6.13.2006

Malthus & The Confessions

One reason that is often put forth in favor of the contraceptive age is world over-population. This has seldom been brought up on this blog (if ever) but deserves attention because it does appear from time to time. Certainly there are secularists who cheer the contraceptive age for this reason. But, we must also take note that there are Christians who take up this battle-cry, and even Lutherans.

Dr. Alfred M. Rehwinkel (professor of Christian Ethics at Concordia Seminary - St. Louis for 15+ in the '40s and '50s) in his book 'Planned Parenthood' even gave a nod to this belief: "A nation that is not able or willing to propogate itself is doomed and sooner or later will have to make room for a more virile race... But on the other hand a nation which propagates more rapidly than the available or potential food supply is also headed for serious trouble." Certainly, there appears to be a simple and reasonable logic in his statement - People need food. The land can only produce so much food. If we have more mouths to feed than the land can produce food, we are in trouble.

This line of thinking was first made popular and championed by a british demographer and economist Thomas Robert Thomas Malthus (1776 - 1834). His concern was that human population as he observed it grows geometicly (1, 2, 4, 8, 16) while food supply only grows arithmeticly (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). His line of thinking, which has been expanded upon, championed, refuted, and re-tooled at times, is called Malthusianism.

Malthusianism today asserts simply that the earth has been duly filled. The earth is populated. It cannot handle more humanity. Period. Of course, this is something we think about as the world's population is now well over 7 billion souls. That's a big number after all (like the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky) that has the ability to play on our fears and anxieties over whether the earth can provide for "all that I need to support this body and life" - as if the earth were doing the providing on its own. Maybe then you will understand my surprise when in my study of the Confessions I recently noticed for the first time that during the Reformation this 'full earth' argument was being put forth when the world population was just over 450million. It was an argument which along with its pernicious implications the Confessors rejected:

First, Genesis [1:28] teaches that human beings were created to be fruitful… Our opponents trivialize these arguments. They say that in the beginning there was a command to fill the earth, but now that the earth has been filled marriage is not commanded. Look at their clever argument! The Word of God formed human nature in such a way that it may be fruitful not only at the beginning of creation but as long as this physical nature of ours exists. Likewise, the earth became fruitful by this Word [Gen.1:11]: “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed.” Because of this ordinance, the earth commenced to produce plants, not only in the beginning, but yearly the fields are clothed as long as this natural order exists. Therefore, just as the nature of the earth cannot be changed by human laws, so neither can human nature be changed by vows or by human law without a special act of God.
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Kolb/Wengert p. 249.

Noteworthy is how they considered an attack upon fruitfulness/procreation to be none other than an attack on the Lord's institution of marriage. "Our opponents trivialize these arguments. They say that in the beginning there was a command to fill the earth, but now that the earth has been filled marriage is not commanded."

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

25 comments:

Caspar said...

Good post. The subject has been addressed at least once on the blog though. I posted this back in February.

Eric Phillips said...

St. Augustine made the "full earth" argument long before the Papists of the 16th century did. I doubt any of them meant to suggest that the world was actually FULL in a Malthusian sense, i.e. incapable of supporting any more life. They meant simply that at the beginning, there were two human beings at one little point in the middle of a vast world, and several thousand years later there were human beings all over that vast world. It wasn't saturated, but by comparison to the situation that prevailed when God gave the command, it could reasonably be called full.

Nor does Melanchthon dispute whether or not the earth is full. His argument runs like this, "They say that since the earth is full, the married life is no longer generally commanded. However, God has not modified human nature in the interim. Men and women desire each other as much as they ever did. 'Be fruitful and multiply' isn't just a verbal command, but something hard-wired into us by means of the sex drive. So until He alters human nature, the command is still with us, and celibacy therefore must be deemed an exceptional state enabled by a special divine gift, not one that the Church is free to require of all priests."

The "full earth" argument is not in view at all. Melanchthon's whole point here is to assert that marriage is a natural right, divinely granted by God to all men, priests included. Nothing in the passage suggests that he cares how many children people have, as long as they be permitted to marry in the first place.

Also, this passage does not prove another thing you say it does, namely that the confessors "considered an attack upon fruitfulness/procreation to be none other than an attack on the Lord's institution of marriage." Check the context. The Papists weren't attacking procreation, but marriage. Procreation was simply something they had to deal with along the way in order to answer the objection that "Be fruitful and multiply" is a command to all men, and therefore one they ought not constrain men to violate. The passage isn't about procreation itself, but about how God designed procreation to happen by means of sexual intercourse, so that when He commands the human race to "be fruitful and multiply," He is in fact commanding them--with a few special exceptions defined by Himself and not by canon law--to marry and have sex.

Devona said...

Eric, I agree that we are reading these arguements in light of our twenty-first century minds, and therefore reading our issues into their words. But likewise I think you are over simplifying it when you say, "The passage isn't about procreation itself, but about how God designed procreation to happen by means of sexual intercourse, so that when He commands the human race to "be fruitful and multiply," He is in fact commanding them--with a few special exceptions defined by Himself and not by canon law--to marry and have sex."

To the Medieval, there was no "marry and have sex," without the begetting of children. So when one talks about one issue, they are b necessity talking about the other.

You kind of sad that in the passage I quoted you, but your minimalizing procreation's importance to the subject matter in a way that the Medieval would not have done.

Devona said...

Sorry for the typos. It's really early.

Eric Phillips said...

Devona,

I wasn't minimizing the importance of procreation. I was just pointing out that the passage quoted from the Book of Concord doesn't say anything about it. The whole thing is part of an argument against enforced clerical celibacy.

Pr. David Rufner said...

Eric,

You are right to point out that this is taken from the Apology where clerical celibacy is being confronted.

The point being made, however, is that in their writings (even on clerical celibacy and a false argument for a 'full earth' and its outworkings) an attack on fruitfulness/procreation is an attack on marriage.

Eric Phillips said...

Pr. Rufner,

Melanchthon is not making some significant move from an argument about procreation to an argument about marriage; the argument is already about marriage.

Nor is it significant that both Melanchthon and the Papists recognize the procreative command ("be fruitful and multiply") as implying marriage. That's obvious to contracepting Christians of the 21st century as well, and will be as long as the Biblical teaching re: sex and marriage is upheld.

Pr. David Rufner said...

Eric,

I concede to you that its "obvious to contracepting Christians of the 21st century" that "the procreative command ("be fruitful and multiply") [implies] marriage." To put it simply, the faithful Christian knows that it is wrong to precreate prior to marriage. And why is it wrong? Because if you are procreating prior to marriage, you are having sex prior to marriage and that is the part that they really feel is wrong.

And so again, I concede that for the faithful Christian of our age procreation implies marriage.

However, what is not so clear for the contracepting Christian of our age (and even less so for the cultured despisers of the faith) is that marriage implies procreation.

Yes, medically speaking we know, to the disappointment of many, that procreation often follows sex. Yet that is a link that effectively has been severed by medication - as if there were a disease present.

Is it not true that even for the Christian couple, while procreation has remained part of the marriage meal it has been removed from the main course and is now served as dessert? Has it not been relegated to a position where I will partake of it when I have room for it, or if I have room at all? For such a person, not partaking of dessert has not ruined the meal.

Likewise, many 21st century Christians do not see an attack on procreation as an attack on marriage, whereas the Confessors did.

Eric Phillips said...

"Likewise, many 21st century Christians do not see an attack on procreation as an attack on marriage, whereas the Confessors did."

Do you have evidence for this contention?

Pr. David Rufner said...

"First, Genesis [1:28] teaches that human beings were created to be fruitful… Our opponents trivialize these arguments. They say that in the beginning there was a command to fill the earth, but now that the earth has been filled marriage is not commanded..."

Eric Phillips said...

Pr. Rufner,

As I've pointed out already, the Confessors could not "see an attack on procreation as an attack on marriage," because no one was attacking procreation. You are suggesting that the Papists mounted an attack against procreation, and Melanchthon responded by saying, "Wait, if you attack procreation, you attack marriage." That is not what happened. The attack was on _marriage_ all along. Procreation entered the debate for no other reason than that marriage is a moral prerequisite for procreation (as all Christians recognize, no matter what they thing about contraception), and hence a command to procreate must imply a command to marry.

Caspar said...

Nice straw man, Eric. You should open a craft shop.

Eric Phillips said...

Caspar,

You really have no understanding of the "straw man" logical fallacy, do you.

Pr. David Rufner said...

Eric, I make more concessions yet the ground is held...

I concede, and again acknowledge, the the quotation cited came from the Apology, article XXIII, concerning the marriage of priests.

I concede, that by no means was, or is, article XXIII written with our contraceptive age in view (though their history and practice go back thousands of years - even to the time of the Penteteuch).

Nevertheless, my original statement stands: "Noteworthy is how they considered an attack upon fruitfulness/procreation to be none other than an attack on the Lord's institution of marriage." This is evident from that which has repeatedly been quoted from article XXIII of the Apology. The Papists (certainly among other arguments) attacked marriage by following some line of argument saying that God commanded fruitfulness from the married in order to fill the earth. The earth is full. Ergo, fruitfulness/marriage is no longer commanded.

While procreation legitimately flows from marriage, one cannot separate the two. The Confessors surely didn't. Hence, an attack upon procreation IS IN FACT an attack upon marriage.

Caspar said...

A straw man argument is a rhetorical technique based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. You create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent.

This is the modus operandi of Eric Phillips. His continuous use of this fallacy in all his trolling of the blogosphere shows the weakness of all his arguments.

His staw man in this thread is, and I quote:

"You are suggesting that the Papists mounted an attack against procreation, and Melanchthon responded by saying, 'Wait, if you attack procreation, you attack marriage.'"

Correct me if I'm wrong, Pr. Rufner, but that is not your position. It is also not a required conclusion from anything you have written. It is a misrepresentation of your position created in the mind of Eric Phillips and is, of course, easily refuted.

Eric Phillips continues to misrepresent your position, my position, and the positions of virutally everyone he argues with. He doesn't deal with your actual argument. He creates a straw man almost every time.

I wonder if Eric Phillips even realizes that he uses this fallacious reasoning. If he wanted to be more honest in his argumentation, he would use some active listening techniques instead of stuffing words in other people's mouths all the time.

I really don't know why I ever waste my time aruing with him.

Caspar

Eric Phillips said...

Pr. Rufner,

Think about what you are saying. If the Papists were, as you admit, attacking marriage directly, then your claim that Melanchthon made some kind of "noteworthy" interpretive move from, "Hey, that's an attack on procreation!" to "That means it must be an attack on marriage too!" doesn't make any sense.

Nor is it significant that both sides in the 16th-century debate assume the premise, "If procreation is commanded, marriage must also be commanded." Nobody in the current debate disagrees with that. The only morally acceptable way to procreate is first to be married.

Eric Phillips said...

Caspar,

It's hard to imagine how you can say that my summary of Pr. Rufner's position is a straw man.

He said:

"Noteworthy is how they considered an attack upon fruitfulness/procreation to be none other than an attack on the Lord's institution of marriage."

I summarized:

"You are suggesting that the Papists mounted an attack against procreation, and Melanchthon responded by saying, 'Wait, if you attack procreation, you attack marriage.'"

There's not a piece of straw in sight.

Caspar said...

As I believe you know, Eric, a successful straw man does not blatantly exhibit any straw. It is a very effective fallacy to employ. You are a rhetorical artist, but in the end your arguments are based upon fallacies. Wise men see this and therefore ignore most of what you say.

Pr. David Rufner said...

Eric,

Are you hearing yourself?: "The only morally acceptable way to procreate is first to be married." Ergo, an attack on procreation is an attack on marriage. Even you agree with this don't you?

The Papists were ATTACKING and doing great violence to marriage-among-all by their godless insistence on celibacy among all priests. Agreed?

In fact we may do better to state it more strongly and say that they were WARRING against marriage. For, in a war there are often many fronts of attack. No single attack is the whole of the war itself, but together the attacks make up the war.

Thus, Melanchthon here not only takes on this godless warring, but he confronts its many attacks. He begins by saying, "We cannot approve this law concerning celibacy which our opponents defend, because it conflicts with divine and natural law and because it conflicts with the very canons and councils… [This controversy] only requires as judge a person who is honest and fears God. Although we defend this manifest truth, nevertheless the opponents have devised trivial charges to make our arguments look silly.” (Kolb/Wengert pg. 248)

He then goes on to six points of argumentation:
1. "First, Genesis [1:28] teaches that human beings were created to be fruitful… Our opponents trivialize these arguments. They say that in the beginning there was a command to fill the earth, but now that the earth has been filled marriage is not commanded..."
2. “Because this creation or divine ordinance in the human creature is a natural law, the jurists have accordingly spoken wisely and rightly that the union of male and female is a matter of natural law.”
3. “Paul says [1 Cor. 7:2], ‘But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife…’ We maintain indeed that the things we are discussing about human nature in general applies also to priests.”
4. “The pontifical regulation also disagrees with the canons of the councils…”
5. “They claim that they require celibacy because it is pure, as if marriage were impure and sinful, or as if celibacy merited justification more than marriage!”
6. “Although we have many reasons for disapproving the law of perpetual celibacy, yet beyond all others it endangers soul and causes public scandal…”

And in some of his concluding remarks he writes: “In recounting our own arguments, we have incidentally recited and refuted the silly counterarguments of our opponents.” (Kolb/Wengert pg. 256)

Eric, you write, “As I've pointed out already, the Confessors could not ‘see an attack on procreation as an attack on marriage,’ because no one was attacking procreation. You are suggesting that the Papists mounted an attack against procreation, and Melanchthon responded by saying, ‘Wait, if you attack procreation, you attack marriage.’ That is not what happened. The attack was on _marriage_ all along.”

I disagree with your argument here, as apparently does the text I read. The WAR was on_marriage_all along (of this you are correct) but one of the attacks does indeed appear to have been against fruitfulness/procreation and therefore marriage (based on a full-earth argument). Here, the Confessors did apparently see an attack on fruitfulness/procreation as an attack on marriage – its in the text!

Eric Phillips said...

Pr. Rufner,

According to you it is "noteworthy" that Melanchthon moved the basis of the argument from procreation to marriage. But if, as you now say, this whole perceived attack on procreation was just a skirmish in the war on marriage, just a means to the end of attacking marriage, then there is nothing noteworthy about that at all.

"Ergo, an attack on procreation is an attack on marriage. Even you agree with this don't you?"

If every Christian agrees with this, what's noteworthy about the fact that Melanchthon did too? What does it prove?

Eric Phillips said...

Caspar,

I see. I'm so good at hiding the straw that it takes someone with your rare powers of observation to find it. I leave you to your fantasies.

Caspar said...

There's nothing "rare" about the ability to identify your straw men. What's rare is finding a man willing to admit his employment of fallacies once exposed.

Eric Phillips said...

Caspar,

Seriously, there is more to "exposing" a fallacy than claiming it exists. You haven't explained yourself. You haven't even tried to show how my restatement of Pr. Rufner's argument is mendacious. I have no idea what you're talking about. You're just name-calling.

Pastor H.R. Curtis said...

For what it's worth, Malthus has been taken apart by his opponents almost from day one. His argument is simply nonsensical. You can read all about it in Darwinian Fairytales by the Australian (and atheist) philosopher David Stover. Here's the jist of the argument.

Malthus says that our population grows geometrically b/c we reproduce sexually. But he claims that our food supply can only increase arithmetically. But what do we eat? Species that reproduce sexually - which, therefore, also increase geometrically.

It never was a valid argument. Again, see the Stover book for more.

+HRC
Pr. HR Curtis

Flower Child said...

Interesting Topic. We can all learn from each other; but we all must be ever mindful of what Holy Scripture tells us. Can we change the Bible? Nine!!!!!!!!!!