by Maggie Gallagher
When I saw the stories the Paul Ehrlich had attended a recent Vatican science conference, I was astonished.
No, not because he has advocated for mandatory population control, including coercive contraception. But because of all the people in the world who predict Catholic values will result in the destruction of “The Earth” as we know it, Paul Ehrlich is the guy who has been proven wrong the most often and the most publicly. What a blast from the ’70s past!
By training, Ehrlich is a lepidopterist, and his work on butterflies may be of enduring scientific value. But his claims about the coming extinction of humanity have been way off base.
There is a long list of religious Prophets of Doom being proven wrong. But the apocalyptic impulse is not confined to the religious. Modern times has birthed a cornucopia of secularists and scientists succumbing to the impulse to predict deadly disaster is at hand.
You could take it back to the Assyrian Clay tablet circa 2800 BC which bemoaned: “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”
In 1499, Johannes Stöffler, a German astronomer, predicted that a great flood would drown the whole world on February 20, 1524. The Count von Iggleheim constructed an ark on the Rhine. As a light rain fell on February 20, riots broke out among the crowds of people hoping to ride the ark. Hundreds died and the count was stoned to death. Meanwhile, 1524 remained a drought year in Europe.
The truly distinguished mathematician Jakob Bernoulli calculated a comet would destroy the world in 1719.
In 1910, The New York Times reported that the noted French astronomer Camille Flammarion predicted the gas from the tail of the approaching Halley’s Comet “would impregnate that atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”
In 1974, two Cambridge-educated astrophysicists John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann wrote in their best-selling book, The Jupiter Effect, warning that in March 1982, an alignment of the major planets on the same side of the Sun would trigger the San Andreas fault, and an earthquake would doom Los Angeles. Gribbin was the editor of the science magazine Nature.
But, as Clyde Haberman reported in 2015 in The New York Times, of all the secular doomsayers, “No one was more influential—or more terrifying, some would say—than Paul R. Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist.” Ehrlich’s bestselling 1968 book The Population Bomb warned in its first sentence “the battle to feed all of humanity is over.” Sixty-five million Americans would starve to death in the 1970s, India was doomed, and “England will not exist in the year 2000.”
With obesity being declared our current public health crisis, and India and England still around, you would think Dr. Ehrlich might have become a little more circumspect. Instead, after 47 years of failure to predict reality, “Dr. Ehrlich offers little in the way of the mea culpa. … Allowing women to have as many babies as they wanted, he said, is akin to letting everyone, ‘throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.’”
Still, Ehrlich has cause for hope. Pope Francis is moving the Church “more towards concern for environmental issues like climate disruption and the Sixth Great Extinction that threaten the lives of future generations,” Ehrlich told LifeSiteNews via email. He is referring to a 2015 study he co-authored which offers another doomsday scenario. “If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos, of the Universidad Autónoma de México.
The world is complex. We depend on a web of productivity we cannot see, much less personally sustain. For centuries humankind coped with uncertainty through religion.
On occasion, that has led to rash religious predictions of doom, including by Catholic cardinals. But this Vatican conference marks the first time scientific and religious apocalyptic impulses have apparently merged forces.
Unfaith and unreason, together. How unattractive can you get?