Humanae Vitae: The Argument from Sociology

The neo-Malthusian Paul Ehrlich predicted in the late Sixties’ book, The Population Bomb, that by this time much of the world would be decimated by famine.  In fact, he set some doomsday timetables well within the 20th century.  When his predictions repeatedly proved to be wrong, he refused to admit it; he just postponed his doomsday and sold more books.  However, now that informed people recognize that the real world population “problem” is the depopulation of First World countries, they know that doomsday scenarios are simply propaganda to decriminalize anti-people campaigns of the First World against developing countries.  However, there are still many uninformed people, some quite pushy, and what follows may help you when you encounter them.

The sociological argument or rationalization runs something like this.  1. Today there are great sociological difficulties in our world.  2) The economy of the rich nations seems geared for a family of not over three children.  The economy of poor nations leads many to starvation.  3) Man has a duty to better his whole world.  He has created part of the problem by reducing the natural death rate.  4) He has the physical power to limit population through contraception.  5) Therefore it is permissible, perhaps even required, to practice contraception in the present sociological circumstances.

The argument is attractive to those who have been brainwashed by a neo-Malthusian media.  Let us suppose that every statement up to the “Therefore” is true, even though they aren’t.  The problem is that the conclusion is by no means contained in the preceding statements.  The argument assumes what needs to be proved, i.e., it assumes that contraception is a morally permissible way of expressing married love.  To prove to yourself the error of the “therefore” statement, simply substitute other means of population control in statement 4: “He has the physical power to limit population through ________________.”  Fill in abortion, genocide, infanticide, the killing of the incurably sick, the killing of the old, the sterilization of non-contracepting parents, etc.—anything you regard as abhorrent.  Such substitution enables you to see very clearly that what remains to be proved is that any one of these is morally acceptable.  That is, the existence of external pressures is no sure sign at all that either contraception or any other method of population control is morally permissible.

Those who parrot this sort of argument typically point to the change from a farm economy to huge cities.  They point out that having a number of children is not the economic asset in the city that it was on the farm.  That’s true in the short run; we don’t know about the long run even in First World countries with advanced social security systems.  If the systems go bankrupt, it may once again be the case that children are the greatest economic assets of aged parents.  And, while it is true that there has been a mass migration from the farm to the city in North America, it is also true that cities aren’t exactly new.  I suspect that even in the days of ancient Greece and Rome a large family was much more of an asset on the farm than in the city.

The point is this: When an argument describes only a problem and proposes a solution, such an argument says nothing at all about the moral worth of the solution.  The end does not justify the means.  An alleged population problem does not justify any particular means offered as a solution.
John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

One Response to “Humanae Vitae: The Argument from Sociology”

  1. In Europe the birth rate is seriously low – in the UK 1.9 children per woman or family, here in the Czech Republic 1.6, in Germany even less: 1.3. People pay into the state pension fund, possibly even into an additional private fund and imagine that they have secured for themselves an old age pension. They do not seem to realise that what they are paying now is paid out to today’s pensioners. When they are old themselves there will be less people paying into pension funds (assuming that the system continues more or less the same), so the pensions will be much lower. Only those with enough children will realistically hope to have some security in old age. Our 16 NFP teachers have about 66 children (and counting), so we are at least doing our little bit. David Prentis