Facebook Twitter

In the Village: The genetics of the Book of Mormon

SHARE In the Village: The genetics of the Book of Mormon

I KEEP HEARING FROM ex-Mormons or wavering Saints that their testimony problems come from "science." Yet when I hear which particular scientific point is causing them problems, I realize they're suffering from a serious misdiagnosis.

It isn't "science" that's causing their doubts. Rather, their doubts are causing them to seize on science — or what they think is science — as an excuse.

I'll begin with an old example — John C. Kunich's "Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes" from the June 1990 Sunstone magazine. With a great show of scholarliness, Kunich compares the population figures deducible from the Book of Mormon text with the estimated global population growth for the period of about .04 percent per year.

Simple arithmetic then shows that the Book of Mormon population could not possibly have derived from the original settlers — Nephite or Mulekite.

Once you allow the possibility that implied populations in the Book of Mormon include recruitment of and intermar-

riage with indigenous populations, which are then viewed forever after as "Nephite" and "Lamanite" on political, cultural or religious grounds, rather than genetic or racial, Kunich's problem simply disappears.

If the text fought against this interpretation, there would still be a problem. But it does not. Instead, this interpretation illuminates other portions of the text, unrelated to population.

Kunich and those who took him seriously were not following science to its logical conclusions. They were looking for reasons to disbelieve the Book of Mormon, and seized upon a misunderstood scientific "fact" as a way to persuade others to join them in their disbelief.

The July 2008 Scientific American has a wonderful article about the way mitochondrial DNA, Y-chromosomes and haplotypes are being used to track the gross movements of populations throughout history.

Naturally, the eager-to-prove-the-Book-of-Mormon-false group will triumphantly proclaim that since the haplotypes, mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomes all agree that the origin of native Americans is traceable only to Siberia and/or southeast Asia, the Book of Mormon is thus proven false.

Scientists and students of science will hardly be taken in by such a claim. But many naive people who lack the knowledge or experience to recognize a pseudo-science scam when they see one may well face a completely needless crisis of faith.

I especially worry about our most vulnerable population: young Mormons who are in an age when doubt comes naturally. They are most susceptible to such fakery, not because they "lack faith," but because they are hungry for truth, and are likely to take "facts" over testimonies.

So let me explain why perfectly good and useful science — which the tracing of DNA in large populations certainly is — turns into junk science when those who are committed to unbelief find a spin that serves their purpose.

1. Haplotype, mitochondria and Y-chromosome tracking is done using tiny samples from the populations in any given area. This is necessary and perfectly acceptable, because the scientists are not trying to eliminate the possibility of intermixing of populations, but rather trying to trace the general ancestry of large groups.

2. Any variation from the predominant DNA strains will be interpreted, correctly, as "contamination" and either disregarded or removed from the study as long as it exists in only trivial amounts. The only question that would be hard for them to answer is when the contamination took place.

3. Since the dominant strain that populated the Americas shares a common ancestry with Fertile Crescent ancestors, some haplotypes that might have pointed to the Middle East are already in the entire population and therefore invisible.

4. Many of their findings deal with populations that have been tracked through history. Yet the genetic record does not account for "trivial" population movements like the conquest of India, Persia, all of Europe and much of Asia Minor by Indo-European tribes, or repeated conquests of China by borderland


If you can't track major conquests genetically, even though we know from the historical and archaeological record that they occurred, and if small contaminations are ignored, why would any educated person expect that these methods would reveal even a hint of a group of only a few dozen culturally elite people who arrived in America 2,600 years ago and (probably) almost immediately intermarried with the local population?

Also, the Book of Mormon says that 1,600 years ago there was an attempt to eradicate precisely those people most likely to have maintained some genetic distinction. It is obvious that the real science on this subject simply has nothing to say about the claims of the Book of Mormon.

When unbelievers claim to have found scientific disproof of the Book of Mormon, they usually understand neither the science nor the book.