Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/DNA

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD

DNA

Claim: "Prisoners are routinely freed from crimes they supposedly committed many years before when scientific experts prove conclusively that the DNA found on the victim did not match the DNA of the convict."

DNA-Helix-1.JPG

The video's producers hope that the viewer will be impressed by the use of DNA in legal proceedings (which is very precise) and assume that the science as (mis)applied to the Book of Mormon is equally solid.

The video's producers did not, of course, mention the work of Dr. John M. Butler, PhD. Dr. Butler is an internationally-renowned expert in the use of DNA for forensic work, and a member of the FBI’s Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM). (See Dr. Butler's vita here.) He is also an LDS bishop.

He literally "wrote the textbook" used to train law enforcement personnel on DNA:

  • Butler, J.M. (2001) Forensic DNA Typing: Biology and Technology behind STR Markers. Academic Press, London, 335 pages
  • Butler, J.M. (2005) Forensic DNA Typing: Biology, Technology, and Genetics of STR Markers (2nd Edition). Elsevier Academic Press, New York, 688 pages.

Dr. Butler, along with many other specialists and scientists, utterly rejects the implied claim that 'DNA works for crime scenes, so it should work for the Book of Mormon.' And, he should know better than anyone—especially those who promote the superficial treatment of DNA science relative to the Book of Mormon, as is done in the video.

To read more:

  • John M. Butler, "A Few Thoughts From a Believing DNA Scientist," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 36–37. off-site wiki
  • John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site wiki

Claim: "The introduction to the Book of Mormon says after thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." - Pamela Robertson

The introduction to the Book of Mormon is not part of the scripture. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who helped write the introduction and other aids for the current edition of the scriptures, was quite clear that the non-scriptural textual items were helps, not canon, and even granted they could well contain mistakes. This likely applies to the introduction, which was only inserted in 1981. (See: Mark McConkie (editor), Doctrines of the Restoration: Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1989),250, 289–290. ISBN 978-0884946441. GL direct link)

It is significant that Ms. Robertson appeals to something that is not in the Book of Mormon. This seems to indicate a hope that the matter can be settled without even addressing the Book of Mormon text itself.

It is true that some LDS members and leaders have believed that the Book of Mormon teaches that all Amerindians are entirely descended from Book of Mormon peoples. But, as early as 1928, a completely different view was taught in General Conference by Elder Levi Edgar Young:

There must be a clear distinction, it grows every year more evident, between the origins of America's ancient people and the sources of their culture. The human material of the pre-Columbian societies probably came from Asia by way of Alaska, the orthodox route long accepted for the American Indians.... Among many social belongings abandoned along the route seem to have been most of the things called intellectual. The men and women who peopled America arrived, intellectually, with the clothes they stood in.... Dr. Uhle urges an alternative [theory for how high culture arose in the Americas].... Occasional cultured mariners from India, China, Japan or other lands may have landed, he believes, few in numbers, but full of ideas, to bring to the rude American societies...just the hint that culture was possible. Small numerically as this source of inspiration must have been, it may conceivably have been the seed from which sprouted the great achievements of Peru and Central America....
—Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report (October 1928), 103–106, emphasis added.

Clearly, Elder Young did not feel that there was any "official" or "required" view of what percentage of American Indians are Lamanites—Church members are not bound by the interpretations of men, but only by what the scripture says.

Why did early members assume that the entirety of the Amerindian population was descended from the Lamanites? In the nineteenth century, it was “common knowledge” that the Indians were a single racial group, and so most likely to have a single origin. Since the Book of Mormon taught that at least some Indians must have come from Israel, it was a natural conclusion to see them all as coming from Israel. Most early Saints likely did not even conceive of there being multiple “groups” of Indians at all. To explain some was to explain them all.

As members came to understand the variety of Amerindian groups, it became easier for them to read the Book of Mormon text without the "one group of Indians only" assumption that came from their culture.

Simply put, despite the claims of Ms. Robertson, the Church has no official position on the matter. When asked, a spokesman for the Church said:

As to whether these were the first inhabitants...we don't have a position on that. Our scripture does not try to account for any other people who may have lived in the New World before, during or after the days of the Jaredites and the Nephites, and we don't have any official doctrine about who the descendants of the Nephites and the Jaredites are. Many Mormons believe that American Indians are descendants of the Lamanites [a division of the Nephites], but that's not in the scripture.
—Stewart Reid, LDS Public Relations Staff, quoted by William J. Bennetta in The Textbook Letter (March-April 1997), published by The Textbook League (P.O. Box 51, Sausalito, California 94966).

Note too that both the public affairs statement—and Elder Young's talk—came well before any DNA attacks on the Book of Mormon. These are not, as some critics have complained, attempts to hide from DNA 'science.'

To read more:

Claim: "The Lamanites are described by Joseph as ancestors to the Israelites inhabiting all of North and South America from sea to sea." - Pamela Robertson

Whoever wrote the script for Ms. Robertson really should have studied better. It has been well documented that Joseph Smith modified his ideas about Book of Mormon geography over the course of his life, indicating that he had no more information on the matter than the other members did.

Despite incorrect assertions of what the Church really believes, critics will necessarily be disappointed to learn that the Church has no official position on Book of Mormon geography, because it has not been revealed:

The First Presidency has often been asked to prepare some suggestive map illustrative of Nephite geography, but have never consented to do so. Nor are we acquainted with any of the Twelve Apostles who would undertake such a task. The reason is, that without further information they are not prepared even to suggest [a map]. The word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points now so obscure.
—George Q. Cannon, "Editorial Thoughts: The Book of Mormon Geography," The Juvenile Instructor 25 no. 1 (1 January 1890)), 18–19.

Elder Anthony Ivins of the First Presidency would later confirm this stance:

There is a great deal of talk about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla? and other geographic matters. It does not make any difference to us. There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. All kinds of theories have been advanced. I have talked with at least half a dozen men that have found the very place where the City of Zarahemla stood, and notwithstanding the fact that they profess to be Book of Mormon students, they vary a thousand miles apart in the places they have located. We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have not been proven in advance to be true.
—Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report (April 1929), 16.

And, the present-day Church repeated it in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

The Church has not taken an official position with regard to location of geographical places [of the Book of Mormon].
—John E. Clark, "Book of Mormon Geography," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1:178.

The First Presidency gets to determine official LDS teaching, not Ms. Robertson or the DVD producers.

To read more:

If it could be proven absolutely that the American Indians were not descendants of the Lamanites then Joseph Smith perpetrated a gigantic fraud.... Such irrefutable evidence has been found using one of our strongest technological discoveries—DNA.

This wildly irresponsible claim fails on numerous grounds:

  • What are we looking for? Lehi and his family are clearly not Jews, but descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh. What does this DNA look like? What are we comparing to?
  • What does Jewish DNA look like? Despite the critics' claims, attempts to use genetic testing to trace known groups (such as Jews) through history have been problematical.
  • What studies were done? The video does not want the viewer to know that they base their arguments on DNA data that has never been shown to be even relevant to the issue of Book of Mormon genetics, let alone conclusive. Such critics have cobbled together DNA data gathered from unrelated studies to produce arguments with the appearance of scientific weight but having no real significance. No genetic studies have been designed and performed to test the hypothesis that Native Americans were of Lehite descent and that this inheritance is detectable today.

To read more:

Claim: "When the Y-chromosomes or mitochondrial DNA are tested in hundreds of even thousands of individuals from two different races the results can be compared to see how similar or dissimilar these intact DNA markers are between people groups."

Once again, the science is distorted almost beyond recognition when this is applied to the Book of Mormon

Y-chromosomes

Despite claims that Y-chromosome data do not support Book of Mormon claims, there are some markers which should be considered in another light:

Douglas Forbes points out that Y-chromosome SNP biallelic marker Q-P36 (also known by the mutation marker M-242), postulated by geneticist Doron Behar and colleagues to be a founding lineage among Ashkenazi Jewish populations, is also found in Iranian and Iraqi Jews and is a founding lineage group present in 31 percent of self-identified Native Americans in the U.S.
—See "Y-Chromosome Data," in David G. Stewart, Jr., "DNA and the Book of Mormon," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 109–138. off-site wiki FairMormon link

The DVD is either not up to date on the science, or those associated with the DVD are bearing false witness.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed only from mothers to their children. It has been used in attacks on the Book of Mormon, and yet even known Jewish populations do not share mtDNA. That is, some groups that are both known to be Jewish do not share any mitochondrial DNA. So, how can this count against an Ephraim or Manasseh origin for some Amerindians?

To read more:

Claim: "The DNA issue of whether Native Americans come from a Hebrew descent is not an issue. Once you get outside of Mormonism it is not an issue, it is not a debate. Nobody is debating out in the scientific realm of whether or not Native Americans came from Israelites. Nobody. Or Middle-Easterners. Nobody." - Joel Kramer, Director, Living Hope Ministries

Despite the implication, no informed person in LDS circles is expecting DNA data to be able to prove a Middle Eastern origin for Amerindians either. Latter-day Saint authors do not consider it to be something which could be proved or disproved by current genetic methods.

As Michael F. Whiting, Ph.D (an LDS genetics scientist at BYU) noted:

I...serve as a member of a scientific review panel for the Systematic Biology program of the National Science Foundation. The NSF is a major source of basic research funding available to scientists in the United States, and every six months the NSF brings in a panel of researchers to review grant applications and provide recommendations for funding.... Would a proposal to test the validity of the Book of Mormon by means of DNA sequence information have a sufficiently solid base in science to ever be competitive in receiving funding from a nationally peer-reviewed scientific funding agency such as the NSF?.... Is testing the Book of Mormon by means of genetic information a fundable research project? I do not think so.... It is very unclear what would constitute sufficient evidence to reject the hypothesis that the Lamanite lineages were derived from Middle Eastern lineages, since there are so many assumptions that must be met and so many complications that we are not yet capable of sifting through. [From Whiting's paper below.]

The critics are the only ones claiming that DNA can do things that it can't. Members of the Church do not make the same error.

To read more:

  • Michael F. Whiting, "DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 24–35. off-site wiki
  • John L. Sorenson, "The Problematic Role of DNA Testing in Unraveling Human History," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 66–74. off-site wiki

What does DNA say about conservative Christian beliefs?

A question that is definitely not asked by the video is what DNA can say about the beliefs of conservative Protestant Christians. This is not surprising, because it is not a pretty picture.

Fundamentalist Christian critics are happy to use DNA as a stick to beat the Book of Mormon, but the video does not inform viewers that there is much stronger DNA evidence for concepts which fundamentalist Christian readers might not accept, such as:

  • evolutionary change in species
  • human descent from other primates

And, despite being inconsistent with DNA data, fundamentalist critics do not call on their congregations to abandon such literalistic Biblical concepts as:

  • the earth being only 6,000 years old
  • a Biblical Adam and Eve were the parents of all humanity only 4,000 years before Christ
  • a world-wide, Noachian flood which exterminated all life except that which was in the Ark, occurred approximately 5,000 years ago

The critics are often hypocritical—they claim the Saints should abandon the Book of Mormon on flimsy, dubious science, and yet do not tell their audience that they should (by the same logic) abandon religious beliefs of their own that have much more DNA evidence against them.

For example, the producers of this video enlist the assistance of Dr. John Whitcomb, a founder of modern creationism, a staunch advocate of a young earth, and an opponent of evolution. Dr. Whitcomb acts as a commentator on several issues critical of Mormonism throughout the video. Ironically, the very DNA science that this video claims to refute the Book of Mormon would more easily refute many of the beliefs held by Dr. Whitcomb (see here).

Do those who produced the video expect Dr. Whitcomb to abandon the Christian beliefs that DNA science has "disproved"? Why not?

To read more:

  • Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): ix–lxii. off-site
  • David G. Stewart, Jr., "DNA and the Book of Mormon," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 109–138. off-site wiki FairMormon link

Claim: "Modern scientists have conclusively proven Joseph to be a deceiver in his allegation that the Indians were descendants of the Hebrews."

This claim is utterly false, as demonstrated. The DVD producers are either scientifically incompetent or being dishonest.

Genetics is a complex subject. Applying genetic data to the Book of Mormon also requires a thorough understanding of the Book of Mormon text. The video has not even attempted to provide viewers with the required background in the Book of Mormon or genetics needed to evaluate the genetics arguments for themselves.

Many authors with the needed training—including world-class experts in the use of forensic DNA—have dissected the DNA arguments offered by the critics, and found them lacking. The video's claims are wholly without scientific merit.

Rather, the DVD hopes that readers will simply trust them to be honest and get the science right. But, as we have seen, that trust would be gravely misplaced.

To read more:


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