Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon
By Simon G. Southerton
For 175 years the leaders and general membership of the Mormon Church have believed American Indians and Polynesians are descended from Israelites based on their understanding of the Book of Mormon. We now know from DNA studies that the ancestors of these native peoples were essentially all derived from Asia. Latter-day Saint apologists have claimed the DNA research has “little or no bearing on the question of Book of Mormon historicity” and that it is all a “contrived controversy,” blown out of all proportion by critics with another agenda.1 Apologetic attempts to hose down the problem rely entirely on sweeping reinterpretations of the Book of Mormon narrative that reduce the Lehite and Mulekite colonization to a minor incursion in an as yet unknown corner of the Americas.2
The following are some of the most frequently advanced arguments from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) related to DNA and the Book of Mormon. Since these claims have gained some currency within LDS circles and I am frequently asked about them by individuals who have either read my book or otherwise tried to follow developments in this area, I have concluded that it would be best to summarize my responses in an equally succinct manner.
1. The Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis.
Some LDS scientists argue that the Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis and that, since other scientists are not testing the Book of Mormon directly, the data collected by non-Mormon scientists is irrelevant to the origin of Book of Mormon people.3 The question scientists are asking is: “Who are the ancestors of the American Indians?” As of March 2006, 8,223 American Indians have been DNA tested in scientific experiments aimed at discovering where their founding ancestors came from. About 99.5% of their maternal DNA lineages are most closely related to Asian DNA. Most LDS adherents believe, and all the LDS prophets have taught, that Israelites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. This belief is based on their understanding of the Book of Mormon narrative. It is therefore absurd to claim that what the scientists are discovering about Indian heritage is irrelevant. Scientists are inadvertently asking the same question posed by the Book of Mormon. LDS beliefs about American Indian ancestry fall squarely into the scientific field of anthropology. Molecular anthropologists are uncovering evidence that is directly relevant to LDS beliefs in this area.
2. Mitochondrial DNA only tells us about one ancestral line out of many. If we go back ten generations, it only tells us about 1 in 1,024 of our ancestors. If we go back another ten generations, it only tells us about one in over a million of our ancestors.
On the surface this argument appears impressive, but it is an argument with little substance. Virtually all mitochondrial lineages found throughout the world can be grouped into less than twenty-five major family groups represented by letters A, H, X, and so on. In the case of the American Indians, essentially all of their mitochondrial lineages fall into one of five major families: A, B, C, D, or X, none of which were derived from a recent migration from Israel. If we go back twenty generations in an American Indian’s pedigree chart, it is extremely likely that those same five lineages will occupy virtually all the million-odd ancestral slots. Even those mitochondrial lineages that end up in males and are not passed on to the next generation came from the same five sources. It is possible that some lineages may not have been detected yet or have been lost in time through chance, but these would have been very rare mitochondrial family lines.
3. We don’t know enough about the genetic background of Book of Mormon peoples.
We know that Lehi and Mulek were members of two different Israelite tribes and that they and their families lived in Jerusalem. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that both the Lehites and Mulekites were Israelites, or at the very least closely related to people living in the Middle East. We know a considerable amount about the DNA lineages of living people whose ancestors were Israelites reaching back 2600 years ago. Israelite DNA lineages belong to the same family groups found in European populations: the H, I, J, K, N, T, U, V, W, and X groups. Other Middle Eastern populations such as the Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese, and other Arabic groups have similar mitochondrial DNA lineages belonging to these families. Essentially all Europeans and Middle Easterners possess one of these lineages.
There is a smattering (<0.5%) of lineages in American Indian populations that are clearly, exclusively of European origin, most probably from Spain rather than from the Middle East. Scientists justifiably assume that these lineages represent post-Columbus intermixing. The lineages in question are found at very low frequency all over the Americas. They are most common in North American tribes that had the greatest impact with Europeans and are very uncommon in Mesoamerica, which FARMS claims is the only “plausible” site for the Book of Mormon. In addition, European mitochondrial lineages are extremely rare in Polynesia.
John Butler claims that “reference samples” of DNA, presumably of Israelites who lived in Jerusalem 2,600 years ago, are required to provide a “calibration point” with which to compare the DNA of living Amerindians.4 Without this, he says, scientists would be “guessing” or “story telling” to fill in the gaps in a populations ancestry. It is absurd to suggest that scientists would need DNA from 2600 years ago in order to provide a calibration point for DNA research. LDS apologists have already conceded that DNA research has revealed that American Indians are essentially all descended from Asian ancestors.5 But DNA studies have not yet been carried out on ancient remains of Asians, or American Indians, that predate the migrations to the New World. Even Butler himself is persuaded “that almost all Native Americans tested thus far possess genetic signatures closely resembling modern-day Asians” in spite of the missing calibration point.
One of the attractions of working with DNA is that it carries its own history within its sequence. People who are related to each other carry DNA that shares common spelling changes that have accumulated throughout time. Anthropologists don’t need an ancient DNA sample to confirm relatedness because related DNA lineages by definition share common DNA spelling changes that occurred in their ancestors. These informative DNA spellings are rarely lost over the generations; rather, they are inherited down the generations.
4. The X lineage could be evidence for Israelite ancestry.
I was surprised to read last year an apologetic claim that 7% of the DNA collected from indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere matched DNA collected from North Africa and the Middle East.6 The lineage in question, the X lineage, was claimed to be “different from similar DNA in Northeast Asia.” The claims were no doubt well intended but they were incorrect. Amerindian X lineages occur at a frequency of about 1.6% across the New World. The lineage is distantly related to X lineages found in Asians as well as X and the related lineage N which occur in the Middle East and Europe.
In order for the X lineage to be considered possible evidence of Lamanite DNA, apologists need to explain away the following facts:
•Amerindian DNA lineages belonging to the X family are at least as diverse as the lineages belonging to the A, B, C, and D lineage families, meaning they have been present in the New World for about as long.7
•The X lineage occurs at a frequency of 8 percent in Canadian tribes and 3 percent in tribes from the United States. To date, the X lineage has not been found in Central or South America, where the three major New World civilizations are located.8 The vast majority of apologists consider Mesoamerica to be the only plausible setting for the Book of Mormon narrative because of the Book of Mormon’s description of major populations living in complex and literate cultures.
•There is evidence that X-lineage DNA has been isolated from ancient remains that pre-date the Jaredite and Lehite time period by thousands of years.9
•Amerindian X lineages are distantly related to X lineages found in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. They are estimated to have separated from these populations over 30,000 years ago—no later than 17,600 years ago.10 The fact that Asian X lineages directly ancestral to American Indian X lineages have not been found is not evidence that they were brought into the Americas by non-Asian people. Deeper sampling of Siberian populations is likely to shed more light on this lineage’s Asian ancestry.
5. Does the Q lineage family provide a link between ancient Israelites and Native Americans?
No. The Q (Y-chromosome) haplotype is prominent among the Kets (93.7 percent) and Selkups (66.4 percent ) of Siberia and among Native Americans (over 80 percent). Lineage Q also appears in European Jews (5 percent), but is rare in the Middle East. Scientists suspect its presence among European (Ashkenazi) Jewry is by way of the Khazar people who converted to Judaism in the eighth century. The Khazars inhabited what is now the Ukraine but later migrated into Eastern Europe and mixed with the Diaspora there. It is likely that the Q lineage arose in central Asia thousands of years before the Jews came into existence and it moved into Europe from Asia.
The Native American Q lineage is a unique form known as Q3, a lineage which is absent in European and Jewish populations. Y lineages most closely related to Q3 occur in Siberia among populations also sharing related mitochondrial DNA with Native Americans. The occurrence of this distinctive version of the Q haplotype confirms once again the antiquity of the Native American migration from Siberia into the New World and the population’s subsequent isolation from its founding group.11
6. The mitochondrial DNA lineages tell us nothing about the male lineages.
This is correct, but Y-chromosome studies among Native Americans show very strong links to Asia (>85%), as do studies among Polynesians (>90%). There is a much higher presence of lineages that are of European or African origin, but this is not surprising given that males, beginning with Spanish explorers, dominated the early European conquest of the Americas and Polynesia.
7. The wives of the early Book of Mormon colonists (Sariah and others) may have been Asian since their ancestry is not specifically mentioned, and they could have brought the A, B, C, D, and X lineages to the Americas.
It is exceedingly unlikely that Asians carrying Asian lineages travelled to Israel to intermarry with the ancestors of the Lehites and Mulekites. If this did occur, we would expect to see (but do not see) Asian lineages among Middle Eastern populations. The amount of DNA variation found in each of the five American Indian female DNA lineage families indicates that they have been present in the Americas for at least 15,000 years, possibly longer. This predates the existence of Israel by many thousands of years.
8. DNA testing of modern individuals often fails to detect all previous genetic lineages due to lineage extinction. Israelite DNA would have been swamped out in the New World due to the bottleneck effect, genetic drift, and other technical problems which would prevent us from detecting Israelite genes.
The argument that Lamanite DNA may have gone extinct strains reinterpretations of the Book of Mormon to breaking point. In this reinvention of Lamanite destiny, the Book of Mormon people are reduced to an insignificant side show in American history, so insignificant that we would find it hard to detect their genes today. In this scenario, American Indians swamped Amerisraelite populations soon after their arrival. The Book of Mormon plainly states that the descendants of the Lehites and Mulekites were not a minor group of people swallowed up by surrounding Native Americans. They formed substantial populations that were ruled over by Lehi’s descendants. Are we to believe that these populations were largely comprised of American Indians who swamped out the Israelite genes yet didn’t assume any significant influence in these civilizations?
John Butler argues that the Lamanites may well have been important ancestors of American Indians but their DNA may have been lost through lineage extinction.12 To illustrate this, Butler draws on the results of a study carried out on the population of Iceland.13 He claims the study revealed that “the majority of people living today in Iceland had ancestors living only 150 years ago that could not be detected based on the Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests.” This observation is incorrect. The scientists had little trouble detecting people’s ancestors. What the Iceland study in fact revealed, by linking DNA genealogies with written genealogies, was that most of the people living in Iceland in the eighteenth century have few or no living descendants. For example, Helgason and his co-workers used Iceland’s extensive genealogical records to determine that 64,150 living female Icelanders were born after 1972 and that there were about 20,443 females born in Iceland between 1698 and 1742. Mitochondrial DNA tests on the living women revealed that 61.8 percent of them are descended from just 6.6 percent of the women living in the early eighteenth century. Similar results were obtained for males.
How could it be that most of the people living in Iceland 300 years ago have few or no living descendants? This remarkably high rate of lineage extinction, or genetic drift, was surprising to the authors of the paper, who considered that Iceland’s population had undergone a rapid population expansion during the last 300 years. This was the only information the authors gave about Iceland’s population history in this paper. There is, however, much in Iceland’s history the authors did not mention.
• For the first century of those 300 years, from 1701 to 1803, Iceland’s population declined from 50,358 to 47,240 due to severe economic hardships.14
• Most of Iceland’s population were farm labourers, and frequently the poor never married or raised families because it was considered improper for labourers to “fill the earth with ‘weaklings’”.15
• In 1783 one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the last 12,000 years rocked Iceland. Mount Laki erupted, killing tens of thousands of cattle and horses and hundreds of thousands of sheep. Between a quarter and a third of the population perished due to fluorine poisoning and smallpox.
• Between 1870 and 1914, 20 percent of Iceland’s population emigrated to North America. Since 1914, emigrants have typically outnumbered immigrants. Emigrant groups are likely to have been dominated by younger individuals of reproductive age.
The combination of drastic population declines in the eighteenth century due to harsh environmental and economic conditions, followed by large-scale emigration during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, will have had a dramatic impact on the genetic landscape of Iceland. Many of the descendants of the 50,358 people living in Iceland in 1701 are likely to have died without leaving offspring. Of those who did leave descendants, many may have migrated to North America, their descendants now invisible in the Icelandic studies.
Iceland has always been a marginal place for human occupation with its arctic climate and volcanic activity, in contrast to the Promised Land of the Book of Mormon where crops thrived and wildlife and precious metals were found in abundance (1 Ne. 18:24-25). There are also few similarities between the population history of Iceland and the history of the Lehites and Mulekites described in the Book of Mormon. Nephi saw a vision of the New World in about 600 BC in which he saw that his “seed” and “the seed of [his] brethren” had multiplied until they did “number as many as the sand of the sea” (1 Ne. 12:1). Numerous passages throughout the Book of Mormon detail the fulfilment of this prophecy. In 588 BC the Lehite populations were prospering “exceedingly” and “multiplying” in the land (2 Ne. 5:13), and by 399 BC they had “multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land” (Jarom 1:8). When the descendants of Mulek join the Nephites, we are informed, they are “exceedingly numerous” (Omni 1:17). By about 124 BC, there were so many people in the Book of Mormon civilizations, they could not number them because they had “multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land” (Mosiah 2:2). By about 46 BC, they had spread until they “covered the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east (Hel. 3:8).
Another question the Icelandic research poses is, given such dramatic extinctions in a population over 300 years, does this necessarily lead to extinctions of DNA lineage families? The table below shows the frequency of the major maternal lineage classes in contemporary Icelanders and the frequency at which they appear in the population they descend from 300 years earlier, as determined from Table 9 in the Helgason study.
Frequency in population (%)
~ 1700 AD
~ 2000 AD
While there are changes in the frequencies of the lineages, it is clear that these have not resulted in extinctions. Even the rare lineages were detectable in the living population. While individual DNA lineages can and do go extinct, the DNA lineage families they belong to generally don’t go extinct in a population unless the particular lineage has reduced fitness (for more on this, click here). The authors of the Iceland research observed that the changes in frequency appeared to be random fluctuations and not connected to the fitness of particular lineages.
9. The arguments of the critics rely mostly on the non-doctrinal “principal ancestors” statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon.
Several LDS apologists have claimed that the critic’s case against the Book of Mormon relies almost entirely on the non-doctrinal statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon.16 This is not the case. The introductory statement in the Book of Mormon enjoys widespread doctrinal and prophetic support, as several critics of Book of Mormon historicity have documented.17
In fact, the many statements from church leaders and revelations of Joseph Smith include the following doctrinal pronouncements:
•”We also bare testimony that the ‘Indians’ (so called) of North and South America are a remnant of the tribes of Israel; as is now made manifest by the discovery and revelation of their ancient oracles and records.” —”Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Apr. 1845.
•”Must we, because we believe in … the Book of Mormon as the history of the aborigines of this continent, must we be expelled from the institutions of our country?” —Joseph Smith, “Appeal to the Freemen of the State of Vermont, the ‘Brave Green Mountain Boys,’ and Honest Men,” Dec. 1843.
•”In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell into battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.” —Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, editor, Chicago Democrat, 1842.
•”He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.” —Joseph Smith–History 1:34
•”And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.” —Doctrine and Covenants 28:8
“And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.” —Doctrine and Covenants 28:9
•”And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.” —Doctrine and Covenants 28:14
•”And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites.” —Doctrine and Covenants 30:6
•”And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.” —Doctrine and Covenants 32:2
•”But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose.” —Doctrine and Covenants 49:24
•”And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.” —Doctrine and Covenants 54:8
The belief that Native Americans throughout North, Central, and South America, as well as Polynesia, are the descendants of the Lamanites is not simply based on one unofficial statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon. This belief is deeply embedded in the LDS Church and has had a major influence on the way the church has interacted with native peoples in the Americas and the Pacific for well over a century. For most of the last 175 years, the Book of Mormon has been presented to native people as a history of their ancestors and, as such, has frequently played a major role in their conversion. For many decades, members have been reassured by successive prophets and apostles that they are the children of Lehi. Frequently, these reminders are delivered during regional, area, and stake conferences and during the dedicatory prayers at temples in areas with predominantly indigenous American and Pacific cultures. The church has invested heavily in schools in what have been thought of as Lamanite regions, particularly in Polynesia. Many Native American and Polynesian members of the church have received patriarchal blessings in which they have been told they belong to the tribe of Manasseh, the same tribe as Lehi. It is not simply a matter of an “overbelief” in a non-doctrinal portion of the modern edition of the Book of Mormon. It is a belief that is deeply entrenched in the church with strong doctrinal foundations in scripture and prophetic authority.
10. Other people could have lived in ancient America concurrently with Book of Mormon peoples.
The fact that FARMS apologists felt it necessary to propose that other people could have lived concurrently with Book of Mormon people is evidence enough that the Book of Mormon is silent about them. Virtually nobody outside of the apologetic community appears to have read the Book of Mormon carefully enough to notice reference to the hoards of other people apologists claim are mentioned in the text. American Indians not only could, they in fact did live in ancient America between 2000 BC and AD 400, and they did live in the Americas for at least 10,000 years prior to that time period. What is unclear is whether Book of Mormon people existed at all, and all reliable evidence to date provides no concrete support for their existence.
11. When God cursed American Indians and changed their skin color, as reported in the Book of Mormon, God could have changed their DNA as well.
If so, why would God change the DNA so it matched Asian DNA? Latter-day Saints have already offended Blacks and the Native Americans. Is it necessary to offend Asians now, as well?
12. We don’t yet know enough about the earliest colonization of the Americas. Evidence points to Australians, Japanese, or even Europeans existing alongside the first Siberian colonists.
There is debate among scientists about the early colonization of the Americas, but there are some important facts upon which all agree. Scientists concur that the Siberian migration, which began in excess of 14,000 years ago, accounts for all or essentially all of the ancestors of the American Indians. There is currently no genetic evidence to support the arrival of any other people in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. However, scientists have been intrigued to find that many of the oldest human skulls in the Americas differ morphologically from those of contemporary Native Americans. A recent widely publicized case was the discovery of Kennewick Man in the banks of the Columbia River in Washington state. Some anthropologists have argued that these early skulls more closely resemble Europeans, the Ainu of Japan, or Australians.
The possibility that other groups arrived in America before the Siberians has fired the imagination of journalists writing for television documentaries and magazines that appeal to broad audiences. In addition, LDS apologists have been interested in this potential evidence for immigrants to the Americas besides the Siberians and have been quick to publicize these reports.18 Their conclusion is that this reinforces the possibility that Israelites might have also migrated to the Americas.
In the widely viewed BBC documentary Ancient Voices, evidence that the first Americans may have come from Australia seemed compelling at first even though the only genetic traces of these hypothetical Australian founders resided in the distinctive skull morphology of Tierra del Fuegians, the people of the remote islands at the southernmost tip of South America.19 But this meager evidence led to speculation about marathon ocean voyages by Australians and their subsequent massacre at the hands of invaders from Asia.20
Less well publicized was the fact that scientists later isolated DNA from the remains of ninety-four ancient Tierra del Fuegians. None of the DNA lineages that originated in Australia were observed; all the samples were found to posses the expected mitochondrial DNA lineages that are common to contemporary Native Americans.21
In a more recent report in Discover magazine, scientists from John Moores University in Liverpool made similarly bold claims about the Pericu people, a Native American group that lived in the Baja California area of Mexico from 2500 years ago until the late 1800s.22 Their skulls look more European or Australian than Asian, which led to speculation that their ancestors may have been Australians, who in turn may have been the first Americans. One scientist hinted that preliminary DNA results suggested compatibility with the idea of an Australian origin.
It was then reported that the final results of these DNA tests on the Pericu samples were not as exciting as first anticipated.23 In fact, the tests conclusively identified Native American DNA lineages. After corresponding with the author of this report, I learned that the research will be published later this year. It would be unlikely if publication generated the same level of publicity as the earlier report.
When the skull of Kennewick Man was found in Washington, scientists were eager to determine the lineage. Unfortunately, repeated attempts by biologists from the University of California at Davis, the University of Michigan, and Yale University have failed to detect ancient DNA in the remains. Most likely, environmental conditions at the site were not conducive to DNA preservation. Despite this failure, scientists remain optimistic that, if not Kennewick Man, then some others of the earliest skulls will contain analyzable DNA. In light of the molecular research on the Pericu and Tierra del Fuegians, it is likely the DNA lineages of these other early Americans will be similar to that of their descendants.
13. The Lamanite population may have been severely reduced during the disease epidemics that accompanied European colonization.
American Indian populations were decimated by the introduction of diseases that had been present in European populations for centuries and for which they had acquired a measure of immunity. American Indians lacked immunity to these diseases and it has been estimated that as much as 90 percent of New World native populations were wiped out in disease epidemics. If there had been a Lamanite population present in the New World, there is no reason to believe it would have been more or less susceptible to these diseases than neighboring American Indians who had been present in the Americas for in excess of 15,000 years. Consequently, the disease epidemics are unlikely to have had any impact on our ability to detect a Lamanite presence. They can’t be detected now and their proportional presence would have to be assumed to be approximately the same now as prior to the arrival of Columbus.
14. Science can never provide a final answer to a religious question.
The Book of Mormon raises questions about the ancestry of American Indians by the claims it makes. Many of these are historical claims and are not exclusively religious. Many Mormons have a firm belief that Native Americans are largely descended from Israelites as a consequence of believing the Book of Mormon. Feeling-based beliefs are far less reliable than Mormons would care to admit, and science has proven that these beliefs have no basis in fact. Joseph Smith is the source of the Book of Mormon, as well as the source of the miraculous feeling-based formula that is supposed to prove beyond a doubt it is true. If the Book of Mormon has no place in reality, could there also be a flaw in Smith’s feeling-based truth formula?
People have been waiting for 175 years for credible scientific evidence of any description to support the historical claims of the Book of Mormon. How long do we need to wait to prove we are patient? With each passing year, new information sheds more light on the colonization of the Americas, and with each year we find the claims of the Book of Mormon being shrunk by LDS apologists.
I believe that faith can flourish when people are told the truth from whatever and all available sources. It makes no sense to insist on a belief in the unbelievable. There is an important difference here. In my case, for thirty years my religious orientation was accompanied by a distorted understanding of the true history of America’s past. Not only did I know little of the science that was applicable to this issue, I, like many Mormons, had been bombarded with the widespread urban legends in the church. BYU scholars always seemed to be finding archaeological evidence in Mesoamerica that supported the Book of Mormon and I was informed that the Smithsonian Institution had used the Book of Mormon as a guide in some of their research. Scientific truth exposed my faith in a book that has no historical connection with the ancestors of the American Indians or Polynesians.
15. We have no “chain of custody” proving a link between the lab results and the point of DNA collection.
John Butler recently claimed that the DNA results produced in population genetics research are unreliable because no chain of custody procedures were followed.24 Accredited DNA testing facilities are required by law to follow chain of custody documentation procedures to ensure results will be legally admissible—accepted by courts and other government agencies. Chain of custody requires that:
• Samples are collected by an impartial third party such as a clinic or laboratory.
• The individuals tested are positively identified by checking government-issued identifications, and they are photographed and fingerprinted for records.
• The samples are carefully tracked and matched to each test participant throughout the entire DNA testing process.
Butler appears to be confusing forensic applications of DNA technology with its use in human population genetics. Forensic scientists match individuals to individuals and must get an exact match in DNA samples at many if not all locations in a DNA sequence. This level of evidence is necessary in criminal and other legal proceedings. Molecular anthropologists are not trying to locate an individual’s ancestors; they are generally trying to identify related populations. They focus on a small number of informative spelling changes that divide human maternal DNA lineages into their major lineage families. When greater than 99.6 percent of the DNA lineages of Native Americans most closely resemble DNA lineages found among Asians, this is compelling evidence that they have a common ancestor: evidence sufficiently compelling to convince even LDS apologists.
1. Blake T. Ostler, “Assessing the Logical Structure of DNA Arguments against the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone (2004): 135:70; John Butler, “Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research,” available at the FARMS website: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=18&num=1&id=601&cat_id=488, accessed Mar. 11, 2006.
2. There has been an explosion in DNA apologetics in the last couple of years. I encourage people who are unfamiliar with the limited geography theory and the latest interpretations of the Book of Mormon to read these apologetic publications. Most of these can be found at http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/display/topical.php?cat_id=488.
3. For example, see David McClellan, “Detecting Lehi’s Genetic Signature: Possible, Probable, or Not?” FARMS Review 15:35-90. Other apologists have completely contradicted McClellan by presenting testable hypotheses derived from the Book of Mormon. See Michael Whiting, “DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (2003) 12:24-35; D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, “Who are the Children of Lehi?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (2003) 12:38-51. Ostler contends, from a philosophical perspective, that critics’ arguments based on DNA evidence are logically flawed ( “Assessing Logical Structure”).
4. John Butler, “Addressing Questions.”
5. See Dean H. Leavitt, Jonathon C. Marshall, and Keith A. Crandall, “The Search for the Seed of Lehi: How Defining Alternative Models Helps in the Interpretation of Genetic Data,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36 (Winter 2003): 133–-50; Meldrum and Stephens, “Who Are the Children,” 38-–51; McClellan, “Detecting Lehi,” 35-90; and Whiting, “DNA and Book of Mormon,” 24-35; Ryan Parr, “Missing the Boat to Ancient America … Just Plain Missing the Boat,” FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 83-106.
6. Michael Quinn, “The Ancient Book of Mormon as Tribal Narrative,” Sunstone (2005) 137:67.
7. Maere Reidla, et al., “Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X,” American Journal of Human Genetics 73 (2003): 1178-90.
8. Cláudia L. Dornelles, et al., “Is Haplogroup X Present in Extant South American Indians?” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, forthcoming; published online at “Research Articles,” Wiley InterScience (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/109861152/abstract; accessed online Apr. 28, 2004.
9. William W. Hausworth, et al., “Inter- and Intra-population Studies of Ancient Humans,” Experientia 50 (1994): 585-91; Anne C. Stone and Mark Stoneking, “MtDNA Analysis of a Prehistoric Oneota Population: Implications for the Peopling of the New World,” American Journal of Human Genetics 62 (1998): 1153-70.
10. Reidla, “Origin and Diffusion.”
11. See Ellen Levy-Coffman, “A Mosaic of People: The Jewish Story and a Reassessment of the DNA Evidence,” Journal of Genetic Genealogy, 2005, 1:12-33.
12. John Butler, “Addressing Questions.”
13. Agnar Helgason, et al., “A Population-wide Coalescent Analysis of Icelandic Matrilineal and Patrilineal Genealogies: Evidence for a Faster Evolutionary Rate of mtDNA Lineages than Y Chromosomes,” American Journal of Human Genetics (2003) 72: 1370-1388.
14. “Iceland,” Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved Mar. 6, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online (http://search.eb.com/eb/article-10074)
15. The Arts faculty of the University of Manitoba has historical information about the immigration of Icelanders to Manitoba. See http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/prairie_immigration/arason.shtml
16. See Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 83-106; Butler, “Addressing Questions.”
17. See Losing a Lost Tribe, 33-45.
18. Mike Segaloff, “Photographic Evidence for the Authenticity of the Book of Mormon,” at The Book of Mormon.com: An Exploration of the Authenticity of the LDS Scriptures (www.the-book-of-mormon.com); Jeff Lindsay, “Does DNA Evidence Refute the Book of Mormon?” online at LDS FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs (www.jefflindsay.com/).
19. Walter Neves and Hector Pucciarelli. “The Zhoukoudian Upper Cave Skull 101 as Seen from the Americas,” Journal of Human Evolution 34 (1998): 219-22.
20. “First Americans Were Australian,” BBC News: World Edition, Aug. 26, 1999.
21. Jaume García-Bour, Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, Sara Álvarez, et al., “Early Population Differentiation in Extinct Aborigines from Tierra del Fuego-Patagonia: Ancient mtDNA Sequences and Y-Chromosome STR Characterization,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 123 (2004): 361-70; Carles Lalueza, Alejandro Pérez-Pérez, E. Prats, et al., “Lack of Founding Amerindian Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in Extinct Aborigines from Tierra del Fuego-Patagonia,” Human Molecular Genetics 6 (1997): 41-6.
22. David Epstein, “First Americans May Have Come from Australia,” Discover 26 (2005).
23. Rex Dalton, “Skeleton Keys,” Nature, Feb. 3, 2005, 454-56.
24. Butler, “Addressing Questions.”