[Editor’s Note: This was a graphics-rich presentation. This transcript does not include slides from the presentation.]
I would like to thank the organizers of the conference for being invited to talk about two really great subjects and that is the Book of Mormon and DNA which, when you look at its structure and its design, is no less of a divine inspired molecule!
We live in a very exciting age. Now, by the time you finish watching CNN you may not think that, but there is a lot of good that is going on in the world today and actually we call- so this is sort of a public service announcement on DNA—you’ll often hear the word “genome” and genome refers to the entire complement of genes that each one of us has and for humans that’s between 30-80,000 genes and this is really going to be the basis of an economic revolution in countries that will take note. In fact Bill Gates has said that if he had the opportunity to do it over again he would be in biotechnology because with the early days of this type of research, it was pre-1995 (they call the ancient days), and now since we’ve actually looked at and deciphered the entire human genome there are many things that we think we can now do. We can use DNA as a biosensor to detect what we’re thinking; all types of diseases; cancers that now we treat after their clinical manifestations; long before there are clinical manifestations; so we really stand on a cusp and a threshold of a revolution much like the antibiotic revolution of the last century.
So, they are exciting times. In fact if you work in biotechnology and DNA everybody’s really excited to get work, to see the progress that’s going to move forward and all this is really because of this molecule—DNA.
DNA is really quite amazing because it just has four simple letters to convey its message: G, A, T, and C. With these four letters everything about the human body is written in what we call the blueprints of life. Now that’s pretty amazing because, of course, we have to use 26 letters to speak but all of the information content held within a human body, and really responsible for the variation we see in this room when we look around us, is written in that simple genetic alphabet.
Now as we have deciphered the human genome there’s been quite a few surprises along the way. If you notice there’s all types of genes that we’ve found, there’s the reality-based TV fixation; delusions of stock market savvy; and one I’m actually convinced is that fixation in my family—and fixation means that everybody has the gene you can’t escape—and this is just late-breaking news but I think right here there’s a Wal-Mart gene. (Laughter) And this was affirmed by Business Week about a year ago who said that, ‘Eighty percent of Americans made at least one visit to Wal-Mart in that particular year.’ And it also comes in handy because, remember we used to- what was it? In the 70s we used to blame our environment and then we used to blame our parents for things that we didn’t do that we should do and now you can blame your genome so this really comes in handy. It’s no longer, ‘My parents made me do it’ but ‘My genes made me do it.’ Kind of like it’s not your fault that mom married your dad.
But along with this comes other challenges as well and that is that there are DNA claims against the Book of Mormon and most of these are based on modern population data. Number one, the genetic evidence of Native American characterizations does not support an Ancient Near Eastern descent for Native Americans. Population genetics are consistent with Asian origins for aboriginal groups and I don’t know if we should really be too concerned about this. It all lies in your expectation. And this is mostly based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome because in each one of us there is actually a paternal name that’s written in your Y chromosome that you get exclusively from your dad and in the mitochondrial genome that you get exclusively from your mother. So these actually turn out to be fairly great genealogical tools, that is if you’re just thinking in terms of a couple of generations. The more generations are received the more difficult it gets and I’ll show you why.
Let’s look at the claims behind this and to do that we have to look at just a few basics to begin with and that is there are two great archives of DNA in the human body, or in the cell, there’s this master library that is held in the nucleus and this has billions of letters of information. If you take the information that you got from mom and you got from dad there is 6.6 billion pieces of information and the more we learn about this I think the more astounded we are. We used to think that there were just genes and then long islands of nothing. But recently, within the last year, one of the big—you probably heard the word microarrays—a group that makes microarrays has done a lot of research and found out that these islands of nothing may not be nothing but they are important for coding, they are important for turning genes on and off.
And then we have out here what I like to term branch libraries, out away from the central nucleus are these mitochondria and mitochondria are very important. I think when most of us went to school, if you paid attention in biology class, they just said, ‘Oh it’s just the battery. It powers the cell and don’t worry about it.’ However that’s changing quickly.
Now for the mitochondrial aspect, it’s interesting because it has its own complement of DNA but it’s extremely modest in comparison to its nuclear cellmate. It only has 17,000 pieces of information but these branch libraries are numerous—there’s thousands, maybe 10,000 in a particular cell.
So important is this molecule that the nucleus actually pays the tithing of 10 percent of its total complement to speak to the mitochondria. So these two speak back and forth and they’re in communication, actually in just microseconds- nanoseconds and that will become apparent as to why that’s so important.
Just for a rough comparison here, nuclear DNA of course sits in a nucleus; and it’s the equivalent of amount of 50 sets of encyclopedias so a lot of information. MtDNA resides out away but it’s still in communication, there are still phone lines, still e-mail, going back and forth in a chemical sense. There’s about ten pages of information but these ten pages of information are the same in every mitochondria that’s in the cell and so there’s a certain number of volumes here that’s important to make sure that mitochondria work.
And the reason why that is is because mitochondria are vital. I can tell everyone in this room your mitochondria is working otherwise you wouldn’t be here because it’s responsible for generating 80 percent of the cellular fuel at a molecular level. In fact we’re now moving into a new phase where they’re beginning to recognize that there are mitochondrial diseases and many a-typical diseases that we see now are going to end up being mitochondrial diseases. Estimates go as high as- incredibly high, that as many out one out of every five people may have a mitochondrial disorder and that’s because mitochondria, they code for actually 37 genes. Now 13 of those genes- they’re important because they make sure, or (let’s see- it’s hard to do math when you’re in front of a group!) but anyway there’s 13 genes there that are very important for energy production. They work in concert with signals that are sent down from the nucleus and the other genes just simply make sure that these get made.
So I think what I’m trying to say here that maybe I should have said at the beginning, is that just simply looking at the population genetics and making a judgment as to what it means to a group of people from 2600 years ago is very precarious because this just isn’t simply a genetic marker. It’s vital for energy metabolism. So this is just a gee-whiz figure and you’re not supposed to be able to figure it out because it’s supposed to overwhelm you. (Laughter)
With all of the metabolic pathways that’s actually driven by mtDNA so actually we found that when a cell develops pathology, for example cancer develops, in some cases it shows up early in the mtDNA in the form of alterations in this simple genetic alphabet.
So now the claims are made against the Y chromosome and mtDNA. So let’s first of all take a look at the Y chromosome.
So these have unique patterns of inheritance and that is that they stay steady through a line. In fact it’s not surprising that some Jewish groups have a specific Y chromosome marker at a high frequency of about 50 percent. If you read the heavy, heavy paternal lineages, for example in Chronicles, or if you’ve seen “The Home Teachers” and where they put that tape in and they go on Jehosophat, Jehu… and whoever, that’s literally true. Long histories of paternal chromosomes and those can actually get fixed but what happens is that dad has to have a son, the son has to have another son that has to be passed on. Now if this dad here had a daughter, he doesn’t pass on his paternal Y chromosome. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a brother out here that doesn’t pass it on.
But this comes into a very important point called “coalescence” where, over time, most of these genetic signals can and do disappear—it’s been proven from a statistical viewpoint.
We also have mtDNA which we get from our moms. So actually in mtDNA there is in the same paternal, or Y chromosome, there’s a maternal name written in these four simple letters: the G, A, T, and C and this occurs in a subset of the entire genome. So where the maternal name is written is usually very small, we call that the hypervariable region and same game, so if mom has daughters then this is passed on. If mom had a son right here, this isn’t passed on.
So I want you to keep this in mind because this is very important when you start to talk about really small groups like Lehi’s family and you consider the eight years that they were in the wilderness. Statistically you start to get problems with the frequencies that have been suggested.
So how did these look? How do we actually read these? It’s actually quite dull! (Laughter) So this is (and I just said that this was exciting didn’t I?)- So, each one of these lines actually represents, you could say, a maternal name. This is actually, sequencing data what we call, you can see there’s the Gs, the As, the Ts and the Cs and then down here the software—and I should say that without the advent of computers this would be impossible and now many large companies like IBM are trying to get interested into these types of biosciences because there’s so much information that needs to be decoded and because of the coming revolution in health care they see these as tremendous revenue generators.
So one thing I forgot to mention, sort of the blue sky of all this, is that in the not too distant future you’ll go in to your physician and you’ll swipe a card and it will say: ‘Okay, well Scott Gordon back there he doesn’t respond very well to ibuprofen because he has this particular gene but we know aspirin works for him.’ ‘Ampicillin may not work for you but we’ll give you tetracycline.’ So all these things will become a very highly practiced type of science and things will be treated long before they show up clinically because they’ll be anticipated at the DNA level.
So all this information is interestingly once again written in this code but for our purposes here, so what happens, if you look at this little dot right here, the software gives us this heads up and says, ‘Well there’s somebody here that doesn’t match.’ So if you run up all these Ts we say ‘Aha, there’s a C right here!’ So this person actually has a different name simply because this differs by one letter of the genetic alphabet and the same here. So you can imagine the problem with trying to handle all of this data when you’re looking at populations of people that have billions of pieces of information.
But what’s important, I think, here is that most of the lineages can actually be the same and most of them probably swamp this particular individual here and this is a sampling of a large population of people from Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. And this information, this maternal information also the Y chromosome, has been used to come up with various ideas and this is really quite ingenious and very exciting.
There’s been multiple migrations out of Africa, you’ve probably all heard of the seven daughters of Eve and you can send in your DNA and they’ll tell you which Eve you came from and Adam and all that type of thing which are interesting commercial ideas. But so, from this, and the caveat is these are once again modern populations. So we can see that Native Americans really- scientists aren’t very inventive because they have four(sic) maternal names: A, B, C, D and X—that’s not very exciting is it? But it looks like, really from areas here in Siberia that many of the modern-day signatures actually- but they do match these people coming out of Siberia and to a lesser extent there are some haplotypes in Asia that match as well but it’s these major four(sic?) and I think that here’s where the claims come that, ‘Well sheesh, Native Americans have these haplotypes and where are the Ancient Near Eastern haplotypes when we look at modern DNA?’
But another important thing to notice is that there are different distributions of these haplotypes and that’s another thing that comes into play. So there are limitations to this approach, and this is never really brought out, but the huge limitation is this is based on contemporary data and we’ll look at some population histories later on here and you’ll actually see that there are many population histories that are written in Native Americans and simply because all these names don’t appear at this particular period in, for example the Cherokee, doesn’t mean that they weren’t there sometime in the past; it doesn’t mean that there aren’t names that have gone to extinction because there are a lot of variants. We’re just seeing, this is much like reading a Sherlock Holmes book, well, not reading a Sherlock Holmes book but reading the last chapter and then from what is written there trying to reconstruct all the nuances of the plot of a Sherlock Holmes book. That would be difficult. And mitochondria are much more than population markers, they’re actually very, very dynamic. Sometimes we get the idea that genes don’t move, that it’s just what we get (inaudible) but they can be dynamic, as we’ve seen with pathology, that you can get mutations—but that probably doesn’t apply here.
So let’s go back to the beginning, the guy that’s really responsible for all this and that is father Abraham. Just to illustrate some points of groups that move. So father Abraham here started out from Ur, he came across the Fertile Crescent and he ended up somewhere in Palestine. Now what’s interesting about this, and I think this comes into play with the Promised Land, is that when father Abraham went to Canaan he didn’t go to Promised Land ‘Retirement Villa’, there were people there, there was opposition. So when you go to a Promised Land it’s just not like, you know, go there and play golf until the Second Coming—that’s not how it works.
But from a population perspective let’s go back to the city of Ur. So this maybe what the city of Ur looked like when Abraham was there, people are at the market, they’re shopping for leeks and maybe they’re going to go hear a reading of the Epic of Gilgamesh that evening! (Laughter)
But what I’ve done with Abraham is I’ve taken some of these people, I pulled them out, so if you think of the gene pool of all these people I’ve taken a very restricted number, a kin-associated group, they’ve gone somewhere else. Now just because you’re Abraham and you’ve left your population doesn’t mean that God hits you over the head with a wand and says, ‘Oh I’m going to change your genetics so you’re unique.’ No we’re all pretty much, like for example in this room, we all look very much European. We would probably all be X- mitochondrial type X.
This is what happens to Abraham, so he lives the area. And this is what we call a genetic bottleneck—there’s just no getting around it. So if you think of a genetic bottleneck, think of—and I think I better thank FARMS for this because this is one of their articles and I just chopped it up—so you have an old fashioned pop bottle and you have a variation in here that represents all the people and then Abraham is going to leave so you just pour a couple of these guys out. So you don’t have what’s represented any more, you have a sub-set of this. So we have a genetic bottleneck already.
But now let’s step ahead 1200 years to Jerusalem and to the outskirts where we have a small kin-associated group, such as Lehi and his family who’ve left. Who’ve left for a Promised Land and, once again, this is a kin-associated group. So we’ve had Abraham in the Land of Canaan, I mean there’s been population histories for that 1200 years. We just don’t know, so even probably the signal from Abraham is lost once again in the intermarriages that may happen. Maybe they all looked very consistently the same. This the problem you run into if I was to run over to the Ancient Near East today and say, ‘Let me look at these Israeli and Palestinian populations. This is what they looked 2600 years ago.’ It just doesn’t work that way, and the literature actually is very cautious about that and says, you know, we have to be very careful how we reconstruct these ancient lineages.
So we have this kin-associated group, Lehi and friends, and they leave. So we have another bottleneck and they’re out here wandering around in the wilderness and of interest there is that they’re out there for eight years. Now there are things called infant mortality rates and that type of thing because you don’t have modern medicine, and you don’t have physicians, you just can’t drive into an emergency ward and if you’re going to die you generally die. So there’s probably again a genetic reduction that occurs naturally in the small kin-associated group—not everybody lives, not everybody has sons and daughters and it’s more acute in a small group like that. So they can tend to go to what again we call ‘fixation’ rapidly but probably it shouldn’t have happened here because it was only eight years.
So when we travel to new lands, the things that we always take with us are our genes. We take our nuclear DNA, we take our mtDNA, and it’s all a certain amount of variation that comes along in a little cup. In fact if you looked really close Sariah is holding this cup. (Laughter) But anyways- you are alive out there!
I just want to say a couple of things about the Promised Land. We believe that they sailed over to Mesoamerica and landed somewhere in this area and this wonderful graphic is courtesy of Blake and Joseph Allen. Let’s talk just a minute about the Book of Mormon and what it has as the Promised Land.
I know that we all believe that they went to a land where there never was before man. At least that’s our traditional understanding of what that means but if you look really close at 2 Nephi, I mean I think it seems like sometimes we tend to get carried away. It’s sort of written in covenant of Abraham language that says those brought out of the land of Jerusalem. It’s a very specific group of people, they’ll prosper, they’ll be kept from all other nations, they’ll possess this land unto themselves, but the conditions always are that the laws and statutes are respected and lived. So the Promised Land idea is really associated with the covenant of Abraham and does not cover some of God’s other children that are living in this New World. In fact you can almost think of Lehi’s group as a boat of missionaries. Why not? Bringing the covenant of Abraham to a new land.
And also if you want to think in terms of, like, the Saints that came into the Valley in 1847, they certainly didn’t come to a Promised Land ‘Retirement Area’. In fact it was just the opposite. There were things that they had to do that built character that let them become all that they were to become. In fact Elder Maxwell always makes the point that these trials and tribulations that we are given are very specific for each one of us so that we can tutor, we can learn, we can become all that’s intended for us in the divine sense.
So we also look at Joshua and the children of Israel. They had a literal war on their hands but nevertheless God told Joshua to be not afraid, neither be dismayed but be of a strong courage and I’ll be with you in these ventures.
So it seems like in the terms of Promised Land there is opposition in all things. So they come into Mesoamerica, and according to Michael Crawford, at the beginning of the 15th century, and see now again here we’re having to rely on modern data because that’s all we have, he says that there were 25 million inhabitants in Central America—those are a lot of people.
Let’s just sort of look at what John Sorensen calls Lehi’s neighbors. I call this (I was going to call this shadows of the empire but it had already been used) shadows of existing people and when we read in the Book of Mormon—it was never intended as a population history—but if you read it as that, there are really interesting clues and nuances.
First of all, we find out—it’s repeated over and over—this is only a hundredth part of the record so those things that we think are important today, the genetics and so on and so forth, weren’t even an issue and if you’ve read the Book of Mormon you can understand why. I mean Mendel is still in the future; he’s sort of the father of genetics. James Watson and Francis Crick, the discoverers of the double helix in 1953, aren’t even a thought. In fact, the bacterial theory of disease isn’t even a thought.
These people have other issues and the issues seem to be social and political. What’s really fascinating I think is some of the language that’s used. So the sibling rivalry becomes very dangerous, Lehi is told by revelation to leave. Well, he says, I’m going to take my relatives and then he says, and those who would go with me. Well who were these people? I mean there are so many people who came over on the boat and he should know everybody. Temple construction takes a lot of manpower so it’s going to cause these people to be industrious. So the shadows continued.
What I tried to do is look early on in the Book of Mormon for these clues and these nuances. This is what Jacob says, and you can’t- it just turns out that Lamanites and Nephites isn’t even a genetic term and it’s not anyway because they all share the same genetic background. Jacob says this, he says, “But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi.” (Jacob 1:14)
Interestingly polygamy is no longer an accepted practice so you’re not going to have these huge Y chromosome incursions and even if it was there are not enough women from the Ancient Near East to drive that genetic agenda.
And this one is I think is very interesting, it was pointed out by John Sorensen, he talks about Sherem. So Sherem comes to see Jacob and he says, “Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ. And ye have led away much of this people.” (Jacob 7:6-7) Well c’mon when I go to my- I know where my relatives live, don’t you?
So it seems like there were these collisions and these interjections with the populations fairly early.
And if we continue, some of these shadows, interestingly Jarom, who is the son of Enos, who is the son of Jacob, says, “And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites.” (Jarom 1:6)
And then there’s always this missionary effort, “And it came to pass that many means were devised to reclaim and restore the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth.” ( Jacob 7:24) The Lamanites, or, those who do not believe. Alma the Younger and the four sons of Mosiah, for example, set off on a long missionary effort.
And finally when you go to 4 Nephi 1:17 “Neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites.”
So these divisions that we see in the Book of Mormon really have nothing to do with genetics but they seem to be one large group.
Let’s look at our genes coming from Jerusalem. So you have these four- you have these kin-associated groups; you have, let’s be generous and say there were four mitochondrial lineages and there were three Y chromosome lineages. So you dump these guys into the gumball machine, we’ll make A, B, C, D, and X all the same and then you dump these guys in and one of the things that we find right off is that if you brought some of these genes from Jerusalem you’re not going to fare very well in this new environment. It’s like wanting to be a basketball star but not being able to dribble or shoot or run. And that is that the way mitochondrial DNA is distributed in populations has to do with what we call ‘selection’ so if you can’t run, jump or shoot the Jazz are not going to ask you to come and try out. And the same thing again- natural selection shaped regional mitochondrial DNA variation in humans and it’s very, I think, instructive that in these migrations that we see we only see a select number of mitochondrial DNA names: A, B, C, D and X.
In ancient history I think we have to suspect that there were many of these that just went out of existence and there’s this other issue that’s called ‘coalescence’ or ‘lineage sorting’. So let’s look at this.
So these- note at the top, these are 18 women and we’re looking at the first generation. It doesn’t matter if these are actually women or men but what happens is you look at the lineage scenario through the generations and this is 20 generations—or 500 years. This person- this women had no daughters and we’re supposed to assume that all these are unique mitochondrial lineages and so it’s even worse if this is strung out across the room where many people have the same lineage and then there’s just a couple that have these lineages that are probably at a selective disadvantage. What happens is that through time things coalesce; there’s this lineage sorting process so that when you get down to the bottom there’s only two of the 18 that made it—eleven percent.
Now, these are just population facts, whether or not you’re God’s people or whether or not you’re Nephite, Lamanite or whatever -ite you may be, there is a sorting process and that’s based on the idea that these molecules here are the same. Well you have some, you’re outnumbered, you’re at a disadvantage because you can’t run, jump and shoot like everybody else. And so there is actually this funnel, this sieve sort of, process that takes place.
And if we look at the current people that live in Mesoamerica you can see this very well. So you have your A, B, C and D and various populations here but you can see for example, like, this group has A, it has B, it has C but where’s D? It doesn’t mean that 300 years ago they didn’t have D here. So what I’m trying to say is that, and it’s the same for all these, you see a population history written in everyone of these people and we’re seeing the buds on the tips of the trees, we’re not seeing the branches, we’re not seeing the trunks.
So everyone, I mean for example, this one- this group of people, they’re missing three of these. This one probably is not fair(?), this is Caribbean so they’re probably islanders, which means there’s more of a reduction yet. I think this also speaks of selection once again, so why wouldn’t all these be at the same frequency?
Now if we want to look at the way we do genealogy, say I’m right here and I want to look back a couple of generations, we can see that every generation—and now I should say I’m talking about nuclear DNA I’m not talking about mitochondrial or Y chromosome—but at every generation receding, your number of ancestors doubles. Now when you get back so many generations a lot of people, I mean I have people tell me, you know in my ward at home, ‘Well I’m related to so-and-so- the King of France back in 1400.’ Well you may be related to the King of France because there’s one of these lines that comes your way but you’re also related to everybody else. You may be related to Siegfried here that was thrown in jail, you may be related to so-and-so here that was a bank robber. And so, there’s a lot of people that you become related to and the chances that their DNA is in you is very, very small—it’s like winning the lottery. And once again that’s just the population genetics so this is really called the ‘law of increasingly remote and genetically irrelevant ancestors.’ (Laughter) I don’t make this stuff up.
Then another interesting note that I think has been forgotten, and this comes from the Dakhleh Oasis, there is a Romano-Coptic Christian site in the Dakhleh Oasis and it looks like the people were proselyted (Coptic Christian just means Egypt and there was a time when the early Christian movement moved throughout Egypt and proselyted people in their native tongue) and these oases exist as big footprints out in the sand on the west side of the Nile which is kind of interesting in and of itself if you’re Egyptian why would you live out in the West Desert because that’s the Land of the Dead—who wants to live out in the Land of the Dead? Anyway, they did and here’s a view of the ancient town of Kellis and if you can look off to- I believe this is the east, there’s the desert escarpment that moves up- these are sand dunes and then here’s the town of ancient Kellis.
Well in Kellis there’s a cemetery called Kellis 2. Kellis 2 is very interesting because they buried everything. They buried stillborn, they buried children that had died, they buried fetuses. And so we really get a look at ancient population demographics and what’s interesting when you want to think about the Book of Mormon and trying to push these genetics in the Ancient Near East up through this population is that the pre-reproductive mortality rate is 63 percent—so over half of your children don’t make it to have more children and a lot of these, they were Christian, they believed in God as well. So God isn’t selective among His people, we’re sent here, we have to put up with the physical facts. So there you go there is another genetic (inaudible).
So I think from all of this I would like to conclude that these small kin-associated groups that we see in the Book of Mormon are at genetic disadvantages. There were large indigenous populations in Mesoamerica 600 BC and the Book of Mormon populations assimilated into the ancient genetic topography of Mesoamerica with these mitochondrial haplotypes A, B, C, D and X.
So do Book of Mormon people have the same mitochondrial haplotypes as Native Americans? Yes. They were assimilated in but they were a small part that were participating in a specific geographical area and once again I think the really important, and sort of our- you know, science always thinks that it has all of the answers right now but we always live in an age of ignorance and that is, assuming that these current population data are adequate for this test, they’re just simply not I think if you were to be intellectually honest with yourself it just isn’t possible to really reconstruct these. What you’d have to do is you would have to find a cemetery where Nephi and everybody was buried and then do ancient DNA analysis on those individuals. But it looks like fairly quickly this population was eclipsed and this story wouldn’t be different for any of us that would move into a large foreign population. I mean, pretty soon our kids start talking like so-and-so, start acting like so-and-so. There’s only a certain number of people you can pick to be married to and if they did stay together then you have a lot of problems with recessive alleles starting to pair up and there is a lot of genetic problems with that.
And finally I like this particular quote from Elder Maxwell, he says, “Because the editing of the Book of Mormon, with its witnessing gospel of hope, occurred under divine direction, it has a focus which is essentially spiritual. Yet some still criticize the book for not being what it was never intended to be, as if one could justifiably criticize a phone directory for lack of a plot.”2 And, for all intents and purposes, that’s what we’ve been doing. (Laughter)
I guess from a personal note am I saying that we won’t ever find Ancient Near Eastern genetics? No. I think there are some tantalizing papers now that suggest that there may be European input, I would say at this time, into these ancient populations; but I’m not that familiar with that information so that’s a subject for future study. And overall, the genetic differences in the human family is pretty slight and so when we all say and speak of God’s children we are all very, very closely related at a genetic level and here we’re talking about very, very small nuances and differences when we talk about A, B, C, D and X.
I think that- well I mean we need to see in sacred scriptures its full intent and its possibilities and not really look for its limitations.
Mercifully the blessings of God and the Atonement, they don’t have genetic constrictions and how could they with an all-loving God? We’re all His children operating under the principle of free agency and the whole idea is whether or not we accept or deny that fact.
One final item is that I think that we as Latter-day Saints are too willing to accept what science or what critics have to say. We really need to be thoroughly skeptical of skeptics and critical of critics. Sometimes we are very gullible in our faith. If the boy Joseph saw Jesus Christ and God the Father in the grove what do these criticisms really matter? That is the major fact and so I would like to leave that with you and thank you once again.
Q: Can you comment on the DNA research done by Simon Southerton?
PARR: Simon Southerton has written a book called “Losing a Lost Tribe: DNA, the LDS Church” and so on and so forth.
For the reasons that I outlined here that book is very problematic because once again it looks at population frequencies. In fact the one graphic that I did show showing current population frequencies, if you noticed the note at the bottom was actually from his book but that’s a compilation of all the data that’s out there in the literature it suffers from this same- I hate to use the word ‘myopic’ but you just can’t look at modern populations and say, ‘This is how it was 2600 years ago.’
Population histories are really complex and many of the experts in this field say we can only hope to understand the very outlines of what happened and what went forth.
Q: In other words could I be a descendant of Lehi and yet have none of his DNA?
PARR: That’s a very good question. I think we all have this same sort of problem when we do our genealogy and again on a DNA basis we’re all very closely related; and I think we’re making Mt Everests out of speed bumps—and I mean I didn’t mean that in a rude way.
“… and yet have none of his DNA?” I don’t think God cares about DNA. If, once again, you consider the covenant of Abraham, he says that all of the nations of the world will be blessed. How could that be genetic? If we’re all created in His image and, if you look at DNA, it’s this divine sculpted molecule that’s incredible. We are His children. If you want to have to claim that you’re from Lehi or so on and so forth, to me, from my perspective, that’s not- I don’t know. I mean, my ancestors could’ve fought at the Battle of Hastings in 1066; I would be very thrilled if they did. Well sheesh they would’ve had to have made it didn’t they? They couldn’t have got killed! (Laughter) But, I still probably have none of their DNA in me.
SCOTT GORDON (President of FAIR): So it’s possible to have none of his DNA?
PARR: It’s possible to have none of his DNA but you could have one of these lines coming down showing that you are a direct descendant. But remember you’re related to all the other people in line as well.
Q: The African tribe, the Lemba, have been easily shown to be descendants of Hebrew migration. They also heavily intermarried with the locals. What is different with Lehi’s migration?
PARR: That’s a very good question and first of all, once again, we don’t know the nuances behind that genetic migration and that’s based on Y chromosomes and there were heavy, heavy Y chromosome populations.
Once again if you read in 2 Chronicles these men had multiple wives and all they list are the sons and so, what’s interesting about the Lemba is they have those chromosomes but they also have African chromosomes so the time schedule there may be different. Say they had 50 percent had Y chromosomes that were Jewish and 50 percent didn’t that says to me that these groups are going to fixation in another direction and if you look at them, they look African. So, I mean you can’t say that there isn’t this integration taking place and once again we don’t know. I mean if there were multiple migrations into this area, and I’m not an expert on this, then you get this genetic reinforcement. Sort of like, you know, at the beginning of the last century we always hear the story of the Titanic and the White Star Lines, those ships were actually built to carry immigrants to the New World and that’s what I’m saying. Here, we have this reinforcement from Europe and we simply don’t know what happened to the Lemba. Was there a trail where people continued to go there? So yes, they do have this Hebrew look but physically they don’t look that way and half of them genetically aren’t.
So are you going to say that those half that don’t have those markers are not Abraham’s children? So this is where we really run into problems.
And the difference with Lehi’s migration is that Lehi’s is a small kin-associated group and they left, they’re there. They’re in collision with the large population. And so those are the sorts of things you have to consider.
1 See also “Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church: Missing the Boat to Ancient America . . . Just Plain Missing the Boat” by Ryan Parr in The FARMS Review, vol. 17, 2005. pp 83-106. < http://farms.byu.edu/publications/reviewvolume.php?volume=17&number=1 > (accessed on 6 March 2006).
2 Not My Will, But Thine by Neal A. Maxwell, p. 29.