Friday, November 6, 2009

Secularism is the best birth control - and apparently dooming Europe

Hey, do you love it when people mistake correlation for causation? How about when people imply atheists aren't good people? Or when they think their silly religious beliefs are more important than massive problems in society? Well, then you'll love what Lord Sacks said:

Lord Sacks blamed Europe's falling birth rate on a culture of "consumerism and instant gratification".

He said the continent was "dying" and accused its citizens of not being prepared for parenthood's "sacrifices"...

The 61-year-old, who took his seat in the Lords last week, said: "Wherever you turn today - Jewish, Christian or Muslim - the more religious the community, the larger on average are their families.

"The major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians." ...

Lord Sacks said Europe was the most secular region in the world and the only continent seeing populations fall.

He said parenthood involved "massive sacrifices" of money, attention, time and emotional energy.

Linden over at Folklore of Pitong already did a good job exposing the bad science of this idea. In short, birth rates could be down since infant mortality has severely decreased with modern medicine. No need to replace your babies.

It pains the scientist in me when people confuse correlation with causation. Yes, secularism has risen and birth rates have dropped. Frozen food consumption has also risen, but I'm not going to jump to the conclusion that they cause infertility (maybe with the exception of Hot Pockets, I don't trust those). However, things that contribute to secularism (rational thinking, scientific knowledge, improved education, better living conditions, etc) may all lead to someone deciding to have less kids.

But so what?

Why is having less kids a horrible thing? Because we're not giving birth to all "generations not born" as Lord Sacks says? [cue musical overlay of Every Sperm is Sacred] That's a pretty ridiculous way of thinking, if you ask me. Should we be churning out every baby possible like the Quiverfull movement? I kind of prefer being more than a walking baby making machine, than you very much. What about all those precious egg cells wasted before a woman gets married (which I'm sure is the only appropriate time to reproduce in Lord Sacks's mind)? Might as well start marrying off girls after their first period - can't go wasting all of those potential children.

Does Lord Sacks even care that the world is horrendously overpopulated? If anything, reduced birth rates are a wonderful thing. This may irk some people, but I personally feel it's somewhat socially irresponsible to purposefully have more than two children ("oops"s are understandable). To do more than replace yourself contributes to the problem of overpopulation and is a burden to not only society, but to your children who will have to live in said society. For Lord Sacks to be completely oblivious to this is unacceptable.

Of course, I'm an evil, birth-control-using atheist, so I guess I'm simply biased.

Oh, and atheists don't make sacrifices, don't want to invest emotional energy, yadda yadda. It's sad when hearing such ridiculous and slanderous things said about me doesn't even warrant a response anymore. I'm getting so used to it, that I don't even want to waste my time pointing out that it's utter bullshit. Secular people have children, and like all people, love them very much. Quantity isn't better than quality when it comes to raising kids, Lord Sacks.


  1. I think what he really means is that he finds it horrifying that the main people who are reproducing are the BROWN PEOPLE!!! He wants more pristine, white CHRISTIANS.

    If Europe really does need more children, and its possible it does, could not Europeans adopt millions of parentless children from Asia, Russia, Africa?

  2. That's my opinion, too. I really wish the NHS (or the Danish equivalent) would stop wasting money on IVF and the like.

  3. I'm of the very strong opinion that overpopulation is one of the most pressing issues the world needs to deal with, and so this post resonated with me. Think about it; what are the main problems facing the world right now? Hunger? Disease? Poor education? Pretty much every problem that's caused by a lack of (or poor distribution of) resources is eased or solved by cutting the birth rates. The world already has more people than it needs.

    So for this guy to come out and say, verbatim, that reducing the birth rate is a BAD thing? Fucking hell, man. That's unthinkable to me. I have no idea how you can look at the world and possibly draw the conclusion that we need more humans.

    If I could do one thing, and only one, to improve the human condition, it would be to propagate knowledge of birth control and make contraceptives available to all populations that desperately need them. Or possibly remove people like Lord Sacks from any kind of position of authority, you fucking bastard.

  4. Here's my only counterpoint. What about the Idiocracy concept. Those people who are less educated and more religuous are having more kids, that means in the next generation there will be more religious and less educated people having more kids. Meaning as time goes on the percentages of people who are skeptical and educated will go down. While I don't believe anyone should have kids that doesn't want to, in some ways it's important to transpose a healthy way of thinking to future generations, and what better way than raising a child. Agreed, their are other ways to influence youth, but even though I don't always agree with my parents, they are still some of the most influential people in my life.

  5. Okay - and I should add. Yes, adopting kids still counts when it comes to raising kids... so as to the main topic of discussion: No birth rate is not that important - especially in this era.

  6. God, Jen, you're so evil!!! =|

    I love it! =D *glomps*

  7. I think the European countries are worried about their falling birth rates purely for economic reasons within each country…they’re not thinking about global overpopulation and its consequences. For them, falling birth rates means that the proportion of elderly people grows in comparison to the number of young people who can be a part of the workforce and contribute to the country’s overall productivity. There’s also the consequence of not having enough people or money to care for the elderly, who cannot be a part of the workforce, but incur significant costs in terms of healthcare… I think they are looking into policies that favor immigration (of working-age people) and adoption- although those come with a lot of added social tension. Other much less developed countries are a different story, where reducing birth rates can only be a good thing.

  8. The reason why I stopped at one (she was not planned but I couldn't have planned for a better kid)... quality not quantity. I have friends with 3 or more children and I see them drowning and their children having issues.

    I find it completely irresponsible to keep having babies, especially if you are struggling with being good parents to the ones you already have. I have a friend who just had her 5th kid (her oldest is 13), she's my age (34), and she and her DH have only been using condoms for birth-control. WTF! Irresponsible!

    What's so wrong with having fewer kids? That's less people using up the world's resources. Less people poluting the planet. Less people not being raised right by these same irresponsible parents. If these people want more kids, there's plenty of children around the globe waiting for families who want them.

  9. Datapoint: Those European countries where maternity leave and day-care provision are good are actually reproducing pretty well. It's the ones that diss working mothers (Yes, Germany, I'm looking at you) who are facing the worst demographic crunch. The way to get the birth-rate back up (supposing that we wish to do such a thing) is not religious ranting, but evil commie-socialist-pinko-liberal socio-economic policies.

    Moi, I'm a member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement!

  10. An article (leader:, briefing: from a recent edition of the Economist argues that it's industrialization and improved economic circumstances that has led to a dramatic decline in the fertility rate of most countries.

    The article cites Iran (not exactly a secular nation!) as an example of astonishingly rapid change in fertility rates:

    "When the clerical regime took over in 1979, the mullahs, apparently believing their flock should go forth and multiply, abolished the country’s family-planning system. Fertility rose, reaching seven in 1984. Yet by the 2006 census the average fertility rate had fallen to a mere 1.9, and just 1.5 in Tehran. From fertility that is almost as high as one can get to below replacement level in 22 years: social change can hardly happen faster. No wonder the explosion on the streets of Iran this year seemed like a clash between two worlds: 15-29 year-olds, one-third of the population, better educated and with different expectations, against the established regime and the traditionalists."

    That said I'd be confident in predicting that the better education of the younger generation noted above has resulted in a higher level of secularism among that group. Still - I'd doubt that secularism or atheism is the sole driver of the lower birth rate...

    All of which just the furthers the case that Lord Sacks is making a prat of himself.

  11. The idea that this is an isolated European issue is quite simply wrong. The same phenomenon has been reported in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Israel. Moreover, among the European rates some of the largest declines have been seen in the continents most religious countries, for example in Poland and Portugal rates have effectively halved since 1975. One might be lead to the conclusion that it is a phenomenon solely linked to increased secularism. However, as noted, birth rates are falling significantly in a diverse selection of countries with places such as Tunisia (decline of 57%) and Mauritius (decline of 39%) seeing rapid falls in birth rates over the last 35 years.

    But I guess it should come as no surprise to us that a religious person would seek to take a complex picture and talk about it like a simpleton, trouble is that this kind of oratory is only effective from the pulpit

    Peace, you beautiful, hell bound, godless, lovlies :)

  12. I'm personally shit-scared of the religious/patriotic quiverfull mentality. Luckily, it generally seems that no amount of preaching can shame people into having huge families when there is contraception available. Our desire for enjoying life without too many children can probably save us from utter ecological catastrophe.

    Here in Finland birth rates fell down decades ago and are now slowly increasing. Just recently I read about some new studies ( sorry, can't cite) showing how birth rates start increasing in developed countries when the standard of living gets higher. Apparently, people still want to have plenty of children if raising them is easy enough. Meanwhile, there is the huge, historical dent in population growth caused by the low birth rates of our era. It may give us enough time to develop better technology and work out the ecological mess we're currently in.

    Thank you, this was great post.

  13. More on Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I noted this story at the time and my reaction was that it was a combination of:
    "ZOMG religious people are turning into atheists/heathens/heartless materialists!/P.S. won't anyone think of the foetuses?!"
    "ZOMG the Muslim immigrants are taking over!"
    and finally
    "ZOMG why aren't more Jews using my Beth Din court on which my whole status as Chief Rabbi depends. Is there no decent sense of morality anymore."

    In regards to the last interpretation, Jonathan Sacks' Beth Din focusses strongly on racial purity. Pharyngula has noticed this in the past:

    Basically the Beth Din doesn't consider people really Jewish if their mother converted to Judaism rather than being born a Jew herself. Jonathan Sacks has also been rather big on faith schools in the UK. (And this is a bit hypocritical: )

    Anyway the big and (relatively) new piece of news is that the Chief Rabbi's policy on racial purity has led to an accusation of racial discrimination. A Jewish school which runs on his definition of 'Jewish' wouldn't accept a child from a devout Jewish family because the mother was a convert. There's an awesome interview where Andrew Copson from the British Humanist Association kicks ass on this topic: