How DNA Divides LDS Apologists
The emergence of molecular research on the ancestry of American Indians in the last decade has sparked a flurry of activity in the LDS apologetic community. It has been unsettling for many to learn the DNA of living American Indians is most similar to the DNA of populations living in the vicinity of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. While American Indian DNA appears to be distantly related to Middle Eastern DNA, if there were any Middle Eastern groups who entered the New World as recently as 2500 years ago and built large civilizations, their DNA has disappeared and their civilizations have vanished without a trace. The mainstream academic community has been far less surprised by the DNA research. There has long been a scientific consensus that American Indian civilizations arose independently of any Old World influences or contributions and that the principal ancestors of the American Indians began entering the continent via the Bering land bridge about 20,000 years ago. Sadly, Mormons are still expected to believe things about American Indians which are not true.
Mormons may be excused for thinking LDS scholars are united in their defense of the Book of Mormon in the face of the DNA findings. However, LDS apologists come in all stripes and colors, and their apologetic responses frequently contradict the arguments of their colleagues. Some refuse to concede any ground in the DNA battle, holding fast to the widely held traditional view that the Lehites played on center stage in the New World pre-history (Hemispheric Geographists). Most apologists prefer the safety in numbers offered by the now quasi-official view that the Book of Mormon events occurred in a small region of Mesoamerica (Limited Geographist). In this theory, championed by John Sorenson and his followers at the Neal A Maxwell Institute at BYU, the Lehites were a small group of colonists who entered a heavily populated New World. Consequently, they made an undetectable contribution to the American Indian gene pool. Another theory with a rapidly growing army of supporters argues that the Lehite and Jaredite civilizations were located in the vicinity of New York State in North America (North American Geographist). Yet others go to another extreme, believing that the Lehites did not even reach the Americas, but rather colonized other lands such as the Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia (Alternative Geographists).
It is impossible—and I might add rather pointless—to produce a comprehensive response to such a divided apologetic barrage. The task is made somewhat easier by the fact that many of the most hostile apologetic attacks on the critics could also be directed against competing LDS apologetic theories. Before commenting on specific apologetic arguments, I would like to respond to a common argument LDS apologists frequently direct at critics. Most claim the critics are setting up a straw man—that Mormons believe all American Indians are Lamanites—and then incinerate this belief using the DNA evidence. In the act of making this claim, apologists are constructing their very own straw man. There is no need to focus solely on the traditional geography as the DNA evidence severely calls into question all of the competing apologetic theories.
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