Book of Mormon/DNA evidence/Responding to critical claims

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Responding to critical claims regarding the Book of Mormon and DNA evidence

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Gospel Topics: "Basic principles of population genetics suggest the need for a more careful approach to the data"

"Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

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.[1]


Questions: What are the criticisms related to the Book of Mormon and DNA?

DNA attacks against the Book of Mormon account fail on numerous grounds

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 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. [2]

"Recent attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence are ill considered."[3] 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.

DNA data tells us nothing which we did not already know from archaeological data

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.


Question: Do Christian critics of the Book of Mormon have a double standard regarding DNA evidence?

Many sectarian critics use DNA science in a figurative "suicide bombing" attack on the Church

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
  • human descent from other primates

Fundamentalist Christians do not call on their congregations to abandon such literalistic Biblical concepts as a "young earth"

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.

Notes

  1. "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (January 31, 2014)
  2. 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
  3. John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site wiki
  4. The expression "suicide bombing" in this context comes from Stewart, "DNA and the Book of Mormon."