Saturday, July 12, 2008

DNA & the Book of Mormon: Multiple Approaches

Signature Book's take on the diversity of apologetic approaches to the DNA & Lehite identification problem
Fair-weather Friends at FARMS and FAIR
: The Gloves Come Off

Traditionally, LDS faithful have assumed that all or most Native Americans are descendants of Lehi and Mulek. In recent years, DNA studies have shown this to be untrue. Now apologetic groups are taking sides. To keep score, keep in mind that on one side of the debate are BYU's Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and its off-campus affiliate, the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR). These groups have the backing of the LDS public relations department.

On the other side of the ring are Rod Meldrum and his traveling show called DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography, along with its associated website and DVD. Meldrum has the backing of so-called diffusionists such as Wayne May, publisher of the magazine, Ancient American: Archaeology of the Americas before Columbus. He also has the support of at least one emeritus General Authority, Hartman Rector Jr., who accompanies Meldrum around the country to stage symposia on the topic, as well as of Mormon bishops who send mass e-mails to their congregations trumpeting Meldrum's claims. It's the biggest thing since My Turn on Earth.

This week, Allen Wyatt from FAIR ridiculed Meldrum in a formal statement. Among other things, Wyatt said:

It would appear that Mr. Meldrum has, in approximately three years of research, uncovered the "verification" (read that as "proof") that has somehow escaped prophets, leaders, scholars, and students for most of the past two centuries. And he is on a mission to bring that knowledge to the world, starting with the Church.

Wyatt continued with these objections, given as bullet points:

  • Mr. Meldrum has attempted to assert revelation for those outside of his stewardship, and has used that revelation as a substitute for solid scholarship.

  • The DVD contains much material that is misrepresented because the author is unfamiliar with the large body of work that addresses the very topics he seeks to address.

  • The DVD plants erroneous concepts and expectations in the minds of viewers, making them easier targets for hostile critics when these errors are inevitably trumpeted by enemies of the Church.

Meldrum responded by accusing FAIR of dealing in "lies, conjecture and innuendo" and that Lou Midgley, associate editor of the FARMS Review, made harassing phone calls. Meldrum says he has written a sixteen page response to FAIR to be available at some future date. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Orson Scott Card has joined the fray with his own screed to end all screeds on the topic, writing in the Deseret News that the idea that most Native Americans are descended from Lehi is an idea cooked up by anti-Mormons and that DNA evidence is irrelevant: "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?" He says that "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. "Card is most worried about "young Mormons who 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," he continues, "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 commited to unbelief find a spin that serves their purpose." And that, brothers and sisters, would be the last word on the topic, at least in the mind of the science fiction writer Scott Card.

No comments: