Genetics and the Book of Mormon


Genetics and the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon, one of the four books of scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see "Standard Works"), is an account of a three groups of people. Two of these groups originated from Israel. There is generally no support amongst mainstream historians and archaeologists for the historicity of these events.

Since the late 1990s and the pioneering work of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza and others, scientists have developed techniques that attempt to use genetic markers to indicate the ethnic background and history of individual people. The data developed by these mainstream scientists tell us that the Native Americans have very distinctive DNA markers, and that they are most similar, among old world populations, to the DNA of people anciently associated with the Altay Mountains area of central Asia, near the intersections of Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.

Overview of the genetic challenges to the Book of Mormon story

The genetic challenge

The understanding Joseph Smith, and, traditionally, of Mormons in general, is that the Book of Mormon indicates that the Lamanites, descended from Lehi, are a "remnant of the House of Israel" and were the "principal ancestors of the American Indians". This traditional understanding was stated in the preface to the Book of Mormon from 1981. A literal reading of that preface suggest that modern-day Native Americans are descended from the party of Israelites that migrated to the New World around 600 BC from the Jerusalem area. If this were the case, the DNA of Native Americans should correlate with Middle Eastern genetic markers, consistent with Hebrew descent. But the DNA of Native Americans indicates a different, Asian, origin. Some claim it is because of this incongruity that the introduction was changed (to try to reconcile Book of Mormon assertions with the lack of expected evidence). [The Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon's introduction states that the Lamanites are "among the ancestors of the American Indians". Moore, Carrie A. [http://www.deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,695226008,00.html "Debate renewed with change in Book of Mormon introduction"] "Deseret News", November 8, 2007]

LDS researchers compare existing genetic evidence with the Book of Mormon story

Researchers such as LDS anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy and former-LDS and molecular biologist Simon Southerton have emphasized that the substantial collection of Native American genetic markers now available are not consistent with any detectable presence of ancestors from the ancient Middle East, and argued that this poses substantial evidence to contradict the account in the Book of Mormon. Both Murphy and Southerton have published their views on this subject Harv|Southerton|2004.

Followup of genetic claims in the media

Southerton's work was later used as a source for an article written by William Lobdell and published in the LA Times on 16 February 2006, which contains the following. “"For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error".”

Lobdell's article prompted a response from LDS supporters, including several articles referenced on the official LDS web site (see external links below). David G. Stewart, Jr., M.D., an LDS apologist, addressed this issue as follows:

Some evangelical critics have latched onto the claims of dissident and ex-Mormon scholars that modern DNA evidence "disproves" Book of Mormon historicity in their effort to discredit the LDS faith. DNA and dating arguments do not present an exclusive challenge to LDS teachings, although critics would like to paint them as such. Rather, such arguments produce issues for the biblical Judeo-Christian worldview in general. Strict Biblical chronology suggests that man has been on the earth for only 6,000 years and that a universal flood occurred approximately 2350 BC. If all mankind is descended from Eve, why do not all humans share the same mitochondrial DNA? Where is the archaeological evidence of a great worldwide flood? God promised Abraham: "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore" (Genesis 22:17), yet no Abrahamic Y chromosome has been identified among modern Jews, who consider themselves to be children of Abraham. While addressing such topics is beyond the scope of this presentation, the attempts of critics to characterize LDS teachings as unscientific and irrational while failing to apply similar standards of objective validation to their own tenets amounts to a "suicide bombing." There is something distinctly bizarre about Evangelical groups like Living Hope Ministries enlisting agnostic evolutionist scholars as their experts to challenge the LDS Church over Book of Mormon DNA issues. If one could continue the interviews by asking these same scholars about many events described in the Bible, one wonders if their admirers would continue to accept their pronouncements with such credulity. Every faith accepts some beliefs that lie outside of the ever-changing scientific and societal consensus. If one were to use popular consensus as the basis for religious belief, what would be left? Studies show that today, most Americans do not believe in the resurrection. Arguments that LDS beliefs are scientifically untenable while those of other faiths are well-documented are intrinsically dishonest.

The origin of groups described in the Book of Mormon

tatements regarding the Hebrew ancestry of Book of Mormon people

An introductory paragraph added to the Book of Mormon in the 1981 revision states in part: "After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians." (see [http://scriptures.lds.org/bm/intrdctn lds.org] ) That addition from 1981 was changed in a 2006 edition, that stated only that "the Lamanites...are among the ancestors of the American Indians." This change, church leaders said, was in harmony with the claims of the Book of Mormon itself, and what some Latter-day Saints had long perceived. For example, in 1929 President Anthony W. Ivins of the LDS church's First Presidency cautioned church members: “We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon teaches the history of three distinct peoples … who came from the old world to this continent. It does not tell us that there was no one here before them. It does not tell us that people did not come after. And so if discoveries are made which suggest differences in race origins, it can very easily be accounted for, and reasonably, for we do believe that other people came to this continent.” [Anthony W. Ivins, "Conference Report", April 1929, p. 15.]

The origin of the Jaredites

According to the Book of Mormon, the Jaredites were a group of people that left the Tower of Babel, but does not give any information that would allow conclusions to be drawn about their genetic or genealogical background. Jaredites could be ancestors to some Native Americans if there were some survivors of the concluding war described in the Book of Ether. This theory is advocated by several LDS scholars due to a variety of contextual clues.Harv|Sorenson|1992 This is where some writers believe that the Lamanites get their Asiatic heritage.Harv|Nibley|1988|p=250 Amateur apologist Jeff Lindsay notes that a migration into the mountains of Asia is possible for portions of the "lost tribes of Israel." [Lindsay, Jeff, "Does DNA Evidence Refute the Book of Mormon?", 2006, jefflindsay.com (link cited below)]

The Middle Eastern Origin of Lehi

The Book of Mormon tells the story of a small group of Israelites, led by a prophet named Lehi, who fled Jerusalem around 600 BCE and traveled to the Americas. Two of Lehi's sons, Laman and Nephi, become the fathers of two separate nations, the Lamanites and the Nephites. The parent DNA of these two nations would likely have come from one of five people: Lehi, his wife Sariah, Ishmael, his wife (unnamed), or Zoram. Little information is given in the Book of Mormon about the genetic background of these people, but it is stated that Lehi is a descendant (possibly, but not necessarily, patrilineal) of Manasseh. It is uncertain whether other people travelled with Lehi's party to the Americas. For the context of the debate regarding genetics and the Book of Mormon, it is usually assumed that Lehi and his party had mostly Middle Eastern genes.

Nephites and Lamanites in the Book of Mormon

According to the Book of Mormon, the terms "Nephites" and "Lamanites" actually lose their original significance pursuant to the visitation of Jesus Christ to the American continent after His resurrection; His coming ushers in a period of peace in which the two conflicting nations merge into one, in which "There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God." (lds|4 Nephi |4_ne|1|17). But later on in the narrative, as members of the unified nation fall away from the faith, the term "Lamanite" comes to signify wickedness (rather than blood heritage), whereas "Nephite" comes to signify a follower of Christ, both terms alluding to the previous nations' predominant moral tendencies. Eventually, however, even the righteous "Nephites" grow proud and fall into wickedness comparable to that of those termed Lamanites, though they retain the now rather hypocritical distinction "Nephites." The Nephites do battle with the Lamanites perpetually, until finally around 400 AD the Nephites are said to have been annihilated by the Lamanites in epic battle involving about two hundred thousands Nephities (and possibly larger amount of Lamanites) near hill Cumorah. The nation of the Lamanites is understood to have continued on beyond the close of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon states, in an introductory paragraph added in 1981, that Lamanites are "the principal ancestors of the American Indians" Harv|Southerton|2004|p=156.

Response to the genetic challenge from Book of Mormon defenders

ame data fails to support Biblical origins

LDS scholars have pointed out that the genetic data used to challenge the Book of Mormon also challenges the "young earth" Biblical account of the origin of man. [Citation| last=Stewart| first=David G, M.D.| title=DNA and the Book of Mormon| publisher=Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR)| url=http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2006_DNA_and_the_Book_of_Mormon.html] Southerton, in the introduction to his book "Losing a Lost Tribe", states:

Human DNA genealogy reinforces the multi-disciplinary findings of how our ancestors spread throughout the earth over a period of many thousands of years to all the continents by at least 14,000 years ago. This research offers little comfort to those who are wedded to a literal interpretation of the Bible, which has our first parents walking the earth as recently as 6000 years ago and all races springing from the loins of Noah a mere 4400 years ago” Harv|Southerton|2004|p=xvi.

Book of Mormon population models

Defenders of the LDS Church have made arguments in return, generally centered on the idea that the Book of Mormon peoples from the Middle East formed only a small contribution to the population of the Americas, so that their genetic heritage may have been diluted beyond what can now be detected. The Limited Geography Model of the Book of Mormon (accepted by most LDS scholars) supports this position. This geographical and population model was formally published in the official church magazine, "The Ensign", in a two-part series published in September and October 1984. [Harvnb|Sorenson|Sept. 1984;Harvnb|Sorenson|Oct. 1984]

The Book of Mormon describes a major group of Hebrew-descended peoples, the Nephites, being entirely wiped out during the fourth century AD, which could have decreased the amount of Middle Eastern DNA substantially.Fact|date=February 2007 Critics of this model point out that the large remaining group, the Lamanites, are also said to be at least partly of Hebrew origin, and that they are "the principal ancestors of the American Indians." [According to the Limited Geography Model, the Lamanites would likely have intermarried with other groups (not of Hebrew descent) and that the resultant Lamanites (not entirely Hebrew) are the "principal ancestors of the American Indians." See the [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bm/introduction Introduction] to the Book of Mormon.] However, LDS supporters point out that "principal" does not necessarily mean "majority" but simply "first or highest in rank, importance, value, etc.; chief; foremost". [ [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/principal "Principal" on dictionary.com] ]

Critics of the "limited geography" model say that the Book of Mormon does not make clear reference to any other people groups that may have existed in the Americas that would account for the dilution of the Middle Eastern genetic markers in the New World.Fact|date=February 2007 Therefore, it is argued, a "traditional reading" of the Book of Mormon suggests that "most, if not all," the ancestry of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas came from this Hebrew migration in ancient times Harv|Southerton|2004|p=156. [ Regarding the hemispheric geography model, Southerton states: "Since the traditional geography model most closely aligns...with an uncontrived reading of the Book of Mormon, it is not surprising that it is still the most widely accepted view in the church."]

The Book of Mormon makes reference to groups from "other countries" that could be brought to the New World. In 2 Nephi, Lehi states "the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi|chapter=1|verse=5). Mormons have taught since the time of Joseph Smith that this is in reference to the European colonizers of the Americas. It is subsequently stated that allowing too many other people in the land would cause them to "overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi|chapter=1|verse=8). Later, however, "other nations" would have power to "cause them (the Lamanite remnants) to be scattered and smitten" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi|chapter=1|verse=11). Lehi said further that the remnants would not "utterly be destroyed" (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=2 Nephi|chapter=3|verse=9).

According to the LGT proponents, the most direct evidence of prior inhabitants was when Lehi's party found domesticated animals when they arrived in the Americas (sourcetext|source=Book of Mormon|book=1 Nephi|chapter=18|verse=25). This was part of the story line, however, and does not support the Limited Geography Theory, since the Book of Ether explains these animals were brought from the middle east by the Jaredites.

Factors affecting DNA composition of the New World population

LDS scholars also say that the DNA taken from modern day Israelis has been intermixed with DNA from many other nations, thus they do not contain the same traits that Israelites had when Lehi left Israel Harv|Stubbs|2003. Also, modern Native Americans have intermixed, which has changed their DNA from that of their ancestors' as well. It is also noted by LDS researchers that another factor affecting genetic diversity of New World inhabitants is the fact that 90% of the population died as the result of disease introduced by the Spaniards after their arrival Harv|Coe|2002|p=231. [ Referring to the introduction of smallpox, influenza and measles, Coe states that "It is generally agreed among scholars that these produced a holocaust unparalleled in the world's history: within a century, 90 percent of the native population had been killed off, including that of the Maya area."]

Michael F. Whiting, director of Brigham Young University's DNA Sequencing Center and an associate professor in BYU's Department of Integrative Biology, concluded in his article "DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective" that Book of Mormon critics attempting to use DNA "have not given us anything that would pass the muster of peer review by scientists in this field, because they have ignored the real complexity of the issues involved. Further, they have overlooked the entire concept of hypothesis testing in science and believe that just because they label their results as "based on DNA," they have somehow proved that the results are accurate or that they have designed the experiment correctly. At best, they have demonstrated that the global colonization hypothesis is an oversimplified interpretation of the Book of Mormon. At worst, they have misrepresented themselves and the evidence in the pursuit of other agendas." Additionally, although he admits the usefulness of population genetics and of DNA in inferring historical events, he contests that, "given the complexities of genetic drift, founder effect, and introgression, the observation that Native Americans have a preponderance of Asian genes does not conclusively demonstrate that they are therefore not descendants of the Lamanite lineage, because we do not know what genetic signature that Lamanite lineage possessed at the conclusion of the Book of Mormon record." Lastly, he concludes, " [There is] a strong possibility that there was substantial introgression of genes from other human populations into the genetic heritage of the Nephites and Lamanites, such that a unique genetic marker to identify someone unambiguously as a Lamanite, if it ever existed, was quickly lost." and that, "There are some very good scientific reasons for why the Book of Mormon is neither easily corroborated nor refuted by DNA evidence, and current attempts to do so are based on dubious science" Harv|Whiting|2003|pp=24-35.

The Q-P36 genetic haplotype as evidence linking Hebrew and Native American DNA

LDS researchers have also focused attention on one genetic haplotype as potentially providing evidence in favor of a link between Hebrew DNA and Native American DNA. The haplotype in question, known as Haplogroup Q or Q-P36, is found in 31% of self-identified Native Americans in the US Harv|Hammer|2005|p=5. [See Figure 1.] It is also found in 5% of Ashkenazi Jews Harv|Behar|2004|p=357 [See Table 2] and 5% of Iraqi Jews. In addition, a rare branch of Q-P36, called Q-M323, is found in Yemeni Jews Harv|Shen|2004|p=251. [See Figure 1 ]

A study published in 2004 by Stephen L. Zegura states that "The mutational age of Q-P36*, the marker defining the entire Q lineage, is 17,700 ± 4,820 years BP", and that its original source is the region of the Altay Mountains near the borders of Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and China Harv|Zegura|2004|pp=164-175. Zegura further notes, "as a caveat", that a population might have moved into the region of the Altay Mountains from an earlier source, "presumably from the southwest", because "all Native Americans can ultimately be traced to a dispersal from Africa", in common with all other human populations according to the scientific consensus. Most genetic studies show strong relations between Native Americans and Siberian peoples. [ [http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1952074 Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders] ]

Other research postulates that Q-P36 first arose somewhere in Central Asia Harv|Wells|2001. Table 3 from Zegura's research is the source from which the 17,700 ± 4,820 years BP dates seems to have been extracted. This date applies to the latest common ancestor of Altaians and Native Americans with Q-P36 lineage. This ancestor may or may not be the original Q-P36.

Mutation Rates

Generally speaking, mutation rates pertain to STR (short tandem repeat) rather than SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) mutations. The former occur frequently enough to be useful in paternity testing while the latter can be used to make an educated guess about the lineage of an individual. Average STR mutation rates of 2.8 per 1,000 have been observed in father/son pairs. (Kayser 2000) [http://www.eva.mpg.de/genetics/pdf/Kay_AJHG_2000.pdf] The Zegura research cited above, used an 'effective' mutation rate of 0.7 per 1,000. This is done on the premise that various factors can make a lineage look younger than it really is. In point of fact, however, the effective mutation rate used by Zegura is theoretical. Applying the observed mutation rate to Zegura's calculations yields a lower bound of 2725 years BP.

A genetic study in 2006 by Pakendorf et al. used Kayser’s mutation rate of 2.8 per 1000 to calculate a date of the Yakut expansion consistent with historical and archeological data. Pakendorf states, "…it has recently been proposed that 'effective' mutation rates (Zhivotovsky et al. 2004), which are not based on pedigree studies but on archaeologically calibrated migrations, may reflect the true historical processes better than pedigree rates. Using the average 'effective' rate of [0.69 per 1000] calculated by Zhivotovsky et al. (2004) results in a much greater age of the Yakut male expansion of approximately 3800 years, ... However, these older dates are inconsistent with linguistic and archaeological evidence: ... the split of Yakut from Common Turkic cannot be earlier than 1,500 years BP." [http://www.eva.mpg.de/genetics/pdf/Yakut_article_2006.pdf] This suggests that the 'effective' mutation rate of Zhivotovsky and Underhill are not universally valid. This leaves open the possibility that most Native Americans are descended from a single male ancestor who lived in Book of Mormon times.

Comparison with the Lemba

The challenge of determining the genetic background of Book of Mormon population groups has been compared with the Lemba ethnic group in southern Africa. The Lemba, a Black, Bantu-speaking people, practiced a religion very similar to Judaism, and had oral traditions that their ancestors were Jews who sailed to southern Africa from an ancestral land called Sena Harv|Southerton|2004|p=127. They also had a patrilineal priestly clan called the Buba. After the advent of historical genetics, it was found that the Lemba did indeed have a preponderance of genetic markers on their Y chromosome indicating over 80% of their ancestry was non-Arab Middle Eastern; and even that their priestly Buba clan had a high frequency of a set of genetic markers known as the Cohen modal haplotype, which has been found to strongly correlate with members of the "Kohanim", or traditional patrilineal Jewish priestly clan, living in Israel Harv|Southerton|2004|p=128.

It has been calculated that the Lemba separated from the main body of Jews about three to five thousand years before the present. The main group in the Book of Mormon is said to have left the Middle East about 2,600 years before the present. Therefore, it is argued, if the genetic evidence of Jewish descendancy remained so distinctly preserved in the Lemba during thousands of years of being surrounded by unrelated ethnic groups in southern Africa, there seems no reason why the same could not have been true of an analogous group in the Americas over about the same timeframe.Fact|date=June 2007 In response to criticism regarding Amerindians' lack of these genetic attributes, LDS scholars have said that there is no indication that descendants of Levi were among Lehi's group, making the existence of these specific haplotypes unreasonable. They also say that it is more difficult to test Native American DNA for Israelite heritage since traditions of Jewish descent do not currently exist. The Lemba, on the other hand have maintained traditions of being descended from Cohen, or Levites, making it easier to test for their genetic inheritance Harv|Roper|2003|p=145.

In the February 2003 issue of Science in Africa Dr. Himla Soodyal states,"Using mtDNA the Lemba were indistinguishable from other Bantu-speaking groups." MtDNA was the basis of both studies on American Indians. The Lemba look like Bantus and speak a Bantu language. Yet there is no doubt that the Lemba have male Israelite ancestors. The Y-chromosomes tell us this.

Ecclesiastical standing of LDS researchers

Murphy and Southerton were both members of the LDS Church when they began publishing their arguments that the Book of Mormon is not consistent with current genetic evidence. Both men were warned by their local stake presidents and other church leaders that public statements against the Book of Mormon's historicity and authenticity could be grounds for excommunication.Fact|date=February 2007 Southerton refused to recant his published statements stating that the Book of Mormon was not an ancient document. Murphy's published works do not include such a statement, although he has taken this position in interviews for videos produced by [http://www.lhvm.org Living Hope Ministries] , a Utah-based evangelical Christian group specializing in Mormon outreach, and has said in other interviews that "the book might be fiction, but inspired as well." [cite web| title =Attacks on the validity of the Book of Mormon using DNA data| publisher =Religious Tolerance.org| url =http://www.religioustolerance.org/lds_migr1.htm| format =(HTML)| accessdate =2007-01-23 ]

Southerton, who was formerly a bishop of an Australian LDS congregation, was excommunicated from the church in August 2005, though the Australian LDS Church disciplinary council that rendered the excommunication verdict allegedly cited adultery rather than Southerton's self-admitted "apostasy" regarding his position on DNA and the Book of Mormon [http://www.mormoncurtain.com/topic_simonsoutherton.html] .

Murphy's situation gained significant media attention in 2002 when local church authorities in Washington state ordered a disciplinary council and stated that he would either have to recant his position on the veracity of the Book of Mormon or be excommunicated from the church.Fact|date=February 2007 The disciplinary council was postponed on December 7, 2002, less than 24 hours before it was due to be held, and finally indefinitely postponed on February 23, 2003.Fact|date=February 2007 As of 2007 , Murphy remains a member of the LDS Church.

Notes

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External links

* [http://lds.org/ldsnewsroom/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=97ca39628b88f010VgnVCM100000176f620aRCRD&vgnextchannel=f5f411154963d010VgnVCM1000004e94610aRCRD LDS Church] Response by the LDS Church after Murphy's essay in "American Apocrypha: More Essays on the Book of Mormon".
* [http://www.postmormon.org/exp_e/index.php/magazine/feature_article/2004/09/22 Native American DNA and its Impact on Mormonism] by Simon G. Southerton
* MormonCurtain.com (ex-Mormon-based blog) entries on [http://www.mormoncurtain.com/topic_simonsoutherton.html Simon Southerton] , including Southerton's essay on his excommunication
* [http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/DNA.shtml Does DNA evidence refute the Book of Mormon?] by Jeff Lindsay
* [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=10677325&dopt=Abstract 'Y chromosomes traveling south: the cohen modal haplotype and the origins of the Lemba--the "Black Jews of Southern Africa"'] , M.G. Thomas et al., American Journal of Human Genetics, Feb. 2000;66(2):674-86.
* [http://www.lhvm.org/dna.htm "DNA vs. The Book of Mormon",] video documentary by Living Hope Ministries


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