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Attacks on the validity of the
Book of Mormon using DNA data

DNA studies by two investigators

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1. Thomas Murphy's analysis of DNA data:

A number of investigators have used genetic and blood testing studies to show that Native Americans are related closely to the inhabitants of Siberia . However, Thomas W. Murphy, 35, chairperson of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, WA went further. He was raised as a Mormon in southern Idaho, and has said that he is "not an active member of the local congregation, but I'm very active in the Mormon intellectual community." 1 He decided to examine whether DNA analysis would confirm that many, perhaps most, Native Americans are descended from ancient Israelites. According to the LA Times,

"He analyzed data collected by a multimillion-dollar 'molecular genealogy' project at Brigham Young [University] as well as other, similar projects that track ancestry from people worldwide via DNA in blood samples."

Murphy concluded that over the last few thousand years, modern-day Jews and modern-day Native Americans do not share common ancestors. If they did, then genetic markers would be found in Natives identical to those in the descendents of ancient Hebrews. He concluded that: "the Book of Mormon is a piece of 19th century fiction. And that means that we have to acknowledge sometimes Joseph Smith lied." However, he believes that "the book might be fiction, but inspired as well."

He contributed a chapter in the anthology "American Apocrypha" in which he reported the results of his research. 2 It was taken from his doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington.

He faced a church disciplinary council, scheduled for 2002-DEC-8, at which he might have been excommunicated for his beliefs -- probably be the first Mormon expelled for genetic research. 3 He concluded that:

"the odds for staying in the church are overwhelming arrayed against me. The Mormon faith is going to survive one way or another. The Catholic Church survived Galileo, but they first had to admit they were wrong."

(Galileo was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in 1633 CE for claiming that the Earth orbits the sun -- a belief that the church has since embraced.)

Maxine Hanks, who was excommunicated in 1993 because of her feminist writings, also picked up on the Galileo theme by saying "Tom Murphy is the Galileo for Mormons." Michael Whiting, a DNA specialist and an assistant professor at the LDS's Brigham Young University said that Murphy's case marks "the first biological challenge" of Mormon scripture. He said that the comparison of Whiting to Galileo is "inappropriate...The difference is Galileo got the science right. I don't think Murphy has."

Murphy's supporters had planned a series of candlelight vigils on 2002-DEC-8 in as many as ten U.S. cities, including one outside the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, UT. At the last minute, Murphy's heresy hearing was suspended indefinitely. Matthew Latimer, president of the Lynnwood LDS Stake, released a statement saying:

"Decisions relating to spiritual welfare are a private matter between each member and his or her local church leader. Unfortunately, this matter has received significant media attention, and Mr. Murphy himself has stated publicly that my decision to hold a disciplinary council is emotionally very difficult for him. In light of these considerations, I think it is best not to proceed at this time."

Most of the vigils were cancelled, except for the one at church headquarters in Salt Lake City. According to the Associated Press:

"In a Saturday letter to supporters, Murphy said the intent of that gathering was 'to bring attention to the racism and sexism in Mormon scripture and to object to homophobia and intellectual intimidation in the LDS Church.' " 3

In a written statement on 2002-DEC-7, he wrote:

"The postponement of this disciplinary council is truly a victory for all those who favor an honest search for truth and are willing to speak out against the injustices of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-intellectualism."

In an interview the following day, he said that he hopes that the postponement:

"... means it's now OK to speak about the Book of Mormon as a work of 19th century fiction...And I am also hopeful that the church is willing to abandon its teaching that a dark skin is a curse from God"

In 2005, he said that DNA research makes church leadership uncomfortable because it shows the Book of Mormon to be:

''...racist and factually wrong. The church has a long history of using disciplinary councils to intimidate scholars who shed light on uncomfortable truths.'' 4

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Author's commentary:

bullet The LDS Church teaches that Native Americans are descended from Lamanites who were "heathen descendants of ancient Israel." The Book of Mormon does not say that the dark skin of Native Americans is a curse from God. Rather, it is considered a mark which symbolizes a curse from God on the ancestors of the Natives. Murphy believes that most Native Americans consider the claim to be denigrating.
bullet The conclusions of these investigators may be meaningless. If God gave the Lamanites dark skin in such a way that they would pass the skin color on to their descendents, then God would have had to change the DNA of -- as a minimum -- all of the sperm and ova produced by the male and female Lamanites. Fortunately, for a God who is omnipotent, this would not be a difficult task. However, the change in the DNA might well eliminate all signs of Jewish DNA markers as an unexpected byproduct. So, if the Book of Mormon is true, then there is no real reason to expect to see traces of Jewish DNA among modern-day Native Americans.
bullet If God did change the skin color of the Lamanites, this action would be one more incidence of transferal of sin, guilt and punishment from the guilty to the innocent. The guilty would be those who took part in the extermination of the Nephites circa 385 CE. The innocent would be the non-combatants among the Lamanites, including their succeeding generations down to the present time -- an interval of over 16 centuries. Transferal from the guilty to the innocent is a theme running through the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, so there is no reason to expect the theme to be missing from the Book of Mormon.

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2. Study of DNA evidence by Simon Southerton:

Simon Southerton wrote another book which uses DNA evidence to contradict the Book of Mormon's teachings. It is titled "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church," and was published in 2004. Referring to the LDS' teachings on the origin of Native Americans, he said: "We know from evidence that that's completely false. The church needs to modify its doctrine.''

He is a Mormon and was ordered to appear at a hearing before church leaders in Canberra, Australia on 2005-JUL-31 on a charge of adultery. He suggests that church authorities have decided to try him on that charge rather than on apostasy because the former is easier to prove.

Tom Kimball, spokesperson for Signature Books, the publishers of Southerton's book, predicted that their author could be the seventh of their authors removed from church rolls. Previous authors have been chastised for taking positions on feminism, church history and philosophy. Southerton would be the first disciplined for scientific work. Kimball said: ''Especially if (the author) is an active Latter-day Saint, it has to make them think twice about how far they want to take it.'  4

In an Email sent to the Associated Press, Southerton revealed that he was excommunicated by the LDS. Although he was originally charged with adultery, he was excommunicated for "having an inappropriate relationship with a woman." He has allegedly admitted to the relationship two years previously while he was separated from his wife. He and his wife have since reconciled. Jane Southerton testified in support of her husband. The church leaders indicated that they were not avoiding the "issue of apostasy and that the charge they were investigating was more important."

Southerton explained in his Email:

"I am now convinced that they were intent on avoiding a council on the charge of apostasy.  I was clearly instructed before the meeting that if I attempted to talk about 'DNA' and my apostasy that the council would be immediately shut down and that it would be completed in my absence."

Ron Priddis, managing director of Signature Books confirmed that Southerton is the seventh of their authors to be excommunicated by the LDS for publishing a book that is critical of church beliefs. He called the decision "unfortunate for Simon and his family." He said: "We just wish there was a more open, healthier climate for the discussion of matters of science and religion."

The article in the Daily Herald "Central Utah's Newspaper" received 120 comments from readers about this story. 5

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  1. Peggy Andersen, "Disciplinary hearing for Mormon writer postponed indefinitely," Associated Press, 2002-DEC-8, at:
  2. Thomas W. Murphy, "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics;" part of Dan Vogel & Brent Metcalfe, Eds., "American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormons," Signature Books, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  3. "Mormon Church May Penalize Grad Student," Associated Press, 2002-NOV-30, at:
  4. Jennifer Dobner, "Another Mormon author facing excommunication," Casper Star Tribune, 2005-JUL-17, at:
  5. Jennifer Dobner, "Author excommunicated from LDS Church," Associated Press, 2005-AUG-05, at:

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Copyright 2002 to 2007, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-OCT-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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