Biblical Principles for Environmental Stewardship: Multiplying and Filling the Earth
Last week we examined the third principle in biblical environmental stewardship: that God commands that humanity both exercise dominion and care over all of creation. Today we look at the fourth principle.
Principle 4: God commands humanity to multiply and fill the earth.
In the cultural mandate, God also commands humanity to multiply and to fill the earth, exercising stewardship – fruitfulness, dominion, and care – as they go.[i] Indeed, He scattered humanity when they failed to spread out around the world.[ii] Humanity’s capacity for multiplying and filling the earth expanded markedly with the Industrial Revolution and modern medicine, prior to which the world population grew much more slowly and numbered only in the hundreds of millions. Earth’s population has multiplied many times over in the past two centuries, reaching approximately 7.8 billion people in 2020. The UN projects that the human population will peak at around 11 billion by the end of the century.[iii]
Although this rapid population growth allows humanity to fulfil God’s command to multiply and fill the earth at a whole new level, this significant growth has come with growing pains. This growth has led to problems such as the overexploitation of natural resources and excessive pollution. However, these problems are the result of specific human choices and habits, such as rampant materialism and consumerism,[iv] not simply the overall number of people. Although a large and growing population may exacerbate existing problems and even create new challenges, a growing population should be considered inherently good. Indeed, “inquisitive, creative, and resourceful human beings” are “the ultimate resource” in this world.[v]
Many secular environmentalists fail to recognize this. In their zeal to care for the environment, they oppose both population growth and particular human habits. Some go so far as to claim that humanity is a parasite destroying the environment, worthy of eradication.[vi] But such a perspective ignores the fact that God has placed humanity as active stewards over His creation. Human multiplication must be considered “a blessing, not a curse.”[vii]
[i] Genesis 1:28
[ii] Genesis 11:1-9
[iii] United Nations, “Population,” 2020, https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/population/index.html.
[iv] Steven Bouma-Prediger, “From Stewardship to Earthkeeping: Why We Should Move Beyond Stewardship,” 71.
[v] David VanDrunen, Politics after Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), 243; Robert A. Sirico, “The Ultimate Economic Resource,” Acton Institute, 2010, https://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-8-number-3/ultimate-economic-resource; Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource (United States: Princeton University Press, 1996).
[vi] J. Michael Beers et al., “The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation,” 51; Timothy Bloedow, Environmentalism and the Death of Science, 31; Cornelis Van Dam, God and Government, 182; Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible.
[vii] Calvin Beisner et al., “A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Stewardship,” 86.