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

Support for the Book of
by Mormon academics

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Support for the Book of Mormon by Daniel Peterson:

Devout Mormon, Daniel Peterson, a professor of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at Brigham Young University, said: "The idea that America may have been overwhelmingly peopled by folks from northeastern Asia is perfectly compatible" with Mormon doctrine. He said that genetic evidence that some Native American ancestors came from the Middle East could easily have been diluted over thousands of years, so that it is no longer detectable.

Thomas W. Murphy, 35, chairperson of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, disagrees with this conclusion. He points to many other studies of groups of people for whom genetic evidence has been used to trace their origins and even the timing of their migration patterns. 1

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Support for the Book of Mormon by Michael Whiting:

Michael Whiting is an assistant professor of integrative biology at Brigham Young University (BYU) -- a university supported by the LDS church. He delivered a speech at BYU on 2003-JAN-29. He said that "We didn't think the arguments [by Murphy] were good enough to respond to." Whiting pointed to two phenomena which could have caused genetic markers from Middle-East ancestors to disappear over the 1,800 years between the time that Lehi arrived in America (circa 600 BCE) and the present time. The two phenomena are:

bullet Genetic drift: Changes in the gene pool of a small population due to chance, and
bullet Founder's Effect: Change in the gene pool of a colonizing population because it is founded by a limited number of individuals from a parent population. 2,3

The abstract of his lecture states, in part:

"...these arguments are scientifically flawed, demonstrate a basic misunderstanding of modern methods of DNA analysis, ignore modern historical research in the Book of Mormon studies, and entirely gloss over fundamental issues in reconstructing historical events via DNA inference....DNA analysis can neither easily refute nor corroborate the lineage history put forth in the Book of Mormon and it does nothing to speak to the authenticity of the text." 4

Murphy responded:

"The abstract includes gross misrepresentations of researchers, including me, who have argued that genetic evidence collected to date fails to support the Mormon claim of an Israelite ancestry for Native Americans, in part or in whole. I...request that you correct these errors in the abstract and the presentation or that you facilitate a response from those of us that you have maligned." 5

Reaction to Whiting's speech was mixed:

bullet Chris Richardson, 23, a senior from Rolla, MO, majoring in microbiology, said:

"I thought it (the presentation) was very effective. It was very easy to understand even if you did not have the background."

bullet Brent Metcalfe, co-editor of the book, American Apocrypha, 6 said:

"I had higher hopes. I was taken back by his flippant responses."

bullet Steven Clark, president of the Salamander Society, a Mormon art and culture group, said:

"What I hope comes of it, is that the President of the Church will make a definite decision of who the Lamanites are." 4

According to reporter Mark Nolte:

"Whiting said the Book of Mormon was not written as a scientific book, and therefore cannot be wholly proved or disproved using scientific methods." 4

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Support for the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner:

Brant Gardner is a software consultant with training in Mesoamerican studies and anthropology. He addressed a Book of Mormon Lands Conference on 2007-OCT-20 in Salt Lake City, UT. The conference is an annual event sponsored by the Book of Mormon Archeological Forum

He criticized Thomas Murphy that the Book of Mormon is "a piece of 19th century fiction." Gardner suggests that Murphy:

"... didn't believe in the book before and went off looking for things that would support his view. He gives us information about what science is doing, but he is making a conclusion that supports what he had already decided."

Gardner suggests that people suffer from what he calls "the CSI effect" -- an over-inflated respect for DNA testing as a result of watching too many TV programs featuring forensic scientists. He said that there are major limitations on what DNA testing can tell us about family lineage. He said:

"Most [DNA] tests trace only a few of a person's ancestors and a small portion of their DNA."

He also suggests that a "genetic bottleneck" may have happened. This is where only a few people from among a population survive some major cataclysmic event so that scientists only are able to test the DNA of descendents of the survivors. Others in the original population might have had very different DNA but they and their DNA did not survive.

He also threw suspicion on the accuracy of DNA evidence. He referred to many historical scenarios where the DNA does not what is known to have happened.

He said:

"What we know today about the Book of Mormon is more right than what we knew 10 years ago, and what we knew 10 years ago had some misconceptions. Our opinions will continue to change in the future, but that doesn't change the truthfulness of the book."

The online version of an article on the conference published in the Deseret Morning News received 385 comments during its first 36 hours. The validity of the Book of Mormon seems to be a hot topic. 7

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Attempts to resolve conflicts between the Book of Mormon and DNA findings:

Many LDS academics and theologians are now promoting a "limited geography" theory.

Older LDS interpretations of the Book of Mormon implied that North American natives are all descendents of Jews who emigrated from the Middle East. The new theory has the Nephites and Lamanites emigrate from Israel, landing in Central America, and not expanding much beyond their landing areas. Thus, they would have little interaction with existing inhabitants of North America, who probably came earlier via a land bridge from Siberia.

Mormon researcher and DNA expert John M. Butler is a supporter of this theory. He has said that:

"... careful examination and demographic analysis of the Book of Mormon record in terms of population growth and the number of people described implies that other groups were likely present in the promised land when Lehi's family arrived, and these groups may have genetically mixed with the Nephites, Lamanites, and other groups. Events related in the Book of Mormon likely took place in a limited region, leaving plenty of room for other Native American peoples to have existed." 8

Studies of DNA from more than 12,000 North American natives has shown no indication of Hebrew ancestry. This wold be compatible with the limited geography theory. One would have to sample DNA from inhabitants of Central America to find traces of Hebrew ancestry in their DNA. We have been unable to find any indication that such a study has been done.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. William Lobdell and Larry B. Stammer, "Mormon Scientist, Church Clash Over DNA Test; Anthropologist may be ousted for questioning teachings about Native American ancestry," LA Times, 2002-DEC-8, at:
  2. Mark Nolte, "Book of Mormon DNA report refuted by BYU professor," Brigham Young University, at:
  3. "DNA Glossary," at:
  4. Michael Whiting, "Campus Lecture: Does DNA Evidence Refute the Authenticity of the Book of Mormon?: Responding to the Critics," at:
  5. "DNA and the Book of Mormon people," LDLampoon, at:
  6. 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
  7. Carrie Moore,"DNA claims rebutted on Book of Mormon," Deseret Morning News, 2007-OCT-23, at:
  8. Peggy Stack, "Single word change in Book of Mormon speaks volumes," Salt Lake Tribune, 2007-NOV-08. This is no longer online. However a copy is at:

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 Home page > Christianity > Christian faith groups > LDS  > DNA > here

or Home page > Christianity > Denominational families > LDS  > DNA > here

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Copyright 2002 to 2008, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-FEB-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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