Lineage and the Book of Mormon’s Universal Audience

February 4, 2014 | 63 comments
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An excellent entry on “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” has just appeared in the Gospel Topics section at LDS.org. It explains why studies of New World genetics can neither prove nor disprove the historical claims represented in the Book of Mormon. In the process, it provides a delightfully clear and thorough explanation of some key principles of population genetics, and of how these would apply with regard to the Book of Mormon peoples and the genetic evidence they would (or would not) leave today. Along the way it also offers some helpful observations about what the Book of Mormon record does or does not imply about the demographics of the New World in the events it describes.

It is exciting to see LDS.org offer material of this intellectual depth and complexity. Of course, it is ultimately an article for a popular audience (not for professional researchers), but they obviously aren’t afraid to make their audience think a bit with this article. Clearly, faith is not just about helping us feel good about what we already think, but also about expanding our vision and understanding in a way that reflects eternal truths.

One risk of reading such an interesting and detailed article on genetics, though, is that we will find ourselves thinking so much about it that we overemphasize the role of genetics and lineage in the Book of Mormon and in its message. Indeed, the idea that genetic studies would tell us something about the truth of the Book of Mormon is itself often based on a misreading of the book that exaggerates the importance of genetics and lineage in it.

A friend of mine, after reading this article, raised the question:
“The BoM is deeply invested in preaching to the descendants of Lamanites–the book’s primary purpose is to help gather that population in. So if we minimize the scope of the BoM’s population, postulating it as one of many populations in the land, does this minimize the book’s spiritual purpose?” It is true that one major purpose of the book is aimed at the descendants of Lehi, including both Nephites and Lamanites. However, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that this is the book’s primary purpose, even as the book presents itself, and even if we do, I don’t see that regarding Lehi’s and Sarai’s genes as a small portion of the total gene pool in the New World reduces the spiritual importance of the book.

In my view, moving away from thinking about genetics actually strengthens the Book of Mormon’s message, which is universalistic, and enhances our understanding of it. I would like to say a few things about why. In this post, I will offer some comments on the Book of Mormon’s intended audience. I hope to write another post soon on the role of genetics as compared with other factors in the categories of “Nephites” and “Lamanites” that feature so prominently.

While there are three groups from the Old World discussed in the Book of Mormon (the Jaredites, Mulekites, and Lehites), the main narrative is about the descendants of Lehi, who are typically divided into Nephites and Lamanites (the divisions vary somewhat over time). As his family migrates to the New World, Nephi is concerned that their descendants retain the faith they have inherited. He obtains the brass plates to preserve their knowledge of the scriptures and covenants, and he makes a record of his own experiences and revelations, to carry forward the sacred tradition. His first concern is for his family’s descendants, and so he writes “for the instruction of my people, who should possess the land” (1 Nephi 19:3). This is certainly one of the major purposes of the Book of Mormon (or, more specifically, the Plates of Nephi, which form a large portion of the Book of Mormon, either directly or as abridged by Mormon), particularly in the early centuries. Thinking of his family as a branch of the House of Israel that has been broken off, he also thinks and writes a lot about the promises that Israel will be gathered again, and he thinks of his record partly in those terms as well; thus he writes, “I speak unto all the house of Israel, if it so be that they should obtain these things” (1 Nephi 19:19). He also learns in a vision, however, that the spiritual records of his people have a yet larger purpose, to come forth to the Gentiles at a time when many “plain and precious” truths (1 Nephi 13:29) will have been lost or obscured from the Christian tradition, and to restore a full understanding of the gospel (1 Nephi 13:34-36). All three of these purposes are clearly expressed from the time of Nephi, and so I’m not sure it’s obvious which of them is “primary.” It probably varies somewhat from author to author and from passage to passage. For Enos, the focus of concern seems to be on his own salvation, and that of the descendants of Lehi, first the Nephites and then the Lamanites (Enos 1:4-17). By the time of Mormon, of course, it is becoming doubtful whether there will be many Nephites left for the book to speak to, and whether the book will be available to the Lamanites any time soon (hidden in the earth), so the emphasis shifts. The title page, reflecting this standpoint, says it is “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile.” One might suppose that the Lamanites are the primary audience here, because they are mentioned first, but it’s not obvious that Mormon means to emphasize one group much over another. He mentions the Lamanites, the Jews more broadly (by which he presumably means the rest of the House of Israel), and the Gentiles, which between them account for all humanity.

There is a special poignancy in the fact that Mormon mentions the Lamanites first as among the audience for the book: the Lamanites are the people who are in the process of wiping out Mormon’s people, the Nephites. Thus his reaching out to them shows the depth of his Christian character, wishing good to those who abuse him and his. Certainly the idea that these people are among their ancestors may also have a special power in making the message of the Book of Mormon feel relevant to New World peoples. Our parents and ancestors have always had a major influence on human moral commitments, and a claim on our loyalties that goes beyond the merely universal claim of another human being for our moral consideration. The idea of the House of Israel is not done away in Christianity, but rather expanded by adoption, so the idea of literal or spiritual descent from Israel or Abraham is still intentionally part of the power of Christian faith.

At the same time, it seems to me one of the most striking features of the Book of Mormon message is the way it universalizes God’s covenant relationship with Israel, or perhaps more originally, with Abraham. Abraham is promised that he will be a father of nations, and that his descendants will have the gospel and will enjoy a land of promise, so long as they are faithful to their God. The same promises are renewed to his grandson Jacob, and again restated and renewed to the Hebrews as they re-enter Canaan under Joshua.

Strikingly, however, Lehi is told to leave the land of Jerusalem, the land of his inheritance, but is given an essentially equivalent promise with respect to a new land on the other side of the world, as reported in 2 Nephi 1:5-7. Even more striking is that a rather similar promise is extended to the brother of Jared in Ether 1:43, 2:7-8. Jared is not a descendant of Abraham at all, so this is not a renewal of the covenant with Abraham; it is an independent covenant given to someone totally different, but similarly on the basis of faith. If anything, the promise to the brother of Jared may even be greater in some ways than the promise to Abraham, since God says, “there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth”(Ether 1:43).

Christianity de-centers the House of Israel in a genetic sense by opening the covenant to all through adoption. Yet this de-centering only begins to be visible in the Bible because Christ only teaches the literal House of Israel himself, and we only see the beginning of the gospel’s reception among the Gentiles (though this is brought home strongly by some features like the account of Peter’s dream of the unclean animals). In the Book of Mormon we see the de-centering of the genetic House of Israel illustrated by an account of a whole civilization who knew of Christ and enjoyed a covenant like the Abrahamic covenant, apparently well before the time of Abraham. Thus the message is that not only is the Abrahamic covenant extended by adoption, but the same type of covenant was available to other faithful people through independent dispensations, evidently since the beginning.

The Book of Mormon can have a special meaning to New World peoples in part because it shows that Christianity is not just an Old World religion. God sent prophets and even sent his Son to personally teach the inhabitants of the New World, showing they are equally important to him. To the extent that such people feel a sense of loyalty to their ancestral religion, the Book of Mormon makes Christianity credible as a part of their heritage as well.

However, ultimately the message of the Book of Mormon is that the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are extended to all people, throughout the world. God “doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have” (Alma 29:8). So the Book should speak powerfully to both Jew and Gentile, in the Old World, the New, and on the isles of the sea. And judging by its reception, it does.

63 Responses to Lineage and the Book of Mormon’s Universal Audience

  1. Cameron N on February 4, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Bullseye.

  2. Old Man on February 4, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Given that ancient migrations and globalization have knit the human race into a covenant people, in a very real sense are we not all the children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob… and Lehi?

    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2006/07/71298

  3. Clay Cook on February 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    It is good to see the church publically letting go of old myths. I personally feel that having a better understanding of the text and the people can expand our understanding rather than minimize it. We have to be very careful not to superimpose our modernity on these ancient texts. Our word is shrinking but theres was very isolated so to speak. The Book of Mormon was written to all nations because all are represented in the book. The Jews, Lehites, Gentiles (which would include all the peoples the Lehites found when they got here) and don’t forget “the other sheep I have who are not of this fold.” I particularly like you take on the Jaredites, you gave me a new and wider perspective. Thanks. Good Post!

  4. Erik on February 4, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Good! It is striking to consider the universal message presented by the Book of Mormon, especially since this was not (at this point at least) much of a Jewish concept (read the more nationalistic narratives in the Deuteronomistic history for example). This is also what makes the Book of Mormon much more relevant for us today – whereas it wouldn’t have been quite as relevant had it been merely a nationalistic record (which it ALSO is in some respects).

    On the DNA issue, I definitely appreciate the Church’s recent posting of this article. In spite of criticisms, I think it is very valid to say that DNA – at this stage – really can’t be used to either prove or disprove the Book of Mormon.

    It is my understanding that current DNA evidence is irrelevant because Lehi’s original settlement likely assimilated into a larger group of people (otherwise how would Sherem not have known Jacob a generation after?) – and since we do not necessarily know what Lehi and Ishmael’s DNA 600 BC looked like, we really can’t say anything. (We could if Lehi’s posterity had been the “primary” ancestors of Native Americans today – but even though that’s what most members and leaders have thought through the years it isn’t supported by the text). Sequencing the genomes of living people and making conclusions for historical relationships is certainly valid, but doesn’t give us enough details to prove or disprove the Book of Mormon.

    That said, I do think we may some day reach the point where DNA can more directly be used in arguing the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Here’s what it would take: sequence the genomes of a large enough sample of Israelite bodies in the centuries before and after 600 BC and take another large enough sample of bodies from that same time period in locations likely to have been Nephite or Lamanite (I’d start with Kaminaljuyu). Then compare results and you just might be able to draw some firmer conclusions.

    This isn’t likely to happen for decades however. The first time the genome of a dead person was sequenced was in 2010 ( http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100210131948.htm). There are problems to deal with to be able to sequence enough DNA – so technology likely has to develop before it becomes widely used. When that day comes, however, we might find ourselves in a situation where it will actually become quite possible to test for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

  5. European Saint on February 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Great to see a Ben Huff post! Excellent work here.

  6. Ben Huff on February 4, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    Thanks for the supportive comments, everyone.

    Yes, Old Man, we probably are all the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In Lehi’s case, I’m not sure everyone in the Old World would have made it into his line, yet, but probably everyond in the New World (which is not to say they would necessarily have any of the distinctive markers Lehi had, which are a small subset of DNA).

    Clay Cook, I’m not sure the church as such is letting go of any myths here, because I’m not sure the church as such has embraced any myths about Book of Mormon demographics. Certainly many leaders have had ideas that go beyond the text. As for the “principal ancestors” phrase in earlier editions of the Book of Mormon, it depends on what you think “principal” means. For instance, one might think it means that if you look back at the family trees of contemporary New World peoples you will find a point at which most of their ancestors in a particular generation descended from Lehi’s group and no one else. The observation that the Lehites may well have been a small group among many New World populations at the time moves away from that interpretation of “principal.” I’m not sure that’s what “principal” was supposed to mean, though; I’m not sure we should interpret it primarily in a genetic sense. Perhaps the decision to move away from that phrase in the latest edition of the Book of Mormon reflects the fact that the phrase is ambiguous and potentially confusing, rather than incorrect.

    Erik, I think you’re right that in theory one might be able to do such a study. Perhaps there is enough DNA from dead people preserved somewhere to make observations that would strongly confirm a link between Jerusalem and the New World around the time of Lehi. But it would be a bit of a surprise if we did find enough DNA like that to even do a good study (climate, etc.–this isn’t the Arctic!), and we wouldn’t know where in the New World to be looking, and negative results would tell us nothing, because we don’t know whether Lehi’s group had DNA that was typical of Jerusalem anyway. So, I kind of doubt anyone will ever do a study that could find that kind of result, and I think it is still fair to say that genetic research even in principle couldn’t disprove the Book of Mormon, just because it is so dicey whether evidence would be preserved in any form. Unless we thought we had the actual tombs of people in Lehi’s family and could extract usable DNA from them . . . but in that case the genetics would be a bit redundant!

  7. wondering on February 4, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Given this reading, I’m wondering if you think it makes sense to call Native Americans “Lamanites,” even if it is true that they are all literal descendants of Laman.

    I mean, there’s a good chance that you, Ben, are literally descended from Confucius. Would it make sense to call you “Chinese?”

  8. Steve Smith on February 4, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Here is plant geneticist Simon Southerton’s response to the entry on DNA and the Book of Mormon: http://simonsoutherton.blogspot.com/2014/02/response-to-president-newsroom.html. I think that Southerton is right that the entry is misleading about the scientific community’s supposed lack of near consensus about the genetic origins of Native Americans. If anything, it appears that the general scientific community has had more agreement about the question of origins for a longer period of time than the LDS church has had about the question of who is of supposed Lamanite origin. It was only a few decades ago that LDS leaders asserted that nearly all Native Americans were descendants of the Lamanites. It was only a few years ago that they made the change in the introduction of the Book of Mormon from “are the principal ancestors” to “are among the ancestors.” Now it seems that the prevailing assertion is that there are only a few Native Americans who can be said to be descendants of the Lamanites, but we don’t who they are and there is no way to tell, at least not through DNA evidence.

    I also find it a bit aggravating that the entry on lds.org references the findings of a 2013 study, which shows that many Native Americans may have Western European and Western Asian ancestry, as evidence that the question of origins is more complex than many make it out to be, without noting that the study was based on human remains found in Siberia dating back 24,000 years (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/21/science/two-surprises-in-dna-of-boy-found-buried-in-siberia.html?_r=0), well before the Jaredites allegedly set sail to the American continent.

    I find the gradual change in the position of the LDS church a bit puzzling given the fact that Joseph Smith appeared to believe that the Native Americans were by and large descendants of the Lamanites. In 1830, JS commissioned some of his followers to undertake what he called a “mission to the Lamanites.” JS believed Zion, or Jackson County, to be “on the borders of the Lamanites.” According to several accounts, JS, while leading the Zion’s Camp march from Ohio to Missouri in 1834, claimed that some human bones that were found near a river in Illinois were of a person named “Zelph,” who was a “white Lamanite.”

  9. EFF on February 4, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    Steve Smith, you make several good points all of which serve to highlight the numerous inconsistencies in the Church’s past and present positions regarding the origins of the inhabitants of the North and South American continents. Simon Southerton’s essay clearly lays bare numerous problems with the Church’s latest interpretation of the DNA evidence.

    The inability to let go of highly questionable, if not patently false, truth claims made by past Church leaders regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon distracts us from the gospel truths the book contains and undermines the credibility of our faith. But It takes considerable courage and humility to say “We don’t know the answer to that question” and to admit that perhaps Joseph Smith was wrong about the location of the borders of the Lamanites.

    The Church took a giant step recently when it acknowledged that Brigham Young’s personal prejudices were the foundation of the its policy towards blacks and the priesthood. If we can adopt a similar approach towards the evolution of our doctrines and scriptures, we can, perhaps, extricate ourselves from some of the corners we have painted ourselves into.

  10. Ben Huff on February 4, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Steve Smith, note the article Old Man cites. If (as I believe) Lehi’s family came to the New World and left descendants before the time of Christ, then just about all the New World peoples are going to be his descendants, as well as the descendants of any number of other people who may have been in the New World then or since. That doesn’t imply that we will detect Lehi’s distinctive markers.

    Sure, Joseph Smith seems to have thought the indigenous people of North America were descended almost exclusively from Book of Mormon peoples, and so have lots of other Mormons, including leaders. This article isn’t saying that is false; it’s just saying that the church is not committed to that position, and the Book of Mormon text does not require it. People like Hugh Nibley were talking about the likely presence of other people in the New World, just based on the BoM text itself, long before we knew enough about DNA to use it as evidence on this issue. Frankly, existing DNA evidence is quite compatible with Joseph Smith’s position, if Lehi’s descendants mixed with others during the course of the Book of Mormon record. Then the gene pool of the Nephites and Lamanites might well have been predominantly Siberian by the time of Mormon. It is quite natural, however, to read the BoM rather differently, though, with the Nephites and Lamanites it describes a small minority of New World peoples from start to finish.

    A diversity of opinions and interpretations among LDS is nothing puzzling, unless one is rather lacking in imagination, or is unaware of the interpretive possibilities presented by the text.

    wondering, I would love to learn that I am a descendant of Confucius! I happen to be a huge fan. A bit more to your point, though: it depends on a couple of things.

    First, as I just mentioned, if the Book of Mormon peoples mixed with others (even including stragglers from the Jaredites), then it is possible that by the time of Mormon the Nephites and Lamanites were predominantly Siberian in their genetic markers. In that case, it might be that they represent a large portion of the family tree at that point for contemporary New World peoples, and so it is quite meaningful from a genealogical standpoint to call contemporary New World peoples (and I’m including Pacific Islanders here) Lamanites.

    It is also meaningful to refer to them as Lamanites if “Lamanite” is as much a cultural/spiritual category as a genetic one, even if Book of Mormon peoples represent only a small fraction of their family tree at the time. And it is rather clear from the Book of Mormon text that by the time of 4th Nephi the categories of Nephite and Lamanite are entirely cultural/spiritual categories. According to 4 Nephi 1:38, “Lamanites” refers precisely to those who did not accept the gospel of Christ. So in that sense, anyone in the New World who does not embrace the Nephite religious tradition could be considered a Lamanite. How relevant is that? It is about as relevant as the ethno-spiritual category of Gentile. That is to say, it won’t seem very relevant at all if you are a Gentile who has no meaningful contact with the House of Israel, but it’s quite relevant if one does have contact with it and is thinking through how one might relate to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

  11. p on February 5, 2014 at 12:57 am

    Huff: “That doesn’t imply that we will detect Lehi’s distinctive markers.”

    Southerton: “Twice in the last 3 years scientists have discovered hidden ancestors in our autosomal DNA. They discovered that people in non-African populations have a small percentage (1-4%) of Neanderthal DNA in their genome. Then more recently it was discovered that Melanesians and Australian Aboriginals carry a small proportion of DNA from Denisovans, a related hominid species that lived in Asia. These small proportions of “foreign” DNA entered our lineage 30-40 thousand years ago. If Middle Eastern DNA entered Native American populations in the last 3 thousand years there is no reason to believe that Middle Eastern markers would disappear completely.”

    You can’t claim a book is literally historical if there is no evidence. Delivered by an angel, no problem. Translated through the gift & power of God, likewise. A scripture to guide & direct us, absolutely. But the term “historical” has empirical requirements – evidence, for instance, and so far as I am aware there simply is none for this book. Zero.

  12. Cameron N. on February 5, 2014 at 2:07 am

    Given the sheer number of assumptions and variables needed to prove or disprove such an assertion, in addition to the healthy skepticism required by only a few hundred years of recorded examples of misguided scientific consensus, temperance is merited on both sides. It would seem audacious to me to positively assert that we know with certainty it would be possible to prove via DNA in the next 100 years.

  13. Cameron N. on February 5, 2014 at 2:12 am

    It is unfortunate, if not unexpected, that the 2nd half of Ben’s post is getting lost in this discussion. It is perhaps the more meaningful of the two.

  14. Josh Smith on February 5, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Just a couple thoughts:

    First, at some point someone really needs to ask the various Native American tribes if they have a stake in DNA evidence of their origins. Surely they have their own origin myths. What do they think about all the wrangling over their origins?

    Second, last night Bill Nye and Ken Ham had a “debate” in a “Creation Museum” in Kentucky. (The debate is on youtube if you’d like to see it.) The topic was whether a literal interpretation of the creation as depicted in the Bible is a viable explanation of origins in today’s world.

    Spoiler alert … It’s not.

    Here’s what interested me: This isn’t a 21st century debate. Most of the science community was upset that Nye was “debating” Ham, and the Creationist community has basically said it’s not interested in physical evidence that it cannot observe in the present. There is no “debate” about origins. It was nice to see the lds.org post take a similar stance. “Book of Mormon record keepers were primarily concerned with conveying religious truths and preserving the spiritual heritage of their people.”

  15. Cameron N on February 5, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Josh, I like your ending thought, but I would even go a step further to say we don’t know enough about science to say the a literal interpretation of the Biblical account is unviable (except for ex-nihilism, which ironically is very similar to belief in the Big Bang). You have to choose values for many variables even within that narrative, many of which are not made clear from the text.

  16. Old Man on February 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    We are painting with a big brush here, but I agree with Cameron (#13). Following the Ancient Near Eastern pattern, we can’t have a covenant people without a covenant land. The Book of Mormon literally creates “another covenant” through Lehi of which a new promised land is a significant piece. Land was the source of life itself for an ancient people. No land = no people. That pattern suggests that The Book of Mormon permits the physical extension of the Abrahamic covenant. As noted in the post, within the Book of Mormon, the covenant is extended conceptually and today we view the the land as simply a metaphor for the blessings of a covenant which covers all peoples. Hence the difference in the way that the term “gathering” was employed in ancient times vs. the way we use it today in the church.

    I would argue that practically everyone is a descendant of Abraham (see the link in my first comment). I think that “adoption” as a teaching comforted many in the early days of the church who could not conceive of a connection to Abraham. But I also suggest (the Book of Mormon certainly supports this) that branches of covenant-keeping peoples or dispensations have been established throughout the world’s history and across the earth’s geography.

  17. Josh Smith on February 5, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Cameron,

    The literal origin story being debated last night was a 6,000 year old earth and a flood that allegedly covered the entire earth. All animals were saved on a boat 4,000 years ago.

    That’s not a viable (useful) explanation of origins. It does nothing to explain what we observe on earth today.

    Similarly, the BoM may have no utility in explaining Native American origins. The lds.org article said as much. At least I think it did.

  18. Steve Smith on February 5, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Cameron N (15), it is also possible that we were all created three minutes ago with a memory of long past, but that is extremely unlikely. Science has been able to prove a great deal over the past few hundred years to the extent that the idea of a fully literal Bible is highly implausible. I find the postmodernistic worldviews that many LDS have adopted as a means to assuage the pains of cognitive dissonance caused by scientific findings that conflict with religious tradition to be absolutely fascinating.

  19. p on February 5, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Steve, please be specific re: postmodern worldviews as response to LDS cog/dis.

  20. sterflu on February 6, 2014 at 2:07 am

    It’s interesting what we choose to remember about our history and to see in our scriptures. Orson Pratt was among the first, and Spencer W. Kimball among the last, to say 2 Ne. 3:24 foretold of an Indian prophet and that 3 Ne. 21:23 prophesied of how the Lamanites would take the lead in building the New Jerusalem and the Gentiles (non-Indian church members) would get to “assist” them. Of course their ideas were contested by other church leaders, but these readings of the Book of Mormon suggest the authors of this ancient volume envisioned quite a future for their posterity–and more than just an audience for their spiritual writings. I’m not sure we honor the intent of these record keepers when we minimize the extent of and role for their descendants, especially in an apologetics effort to make the book more acceptable to those who doubt its claims. And while the Book of Mormon may offer a universalistic message to Gentiles, and give them a chance to be adopted into the House of Isreal, it seems to me this sacred volume anticipates an abundance of Lamanites and assigns them the task of gathering scattered Israel and fighting to bring forth the city of Zion (3 Ne. 21:12, 24).

  21. chris on February 6, 2014 at 10:17 am

    I agree with much of what sterflu wrote. When I actually read the text on the PA rather than pontificate about it, I’m filled with an overwhelming sense that the authors desired the book to be for the Lamanites over all the land, not just something like a lost tribe remnant.

    I think Joseph would have considers the Apache, Navajo, Seminole etc descendants of the Lamanites and therefore so do I. Whether it’s a spiritual grafting or not I have no idea. But I don’t hint we ought to shy away from their potential spiritual redemption and greatness. Doing so, to me, would be a betrayal of the BoM authors’ hopes for the future of their world and kin.

  22. Henry on February 6, 2014 at 11:22 am

    The church’s response is misleading at best. All the experts show that Native Americans came from Asia over 10,000 years ago. Also, their theory that the so called lamanites got lost in a sea of asiatics simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I’m sure if everyone here were on a jury and DNA was used against an accused, everyone would consider it viable evidence. So why allow yourselves to be mislead now? Is cognitive dissonance that strong?

  23. davidsoul on February 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Why don’t the leaders give talks on these subjects? Or hold press conferences? Or at least sign their names to these explanations?

    Aren’t the responses, the way the responses are made, and the hiding of history the most troubling of all?

    Its always the cover-up that is most telling

  24. Josh Smith on February 6, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    “I think Joseph would have considered the Apache, Navajo, Seminole etc descendants of the Lamanites and therefore so do I. Whether it’s a spiritual grafting or not I have no idea. But I don’t hint we ought to shy away from their potential spiritual redemption and greatness.”

    –chris

    1. It’s my understanding that many of these groups have their own origin stories. Does it matter whether these groups consider themselves descendants of the Lamanites?

    2. As science tries to piece together Native American origins, could it affect your understanding of Native American origins in the future? I ask that sincerely. Could anything that comes out of scientific inquiry on this issue affect your view of Native American origins?

    (I don’t mean to pick on chris. These questions are open to anyone. Mostly I ask them because I don’t have set answers in my own mind and I’m curious what others think.)

  25. Cameron on February 6, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    davidsoul,

    I’m not sure why one would expect general authorities to hold a press conference just to say genealogy neither proves/disproves the Book of Mormon, and probably will never be able to. Doesn’t that sound silly to you? History gets hidden on its own by people who think they have nothing to learn from the past. In fact, that is what the Book of Mormon is all about. =)

  26. davidsoul on February 6, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I guess I’m not really satisfied with the answers to the DNA, priesthood ban, and first vision discrepancies. I was expecting a little more than “we don’t know” and speculation. Wouldnt prophets know more? If they simply haven’t asked God like is being floated as the reason for the length of the priesthood ban, then can’t they ask and give a better answer? This DNA issue has been around since the early 90s.

    There are a lot of people leaving over these issues – and it is a cumulative of all the issues that is causing this – not just isolated issues.

    So pretty please Elder Holland, you run the P.R. arm, give a little more than an appeal to emotion regarding the BofM like you in conference a few years ago. The BofM is a great book even though it may be of 19th century origin. The church does great things even though the finances are hidden from everyone.

  27. p on February 6, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Josh, I would love to know who is advising the Brethren on this hopeless cause – actually disputing the well-developed archaeological and genetic sciences of New World antiquity. Like the Brethren’s global, unyielding opposition to same-sex marriage, this is not a viable long-term strategy. The GA who took down FARMS apparently understood this. The entire thing … How, for instance, a rational person could actually believe someone named Moroni “went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air” proclaiming “liberty” – to the inhabitants of pre-Columbian America! 1776, perhaps, but 50 BC? As a church we need to move past this just like we’ve moved past other things. Say it was an “inspired” translation like BoA, and for the love of Jesus leave it at that. We have more important things to do as a people. How many millions still don’t have enough to eat? How many millions still can’t read? The World needs us NOT to be embroiled in no-win controversies.

  28. Michael P. on February 6, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    p,
    A couple of questions. Where did you get the idea that a GA “took down FARMS”? Where did that idea come from?

    Is this statement from the church really trying to take down anything? From my perspective, the church is not trying to win a scientific argument, but trying to show that the science on this is not fully baked yet and that DNA evidence should not be the guide by which we judge the truthfulness of the BoM.

    To your last point, neither the church nor its members (most of us anyway) spend a substantive amount of time on these issues. These were not general conferences talks nor are they likely to be the topic of sacrament meetings or Sunday School lessons.

  29. Josh Smith on February 6, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    p.,

    Part of the reason I raised the Nye v. Ham issue was to contrast it with the church’s PA.

    Nye basically marched into Ham’s Creation Museum and presented evidence that the earth is older than 6K or 10K or 4K (or whatever) years. Nye was very clever about it, but it was completely unnecessary. Ham stood up and said, “We can’t know about the age of the earth because we weren’t there. … And, here are some other scientists who think like me.” Okay Ham. So, basically you don’t care because it contradicts your understanding of scripture.

    The church took a different position than Ham, thank heavens. My understanding of the PA is that it was saying that scientific evidence will neither prove nor disprove the book. In other words, the PA is not seeking to prove that Native Americans are Lamanites; rather, the PA is stating that the BofM’s value as scripture is unaffected by DNA evidence. I think I can live with that.

    I happen to be a person who cares about DNA, geology, biology, and archaeology. These are valuable areas of study. The knowledge is hard-won and the researchers deserve respect. I’d like to think that the hard-won knowledge from those disciplines neither affirms nor disproves faith, repentance, and covenants.

    … but, my interest in these subjects also makes me a person who is not going to be calling anyone a Lamanite. Regardless of whether Joseph Smith or anyone else did it.

  30. p on February 6, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Michael: ” … the church is not trying to win a scientific argument, but trying to show that the science on this is not fully baked yet …”

    The Church is slowly re-positioning itself on BoM historicity but in the process being disingenuous. Over two centuries of Mesoamerican dirt archaeology plus Cray-assisted genome sequence assembly tell a different story. The Brethren know this. Stay tuned.

    ” …and that DNA evidence should not be the guide by which we judge the truthfulness of the BoM.”

    Amen.

  31. Steve Smith on February 6, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    p (19), it appears to be a common trend in much of Christianity (including Mormonism) to latch onto postmodernistic worldviews in order to maintain the validity of traditional religious claims. What I mean is that many religious people appeal to the idea that truth and reality are extremely difficult to grasp and that people who claim to have grasped reality based on the scientific method, empirical evidence, and a well-reasoned line of logic often delude themselves. They argue that what people regard to be truth is largely a set of propositions that cohere with each other (a coherence theory of truth) instead of a well-reasoned, well-evidenced that corresponds with a more easily understood reality (a correspondence theory of truth). To them, science is mostly another form of religion that is not necessarily nearer to the actual truth than formal religion. They like to point out that science is always changing and has no consensus about the truth of many matters. When scientific findings appear to contradict their traditional religious claims, they say that those who produced the findings are jumping to conclusions and do not have sufficient evidence to prove the traditional religious claim false, and that they are really just asserting a different form of a faith. This is what creationists do with evolutionists. They try to claim that belief in evolution is no more evidenced than belief in creation and that “evolutionism” is just a different type of religion with a different dogma. The LDS church does the exact same thing with DNA. They claim that science can’t actually tell that much about the past by using DNA evidence. Therefore people who believe that Native Americans are descendants of Lehi and co. are justified because the origins of the Native Americans cannot really be proved or disproved. Cameron N seems to be appealing to a similar postmodernistic way of thinking in comment 15. To him, science has not been consistent enough and has not provided enough evidence to disprove anything about the Biblical narrative, therefore, believing in a literal Bible is perfectly logical and defensible. Many of the bloggers on T&S seem to have a postmodernistic worldview, Nathaniel Givens, Nate Oman, and Ben Huff included. Of course, they may object to being associated with postmodernistic thinking. But that is largely because those who subscribe to a postmodernistic worldview tend to not like attempts at categorization and identifying trends. They love emphasizing nuance and distinction. But I digress.

    Now, to my point about appealing to postmodernistic thinking as a remedy for cognitive dissonance, let me put it this way. It is more natural for people to appeal to a correspondence theory of truth. I think that people by and large like to think that reality can actually be grasped by rigorous research, gathering of data, and a well-reasoned framework of logic. Even people who are religious like to think of their religious traditions as real, and those who do not see it as they do are either ignorant or lying. But the problem is that as people acquire an education through secular institutions, they find that many of the findings in history and the hard sciences just don’t square with many of their religious traditions, but make a great deal of sense at the same time. Not wanting to appear ignorant and denialist to their secular peers, the educated religionist often modestly accepts the prevailing findings of mainstream science and history. But not wanting to appear faithless to religious peers, the educated religionist claims to still believe the religious traditions even if they contradict new beliefs that s/he has accepted because of education at the secular institution, and thus s/he finds him/herself in a state of cognitive dissonance. To reconcile these seemingly contradictory set of beliefs, many educated religionists adopt the belief that reality is more more distant from our understandings than what much of science believes.

  32. p on February 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Agree with much of this except your cog/dis example in second para: “But not wanting to appear faithless to religious peers, the educated religionist claims to still believe the religious traditions even if they contradict new beliefs that s/he has accepted because of education at the secular institution, and thus s/he finds him/herself in a state of cognitive dissonance.”

    That’s social survival, not cog/dis. This person has “new beliefs” which, from what I gather, are not battling his “old beliefs” for dominance. He’s made his decision but nonetheless does not want to appear “faithless.”

    Will also say I’ve never seen postmodern construct applied this way. Gots to bone up on my Heidegger/Foucault.

  33. Steve Smith on February 6, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    p, I specifically say ‘postmodernistic’ because it is a way of thinking that is somewhat similar to trends in postmodernism, even if it isn’t entirely Foucaultian or in line with some other postmodernist thinker.

    Cog/dis can certainly result from someone feeling the need to state certain beliefs as a means of social survival. But it really seems that many LDS, especially educated LDS, experience or have experienced cognitive dissonance, the internal tension caused by wanting to simultaneously hold two seemingly contradictory believes. And it is these sorts of reconciliations, such as the one given in the OP, in Cameron N’s comment, and in the entry on lds.org on DNA that are illustrative of LDS people’s battles with cog/dis.

  34. Cameron N. on February 7, 2014 at 3:40 am

    Steve,

    Let’s please distinguish between cognitive dissonance and the wise and pragmatic realization that much of what is currently our status quo in many scientific fields are merely the half-truths you are taught in math class, only to be told next year there is more to it, followed by 10 more years of the same experience. Do you really think we’ve graduated in 2014? That we fundamentally understand how the nature of materiality and the universe with only the details to pencil in?

    The desire to mentally ‘settle’ things goes both ways. Scientific hypothesis and theories are also tainted by the desire to find simple, quantitative data or explanations that quickly explains the nature of something. One of many recent examples that is in the process of being disproven by always increasing visual data is Hubble RedShift as a measure of distance in deep space. That sure would make it easy to describe the universe, wouldn’t it? Perhaps that theory was enticing because it quickly mentally settled something that is likely much harder or even impossible to know without going on some long trips.

    It’s easy to root for Galileo when you know the romantic full story after time proves it correct long after the involved parties are dead. But who remembers this pattern when the scientific establishment scorns new ideas and evidence via peer review in the 21st century? Almost no one has the courage to do so.

    In fact, you might say that the innate human nature displayed in the pride cycle of science breakthrough and stagnation, and its parallels to similar developments in the Book of Mormon are perhaps the best ‘empirical’ evidence for the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness one could offer!

    So I reject the idea that a humble and tempered approach to learning is somehow post-modern or doing mental gymnastics. It is merely the most pragmatic and common sense approach to both ‘why’ and ‘how.’ This includes an open stance scriptural literalism as well.

    But thanks for the virtual psych diagnosis. =)

  35. Josh Smith on February 7, 2014 at 10:07 am

    “This includes an open stance scriptural literalism as well.”

    –Cameron

    Scriptural literalism on historical or empirical issues?

    “what is currently our status quo in many scientific fields are merely the half-truths you are taught in math class, only to be told next year there is more to it, followed by 10 more years of the same experience.”

    There’s your problem right there Cameron. Seriously. That’s it. Those who engage in science enter full well knowing that it is an eternal wrestle. During the course of the Nye v. Ham debate, they were both asked what would change their minds.

    Nye (scientific inquiry): evidence
    Ham (scriptural literalism): nothing

    Does your version of scriptural literalism leave you hungry for evidence? If not, that’s going to be a problem in the 21st century.

  36. Steve Smith on February 7, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    “much of what is currently our status quo in many scientific fields are merely the half-truths you are taught in math class, only to be told next year there is more to it, followed by 10 more years of the same experience. Do you really think we’ve graduated in 2014?”

    Of course there is more to know about the universe. We have not been able to explain everything through science, and science fully acknowledges this. What we know through science has clearly undergone change as well. But science has made clear progress. We know much more about the universe than we did 100 years ago or even 10 years ago. There have been lots and lots of discoveries made through science that have held as true for a long time. For instance, we know that the earth revolves around the sun. Of course, heliocentrism is still ultimately a theory that is open to question. But the evidence for it is overwhelming. And what we know now through science makes a literal Bible extremely implausible.

    “But who remembers this pattern when the scientific establishment scorns new ideas and evidence via peer review in the 21st century? Almost no one has the courage to do so.”

    The scientific establishment is scorning new ideas and evidence? Are you suggesting that the scientific community is deeply rooted in some sort of traditional thinking that it protects through groupthink and tribalistic affinities? I don’t deny that there are many historians and scientists who refuse to abandon theories in spite of evidence against them. But where is this more enlightened community to which you allude that is bringing forth evidence that debunks the claims of mainstream science? Aren’t they part of the scientific community? Are they religious? Whatever groupthink and tribalism exists in the scientific community is much much less than that which exists in religious communities throughout the world. Religious communities are by far much more stubbornly rooted in tradition and averse to evidence that challenges their traditions than the scientific community.

    As for the pride cycle, I would say that it is much more prideful and arrogant of religionists to make bold assertions about truth without producing any sort of evidence than it is for someone to come up with a theory that they try to back up with evidence. I believe in the scientific values of trying to understand the world, respecting evidence, having a logical consistency in one’s reasoning, being intellectually honest, and abiding by the law of parsimony. While I do believe that some religious people share these values, there are unfortunately too many who do not. And I would say that anyone who adamantly believes in a literal Bible most certainly does not.

  37. p on February 7, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Cameron: “This includes an open stance [on] scriptural literalism as well.”

    No it doesn’t.

    This reminds me of a passage in ROUGH STONE dealing with the Missouri War in which Bushman wrote, “Corrill knew the campaign was doomed. Mormon depredations would bring down Missourians from surrounding counties to crush the Saints. Colonel Hinkle begged Joseph to halt his disastrous course, but he pressed on, perhaps thinking the God of Israel would come to their rescue. He talked of the stone in Daniel’s prophecy rolling forth to crush all other kingdoms. The Bible offered countless passages to prove that God would give His people victory.”

    Literalism today is also a disastrous course and, as in Joseph’s time, is symptomatic of siege mentality. The Church has many resources, including its “so-called intellectuals” willing & able to help navigate dangerous waters. As a people we cannot go backwards, which is the essence of literalism.

  38. Michael P. on February 7, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I am not sure why there needs to be conflict here. The church is stating that DNA science can neither prove nor disprove the Book of Mormon. I am not sure why that is controversial. Do we truly know it all when it comes to DNA?

    Also, to me the church is responding, not to DNA science in general, but to our critics specifically who want to use things like DNA to proclaim the church false. Like many debates about the Book of Mormon, I doubt most researchers in the field are even aware of the issues or care about the church’s claims.

  39. p on February 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    DNA evidence and two-hundred years of Mesoamerican archaeology strongly suggest BoM is not literal history – much like DNA evidence and global archaeology strongly suggests evolutionary theory is correct. For all practical intents & purposes the debate is over.

    The vastly more important question at this pt is: To what extent is the viability of the restored gospel (including saving ordinances) as proclaimed by the LDS Church dependent on BoM historicity?

  40. Steve Smith on February 7, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    p, I agree that we have come to a knowledge of a quite a bit as a result of DNA research and archaeology to the extent that a historical Book of Mormon is highly implausible. To claim that we can’t really understand the origins of the Native American populations through DNA research is ignorance of DNA research at best and blatant denialism at worst.

    But the problem is that there is no Mormonism and LDS church without the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is the main reason that Joseph Smith successfully managed to gather and maintain a following. This is significant given the fact that many during his day and in his environment tried to found a religious movement but failed. While there is certainly a lot more to Mormonism than the Book of Mormon, President Benson is right that the BoM is a keystone of the LDS church. If the LDS church gives up on the BoM and pronounces it to be a 19th century text without ancient origins, it will completely collapse. Yet unfortunately for the LDS church, no evidence is being found that support its truth claims about the BoM. Hence, it is forced to promote gnosis as a valid form of knowledge and resort to postmodernistic claims about science to try to blunt the painful effects of its progress.

  41. Michael P. on February 7, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    The debate has been declared over on the historicity of the Book of Mormon on a T&S comment thread. Sounds authoritative. :) Truthfully, I don’t think the evidence is as you make it sound. There is actually quite a bit to suggest that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document. We can argue about the quality of that evidence, but in the minds of many, this question is not settled. And like I said before, researchers outside the church have no reason or incentive to even be informed about these issues.

    To answer your second question, at some point I think we and all of Christianity lose credibility if our scripture isn’t historical. Why would God be so intent on talking to us today if he didn’t actually talk to anyone before? What weight do the promises of Nephi and Moroni to meet us at the judgment bar have if they never existed? They are not history text books, but I do believe that God spoke to people anciently and that the Bible and the Book of Mormon convey that truth.

  42. Clay Cook on February 7, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    “DNA evidence and two-hundred years of Mesoamerican archaeology strongly suggest BoM is not literal history – much like DNA evidence and global archaeology strongly suggests evolutionary theory is correct. For all practical intents & purposes the debate is over.”

    This is rather bold statement! True Mayan archeology is barely 100 years old basically starting with Morley’s work at Chichen Itza. The science itself has change significantly. Thompson first suggested that the Maya were refuges from atlantis. We are far from closing the debate on BofM historicity. Saying it is over is extremely arrogant and uninformed. The only reason to put so much infamous on the lack of DNA evidence in the americans to “prove the BofM is if you are a literalist. If we choose not to read the Old Testament literally then we should not read the BofM literally either. The purpose of the text is to convince people of the mission of Christ not to answer scientific questions. I still have lots of historical and questions about the text but I do not let them get in the way of its purpose and i continue to read as much new material in Maya archaeology as I can get my hands on.

  43. SilverRain on February 7, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I think no true scientist would ever say “the debate is over.” The whole point of science is to add new knowledge.

  44. p on February 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Why isolate out Mayan archaeology? Mesoamerican archaeology began with Antonio de León y Gama’s treatise on two Azetec monoliths unearthed in Mexico City. That was 1792 – which, by my count, indicates over two centuries of shovel work.

    I have more confidence in the research community than to believe evidence in support of the BoM would be ignored, especially when this research is published in peer-reviewed journals, and a significant number of those peers are LDS. IOW, there is no conspiracy of silence.

    As for your statement, “If we choose not to read the Old Testament literally then we should not read the BofM literally either.” – what the hell does that mean? Why, then, even bother with historical claims! You’ve made my point.

    You guys playing the apologist role here – proof before hitting “send.” Make sure your arguments are consistent and plausible, to the extent that’s possible.

  45. p on February 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Disagree, SilverRain, in the sense that the debate is also “over” re: evolution v creationism, flat earth v round earth, etc. See Steve’s aforementioned Principle of Parsimony.

  46. Carey on February 7, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Having no cognitive dissonance is not a badge of courage! Seeking truth, both scientifically and spiritually, is difficult stuff. This quote sums it up for me: “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.”

  47. Steve Smith on February 7, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    “If we choose not to read the Old Testament literally then we should not read the BofM literally either.”

    I’m not sure that I follow either, but I think what Clay Cook means here is that you can regard the Book of Mormon to be a spiritual guide around which you can orient your faith without feeling obligated to prove its stories as true. I think that is sort of the approach that Terryl Givens and Grant Hardy take towards the BoM: treat it as literature from which we can derive pithy nuggets of wisdom and moral stories instead of a historical guide to the American continent 600BCE-400CE. I certainly think that that approach has gained a tremendous amount of value and currency in the LDS community. However, the environment I grew up in (and I imagine that it was this way for most LDS people) was one in which leaders and followers alike testified that they “knew” that the BoM was “true.” In fact, I still hear the almost exact words “I know the Book of Mormon is true” about every month at church. On my mission, I recall asking people to pray to develop a “testimony” that the BoM was “true” on a near daily basis. And my understanding was that what was meant by “knowing” the BoM to be “true” was developing a strong conviction based upon an intuitive experience that the BoM was a record of ancient people’s actual witness of the resurrected Jesus Christ on the American continent and not just some story made up by Joseph Smith or some other person in the 19th century. The problem is that in this regard the Old Testament and Book of Mormon are two completely different books. As far as I can tell, there is a near consensus among all educated people, or anyone who has heard of the Old Testament, that it is a book written by ancient Hebrew-speaking peoples (although it is disputed as to the exact date that it was written and who exactly wrote it). Furthermore there is overwhelming evidence of this being the case. But the problem is that based upon what we know of ancient civilization on the American continent, through DNA and archaeological studies, there appears to be no evidence that confirms the idea of an ancient BoM. The ironic thing is that the LDS apologist community and secular non-LDS scholars appear to be in agreement on this. However, the LDS church and its apologists argue that absence of old world evidence does not prove that it is not an ancient record or that there were no actual Lamanites. Yet this begs the question of why someone should believe a proposition for which there is no evidence.

  48. Steve Smith on February 7, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Carey that is great advice for people who claim to “know” all kinds of things without any evidence to back that knowledge.

  49. SteveF on February 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    I was kind of shocked just months ago when this discovery was made.

    The headline of the National Geographic article linked to says, “Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.”

    Somehow we missed that not 1% or 5% or even 10%, but an entire third of Native American DNA was not actually of East Asian origin as we previously concluded? That to me says that DNA research is still very young in offering conclusive results, much younger than I would have guessed.

    P, to say that the historicity of the Book of Mormon is scientifically understood as well as (or that the body of evidence we have available is as significant as) the evolution of species, is ignorant. While the Mesoamerican model is popular, we don’t even know if we’re looking in the right spot to make the attempt at substantiating or disproving claims. And as has been pointed out, the claims of the BofM just don’t mean enough to the non-LDS scientific community to fund and research this to the point of being able to make a reasonable guess, let alone offering something fairly conclusive. And even then we’d have to make claims on how exact or loose Joseph’s translations are to the historical facts we are trying to test against.

  50. p on February 7, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    “At the ISAC [Institute for the Study of American Cultures] gathering Mike Xu, a professor of modern languages and literatures at Texas Christian University, raised the possibility of direct Chinese influence on Mesoamerica’s Olmec culture. Xu is young, quiet, and almost diffident about the bold proposition he came to reveal. Drawing on linguistic scholarship in his native China, he suggested that carved stone blades found in Guatemala, dating from approximately 1100 B.C., are distinctly Chinese in pattern. Moreover, they bear ideographic writing that has uncanny resemblances to glyphs from the contemporaneous Shang Dynasty, which ruled North China from its center in the lower Yellow River valley.Xu was candid about the skepticism, even disdain, that his proposal engenders among orthodox archaeologists. With an engaging smile, he pointed out that no less an authority than Michael Coe, a Mayan-glyph decipherer and an emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University, considers the Shang hypothesis totally spurious. Xu remains unbowed.” (The Atlantic, Jan 2000)

    RE: Mesoamerican archaeology, what’s the difference between Xu & the Mormon Church? Xu doesn’t have the vast resources and tenacity of an organization that feels it necessary to defend its OWN version of Mesoamerican history at all costs. That’s about it.

    Is it also necessary to say that we don’t hear much about Mike Xu or his theories any more?

  51. SilverRain on February 7, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Yes, if you think that anthropological genetics or genomics, which are brand-new, specific, and largely deductive are anything comparable to “evolution,” which is a very imprecise and broad term, or the shape of the earth, which is now simply observational, there is really no point in having a conversation. You miss the fascinating and compelling beauty of science.

    But hey, if such a reductive paradigm helps you get through your day, more power to you. Far be it from me to argue.

  52. Henry on February 8, 2014 at 11:17 am

    The church has Zelph’s remains still. So let’s conduct a DNA test on those remains and let’s see what comes up?

  53. EFF on February 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    SteveF (#49). Steve Smith, in his first post, referenced a recent article by Simon Sutherton responding to the recent DNA post on ldd.org, which explains while the 24,000 year old Siberian remains do not support the proposition that one-third of Native American genes come from people in Europe and the Middle East. Here is what Sutherton wrote on this point:

    “The authors jump from talking about Native American mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA (~100% Asian origin) to a 2013 study on autosomal DNA of a 24,000-year-old Siberian who shared one-third of his autosomal DNA mutations with European or West Asian populations. Many readers could easily conclude that the earlier mitochondrial and Y-chromosome studies were faulty. But they would be wrong.

    DNA mutations that define Native American mitochondrial and Y-lineages arose AFTER their ancestors separated from their Asian neighbours about 18,000 years ago. They are mostly new mutations that occurred in the New World. The Siberian study is about mutations that arose BEFORE 24,000 years ago. They are earlier mutations that occurred during the 10s of thousands of years that humans spent migrating across Eurasia before reaching Siberia.

    It’s like looking at a 1975 Ford and declaring it is a Hyundai because it has 4 wheels. Yes, Native American autosomal DNA carries vast numbers of mutations; some arose 5,000, 20,000 or even 50,000 years ago. The ones that arose 50,000 years ago, when their ancestors were in Eurasia, are shared by numerous populations spread over vast areas because humans have migrated over vast areas of the globe. The ones that arose 5,000 or 15,000 years ago have a more restricted distribution, exclusively in the Americas. But these are the most informative mutations for ancestry studies.

    The 2013 study is not relevant to the conclusions derived from mitochondrial or Y-chromosome DNA.

    Also, I hate to be picky but Native American DNA is essentially Siberian, not East Asian. East Asia includes the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans who are not direct ancestors of Native Americans.”

  54. JasonB on February 8, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    LDS Church admits that the Nephites and Lamanites were more spiritual than physical. Recently, buried as a footnote contained in the Sunbeam manual at LDS.org, the LDS Church stated that perhaps the BofM peoples lived in a spiritual realm only and that all references to actual people living on the American continents were more metaphorical than actual. This was done after the Church finally conducted extensive DNA testing on “Zelph” and found the remains were in fact from a female native American that had died in the 1600s. Her DNA was found to be unquestionably of Asiatic origin.

    In other news, Glen Beck was named as the newest apostle. Church spokesmen raved at how Bro. Beck never ceases to wear the American flag somewhere on his person.

  55. SteveF on February 8, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    EFF #53. I haven’t read the actual study, but it appears that if National Geographic is explaining it correctly, Simon Southerton (who is he?) is misinterpreting the results.

    According to National Geographic, “DNA from the remains revealed genes found today in western Eurasians in the Middle East and Europe, as well as other aspects unique to Native Americans, but no evidence of any relation to modern East Asians.”

    And “Prevailing theories suggest that Native Americans are descended from a group of East Asians who crossed the Bering Sea via a land bridge perhaps 16,500 years ago, though some sites may evidence an earlier arrival. (See “Siberian, Native American Languages Linked—A First [2008].”)

    “This study changes this idea because it shows that a significant minority of Native American ancestry actually derives not from East Asia but from a people related to present-day western Eurasians,” Willerslev said.

    “It’s approximately one-third of the genome, and that is a lot,” he added. “So in that regard I think it’s changing quite a bit of the history.”

    While the land bridge still formed the gateway to America, the study now portrays Native Americans as a group derived from the meeting of two different populations, one ancestral to East Asians and the other related to western Eurasians, explained Willerslev, whose research was published in the November 20 edition of the journal Nature.”

    So previous studies, based on mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA, suggested that Native Americans descended from a population of East Asians ancestral to modern East Asians, but this new study suggests an entire 1/3 of Native American DNA derives from second distinct population that lived in Siberia related rather to western Eurasians and not East Asians like the other 2/3. (This is very different from Simon Southerton’s statement saying that it was the Siberian DNA that was 1/3 western Eurasian, and suggesting still that Native American DNA derives from a single population. (And is he suggesting this population was not even East Asian in origin as previous studies concluded? Odd.))

    To me, the results seem significant, and perhaps it shows the ineffectiveness of using a small subset of DNA (mitochondrial and Y-chromosome) to draw general conclusions. At the very least it seems to suggest we still have a lot to learn.

  56. Fanny on February 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    SteveF

    Don’t the studies you cite above relate to peoples that came to the Americas more than 6,000 years ago? So, even if you can finally show that the natives came from the middle east, doesn’t it still kill the BofM claims of the flood, adam, etc?

  57. Old Man on February 8, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I’m curious… does anyone commenting on this post actually hold a degree in evolutionary biology, history, archaeology or genetics?

    For what it’s worth, I have active LDS friends in those fields, and there is a lot of exciting research going on. And the attitudes of those individuals towards the Book of Mormon, the creation account and the scriptures overall is much less critical than some espoused here.

  58. SteveF on February 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Fanny #56. Yes, definitely before 6,000 years ago, long before any of the BofM migrations.

    I believe that evolution/human evolution is a reality, and that modern humans have been around for 10s of thousands if not 100s of thousands of years. I don’t think this kills scriptural accounts of Adam, the flood, etc., just the previous simplistic interpretations of them. But we have things like Joseph Smith seeing the creation of the universe described in 6 unspecified periods of time (rather than 6 literal days) and acknowledging that the earth might be billions of years old, and Brigham Young referring to the traditional Adam and Eve stories as “baby stories”. So I think the LDS faith is particularly well suited to adapt to further light and knowledge as we progress.

  59. p on February 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    “I have active LDS friends in those fields, and there is a lot of exciting research going on ….”

    Please, Old Man. The Republicans have a health care plan, too, but that doesn’t mean its a good plan.

    RE: degrees: I have a graduate degree in physiology. FYI these days ANY life science is based on genomic evolution. If you don’t understand gene selection theory (evolution by natural selection + particulate inheritance theory) you can’t understand the research.

  60. Fanny on February 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    SteveF #58 Thank you for the reply. I however have to disagree with your 7 creative periods theory because it is diametrically opposed to D&C 77:6 where God says the earth will exist for 7 thousand years, not 7 time periods. At a certain point, words have to have meaning and I don’t think God “revealed” section 77 wishing to fool us. Maybe you can say that Joseph simply should have corrected “days” to say “periods of time” and maybe Joseph should have revised this “revelation” when he was revising the others to help consolidate his authority. This also brings up what many hate about the apologetic community: they change the definition of words when it doesn’t suit an apologetic.

    I think that all of this (BofM problems, Book of Abraham, Polygamy, Priesthood denial, etc.) points to one conclusion: Joseph meant well but had an incredible imagination at times.

  61. forgetting.son on February 9, 2014 at 2:54 am

    SteveF,

    “I believe that evolution/human evolution is a reality, and that modern humans have been around for 10s of thousands if not 100s of thousands of years.”

    Evidentially you are not alone on human life going back hundred’s of thousands.

    http://m.deseretnews.com/article/765647276/800000-year-old-footprints-found-in-England-then-they-washed-away.html

  62. Cameron N. on February 9, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Anyone who disdains ‘apologetic semantics’ or feels they are completely invalid, feel free to skip this, but I wanted to clarify my above posts:

    My main point above was that if our cosmology–the scope of our thinking and understanding of the universe–is fundamentally incomplete and flawed, if our quantum understanding cannot coexist with our astrophysics, and so forth–if we can’t understand the fundamental building blocks, let’s please not be coy in thinking the derivative fields are already perfect. It’s great if we think DNA can tell us everything about people for the last hundred thousand years. I’m open to that being true, but it seems a little audacious.

    It is for this reason I am open to literalism. I have no position. I will not be surprised tomorrow if the Lord comes down and says one or the other, frankly I think it will be a sort of Door #3 that we haven’t considered yet, but I don’t really care. I do enjoy learning about everything we think we currently understand, and this in no way conflicts with my long-term contentedness regarding the end reveal.

    In terms of DNA analysis and conjecture, one has to assume so many variables that the exercise is virtually meaningless. You have to assume you fully understand DNA, how it ages, how it can radically change within a person’s lifetime, how dynamically it can mutate in a short period of time due to extreme changes in environment or other constraints, how viable it is to measure, etc.

    ——————————

    Steve S, with regards to your questions my complaints are specifically about astrophysics and quantum mechanics from the early 1900s to the present day, but those seem to effect the more specific fields, even if they have borne some fruit

    “The scientific establishment is scorning new ideas and evidence? Are you suggesting that the scientific community is deeply rooted in some sort of traditional thinking that it protects through groupthink and tribalistic affinities? I don’t deny that there are many historians and scientists who refuse to abandon theories in spite of evidence against them. But where is this more enlightened community to which you allude that is bringing forth evidence that debunks the claims of mainstream science? Aren’t they part of the scientific community? Are they religious? ”

    The current establishment is a bizarre mix of clickbait showbiz headlines with no real progress in understanding and statements, artists photoshopping what we don’t observe, and outdated assumptions with scientists repeteadly admit to being surprised at.

    The particular movement I alluded to in my previous comments was the Electric Universe/Plasma Cosmology movement, with origins and connections to Christian Berkelund,Hannes Alfven, Ralph Jergens and the late Halton Arp, who refuted his mentor Edwin Hubble’s suggestion that redshift could me a measure of distance after observing hundreds of blue and red-shifted bodies in deep space that were connected. The list of fruitful predictions and explanations this theory offers easily trumps the current standard model, which practically ignores all other forces but gravity.

  63. p on February 9, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    CAMERON N: “In terms of DNA analysis and conjecture, one has to assume so many variables that the exercise is virtually meaningless. You have to assume you fully understand DNA, how it ages, how it can radically change within a person’s lifetime, how dynamically it can mutate in a short period of time due to extreme changes in environment or other constraints, how viable it is to measure, etc.”

    Cameron, why do you persist in writing nonsense? Do you think this really helps the Church as it navigates a difficult & delicate situation? It doesn’t, Cameron, it only perpetuates myths & misinformation.

    Here’s an example of another “virtually meaningless” exercise that predates the LDS gene problem by 25,000 years:

    Science 7 May 2010:
    Vol. 328 no. 5979 pp. 710-722
    DOI: 10.1126/science.1188021
    RESEARCH ARTICLE
    A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome
    “Neandertals, the closest evolutionary relatives of present-day humans, lived in large parts of Europe and western Asia before disappearing 30,000 years ago. We present a draft sequence of the Neandertal genome composed of more than 4 billion nucleotides from three individuals. Comparisons of the Neandertal genome to the genomes of five present-day humans from different parts of the world identify a number of genomic regions that may have been affected by positive selection in ancestral modern humans, including genes involved in metabolism and in cognitive and skeletal development. We show that Neandertals shared more genetic variants with present-day humans in Eurasia than with present-day humans in sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that gene flow from Neandertals into the ancestors of non-Africans occurred before the divergence of Eurasian groups from each other.”

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