Book of Mormon/DNA evidence
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| DNA and the|
Book of Mormon
*BoM and DNA evidence
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DNA samples taken from modern Native Americans do not match the DNA of modern inhabitants of the Middle East. Critics argue that this means the Book of Mormon's claim that Native Americans are descended from Lehi must be false, and therefore the Book of Mormon is not an ancient record as Joseph Smith claimed.
DNA attacks against the Book of Mormon are ill-advised, a "contrived controversy." Various geographical models introduce issues unique to each model, but the DNA data is no where as conclusive as the critics claim, regardless of the geographical model chosen.
Critics tend to opt for the most naive, ill-informed reading possible of the Book of Mormon text, and then cry foul when the Saints point out that they have given much thought to these issues and come to more nuanced conclusions that are more faithful to the Book of Mormon text than the critics' poorly-considered caricatures.
Critics do not provide the "whole story" of the DNA data, and seem to want to use the certainty which DNA provides in modern crime-solving as a springboard to trick the Saints, the media, and investigators into thinking that their historical DNA conclusions are as solid.
In fact, DNA data tells us nothing which we did not already know from archaeological data—at present, the human settlement of the Americas is thought to date thousands of years before the advent of Lehi. Many of these settlers have links to east Asia. None of this is news, and none of it threatens the Book of Mormon's status as authentic history.
But, the critics hope that their listeners will be awed by the banner of DNA science, and conclude that something more impressive is going on. Informed members of the Church have not been persuaded by their tactics, and much has been written to help non-specialists understand the "numerous and complex" issues in the fascinating and valuable science of genetics.
The Church's statement on the matter of DNA is succinct and accurate:
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is exactly what it claims to be — a record of God's dealings with peoples of ancient America and a second witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The strongest witness of the Book of Mormon is to be obtained by living the Christ-centered principles contained in its pages and by praying about its truthfulness.
Recent attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence are ill considered. Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin. The scientific issues relating to DNA, however, are numerous and complex.
Few criticisms of the Church have received as much media attention as this criticism, with so little thought and science being applied to the question. DNA attacks against the Book of Mormon account fail on numerous grounds.
It is important to realize that critics of the Book of Mormon 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.
DNA and the Book of Mormon
- Relationship of Amerindians to "Lamanites"—
Who are the Lamanites? When asked about the Church’s official position on this matter by a writer, a Church spokesman 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." Note that this reply pre-dates any publication of DNA criticism. (Link)
- Statements—A collection of various statements from Church leaders about Amerindian origins/identity (Link)
- Are the Maya and the Olmec the Lamanites and the Jaredites?—A common criticism is that LDS associate the Nephites and/or Lamanites with the Maya, and the Jaredite civilization with the Olmec. It is easy, based upon typical artistic representations used by the Church, to see why LDS typically associate the Nephites or Lamanites with the Maya. The assumption by critics that LDS associate the Nephites and the Lamanites with "the Maya" is an oversimplification of the facts. Most Church members view "the Maya" as a single, homogeneous group of people whom they associate with the magnificent ruins of the Classic Mayan civilization found in Mesoamerica. However, the Classic period occurs after Book of Mormon times. LDS research has focused on identifying the characteristics of the Preclassic Mayan culture, which does indeed cover the time period addressed by the Book of Mormon. (Link)
- Statements by Church leaders related to the identity of the Lamanites—A collection of all known statements made by Church leaders regarding the identity of the Lamanites (Link)
- 19th century statements—A collection of statements made by 19th-century Church leaders regarding the identity of the Lamanites. (Link)
- 20th century statements—A collection of statements made by 20th-century Church leaders regarding the identity of the Lamanites. (Link)
- 21st century statements—A collection of statements made by 21st-century Church leaders regarding the identity of the Lamanites. (Link)
- Is Lehi the exclusive ancestor or among the ancestors of Amerindians?—LDS leaders have expressed a variety of opinions regarding whether or not all Amerindians are literal descendants of Lehi. Population genetics indicate that Lehi can likely be counted among the ancestors of all native Americans—a position that the Church has reinforced by changing the 1981 Book of Mormon introduction from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors." (Link)
- Relationship to Polynesians (Link)
- Geography issues—
A variety of geographic models have been suggested for the Book of Mormon. Some geographic models introduce other difficulties for the DNA attacks. (Link)
- Are all Amerindians "Lamanites"?—
Critics have claimed that DNA tests mean that all Amerindians cannot be "Lamanites," and even some Church authors have conceded this point too readily. (Link)
- What is Lehi's ancestry?—
Genetic attacks on the Book of Mormon focus on the fact that Amerindian DNA seems closest to Asian DNA, and not DNA from "the Middle East" or "Jewish" DNA. However, this attack ignores several key points, among which is the fact that the Book of Mormon states that Lehi and his family are clearly not Jews. (Link)
- How does one identify "Jewish" or "Middle Eastern" DNA?—
Identifying DNA criteria for Manasseh and Ephraim may always be beyond our reach. But, even identifying markers for Jews—a group that has remained relatively cohesive and refrained from intermarriage with others more than most groups—is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. (Link)
- Lemba and Cohen modal haplotype—Some critics use the "Lemba" as an example of a group proven to be Jewish via DNA testing as proof that such a testing should be possible for Book of Mormon people. But, this example is misleading. The Lemba were identified as Jewish because of a marker called the "Cohen modal haplotype." This marker is carried by about half of those who claim descent from Aaron, Moses' brother, and only 2-3% of other Jews. But, the Book of Mormon does not suggest—and in fact seems to exclude—the idea that Levites (the priestly family of Aaron) were among the Lehi party. (Link)
- What methods of DNA tests are available?—
DNA issues can be complex for the non-specialist (especially those who were in high school more than twenty years ago, before much of the modern understanding of DNA was available). In this article we review the methods of DNA testing that are available, along with their strengths and their limitations. (Link)
- New World death rate after European contact—
Approximately ninety percent of the Amerindian population died out following contact with the Europeans; most of this was due to infectious disease against which they had no defense. Since different genes likely provide different resistances to infectious disease, it may be that eliminating 90% of the pre-contact gene pool has significantly distorted the true genetic picture of Lehi's descendants. (Link)
- Jaredite influence—
Critics often over-look the Jaredites, and assume (as in the hemispheric models that the Jaredites can have contributed nothing of consequence to the Lehite DNA picture. But, it is not clear that this must be the case. Some LDS have believed in a total eradication of the Jaredites, others have argued that Jaredite remnants survived and mixed with the Lehites. Bruce R. McConkie, while believing that the majority of Amerindian descent was from Israel (i.e. Lehi, Ishmael, and Mulek) nevertheless wrote: "The American Indians, however, as Columbus found them also had other blood than that of Israel in their veins. It is possible that isolated remnants of the Jaredites may have lived through the period of destruction in which millions of their fellows perished." (Link)
- Fundamentalist "suicide bombing"—
It should be remembered too that many sectarian critics use DNA science in a sort of "suicide bombing" attack on the Church. The fundamentalist Christian critics are happy to use DNA as a stick to beat the Book of Mormon, but do not tell their readers that there is much stronger DNA evidence for concepts which fundamentalist Christian readers might not accept, such as evolutionary change in species, or human descent from other primates. (Link)
- [note] Press Release, "Mistakes in the News: DNA and the Book of Mormon" (11 November 2003) off-site
- [note] 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] Suzanne Austin Alchon, 'A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective,' Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, c2003.
- [note] The expression "suicide bombing" in this context comes from Stewart, "DNA and the Book of Mormon."
- [note] John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site PDF link wiki