Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

DNA and the Book of Mormon

Robert Pollack, a professor of biological sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Columbia University, published an interesting article, "The Fallacy of Biological Judaism," in the respected Jewish periodical, The Forward. Dr. Pollack makes a point that needs to be considered by those clamoring about the supposed lakc of Jewish DNA among Native Americans:

Unlike asking "Are Jews a family?", as historians have traditionally done, geneticists seeking to advise Ashkenazic families are also, in passing, asking, "Do Jews all share the same versions of one or more genes?" -- a question with a testable, precise answer. As no two people except pairs of identical twins have exactly the same version of the human genomic text, this claim could be confirmed or rejected by a search for versions of the human genome shared by all Jews and no other people.

Given the historical context of the Nazi "experiment," it is all the more remarkable that Jews all over the world have been flocking to the new technology of DNA-based diagnosis, eager to lend their individual genomes -- each a surviving data point from the terrible experiment in negative selection -- to a revisiting of this issue of biological Judaism.

At a recent meeting of the Association of Orthodox Jewish scientists and the Columbia Center for the Study of Science and Religion, it became clear that Jewish curiosity has provided sufficient genetic material to give a perfectly clear negative answer: There is no support in the genomes of today's Jews for the calumnious and calamitous model of biological Judaism. Though there are many deleterious versions of genes shared within the Ashkenazic community, there are no DNA sequences common to all Jews and absent from all non-Jews. There is nothing in the human genome that makes or diagnoses a person as a Jew.

If there is no clear DNA marker that makes one a Jew in this century, what DNA markers should we expect Lehi and Nephi to have brought to the New World?

The issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon involves quite a number of interesting issues. One useful new resource in this area is "DNA and the Book of Mormon" by David Stewart, M.D. at Limhi.com. I have also written an extensive article on the topic, with many references that you can check yourself. My article is "Does DNA Evidence Refute the Book of Mormon?" I was pleased when LDS.org chose to place a PDF version of my DNA article on their Website in their newsroom section, along with some articles from FARMS.

Also see the lastest FARMS Review of Books at farms.byu.edu for further information.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Blind Faith and the Book of Abraham: Who's Blind?

Many critics put a lot of faith in the anti-Mormon spin on the Book of Abraham. But it's blind faith, or at least "squinting" faith, that can't withstand much observation. Look at The Book of Abraham Project, a rich source of well documented information on the Book of Abraham. To deal with the common objections raised by critics, look at their page on Criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham, which refutes most of the attacks made on the Book of Abraham.

I also have my own pages on the topic: "Ancient Evidences for the Book of Abraham: Other Records Confirm its Story," which challenges the critics to explain how so much of the material in the Book of Abraham is confirmed by ancient documents that Joseph could not have known about. As for the specific attacks of the critics, see my page, The Truth About the Book of Abraham, Part 1 and The Book of Abraham, Part 2 - Evidence that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God.

The Book of Abraham is one area where I really feel that Mormons can turn the tables on our critics and start asking some tough questions of our own.


Friday, May 28, 2004

Mormons and Suicide: The Real Stats

Critics of the Church have often said that Utah has a high suicide rate, and have blamed this on the stress that being Mormon imposes on its members. These claims are incorrect. The whole Mountain West has had a high suicide rate historically, but Utah has the lowest rate for that region.

In addition to basic statistical information on suicide offered on an LDSFAQ page of questions about Mormons, I have now learned of a scientific study published in 2002 about male suicide in Utah. The reference is Sterling C. Hilton, Gilbert W. Fellingham, and Joseph L. Lyon, "Suicide Rates and Religious Commitment in Young Adult Males in Utah," American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 155, No. 5, 2002, pp. 413-419. The abstract, available online, follows:
Previous studies have used population data to demonstrate an inverse association between suicide rates and religious commitment. This report examines Utah suicide rates for young men aged 15–34 years, stratified by their membership in and commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the predominant religion in Utah. All state death records for males from 1991 to 1995 were obtained and linked to LDS church deceased membership records to obtain a measure of religious commitment that is not self-reported. Religious commitment for LDS church members was determined by age-appropriate priesthood office. Of the 27,738 male deaths reported, 15,555 (56%) linked to an LDS church record using a probabilistic linking program. Using active (high religious commitment) LDS as the reference group, the less-active (low religious commitment) LDS group had relative risks of suicide ranging from 3.28 (ages 15–19 years) to 7.64 (ages 25–29 years); nonmembers of the LDS church had relative risks ranging from 3.43 (ages 15–19 years) to 6.27 (ages 20–24 years). Although the mechanism of the association is unclear, higher levels of religiosity appear to be inversely associated with suicide.

In other words, young less-active Mormon males and non-Mormon males had a vastly higher suicide rate than active Mormons, ranging from over three times to over six times higher, depending on the age group. The fruits of activity in the Church, contrary to the claims of anti-Mormons, appear to include a greatly reduced tendency to commit suicide, at least for young males.

(Why the West has high suicide is still unclear to most social scientists and was unclear to me, until I moved to Wisconsin, land of beauty, cheese, and the Packers, where believers and non-believers alike just have a lot more to live for.)

Book of Mormon Evidences

Let me begin this Mormon blog with a reminder that there are actual evidences that point to the plausibility of the Book of Mormon. This includes archaeological finds such as those pointing to the reality of the place Nahom in First Nephi, and many other noteworthy evidences. For details, see my page on Book of Mormon Evidences.