Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon

Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon

The following are some of the most frequently advanced arguments from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) related to DNA and the Book of Mormon—most notably (or at least most succinctly) in the latter’s brochure, Is an Historical Book of Mormon Compatible with DNA Science? Since these claims have gained some currency within LDS circles and I am frequently asked about them by individuals who have either read my book or otherwise tried to follow developments in this area, I have concluded that it would be best to summarize my responses in an equally succinct manner.

“However, such a scenario [as suggested by Mormon apologists] does not square with what the Book of Mormon plainly states and with what the prophets have taught for 175 years.”

1. The Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis.

Some LDS scientists argue that the Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis and that, since other scientists are not testing the Book of Mormon directly, the data collected by non-Mormon scientists is irrelevant to the origin of Book of Mormon people. The question scientists are asking is: “Who are the ancestors of the American Indians?” In fact, about 7,300 American Indians have been DNA tested in scientific experiments aimed at discovering where their founding ancestors came from. The Book of Mormon claims in its introduction that the Book of Mormon people (the Lamanites) “are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” Most LDS adherents believe, and all the LDS prophets have taught, that Israelites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. It is therefore absurd to claim that what the scientists are discovering about Indian heritage is irrelevant. Scientists are inadvertently asking the same question posed by the Book of Mormon, and LDS beliefs about Indian ancestry fall squarely into the scientific field of anthropology. Molecular anthropologists are uncovering evidence that is directly relevant to LDS beliefs in this area.

2. Mitochondrial DNA only tells us about one ancestral line out of many. If we go back ten generations, it only tells us about 1 in 1,024 of our ancestors. If we go back another ten generations, it only tells us about 1 in over a million of our ancestors.

On the surface this argument appears impressive; but it is an argument with little substance. The vast majority of mitochondrial lineages found throughout the world can be grouped into less than twenty-five major family groups represented by letters A, H, X, and so on. If we look at American Indians, essentially all of their mitochondrial lineages fall into one of five major families: A, B, C, D or X, none of which were derived from Israel. If we go back twenty generations, we are not talking about millions of unknowable mitochondrial lineages in an American Indian’s pedigree chart. We are talking about five lineages. All of those million-odd ancestral slots would be occupied by the same five regional mitochondrial lines. Even those that end up in males and are not passed on to the next generation came from the same five sources. It is possible that some lineages may not have been detected yet or have been lost in time through chance, but these would have been very rare mitochondrial family lines.