Population, religion and homo extinctus
The world is over-populated and over-heating. Sir Roy Calne offers a blunt appraisal of humanity’s long term prospects.
It has recently been suggested that humans have an inborn hardwired wish to believe in a supernatural being. Such belief would seem to offer a reasonable evolutionary advantage at an early stage in living together in communities, sharing duties, collaborating and beginning to specialise, and requiring an hierarchical disciplined dogma of rules.
I feel therefore that this part of human nature is important, historically and currently.
However, the crystallisation of major religions associated with increased world population, and consolidation of humans in geographical areas which until recently were relatively separate, has resulted in certain religions having great power associated with coercion, fear and persecution for those who do not comply. Not surprisingly fringe groups in each religion have developed. Fundamentalist extremists are often violent and even suicidal adopting philosophies which have resulted in great misery, wars, massacres and slavery.
Recently weapons have become so advanced as a result of scientific developments that the carefully planned suicidal thoughts of small groups could now result in huge destruction, out of proportion to previous historical events. What we have seen so far is probably the tip of the iceberg concerning the potential extreme scale of development of atomic, biological and chemical weapons.
There is a theme running through all major religions and specifically written in some texts where the deity instructs his followers to “go forth and multiply”. This is not a particularly difficult instruction to follow since it mirrors the evolutionary imperative to survive and reproduce. There is now an enormous inbalance between the numbers of humans conceived and surviving beyond reproductive age and the previous attrition that came from diseases that can now be controlled or cured, particularly infection. In other words, there is ever increasingly efficient death control, but birth control is limited mostly to the developed world, especially civilisations where women are educated and emancipated and have freedom of choice concerning the number of children they will bear.
I was amazed recently to watch an excellent programme chaired by David Attenborough on the danger to the world mainly of global warming, but also in the utilisation of resources and the elimination of wildlife species. He pointed out that the booming human population of the world fuelled man-made global warming, necessitating enormous efforts to reduce our harmful emissions. In developing countries, quite naturally, there is an aspiration to attain the creature comforts of the rich, developed nations. All this was handled in a masterly fashion by David Attenborough with his charming and persuasive personality. But in the whole programme the word “religion” was not mentioned. Nowhere did he point out that the powerful religions either proscribed birth control actively or tacitly in the wish for co-religionists to increase in numbers.
We are constantly being encouraged to eschew scepticism in the battle to negate overpopulation and climate change, but realistically there seems to be no way for any individual or small group to influence the progressive deterioration of the planet, a direct result of the inexorable increase in human population. Perhaps like many extinct species the direction in destination of homo sapiens is to become homo extinctus.
Sir Roy Calne is a pioneering transplant surgeon who performed several record first transplant operations in Europe and the world. A fellow of the Royal Society, a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association, and a member of artists’ group Group 90, Calne is currently the Yeah Ghim Professor of Surgery at the National University of Singapore.