Disheartening to have the esteemed Pontifical Academy of Science (PAS) and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS) host these evil men.
By Michael Pakaluk, professor of ethics at the Catholic University of America, in CRUX:
Two pontifical academies have invited Paul Erhlich, author of “The Population Bomb,” and John Bongaarts, an executive of the Population Council, to speak at an upcoming conference, risking not only a PR nightmare but also undercutting the vision of Pope Francis in ‘Laudato Si’.’
The Pontifical Academy of Science (PAS) and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS) are doing something they often do, namely, hosting an international conference on a matter of great importance for “our common home,” in this case, the problem of the extinction of species.
However, this time there’s a key difference.
While the topic did not require presentations on human population growth per se, such sessions were nonetheless scheduled, and Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, and John Bongaarts, an executive of the Population Council, were invited to be the speakers.
Ehrlich is not simply an unbalanced alarmist, whom even the New York Times has dismissed as unworthy of credit. He has repeatedly and viciously attacked the Church and likened the pope to a terrorist. His published works suggest that his purpose in addressing the academies will be to subvert Church teaching.
Bongaarts is something like the arch-propagandist of the abortion and contraception movement, the living analogue of Margaret Sanger. As public tax records show, he’s compensated $500,000 per year (squarely in the top 1 percent) for directing his organization’s efforts to fill sub-Saharan Africa with contraceptives, making him the very poster boy for the “ideological colonialism” that Pope Francis has decried.
The academies cannot say in defense of these invitations that they are scientific bodies which have autonomy, and that these men are being invited for their scientific contributions. Such a defense has merit only for speculative science.
Back in the 1940s, when meetings of PAS were concerned with such things as differential equations and newly discovered celestial objects, a scientist’s ethical views would have had little relevance. But now the PAS holds meetings mainly on practical questions such as, recently, “Narcotics: Problems and Solutions of this Global Issue” and “Human Trafficking as Modern Slavery.”
In practical matters, science is not autonomous but must work within constraints of the right and the good.
In applied science, a person’s ethical commitments are displayed, not merely in the ends he adopts, but also in the means he is willing to contemplate. Presumably a scientist who believed that sex slavery was a good thing for society (a misguided view about the end), would never be invited to address the human trafficking conference.
But neither would a scientist be invited, who thought the sex slavery problem could be solved by euthanizing the sex slaves (a misguided view about the means).
But Ehrlich and Bongaarts do not simply contemplate abortion and contraception for population control: it is their main message. To invite them, therefore, to speak on the practical question of population is implicitly to embrace their ethical commitments.
“Women should have the choice of multiple contraceptive methods – including not only pills, injectables and barrier methods, but also long-acting methods such as intrauterine devices and systems (IUDs and IUSs), implants and sterilization,” Bongaarts wrote in an article in the scientific journal Nature last year.
“Where legal, safe abortion services should be made available. Other obstacles to contraceptive use, such as incorrect rumors about side effects and conservative social attitudes should be addressed by the education of women and men, media campaigns and collaboration with community leaders.”
These are ethical statements, not scientific.
Moral theologians would speak in this context of “formal cooperation with evil”: to share in the evil commitments of another, they say, is to share in that evil – and to share, too, in responsibility for whatever further abortions, and corruptions of the marital bond, that Ehrlich and Bongaarts succeed in bringing about.
The evil is compounded by the fact that an invitation to address any Pontifical Academy is a great honor. This honor can and will be used by these men in promoting their message. The U.S. bishops have correctly written, “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
Note that this principle is not binding because the bishops have articulated it; rather, the bishops have articulated it, because the principle is antecedently binding. It would seem to bind even a Pontifical Academy.
One may also speak of “scandal” in the strict sense, that is, encouraging grave sin by others. I do not mean, absurdly, that pro-life persons will be tempted by the academies’ misguided actions to abandon their commitments.
I mean, for instance, that Population Council workers in sub-Saharan Africa will henceforth be able to cite Bongaarts at the Pontifical Academies in defense of their efforts-in direct opposition to groups such as Culture of Life Africa.
The academies here give encouragement to the Goliaths against David.
Or that a grad student somewhere, who had nobly intended to serve the Church in the social sciences, willing to accept blackballing and other foreseeable forms of soft persecution, might now look to the platform accorded Ehrlich and Bongaarts and with discouragement wonder, “What’s the point?” Investment banking begins to look like a great choice in comparison.
Ehrlich, in particular, is a vicious attacker of the Church.
“When you ban abortion, you kill women … The immoral Catholic bishops ought to contemplate this, especially since their ‘flock’ has resoundingly rejected their medieval patriarchal and sexist ideas, and their ridiculous views on human sexuality,” Erhlich wrote only two years ago, in Hope on Earth.
“The pope and many of the bishops are one of the truly evil, regressive forces on the planet,” he added. Catholic opposition to contraception is in fact “the most unethical thing going on now.”
Ehrlich even likens the pope to a terrorist: “The main source of that is the Vatican and its bishops … I consider that their rigid opposition to something so basic, so critical to the future of life on Earth, as controlling reproduction, to be just as unethical as any major affront to the environment or terrorist act.”
It surprises me, to be frank, that someone today may write in such a way about a world leader and still be allowed through by security.
Imagine a tourist passing through the x-ray machines at St. Peter’s Square, who places his sports coat on the conveyor belt, and from a pocket there falls a page with jottings entitled, “My True Thoughts on the Pope”: “a woman killer … truly evil … the most regressive force on the planet … the worst of terrorists.”
If these jottings catch the attention of the security guards, do you suppose they let him through? I might doubt it, even if he says he was just joking.
Or consider simple familial affection. At a recent PAS meeting, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the U.S. welcomed the speakers by saying they were in the household of the pope, as if guests in his house: “We all sense that the Holy Father is present among us in a special way,” he said, “not simply as one of the Messieurs around the table.”
But what child invites into his home someone who has consistently slandered his father as an evil killer? Or how is it compatible with good manners for that unbalanced name-caller even to present himself as a guest?
One may wonder why Ehrlich would even agree to visit what he views as Command Central of the most regressive evil on the planet. What he wrote in a 1996 book, The Stork and the Plow, I believe gives the clue.
In 1994 the PAS issued a report which stated, “With the capacity of controlling sicknesses and death that man has achieved today, … it is unthinkable that we can sustain a growth that goes much beyond two children per couple,” and that “the need has emerged to contain the number of births so as to avoid … problems that would be unsolvable.”
The report was released just before the Cairo conference and was viewed as undermining John Paul II’s efforts there. It was a “public relations nightmare for the Vatican,” the Washington Post said.
Ehrlich comments favorably on the report in his book: “We suspect that the brightest possibility for changing the Vatican’s position and letting humanity get on with saving itself,” he wrote, “is the determination of many Catholics outside the Vatican to effectuate that change. In fact, the Vatican’s determined opposition to the Cairo conference was dealt a serious blow in June 1994 when a lay panel of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences urged limits on family size to avert ‘insoluble problems’ in runaway population growth. … Not surprisingly, Pope John Paul II was reported to be ‘infuriated by the report’.”
Ehrlich has not changed his views in 60 years. We can surmise that his intentions now are the same as they were twenty years ago, when he wrote that book. He is addressing PAS to contribute to the undermining of Catholic teaching.
One can see a perfect storm growing, and the academies are sailing right for it.
Even the work of PASS member Partha Dasgupta, with its focus on “externalities” of population growth, contributes to this perfect storm, as it is designed to justify government interventions to control population -Ehrlich himself favors a crushing tax on any children beyond two.
One sees another “public relations nightmare” now taking shape, which this time could put at risk the efforts of Pope Francis. The logic of Laudato Si is not compatible with the ethical views of these scientists.
But how should one expect good things to result from giving a platform to enemies of the Church?
FOLLOWING IS AN ARTICLE REGARDING THE WORK OF ELRCIH AND DASGUPTA:
In a recent article at Crux, I argued that invitations by the Pontifical Academies to Paul Erhlich and John Bongaarts amount to formal cooperation in serious evil and cause grave scandal. The Academies have asked Ehrlich and Bongaarts to speak on the topic of overpopulation at sessions of an upcoming international conference on the extinction of species. Both Ehrlich and Bongaarts advocate abortion and contraception as methods of population control—views that should disqualify them from any discussion of this topic conducted under the auspices of the Catholic Church.
After writing that article, since I am a philosopher interested in practical reason and, in any case, a student of human nature, I wondered what could have made these invitations seem like a good idea to someone. I thought I might find the answer in the collaboration of Erhlich with Partha Dasgupta, an emeritus economist at Cambridge University. Dasgupta is a member of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and has co-authored eight papers with Erhlich.
The most recent of these was published in the April 20, 2013 issue of Science, a research article titled “Pervasive Externalities at the Population, Consumption, and Environment Nexus.” Regarding its thesis: I simplify, but let’s say that an externality is when some of the costs of my behavior are underwritten by others, so that I end up doing more of that thing than I would if I bore all the costs. Dasgupta and Ehrlich tally up various externalities under the three categories in the article title. They claim that these externalities are all interacting with one another in a vicious cycle, approaching a tipping point that will lead to imminent global collapse.
I urge scientific-minded readers to look at the article themselves. But I studied the article carefully for evidence, rigor, and analysis, and found it to be laughably bad. Here is why.
First, the examples of externalities are problematic. Some are contrived. For example, Dasgupta and Ehrlich say that, in traditionalist societies, households perpetuate traditions out of an overriding desire to conform (“conformism”), including the desire to have just as many children as everyone else—which leads to the society as a whole having more children than anyone really wants.
Dasgupta and Ehrlich give no empirical evidence that such societies actually exist. To support their claim, they sketch a highly simplified model (“To illustrate the structure of household preferences that display conformism, let Ch denote the quantities of goods and services,” etc.). But a model is not an argument. Nor is this drawing, which complements the model:
“Fig. 1. Mutual influences amplified by externalities in the population-consumption-environment nexus.”
Other examples are worrying for what they imply. For example, Dasgupta and Ehrlich say that in places in Sub-Saharan Africa where entire communities take responsibility for raising children (think: “it takes a village”), parents have more children than they would if they bore all alone the full costs of raising the children.
Think of what Dasgupta and Ehrlich are implying with this “externality”: Population control efforts originating from wealthy Western countries, to be successful, must aim to break down these admirable African practices.
The examples are not merely problematic; they are also old. Dasgupta has been repeating a similar message about these externalities for twenty-five years. Five whole paragraphs of the article (almost 20 percent of the text) are lifted verbatim from his previously published papers. The paragraph dealing with communal child-raising has been used by him at least seven times before and was originally a description of anthropological work done in the mid-1980s.
Put aside issues of academic integrity in such extravagant text-recyling, and issues of copyright infringement. The Dasgupta and Ehrlich piece is published in the journal Science under the category “Research Article.” If you are familiar with that journal, you’ll know that it publishes thousands of papers each year, under different categories (“Letter,” “Report,” “Review”). Only a handful fall within the rare and distinguished category of “Research Article.” According to the Science website, Research Articles are expected to “present a major advance.” But are we to believe that evidence recycled verbatim going back to the 1980s represents “a major advance”?
Second, as mentioned, Dasgupta and Ehrlich conclude that excesses in reproduction, consumption, and production are now arriving at a tipping point. Here the text becomes agitated, unbalanced, and hand-wavy—perhaps reflecting now the hand of Ehrlich.
Your guess is as good as mine, but I take the crucial sentence to be this: “Taken together, these factors create the unsustainable stresses on nature that have been recorded in recent years. The harmful effects of those stresses are made urgent by the presence of nonlinearities in the coupled processes at work. As the nonlinearities involve positive feedback, the stresses are yet further amplified and act more quickly.” But astonishingly, in support of these claims the authors cite a 1971 paper by Ehrlich, which predicted a tipping point by 1991! Or perhaps the “major advance” is that Ehrlich will soon, finally, be right.
I like to look “under the hood” when I study an article, so I examined, too, all of the articles Dasgupta and Ehrlich refer to in footnotes. I was horrified to see one source approve of abortion, with this chilling language: “without the 42 million abortions worldwide each year, population growth would be much more rapid”—reminding me again of the grave moral evil in which Bongaarts, Ehrlich, and Dasgupta are implicated.
But—my third point—the article plays fast and loose with its sources. For example, the authors state without qualification that conspicuous consumption leads to excessive consumption, and they sketch a highly simplistic mathematical model of this idea. However, the source they cite in a footnote (Arrow and Dasgupta, 2009) asserts the contrary: “although seemingly plausible, the intuition that conspicuous consumption leads to excess is unreliable.”
Similarly, Dasgupta and Ehrlich claim: “In rich societies, competitive consumption has further adverse consequences. For instance, automobiles make transportation simple and easy, but choices of the make and vehicle use are driven in many ways by the competitive urge.” In support of this contention, they cite a study (Kuhn et al, 2011) that explicitly says that its results cannot be used in this way: “While it is tempting to interpret our estimates as reflective of a psychological need to ‘keep up with the van den Bergs,’ we note that they could also be driven by other factors.” Examples of such misleading sourcing could be multiplied.
I looked to the article of Dasgupta and Ehrlich in a Socratic spirit, to see whether I could prove myself wrong and find some valid grounds for the invitation of Ehrlich by the Pontifical Academies. I am a firm believer in the unity of practical and theoretical truth. Yes, in odd cases they incidentally diverge. But in general they go together.
Perhaps it was Jérôme LeJeune, late member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who taught this unity to the world most clearly. LeJeune would point out that science which remained within the constraints of the moral law proved, as a rule, to be more creative and more beneficial than science that did not. This principle is not proved false by the work of Dasgupta and Ehrlich.
Before I began my study of Dasgupta and Ehrlich’s 2013 article, I was tempted to describe the Pontifical Academies as “salt having lost its saltiness”—because there are dozens of conferences on the environment at places like Harvard and Stanford, featuring the Paul Ehrlichs of the world, which the Vatican need hardly replicate. But now having studied Ehrlich’s most relevant, putatively scientific work, I would describe the case, rather, as the Academies trading their birthright for a mess of pottage.
Michael Pakaluk is professor of ethics at the Catholic University of America.