This video discusses the many reasons why DNA can’t be used to prove or disprove the Book of Mormon.
In this video, I’m going to talk about DNA and The Book of Mormon. This is a complicated topic. There’s a lot of sub-issues, and I’ll link to lots of things from the video, but I’m just going to focus on the most critical issues here, and I’m hoping at the end of this video you’ll be very upset about anyone that uses this as a criticism of The Book of Mormon.
The biggest issue there, the population geneticists have a strong view that the population of America, the ancient population came from Asia, from Siberia over the land bridge called Beringia in the last ice age. Probably, 15,000 to 17,000 B.C. That’s where the population came from, and if there’s other genetic markers here from other areas they think was post-Columbus, post-1492 A.D.
I’m going to go through a bunch of different issues with this, but I will start with really, I think, maybe the biggest issue. That is, that there was a group of 30 to 50 people in Lehi’s party that came, and science says that there were several million people here, would be the estimates today, in 600 BC. Our biggest critic on this specific issue actually wrote about this.
Said, “In 600 BC, there were probably several million American Indians living in the Americas. If a small group of Israelites entered such a massive native population, it would be very, very hard to detect their genes 200, 2000, or even 20,000 years later. Does such a scenario fit with what the Book of Mormon plainly states, or what the prophets have taught for 175 years? Short answer, no!”
Notice how this has flipped over to a theological issue than a scientific issue, but he acknowledges the point that Lehi’s DNA would be completely absolved in the larger population. We’ll talk about more of why that would happen in a minute. What is the Church’s official position on this? Well, the Church really has not had an official position, until really recently.
It’s a part of the Gospel Topics Essay, DNA and The Book of Mormon. If you look specifically here on the screen, “What seems clear is that the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples likely represented only a fraction of all DNA in ancient America. Joseph Smith appears to have been open to the ideas of migrations, other than those described in The Book of Mormon.” It’s in Times and Seasons, September 1842. “Many Latter-Day Saint leaders and scholars over the past century have found The Book of Mormon account to be fully consistent with the presence of other established population. A 2006 update to the introduction of The Book of Mormon reflects this understanding, by stating that The Book of Mormon peoples were among the ancestors of the American-Indians. Now, some additional detail on that. A Church statement when this wording change happened in 2006 from “principal” to “among”.
On the screen here, you’ll see, “The introduction, which is not part of the text to the Book of Mormon, previously stated that the Lamanites were the principal ancestors of the American Indians. Even this statement, first published in 1981, implies the presence of others.”
“Early in The Book of Mormon, the name Lamanite refers to the descendants of Laman and Lemuel. Hundreds of years later, it came to identify all those with a different political or religious affiliation than the keepers of the Book of Mormon plates.” In fact, if you look at 4 Nephi verse 20, it actually states there … Let me get to that.
“There was still peace in the land, save it were a small part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.” These were the people that opposed Christ and the Church, and essentially if you think about it, in 1492 when Columbus landed, there were no Christians here, as a evidence shows at that time. By that definition, they were all Lamanites, in that sense.
Now, one other criticism is of what Moroni told Joseph. Joseph writing this 15 years later, in Joseph Smith History verse 34, he talked about what Moroni said. He said about the golden plates, “Giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.”
I can see how critics could argue that, but I think you could also argue that it’s talking about the people that were in The Book of Mormon. The inhabitants that were discussed there, and from where they came from, and so I don’t think there’s a problem there. Also, here’s a great quote from … quoted back in 1929 in General Conference from Anthony Ivins of the First Presidency.
He said, “We must be careful in the conclusion that we reach. The Book of Mormon does not tell us that there was no one here before them [the people it describes]. It does not tell us that people did not come after.” Now, what does The Book of Mormons say itself, the text? I’m going to link to this. This is an excellent paper, 34 pages from John Sorenson, When Lehi’s Party Arrived In The Land, Did They Find Others There? The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.
Fantastic piece, lots of detail there. I will share just a couple of my favorites when I think about this. The lost 116 pages had on it the more secular history of the people, and we probably would’ve gotten some more details there, but this was a spiritual record, the small plates of Nephi, and Nephi doesn’t really mention anything about the land. They talk about when they left Laman and Lemuel’s group. He says that he took all the people and he names them all.
Then, he says, “and all who would come with me.” Then, when Nephi dies, Jacob talks about the people will be called Nephites that are friendly to Nephi. That’s the criteria there that would be called Nephites there. Then, Jacob, this is probably me favorite. Jacob 2, he calls into repentance the men for having concubines, which in the Old Testament was often labeled as foreign wives. Where would these have come from?
Remember, this is Nephi’s brother Jacob that we’re talking about. This is the first group really there, and where would these concubines have come from. Then Sherem in Jacob 7, Sherem the Anti-Christ comes on the scene, and he comes out of nowhere, and he says essentially that he had sought Jacob much to talk to him. If it was a small village, that wouldn’t necessarily be the case.
He also says that he had a perfect knowledge of their language. Why would you say that about a group of a couple hundred people? You all would be speaking the same thing, very interesting. Again, reading between the lines. If you’re looking for others, there’s 34 pages here of detail, but it’s all over the place there.
Another big reason why this is untestable, is we do not have Lehi’s body. Think of it as like a sandbox, and Lehi is one grain of sand. Well even if you refine that grain of sand, you wouldn’t even know if you had the right thing, because you don’t have Lehi’s DNA. If you think about it, Lehi was not from the tribe of Judah, he was not a Jew per se. Even if you were to go back to 600 B.C., had DNA from Jerusalem at that time, did Lehi have representative DNA from that period, for that specific … for a Jew, if you will?
Lehi was from the tribe of Manasseh, Ishmael was from the tribe of Ephraim. They were from Joseph. That was part of the lost 10 tribes taken captive by the Assyrians 120 years earlier, so who knows what their DNA would look like. They didn’t contribute to the DNA for that area, essentially.
It’s very hard to label this. Also, if you think about Jerusalem at that time was the crossroads of three continents. A hotbed of change, lots of intermarriage, mingling, immigration that was happening. Also, if you look at modern Jews, their DNA really doesn’t match well with ancient DNA samples, if you will, and there’s even a lot of confusion within what does Jewish DNA look like.
Here’s a piece from the New York Times in 2002, “A new study now shows that the women in nine Jewish communities from Georgia to Morocco have vastly different genetic histories from the men. The women’s identities however are a mystery, because their genetics signatures are not related to one another, or to those that are present day Middle Eastern populations.”
Also, we have what’s called the founder effect, and this is critical in having the DNA of the founder of a population. This is from the Gospel Topics Essay, it says, “Descendants might inherit a genetic profile that would be unexpected, given their family’s place of origin. This phenomena is called the founder effect. Consider the case of Dr. Ugo A. Perego, a Latter-day Saint population geneticist.”
“His genealogy confirms that he is a multi-generational Italian, but the DNA of his paternal genetic lineage is from a branch of the Asian Native American haplogroup C. This likely means that somewhere along the line, a migratory event from Asia to Europe led to the introduction of DNA atypical of Perego’s place of origin.”
“If Perego and his family were to colonize and isolate a land mass, future geneticist conducting a study of his descendants’ Y-chromosomes might conclude that the original settlers of that land mass were from Asia rather than Italy.”
“This hypothetical story shows the conclusions about the genetics of a population must be informed by a clear understanding of the DNA of the population’s founders. In the case of The Book of Mormon, clear information of that kind is unavailable.” Now, another huge issue that comes in not being able to test well, is genetic drift. If you look at this picture, this is straight out of the Gospel Topics essay, this visual here.
“If you were to fill a jar with 20 marbles, 10 red, 10 blue, the jar represents a population and the marbles represent people with different genetic profiles. Draw a marble at random from the population, record its color, and place it back of the jar. Each jar represents the birth of a child. Draw 20 times to simulate a new generation within the population. The second generation could have an equal number of each color, but more likely, it will have an uneven number of the two colors.
Now, before you draw a third generation, adjust the proportion of each color in the jar to reflect the new mix of genetic profiles in the gene pool. As you continue drawing, the now uneven mix will lead to even more frequent draws of the dominant color. Over several generations, this drift toward one color will almost certainly result in the disappearance of the other color.
In fact, if you were to look back 10 generations, you’d have 1,024 ancestors, but only about 12% of the DNA would flow through. In fact that there was a big study in Iceland done of the genealogy and the genetics or the DNA. They found over 300 years, that all the people that were in Iceland came from a very tiny small subset of those that were there 300 years ago.
In fact, there were 95 mummies that were found in the Andes not long ago, and where they were able to do DNA studies and found that they had nothing to do with the people that were there in the Andes today. They attributed it to genetic drift. I’m going to give you this quote on the screen from Beth Shook and David Smith in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2008.
“Genetic drift has been a significant force on Native American genetics, and together with a major population crash after European contact has altered haplogroup frequencies, and caused the loss of many haplotypes.” Speaking of the population crash. If you look at this picture here, population bottleneck. This is straight out of the Gospel Topics Essay as well.
If you look, you’re going to get dramatic reduction of populations, some genetic profiles represented in the picture here. Yellow, orange, green, and purple circles are lost. Subsequent generations inherit only the DNA of the survivors. In addition to the catastrophic war at the end of The Book of Mormon, the European conquest of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries touched off just such a cataclysmic chain of events.
As a result of war and the spread of disease, many Native American groups experienced devastating population losses. One molecular anthropologist observed that the conquest squeezed the entire American population through a genetic bottleneck. He concluded, “This population reduction has forever altered the genetics of the surviving groups, thus complicating any attempts at reconstructing the pre-Columbian genetic structure of most new world groups.”
Estimates are that the European conquest and the diseases actually eliminated about 80% to 90% of the Native American population, so that was a significant population bottleneck problem there today in the testing. If you were to … Just, the last couple of … Some quick quotes from the Gospel Topics Essay.
“Additional DNA markers from Europe, West Asia, and Africa exist in the DNA of modern native populations, but it is difficult to determine whether they are the result of migrations that predated Columbus, such as those described in The Book of Mormon, or whether they stem from genetic mixing that occurred after the European conquests.”
“This is due in part to the fact that the ‘molecular clock’ used by scientists to date Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA markers is not sufficiently sensitive to pinpoint the timing of migrations that occurred as recently as a few hundred or even a few thousand years ago. Moreover, no molecular clock is currently available for complete genomes.”
Then last, “Scientists do not rule out the possibility of additional, small-scale migrations to the Americas. In fact, there’s a quote there from Stanford University. A professor, he says, “Models that suggest a single one-time migration are generally regarded as idealized system. There may have been small amounts of migrations going on for millennia.”
In fact, Science Magazine did a piece in 2017, if you look on the screen here, and the title, Most Archaeologist Think That The First Americans Arrived By Boat. Now They’re Beginning To Prove It, so an interesting piece. I’ll link to that article there, and that’s from an archaeological perspective, rather than a genetics, a DNA perspective.
Now, if you were to truly test this and be able to test it, I love what Dr Perego in a paper, about what you would need, and you’d have to answer the following questions, these six questions: What did the DNA of The Book of Mormon people look like? What is the typical DNA found in the population of Jerusalem in 600 B.C.? Can their DNA be differentiated from the Europeans arriving after 1492? Is the current molecular clock adequate to determine pre from post-Columbian genetic contributions to the new world within the last 3,000 years?
Fifth, what degree of mixture did the Nephites and/or Lamanites experience with local natives? Sixth, how long were the Nephites and/or Lumanites an isolated population after their arrival to the American continent? Obtaining answers to these questions would enable the design of research that could contribute to our understanding of The Book of Mormon as a historical record from a scientific approach.
Without such information, we risk forming conclusions based on personal interpretation and biased assumptions. In fact, the conclusion of the Gospel Topics Essay is fairly strong about this. It says, “Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, the evidence is simply inconclusive.”
“Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today.”
“As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve observed, “It is our position that secular evidence can either prove nor disprove the authenticity of The Book of Mormon.” As far as defenders of The Book of Mormon in this, they talk about this haplogroup X that was found in the Great Lakes area, and I won’t go into a lot, but I will link, Dr Perego says this is a very …
He has a very strong opinion that this could not be the case, that this is very old DNA, and it’s part of Kennewick Man that was found along the Columbia River, and it’s dated back to 9,000 B.C., the bones, carbon dating, The X2a specifically is not found in the Middle East area there, which is the specific type of DNA in the Great Lakes area. I’ll link to that, and there are some things there, but again, the Church says let’s not. The same arguments could apply to the defenders. All this stuff I’ve talked about in this video.
Same challenges either way. I love what Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in his book Plain and Precious Things, “It is the author’s opinion that all the scriptures, including The Book of Mormon, will remain in the realm of faith. Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough possible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith. Believers must be patient during such unfolding.” I love that.
It does feel sometimes like there’s a double standard with Christians knocking down The Book of Mormon from a scientific perspective on this stuff, when in the same realm with the Bible. There’s no way to scientifically prove the DNA or archaeological evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as an example, or the Exodus, or the floods, some of these types of things there that leaders don’t need science to prove for their faith.
I wanted to close with a quote from President Hinckley in the February 2004 Ensign, where he said about The Book of Mormon, “The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself.”
“The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable people may sincerely questions its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it came forth by the gift and power of God, to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” I hope you enjoyed the video, and subscribe for more.
A Reason For Faith – Chp 14 by Dr. Ugo Perego
No Weapon Shall Prosper p171-217 by Dr. Ugo Perego
Shaken Faith Syndrome by Michael Ash
Fairmormon Produced Video with Multiple Speakers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SStDH…
Fairmormon Presentation – Sweden Conference with Dr Ugo Perego: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eb1fD…
Uplift 2017 Gathering – Dr. Ugo Perego: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbg0R…
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.