Book of Mormon/DNA evidence

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    The Book of Mormon and DNA evidence

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Questions


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. [1]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

"Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics (LDS.org), (January 31, 2014)


Although the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical, some people have wondered whether the migrations it describes are compatible with scientific studies of ancient America. The discussion has centered on the field of population genetics and developments in DNA science. Some have contended that the migrations mentioned in the Book of Mormon did not occur because the majority of DNA identified to date in modern native peoples most closely resembles that of eastern Asian populations.


Basic principles of population genetics suggest the need for a more careful approach to the data. The conclusions of genetics, like those of any science, are tentative, and much work remains to be done to fully understand the origins of the native populations of the Americas. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples, and even if their genetic profile were known, there are sound scientific reasons that it might remain undetected. For these same reasons, arguments that some defenders of the Book of Mormon make based on DNA studies are also speculative. In short, DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
(Click here for full article)


Answer


"Recent attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence are ill considered."[2] Various geographical models introduce issues unique to each model, but the DNA data is no where as conclusive as some 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.

Detailed Analysis

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.

Topics


DNA evidence

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. (Click here for full article)

  • Geography issues
    Brief Summary: A variety of geographic models have been suggested for the Book of Mormon. Some geographic models introduce other difficulties for the DNA attacks. (Click here for full article)
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  • Haplogroup X2a
    Brief Summary: Some have tried to use a genetic group called haplotype X2a as proof of the Book of Mormon, but the science at present cannot support this. (Click here for full article)
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  • What is Lehi's ancestry?
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • How does one identify "Jewish" or "Middle Eastern" DNA?
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Lemba and Cohen modal haplotype
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • What methods of DNA tests are available?
    Brief Summary: 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • New World death rate after European contact
    Brief Summary: 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.[3] 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. (Click here for full article)
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  • Jaredite influence
    Brief Summary: 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." (Click here for full article)
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  • Fundamentalist "suicide bombing"
    Brief Summary: It should be remembered too that many sectarian critics use DNA science in a sort of "suicide bombing" attack on the Church.[4] 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. (Click here for full article)
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Notes

  1. Criticisms regarding DNA and the Book of Mormon have been raised in the following publications: Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 73 367 n.131-135. ( Index of claims ); John Dehlin, "Why People Leave the LDS Church," (2008).; Hank Hanegraaff, The Mormon Mirage: Seeing Through the Illusion of Mainstream Mormonism (Charlotte, NC: Christian Research Institute, 2008), ?.; Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 202. ( Index of claims ); John Dehlin,"348-349: Simon Southerton, DNA, Lamanites and the Book of Mormon," Mormon Stories Podcast (21 May 2012).
     http://mormonstories.org/348-349-simon-southerton-dna-lamanites-and-the-book-of-mormon/
    ; MormonThink.com website (as of 4 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/book-of-mormon-problems.htm; Thomas W. Murphy, "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics," in American Apocrypha, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), [citation needed].; Thomas W. Murphy and Simon G. Southerton, "Genetic Research a 'Galileo Event' for Mormons," Anthropology News 44/2 (February 2003): 20; Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004) 1–207. ( Index of claims ); Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  2. John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site wiki
  3. Suzanne Austin Alchon, 'A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective,' Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, c2003.
  4. The expression "suicide bombing" in this context comes from Stewart, "DNA and the Book of Mormon."



Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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