Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor



Economics, Ecology, and "Limits to Growth"

Herbert Schlossberg
5916 Oakland Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN 55417

From: PSCF 40 (December 1988): 254-255.                                                Response

In his article "Planetary Economics and Ecologies" (June 1988), Fred G. Van Dyke defends the popular neo-Malthusian fable by suggesting that it should provide the paradigm for a theological understanding of the environment. The limitations of this attempt became evident in his astonishing belief that we should take The Limits to Growth seriously in spite of its gross flaws-accuracies and inaccuracies aside." I understood this tolerance of inaccuracy better when I saw that in footnote 32 he objected to my refutation, in an earlier issue of Perspectives, of another neo-Malthusian effort. In doing this Dr. Van Dyke quoted from my letter; of the three short passages he used-twelve words in all-he got two wrong.

The letter to which he objects, though not long, deals with theological and public policy issues that are at the heart of some very real problems, both ecological and economic. It is the seriousness of these problems that have led to the recrudescence of the Malthusianism that Dr. Van Dyke and many others find so persuasive. His article, full of the generalizations that permeate this literature, fails to deal with the issues I, as well as many others, raised. It's hard to have a good conversation when one side won't talk seriously about the source of the disagreement.

For readers of Perspectives who may wish to follow up on these and related issues from a Christian point of view, I can suggest a new book: Marvin Olasky, Herbert Schlossberg, Pierre Berthoud and Clark H. Pinnock, Freedom, Justice, and Hope. Toward a Strategy for the Poor and the Oppressed (Crossway, 1988). It comes out of a consultation held in Switzerland last year by Food for the Hungary [sic.-ed.] Among other things this book articulates a point of view that makes it clear why the Malthusian outlook is never going to help either the poor or the environment.

The few quotes Dr. Van Dyke lifts from the work of Simon and Kahn and their colleagues do nothing to make the Malthusian philosophy more credible. Although these critics are for the most part not Christians, I urge Perspectives readers to compare their work with the Malthusian efforts, including those by believers, and see which comports better with a biblical understanding of the universe.

The question is not whether we despoil the environment on the one hand or join the Malthusian hand-wringers on the other. That is the way Dr. Van Dyke and his friends would have us view the situation. The question is whether we can really accept that the world God created is good and sufficient to support us in abundance-all of us-or whether we shall have to turn ourselves over to governing authorities who will apportion to us the remaining resources as they see fit. (This is the survivalist mentality Dr. Van Dyke should have focused on rather than the trivial version he mentioned.) The latter vision is the one championed by The Limits to Growth and the works that followed in that tradition, and it is evidently the one that Dr. Van Dyke thinks Christians ought to support.