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John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

Noted Darwinist Sir David Attenborough Calls Humans “a Plague”

Published at Evolution News

Just in time for today’s 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, British Darwinist Sir David Attenborough is in the news for denouncing human beings as “a plague on the Earth.” Best known for his televised wildlife documentaries, Attenborough is affiliated with a group of population control zealots called the Optimum Population Trust.

Attenborough complains that humans constitute an “enormous horde” that is fast outgrowing the planet’s space for them. His bottom line? “Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.” Attenborough comes perilously close to suggesting that starvation in Africa is what we should naturally expect in the current situation, or at the very least, such suffering is unavoidable until we reduce the number of Africans:

We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves — and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a coordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.

In reality, the Earth is capable of producing plenty of food for those currently living in Ethiopia and other parts of the world, and starvation in Africa (and elsewhere) during the past century has had little to do with overpopulation and a lot to do with government corruption, incompetence, and the misuse of food as a weapon by tyrannical regimes (e.g., Stalin’s “harvest of sorrow” in Ukraine during the 1930s).

But why bother with facts when you are trying to frighten the public with predictions of a population Armageddon?

Attenborough’s Population Trust claims to favor only “non-coercive” measures to reduce the human population, but it has a curious way of demonstrating its approach. Besides Attenborough, its patrons include scientist James Lovelock, known for arguing that “[i]t may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while” in order to deal with climate change. The Trust’s official magazine, meanwhile, runs articles extolling the virtues of China’s draconian and certainly-not-voluntary “one child” policy. The author of one of those articles filed a glowing report about how it was “a joy and a privilege” to live in China and observe the one-child policy first-hand. Pooh-poohing the notion that China’s policy is actually coercive (perish the thought!), he insisted that those he met in China

would be baffled by all our talk of “coercion.” They tend to have attitudes which we regard as old fashioned, including a belief that people who behave in an anti-social manner, whether by stealing, embezzling or having too many children, should expect to suffer severe penalties. [Simon Mollison, “A Different View of China,” Jackdaw Commemorative Edition 2011, p. 18]

Yes, the author really did compare having more than one child with crimes such as theft and embezzlement; and, yes, he really did try to argue that a policy backed up by the fear of suffering “severe penalties” is not coercive.

Other articles published by Attenborough’s group wax enthusiastic about late eugenist and coercive population control champion Garrett Hardin. In his famous essay “The Tragedy of the Commons” in the journal Science in the 1960s, Hardin attacked what he called “the freedom to breed” and advocated coercion as the solution to the problem of people having so many babies: “Coercion is a dirty word to most liberals now, but it need not forever be so. As with the four-letter words, its dirtiness can be cleansed away by exposure to the light, by saying it over and over without apology or embarrassment.” Hardin and his wife eventually committed suicide after their health declined in their senior years. Rather than view their deaths as a tragedy to mourn, Population Trust author Val Stevens saw their suicide as a gift to celebrate: “I presume that they felt this was an act of generosity to the overburdened earth, when they had reached an age when they could not contribute as much as they desired to humanity’s future. What a supreme act of integrity and courage!” [Val Stevens, “The Tragedy of the Commons and other matters: A Tribute to Garrett Hardin,” Jackdaw Commemorative Edition 2011, p. 10]

This promotion of population elimination as the highest human good undoubtedly has many roots, but Charles Darwin certainly played a formative role. After all, it was Darwin, inspired by the Rev. Thomas Malthus, who enshrined death and the struggle for existence as the great engines of progress in nature.

As he wrote in his book On the Origin of Species: “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” [Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (1859 edition, J. Murray, London), p. 490.] Ever since Darwin, thinkers influenced by him have been preoccupied with death and population elimination as ways to usher in their utopias. Children, who used to be cherished as gifts from a loving God, became increasingly viewed by intellectual elites as deadweights, either because they were produced by races supposedly lower on the evolutionary scale, or because of an effort to apply the Darwinian-Malthusian understanding of nature to human society.

As I documented in Darwin Day in America, it was this mindset of Social Darwinism that nourished the virulent eugenics movement in the early 1900s, and post-World War II, it helped inspire both the population control movement and the abortion crusade that ultimately brought us Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, as Sir David Attenborough’s comments attest, the ideology of Social Darwinism is still alive and active, and, if anything, its influence may be spreading.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
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