fbpx Was Malthus Wrong? | Tomorrow's World

Was Malthus Wrong?

Comment on this article

Economist, demographer, and Cambridge scholar Thomas Malthus was born 250 years ago, in February 1766, near Dorking, England. His father is said to have been a friend of the philosophers David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the young man imbibed philosophy, Latin, Greek and mathematics as a student at Oxford.

While most people living today may have never heard of Malthus, who went on to become a professor of history and political economy at the East India Company's Haileybury College, his theories regarding pre-industrial world population had a profound effect on British social policies of his day. His writings even proved influential in the later research of English naturalist Charles Darwin, and on Darwin's theory of natural selection.

Malthus is perhaps best known for his theoretical work titled, An Essay on the Principle of Population. In it, he explored the notion that population would increase and overwhelm the availability of food, thus creating a global threat to human society and survival. This discrepancy between mouths to be fed and available food would, according to Malthus, bring about what is now known as a Malthusian crisis, or Malthusian catastrophe.

Predictions and "Positive Checks"

The Malthusian catastrophe is the prediction that population would overtake agricultural production, precipitating a return to subsistence-level conditions, which would result in a long-term, widespread and unhappy existence for most of humanity. Malthus felt that the human desire to propagate would inevitably lead to humanity's ruin, as population outpaced food production.

He also believed that the equilibrium between population and food availability would be brought back through what he saw as the positive checks of war, famine and disease—things that effectively raise the death rate. As you may surmise, Malthus was an economic pessimist! In later editions of his book, he also included preventative checks such as postponing marriage, birth control and celibacy.

Today, we see a global population of more than 7.2 billion human beings—roughly 6 billion more than in Malthus' day—and they are still being fed! This is evidence that, thus far, Malthus' theorem has fallen short.

Beijing TIME magazine correspondent Michael Schuman, in a July 15, 2011 article titled "Was Malthus Right?," points out that "Malthus misjudged man's ability to develop the necessary technologies to use the land, water and other limited resources of our planet more efficiently. Food production has more or less kept up with population growth."

So, Malthus failed to account for the advances—such as in human technology and agricultural methods—we now take for granted. But, does this mean that humanity has evaded the "positive checks" of the Malthusian catastrophe?

Still Prophesied…

While Malthus' predictions have not come to pass in the way he postulated, the "positive checks" of war, famine and disease that he described are still prophesied by the Bible to occur.

Referred to in Scripture as the "time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7), the Bible predicts a coming Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21)—a time of unprecedented trouble involving war, famine and widespread disease epidemics, which the modern-day descendants of ancient Israel will not escape (To understand the identity of these peoples, request our booklet, The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy).

Jesus Christ prophesied in Matthew 24:7–8, that at the time of the end, "...nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows."

In a related prophecy, the book of Revelation describes four horsemen who, symbolically, ride across the earth with ever-increasing intensity as the end times draw to a close. The first horse is symbolic of false prophets and deceivers (Revelation 6:2), but the second, third and fourth are symbolic of war, famine and pestilence, respectively (vv. 4-–8).

Additionally, in a prophecy directed at the end-time descendants of Israel, we read in Leviticus 26:16, "I also will do this to you: I will even appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it."

The "positive checks" which Malthus cited are clearly factors used by God to judge His people. However, the root cause of the coming catastrophe will not be overpopulation and food shortage, as Malthus envisioned and predicted, but rather the manifold, ever-mounting sins of modern-day Israel. 

God Offers Protection

As we near the coming catastrophe—not of the Malthusian kind, but the one that will be executed according to the righteous judgment of God in response to the growing sins of Great Britain, the United States, and the other Israelite-descended nations of the world, we can be grateful that God has promised protection for those who strive to live by His law (Revelation 3:10; Revelation 12:14).

Proverbs 10:3 instructs, "The Lord will not allow the righteous soul to famish...." And in Exodus 15:26, God told ancient Israel, "If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you."

We must completely put our trust in God as we see more and more signs of the coming Great Tribulation—the real catastrophe that humanity will soon face. Malthus predicted a time of coming catastrophe on the inhabitants of the earth, yet his predictions have so far not come to fruition. Nevertheless, that does not mean mankind is "out of the woods" yet. God, in His infinite knowledge and wisdom, foresaw that man would continue to violate His "perfect law of liberty," and in so doing, bring upon himself the plagues of sickness, famine, war and so much more.

You can, however, escape the coming catastrophe. God will provide protection from the Great Tribulation for those who are willing to believe and act on what they read in God's word, the Bible. To find out more, request our free booklet, The Ten Commandments, today!

OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE

View All