Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church/Chapter 4

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 4: The Lamanites of Polynesia"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, a work by author: Simon G. Southerton
Claim Evaluation
Losing a Lost Tribe
Chart losing a lost tribe chapter 4.jpg

Response to claims made in Losing a Lost Tribe, "Chapter 4: The Lamanites of Polynesia"

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Response to claim: 47 - The assumption that Polynesians are descendants of Lehi is the "most precarious" belief taken from the Book of Mormon

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The assumption that Polynesians are descendants of Lehi is the "most precarious" belief taken from the Book of Mormon.

Author's sources:
  1. No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply the author's opinion.

Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Ridicule—The author is presenting the argument in such a way that it makes his or her subject look ridiculous, usually by misrepresenting the argument or exaggerating it.

Taking the position that Lehi existed, then population genetics predicts that virtually all Amerindians and Polynesians are his literal descendants. They are simply not exclusively his descendants. The author wants to make Lehite links absurd or impossible.

Response to claim: 47 - "Mormon folklore" suggests that Hagoth colonized the Pacific

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

"Mormon folklore" suggests that Hagoth colonized the Pacific.

Author's sources:
  1. Alma 63:5

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

It is not clear what normative value "folklore" has. LDS scripture suggests that Hagoth probably voyaged to the Pacific. If he left any descendants, they probably persist among Pacific Islanders.


Response to claim: 48 - George Q. Cannon taught the Polynesians that they were descendants of the Israelites

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

George Q. Cannon taught the Polynesians that they were descendants of the Israelites.

Author's sources:
  1. Scott G. Kenny, "Mormons and the Smallpox Epidemic of 1853," The Hawaiian Journal of History, 31:1-26 (1997).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

 Author(s) impose(s) own fundamentalism on the Saints: The LDS are not prophetic infalliblists, but in this case Cannon may well be right. If Lehi had descendants, then population genetics tells us that the Polynesians are probably among them.


Response to claim: 49 - Brigham Young stated in 1958 that the Polynesians were descendants of Abraham

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Brigham Young stated in 1958 that the Polynesians were descendants of Abraham.

Author's sources:
Norman Douglas, "The Sons of Lehi and the Seed of Cain: Racial Myths in Mormon Scripture and Their Relevance to the Pacific Islands," Journal of Religious History, 8:90-104 (1974).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The LDS are not prophetic infalliblists, but in this case Brigham may well be right. If Lehi had descendants, then population genetics tells us that the Polynesians are probably among them.


Question: Why do modern day prophets and Church members in general believe that Polynesians are Lamanites?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #171: Why Did Mormon Mention Hagoth? (Video)

This belief, at least in part, that Polynesians are Lamanites stems from the story of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon

Many Latter-day prophets and apostles have stated that the inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific are considered to be Lamanites. This belief, at least in part, stems from the story of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon, who built ships which eventually carried an undetermined number of people to geographical regions outside the scope of the Book of Mormon narrative. Critics insist, however, that modern evidence, including DNA data, precludes the islanders from being descendants of Book of Mormon people.

The story of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon talks of groups of people who set sail in ships and were never seen again

The Book of Mormon talks of groups of people who set sail in ships and were never seen again.

And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.

And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year.

And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward.

And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not. Alma 63:5-8

This story has traditionally been used to explain why the Pacific islanders are considered to be Lamanites.

Statements by Church leaders have reflected this belief that the Polynesians are Lamanaites

Elder Spencer W. Kimball, while he was the Acting President of the Council of the Twelve, said in 1971,

With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem some 600 years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea…they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand…Today we have many Lamanite leaders in the Church. For example, in Tonga, where 20 percent of all the people in the islands belong to the Church, we have three large stakes. Two of them are presided over wholly by Lamanites and the other almost wholly by them. There are three stakes in Samoa and another is to be organized in those small Samoan islands. Four more stakes with Lamanite leaders![1]

The approach by the critics, therefore, is very simple: If the islanders can be proven to have no connection to the New World, then Polynesians cannot be considered to be Lamanites. The statements made by Elder Kimball and other Church leaders would therefore be incorrect, thus proving that these leaders are not inspired. Proving a negative, however, is extremely difficult to do. Many critics' arguments against the Book of Mormon rely upon proving that something does not exist. In the case of Polynesia, there is at least one well known anomaly, the presence of the New World plant the Sweet Potato, tying Polynesia to the New World that is acknowledged by non-LDS scientists.


Response to claim: 49 - The "curse was redefined" to apply only to people of African descent

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The "curse was redefined" to apply only to people of African descent.

Author's sources:
  1. No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

There is no evidence that the Book of Mormon curse on Lamanites ever forbade them the priesthood if they repented. The author is confusing two quite separate issues.


Question: What was the Lamanite curse?

The Book of Mormon talks of a curse being placed upon the Lamanites

And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. 2 Nephi 5:21

It is claimed by some that the Church believed that Lamanites who accepted the Gospel would become light-skinned, and that "Mormon folklore" claims that Native Americans and Polynesians carry a curse based upon "misdeeds on the part of their ancestors."

One critic asks, "According to the Book of Mormon a dark skin is a curse imposed by God on the unrighteous and their descendants as a punishment for sin. Do you agree with that doctrine? (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:22-23, Alma 3:6, 2 Nephi 5:21-22, Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 2:15-16, Mormon 5:15; references to the "Lamanites" are taken to be referring to Native American "Indians".)" [2]

Although the curse of the Lamanites is often associated directly with their skin color, it may be that this was intended in a far more symbolic sense than modern American members traditionally assumed

The curse itself came upon them as a result of their rejection of the Gospel. It was possible to be subject to the curse, and to be given a mark, without it being associated with a change in skin color, as demonstrated in the case of the Amlicites. The curse is apparently a separation from the Lord. A close reading of the Book of Mormon text makes it untenable to consider that literal skin color was ever the "curse." At most, the skin color was seen as a mark, and it may well have been that these labels were far more symbolic and cultural than they were literal.


Response to claim: 52 - Words spoken in General Conference are considered to be "akin" to scripture

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Words spoken in General Conference are considered to be "akin" to scripture.

Author's sources:
  1. No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader


Question: Do Mormons consider their prophets to be infallible?

Latter-day Saints do not believe that prophets and apostles are incapable of error, despite being called of God and receiving revelation

Some people hold inerrantist beliefs about scriptures or prophets, and assume that the LDS have similar views. This leads some to assume that prophets are infallible. [3]

Joseph Smith himself taught that ‘a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such’.[4] The Church has always taught that its leaders are human and subject to failings as are all mortals. Only Jesus was perfect, as explained in this statement from the First Presidency:

The position is not assumed that the men of the New Dispensation —its prophets, apostles, presidencies, and other leaders—are without faults or infallible, rather they are treated as men of like passions with their fellow men."[5]

Lu Dalton, writing in the Church's periodical for women, explained:

We consider God, and him alone, infallible; therefore his revealed word to us cannot be doubted, though we may be in doubt some times about the knowledge which we obtain from human sources, and occasionally be obliged to admit that something which we had considered to be a fact, was really only a theory.[6]

Other authors have long taught the same thing:

1887 B. H. Roberts, Letter written November 4, 1887, London, Millennial Star 49. 48 (November 28, 1887): 760-763; a portion of which reads: “Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which she sanctions and approves through the formal actions of her councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible” (762)

1889 Charles W. Penrose, Editorial: Judge Anderson and ‘Blood Atonement,’ Deseret Weekly 39. 25 (December 14, 1889): 772a-773c. [Editor is Charles W. Penrose; in his response to the lengthy statement by Judge Anderson, he quotes from the same pamphlet which the Judge had quoted from: Blood Atonement, by Elder Charles W. Penrose, published in 1884; Penrose quotes a statement which the Judge had not] “’The law of God is paramount. When men give their views upon any doctrine, the value of those views is as the value of the man. If he is a wise man, a man of understanding, of experience and authority, such views are of great weight with the community; but they are not paramount, nor equal to the revealed law of God’” (773ab)

1892 21 March 1892: Elder Charles W. Penrose, at the time a counselor in the Salt Lake Stake Presidency: "At the head of this Church stands a man who is a Prophet . . . we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God." Millennial Star 54 (21 March 1892): 191

1902 Joseph F. Smith to Lillian Golsan, July 16, 1902. "[T]he theories, speculations, and opinions of men, however intelligent, ingenious, and plausible, are not necessarily doctrines of the Church or principles that God has commanded His servants to preach. No doctrine is a doctrine of this Church until it has been accepted as such by the Church, and not even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority–the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints as a religious body. The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated until proper permission is given.” - Joseph F. Smith Correspondence, Personal Letterbooks, 93–94, Film Reel 9, Ms. F271; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 221–222. Also in Statements of the LDS First Presidency, compiled by Gary James Bergera (Signature, 2007), page 121. Bergera indicates it is a letter from JFS to Lillian Golsan, July 16, 1902.

1907 March 26, 1907. [The following was first published in “An Address. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the World”, in Millennial Star 69. 16 (April 18, 1907): 241-247; 249-254; also in Improvement Era 10 (May 1907): 481-495; reprinted also in Messages of the First Presidency, Volume IV, compiled by James R. Clark (Bookcraft, SLC 1970): 142-157; “We refuse to be bound by the interpretations which others place upon our beliefs, or by what they allege must be the practical consequences of our doctrines. Men have no right to impute to us what they think may be the logical deduction from our beliefs, but which we ourselves do not accept. We are to be judged by our own interpretations and by our own actions, not by the logic of others, as to what is, or may be, the result of our faith”, page 154.

1921 B.H. Roberts: As to the printed discourses of even leading brethren…they do not constitute the court of ultimate appeal on doctrine. They may be very useful in the way of elucidation and are very generally good and sound in doctrine, but they are not the ultimate sources of the doctrines of the Church, and are not binding upon the Church. The rule in that respect is—What God has spoken, and what has been accepted by the Church as the word of God, by that, and that only, are we bound in doctrine. When in the revelations it is said concerning the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator that the Church shall “give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them—for his word ye shall receive as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith”—(Doc & Cov., Sec. 21)—it is understood, of course, that his has reference to the word of God received through revelation, and officially announced to the Church, and not to every chance word spoken.[7]

The prophets are not perfect, but they are called of God. They may speak as men, but may speak scripture as well. Every person may know for themselves whether they speak the truth through the same power that their revelation is given: the power of the Holy Ghost.


Response to claim: 53 - Research has confirmed that there are strong links between Polynesia and the Orient

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Research has confirmed that there are strong links between Polynesia and the Orient.

Author's sources:
  1. No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There is nothing about the Book of Mormon that would preclude this. Throughout this section, the author reads the Book of Mormon in the most naive way possible. But, for at least a hundred years before, leaders and members were saying very similar things. He is simply uninformed about LDS thought on the topic.


Response to claim: 54 - Spencer W. Kimball and Heber J. Grant believed that the islanders were descendents of Lehi

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

Spencer W. Kimball and Heber J. Grant believed that the islanders were descendents of Lehi.

Author's sources:
Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: Our Paths Have Met Again," Ensign, 5:2-7 (1975)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The LDS are not prophetic infalliblists, but in this case these two Church presidents may well be right.

Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Ridicule—The author is presenting the argument in such a way that it makes his or her subject look ridiculous, usually by misrepresenting the argument or exaggerating it.

Taking the position that Lehi existed, then population genetics predicts that virtually all Amerindians and Polynesians are his literal descendants. They are simply not exclusively his descendants. The author wants to make Lehite links absurd or impossible.

Response to claim: 54 - The Church invested "vast sums of money" to build church schools in Polynesia, Mexico and Central and South America, but "denied" these benefits to Micronesia and Melanesia

The author(s) of Losing a Lost Tribe make(s) the following claim:

The Church invested "vast sums of money" to build church schools in Polynesia, Mexico and Central and South America, but "denied" these benefits to Micronesia and Melanesia.

Author's sources:
  1. No source given.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The Church gets no credit for what it has done, only what it has not done. Could the presence of schools have something to do with LDS membership levels, missionary efforts, etc.?


Notes

  1. Spencer W. Kimball, "Of Royal Blood," Ensign (July 1971), 7.
  2. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 73, 367 n.138. ( Index of claims ); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 43. ( Index of claims );Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 193, 235. ( Index of claims );Richard Packham, "Questions for Mitt Romney," 2008.;Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004) 40, 184. ( Index of claims )
  3. Criticisms regarding assumptions of prophetic infallibility are raised in the following publications: John Dehlin, "Why People Leave the LDS Church," (2008).; Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 18. ( Index of claims ); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 437.( Index of claims ); Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers; Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)
  4. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:265. Volume 5 link; See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 278. off-site
  5. James R. Clark, quoting B. H. Roberts, Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), p. xiv–xv.
  6. Lu Dalton, Woman's Exponent (Salt Lake City: 15 July 1882), p. 31.
  7. Brigham H. Roberts, “Answer Given to ‘Ten Reasons Why “Christians” Can Not Fellowship with Latter-Day Saints,’” discourse delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, 10 July 1921. Deseret News, 23 July 1921, 4:7. Roberts' previous reply to the same pamphlet also appeared in His earlier response can be found in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 5:134-141. ; it was first published in Millennial Star 58 (July 22, 1896): 417-20; 433-9.