Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Misquoting the Book of Mormon is Bad Enough; Don't Misquote Science As Well

The use of DNA evidence to attack the Book of Mormon often involves multiple errors, such as people getting the Book of Mormon wrong (e.g., assuming it explains the origins of all Native Americans) and making serious errors regarding what science actually says as well. Dr. Ugo Perego deals with a frustrating example of some people in an LDS publication seriously misquoting the science to conclude that "There is no longer anywhere for a successful population of Middle-easterners to hide in the Native American family tree." In his response, "Misquoting Science,"Dr. Perego brings clarity to this issue. His response, coupled with the Church's 2014 statement on DNA and Book of Mormon issues, should help members of the Church and everyone interested in the Book of Mormon to better understand what that sacred text actually says and what the science really shows. It does not rule out the Book of Mormon by any means.


28 comments:

Anonymous said...

"(e.g., assuming it explains the origins of all Native Americans)"
But up until very recently, it purported to do exactly this, as did the church leadership. There are so very many examples of this that it's impossible to deny that Mormons thought anf taught the American Indians were direct descendants of Lehi. Are we supposed to all suddenly and collectively forget what's been taught for the past century+?

Pierce said...

Forgetting it doesn't matter. Are we bound to old ideas and traditions in light of better understanding and scientific evidence? No.

Anonymous said...

When those "ideas" are presented as "truth" from the mouth of someone who speaks directly with an unchangeable God Himself, then yes, LDS are bound. Especially in the eyes of an investigator/outsider! Show me where the LDS church has said it's okay to disregard anything Joseph Smith (or Brigham Young, etc) ever said, because that's what's going on here.

Arnold said...

Question for Jeff: Why did Lehi's sons have to go back to Jerusalem and get Ishmael's daughters to marry if there were already women in the Promised Land that they could marry? To squeeze in an extra eight years of having kids?

Anonymous said...

From the article Misquoting Science:

Sunstone magazine:

“Unfortunately, Vinson has not kept up with advances in population genetics, where scientists like Theodore Schurr (University of Pennsylvania) now utilize nuclear DNA (SNPs), which no longer leave open a possibility that a small, successful and genetically unique group could be introduced into a larger population without detection. According to the scientists, Native Americans are exclusively Siberian. There is no longer anywhere for a successful population of Middle-easterners to hide in the Native American family tree. (Zegura et al., ‘High-Resolution SNPs,’ Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2004.)”

I have read books written by Native Americans and read books about Native Americans, and most Native Americans have histories that their ancestors came across the oceans from other lands. Basically European descended American scientists are the ones who believe Native Americans came exclusively across the Bering Strait. It is unfortunate that anthropologists/scientists do not take Native American's own history as fact and plausible.

EG

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 7:55, you need to understand something: scientists aren't acting on "belief." They're making conclusions based on evidence. Big difference.
By your same reasoning, there are lots of stories and books of Asian lore that say the world is based on a turtle suspended in space. Should we defer to their reporting instead of scientifically established methods?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Joseph Smith clearly explained that prophets are fallible and can have opinions like anyone else that are their own. The Doctrine & Covenants begins almost in Section 3 with Joseph being chastised for a very mortal mistake with serious consequences, losing 116 pages of the Book of Mormon. Fallible. But he never said that the Americas were a vacuum when Nephi came, and was open to the possibility of other migrations, as I discuss on my page on DNA and the Book of Mormon at http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/DNA.shtml.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Why did Lehi want his sons to marry girls from a good Hebrew family in their hometown instead of waiting over 8, perhaps after his death, to look for possible locals on the other side of the world speaking a different language and raised in who-knows-what kind of faith to be their wives and the mothers of his grandchildren? Hmm, your question makes me think you probably aren't a parent and certainly aren't a grandparent, at least not one who cherishes his faith.

Anonymous said...

2 Nephi 1: 8-9 suggests the Promises Land was a vacuum, and Joseph reported that an angel told him the American Indians are the direct descendants of Lehi. Are the Book of Mormon and angels fallible too?

Mormography said...

Pierce,

Forgetting only matters when you and Mormanity forget that this "better understanding" was brought to you not by those you guys have declared to be devinely inspired, but those you guys have reviled with hate and gnashing of teeth (anti-mormons). But seriously, why so much hate and hostility towards those that have lead you to the light and understanding. You should be donating large amounts of money to them in gratitude.

Pierce said...

Mormography,

Once again your accusations of hate are laughable. I guess you feel the need to spice up your posts. Seriously, what, in my March 10 post, shows reviling hatred toward anybody? Don't you wonder how this affects your credibility here?

Moving on, I kind of agree with you in a way. I believe that the Information Age has pushed members of the church out of their comfort zones and, in some ways, it's been sink or swim. I would agree that "anti-Mormons" are largely responsible for our efforts to conduct better research, become more transparent, and respond to difficult issues and questions. Since you bring it up, I don't hate them for it. But I don't have to agree with their conclusions or their mission either. I also don't have to agree with their methods, which, in my studies, are disingenuous a majority of the time, though certainly not all of the time.

I'll add as well that it is not really the duty of Apostles to be historians and scientists. We already have historians and scientists, and I'm ok with information coming from them as it relates to history and science.

Pierce said...

And if you were getting any traffic to your blog, I would say that you should also be making large donations to Mormanity. As it stands, it doesn't seem to be an issue.

Ryan said...

The books of Ether and Omni suggest that it was not a vacuum. The Book of Mormon specifically mentions two other groups besides Lehi's family that were brought here, one of which did not come out of Jerusalem. To me 2 Nephi 1:8-9 only seems to suggest that God will keep the knowledge of the Nephites from other nations AS LONG AS they keep the commandments, which certainly did not happen universally throughout the Book of Mormon, and this only seems to apply to nations that the Lord did not bring over Himself. Just because we don't as yet have records of other people He brought here doesn't mean they didn't exist.

Pierce said...

Anon on March 10,

I wouldn't suggest that we are to disregard anything Joseph Smith or Brigham Young ever said. The whole point of having an established church with recognized authority is to be able to dispense further light and knowledge. So if current leadership feels the need to correct old assumptions in light of new knowledge or revelation, then they can, even if those assumptions belong to former prophets.
I also contest the idea that because a prophet has spoken directly with an unchangeable God, that God spoke clearly on this particular issue and that was clearly related by the prophet. I don't believe I've seen a revelation that states that the Americas were uninhabited before 600 b.c., but you're welcome to correct me if I'm wrong.
If it does not exist, then no, the LDS are NOT bound to that belief.

Anon on March 11,
2 Nephi 1: 8-9 does not suggest that the Promised Land was uninhabited before Lehi. It merely describes a promise made to Lehi that if his posterity should keep the commandments, they will remain blessed an unmolested in the land. It also suggests that it is wisdom that knowledge of the Americas should be kept from other nations, which it pretty much was for a very long time (hence, the title of "the New World").

Andrew said...

Like many others, I have taken an interest in the idea that The Book of Mormon, though not explicitly, suggests that other peoples were present. But in all fairness, that is not what I grew up believing. I think this is the point "anonymous" has tried to make. I was taught, through various forums like Primary and seminary, that Lamanites were THE principal ancestor of Native Americans and that no other peoples, with the exception of the deceased Jaredites and late-arriving Mulekites, migrated to this continent before Columbus. All exceptions and alternatives to this idea, which are now coming much more into the spotlight, were simply not taught in any significant way. So it wasn't only critics "assuming [the BofM] explains the origins of all Native Americans," it was my seminary teachers and, more significantly, prophets and other high-ranking church leaders as well. Church leaders may have admitted fallibility, but that defense is only brought up after a problem has arisen.

My introduction to alternative ideas came through publications like FARMS and only after the advent of the internet made these studies more accessible. It was not brought about through official classes, sermons, and publications. So maybe we should stop suggesting both that the existence of other peoples within the BofM has always been obvious to the careful reader and that such has always been taught by church leaders. That simply isn't the case. We're being disingenuous to insist otherwise.

Indeed, the less nuanced view of Native American/Lamanite relations taught in the past by church leaders among others is certainly a big reason why the DNA question holds such force and causes so many faith-crisis at the present time. It's not only a matter of making the BofM fit a new paradigm (for Mormons) of ancient American peoples, it's also needing to explain why current leaders are smoothing over what past leaders have said regarding BofM peoples. Its wondering if current leaders might be mistaken about certain significant issues as well. Again, fallibility only comes up when problems arise, and this is a significant problem.

Pierce said...

Andrew,

My experience was similar to yours as it pertains to being taught that Native Americans are descended from Nephites/Lamanites. We definitely did believe this, collectively. Up until recently, we published that they were the principle ancestors of the American Indians. So I don't think we're trying to somehow push that off onto "anti-mormons," as you seem to suggest.
I also don't think anyone is claiming that the existence of other people in the Book of Mormon has always been obvious. It's just that new evidence has caused us to re-evaluate our beliefs and claims and to choose something that more closely aligns with evidence. It was always in there, we just didn't recognize it because we were viewing the book through a different paradigm.

" Again, fallibility only comes up when problems arise, and this is a significant problem."

There are going to be times where we realize that we simply had wrong ideas about some things. Especially insignificant things. Fallibility isn't an excuse so much as it is a reality. If people are going to continue to complain that we decided to change our Introduction to the BOM and try to hold us to old claims, then we have to continue to explain fallibility. It's hard to say that a belief is incorrect when we don't have the information yet and have had a chance to fully evaluate and adopt it.

Virginia Brown said...

The Book of Mormon in the first book of Nephi gives an indication that there were other people in the Promised Land: 1 Nephi 18:25 And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat . . .

If there are goats that are wild and other goats that are not, the others must be domesticated, and they must have been domesticated by SOMEONE.

Mormography said...

Pierce,

LOL. March 10th is the farthest your memory can go back, how quickly things are forgotten (or is the truth how quickly one can play dumb?).

So not only was the BoM poorly translated, but now the apologist are claiming it has been poorly intrepreted and are admitting that it is the reviled anti-mormons that have provided the best interpretations.

All this mental gymnastics are very enertaining. The brother jake youtube series puts them to together best. Not a single misrepresentation of apologist responses that i see. When brother jake puts them all together, the hilarity comes out.

Pierce said...

I'm so pleased you are easily entertained. I brought up March 10 because that is the onlything I had said on this post. You derailed it once again with a weird accusation regarding "anti-mormons" and "hate."
So it's not about playing dumb, it's about staying on point.

"So not only was the BoM poorly translated..."
That is your caricature of the translation process and the claims of BoM fallibility.

"but now the apologist are claiming it has been poorly intrepreted"
It doesn't take an apologist to believe that people tend to draw their own conclusions from a book and are not 100% right in those conclusions all of the time as well as throughout multiple generations.

"admitting that it is the reviled anti-mormons that have provided the best interpretations."
Who is admitting that? Anti-mormons have always existed and put forth all sorts of "interpretations." No apologist is saying that they are the best ones, or else the relationship between anti-mormons (or just critics) and apologists would be in total harmony and everyone would be in agreement. Do you really think that's the way it is? Rather, critics have challenged the LDS and the LDS have evolved in their way of thinking about things because of what they have found out for themselves.

Pierce said...

Although, Mormography, if that was an honest LOL at my joke, then I retract my overly sarcastic opening statement :-)

Dan said...

2 Nephi 9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

Arnold said...

The fact that the Book of Mormon doesn't explicitly mention any inhabitants of non-middle eastern origin is a problem that cannot be dismissed as lightly as apologists are wont to do. Some apologists will say that the existence of other inhabitants wasn't germane or important enough to include in the ecclesiastical history. Baloney. As Virginia points out above, the ecclesiastical history tells us that there were several domesticated species of old world animals in the land before the Lehites arrived. Would the existence of people be less important to mention than the existence of goats? (BTW, Virginia, those animals were brought by the Jaredites who died out shortly before the arrival of Nephi et al.)

As Jeff points out above, marrying people outside the Hebrew ethnicity and faith would be difficult for pious Hebrews like Nephi and his followers, so surely they would have engaged in some missionary effort to convert the new world inhabitants into marriageable material. This would have included persuading them to get circumcised, in the case of the men, since the Nephites were keeping the law of Moses until Christ came. Proselytizing the natives certainly would have merited mention in the ecclesiastical history.

At the beginning of the book of Alma, the Nephites and Lamanites were distinguishable by skin color (Alma 3). This means that either the Nephites or the Lamanites or both did not interbreed significantly with a larger native population up to that point in time. That means that one of these groups or both was multiplying as a genetically more or less isolated population for 500 years. That means that thousands of individuals, not dozens as apologists usually suggest, would contribute their genotype to the new world pool, once they start interbreeding. This wouldn't be as easy to hide as genetic apologists like to suggest.

Apologists are fond of pointing out that the proper nouns of the Book of Mormon are semitic in origin. In fact, all the people and place names for a thousand years are Semitic or Greek in origin, sometimes by scrambling the syllables of biblical words. Apologists would have us believe that the Lehites and Mulekites were too few in number to have a detectable genetic impact, but their numbers were great enough to have a substantial linguistic impact on the native population. It strains credulity.

James said...

Arnold,
You bring up an interesting point. However, I don't think the lack of a mention of indigenous people is as hard to explain as one might suppose. The Lamanites, of course, would not have found themselves under any obligation to marry within the covenant, and since we have very little record of their activities from the time the Nephites separated from them up until Zeniff went to live with them, they could easily have been intermarrying with the locals for hundreds of years. This might help explain why they were so much more numerous than the Nephites.

Similarly, the Mulekites had no written record and were not really keeping the Law of Moses when the Nephites found them, so who knows what sort of intermarriages might have taken place among them during the ~400 years prior to contact with the Nephites? Once the Nephites met and reconverted the Mulekites, significant dilution of Lehi's DNA could have occurred, especially given that there were more Mulekites than Nephites.

Then in Alma a significant body of the Lamanites, now known as Ammonites, comes to join the people of Nephi. We know there were at least several thousand of them. They could easily have already lost much of Lehi's DNA, and that loss would then have worked its way in among the Nephite population.

In Helaman, for a few years the Nephites and the Lamanites have free trade with each other, and that could include more intermarriages. In fourth Nephi for several hundred years there are no "-ites," suggesting that intermarriages were abundant. By the time Mormon comes on the scene, "Nephites" and "Lamanites" have less to do with lineage than political and religious preference. The two groups were probably genetically indistinguishable, and this would include any admixtures that had occurred previously.

Then after Moroni we have over 1000 years before Columbus shows up, during which time any number of migrations and mixtures could have occurred, of which we have no record at all. It would be interesting to crunch some numbers on this, but in my mind the idea of influence from other cultures seems plausible.

Arnold said...

James,

I agree that the scenario you outline fits plausibly with the Book of Mormon narrative, but it allows for the Nephites to multiply as a more or less genetically isolated group for 400 years prior to contacting the Mulekites. Their numbers would be quite substantial by the time they started interbreeding with an indigenous population, not the few dozen normally alluded to by apologists. As I mentioned above, there was at least one group of middle eastern origin that was genetically different by the time of Alma 3, which was 500 years after Lehi's group arrived. Additionally, your explanation doesn't account for why non-middle eastern groups aren't mentioned. Significant interbreeding and contact with such groups should increase the probability that they would be mentioned, not decrease it. It should also result in a greater linguistic impact by the natives than we find in place and people names in the Book of Mormon.

James said...

Arnold,
I actually think there is evidence for linguistic drift in the Book of Mormon. Both the Mulekites and the Lamanites had to be taught the language of the Nephites once contact was reestablished, even though all three groups would have had a common initial language. Additionally, Hugh Nibley talks about how after contact with the Mulekites we begin to see names that very much resemble Jaredite names. He and others suggest that the Mulekites may have had contact with some Jaredite remnant or offshoot, which seems entirely plausible to me, since my understanding is that Coriantumr was found some 400 years after the Mulekites arrived.

As for mentions of contact, I'm not too surprised to find a lack of it in the Nephite record. They mention contact with the Mulekites and the Lamanites, but the Nephite record would contain nothing of contact between Lamanites or Mulekites and other groups. The Nephite record may not say much about indigenous groups because, as you say, they were fairly isolated. The Mulekites and Lamanites, meanwhile, kept no records, so they wouldn't have said anything either. By the time the Nephites and the Mulekites met up, the Nephites may not have been aware of previous interactions between Mulekites and other groups, as they may have essentially merged into one group at that point. A similar argument could apply to Nephite-Lamanite contact.

As for population size, I agree- I wouldn't be surprised if the Nephite population was larger than some apologists suggest once mixture started. However, that doesn't rule out the possibility that their DNA was vastly diluted by the much larger Lamanite and Mulekite groups, who may have had very little Hebrew DNA by the substantially larger Mulekite and Lamanite groups.

One final note- I imagine at the end of all this you and I will just agree to disagree. I appreciate the civil nature of your comments thus far. I think a lot of us would do well to take a leaf out of your book when it comes to this sort of debate, myself included in many instances.

James said...

At the end of my third paragraph I meant to say "Very little Hebrew DNA by the time the Nephites showed up"

Ryan Larsen said...

The following is a comment I almost posted to Simon Southerton's blog. I ended up saving it instead, as I felt it could be taken as an attack against him (although I didn't intend it to be, per se). But it is relevant to this discussion, and I'll work it into a post in the near future.

First, as you know a certain study was published in November 2013 which showed that as much as a third of the Native American population came from an Asian group 24,000 years ago which had DNA related to modern Europeans, but not modern "east Asians." I would be very interested in knowing why - over these several years since you left the church - why you never recognized that there was this huge chunk of native american DNA which was unaccounted for but which has now been accounted for with this new study. From all of your posts previous to the study, the impression given is that Native American DNA was all accounted for and there wasn't really room for major surprises. In other words, to someone unfamiliar with genetics it's like an accountant saying for a long time that "every dollar is accounted for - there might be a few pennies misplaced, but nothing important" then you find out that a third of your money was recovered which he never realized was missing. Then you ask him again and he says, "well, yes, but NOW everything is accounted for, you can be certain of it." Once burned, twice shy, as the saying goes.

Now one more thing about the word, "Lamanite." The meaning of the word "Lamanite" seems to be a major point of dispute which you go back to often in the course of your arguments. And I would even go so far as to say that your thesis relies heavily on a particular meaning of the word. But you don't ever really define the word yourself; you evidently rely on the reader to just assume that its meaning includes, "having a detectable amount of Semitic DNA" or anything to that effect. But I find it much more likely that when Joseph Smith and others used the word "Lamanite" in reference to Native Americans, they were referring to them as people whose ancestors had been visited by Christ in America but later fell away and took upon themselves the name of Lamanites - as described in 4th Nephi. In other words, they were of the house of Israel but fell away. In other words, the much talked about change to the introduction to the Book of Mormon didn't really change the meaning, but made it more understandable for people. Most of the Lamanites were probably descended from Lehi as a matter of ancestry, but that doesn't mean they had much of his DNA. When Lehi first arrived, none of the natives were his children. But by the time Christ came, most if not all of the natives would have by that point been his children. They also would have had countless other ancestors in their pedigrees, but that in no way limits Lehi's ability to count them as his seed.

Anonymous said...

I read that during Jos. Smiths time a majority of the converts did not read the Book of Mormon, even those who eventually became church leaders. Therefore, the early members had a limited understanding of a lot of things. Plus we are products of the time in which we live and lived, which means our understanding of issues and other things is related to the environment in which we live.
My grandmother had a difficult time believing man actually walked on the moon. A lot of people could not believe it was possible and today there are people who believe in conspiriacy theories and so deny the moon walk never happened. In the early 1900s scientists said that everything about pjysics had been discovered and there would never be anything else to discover concerning physics. We are still discovering and expanding our knowledge. Joseph Smith spoke of matter. Jeff did an excellent article on that. Science barely caught up to what Jos. Smith said. Hhhmmm