Polygamy, Again

The real reason that polygamy was restored was to decrease the number of children each woman would have, which was necessary in order to . . .

(I don’t really think that. I’m kind of poking fun at people who use scientific studies [see: Word of Wisdom] and people who make up random stuff out of thin air [see: polygamy] to explain our doctrines.)

50 comments for “Polygamy, Again

  1. February 22, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Interesting that the article quotes an evolutionary biologist about polygamy…

  2. Rob Perkins
    February 22, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Julie, the article didn’t seem to explain our doctrines. Rather, it seemed to be a geek-out observation of a phenomenon. Now, seeing some Mormon twist that article into a thin-air supposition about “why the Lord instituted polygamy” would be what we could really poke some fun at, especially since the reason is laid out in the Book of Jacob, right?

  3. Adam Greenwood
    February 22, 2011 at 10:58 am

    You can’t conclude, from this, that “19th C. Mormon polygamists had fewer overall children,” as the sidebar does. The possibility is that given real gender imbalances, absent polygamy Mormon women would have married gentile men. You can conclude that there were fewer children, but not that there were fewer Mormon children.

    I’m not real sure why a silly extrapolation from data means its wrong to extrapolate from data.

  4. February 22, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I think the authors were looking at effects of plural marriage, not at origins or justifications. And their findings on effects are interesting: the rate of births per plural wife decreases with each new plural wife. So the standard interpretation of Jacob 2:30 (“For if I will …raise up seed unto me, I will command my people …”) appears to have it wrong as to the actual effect of polygamy on the whole seed thing.

  5. Julie M. Smith
    February 22, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Rob, yes, the people I am poking fun at are not the study’s authors, but Church members who (mis)appropriate the data.

    Adam, good observation.

  6. February 22, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I think the real value of the study is that it pulls the rug out from under one of the justifications some people use for polygamy; that it was restored in order to “increase seed.” Since polygamous women had less offspring, and potential male mates could not find a spouse, it seems that polygamy actually decreased Mormon progeny. It seems that the only beneficiaries were the Mormon men allowed to practice it – the more wives, the more genes they were able to pass on.

  7. PaulM
    February 22, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Dave, your conclusion only holds if you ignore growth differentials. If the goal is for those who occupy the earth to be numbered among God’s elect then as long as the proportion of females giving birth to children shifts toward those birthing God’s elect then polygamy accomplishes just what Jacob asserts.

  8. Paul 2
    February 22, 2011 at 11:50 am

    58% less selective pressure!! This is the life! When my mission president told me no woman would ever marry me, he could tell I wasn’t fit by polygamy standards. Good thing I live in the times when guys have it easy. The bar has been lowered.

  9. Jonathan Green
    February 22, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Dave and Josh, that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow. You’re assuming that the polygamous wives, without polygamy, would have ended up in monogamous marriages with the average number of offspring. If one thinks of polygamy as a way for men to gather harems of fertile young women, that may seem like a logical assumption. If one thinks of polygamy as providing marriages for unattached women without other financial support, that assumption appears questionable. (I once did a short post on Richard Bushman citing research in support of the second position, but what does he know?)

    Also, were men who couldn’t find wives a serious problem in 19th century polygamy? Certainly it would be a problem in a closed society, but 19th-century Utah had a constant influx of immigrants, and men heading off on missions to various places around the world.

    Also, I wish there were some way to discuss demographics without treating women as uteruses handicapped by their own aspirations and free will. Ugh.

  10. Julie M. Smith
    February 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    “I wish there were some way to discuss demographics without treating women as uteruses handicapped by their own aspirations and free will.”

    Easy! Talk about demographics instead by treating men as sperm deliverers handicapped with morality!

  11. Lon
    February 22, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    You cannot read from this study that the net change in offspring was negative. If there was a surplus of females, then even if each woman had less children than she would have had in a monogamist marriage AND if only a few men could not find a mate thanks to polygamy, polygamy would still have resulted in more children overall.

    However, if that second condition was not true… i.e. that many men could not find spouses as a result of ‘alpha-males’ scooping up polygamous wives, then you are right, this study would indicate a net decrease in the net number of children. And this likely hints at the reason why polygamy was indeed fazed out, the first few generations of polygamous marriages produced enough children – both male and female – that after a certain period of time, polygamy would actually have acted contrary to its stated purpose. In other words, polygamy was needed for a very short, very specific set of circumstances and is not the general law of the Lord even if it is required on rare occasions.

  12. February 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Plural marriage wasn’t just about how many babies were produced, but perhaps more-so about who was doing the producing. (At least, that’s the impression I have from the current state of literature on the subject subject to further revision!).

  13. J.A.T.
    February 22, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Absolutley! Quality was the real intent- a quantity of quality accomplished though patrilinial means. The point was never that several of BY’s wives only had 0-3 kids, but that BY had 56 with women who in turn represented the same qualities. Not even Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar could do that!

  14. February 22, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    J.A.T: saying that polygamy was instituted to bring about “quality” rather than “quantity” is dangerously similar to eugenics. It wasn’t OK when the Nazi’s tried to create a master race (or “quality” offspring) and it is not good for Mormons to have done it either. Also, there’s no evidence that polygamous offspring were higher “quality” anyway – whatever that means.

    I might agree with B. Hodges, in the sense that polygamy only benefited the husband who was able to increase his offspring. But it came at the cost of the females (who produced less) and other males unable to find spouses.

  15. Paul Bohman
    February 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I’m skeptical that the institution of polygamy had anything to do with manipulating the number of offspring, whether to produce more or fewer.

    It seems to me that Joseph Smith was reading in the Old Testament, and couldn’t quite wrap his head around the idea that these highly revered icons of the Old Testament, like Abraham, could have been justified in having multiple wives, when the later doctrine of Christianity seems to support or even demand absolute monogamy. Yet Abraham was obviously approved by God, and wondrous promises were made to him about how the entire world would be blessed through him.

    Then it hit him: It must have been instituted by God. Since Joseph was in the middle of restoring the true religion, as he saw it, he then had to ask himself: is polygamy something that needs to be restored too? He eventually came to the conclusion that it was indeed something that needed to be restored. Once he was convinced of this, he never looked back and began to live the principle, in spite of his wife’s understandable objections, which he overruled by practicing it behind her back.

    If he had seen the primary purpose as producing more offspring, he would have used it to produce more offspring. And while it’s true that there are some claims of his fathering children through his other wives, none of these have been substantiated, despite his marriages to some 30+ women, give or take, depending on whose estimate you choose.

    I think he simply saw it as a true lost principle, and was convinced it was necessary as a part of the “restoration of all things.” Whether polygamy was ever a God-instituted principle (as opposed to a regional or historical custom) at all is debatable, as is the corresponding claim that it was a true principle in need of restoration, but in my interpretation, that’s how Joseph saw it.

  16. chris
    February 22, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I have a pretty firm conviction on a large part of the answer for the “why” questions pertaining to plural marriage are plainly given in the scriptures.

    Many of those who practiced it, cited this in their discourses in the early days of the church in Utah. We shy away from it, because “we” don’t really understand the “whys” today, so we rightly answer, that we don’t really know why — because we don’t understand it all since we don’t live in their time/situation and were not asked to go through it.

    But as was pointed out the book of Jacob provides an important answer.

    “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife, and concubines he shall have none. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:27,30)

    I think those who only view “raise seed” as “make lots of babies” are missing an important point. It was not only quantity, but the quality of that quantity, if you want to put a modern spin on it.

    It’s not just to raise seed, but as plainly given in the verse, “raise up seed unto me”. I think those who faithfully sacrificed much on the alters of plural marriage were able to have their faith increased so much more. I don’t think that level of sacrifice could happen without a many-fold increase in the faith of these women. This would have a dramatic effect on their children See Stripling warriors for the effect a tremendously faithful mother (actually laid down their lives rather than break their covenants) can have on children.

    The mothers of plural marriage laid down their lives, after a fashion, and they and their children were blessed tremendously for it. I do think of it as one of those terrible sacrifices to bear, but in bearing it they proceeded to lay the foundation of church leaders for the next 100 years, and we still “benefit” from the reverberations of their sacrifices even today.

  17. February 22, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    @ Jonathan # 9:

    “You’re assuming that the polygamous wives, without polygamy, would have ended up in monogamous marriages with the average number of offspring.”

    Yes – in every monogamous society, both human or other animal, males and females are born in a 1:1 ratio and most men find female mates. In polygamous societies, for every man who takes more than 1 wife, that leaves one male disenfranchised. For every Jack there is a Jill – unless they live in a polygamist society.

    As for the justification that there were women without financial support, it doesn’t follow that they needed to be polygamist. They could have gotten married to a monogamist male and had financial support from them. There was not a surplus of women in Utah. Demographics from objective census data clearly show the opposite – that there were more men than women in Utah while polygamy was practiced. So much for that theory.

  18. February 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    @ Chris # 16:

    My reply to J.A.T in #14 would apply to your comment too, since you bring up the “quality” not “quantity” argument.

  19. February 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    The other problem with both the “quality” or “quantity” argument is that Joseph Smith, who introduced polygamy for some reason, doesn’t have a lot of extramarital kids on record. Even his own children from Emma did not go West with the Brigham Young schism of the Church. So why did he have 33 wives? I don’t think “quality” of offspring had anything to do with it.

  20. Adam Greenwood
    February 22, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Yes – in every monogamous society, both human or other animal, males and females are born in a 1:1 ratio and most men find female mates. In polygamous societies, for every man who takes more than 1 wife, that leaves one male disenfranchised. For every Jack there is a Jill – unless they live in a polygamist society.

    In a closed system. Utah was not a closed system.

    Also your male/female ratios don’t tell us much. What we need to know is active Mormon male/female rations by age-group.

  21. February 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    hmmm… my so-many-greats grandfather had 7 wives and 63 children – an average of nine children per wife. I pity those poor women, had they wound up in monogamous relationships and have had to bear even more children.

    It’s been decades since I last read all the modern day scriptures, but as I recall, Joseph Smith’s earliest writings on polygamy stated that is was evil, not to be done. As he wrestled with his own desire, that then evolved into God commanding him to do it.

    In that little internal struggle, I think, can be found the real reason why the church got into polygamy.

  22. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    #4 Dave – It definitely changes what many may have thought that scripture meant (quality/quantity has aldready been picked up on by other somments here). Clearly it can’t necessarily mean an increase in the rate of births per woman (incidentally the article doesn’t directly address overall population growth under polyandry, just the effect of selective pressure on each sex relative to the other), although it could mean a relative increase, or increase in population stability depending on current social demographics.

    Additionally the scripture could mean something entirely different such as setting up a particular allelic distribution, or social structure, or what have you, with the intent that the Lord’s people be better off as the population begins to establish itself for long term success.

    The article seem to hint at it as a weeding process selecting on whatever it is that polygamy favored among successful male practitioners. It had the simultaneous effect of decreasing the average load of childbearing on women on while maintaining the positive(?) dynamics of large families. At this point this kind of talk is total conjecture. The article really only addresses the relative sexual selective pressures of a polygamous mating system.

    #14 Josh “saying that polygamy was instituted to bring about “quality” rather than “quantity” is dangerously similar to eugenics.” Umm… do a word search of the JD on eugenics. Divine eugenics was a central argument by polygamous leadership.

    “polygamy only benefited the husband who was able to increase his offspring. But it came at the cost of the females (who produced less)” Not necessarily, because you haven’t factored in the possibility that the offspring of women in a polygamous marriage may have a greater fitness in the population than the offspring of women in monogamous marriages. You have to scale for fitness. They could bear fewer children (physiological benefit for rearing their children) while perhaps ensuring a greater rate of success among their offspring, thus decreasing the biological investment while increasing the rewards. This all is a very promising line of study and I hope more groups look into it with increased attention to evolutionary and population genetics and demographic rigor.

  23. February 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    raedyohed: I don’t think eugenics (whether you call it “divine” or Nazi eugenics) is a good thing. What if leaders today said that offspring of monogamous marriages are not as “quality” as offspring of LDS leaders, and took our wives for them? That’s messed up now, just like it was then, when LDS leaders (in a sense) took prospectives mates away from unwed men by marrying them all up. Wilford Woodruff wrote fellow Apostle George A. Smith: “All are trying to get wives, until there is hardly a girl 14 years old in Utah, but what is married, or just going to be.” (Journal History, 1 April 1857)

    I’m sorry, but your mental gymnastics in the second paragraph (trying to find some way that polygamy increased fitness of the women) is not convincing. Do polygamist women today in FLDS communities look “fit” to you?

  24. Last Lemming
    February 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    There was not a surplus of women in Utah. Demographics from objective census data clearly show the opposite – that there were more men than women in Utah while polygamy was practiced. So much for that theory.

    This is the correct answer to the wrong question. Here is a worthy stab at the answer to the right question.


  25. chris
    February 22, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Either I explained my view poorly or you just wanted to assume your answers rebut what I had to say. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Simple question, unrelated to polygamy. Does a sacrifice bring forth blessings? I won’t go through the lectures on faith, which lay a decent foundation in this regard. But when you make a personal sacrifice you are blessed many times over in a variety of ways, but always included (at least for me and according to the words of the prophets) is that the person sacrificing gains a greater testimony (knowledge). Their faith is increased immeasurably.

    How you would in turn suggest that extraordinarily faithful mothers would have no “added value” impact on their sons and daughters is beyond me. It also flies in the face of the evidence. The subsequent generations of the church flourished in their faith. I think the concept is again similar with the sacrifice the pioneers made. As well as that of the early Christian church.

    One key difference between the sacrifice of the pioneers as well as the early Christian church? Their sacrifices didn’t actually bring forth future generations. There is no denying it that more children were raised by extraordinarily faithful mothers than were not under plural marriage.

    I hope I don’t sound like I’m saying how great plural marriage is/was. I don’t think it’s great for pioneers to die or lose their feet, for Christians to be stoned, for Abraham to (be willing to) sacrifice is child, or for women to give up a large part of their very essence.

    I’m in awe of these women. They not only threw themselves on a proverbial grenade in order to raise up a more righteous posterity, they threw themselves on that grenade everyday of their lives over and over again. Surely a sacrifice like that, when done in light of the fact that they were actually following God’s will, would raise the depth of their testimony far beyond my own. Surely, that would have an impact on their children.

  26. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    #23 Josh
    I’m sorry my comments weren’t very clear. I rattled off some thoughts quickly since this thread seemed to be moving along fast. I mentioned the reference to “divine eugenics” because that is precisely what is discussed by many early leaders of the church in connection with the practice of polygamy. That is their term, not mine. I did not mention it in order to make any sort of qualitative statement about eugenics or polygamy per se.

    To clarify my second paragraph I am only engaging in a conjectural exercise in which I posit an average fitness differential between the offspring of polygamous women and monogamous women. It is possible that if a differential threshold were reached that the average decrease of offspring among polygamous women would still result in a net increase of their progeny as a percent of the population over time. It’s basic population genetics, but again, it’s jsut a conjectural exersize and not meant to justify or give qualitative weight to the practice itself.

    We also need to make note of the fact that reproductive success itself is not a substitute for overall fitness, since the survival rates of the offspring are as important in the long term contribution of an individual to the gene pool. The news article on the study conflates fitness with birth rates, and the study says nothing directly about the evolutionary fitness of polygamous women. It seems obvious however, that the evolutionary fitness of polygamous males in increased. The study directly confirms this.

  27. February 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Chris: Your argument seems to boil down to the idea that sacrifice brings blessings. Polygamy was a sacrifice. Therefore it brought blessings. (How you measure these blessings, and what they are exactly, is another matter.)

    But what did Joseph Smith sacrifice in instituting polygamy? He had sexual access to multiple women. He did not provide for them monetarily. He did not have to care for additional offspring. So I don’t see what he sacrificed. The women, on the other hand, sometimes sacrificed having a relationship with an existing husband (polyandry), sacrificed having as many offspring as they could have had in a monogamous marriage, and sacrificed marrying a person that they would have rather married. Read the story of Helen Mar Kimball, or the Huntington sisters (or just about any of his wives) from Todd Compton’s excellent book “In Sacred Loneliness” and you will see it was the women who were making the sacrifices – not Joseph.

  28. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    From the article: “For females, the association between female RS [reproductive success] and MS [mating success] (?F) is weak, especially so early in the 19th century when the population presumably more closely experienced natural fertility conditions.”

    In other words, this study does not provide any evidence that polygamy had any noticeable effect on the evolutionary fitness of Mormon women.

  29. February 22, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    raedyohed: Thanks for clarifying. I think it’s telling that polygamy was, in the LDS leaders mind who instituted it, a program of eugenics. They seem pretty honest about this; and I think that is telling.

    As to your second point: I don’t see how sacrificing opportunities to have offspring (from an average of 5 to 3) would increase your genetic fitness. The name of the evolutionary game is to try to outproduce your genetic competitors. LDS leaders who had multiple wives, cashed in on polygamy. It really helped their genetic fitness.

    Mating strategies in both humans and animals of all sorts, is explainable in the same way: they engage in mating patterns that produce the most offspring. Humans usually only have 1 child at a time, and require a lot of investment from the male in order to raise a very dependent child. Similar mating patterns are seen in many birds – who also are mostly monogamous – since a female bird cannot nest and raise young on her own. She needs a male to assist in nesting and protecting the young while she feeds. But gorillas (polygamous) and chimps (polyandrous) evolved different mating patterns because male investment is not as important, and since other females in the troop assist in raising the young.

    Anyway, it’s getting a bit technical, but my point is that humans have evolved a mostly monogamous matting pattern because it’s evolutionary successful. We, like many bird species, need the investment of a male to provide and protect and raise kids. The “sperm-donation” system of the polyandrous chimp or polygamous elephant seal doesn’t work as well with humans. Polygamy is an aberration, except in largely backwards African and Middle Eastern societies, who have been practicing polygamy since the time of Abraham, and have worked out the kinks in the system (unfortunately, women are a victim of most polygamist societies – as Chris seems to admit in #25). So I don’t see how the LDS polygamy experiment added to the fitness of LDS women on a whole.

  30. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    “I think it’s telling that polygamy was, in the LDS leaders mind”
    To be fair, in the late 1800’s eugenics was a major focus of scientific and political thinkers, and was seen as a moral approach to social design. In a sense we are all still eugenecists, we just don’t like calling it that. One cant’ avoid the fact that social norms affect individual reproductive fitness, thus ultimately shaping society.

    Mormonism had its own flavor of eugenics, and it went beyond just the acceptance of polygamy as a mating system. My recollection is that leadership often lumped together a lot of social standards unique to the Mormon community (abstinence and the Word of Wisdom especially) under the umbrella of “divine eugenics.” It was a view that they expressed in those terms, but what they meant was that they believed they had set up, under the direction of God, a superior social system. It was often discussed in connection with the concept of “divine evolution” in the sense that they felt that over time Mormon society would provide a framework for the evolution of humankind.

    I find it interesting that there were Mormon corollaries to Darwin and Galton, and am happy that modern behavioral evolutionists are taking a fresh look at Mormons of that time period.

  31. chris
    February 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Josh,You got the first part right. Sacrifice brings blessings. Then you asked what kind and how much. What kind I answered that previously and I’ll explain a little further.

    Increased testimony in the form of personal, revealed knowledge. This can not be gained by any other means other than sacrifice, at least to my understanding. “Acquiring faith unto salvation depends on knowing that one’s life is pleasing to God, which knowledge can be obtained only by the willingness to sacrifice all earthly things…” (you can read more on knowledge and sacrifice in the 6th Lecture on Faith. For me this lays an important foundation in talking about what was gained.

    What did JS or other males gain? I wasn’t talking about them. You brought them into the picture. I was talking about the mothers, who were the ones, by and large, raising the children. Why would we have to be so sexist as to make this about the men?

    I’m familiar that women suffered — hence I described it as jumping on a grenade over and over again for decades of ones life. You’ll notice that does not sound fun and happy like going to a carnival. I think it was a terrible price to pay. I think the pioneers paid a terrible price. The early Christian martyrs paid a terrible price. The Son of God paid a terrible price. Do you want me to keep going about terrible things?

    Am I saying that terrible prices are happy things? No, so why do you pretend to portray me as such? Polygamy ended, because it was a terrible thing. I don’t think it was something that God ever intended to continue indefinitely, contrary to what some who participated in it thought. Sometimes when we’re in the midst of something we can see how it will all end, but when we get through it after a time we can look back and behold the hand of God. I think that’s true for those who participated in it. I think it’s true for each of us and our lives. At the end, we’ll be able to look back all people, no matter their circumstances will truly be able to bow on our knees and confess Jesus is the Christ.

    I get it that you have a beef with polygamy and see the men involved as sexual predators or deviants. It may very well be true that many or even all of them had issues with dealing with sexual lusts. I know I do… but that does not follow that because King David became a war like person it means God never wanted him to fight in wars does it?

  32. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Corollaries is the wrong word… analogues.

  33. chris
    February 22, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Ultimately, it all comes down to faith. As always, with virtually any issue. Once everything is stripped away, and you’ve looked at the data, examined the statistics, you have to make a decision with or without faith. I do not believe God wants us to simply dig deeper and deeper until we find the “God particle” (or “God Statistic”) that proves empirically that what He or His servants say is true.

    Look deeper and deeper for numbers to confirm something for you… and I think all you’ll find at the bottom of all that digging is a foundation that must be built upon Faith.

    To relate it back to the topic, these women had a great faith and a knowledge of God I don’t think I could approach, which was born out of sacrifice. And I won’t seek to demean it by saying they were the hapless victims of sexual predators. Thank God that level of sacrifice is not asked of anyone in our day.

  34. February 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    raedyohed: Every experiment in social evolution or eugenics turned out badly. If Mormons try to persist in saying that polygamy was somehow inspired, then admitting that it’s leaders viewed it as a eugenics experiment in social Darwinism is not the right tact to take. Darwin did not espouse this mutant version of his theory. Evolution tells us WHAT happened, not what SHOULD. There is a world of difference. People who look to Darwinism to guide their morals are looking in the wrong place.

    Chris: I think you make my point better than I make it myself: Polygamy was evil. It hurt women. It benefited men. It is troubling why it ever happened, and wrong to try to chalk it up to some sacrifice God wanted people to make, for some unknown reason, for a limited time frame. God, if he is the same unchanging being, should not be such a moral relativist. Speaking of moral relativism, after being rejected by Nancy Rigdon, Joseph Smith wrote her a letter trying to persuade her, saying “happiness is the object and design of our existence. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.”

  35. Julie M. Smith
    February 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Hm, I suppose I should be amused that a post critical of personal theories to explain doctrine has generated a bunch of comments consisting of . . . personal theories to explain doctrine.

    Can we move on?

  36. Jax
    February 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I’m curious what this group thinks of Isaiah’s passage repeated in 2 Nephi 14:1 which reads:

    CHAPTER 14

    Zion and her daughters shall be redeemed and cleansed in the millennial day—Compare Isaiah 4. About 559–545 B.C.

    1 aAND in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our breproach.

    (Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 14:Heading – 1)

    It is commonly read that polygamy will again be instituted among the ‘saints’. That doesn’t seem a popular viewpoint here. I’m just asking the question and would love to read the responses and discussion.

  37. Researcher
    February 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Polygamy an unmitigated evil? (Comment 34.) That’s an awfully hard case to make if you actually know anything about the people and families involved in the practice. Sure the practice was difficult and resulted in a number of problems, some of them serious. Sure it does not fit with your world view. But downright evil? Naah.

    If you’re really interested in the subject of 19th century Mormon polygamy, a good place to start is Kathryn Daynes’ book More Wives Than One.

  38. February 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Researcher: Maybe “evil” (what I actually said) is too harsh a word. But I don’t think by much. Thanks for the book rec. I’ll check it out. I’d also recommend “Mormon Polygamy: A History” by Richard Van Wagoner and “In Sacred Loneliness” by Todd Compton. If it’s not “evil,” it sure comes close in it’s level of abuse of power by men who had it, onto those who had little.

  39. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm


    Touché… although, I’m trying to mostly just parse the news article and the referent study in the context of the “Mormon mind.” The thrust of my comments is mostly to build up to a thrash of the news article about the actual study. As per the usual the article fails hard. Check the title: “Polygamy hurt 19th century Mormon wives’ evolutionary fitness.” I hope I’ve shown that this headline is a sensationalized misunderstanding of the actual results of the study. If I haven’t made my case well enough, I’ll give the bullet points.

    . Female mating success and reproductive success were not strongly correlated in the study. (See fig 2 if you’ve got access to the paper)
    . While the average number of children of each additional wife goes down, the study does not present any data on the average number of polygamous wives versus monogamous wives.
    . At most the reproductive success of first wives is higher than that of last wives. No data is presented on this question.
    . Mating success and reproductive success in this paper are not adequate measures of “evolutionary fitness,” since they do not take into account the survival and reproductive success of offspring over time.
    . The paper instead presents data that bear on the reproductive and mating success of males, and talks about it in terms of selective pressure, although it does not provide evidence that directly proves that there was an evolutionary advantage (e.g a count of progeny for polygamous versus monogamous males). Nevertheless, the study supports as logical the conclusion that on average male polygamists had an evolutionary advantage over their monogamous counterparts.
    . The title of the news article ought to have been “Mormon polygamist males had evolutionary advantage over their monogamous associates” instead of “Polygamy hurt 19th century Mormon wives’ evolutionary fitness.”
    . The news article fails so hard it kinda makes me want to cry. I think I did a little, on the inside.

    See my point?

    Josh – My commenting in this thread has been as someone with training and interest in population genetics and evolution only for the sake of adding some scientific insight to the discussion, not as a means of advancing an apologetic argument in favor of polygamy. My forbears had their reasons for doing what they did. I’ll let their own words and actions speak for themselves and keep out of that argument.

  40. February 22, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    BHodges (12) expresses my understanding. I don’t see how that comment, together with J.A.T.’s reference to “qualities,” degenerated to an argument over eugenics. “Qualities” and the desired posterity of a righteous wo/man doesn’t equate to Naziism through any logical channel.

    Josh, Researcher merits her moniker through an intimate study and awareness of the lives of plural Mormon families of the past. I have no idea what your background is, but I gather from your hyperbole that you are more a student of ideology than history.

  41. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    As a side note I would argue that if it is in fact true that successful male polygamists had a higher evolutionary fitness by virtue of their mating system as the study suggests, then females increase their evolutionary fitness by participating in that mating system and selecting them as partners. As an argument from biological principle it seems to makes sense, but anybody else with some expertise on this could weigh in.

  42. Mark N.
    February 22, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Comparing Mormons to fruit flies.

    I’m outraged. Outraged, I tell you.

  43. February 22, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Ardis: What’s the difference in trying to make a master race of Aryans with certain physical characteristics, and using selective breeding to produce a religion with righteous people? The differences seem subtle to me, and not at all justified.

    You then resort to ad hominem attack (a favorite weapon of apologists when someone says something they don’t like) to infer I am a hyperbolic ideologue who knows little about history. If you could, please tell me where I am misinformed about the history of polygamy.

  44. February 22, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you for illustrating the meaning of “ideologue,” Josh. As for the rest, bite the wax tadpole.

  45. February 22, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for the link. I liked number 9: “If you disagree with me, make an actual argument. Don’t just make contrary assertions.That’s only contradiction.” And thank-you for illustrating my point about name-callers. I hope you feel better.

  46. Brad Dennis
    February 22, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Julie, I actually thought that it was an interesting study on polygamy. Certainly original, and it seemed to avoid the moral question of polygamy, which is good.

    Now for my two cents on polygamy:

    1. Joseph Smith started practicing it in secret at first, and allowed only a select few to practice it initially. It was illegal in the state of Illinois and had to be kept under raps.

    2. Polygamy was only ever practiced by 20 to 30 percent of Mormon men in Utah.

    Moral issues: I would no sooner condemn Mormon polygamy than I would polygamy practiced among African tribes.

  47. jsg
    February 22, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I just realized I’m a eugenics fan. I’m all for people who are amazing parents having relatively more children, and conversely, I think people who are creepy parents should have relatively fewer children. This way, children are more likely to have a good upbringing.

  48. jsg
    February 22, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I’m pretty sure that makes me a Nazi as well.

  49. raedyohed
    February 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Yeesh. Hope I wasn’t BTWing. Never saw that referenced before. Good to know.

    So anyways… the study itself has a lot of interesting data. It seems like one result that they show is that the variance of female reproductive success is actually curved down; it looks like the variance was increasing under polygamy [jibes with the differential reproduction among wives]. Fitness, strictly in terms of reproductive success does seem to go down slightly for women, while it increases drastically for men. From the paper: “In terms of fitness, polygyny strongly benefits males but weakly harms females.”

    Anywho… if anybody’s interested in getting a copy of the paper email me at raedyohed (at) gmail (dot) com.

  50. Julie M. Smith
    February 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    OK, we’re generating more heat than light here (with a few exceptions), so I’m going to close comments.

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