American professor to Australian TV audience: Religious instruction is child abuse

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Conservation biologist and Stanford Professor Paul Ehrlich says he believes religious people are responsible for a lack of population control. | Stanford University

SYDNEY, Australia (Christian Examiner) – A prominent American professor from Stanford University has equated religious education with child abuse, an Australian news agency has reported.

Paul Ehrlich, president of Stanford University's Center for Conservation Biology and the Bing Professor of Population Studies, told an Australian television audience Nov. 3 he had been required to sing the U.S. national anthem when he was a school boy.

He was asked the question due to a recent controversy in Australia, where Muslim students were allowed to leave a school assembly rather than sing Advance Australia Fair.

After affirming he had sung the national anthem, Ehrlich then said, "but we didn't have child abuse required in those days; we didn't have any religious instructions in the schools."

The program's host, Tony Jones, interrupted Ehrlich to clarify.

"Did you just say religious instruction is child abuse?" Jones asked.

"That's what Richard Dawkins and lots of other people have said; that you teach people details about non-existent supernatural monsters and then behave in reaction to what you think they are telling you," Ehrlich said. "That's child abuse. You don't raise your kids that way. I don't want to be outrageous. But you have to respect people who want to do that."

Ehrlich said humans have always been a "small group animal," so people have to respect differences. It shouldn't offend Australians, he said, if Muslim students do not want to sing the nation's anthem.

"We, on average for our entire history, have associated with about 150 other people. Now, after millions of years doing that we are a very social animal; we've got to learn to live in groups of millions and billions, which means as everybody pointed out, you've got to give some space for other people, or you will be in a constant war. So it's something that we ought to be discussing all the time," Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich predicted in his 1968 book The Population Bomb that mass starvation would significantly reduce the world's population in the 1970s and 1980s. It did not and the world's population has continued to grow. In 2013, Ehrlich made headlines when he criticized people who have multiple children.

According to Ehrlich, the world doesn't need more people. It needs far, far less, but he has provided no solution for how that should come about other than limiting the number of children born. He has, however, said religious people are largely to blame for the population explosion because they create "great social and psychological barriers" to population control.

"This is especially true because of the 'endarkment' – a rapidly growing movement towards religious orthodoxies that reject enlightenment values such as freedom of thought, democracy, separation of church and state, and basing beliefs and actions on empirical evidence."