As I am a professional economist, many Christians have asked me whether there is a limit to economic growth in planet earth. The answer is yes, but not if we think of everybody becoming middle class or rich. Our planet is a gift from God and it had 100 million in it when Jesus was on earth. There was just two at the beginning, Adam and Eve, and it took thousands of years before it reached 100 million. However, it took only 800 years for the world population to reach 300 million in 1800. It then took only 300 years for it to reach the present size of 7,000 million. Population growth became extremely rapid in the last three hundred years because of three factors: (1) technology (2) transportation and (3) transmission of medical advances. Technology was God’s gift of objective knowledge to man from about the 16th century: the Christian church underwent a reformation but just as important there was a cultural renaissance of ideas and experiments. Previously, man had integrated subjective and objective knowledge when viewing the earth. The church for example taught that the earth was flat because the eye sees the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. However, God gave the insight of objective knowledge in the invention of the telescope which can see the horizon as being slightly round, meaning that the earth is a ball which rotates, so that it moves around the sun, and not the sun around the earth.
Sailors therefore dared to travel west in order to arrive at the east, rather than falling off! Many other inventions followed which enabled man to tap what the earth has, so that it can produce much more than originally thought. Food production multiplied, and man had enough to live long and support many people: population could therefore multiply. Transportation also changed, allowing food to be brought from places which had a surplus to those which had a shortage: famines were averted. The human body was viewed objectively so it could be dissected and diseases treated through surgery and medicine. However, this growth in objective knowledge led to subjective knowledge being left to shrink: universities brought into being to teach objective and subjective knowledge found their teachings of subjective knowledge being marginalized as compared to the teaching of objective knowledge. Theology in the university became a minor subject compared to physics, chemistry, etc. which are all almost fully objective in approach. No longer was the pastor also the doctor or the inventor.
Today the world stands ready to further multiply the production of goods and services through the continued expansion of objective knowledge embodied in technology which has also invaded the management of people. The company is an invention applied to the raising of man-made assets and the organization of people needed to mobilise the land and durable goods needed in production. However, continued economic growth loses its moral compass through the lack of subjective knowledge of people and of God. People are treated as objects, not subjects. The earth is treated as man’s possession, not of God. God Himself is objectified into the idols of money, fame and power rather than as a person to be worshipped. It is in this context that it is dangerous to aim for a further growth in the production of goods and services. Many things are being made which are useless as we strive to obtain goods and services which we do not need, to impress people whom we do not know. We need to produce more goods and services to feed the poor and renew the earth, not destroy it through pollution. We need to produce things that are needed, not things that we want. All this calls for a return to the balance between objective and subjective knowledge.
We need to know more about God and about people as persons, not more about technology, transportation or the transmission of medical advances. We need more places to worship God truly and fully, not more buildings to shop. If the middle class grows, as it seems to be doing in China and India, it should be a middle class directed to help the poor. The church ought to grow, but not a middle class church: it is the church of the poor which should grow. That is my answer as an economist to the exploding population which may implode the earth.
Eld Dr Lee Soo Ann