Book of Mormon DNA
While critics may believe that Book of Mormon DNA testing entirely undermines Mormon beliefs, it is important to realize that some underlying assumptions may have lead to faulty conclusions. The controversy arises from DNA studies of Native American peoples. Critics maintain that these studies prove conclusively that claims made by the Book of Mormon could not possibly be true.What does DNA testing of Native Americans have to do with Mormon beliefs? A cursory look at the themes presented in the Book of Mormon will make this clear.The Book of Mormon is a religious volume that was published by Joseph Smith in 1830. Joseph Smith was the founder and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—unofficially called the Mormon Church. The Book of Mormon tells a story which outlines three ancient migrations from regions of the Middle East (i.e. Jerusalem) over to the American continent. The most prominent migration found in the Book of Mormon begins with the family of a man named Lehi. It was about 600 B.C. when Lehi and his family left Jerusalem and set sail (relying on the power of God) for an unknown “promised land.” They landed in America, though the exact location is unknown.So here we can see clearly that the claim made by the Book of Mormon is that at least some portion of Native Americans should have ancestors who came from the Middle East. The controversy began when DNA testing demonstrated that some Native Americans are of Asian ancestry. Critics believe this study proves that the Book of Mormon could not possibly be an actual record of ancient Native Americans. However, these conclusions are drawn on the basis of unofficial and individual assumptions about the geographical scope of the events portrayed in the Book of Mormon. It is important to remember that the Book of Mormon was written to be a spiritual text, not a record of the geographical or demographical facts of the ancient American people it describes. Many Mormons and non-Mormons have read the book and made assumptions regarding the numbers and locations of the tribes in the Book of Mormon. They often assume that no one else was on the American continent when Lehi and his company arrived. This possible misconception would make it easy to assume that all human inhabitants in North and South America are descendents of Lehi and his wife; with this assumption it would also be easy to imagine that this group of people and their operations encompassed the whole of the Western Hemisphere. If these underlying assumptions were justifiable, then all ancient inhabitants of the Americas—as well as their descendents—should rightly have genetic tracings to the Middle Eastern world, since Lehi and his company originated there.
However, since the notion of Lehi’s group being the only one to discover and populate the entire Western Hemisphere and to cover all of South, Central, and North America is highly improbable, we must not assume that it is factual. According to experts, it is more likely that Lehi and his family constituted merely an addition to an extensive population that already existed in the Americas. It is believed, though not certain, that the Book of Mormon population was limited to Mesoamerica, ranging in the hundreds of miles, not thousands. For more than fifty years, serious students of the Book of Mormon have read the book with an understanding of these limitations, though most Mormons merely read the book as the spiritual and doctrinal resource that it is, rather than extensively pondering the unspecific geographic implications of the prophetic writings.
As mentioned earlier, it important to know that the Book of Mormon was written to be a spiritual text, not a book for recording genealogies or topographical information. It is also important to note that the bulk of the Book of Mormon covers a limited period of time, from about 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. Understanding the degree to which Book of Mormon people populated the land and knowing their general location is very difficult to surmise with any amount of certainty. An important fact is found in the text of the book. Around 400 A.D., more than half of the Book of Mormon population was wiped out in the course of several wars. Although there were hundreds of thousands of people remaining from this ancient tribe, that number must be put into perspective before any conclusions are made about the effect this single group should have on a modern-day population of Native Americans. Analyzing regions of the American continent will help us to realize how small a number “hundreds of thousands” really is. Not looking at the American continent as a whole, but merely looking at small regions of the United States, we can get an idea of how tiny an area these Book of Mormon people may have occupied. The largest US city is New York City, New York and it has 8,085,742 occupants. The next largest city is Los Angeles, California, hosting 3,819,951 people. Even Tucson, Arizona has 507,658 residents. Looking at a South American city, Buenos Aires, Argentina hosts 12,439,000 occupants. The current 2006 population of the American continent is as follows: North America has 331,473,276 occupants, Central America has 144,550,714, and South America has 370,118,282. Although these numbers are impossible to actually comprehend, they are an important measuring stick for our understanding of how small the group was that remained from the Book of Mormon lineage, especially when we consider that most of Central America, South America, and a significant portion of North America make up the modern descendants of ancient Native Americans.
It is true that unlike 400 A.D., today’s cities have mass-housing units with the capacity to allow more occupants than ever to live in each square mile. It is also a relevant fact that with an ever-increasing population, there are more people on the earth today than ever before. Yet with a booming yearly exponential increase of humanity in the Americas, it is quite easy to comprehend how the DNA of a group containing merely “hundreds of thousands” of people back in 400 A.D would be absolutely drowned in the population increase of the past 1,606 years. There is also the fact that much of the American Indian population was decimated by war and disease as European settlers spread across the continent; some estimates claim that 90% of the Native American population perished. This could have further dwindled the gene pool of any original Native Americans of Middle Eastern descent.
There is nothing about the Book of Mormon that is undermined by DNA studies. It does not claim to stand in opposition of scientific theories that say most Native Americans are derived from northeast Asia. The Book of Mormon merely claims to contain writings of a few specific groups of people who migrated and lived in the Western Hemisphere during a limited period of time. In order for DNA testing to have any hold on these assertions, it would be necessary to prove that never at any point during the time period of 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. was there any group living in the Western Hemisphere who came from the Middle Eastern region. Obviously such a theory would be nearly impossible to justify.
These conclusions leave us where the Book of Mormon authors intended us to be –in a realm of faith. Mormons believe that the book was written by ancient prophets who recorded their experiences and the words of the Lord. They, like the prophets in the Old and New Testament, were given revelations and instructions directly from God. Those things were recorded for the benefit and learning of future generations, that their descendants might believe in Jesus Christ as the living son of God and the Savior of the world.
Reading the Book of Mormon and asking God if it is true is the only way to really know with conviction. Any other attempt will yield uncertain results. If God is the author of the book, then humble seekers will receive a confirmation from Him that the book is true.
Request a Free Book of Mormon –with no obligations– and test this theory.
“Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men.” –Henry B. Eyring
A Brief Review of Murphy and Southerton’s “Galileo Event” by Kevin L. Barney
A Few Thoughts From a Believing DNA Scientist. John M. Butler. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2003. Pp. 36-37
Detecting Lehi’s Genetic Signature: Possible, Probable, or Not? Reviewed By: David A. McClellan. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2003. Pp. 35-90
DNA and the Book of Mormon by David Stewart, M.D
Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations. Matthew Roper