“Be fruitful and multiply” has multiple implications. The scripture mandate of Genesis 1:28 does not list detailed concomitants of healthy population multiplication. Our knowledge of the intellectual abilities gifted to the human population by our Creator, however, implies that healthy population multiplication accompanies wise human stewardship of human lives and our environment. The Genesis 2:16 passage instructs Adam to “work” his environment and “take care of it.”
We marvel that the world’s population explosion occurred so late in human history. In tens of thousands of years since the creation of humanity the population multiplied significantly, but not explosively. Human population remained well below a billion souls for many thousands of years. Now, in the recent moments of human history, in just over 200 years the population has multiplied over sevenfold. One may wonder why certain revolutions did not occur earlier on the timeline of human history. First, we define revolution as a term of interest to scientists. The term signifies a sudden, marked change in thinking and practice. In the world of science, we often revise or change our thinking. For instance, with respect to the welfare of humanity, knowledge of how to acquire adequate water, food, and shelter is crucial. Of course, human health is a vital overlay of our quest for these physical necessities.
The human population throughout history has been limited by concerns about water, food, shelter, health, and the resources needed to acquire them. Sometimes famine and disease plagued human existence. At other times war was waged to help nations acquire what they desired. War, famine, and disease still afflict planetary residents, in spite of the population explosion of the last two centuries. The physical condition of the human population, however, has substantially improved. We credit the improvement, at least in part, to four revolutions: the Scientific Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Sanitary Revolution.
The Scientific Revolution of the last four or five centuries was an epistemological revolution. Mankind revised the way he acquired knowledge. The philosophy of Aristotle ruled prior to the Scientific Revolution. Modern residents would not recognize the “natural philosophy” of that age as “science.” It was based on the doctrines of the ancient philosopher Aristotle and followed rationalist procedures: man’s reason was the chief source of knowledge. Modern science, with its emphasis on empiricism, observation, experiment, hypothesis formation, prediction, and testing, did not exist. William Whewell (1794-1866), a scientist of many interests, defined the Scientific Revolution as, “a transition from an implicit trust in the internal powers of men’s mind to a professed dependence on external observation” and was the first to coin the term “scientist.” This advance from the philosophy of Aristotle to the methods of modern science laid the groundwork for other revolutions to follow.
The Agricultural Revolution from 1750 to the 19th century, especially in Britain, resulted in increased land productivity. Crop rotation, equipment innovation, land ownership, marketing, and transportation reforms, land reclamation, and selective livestock breeding increased yields and allowed for more labor to be diverted to an urban workforce. This, in turn, helped drive the benefits of the looming Industrial Revolution.
What schoolchild has not become aware of the Industrial Revolution from 1760 to the early 19th century? In this revolution, manufacturing and materials innovations became dominant. Machine production replaced production by hand. New power sources were developed to drive the more advanced machines. Living standards increased and life improved in many ways as industrialization spread worldwide. Many authors have written about this famous revolution, followed by the Second Industrial Revolution beginning later in the 19th century.
The last revolution we speak of is less publicized as a well-known revolution. It is the Urban Sanitary Revolution. Its primary author was Edwin Chadwick (1800-1890) who campaigned for clean water and sewage disposal in Britain in the early 19th century. Chadwick strove to reform the British “Poor Laws” which dealt with problems of ever-present indigent people of Britain in that day. Indigent people have historically been present in every political jurisdiction in every age, even today. They may be most impacted by poor water and deficient sanitation. Edwin Chadwick championed sanitary reform, to his honor.
Reforms in science, agriculture, industry, and sanitation have contributed mightily to the human population explosion our planet has experienced. We view the human population explosion as a topic of interest and concern for every Christian in our day. We repeat the instruction of scripture from Genesis 1:28: And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (ESV)
The population explosion of the past two centuries describes not only how our human population has multiplied, but also how the expanded human population interacts with our environment and every living creature. We are stewards of the blessings and challenges presented by the multiplication of our population.