Church releases interesting study of DNA and the Book of Mormon

The Church web site includes this interesting study of the Book of Mormon and DNA.

To sum up:

Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, the evidence is simply inconclusive. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck and genetic drift make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

This study seems like basic common sense to me. Take some time to read it.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

12 thoughts on “Church releases interesting study of DNA and the Book of Mormon

  1. Happy that the church removed the Book of Mormon intro that stated the Lamanites were the “principal” ancestors of the American Indians, and replaced it with “among the ancestors.” A great example of how we run into problems when we assume too much.

  2. And wow. Amazing to see such an in-depth and accurate discussion of population genetics–one of the building blocks of evolutionary biology–at the church website. With fantastic footnotes. This is great.

  3. This statement regarding DNA and historicity of the Book of Mormon is important. It essentially adopts openness to the Limited Geography approach to the Book of Mormon. It notes that even the statement first added in 1981 about “principal ancestors” assumes that there were others present. The notion of some of the young Mormon scholars that the Church ought to back off of historicity is demonstrated to be quite misguided.

    What is disconcerting to me with the “new generation” of “Mormon” scholars is that we see nothing — nada, zilch, niente, zero — work exploring the Book of Mormon as an historical text. Indeed, what I see is chiding from some that even taking the historicity of scriptures seriously is tantamount to seeing God is a misogynist, a bigot and so forth. (I always ignore arguments that amount to name calling and not much else). There seems to be wholesale abandonment by the entire generation of so called Mormon scholars of the work of an earlier generation represented by the late FARMS. I do not see anything of value that the “new” approach to Book of Mormon by these younger scholars has contributed. It is easy to criticize, it is much harder to offer anything of value.

  4. Just to be clear, nobody at M* thinks that God is a child-sacrificing misogynist and racial bigot. Only people with an axe to grind or reading comprehension problems actually think that is what the article says. The point of the article (as Book well knows) is that from our limited perspective God does things that we cannot understand, and we may see such actions as bigoted, misogynistic, etc. In reality, God acts in many ways beyond our comprehension.

  5. @Blake
    Sorry for the wall of text that follows, but a lot of interesting thoughts as per you assertion that none of the new generation has risen to the challenge of defending/approaching the historicity of the Book of Mormon. [I’m sure I could insert any number of quotes from Neal Maxwell that would be apropos to this topic…but I don’t have them close to hand, and this got really long anyway.] Also, apologies if this is considered thread-jacking…

    Your assertion that there is absolutely no advocacy or work exploring the BoM as historical text is not as absolute as you make it seem. I would note that there are some young scholars that are committed to studies on the historical nature of the BoM and/or studies that presuppose and rely upon the historicity of BoM authorship. Stephen Smoot, Neal Rappleye, Andrew Smith (me), among others – all of whom have published in either the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies or Interpreter in the last year or two. Personally, I know quite a number of other young scholars who are equally committed to such an understanding, but who have not published anything on such to the present.

    But a major issue for many (if not all of them) is the fear and anxiety of the influence such publications can have on career trajectories and potential employment. Sadly, it is a fact that not all of those LDS students who go through doctoral programs in religious studies or related fields will get a job at one of BYU’s campuses. Candidates with impeccable credentials and commitment to the Church may or may not be given such an opportunity for any number of reasons, none of which are within their control (i.e. there are lot of other considerations beyond level of testimony, education, and scholarly aptitude). Thus, young LDS scholars must keep other venues and potential career opportunities open and publishing apologetically or even on topics strictly of interest to LDS audiences (of which BoM as historical text certainly is one) is problematic for a number of reasons:

    First- such an action (taking a strong, religiously motivated stance) can have adverse effects on job opportunities and advancement. Given the political leanings of most higher education institutions at the moment, coming across in a CV not only as an active LDS but having academic, especially apologetic, publications on such a topic (no matter how well reasoned, argued, or presented) will almost certainly raise a red-flag in the minds of search committees, if not a straight dismissal from consideration. Adding the Church’s absolute stance on sexual morality and defense of family in the face of increasing normalization (largely driven by academic discourse) of alternative lifestyles leads to young LDS academics being anxious over what impact such studies would have on their possibility of getting and keeping a job. This is amplified all the more for those who already have jobs, but are working through tenure track- their possibilities for advancement are usually based on publications in field specific tier journals, and strongly apologetic approaches to LDS scripture (or even those that assume historicity on the part of the paper) could harm prospects for advancement.

    Second, students at the doctoral level (and potentially, junior faculty) don’t have lots of time to put in on extra papers to get them to a publishable quality. To do so for something that is outside of your main field of study (while potentially neglecting that field of study) could amount to career suicide as well, since the key to getting an academic job right out of graduate school or promotions in career is having presentations and publications on the topic one is pursuing. Considering that there are no specific Mormon Studies programs that offer a full degree in Mormon Studies (for instance, at Claremont one can include Mormon studies as one area of emphasis among others within the larger program. One cannot get a Master’s or PhD in Mormon Studies) nor are there many open positions that would be looking for such, committing to publishing on topics of LDS scripture can also be considered risky.

    I believe, more than likely, that these fears of negative influence on careers, combined with the lack of time (which is compounded even more for young scholars with young families, and all the other time commitments of active LDS living), can make the general dearth of writing on such topics among rising generations more understandable. The uncertainties of the prospects of achieving an academic career are fraught enough with the glut of PhDs all searching for similar positions, without complicating the issue by the candidate have doors closed simply because of certain types of publications. Forty years ago, at the start of FARMS, one could conceivably publish in both types of venues (explicitly LDS, apologetic works and more secular academics) without much of a bleeding influence. All the more so if you were an established scholar already. A few decades and many changes in society later, particularly the culture wars, etc…things are more problematic.

    All of this analysis could also apply to those in different fields, albeit not as strongly- e.g. an engineer who writes on LDS topics on the side, as long as he/she is able to continue with his/her other work, would find much less pushback (although it is also possible he/she would see such).

    Now, notice that I said “understandable” above. There is the whole aspect of fear vs faith, and we should hope that more would be willing to take that chance, as they are moved upon by the Holy Spirit to do so. The Lord will provide and prosper those who put their trust in him, of course. But the realities of academics today make it difficult, uncertain, and problematic.

  6. REW: Your sobering comment made me sad indeed. I chose not to go into academia for some of the very reasons you mentioned; but mostly to avoid departmental politics and to get a job that would actually support my family. The pressures that you mention are no doubt all too real — and a stinging indictment of modern academia that too many buy into. Accommodating the academic bias is kind of like selling one’s soul to the devil, isn’t it? What kind of academic system pretends to openness and liberal acceptance of all points of view and then systematically weeds out anyone with a different point of view than the views acceptable to the DNC? This intolerance while pretending to liberality is simple hypocrisy — and often in the name of the last great moral truth that we can agree on, the ever-over-used mantra of tolerance. The “debate” on these issues is over before it begins because these closed-minded bigots will only permit one side of the argument to be fairly presented.

    You are also correct about time pressures — although the secret to productivity is passion. Passion creates magical reservoirs of time to complete what one truly cares about and is committed to. Passion also creates courage to believe that one can make credible to even closed minded bigots as interlocutors that what one has to say is worth consideration or is presented with such virtue and excellence that it must be respected regardless of deep disagreement.

    I do not mean to be too hard on the young scholars who face just the pressures you have mentioned; I really mean to indict those who have sold their souls to the very reprehensible system of academic intolerance that you so effectively expose in its chilling effect. Their arrogance and intolerance are beneath contempt.

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