Overpopulation is a Myth - Here is the Math

by Mark T. Coppenger
Henry Institute
May. 09, 2006

As I mentioned on the air Wednesday on "The Albert Mohler Program," Mark Coppenger has penned a devastating critique of the "overpopulation crisis" myth. Coppenger is Distinguished Professor of Christian Apologetics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the father of my intern Jedidiah Coppenger. The article is vintage Coppenger: edgy, insightful, and right on target.

A couple of years ago, I was discussing Genesis 1:28 with a group of Christians when one ventured the opinion that the part about being fruitful and multiplying was well taken care of. With over six billion people on earth, and counting, we were plenty crowded.

At that point, I remembered an amazing statistic I'd read over a decade earlier in the pages of Harper's Magazine. The item concerned the space in which you could fit everybody if you bunched them up. I won't tell you what it was right off since I want you to guess.

Last fall, I preached through Genesis, and once again, I came upon that verse. Early in one sermon, I pulled out a tape measure and marked a square yard on the floor. Then I called four college men forward to stand in that square, which they did comfortably. Then I asked the people to pick a geographical locale which all 6.4 billion folks on earth would fill if gathered together, four per square yard.

Go ahead, guess. Perhaps you could pick a state....

OK. I'll tell you. You couldn't even fill a state with them. Using my atlas, the closest I could come up with was the Hawaiian island of Maui, but I wasn't totally happy with that since you would still have room for around another billion people on the island. I've done a little more checking, and have found that Oahu is closer, but still too big. So are the city limits of Houston. Yes, you could put the entire world into Houston.

Let's do the math. How many square yards are there in a square mile? You have 1,760 on a side, so multiply 1,760 by 1,760, the same way you would get nine square feet in a square yard by multiplying three by three. Use a calculator if you must. The answer is 3,097,600 square yards in a square mile. Then multiply by four, since we are putting four people in each square yard. You get 12,390,400 people per square mile. Chances are your town is a least one square mile in area. Did you know you could squeeze over 12 million people into it?

Now divide 12,390,400 into 6.4 billion to see how many square miles it would take to hold everybody. The answer is 532.67 square miles, or 533 rounded off. That's about a 23-mile square. Houston's area is 596 square miles, so you'd have an extra 60 square miles, room for another three quarters of a billion or so.

If you spread out, giving each person his own square yard and a folding chair, you could just about seat everyone in Delaware. If you gave everyone ten square yards (a 30-foot square, or 900 square feet -- a small apartment), you could fit all 6.4 billion people into Texas.

The point is simple. We've got room. Don't let the fear of overcrowding discourage you. And even if things get tight with unbelieving families, we could always use more Christian parents raising Christian kids, should they be saved.

I once asked two Christian college classes of about 40 each whether they thought that, if they married, they had a basic duty to try to have some kids. I don't think I got more than one or two hands total. They did believe that the "exercise dominion" part of Genesis 1:28 still applied, but they thought that procreation was a matter of moral indifference, like choosing romaine over iceberg lettuce at the grocery store.

How odd that they would think God gave them such marvelous reproductive capacities, commissioned their use, repeatedly celebrated children in Scripture, and then said it was no big deal if they made nothing of it. How can this be? Several reasons, I suppose. I do believe that the "zero population growth" hysterics have taken their toll. Careerism and materialism get much of the credit, too. Children take time and money. Biblical illiteracy is also a factor. But I think that overall, it's a matter of shunning things which might cramp our style. Well, God can be a major style-cramper when that style is sub-Christian.

Am I saying we should dismiss all contraception? No. I don't see a moral obligation to use every God-given capacity to the max. I have the capacity to sing, but I don't sing myself hoarse every day. But if I never sang to the glory of God, I should be ashamed of myself.

Certainly, there are those who are called to singleness. Of course, there are reasons for couples to delay or interrupt child-bearing. But the burden of justification before God always rests upon the willfully childless.

Besides, kids are great. A challenge, yes, but a blessing (see, for instance, Psalm 127:3-5). It's interesting to read the late-in-life reflections of those who have chosen career over family. They often draw their satisfaction from the impact they had on a few key lives. An architecture professor savors the work of one of his star pupils, a lawyer remembers an innocent prisoner he helped free, a stock broker recalls the kid who went to an expensive school because the father's investment portfolio was fruitful.

But what about cutting to the chase and impacting key lives directly from their moment of conception? Now, that's a career move.

Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and distinguished professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column originally appeared in The Illinois Baptist, the newspaper of the Illinois Baptist State Association, and is reprinted with permission.

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