Fair means or foul

Houston, we have a problem. In my column of October 5, in the context of ethical problems for the future, I wrote: “Our long-established habit of deducing moral imperatives from structure will have to survive our acceptance that God created our structures indirectly and dynamically through evolution. Thus, for example, the human fertility rate, developed during quite different conditions, is about four times as high as is required for population replacement in developed countries. How would we lawfully correct this accidental maladaptation?”

In the light of some queries put to me, I will take the opportunity to flesh out the bones. In fact, I set out the whole problem in my Autonomy and Obedience in the Catholic Church (T & T Clark, 2002). So here I just clarify the main issues.

In discovering the imperatives of the natural law our primary instrument is reason. Thus, for example, the observation that man’s nature is social implies that we must keep promises for, without that, social life could not flourish. But we have another way of detecting God’s will. We can analyse human, biological structures, and from our rational analysis discover how God intended them to be used. This is paralleled by the archaeologist working out from the structure of a recovered artefact how its maker intended it to be used. The difference is that the archaeologist owes no duty to the maker of the artefact, whereas we owe obedience to the maker of biological structures.

The principle dates back to Aristotle’s teaching that we flourish only by acting through our nature and it was influenced by the Stoics’ confidence in the rationality of the universe. Aquinas was ready to declare that interference with the “right” sexual structure was more wicked than incest or adultery, since “the injury is done to God, the author of nature”.

But this absolute imperative does depend on the concept that God’s creation of structure is immediate and direct. And this is challenged by evolution – the method many would claim God used for biological creation. The mode of such creation is essentially dynamic. In humans it operates as an interplay between the inherited survival of the fittest and the ingenuity of the human brain. Thus the Inuit developed into the stocky form required to conserve heat (evolved inheritance) but did not forget to design a fur coat (human ingenuity). This thinking suggests that it is not enough to draw moral judgments from how structures are; they must also respect the way that structures, under God’s will, came to be.

There are precedents for new knowledge leading to a modification of long-term moral positions. Kidney donations inter vivos are no longer regarded as intrinsically evil; they even have papal approval. And the long tradition, held at least since St Augustine, which taught that sexual intercourse was only justified for the sake of conception or for rendering the debt was abandoned in 1930. Whether such precedents are sufficient to suggest that a revision to a major way in which we identify the intrinsic evil of an act is another question. But they remind us that all bets based on mistaken concepts are off.

The problem issue lies in the fact that human fertility evolved at a time when seven to eight births were required to ensure that about two survivors lived to produce children in their turn. This is the number needed to replace population. Given the harsh conditions and low life expectancy of the hunter gatherer, the female was required to have a succession of pregnancies, punctuated by lactation, throughout her reproductive life. We see the evidence for this fertility in the frequency of ovulation, the abiding interest of the male and the potential concealment of ovulation through which a mate may be tempted into unwanted fatherhood. The chimpanzee and the gorilla have developed similar biological characteristics in sexual structure, modified to meet the reproductive needs of their own species.

If we go back no further than reliable records we find that the number of births per woman of childbearing age in America was between seven and eight in the 1820s. The number then began to decrease as artificial methods of preventing live births began to spread. Today, their fertility rate is around 2.1 births per woman: the rate needed for population replacement.

So we have a dilemma. We have evolved a level of fertility which provides around four times the number of children than is required to reproduce the population. Were this to be fully exercised we would quadruple the population, and then continue to quadruple it, generation by generation, into the future. I am aware of how many pessimistic Malthusian scenarios have been flouted by human ingenuity, but this is of an altogether different scale.

But it won’t happen. As we have seen, human ingenuity ensures that every society which raises its standard of living also learns eventually how to reduce its birth rate by fair means or foul. But what will be the Catholic contribution? Our discernment of God’s will through “directly” created structures prevents us from exhorting worldwide control of fertility through any means other than abstinence, long-term or periodic.

Perhaps a cynical world will see this as an irrelevant solution. And, sadly, it may write off all that we have to offer in our understanding of the gift of faithful married love and the gift of children. So how else might we lawfully correct this accidental maladaptation? Or must we just walk by on the other side?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment, Quentin queries and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

87 Responses to Fair means or foul

  1. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    Well done! Quentin. You seem to have stopped your merry band in their tracks. Shall we guess: they don’t agree with you, and don’t know why; they agree with you and aren’t sure why, they’re hoping someone else will make a fool of themselves first. Watch this space!

  2. Brendan O' Leary says:

    Devils Advocate – Don’t you beleive it ! I can’t resist this one……. ‘ Fools rush in where angels ……. etc. ‘ Watch this blog !

  3. Brendan O' Leary says:

    Many of us today I’m sure have renewed our links with the Church Suffering. we are not called the Church Militant for nothing !

  4. Brendan O' Leary says:

    Everyone…….. I’ve just tried twice unsuccessfully to reply to Quentins’ piece …. my computer must be playing up. Honestly, Advocatus Diaboli! i’ll try once more.

  5. Brendan O' Leary says:

    I am still convinced that the only way out of the predicament layed out before us by Quentin is to follow the NFP route by providing the rationale for its success vis a vis the evolutionary/natural law processes as is currently accepted by the Catholic Church. Yes, NPF – Billings, sympto( muco-) – thermal, Creighton, etc. – according to statistics from the NHS accepts that the ‘ actual ‘ effectiveness of it is around 75%, while corresponding figures for condoms is 85%.. So what, it is not 100 %. – sometimes we have to accept shortfalls in an imperfect world we are largely messing up on our own ! We can get better success rates – science will help. More chastity and discipline would not go amiss to effect this improvements.
    Here, to follow Quentins logic we are keeping ” promises ” in line with our beliefs from God, while at the same time by reasoning ,keeping true to what He gave us biologically ( through evolution ) whereby we can limit population by practical application. This of course relies on us all believing in evolutionary theory and NFP, which is gaining respectibility as even some ‘ cynical ‘ politicians and governments, I believe are now prepared to accept and even endorse. To me, desirability and want are not in opposition here, and thus I believe that the secular world ( of which we are apart of, but not in ) – reacting as in times past as if by some group primeval Law of preservation – with it’s back against the wall will come to see if only in desparation that those ‘ left- footers ‘ might just be right !
    P.S.Quentin, as a seller of womens fashion accesories – with my wife, I could not countenance a draconian law compelling the worlds fairer sex to go round looking like ‘ death warmed -up ‘ in the hope of lowering the worlds population . Gorillas and the like are welcome to their evolutionary attachments, the world of the male in our species is made all the more pleasant for having the status quo .

    • St.Joseph says:

      Brendan-good comment.
      Just one point-the Sympton Thermal Method of NFP is 99% effective-we could say 100% but probably if failed by user use,teachers could be accused of untruths.
      The mucus method alone I believe is 75%
      When we think about how a females fertility works- we do have breast-feeding to cope with another pregnancy so soon after a birth.But then it is no problem with all the indices for the knowledge of spacing children.
      Gods works ‘wonders’ doesn’t He by giving us our freedom to understand the way women’s fertility works, and to space our family.
      We know how fertility works in horse’s- it is used to have their young.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Myxomatosis an infectious fatal viral disease in rabbits, I think it was to control them from breeding, I am not sure although,I remember it when young.
        I hope to God that science won’t discover something that will destroy human life permanently-for the help of mankind in ignorance.The contraceptive pill has done that already.,also with disease, also from promiscuity and hormones in our drinking water-which is scientifically proven.But never the soul.only God retains that.
        Welcome to the brave new world.

  6. Vincent says:

    Dammit! A chap’s got to take the odd morning off from blogging. I have read Brendan and st.joseph’s comments, And I wonder if they really answer the problem.

    Generally speaking, women seem to use a wide range of contraceptive methods. NFP is amongst them. I have some experience of using it, and found it to be excellent at certain times in my marriage, but not all. We have to accept that, however effectively we proclaim the method, it will never deal with the whole issue. There is a big difference between championing NFP because of its advantages, and saying that every other method is verboten. We could find ourselves merely hoping that the need for fertility will be properly controlled through the sins of others. Mrs Gates, perhaps?

    Now here’s a question. You know a married couple with whom the pill does not agree. They have tried NFP but, for whatever reason, they do not trust the method. They are looking at a choice between the coil and a condom. How will you advise them?

    That advice will be all the easier if you have inferred from Quentin’s post that the basis for condemning contraception has to be re-thought in terms of evolution. Or, to put it more directly, the traditional approach was based on a misunderstanding of God’s creation, and therefore doesn’t apply.

    I put that last question baldly because if Quentin’s analysis stands up to examination, it could be significant. We may not have read it here first, but we can be the first in discussing it.

    • Brendan O' Leary says:

      O.k. Vincent, I can’t stay on forever. I must make the tea for my wife and I! I’ll try and resume later.

  7. Brendan O' Leary says:

    St. Joseph I’ve just tried to ‘ gen-up ‘ a bit just now to try and put together some argument for a way out of this seeming impasse. Current NHS figures seem to imply that ALL methods of NFP are in actuality only 75% succcessful. They also say that the ‘lactation period ‘ ( when the woman does not ovulate ) when feeding neonates lasting about 6 months – is a useful contraceptive period with about estimates of 1 in 200 women falling pregnant during that period. These are just the statistics and am not commenting on the the desirability or otherwise of a couple ‘ making love ‘ at this time. Regarding your final comment I’ve always belived the same as you from day one. However , have we the time left in the hope that the Holy Spirit will somehow induce a ‘ cynical’ world, as Quentin reminds us, somehow to see the ‘ Light ‘on this matter ? I have read the UN’s projected figures for world popoulation growth even with an expected DECREASE rates in fertility rates, and they should grab everyones atttention, to say the least.
    As I inderstand it, population is decreasing in the developing and future trends will remain the same or flatten – out. So it would seem that we in the advanced nations are the cause of this increasing problem. This is the area in which the title of our proposition ‘ Fair means or fool ‘ is operating. We are just not facing up to our resposibilities in the West to give sound political ‘structure ‘ to Third World countries along with the advantages of joining the Wests’ ” club “.
    Only the Church in this area, has the moral authority and the concrete argument to turn around this depressing scenario. The worlds’ Institutions by and large , are too tainted, that is the irony! It can do so ,I believe by standing firmly on what you and I are discussing right here. But is the Church and sympathetic parties prepared to take on Corporate Business ? Has it got the will – power? To me the sociological, spiritual benefits etc.for us all in the future I believe to be incalculable – the Holy Spirit will see to that !

    • St.Joseph says:

      Vincent.
      Will the problem be answered?-it is hypothetilal- can ‘anyone’ answer’ that. I will wait and .see.
      When you say NFP was not always successful, do you mean user ‘problems’ from improper instruction- from books? I does depend on an experienced instructor.
      The NHS- they don’t have the proper teaching method or they didn’t at one time.Not that they would keep statistics..I would not teach something I had no trust in-or something I did not know.If I needed a plug changed I would ask someone who knew how!!
      My daughter breast fed for 15 months and she did have a very important job in a school, took the time to do that.It does depend on only breast feeding-nothing else to be 100%.
      I don’t believe that your failure ‘use’ would be disappointing- a child ought to be always welcome as a gift from God-blessing
      I would never advise anyone to use an abortifacant!! It is always left to a person own conscience what they do or choose to do!
      I did not give my time up to teach NFP for any personal gain-I did it for the Lord.
      If a couple have no trust in NFP- I can not see how they will trust abortifaciants.to be Gods Will- of course I appreciate the fact that not all will be that concerned .
      We have discussed Fertility awareness in the past.One either accepts it or not, but one ought not to disapprove of it because of ones own inability to use it.
      Brendan. I will look at your comment-if it needs a reply-I need to have my evening meal and insulin-I am not opting out.

    • Quentin says:

      Brendan, can you check http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/825.aspx?CategoryID=117&SubCategoryID=114 This suggests that NFP is potentially up to 99% reliable, but proper teaching required. I understand that st.j has practical experience here.

      • Brendan O' Leary says:

        Looking through ‘ NHS CHOICES … ‘ which we all seem to be taking a refresher course in – I have always believed that the potential for NFP ( sympto-thermal method ) reliability was around 99% , slightly higher than Condom use – so long as it is taught properly and is adhered to, religiously. I can only think that the failiure rate that our NHS provides of around a quarter is due to inattention to the method at various times. Saint Joseph, being a member of Life would probably know more about failiure rates than myself. As well as NFP I am surprised to hear there are 15 different methods of contraception. I can only refer back to that pilot plan in the 1980’s that I referred to in your last blog. Overseen by Saint Teresa of Calcutta over a 12 month period, participated in by 5,000 couples. The ‘ Billings Method ‘ as it was called then provided a success rate of 100% ! Not having used any kind of contraception myself , I await – apart from indiscipline – an understanding of what other factors account for such failiures.

      • twr57 says:

        I intended, Bravo, Brendan!

        I accept that it may be difficult (or impossible) technically, but it’s a pity there’s no way of amending messages once posted. “The moving cursor writes, and having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety and Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a line…”.
        I suppose the only remedy is to think more carefully before posting – a rule of action that may have more general applications.

    • Rahner says:

      “Only the Church in this area, has the moral authority…”
      Really, and who is it that currently accepts this authority? You seem to be living in a Catholic ghetto.

  8. tim says:

    I don’t think I’ve understood Quentin’s argument (this seems to be happening to me increasingly with arguments generally, not just this one). Is he saying that God didn’t foresee how His use of the evolutionary mechanism would cause difficulties at the current stage of civilisation? – presumably not. Or is it that church teachers until quite recently assumed that they understood what God intended and got it wrong, because they didn’t understand the inherent drawbacks of an evolutionary process? It is, I think, the Dawkins position that evolution is inherently random, so God couldn’t control it, even if He existed. I say that is wrong – I see no reason to suppose that God – being omnipotent and infinite – can’t completely determine the outcome of a process that appears to human beings completely random. But perhaps the suggestion is that the Church up till now has been basing its reasoning on false premises, which accordingly must be reconsidered. Maybe – but false reasoning only invalidates a conclusion if the reasoning is the sole basis on which the conclusion rests. Is that the case here?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Quentin thank you for the info for Brendan
      I believe that the Resurrection of the body will come before anything disastrous happens on earth. As Christians we believe that this will happen sometime in the future-maybe not too long in the distant future either.
      I can not see God putting up with all this nonsense much longer!!
      But only He knows when I do not speculate- if Jesus didn’t know we surely won’t.
      We must always be on our guard!
      Of course the end will come to us all sometime in death-when we pass over to a better life, and not be thinking of all these mysteries-it will all be revealed!!
      I am all for a simple life.!

      • Brendan O' Leary says:

        ST. Joseph, thank you for information current , on progress relating to NFP. I will bear in mind the work of NAFPT and try to abreast of developments in that area. I’ m sure you will agree that whenever the Parousia, in the ontological sense it would appear to be vital for our survival on our planet.

    • Brendan O' Leary says:

      Tim, Quentin can answer for himself. What I understand from his propostion is that it is ‘structure ‘ that changes over time, such as in this case massive changes in populaion differences. Gods’ control over the evolutionary process does not change- by definition He can’t make ‘ mistakes ‘ as you rightly point out – which is a counter to the ‘ Dawkins position .’ I say that the Catholic Churchs ‘growing understanding and position on human fertility processes over time bears out that belief. In the abscence of false premises I see nothing so far invalidated that has to be validated.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Brendan O’ Leary.
        It would difficult to go into too much detail about why the sympto-Thermal Method is considered to be more reliable than using mucus without using a’ fertility thermometer'(a special fertility one) as in the Billings method-the indices used are more, and I won’t go in to those on the blog-it is too intimate to discuss here.
        I have no trouble with the Billings method,it is ones own choice and preference
        Dr Billings was influential in this method in the beginning-so it has to be respected and thankful to him.
        Other indications I believe are an advancement to accuracy
        And study’s are on going with the NAFPT (abb) and are doing wonderful work in that field,especially abroad..They do have a web site.
        We owe a great deal from the late Dr Anna Flynn RIP who was my teacher when I trained and I helped in her research with urine samples…
        It is based in Birmingham Maternity Hospital, where annual meetings are held for members and non-members twice a year.
        I am in my seventy’s and only take an interest and receive info from them now as a foundation member,so I expect there are teachers who have more advanced knowledge than I have.
        Yes there are other thing’s that can be purchased, how reliable , I don’t know .
        One costs £3000 pounds, all these with failure rates should not be included in the statistics, they are not so reliable as personal teaching ,One to one.And it is free! Another advantage..

  9. Quentin says:

    Tim, you say “false reasoning only invalidates a conclusion if the reasoning is the sole basis on which the conclusion rests. Is that the case here?”. I find this an important point. I do believe that our sexualised society has succeeded in separating sexual activity so completely from its procreative function that it has become for many simply a search for almost casual pleasure. This is very damaging and, perhaps, particularly for the young whose ideas may be formed before they have experienced the joy of committed loving sexuality in marriage.

    My question concerns a different point. Our level of fertility had to be high in the past because only about a quarter of those born ever survived to breed in turn. Nowadays, in developed countries, the survival rate of the young means that human fertility is now too high. The dilemma is how we solve this. NFP might be the answer on paper, but its chances of doing so effectively on a worldwide basis are nil.

    I have asked people to consider the historical fact that our fertility has increased through evolution, and to ask themselves whether we would be wrong in correcting this mismatch through the normal human methods of ingenuity. I assume that this would have to be through steps which block fertility for chosen periods or, in some cases, permanently. In principle this is no different from me recognising that the hot sun will damage my skin (whose sensitivity has developed according to a temperate climate) by putting on a hat.

    While it is ancillary to this argument, the following calculation can give a sense of proportion. A married couple who make love twice a week will, over 20 years, have done so 1000 times. The number of occasion which will have resulted in a conception is, on average in the UK, just less than twice. Of course the other 998 times will have served to express and develop the relationship – and so support the stable and loving home in which children can prosper.

    (One or two of you have mentioned the problem of publishing contributions containing typing slips. This is not serious, and we have all done it. However some get around this problem by drafting in a word processor – which may well have spell check etc. You can supplement this by using a free copy of “read please”. This is a program which, through reading back your text to you, will help you to avoid mistakes.)

    • Rahner says:

      “NFP might be the answer on paper, but its chances of doing so effectively on a worldwide basis are nil.”
      Finally, somebody says something sensible…..

      • St.Joseph says:

        Rahner.
        The same applies to conflict and wars- an answer on paper, how to stop them-but then we do have an answer on ‘paper’ ‘The Good News’ and to PRACTICE it.
        Is that sensible enough!

    • St.Joseph says:

      This is just a lovely thought and will have know answer to the problem or dilemma -but however I will mention it just the same as it is something to look forward to
      I have heard people say, ‘if there is no sex in Heaven I don’t wan’t to go there’!.
      In the licensed trade one hears all sorts of comments-and it can be an eye opener as to how people, obviously some talk for talks sake.
      I often tried to explain to them (in my own definition of course) that Heaven will be a place of perfect satisfaction and our souls will explode with happiness and joy-much more wonderful than ‘just’ a sexual relationship’ with really no other meaning than to satisfy a temporary passion.
      Marriage, in love with a deep spiritual relationship in one flesh-even if it is not realised that is perfect love which will continue through all eternity because God is Love.
      When my husband was close to death- I just wanted him to live-more than I wanted a continued sexual relationship, it would no longer be a purpose or an important issue in my life!One has to be in that situation to understand what love without sex- really means.

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        ‘if there is no sex in Heaven I don’t wan’t to go there’!. Yes people seem to make up a paradise suitable to their ‘likes’. Sex finite as it is becomes a false dream of infinity. They are ready to sacrifice moral law on the altar of this idol. There are to words of Jesus which come to my mind:” people have preferred darkness to light” (Jn 3:19) and ” you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Mat. 22:29).

      • Vincent says:

        Since we have Jesus’ word that there is no marrying in heaven clearly any sexuality would be extra marital. In which case I put my name down for Helen of Troy (Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss). There may be a waiting list but there will also be plenty of time.

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        Well, I see there is a sweet coctail of Greek mythology and Christian eschatology, with a bit of magic. Exactly as in teenagers’ films. But what I know is that there is death, and there is no one to touch me with a magic wand after I die. I believe instead that Jesus died and rose from death, and I belive him both, when he speaks about earthly things, and about heavenly ones. (Jn 3:12)

    • St.Joseph says:

      Quentin
      Many years ago in a study of infertility- it was said because the contraceptive pill was not in use for 20 years, that would be a concern for infertility in future females.
      If I remember rightly the conclusion was that women are born with the amount of ovum which decrease over maturity. There was a concern that girls born from their mothers who were previously on the pill, could become infertile.
      Have you any knowledge of that? I only have speculation I haven’t heard anything since.
      It was from a good source in a lecture.

      • Quentin says:

        I haven’t heard anything along these lines recently, st.joseph. There always used to be rumours about the pill but I don’t know of any other serious studies showing such problems. And of course likely side effects will alter with the pill’s composition, Perhaps of more interest in the context of my post is the use of longer term implants.

  10. John Nolan says:

    In an ideal world middle-class Catholic couples with a penchant for the Latin Mass should have at least four children. Protestants and liberal Catholics, two. Non-Christians and atheists, one. The welfare-dependent godless underclass, none. I’m still trying to figure out how this can be achieved.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Nolan.
      It is an ideal world indeed.
      I wonder why the Lord only gifted me two born and three miscarriages-I took that to be his Will for me.
      My daughter has 3 boys,and my son 2 girls, that makes it all together 3 more than me, I count that as the blessing that God gave me for for the loss of the 3 little souls who I know will be in Heaven with Him.
      Strange way of looking at life but that’s me!

      • St.Joseph says:

        Quentin
        Thank you I expect you mean longer than 3 years
        I am saying this now as ‘secular thinking’,but something was said about hormone treatment.Implants are only 99% effective and if it is true no more effective than the pill, obviously I don’t know the details of side effects apart from the serious probability of an abortion, So my moral thinking would be the same.
        I heard to-day that a catholic Secondary school has opened a creche.
        Another thing in the paper this week where children of 6 years are starting puberty, I hope it will not encourage children to have implants.
        The sex hormones are influenced by early sexual thoughts-everything else was mentioned in the article I read in the Daily Mail but not sex education to young children which obviously stimulate the hormone-without me going into the physiology of the reproductive system
        I only say this as an example that there are either going to be more babies born to younger children or more- abortions-a slippery slope.
        I believe that the catholic church will continue to teach what She does on as you say in your post -the values of marriage life,I took it to mean that anyway, or words to that effect.

  11. Iona says:

    John Nolan (November 3rd) – I like that!
    People who are living relatively untouched by influences and practices developed since the industrial revolution, – tribes living traditional lives in the Amazon rainforest, for example – tend to breastfeed each child for several years, thus spacing them at least four or five years apart. Combined with the natural drop-off in fertility when a woman gets into her late 30s, they thus tend not to have the 7 or 8 children anticipated by Quentin’s blog article, but more like 4 or 5. This pattern may have been disrupted relatively early in the history of civilisation (people living in cities) since with civilisation developed social hierarchies and upper-class women may have reduced their breastfeeding considerably, recruiting wet-nurses from the lower classes and rapidly becoming fertile again.

    I think what I have in mind is that in terms of reproduction we have been interfering with naturally-evolved structures for a lot longer than Quentin suggests.

    • John Nolan says:

      Seriously, I was at Mass at St Michael’s Abbey, Farnborough (Benedictine, Latin) and in front of me was a French family with four young children, all of whom must have been catechized properly and were duly reverent. “A spring of love gushed in my heart, and I blessed them unaware”. With any luck they will grow up and have children of their own who will be brought up in the Faith. I would rather pray for that than for my own cynical and curmudgeonly self.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Where I worship there is a family of 12 children all blonde ranging from about 2 into their 20s When not away at school it is a blessing to see them all -but usually about 7 there with parents and grandmother, well cared for loved and beautifully dressed and quiet and behaved.-the grandmother looks so young.
        .

  12. Iona says:

    Quentin, I have a small quibble with your comment:
    “…the potential concealment of ovulation through which a mate may be tempted into unwanted fatherhood”.
    Surely, in evolutionary terms, fatherhood is never unwanted by the male? Evolutionarily, to maximise his chances of passing on his genes, he will do well to take any and every opportunity to father children. In conscious and rational terms, of course, things are very different.

  13. Iona says:

    Our evolved biological structures are out of kilter with life in highly developed societies in other ways than fertility rates. Many couples who are subfertile or infertile (and who, up to about 50 years ago or considerably less) would have left no descendants or very few, are now – thanks to IVF, surrogacy etc., enabled to have children. Babies who would once have died due to neonatal problems now often survive. These factors result in more children seeing the light of day than once would have (at one time their deaths would have counterbalanced the higher fertility rates in society as a whole). They are probably also altering the gene pool.
    Evolution isn’t keeping up.
    Is Advocatus Diaboli rubbing his hands?

  14. Quentin says:

    Iona, in the ‘survival of the fittest’ what people want is secondary to the characteristics which in point of fact succeed. So we must suppose that concealed ovulation has evolutionary advantages. A possible one would be that the mother always being open to mating keeps the male close – thus ensuring his protection for the young. We may suppose that early homo used some form of family grouping, while the apes used the group for protection. A quick Googling of concealed ovulation will yield you with enough hypotheses to keep you going.

    Above, you argue that in hunter gatherer societies the number of born babies per female was probably four or five. You may be right but even that number would double the population within a generation. 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 – that’s a huge mutiplier in 5 generations. But I believe that early modern societies such as the 1820s are a better guide.

    You may find the 2012 World Population Sheet as instructive as I did. Conveniently it shows average results in four categories of country from More Developed to Least Developed. Unsurprisingly there is a close relationship between number of births and the rate of infant mortality. The Least Developed have a total fertility rate of 4.4, even though over a quarter of married women in that category use modern methods of contraception.

    I am glad that you are probing the factual basis behind my posting. This is a necessary part of the checking process.

    The link for the Population Sheet is http://www.prb.org/Educators/LessonPlans/2012/WorldPopulationDataSheet.aspx?p=1

  15. Gerry says:

    This is all very interesting, but it is not arguments that change theological thinking, but events. It was not arguments which, in the last century, changed the long established Catholic attitude to the Jews, but terrible events. And it will not be arguments that will change the teaching on artificial contraception, but terrible events in Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan where, in most countries, family planning is not easily available and populations increase at a frightening rate.

    The one thousand million – 1000,000,000 – added in the last sixty years to the 1950 population of 300 million is already causing extreme poverty, hunger, water shortage, and conflict in various parts of this region. When another one thousand million – 1000,000,000 – is added in the next forty years these tragedies will multiply.

    Europe will not escape unscathed from this demographic tsunami, and it is then that our long established habit of deducing moral imperatives from structure will face fiercer criticism than the gentle musings of Science and Faith and Secondsight, and a change will come, sixty years too late.

    • Vincent says:

      Gerry, I hope that your view proves pessimistic. There is no doubt that a question such as Quentin has posed will be unpopular, and the obvious inference will be opposed. However I do think that a real doubt about whether the current teaching can properly be based on medieval understandings of creation will certainly help to push things along. The unfortunate result of presenting contraception as intrinsically evil ipso facto excludes taking any consequences into account. That is an important obstruction to clear out of the way.

  16. Brendan O' Leary says:

    ” …….lawfully correct this accidental maladaptation.” Thanks to St. Joseph and Iona, whom I take both to be the women among us………… any more ? I Thank them for making me more aware of areas concerning the womans’ situation ‘ post -partum ‘. Would that us men took more of an interest in such matters !………or is it just me ?
    In light of Catholic Teaching on strict lines of acceptance of contraception, Iona. earlier in giving the example of Amazon Indian mothers during their lactation period ( breatfeeding ) – when the mother does not generally ovulate , says they……. ” tend to breastfeed their child for several years, thus spacing them 4 or 5 years apart, ….. ” – with all the obvious implications for lowering population numbers, could it be that science could infact come to the aid again of NFP as a answer in the near future to our dilemma? Information I’ve been able to glean on this subject under varoius headings such as ‘ post – patum infertility ‘ and ‘ lactational amenorhoea ‘ also known as LAM ( please don’t ask me for chapter and verse, I’m only content to ‘Google ‘ for the answers I want ! ), may suggest an area where the natural evolutionary processes ( God given ) , could link up with human ingenuity in discovering a natural stimulant which somehow bypass continued lactation after birth and, at the same time further prolong this infertile period post-partum ,without the ‘ inconvenience ‘ of the mother aspirating unwanted milk.
    Quentins’ view that …….” our sexualised society has suceeded in separating sexuality so completely from its procreative function that it becomes for many simply a search for casual pleasure.” and given that this ‘ casualisation ‘ mentality may have penetrated into or at least influenced many Catholic minds, it is possible that a second front in further investigation into post – partum infertility could in time receive the blessing of the Catholic Church. In that sense we cannot …. ” walk by on tht other side. “

    • Quentin says:

      This is an interesting line of thought. Lactational amenorrhoea would have been seen as a secondary effect of the need to suckle the baby. (Provided the woman is fully, or nearly fully, breastfeeding the level of reliability is high.) Your suggestion that there may be a substance which prolongs infertility without the actual need for suckling raises an interesting question. Would it be caught by HV’s condemnation of “any action, which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation — whether as an end or as a means.”? I rather think it would, as the law is currently stated.

      We could take this further. What about a mother who has finished breastfeeding but continues to express milk so that her body still ‘thinks’ it is lactating? Here we are certainly talking about ‘action …intended to prevent procreation’. Somewhat more remote, but possibly also caught under the rule, is the mother who continues breastfeeding but is only choosing to do so in order to extend her period of infertility. This could be for years rather than months.

      • St.Joseph says:

        It is the actual sucking of the baby in breastfeeding that activate the hormone involved in milk production Proclatin, not expressing the milk and putting it in a bottle in the fridge.

        There is an extended LAM beyond 6 months. They breastfeed very frequently in the day and keep the baby in bed to let it feed frequently at night.
        When introducing solids they breastfeed first then top up with solids rather than the other way around.
        This is often called “ecological” breastfeeding and can suppress fertility for 1-4 years.
        There are books available to guide women wishing to use this extended LAM approach.
        I don’t thing that it would be accepted for a infertility reason.
        Always remembering ‘and this is ‘important’ that the mother will obviously have to check her returning fertility through mucus detection as that will be the sign more effective than temperature., and then have an unexpected pregnancy.
        Which comes back to the question again of NFP in the first place.
        You are right Quentin as you say, if I am right in thinking- making something lawful in man,s eyes does not always make it acceptable in Gods.as the same reasoning as changing the law on marriage.

        .

      • Quentin says:

        St.joseph, I can see that manual expression of milk might reduce or endanger prolactin. But since prolactin is the hormone which enables the production of breast milk to continue, it would seem to follow that prolactin is stimulated by manual expression. And this might be enhanced by the use of a pump which, I imagine, is close in action to sucking.

        Incidentally prolactin might be the source of the substance Brendan posits as a form of contraception — though it might be a nuisance if it caused unneeded lactation.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Brendan O’Leary, thank you for your comment, I really appreciate your interest as a male,and think all would not be lost if more were like you in discussing this subject which concerns husbands as well as a wife,it is always important to teach both couples, the husband can understand fertility and make it a joint experience.I appreciate of course that men are a bit embarrassed at things which they feel to be a woman’s world-even though they are present now at births. My husband was never like that thank goodness.He helped me with paper work and appointments when I ran a Clinic from home.He knew the importance of it Don’t give up, it is always needed even when one is past the age of fertility-not saying that you and your wife are-but it is continuing Gods work. and I believe it to be Our Blessed Mothers too as She will always standby Her Son as She did when He was on the Cross.Our Lady of Sorrows suffering with Him.as we are sometimes. when we are disliked for what we believe in!

      • Brendan O' Leary says:

        Then you are truly blessed and I’m sure your husband feels likewise. If more couples took time to learn about each others body the ‘ proper ‘ way before entering into a life- time of relationship with each other, then this I am convinced would further strenthen their union. NFP even with its dificulties in ‘human ‘ terms fulfills that cause in that union of man and woman is never just about procreation and its fruits.
        i’m not sure I can see Quentins’ post out but I will read up on it with relish. God Bless.

  17. Quodvultdeus says:

    I would make one general comment, and one directly related to one of the statements in your text.

    1. There is a demonic temptation to substitute God in demography planning, as was the case in king David’s census. (see 2 Sam. 24:10-17) China is another awful example. The Church teaches that it is a parent’s responsiblity and right to discern,decide and plan in accordance with moral law the number of children, and not that of the state or planning commitees of any kind. That is due to parent’ dignity as persons, but also because of the “free market” principles. State run economy will always go behind free market economy, the eastern block countires after ww2 proved.
    2. Quentin, you seem to seem to forget that Humanae vitae and post-Vatican teaching emphasise the inseperability of the two ends of any sexual intercourse: procreation and union of spousez. So it was not abandoned in1930. It is similasimilato eatingyou cannot socialise without being fed when yyou have your dinner.

    • Quentin says:

      1) I am not advocating state control of demography, but I do support parents having the facility to decide the size of their family. Their choices here will of course be influenced by the conditions of society, some of which are under the control or influence of the state – thus, for example, in societies which have no opportunities for pension provision people will favour large families so that they can be supported by their grown children. Nor can we talk about a genuine free market when we modify it by our use of child benefits, provision of free education etc. We have already interfered and, unless you argue that all free support for children should be removed, we will continue to interfere. Duncan Smith’s unfortunate suggestion that we should remove further child benefits from families of more than two children is evidence of how ready one thinking and influential Catholic may be to interfere.

      2) Perhaps I did not explain myself sufficiently fully here. There was a tremendous fuss following Casti Connubii because Pius XI gave official, if indirect, approval of couples deliberately programming their sexual activities to avoid conception. And it wasn’t until 20 years later that Pius XII cleared up the squabbles and reluctance of the traditionalists. While the two ends remained ontologically inseparable they were practically separated by the use of the safe period.

      • Quodvultdeus says:

        Quentin, neither did “Pius XI give official, if indirect, approval of couples deliberately programming their sexual activities to avoid conception” nor Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” (HV) separated the two ends by acknowledging “the use of the safe period”. To understand natural infertility as a means of “contraception” is a misinterpretation of some theologians, like German professor from Breslau (now Wroclaw) Herbert Doms in the 30 of the 20th c., whose book started the whole “tremendous fuss”. Indeed, spouses do abuse the infertility of their bodies when they live their intimate union as solely ” being together” and exclude possibility of conception without “serious reasons” of which Paul VI speaks. But it’s a moral abuse that brings bitter fruits.

  18. St.Joseph says:

    Quentin. Thank you for your reply
    You say that stimulating the nipple are ‘close’-we need something that i is more than ‘close’ we are looking for accuracy here.
    In 1989, family planning service providers met at Georgetown University to review the Consensus and other published literature on the subject.
    The result of this meeting was the development and naming of LAM. The method is presented as an algorithm,a specific set of defined rules that, if followed to their end.,will lead to specific recommendations. In a simplified format , the method is easy to teach to both health workers and clients, and easy to recall. LAM emphasizes that when any one of the three conditions change, the women needs to begin using a complimentary family planning method to continue this low risk of pregnancy.
    Since its development, LAM has been tested in numerous settings . A clinical trial in Chile of 422 women resulted in a cumulative six- month table rate of 99.5% (one women pregnant in 6 months).
    A pilot study that introduced LAM in a family planning service delivery setting in Ecuador found that LAM attracted new users, that 90% of acceptors used the method correctly and began timely use of a complimentary with a family planning method with only one follow up visit and that there was a high rate of satisfaction with the method among users. Extended LAM, using LAM for 9 months, was studied in RWanda, where the average duration of lactational amenorrhea is more than 12 months. Mother using LAM were encouraged to start weaning at sis months but to breast feed before each supplemental feeding. No pregnancies were reported in this preliminary study
    Future research will continue to assess LAM’s acceptability and efficacy in a variety of settings worldwide.
    One of the rules- To avoid using bottles, pacifier so other artificial nipples.
    Like all things Rule are there for a reason-and if it fails one can only blame their selves.
    Sorry to outline this in such a long comment
    I like to be confident in my teaching to encourage those to be confident in its use- because that is the strength of NFP.I would not want to be just close!!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Sorry- above ought to say ‘no’ other artificial nipples.

    • Quentin says:

      You give us important information here. In fact the rules for LAM are rightly very simplified. The question of expression of milk does nor appear to have been investigated. But I assume that one may deduce in those cases where milk is successfully expressed over several weeks that sufficient prolactin must be being produced.

      As it happens I know of one case when lactational amenorrhoea did not occur although the mother breast fed fully for several months. And this was the same will all her five babies.

      I wasn’t of course recommending manual or pump expression as a means of avoiding ovulation. I was merely looking in principle at how traditional moralist would regard someone who artificially prolonged lactation in order to achieve this.

  19. Gerry says:

    Thanks Vincent, I also hope I am too pessimistic, but I’m afraid I’m not. The increase of 2000 million in the century 1950-2050 in the population of Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan is BELOW the United Nations’ LOW estimate. The United Nations 2010 estimates are: 306 million in 1950; 1,151 million in 2000; and 2,555 million 2050. (Low estimate). The Medium and High estimates for 2050 are substantially higher than 2,555 million, the high estimate being well above 3000 million.

    A distinguished Anglican believes that this population explosion is due to Muslims and Catholics. As over 60% of the population of the region is Muslim, and a good deal of the rest Catholic, he seems to have a point. However, it would not be right to blame Muslims and Catholics for our lack of interest in this subject: political correctness is a much more important cause in Europe. I have collected some of the reasons for our silence on one page of my website: http://www.gerrydanaher.com/2009/population-taboo.php

    As the subject is virtually never discussed, you must make up your own mind as to how the 500 million or so mostly elderly, mostly prosperous folk in Europe will interact with the 2,500 million mostly young, mostly poverty stricken folk in Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan.

    Yes, I agree, it is good to attempt to clear away the philosophical/theological obstruction.

    • Quentin says:

      One might add the additional danger from the bias towards boy babies in many countries — unwanted females being rubbished through elective abortion. More information on this site. Search: Women and children last! Testosterone-ridden males who cannot find a mate are not a recipe for international peace.

  20. Singalong says:

    It doesn`t seem to me at all likely that any “attempt to clear away the
    philosophical/theological obstruction” will succeed.

    All the problems of overpopulation that you mention, and which
    are happening now, were foreseen and discussed when I was a
    student in the 50`s. At that time it seemed as if a nuclear disaster
    might provide a dreadful solution.

    Humanae Vitae was published in 1968, and the Catechism in 1992,
    in full knowledge of the situation. The section on Matrimony is
    very clear and unequivocal, and I don`t see how the Church
    could change this teaching.

    The choice seems to be between converting the world, so that all the
    lawful natural methods of NFP which St. Joseph has devoted herself
    to, will become widespread, and marriage properly valued, or
    experimenting in earnest with living in space, on another planet,
    a more frightening prospect than crossing the Atlantic with
    Columbus in the 16th century must have been.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong.
      I like your understanding of Fertility Awareness.
      I firmly believe that all females ought to know about their fertility-not for only spacing their family. It also is a very important indicator to any undetected health problems-which I realised eventually in myself
      It is also used in the Crighton method instead of IVF, (which I have personal knowledge of its validity with so many)) also for stopping the Pill, and returning fertility after childbirth as we have discussed, and pre-menopause..
      It is valuable knowledge for all females.
      It is sad that some consider it to be just another unnecessary ‘Law’ of Holy Mother Church!

  21. Gerry says:

    Singalong, It is so nice to have a note from someone who can remember the 1950’s. You are absolutely right: in the 1950’s and 1960’s birth control and population was a “problem which everyone talks about” to quote Pope Paul VI (Times report 24 June 1964).
    However, once we had got family planning for ourselves and were becoming prosperous, we gave up campaigning, not wanting to be accused by the politically correct of being racist in advising poor countries to control their populations. Humanae Vitae didn’t help either. I’m afraid that in Africa and elsewhere, population control is going to be left to war, famine, and disease, eased a little by the migration of huge populations.

    As for NFP: Every ten years or so someone writes to the British Medical Journal explaining that NFP is better than almost any other method of family planning. A few weeks later letters start rolling in criticising the research and describing the misfortunes caused by the teaching about artificial contraception. eg High abortion rates in Poland when only NFP was allowed.

    Here is NFP from another angle: 45 years ago, Pope Paul VI warned us of the dangers of “the accelerated rate of population growth”. He urged public authorities and parents to do something about it. Uganda is 40% Catholic. The population growth rate is one of the fastest in the world, doubling every 25 years from 5 million in 1950 to an estimated 80 million plus in 2050. They should be prosperous: they are poverty stricken and hungry. What became of Pope Paul’s warning and urging, and the enthusiasm of the promoters of NFP?

    (St Joseph: NFP is good in certain circumstances and it is right that couples should know about it, but it is far – very far – from being good enough, especially in primitive conditions, and with an uncooperative husband.)

    • St.Joseph says:

      Gerry
      That is why I chose the man I did to marry, and I appreciate it all the more that he stood by me in my faith when we married 1962
      When I look back at the blessings I have received with my family from The Lord (not always an easy ride with ill health)I know my late husband will be well on his way to Heaven.
      One reference to your observation that.NFP being very very far from being good enough ,I believe we are Christians in more ways than one. and as Mother Teresa said when asked (when teaching fertility awareness with coloured chalk on the pavements) did she think that what she did was like throwing a little drop of water in the ocean-her reply was
      ‘It is all these little drops that make up the ocean.- and like the ‘Little Flower who’said she did the little thing for God’. That seems to me more the reason and strive to make it good enough.!
      Just a little thought- people in the bush new about their fertility more than 200 years ago-don,t ask me for that reference just what was said one time at a lecture.

  22. John Nolan says:

    All I am interested in is that the birthrate in Europe increases to the extent that we are actually replacing the population without recourse to non-European immigration which will destroy us as a civilisation. The writing is on the wall.

  23. Iona says:

    Some of the kindest and best “carers” in my mother’s care home where she lived the last year of her life were non-European immigrants. Perhaps that is the way our civilisation is going, – overpopulated countries are sending people here to fill our gaps.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Gerry.
      I mentioned in an earlier post ‘that when we evolve in distributing our wealth to all nations’-instead of governments creating war against others-where the innocent suffer the most- and they would concentrate more on why they are in government,not interfering in Gods Laws-that is the Churches duty. .
      How much have we evolved in that area.
      We have missionaries to spread the faith-we are also expected as Christians to follow Jesus in His sermon on the Mount..What is left for the Government to do.
      I heard this morning that President Obama spent 110 million on his publicity for the election, and God only knows how much is wasted on space travel
      Perhaps all we need is a good economist to sort the worlds population out who would have the knowledge to distribute wealth with a little ‘give more than take’!!!!

  24. Gerry says:

    Thanks St Joseph. Therese Martin aka St Therese of Lisieux aka the Little Flower is certainly someone to take note of. She is my favourite Doctor of the Church by miles and miles. What she would have thought of these discussions we can only guess, but I suspect her views would be much the same as those of her name sake, Mother Teresa. Doctors of the Church, like popes, can’t be right about everything in our fast changing world.

    John, John Nolan that is, I think that native Europeans are unlikely to start having enough children to replace themselves. When we had our four, the fertility rate in UK was 1.7 and falling. It is now close to 2 and very slowly rising, but little of this increase comes from native Europeans.

    European statistics are difficult, partly because we have so many definitions of the place. I use 500 million for the European Union. As a very rough guide, in 2050, our third of the world – Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to Pakistan – will be over 3000 million, and the population of the non-European part will be increasing fast and spilling over into Europe. It’s going to be very interesting.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I don’t mean this to be a personal question to anyone.But…
      People do say how many children they have, are they complaining, or thankful, spacing,or accidents..
      Are we saying here that we ought to be limiting our family to 1 boy 1 girl-or only boys, or whatever combination one likes as long as it does not go over the limit-so as not to over populate Mother earth?.
      So the answer we choose to have is either an abortifacant, sterilization,condoms, and any other one likes to use.,When the only perfect answer and so simple is for a woman to know her fertility,since fertility is only 5 days in a month and used correctly nigh on 100% effective.Why go to all these other measures when the answer is right there staring them in the face! Are we noy intelligent enought to work that out!
      It is about time we did evolve naturally

      • St.Joseph says:

        Advocatus Diaboli.

        As you very hastely threw the ball into our Court in the beginning, it would be good if you would return it with your thoughts and we could become more enlightened.in solving the problem!.

      • Advocatus Diaboli says:

        St,Joseph, I always read your contributions with interest. They intrigue me.
        Quentin, it seems to me, asks two questions. In the first he invites you consider whether an absolute ban on contraception can be inferred from an evolutionary structure. Second he asks how your Church can play a useful part in controlling our excess fertility when it bans as a serious sin (presumably condemning users to hell from all eternity) any method of controlling fertility other than abstinence.
        When someone addresses either of these questions I will consider making a comment. But as 65 contributions have so far been made without commenting on them I won’t hold my breath.

  25. St.Joseph says:

    Advocatus Diaboli.
    Thank You.

    To answer your your 1st question with regarding to Quentins post the answer is definitely NO.
    We can not interfere with pro-creation- we are not of the animal kingdom
    2nd .Holy Mother Church has already answered the question-you are just not listening.

    Your comment only tells me how little you know or understand about the the teachings of the Church. Where does it say we go to hell if we space our family’s does one need to use the marriage act 30-31 days a month. The Lord knew that when He made us in the beginning. Intention not intervention!
    .

  26. Advocatus Diaboli says:

    dear St.Joseph, I knew you’d never let me down! That makes 66 comments that don’t address Quentin’s questions. Now, if you really want me to comment, read what I wrote, check it against Quentin’s post, think about it, think about it again, then respond.

  27. St.Joseph says:

    Advocatus Diaboli
    My reply in the first sentence on Nov 2nd 6.47 after reading Quentins Post, remains the same..

    Only God knows the answer -all we are doing here is expressing our thoughts how to avoid the necessary action that Quentin pose’s that is to interfere with Gods creation in the begining. when He was satisfied to give us a soul.,and gave us dominion over all the other creatures in His Kingdom. We know the story-so no need to spell it out. Ours bodies are corrupt also our free-will, we destroy the Universe along with our bodies and try to backtrack to put things right.
    There is only one way out of it, and that is Peace on earth and goodwill among men as the Christmas message is close upon us to remind us. Has it taken 2000 years for us to evolve to that Truth.?
    Thats’ the 67 and the answer is in our own HANDS by living the way God made us in the beginning and no amount of ‘sin can cure sin’. We are all responsible for our own actions!

  28. Singalong says:

    The problems are indeed overwhelming, as demonstrated in the
    very detailed statistics provided by Gerry.

    However, I cannot see how the Church can change its teaching
    that artificial contraception is intrinsically wrong, any more than we
    can imagine that its teaching on murder could be changed?
    (I think that the question of Hell can be left to the mercy of God, Who
    sees what each of us understands, what influences us, and a lot more.)

    I am afraid I am not scientifically literate enough to understand fully
    how the subsequent development of the theory of evolution can affect
    such a decision, as it seems to me that the size of the population is a result
    of human behaviour, rather than in substantial physical adaptation.

    If the Church were to do so, it might relieve some consciences, but would it
    make a great difference to the birthrate, as Catholics are not a majority
    worldwide, even in Uganda?

    Another factor which goes very deep, is family size, which is not always
    related to infant mortality, and provision for the old age of the parents.
    There is something emotionally and culturally very inspiring about large
    families who can cope well, and it is a human loss to see them disappear
    as they have done in China.

    • Quentin says:

      Singalong, I see you are crossing sword with Advocatus Diaboli. Good luck, he is a slippery character (just like the chap he works for!).

      Murder is perhaps a difficult example because the definition of murder includes the idea of unjust killing – so you start by defining it as wrong. Here we are talking about a solemn, but not infallible, teaching of the Church. Since we can cut out the double negative we can rephrase it as a fallible teaching of the Church. (This is not an original approach, it was used by Bishop Butler when Humanae Vitae was promulgated back in 1968.) So, however unlikely that might be, it could be revised by the Church – as indeed other fallible teachings have been over the centuries.

      At the times that the Church was developing her understanding of God’s will for our sexual functions, it was her belief (just as it was everybody’s) that God created human beings directly, just as we are today. This was a simple, and wholly understandable, factual error. Before Darwin no one understood about evolution, or how biological entities developed through adapting themselves to circumstances. One might think that our new understanding would cause us to look before this at some of our past decisions. But it actually isn’t so odd. Quite a lot of important discoveries have been made only because someone happened to ask the right question at the right time.

      In this case it is an evolutionary fact that our capacity to breed (i.e. fertility) evolved because those humans, or pre-humans, who were better at breeding produced more young, whose young produced more young, and so on. It is even happening today: 1) women are tending to have children at higher ages 2) those women who genetically produce healthy eggs at a higher age will be more successful 3) in time, the average age for healthy egg production will increase. How long would that take? Well to breed tame foxes, by selecting the calmest fox in successive litters, takes just 10 generations – and I suspect that’s a much bigger change.

      Now my question is quite simple. If we evolved to be very fertile because in primitive times there was very high infant and child mortality, then we are much more fertile than we need to be now that early mortality is so low. Why would it be wrong to reduce our fertility to fit in with the need? Gerry has explained to us how important that need is. I am not saying that the answer is simple, but the question is!

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you Quentin.

        I don`t think it is wrong to produce fewer children. I think we will
        have to. It is how we do it which I thought we were discussing.
        This extract from Humanae Vitae is very clear.

        Consequences of Artificial Methods
        17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth
        of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on
        the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let
        them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the
        way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.
        Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness
        and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who
        are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law,
        and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.
        Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows
        accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the
        reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional
        equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of
        his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should
        surround with care and affection.

        I am not competent to say if this encyclical is technically infallible, but it
        at least supremely authoritative and we reject it at our peril. We were not
        happy about Bishop Butler`s statements at the time.

        As regards fertility, I wonder if we know how fertile humans were at first.
        As I believe, life expectancy in the Stone Age was about 17, it could not
        have been very high. Today, puberty seems to be starting earlier, as well as
        childbirth age becoming higher, some of this being attributed to chemicals
        in water due mainly to the waste products of contraceptives, which is also
        causing infertility especially in men, so adaptation to the environment is
        becoming even more complicated.

        For the record, we have 5 children, partly due to veering towards perhaps
        misplaced optimism, the 5th when I was 43, but seem likely to have only 2
        grandchildren.

      • Quentin says:

        Singalong. I do in fact look at some problems which accompany artificial contraception in my new post today (Thursday). Come and comment.

      • Clive Copus says:

        This is a classic example of the theological dangers of accepting Darwinian theory at face value. When we lose sight of the doctrine of Creation – that God deliberately and intentionaly created us in His image and likeness, as the Catechism teaches – the whole doctrinal and dogmatic edifice falls collapses: Adam and Eve, original sin, contraception, the fall and the necessity for redemption etc. The (tragic) irony is that scientists are increasingly recognising that the complex information at the heart of life cannot be explained by purely random, naturalistic processes; rather, this information provides compelling evidence that we are indeed the product of an intelligent agent. If we are going to dismantle the historic teachings of the Church, let us at least do on the basis of modern science, rather than 19th century creation myths for atheists.

      • Quentin says:

        Perhaps you still need to show how your view fits in with the concept of God’s dynamic creation through evolution.

      • giorgio says:

        Whether we evolved or not is irrelevant. What matters is that we were designed.

  29. Gerry says:

    St Joseph and Singalong: As you imply,big families are best. They really are. But if we all had them we would destroy our earthly home. Happily, the spread of human nature is such that it may come about that those longing to have large families will be able to have them, whilst those who are happy to have no children balance the numbers out.

    This mix is not precluded by Pope Paul’s wise instructions in Populorum Progressio para 37: “it is for parents to take a thorough look at the matter (the accelerated rate of population growth) and decide upon the number of their children. This is an obligation they take upon themselves, before their children already born, and before the community to which they belong…”

    • St.Joseph says:

      Gerry.
      Did I imply that big families are best.?
      What is best is that which a couple can comfortabley cope with. I am pleased you quoted Pope Paul’s Populorum Progressio para 37..
      When increasing our family we have to be responsible in the very nature of parenthood-the whole structure of our lives are based on this very grounding. If not we know the consequences,there is enough evidence of this.
      This is a great problem today .
      Morals don’t exist only with the ‘well off’-they do exist with the poor,so that is not the problem. The problem is a Godless society. Nothing new..
      We can not put all the blame on poor countries.The Governments are the ones to solve these problem.s..

      Quentin. the question you put forward in your post- I will ask-is there any likleley hood that. humans will evolve naturally to have less menstrual periods-less ovum, and then less ovulation. (Do we not have that already with some of the contraceptive pills.). You say that large families were necessary long ago to increase the population if I understand you rightly .I don’t agree with your definition of that-I think it was because there was no understanding of fertility also for many more reasons than for to-day.
      You ask ,If I am right-would it be morally correct to perform some operation to reduce ovualation so less pregnancies .I have explained my position on that.
      Of course atheists will probably agree with that. The Godless society again!
      I did not want to go into a long food for thoughts like this to spell it out, I thought you could read between the lines.
      The fair means are NFP- the foul are oppressive pregnancies against those who like the sterilizations of those who can not look after their children who meet society’s expectations.
      It will never be a perfect world-we had many diseases through the centuries we cure them and then others come about.It goes around .
      I know this won’t satisfy you as an answer it is not meant to as there is no answer to it,, just as I said to Advocatus Daiboli.

  30. Quentin says:

    St.Joseph, you refer to my wish for bigger families. This is an issue which we haven’t looked at recently, but it’s very important. While we need to watch our total growth we also need to be careful about the immediate effects of change. Right now, in this country, in the USA and particularly in China the increasing problem is a large, and retired, population supported by too few young, working, people. Interestingly some of the countries which have the lowest rate of births per head are “Catholic” countries in Europe. Italy has 1.4 live births per woman, 203rd in the world, yet it reports as about 80% Catholic. So people will contraceive any way, but they psychologically separate themselves from the Church in doing so.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Quentin.
      Did you misunderstand-?did I refer to your wish for bigger families.?
      I was referring to the past tense. Can you explain it.

  31. Gerry says:

    St Joseph: My apologies if I misinterpreted your views on big families, but you see, with my general approach to family size – big families are best but, for the sake of the world, we all can’t have them – there would be very few large families; whilst with your general approach – best is that which a couple can comfortably cope with – there would be a large number.

    By the way, do you know if John Billings influenced the writing of Humanae Vitae? He certainly influenced the 1980 General Synod “The Role of the Family in the Modern World”.

  32. Singalong says:

    Apologies, something seems to have gone wrong with the pasting in my last post!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Gerry.
      I only know that Humanae Vitae was what influenced Dr John Billings-but I know that his book ‘The Gift of Life and Love’ 1987 a thoroughly revised edition ‘Of Life and Love’, first published in 1981 with a forward by Edouard Cardinal Gagnon,P.S.S. President Pontifical Council for the Family to which he remarks that ‘This is the wisdom within the teaching of Pope Paul V1 12 .developed further by Pope John Paul 11 in Familiaris Consortio 28-35’.
      I would recommend it to all to read. Still available , a treasure so easy to understand It can be found on Amazon.
      Wonderful for couple,s preparing for marriage and 6th Form Secondary schools.

  33. Lafu Ka says:

    One interesting thing is this: In terms of overpopulation we are not actually in any immediate danger as long as we are sensible. The entire human population of the world could be housed in an area only slightly larger than Texas. I would stress this is JUST housing, nothing else. It assumes tower blocks, but the message is simple, the actual population is not the problem, it’s the politics of food consumption and settlement that are the problem. As long as we can buy enough time to colonise other planets we should be fine.

    However, the sticking point is the politics. Africa isn’t starving through any fault of its own people, it’s starving because every other country has pillaged its fantastic natural resources. One day soon Africa will be a consolidated super-power, and the Church will play a big role in making this so since they are the ones building hospitals and schools and teaching the locals about love and peace. It’s not condoms that will wipe out AIDs there, it’s us (no really, statistics show that the more practising Christians in a country the lower the level of AIDs and other STDs).

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