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Ronald P. Millett
Tuesday, September 03 2013

Dan Brown’s Inferno and the Dangerous Myth of Overpopulation

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Dan Brown, whose string of best-sellers include The DaVinci Code, published a book last May called The Inferno, which topped The New York Times bestsellers’ list for several weeks.

In a surprising twist, both the villain and hero characters in the book agree that extreme measures are essential to avoid an overpopulation catastrophe for mankind. An examination of the factual data and most likely predictions coming from the UN shows these alarming predictions to be false. One amazing change in population statistics after World War II, the jump in life expectancy, was a key fact that was misused as part of the justification for a world-wide slaughter of innocents via abortion and infanticide.

Overpopulation Driven Catastrophe?

As I have been listening to the audiobook of Dan Brown’s latest thriller Inferno, I have enjoyed the detailed facts and plausible plot embellishments taken from history during the Renaissance era of the classic Italian work The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321). It was, however, surprising to see that all of the characters, villains and heroes, accepted the “undeniable fact” of imminent human species catastrophe because of an exponential human population explosion. This “fact” was at the center of the book’s plot. The “save the world” herculean efforts by the hero to stop the villain seemed to me to be fruitless in the way the book ended.[1]

 0 - dante inferno circles of hellThe complex circles of the underworld depicted in Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”[2]

It was also a surprise for me to find that the prediction of extreme population growth in the next centuries is not true. I had always assumed that this oft quoted “doomsday prediction” of a huge exponential “science fiction” kind of population growth was true. I also had believed that the Lord would provide the solution in spite of its apparent severity while we continued to obey His commandments.

Looking for the facts, I found that the UN report on most likely population projections based on individual country census data predicts a worldwide population of only nine billion by the year 2100. We can easily feed seven billion now and surely can also feed nine billion. So the prediction of an unsustainable population used to justify extreme population control measures is false based on current population trends. This greatly surprised me. But why would a great researcher and writer like Dan Brown make such a terrible mistake as he prides himself in trying to make his thrillers to be factual in their historical and scientific claims?

1 - Population2300

This chart shows the most likely population predictions from an official published UN report on world population up to the year 2300. The most likely “medium” scenario has a very moderate growth rate hovering around nine billion by the year 2100 and continuing around that level until 2300. This prediction using data from official sources is very unlike the doomsday predictions.[3]

Unprecedented Increase in Life Expectancy

Another surprising fact that I was unaware of hit me like a lightning bolt. After World War II, the life expectancy of people throughout the world was dramatically extended from an average of 47 years to an amazing average of 65 years in a short period of time. Deaths per thousand were reduced from 20 to 8 during the peace, prosperity, improved sanitation and waste treatment, water purification, modern medicine, greatly increased and better quality food production and other factors (“the blessings of heaven” perhaps).

It was then frightening to realize that this amazing change in population longevity plus the natural “baby boom” that happened after the war, was used by the population control advocates to validate and get support for their population explosion models and subsequent extreme population control measures. Their predictions included hundreds of millions of people starving to death in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, both of which predictions did not happen.[4]

1a - the overpopulation myth sardinesWarnings of overpopulation famines in the 1970’s and 1980’s did not come to pass in spite of illustrations of population explosions like this one.[5] 

The belief in these alarming predictions were a key factor in liberalizing abortion laws worldwide,[6] instituting coercive family limitation programs including China’s infamous “one-child policy”[7] and demonizing large families.[8] They ignored and mocked other views, especially religious ones, in typical “great and spacious building” fashion, rejected the Lord’s proclamation that “the earth is full; there is enough and to spare” (D&C 104:17) and His ongoing commandment to “multiply and replenish the earth.” (Genesis 1:22, Moses 2:28)

1b - crowdedA crowded beach in China’s eastern Shandong province. Used in an article to illustrate overpopulation.[9] 

2 - Life expectancyAn unprecedented leap in worldwide life expectancy statistics after World War II was a major factor in increased population growth during the last 60 years. This fact was misused by the population control advocates to put babies in the womb or even infants in mortal peril.[10]

 3 - Death RateThe reduction in the death rate parallels the increase in longevity during our amazing modern era so filled with the blessings of heaven upon the earth. The standard units for this graph are deaths per thousand persons.[11]

Heading Instead toward Catastrophic Underpopulation?

Instead of a major catastrophe or extinction by overpopulation, our world has sustained such a dramatic drop in birth and fertility rates, especially in developed countries, that our modern welfare-state societies will likely implode with too few youth and working adults to support the elderly population. This probable catastrophe has been made even more likely with the huge jump in life expectancy at birth statistics.

3a - cowboy in monument valleyWith the pioneer perspective being more like this picture of a lone cowboy in Monument Valley than the crowded beach in China, perhaps we in the more rural western US may have a better understanding about available land, food production and other population related issues.[12]  

4 - Birth and DeathNote that worldwide birth rates have dramatically declined even faster than death rates and the difference between the two is estimated to be only five births per thousand more than deaths per thousand by 2050.


  1. In matters of population control and limited resources, it never ceases to amaze me that the topic of space-based resources, which are virtually infinite, are never mentioned. Here in the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times The Lord has inspired the technology to explore other planets and even capture asteroids. In addition to the issues Ron has mentioned, reducing population growth undermines the human capital that would be needed to fund and build up space-based infrastructures that could obtain these infinite resources.
  2. Great job of research and demonstrating the "brutal facts" of the implosion of a working population. Chances are, the "solution" that will be proposed by the advocates of abortion will be to solve the problem of adult longevity. As people get too old, we just need to off them. See P. D. James' book Children of Men.
  3. Overpopulation was a subject during my college days (Arnold Ehrlich) in the early 70's. None of the predictions came to pass. Your item "e." is correct. the food is there. Its distribution is what needs addressing. I once saw that: a) If the Word of Wisdom was better adhered to i.e. "very little meat', there would be even more "bread' to eat/share, and b) mitigating the wasteful use of grains and vegetables for alcohol, there would be enough food "and to spare" to get us through any famine.
  4. In "Work We Must, but the Lunch is Free," Hugh Nibley makes an interesting observation that may shed some light on the subject at hand, and the divine mandate that lies upon the Saints ... First, a little context. In the late 1800s, as "Origin of the Species" and other treatises were published, it appears that a "law of the jungle, survival of the fittest" philosophy emerged. Naturally, this frame of reference becomes part of the philosophical underpinning of the population explosion rationalization. According to Nibley, "... 'Origin of the Species' appears and put the unimpeachable seal of science on the lunch-grab as the Supreme Law of Life and Progress. And it was expressly to refute that philosophy on which Brigham Young founded the BYU in 1975: 'We have enough and to spare, at present in these mountains, of schools where ... the teachers ... dare not mention the principles of the gospel to their pupils, but have no hesitancy in introducing into the classroom the theories of Huxley, or Darwin, or Miall, and the false political economy which contends against cooperation and the United Order. This course I am resolutely and uncompromisingly opposed to ... As a beginning in this direction I have endowed the Brigham Young Academy at Provo and [am] now seeking to do the same thing in this city [Salt Lake City]. With his usual unfailing insight, President Young saw it was the economic and political rather than the scientific and biological implications of natural selection that were the real danger and most counter to the gospel." (pages three - four). As I see it, a grand and glorious opportunity lies before us. Utah has precisely what it takes to lead the world in lifting the living standards of people throughout the world, of demonstrating that there really is ample and to spare, in terms of food, water, energy, etc. Our actions can spread the Gospel in a way that gives weight and credibility to the words we speak. James W. Johnston, Alpine
  5. With this scenario -not enough young workers to support the elderly, I expect more talk about euthanasia. Some governments are already promoting this idea.
  6. While we were crammed into the gym for a pep assembly this garbage was preached. All it took was a trip from SoCal to Utah for a 15 year old to tell it was Garbage! Heavenly Father is in charge. He's put enough resources together to take care of business.
  7. This is a great article, with good information. One of the problems with population distribution, also, is that the developed countries are reducing their population more than the developing countries, so the reduction in people with higher education and greater resources to solve the world problems is also a big concern.
  8. Don't worry about it! Billions will be eliminated in the "Great Fire" way before a crisis can occur!!
  9. The world can well support its population. Why aren't we?
  10. Overpopulation may not be the problem, but overcrowding has the potential to be catastrophic. In over crowded areas the crime rate is higher, mental illness (brought on by over-stimulation of the adrenal glands), disease, sexual promiscuity and STDs, and child neglect are all found at significantly rates in overcrowded areas. As our population grows, we are also, as a species, moving from rural areas to urban areas, thus compounding the problem.Many animal species suffer the same consequences when they get overcrowded. If things keep going as they have been in the last few decades, we are heading for a huge population crash.
  11. I very much appreciated your comments and the data you provided. I was so eager to read the latest Dan Brown book - I had lived in Tuscany, was a student of the Humanities at BYU, and speak Italian, and although Dan Brown's previous books and his hero Robert Langdon often annoyed me, I was still really excited to see what great mystery would take place in the Renaissance city I love so much. I was nauseated by the end of the novel, though. The conclusions arrived at by the author were distasteful to me and seemed false compared to both what I'd seen in Europe and what I've been taught in the Church. Relevant data coupled with revelation tops a best-selling thriller any day, in MY book!
  12. It is much easier to sell fear than faith, so thank you for this well researched and well presented article on a very timely subject. I was married in the early sixties and felt the crush of the overpopulation fears with disapproving comments as we had nine children. They are now all well educated, well employed, and strong in the faith and with their 40 children are making a big impact on the economy. During their growing years, the world development in increased food production alone has been amazing for me to witness. And on top of that we have learned to distribute that food in a much more efficient manner. We have gone from a population of 2.5 billion to 7 billion during this time and yet I heard on the news just recently that there is not one person in the world who is starving for lack of food unless their very own government is preventing the outside aid that is available.
  13. Absolutely amazing article! The research and presentation were outstanding. It has been a great reinforcement to me about many vital issues we need to understand so we can better defend our position .Thank you Brother Millet for all of your work to bring this information to us.
  14. Just a quick comment as a Catholic with pontifical degrees in Philosophy and Dogmatics..... First, I am not being critical. I have worked with the LDS Elders before in the Policy Arena. I respect your religion, though, of course, have profound disagreements. Seconds, specifically as to Dante, the author speaks of Dan Brown's respect for Catholic doctrine as described in Te Divine Comedy by Dante. I would argue he does nothing of the sort. He simply uses this in a way to further his deranged ramblings about overpopulation. He is on record as not even believing in a real Hell, which Catholics are bound to believe in. Having worked for multiple Members of Congress with a large LDS population in their districts, I know well the LDS customs of being charitable to one's neighbors, but I fear too much charity is shown in this circumstance. By and large, the writer hits so many of the overpopulation myths right on the head. An overall kudos to him.
  15. We can't have a favorable ratio of young people to old people without a positive relative growth rate of the population. But this is not sustainable: Even a 1% per year relative growth rate would result in a world population 1000 times what is now in only 695 years.
  16. Great article. Brings to mind a similar topic raised by a friend who was big in UNICEF. When I approached him about the insurmountable task of ridding the world of poverty. He said, If all the people in the world who could afford a fast offering did so, there would be no poverty, no lack of clean drinking water, no needless deaths from ridiculously-easy-to-prevent diseases such as malaria. So much for the "if there's a God why does He allow so much suffering in the world" argument. Now, if only the world would listen.
  17. Scott's comment about space resources is very correct. I ran a spread sheet and starting with a reasonable space colony, and assuming less than maximal growth (which is less than what should be expected because of the economic rule of five which space construction far exceeds) the emptying of earth took 105 years, assuming a faster than replacement birth rate. Yours Ed Wilson
  18. I have been following this issue, with interest, for several years now. My interest started when I read Boyd K. Packer's talk given at the 2006 BYU Women's Conference entitled: Children of God. He talks about how the declining fertility rate, leading to an aging population, will lead to serious problems for a society: "Virtually every social security and medical system in the developed world is facing bankruptcy. An aging population can neither work to sustain the people nor fight to protect them." The sobering thing, however, is that members of the LDS church are following this worldly trend. President Packer went on to say: "That trend is seen in the Church. Worldwide, the birthrate among members married in the temple is notably higher than in the world, but this rate too has been declining. In one European country with a sizeable population of Church members, for example, the birthrate among temple-married members, although higher than the national average, is below the replacement rate. Worldwide, the birthrate of Church members is only slightly higher than the world at large." President Packer continues: "Like the rest of the population, members of the Church must suffer the consequences of these trends. We face a particular set of issues because the pool from which missionaries are drawn is in steady decline." This last statement really floored me. This makes me wonder if the reason, or a reason, for the lowering of the age that missionaries can serve is that we, who are members of the LDS church, are not having enough children, so the Lord had to step in and increase the number of missionaries by lowering the age.
  19. If we have no human stock at unsustainable levels, don't you think it's a good time / reason for the Christ to return? If we were to discern the seasons and times?? Matthew said "woe to those who give suck". Meaning young mothers. if its so hard to have children now, its hard for woman on their hearts, I.e woe. A reference to the fertility issue perhaps, the overall break down in the nuclear family (over 50% births in US are out of wedlock).
  20. Thank you for this article. While I do not have the excellent charts to back up what I've seen, I've been aware of the Japan underpopulation problem for 20 years; it was reported that, even back then, the government was running PSAs encouraging women to have children! I also witnessed this aging and choosing-not-to-bother-with-having-children underpopulation problem firsthand when I lived in Europe for many years. I have not heard anyone talking about overpopulation in so long that the idea Brown would center his latest novel around that is pretty amusing, and smacks of propaganda. I will use the time I would have spent reading that book in pursuit of more worthy goals.
  21. >>>>>> Chris Lang wrote: We can't have a favorable ratio of young people to old people without a positive relative growth rate of the population. But this is not sustainable: Even a 1% per year relative growth rate would result in a world population 1000 times what is now in only 695 years. <<<<<< That logic was what I supposed as well. Considering how little we know about 600 years from now, why not try a 1% growth until 2100? That would be just under 17 billion--which is easily sustainable. ------------------------ Yet, even in the 600 year case, I knew before I was surprised by the results of this research that the Lord knows far better than we do what will happen and what He will allow. He also knows the many other factors which He will bring about that have been prophesied. He is not a "mean monster God" just because he moves some of His children to the spirit world to continue to try to have them benefit from the Gospel message, which we see abundantly in prophesy. We have the assurance of the Lord in scripture and the Prophets that overpopulation catastrophe will not occur and that "there is enough and to spare." ---------------------------- Now, the big questions: Do we believe God's assurances and the words of His prophets? And, would any of those calculations and predictions that seem impossible to reconcile then validate us rationalizing the breaking the commandments and slaughtering the innocents, whether unborn babies or the elderly? ------------------------
  22. Great article. Along with the overpopulation myth, there's also the "scarcity" myth that's being taught nowadays in our schools. The truth is, this world is a world of abundance. And there's ample opportunity, ample jobs, ample wealth, ample food, etc. These overpopulation and scarcity myths scare good people into believing this nonsense which only furthers agendas not in harmony with God's will and stops people from reaching their full potential. Everyone has the power within themselves and the ability to obtain abundance in this life if they would only believe instead of giving in to the fear. I live in Germany together with my German husband and our 5 children + two children out of his first marriage. The average child per family is 1 child, maybe 2. In the Church here, many just have 3 or 4. Exactly as stated here in the article, higher than the rest of the world but not much. When I go in public with all of my children, I'm often asked if these are my own children or if I'm a daycare mom. It's uncommon here to have 7 children, and we're grateful we did not follow the world in this regard. As far as living in abundance, there's an excellent article by President Monson called "Living the Abundant Life" & a great book by Leslie Householder called the "The Jackrabbit Factor: about how to obtain this abundance.
  23. Of course aging populations are problematic, especially in places such as Japan, Russia, and Holland. But overpopulation is a major threat to the environment (it is the major cause of global warming, which is an undeniable fact now) and in some countries such as Yemen and Niger, population growth rates are unsustainable and will warrant major political, economic, and infrastructural restructuring.
  24. Obviously, Obamacare and it's death panels are a result of this thinking. Tax us more and put more money in their own pockets while they use our own money to set up death panels for our beloved parents. They would like for us to pay our hard earned money to pay for the death panels which will hurt our parents and eventially ourselves. I'm open to discussions on overpopulation but the way these criminals are dealing with it deserves Nuremberg trials.
  25. According to the revised UN numbers (2012), population will be 9 Billion by 2050 and 11 Billion by 2100.
  26. The estimates from the United Nations that you are citing have since been revised upward. You can see that on this link: In addition, many scientists point out that even at current population levels, we are already outstripping the planet's ability to support us.

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