Does the Bible Condone Polygamy?


Entertainer and Atheist Penn Jillette claims that nothing will make you an atheist faster than reading the Bible.  I have read through the entire Bible cover to cover multiple times, and my faith has grown through the experience.

How can this be?  Rationally thinking adults reading through the same book and coming to drastically different conclusions?  We certainly both have our own biases, and those play an important role.  But I want to challenge one of the misunderstandings that those outside the faith often have about the Bible.  It does not condone polygamy.

First of all, the Bible makes it clear that the pattern for marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

When marriage is instituted by God, Adam is given just one wife, Eve.  In Genesis 2:24 we are told that “a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This idea is repeated in Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7, and Ephesians 5:31.  The pronouncement says “wife” and not “wives.”  Furthermore, a man can only leave his father and mother once (unless he goes back to them again, thus leaving his first wife.)

I would also suggest that a man can only experience the true union of two into one in a marriage to one and only one woman.  Thus the requirement that an overseer be the “husband of one wife” (literally: a one woman man) in 1 Timothy 3:2.

So maybe the pattern was for one man and one woman, but isn’t the Old Testament full of polygamy that God supports?  Actually, I think that Timothy Keller – summarizing the work of Berkeley Jewish scholar Robert Alter – sums up nicely how the Bible portrays polygamy: “In every generation polygamy wreaks havoc. Having multiple wives is an absolute disaster—socially, culturally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and relationally.”

God tolerated polygamy, but He was also very strait forward in his recording of its terrible results.

In Genesis 30, tension between sister-wives Rachel and Leah reaches the boiling point over an argument about some mandrakes that turns into an argument about who gets to sleep with their husband.  Centuries later, Solomon’s many wives turn him away from God and an entire family dynasty is brought to a screeching halt.  At every turn in fact, polygamy is causing rivalry and distress among participants.  If God supported polygamy, you would think His book would hold it up as beautiful, not portray it as a train wreck.

So when those like Penn Jillette read through the Bible, they see that God condones polygamy.  When I read through the Bible, I see His beautiful plan for one man and one woman, as well as the freedom that He gives His people to deviate from that plan, and the painful results that follow.

What implications could this principle have for us today?  For those determined to undermine the Bible, it is a reminder to read with an open mind instead of a hidden agenda.  For those who put their faith in the Bible, it is a reminder that a voice may not come out of the clouds and rebuke all of Christendom anytime someone deviates from God’s original plan.

It is not enough to assume that our lives are in line with His will simply because He has not spoken to us from a cloud.  We must go back to His patterns and invest in understanding the theology of the Word.


What Makes Christianity Special?

Cross of Jesus Christ

Poet and journalist Steve Turner satirically remarks in his poem “Creed:”

“We believe that all religions are basically the same; at least the ones we read were. They all believe in love and goodness.  They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”

Indeed, to claim that “all religions are basically one” or that “all religions lead to the same god” is logically inconsistent.  If you’re not convinced, this article should make my reasoning clear.

The Christian faith, as revealed in the Bible itself, has amazing, beautiful, transforming power in it.  It is is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  It pierces deep into our hearts, enabling it to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).

I would like to define some of what separates Christianity from other worldviews, and the power that it has.

1) Christianity gives ultimate meaning and purpose to life.

In this respect Christianity is separated from atheism.  The Bible gives us a view of a cosmic, beautiful, incredibly important story unfolding.  It is a war between good and evil, between love and lawlessness.  It gives us a reason to live and it shapes our lives.

Of course an atheist can live with a personal sense of existentially constructed meaning.  But that meaning lacks the authority to empower his actions in his moments of greatest need.  It is essentially utilitarian.  It is a personally constructed illusion that he needs to survive, and thus he doesn’t actually believe in it.  It is a product of random chance that happened by sheer luck to serve him for a time, and he is well aware of it.  Death will rob him of it entirely.

2) Christianity motivates us to do the right thing.

Once again, this separates us from atheism.

Can an atheist be moral?  Of course!  But behind closed doors, or when things get tough, he truly has no incentive to seek the common good over his own preservation and fulfillment.  His morality, like his meaning and purpose, is utilitarian and thus extremely flimsy.  He can live by rules, but He has no reason not to abandon them if it seems favorable to him to do so.

3) Christianity does justice to the importance of the heart.

This separates us from Islam.  Christianity is not a legalistic religion.  It is not chiefly about rule following.  A muslim is justified when his good deeds outweigh his bad ones.

In a legalistic religion, rituals become compulsive.  The heart is not addressed because the actions are considered sufficient.

Christianity, on the other hand, emphasizes the heart first, and actions follow naturally.  Consider Jesus’ brilliant “Sermon on the Mount” that begins in Matthew 5 for examples.

4) Christianity is ambitious.

This separates us from Buddhism.  A central goal of Buddhism is to become free from all desire.  Desire is understood to cause pain, and eliminating desire eliminates pain and brings us to enlightenment.  There is no distinction between desires for right or wrong ends.  All desire is to be eliminated.

Christianity exalts the desire for that which is right, while rejecting that which is wrong.  It is ambitious enough to expect something more wonderful to be accomplished than an escape from all ambition.

5) Christianity speaks seriously of our sins, but does not deprive us of our dignity.

The Bible goes so far as to say that we are all wicked.  Not one of us is good.  It holds no delusions about the nature of man (Romans 3:10).

It also indicates that we were made for great things, made just a little lower than the angels (Psalm  8:3-9), and that with the power and renewal that comes only from God we can be righteous (John 3).

6) Christianity teaches us how to forgive others and ourselves.

In this way I believe that Christianity outshines any other worldview.  The Bible teaches that God is Love.  Love is willing to suffer for the good of others.  Thus Jesus Christ came to the cross to suffer for our sakes, so that He might forgive us.

Any time you forgive someone, you are absorbing the evil that they have done rather than compounding it.  The incredible teaching of Christianity, which no other religion dares to suggest, is that God Himself, our Creator, is willing to suffer in order to absorb our evil.  In this way the relationship between us and Him is held together.

It follows that we have no right to withhold forgiveness from others.  We are not justified in withholding mercy when we are so clearly in need of it (Matthew 18:21-35).

In conclusion: No worldview meets mankind where he is like Christianity.  Its meaning, purpose, and morals are universal and objective, giving them the necessary weight to serve us in our most difficult hours.  It emphasizes the transformation of our hearts, not simply of our actions.  It gives us an ambitious outlook on the outcome of this amazing battle that we see around us.  It gently but firmly insists that we accept the wickedness of our own hearts, and then proceeds to flood them with the grace and hope necessary to become something more.  And most importantly, it teaches us the truth about love, the only force strong enough to hold us together.

Natural Selection: Evidence for Macroevolution?

Darwin's Finches

I remember being a sophomore in high school when my biology teacher announced that we would be studying evolution in the coming weeks.  Honestly, I was excited.

That might be surprising since macroevolution is inconsistent with my religious beliefs.  But I understood that if evolution turned out to be true, it would mean an error in my hermeneutic, rather than necessarily indicating error in God’s words.  I didn’t feel threatened by the theory, I felt intrigued by it.

I also understood that the truth has nothing to fear from investigation.  If my religious views were correct, there was no reason not to test them thoroughly.  So what I had heard so many adults get so upset about, I saw as a personal opportunity to seek out the truth for myself.

Despite a fairly large section of my textbook dedicated to the subject, I was truly shocked by the lack of conclusive evidence in the book.  There were a few vague statements about genetic mutations, and numerous, exhaustive examples of natural selection.  It was as if natural selection was evolution at work and we should need no further proof.

Natural selection is very easy to understand.  In any given environment, the organisms that are fit to thrive and reproduce in that environment grow in number, while those not suited to the environment are less successful at survival and reproduction and become rare or even die out.

In this way, nature “selects” certain traits in the gene pool of an organism.  For instance, in a species of moths with varying patterns on their wings, those with wing patterns that camouflage them against their environment more effectively will become more common.

So, could this process not drive evolution?  Use some basic critical thinking skills with me for a moment.

1) Natural selection never creates any new genetic information.

In order for a species to evolve into a higher species, it must acquire new genetic material.  But natural selection does not introduce even one bit of new genetic information into the gene pool of a species, it simply changes the prevalences of various traits within the gene pool in that specific setting.

Natural selection didn’t create moths with certain wing patterns, or finches with certain sized beaks, it simply made those traits, which were already present in the gene pool to begin with, more common in that area.

I’m sorry if you know your science and find this kind of review condescending.  But it amazes me how many young people who subscribe to macroevolution think that natural selection demonstrates it.

2) Genetic limits within species.

Dogs are a great illustration for this point because they have such an amazing degree of genetic variability within their gene pool.  Starting with wild dogs and given a few centuries, we have bred them into everything from chihuahuas to great danes and bull mastiffs.

This wasn’t just natural selection.  This was guided, intelligent selection on a huge scale.  So, if we wanted, could we breed dogs into cheetahs?  What about whales?  Stupid questions.  A dog will always be a dog because there are genetic limits in its DNA.  It can only present the morphologies that correspond to its genetics, and all of our breeding introduces no new genetic material.

Once again, we are changing the prevalences and frequencies of genetic information, but we are not creating any of it.  Not macroevolution.

3) Natural selection would almost surely work against many of the changes that would have been necessary between species.

If reptiles evolved into birds, explain to me how scales evolved into feathers and arms evolved into wings.  Remember that every step we take must be more fit to the animal’s environment that the one before it, or natural processes won’t select it.  

Its going to take some very creative thinking to dream up why nature would select an arm/wing-scale/feather hybrid over a fully functioning, elegantly designed normal reptile.  Natural selection won’t tolerate those kinds of ridiculous morphological leaps.

The real question is whether or not genetic mutations are capable of introducing new, beneficial genetic information into the genetic makeup of an organism in ways drastic enough to drive evolution.  For instance, can a species feasibly change its number of chromosomes?  (Chimps have 48, humans have 46)  Can we explain the emergence of two distinct, codependent sexes through mutations alone?

These things haven’t been demonstrated satisfactorily for me.  And that is where the discussion needs to happen.  Mentioning natural selection to me again is not fruitful.

Intellectual Humility

Earth from Space

Take a look at the comments section on a controversial youtube video at the intersection of science, philosophy, and faith of any kind, and…  In fact, I can’t in good conscience recommend that you actually take a look at one of those comment sections because quite honestly, they tend to be filled with vulgar, immature and profane filth.  On the occasion that I do decide to take a look at the comments, I normally learn nothing and regret being exposed to such distasteful and negative content.

We are all, as human beings, on this strange and wonderful journey through life together.  Since when did disagreeing, even about extremely serious issues, become grounds for hatred and attacks on each other’s intellects and characters?  What if we all just sat down together and reasoned through things peacefully?

I’m speaking to believers and atheists, creationists and evolutionists, liberals and conservatives, everyone equally here.  Could it be that you become so outrageously defensive about your position because you are either personally insecure, or secretly uncertain about your position?  If not, maybe you are overly defensive because you’ve subscribed to false notions about the nature of those who disagree with you.

And if your opponents are indeed vile, wicked human beings, let me ask another question.  How should someone such as yourself, with your personal wisdom and knowledge of the truth, feel about someone so depraved?  Enraged?  When Jesus looked down from the cross on his executioners, He felt pity.  He prayed that God would forgive them in their ignorance.  What a beautiful sentiment.

I’d like to claim that with great knowledge comes great humility.  Here are some reasons why.

1) Objective proof is a myth.

Theory of mind is the ability to realize that you, and others, have unique autonomous minds.  Why is it called the theory of mind, because honestly there is no way to verify its truthfulness.  I know that I have a mind, “I think, therefore I am,” but I can only assume that anyone else does.

I also don’t know that my memories are things that actually happened.

So even in a world where “reason” and “faith” are often portrayed as opposites, reason itself rests on many faiths that we take for granted.  That’s humbling.

2) Phenomenology.

In psychology, phenomenology is the study of how our perceptions may differ from reality.  In cases such as schizophrenia, the concept is obvious.  But research, and reflection on personal experiences with yourself and others, reveals that your mind is interpreting sensory inputs and ideas in its own biased way.

If you can’t admit that you have bias, you’re living in a dream world.  If you don’t realize the need to think as objectively and humbly as possible when discussing issues with those of different views, you are probably talking past them.

Which brings me to the third and final reason for humility.

3) Circumstances.  

Think about the circumstances that brought you to the beliefs that you hold today.  Somewhere somehow you learned what you believe to be true.  Just like the supporters of slavery in early American history.  Just like Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Atheists all over the world.

And if what you happened to learn from who you happened to learn it happens to be true within this vast sea of wrong ideas that covers the earth, I can’t think of a more humbling experience.  You are lucky.

And also in that case, I’m guessing you’re able to sit down and have a civil, thoughtful, insightful discussion on the subject.  After all, you’re the expert.

Morpho Butterflies: Amazing Hidden Technology in Nature

morpho butterfly

Maybe you’ve seen an image of one of these beautiful butterflies before.  They are called Morpho butterflies.  There are several species with wingspans ranging from 3 to 8 inches.

Their beautifully colored wings have a metallic sheen that varies noticeably in color depending on the angle at which you view them.

morpho butterfly wing

Antonio Donato Nobre, who has spent many years studying the Amazon Rainforest and who gave a talk that inspired me to research Morphos, describes the beauty of seeing one of these insects in the wild:

“When we see the morpho butterfly in the forest, we feel like someone’s left open the door to heaven and this creature has escaped from there.”

What if I told you that these beautiful colors were not due to pigment?  The blue morpho doesn’t actually have blue pigment at all!  To discover what makes them blue, we will have to take a closer look.

morpho butterfly scales

Viewing a few of its scales reveals that they are largely translucent, but still doesn’t reveal the stunning technology present on this butterfly’s wings.

Take a look at this image, at 10,000 times magnification, of a morpho scale.  The ridges you see are something like the strait rows of a forrest of photonic crystals.

morpho butterfly scale magnified 10000X

With 15,000 times magnification we can see the actual shapes of these crystals in a cross- section.  These christmas tree shaped structures are not made of a blue material or colored with a blue pigment.  They operate on a principle of physics known as interference, or wave propagation.

morpho butterfly 15000X magnification
According to Nobre, these crystals are so sophisticated that at the time of their discovery, man had not developed a comparable technology.  This type of structure has since been used to create some very beautiful color display monitors.

Man often borrows his inspiration, or even his actual technology from nature.  But imagine the kind of creativity present in a Mind that could conceive of these things out of nothing.

morpho butterfly technology

Consider finally the difficulty of explaining this kind of biological technology from a macroevolutionary standpoint.  The evolution of a structure would require that it change slowly from some less sophisticated or at least different structure into the new one over thousands or millions of years.  This evolution would include countless transitionary phases that lacked the sophisticated functionality of the final product.

So what feasible transitionary stage is there between using pigment and using a perfectly organized and elegantly designed microscopic forrest of highly sophisticated crystals which are in fact not colorful themselves but create stunning colors through light wave interference?

Only in their fully developed form would these crystals create the desired effect.  Evolution would have had no incentive to labor through countless years of worthless transitionary structures to get there.

God on the other hand, had a beautiful incentive.  To show us the grandeur He was capable of putting into His creation.  To give us, as this creature has given Nobre and his associates, a glimpse into the kinds of beauty we may one day see in heaven.

Where Does Consciousness Come From?


I recently saw an extremely interesting TED Talk by the brilliant Philosopher David Chalmers entitled “How Do You Explain Consciousness?”

During the talk, Chalmers, who calls himself “a scientific materialist at heart,” struggles with the question of why we as humans have a subjective experience of the world around us.  Why are we not robots, mindlessly receiving inputs from our environments and responding with predetermined outputs?

We know that certain areas of the brain correlate with certain experiences, but we do not know why they correlate with these subjective experiences, or what causes them.

Chalmers states plainly the consensus of the philosophical and scientific communities to date: “right now, nobody knows the answers to those questions.”

This is where the talk gets particularly interesting.  Chalmers states that “we may initially need one or two ideas that seem crazy before we can come to grips with consciousness scientifically.”  I would completely agree.

As Chalmers points out, his fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett believes that “the inner subjective movie” that we are viewing in our minds is actually all an illusion.  Spend very long at the intersection of science and philosophy and you will find that at every turn great minds are working vigorously to reduce objective meaning and purpose, morality, and even consciousness itself to rubble.

Chalmers’ idea is much more beautiful and elegant.  He believes that consciousness is a fundamental property of reality, like time, space, or fundamental constants.  I think his rationale is good: “If you can’t explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals, then as a matter of logic you need to expand the list.  The natural thing to do is postulate consciousness itself as something fundamental.”  He goes on to suggest that information processing correlates with consciousness, so the more information an entity processes, the more conscious it is.

He expands and explains his theory and states that it is the leading theory in the scientific world today.

Did you catch that?!  The leading theory in the scientific world today concerning consciousness is that it is a property as fundamental as time or space.  Suddenly the “materialist” at heart is blurring the lines between the natural and the supernatural.

Of course, science has been migrating inevitably that way for decades.  The evidence for the supernatural is just too strong.  Science turned out to show that the universe had a beginning, rather than itself being eternal.  And since Einstein had already shown that time and space are part of the same continuum, we know that whatever caused the universe, it was timeless, spaceless, and immaterial.

Stephen Hawking responds with a line that recently showed up in the movie “God’s Not Dead:”

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.”

Okay, so scientists admit that the universe is not eternal, but maintain that the laws that govern it are, and that they necessitate its existence. Those laws turn out to be extremely, beautifully organized and fine-tuned in a way that cannot rationally be chalked up to random chance.

And now, to top it all off, we are coming to the conclusion that consciousness is a fundamental property either of these timeless laws, or directly caused by them.

Science has slowly migrated from “the matter in the universe is eternal” to acknowledging the timeless, spaceless, immaterial existence of a large amount of very specific information, including consciousness or directly resulting in it.

The lines between the natural and the supernatural are blurring.  In fact, they are becoming obsolete.  Science is discovering God piece by piece all over again.

Love: the Cosmic Glue of the Universe


The Bible teaches in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians that in Christ “all things hold together.”  Christ is the cosmic glue that creates order out of chaos.  

He does this, as many apologists have pointed out, in defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  He reaches into a reality that by its own natural laws ought to move from order to disorder – from having pockets of heat and activity to being calm and cool throughout, from being organized to being chaotic – and He orchestrates its ongoing organization and meaning.

Thus we find ourselves, in a world bursting with meaningful information and beautiful, elegant complexity.  We find ourselves conscious, a fact that stuns and stumps atheistic scientists to this day.  We find ourselves in a world with bananas and oranges conveniently waiting to be picked, peeled, and eaten.  With chickens producing eggs like factories for us to crack and fry.  With tides and winds that have moved our watercraft for centuries.  With a moon and starts that taught us about the times to plant and harvest our crops.  It is a world with language, emotions, morals, and ideas.  A world phenomenally balanced between any extreme condition that might make it immeasurable more mundane.

So how does He do it?

Jesus glues the universe together (Colossians 1:17,) Jesus is God (John 1:1,) and God is love (1 John 4:8.)  Therefore I suggest that love is that glue that orchestrates and solidifies this universe.

But I want to define love far more broadly than the emotional feeling that we typically associate with the word.  Love is an affinity of one entity for another, even despite resistance or opposition.

By this definition, the planet earth loves the sun.  Despite the inertia constantly pulling it out into the darkness, away from all warmth or order, it gravitates towards the sun with all of its mass so that it may stay nearby.

Yes, by my definition there are four physical loves that accompany the other emotional or spiritual ones: gravity, electromagnetic force, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.  

And so atoms bond when their affinity for each other overcomes their resistance.  They form molecules which may build up into beautiful and orderly crystals or, by the intelligent hand of our designer, our very DNA.  These molecules also work together to build our tissues, which build our organs, which work together in various organ systems to build our bodies.  Our bodies in turn build societies and organizations.

Order.  Dictated by the laws of attraction.

Many scientists today acknowledge these physical loves but deny the spiritual ones, writing them off as illusions.  Even their love for their own families and friends they boil down to a meaningless electrical and chemical event.  They acknowledge the exchanging of electrons in the formation of ionic bonds, but they refuse the forgiveness of a God who would welcome them into a familial bond with Him through His Son’s sacrifice.

In then end, all things devoid of adequate physical love will not hold together physically.  It follows that all things devoid of sufficient spiritual love will not hold together spiritually.  The Bible’s description of hell as a place of fire turns out to be a very insightful description.  The breakdown of order.  The stripping away, piece by infinitesimal piece, in a beautiful but horrible display, of all that once constituted a meaningful whole.

Even as they learn to preserve and improve their own buildings and bridges, physical environments, and even their own bodies, they neglect their own souls, and unchain themselves from the Son.