which is just what the Bible leads us to expect. The work of P.T. Bauer of the London School of Economics is indispensable in illuminating these issues. (See especially, Dissent on Development: Studies and Debates in Development Economics, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 197 1.)

But Christian academics persist in viewing the situation as Prof. Brand does-with the materialist fallacies that are endemic in the bulk of the literature. It does no good for intellectuals to profess evangelical convictions, often from schools with elaborate statements of biblical inerrancy, if they are unable to evaluate the various literatures from the perspective of a Christian world view.