Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon
by Simon G. Southerton
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=E2=80=94most notably (or at least most succinctl=
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.
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.
3. We don't know what Israelite DNA from Book of Mormon times looks like.
We know that Lehi and his associates in the Book of Mormon were
Israelites, and we know a great deal about the DNA lineages of living
people whose ancestors were Israelites reaching back 2600 years ago.
Israelite DNA lineages belong to the same family groups found in
European populations: the H, I, J, K, N, T, U, V, W and X groups.
Essentially all Europeans and Israelites possess one of these
lineages. In fact, other Middle Eastern populations such as the
Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese and other Arabic groups have similar
mitochondrial DNA lineages belonging to these families. There is a
smattering (<0.4%) of lineages in American Indian populations that are
clearly, exclusively of European origin, most probably from Spain
rather than from the Middle East. However, scientists justifiably
assume that these lineages represent post-Columbus intermixing. The
lineages in question are most common in North American tribes that had
the greatest impact with Europeans and are very uncommon in
Mesoamerica, which FARMS claims is the only "plausible" site for the
Book of Mormon. In addition, European mitochondrial lineages are
extremely rare in Polynesia.
4. The X lineage could be evidence for Israelite ancestry.
American Indian X lineages share a common ancestral lineage with
Siberian X lineages. It is also clear that American Indian X lineages
have been in the New World for in excess of 15,000 years. American
Indian X lineages are distantly related to Israelite or European X
lineages. In fact, most Israelite X lineage are now grouped in a
different family, the N family, because they are so different from
Asian and American X lineages. The X line has also been found in
ancient remains that pre-date the Book of Mormon period.
5. The mitochondrial DNA lineages tell us nothing about the male lineages.
This is correct, but Y chromosome studies among Native Americans show
equally strong links to Asia (>90%) as do studies among Polynesians
(>90%). There is a higher presence of lineages that are of exclusively
European origin, but this is not surprising given that males,
beginning with Spanish explorers, dominated the early European
conquest of the Americas and Polynesia.
6. The wives of the early Book of Mormon colonists (Sariah and others)
may have been Asian since their ancestry is not specifically
mentioned, and they could have brought the A, B, C, D, and X lineages
to the Americas.
It is exceedingly unlikely that Asians carrying Asian lineages
traveled to Israel where they intermarried with the ancestors of the
Lehites and Mulekites. If this did occur, we would expect to see (but
do not see) Asian lineages among Middle Eastern populations. The
amount of DNA variation found in each of the five American Indian
female DNA lineage families indicates that they have been present in
the Americas for at least 15,000 years, possibly longer. This predates
the existence of Israel by many thousands of years.
7. The bottleneck effect, genetic drift, and other technical problems
would prevent us from detecting Israelite genes.
In 600 BC there were probably several million American Indians living
in the Americas. If a small group of Israelites, say less than thirty,
entered such a massive native population, it would be very hard to
detect their genes today. However, such a scenario does not square
with what the Book of Mormon plainly states and with what the prophets
have taught for 175 years.
8. When God cursed American Indians and changed their skin color, as
reported in the Book of Mormon, God could have changed their DNA as
If so, why would God change the DNA so it matched Asian DNA? As
Latter-day Saints, we have already offended Blacks and the Indians.
Are we going to offend Asians now, as well?
Author's note: I may respond to further apologetic claims as more appear.