long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The missionaries are defenseless - Part 3b - DNA and evolution

Gospel Topics DNA essay - Part 3b - DNA and evolution

A lot of people have asked me about this Gospel Topics essay on DNA over the years so I'm sharing my notes in this series. It saves me a lot of time when I can answer questions by sending a link to a blog post. Feel free to share the link with others who have similar questions.

Another point of clarification. Sometimes I hear that lots of people are being baptized into the Church, and none of them raise the issue of Book of Mormon geography and/or DNA. To a significant degree, that is axiomatic; i.e., the people who raise these questions are unlikely to be baptized, especially when the missionaries (and members) are unable to effectively answer the questions.

In this sense, and at the risk of oversimplification, converts are self-selected by lack of awareness, interest, or concern about these issues.

And that's great. I'm not saying or implying that everyone should be concerned about these issues. 

But by embracing Darwinian evolution, the Gospel Topics essay unnecessarily excludes the millions of people who are concerned about these issues and who accept a literal interpretation of the Bible.

I'm proposing instead that, until we are ready to take a firm position on how and when the Earth was created, a better approach would be to acknowledge multiple working hypotheses, one of which includes a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

Converts per 1,000 LDS members - graph by David Allan
As we've seen, the number of converts per 1,000 members (about 15/1,000 currently) is about 1/3 of what it was 35 years ago (47.5/1,000). We can think of these as the missing 30 converts per 1,000 members.

I’m told that the most productive area for missionary work, in terms of baptisms per thousand members, is Africa—specifically, West Africa. Even in Western Europe and the U.S., relatively few long-term citizens convert; a high percentage of converts are immigrants from developing countries who self-select as noted above. 

And yes, that seems to be a fulfillment of prophecy, as others have noted (2 Nephi 12), and yes, we love these converts and welcome them with open arms. But what about the missing 30 converts per 1,000 members? (Actually, in some areas of West Africa, conversion rates are 45/1,000 or higher, which means the conversion rates in developed countries is well below 15/1,000. For those interested, there’s lots of information at http://cumorah.com/.)

There's also no question that the DNA issue has had a tremendous impact on Church members. For many years, LDS people assumed that all the indigenous inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere were descendants of Lehi. This assumption is inexplicable because when Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter, he replaced all of Orson Pratt’s hemispheric rhetoric with the simple and clear statement that the “remnant are the Indians that live in this country.” Yet, as with his teaching about the New York Cumorah in Letter VII, Joseph’s rejection of the hemispheric model was ignored.

The discovery that most of these indigenous people have primarily Asian DNA prompted the 2006 change to the Introduction to the Book of Mormon (from stating the Lamanites "are the principal ancestors of the American Indians" to stating that the Lamanites "are among the ancestors of the American Indians." Nevertheless, the DNA issue remains a focus of anti-Mormon ministries and critics, which is why missionaries face the question so often.

I think the Asian/Lamanite issue can be easily addressed by the text of the Book of Mormon,* but for now I'm looking at the DNA essay's approach.

My focus is on missionaries whose investigators are well educated and comfortable with the Internet, especially the millions of traditional Christians who have been trained to ask these questions. These educated, Bible-believing Christians should be well-prepared to accept Moroni's challenge, but they have to overcome four unnecessary barriers to even take the first step of reading the Book of Mormon. These barriers are explained on their ministry web sites, taught in their Sunday Schools, etc., and our own LDS scholars and educators are making the problems worse because of their Mesomania:

1. Mesoamerican geography, 
2. Asian DNA
3. LDS scholars rejecting Joseph and Oliver, and 
4. Rejecting a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Of course, the missionaries themselves need to understand the questions and responses wherever they go in the world, because sooner or later, these issues will come up everywhere. Already there are anti-Mormon ministries in Africa seeking to undermine the progress of the Church there. And missionaries who don't have solid answers to these questions may find themselves questioning their faith.

This series about the DNA Gospel Topics essay has to do with the essay's explanation of DNA, but also the unstated, underlying context of the essay (in 3c). 

I'm not a DNA scientist, but the essay is, or should be, intended for general audiences (although, as I pointed out in Part 2, the essay is not really accessible to most teenagers, missionaries, and investigators). I suspect it's not all that accessible to most members of the Church either, but the main points are set out as I discussed in the last post.

Here, I'm going to discuss aspects of the science that I think matter most to many investigators, missionaries and members. 

I begin by explaining that I respect scientists and I know a bit about the scientific process. I have an MS degree (although the focus was agriculture). In my career I've funded university research projects, and I know from those experiences that to a significant degree, the one who pays the bills gets the results wanted. Scientists universally deny this, of course, but when I was reviewing a grant proposal from a high-profile East Coast university, the scientist who was going to do the work (and receive the money) asked me what result I wanted so he could tailor the proposal accordingly. This is not an uncommon practice. 

Mark Twain wrote "There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.” This is true of many fields besides science, but we kid ourselves when we assume science is completely objective.

There are always assumptions, many of them unstated but assumed or implied.

To reiterate, my focus here is on the implications of this Gospel Topics essay for investigators and members of the Church who believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

The essay is targeted to scientists and those who don't believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

This is important for two reasons:

1) There are still some LDS people (including scientists) who accept a literal interpretation of the scriptures.

2) There are still many investigators who accept a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Is it ironic that the people most inclined to accept the gospel--people who already believe in the Bible--are the ones who are most likely to find this essay troubling?

The literal interpretation of the Bible holds that Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden around 4,000 BC. This is based on Biblical genealogy. Moroni alluded to this in Ether 1:3, and picked up the theme in Moroni 10:3. He seemed to think the Biblical account was sufficient, an assumption that appears justified by Moses 1-5 and Abraham 4-5, as well as the temple.**

Modern scriptures corroborate this idea.

2 Nephi 2 relates the story of Adam and Eve as literal people; i.e., the first humans.
Lehi taught, "22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children."

Obviously, no children would mean no evolution, at least from Adam forward. But evolution can't explain how Adam and Eve--and all things which were created--would have remained in the state they were in after they were created, forever.

D&C 77:6 says, "Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence."

I'm not saying that to be a good LDS, you have to accept a literal interpretation of these and other passages, but the Gospel Topics essay doesn't cite these verses. It doesn't explain how they relate to the topic of Darwinian evolution, which is implicit in everything this essay teaches about DNA.

This is an important issue because this essay teaches, and ultimately is founded on, Darwinian evolution.

This is not a problem for many members of the Church who think modern science is correct, but for those who do interpret the scriptures literally, it is a big problem.

More importantly (maybe), it's a problem for investigators who believe in the Bible.

Imagine you're a devout Christian, but you believe in a pre-existence, or you see the need for modern prophets and revelation, or the Nicean Creed doesn't make sense to you. In other words, you have some cognitive dissonance between what your church teaches and what you really believe.

The Mormon missionaries knock on your door. Despite your misgivings, you let them in. You discuss your beliefs. You discover an affinity for what they are teaching. It feels right to you, and is consistent with what you've always thought. They say they believe the Bible, as do you.

But you've heard some things about the Book of Mormon. You ask about the DNA issue. They refer you to this Gospel Topics essay. You study it carefully.

Then you realize that, to accept the LDS faith, or at least to accept the Book of Mormon in spite of what you've been told about the DNA problem, you'll have to abandon your literal belief in the Bible.

In upcoming parts, I'll explain why.

* The text tells us the Jaredites came to the new world and soon "began to spread upon the face of the land." Assuming they crossed Asia and left from the shores of the Pacific (probably from today's China), we would expect them to have predominantly Asian DNA. Ether's account relates his own family line, but he was more than 33 generations removed from the brother of Jared. This is many millions of people spreading throughout the land. Coriantumr mentions just 2 million of his people killed in the wars leading up to Cumorah. Moroni wrote only of the people living "in this north country," implying the rest of the Jaredites lived elsewhere. We would expect their Asian DNA to be diverse and well-represented throughout the continent, except in Northeastern U.S.

In the Northeastern U.S., we have a distinctive DNA haplogroup, again as expected from the text (i.e., assuming Cumorah is in New York). This is the X2 haplogroup, which I will discuss in parts 3c-3e. 

How do we explain the statements of the prophets about Lamanites throughout the hemisphere, when their DNA is Asian? 

The Mayan civilization collapsed around 800-900 A.D. Some of them migrated northward to what is now the Southeastern U.S. After several hundred years of intermarriage, they returned to Central America. We would expect the blood of Lehi to thereby intermingle with indigenous people throughout the Americas, albeit in low concentrations. So we can say, despite the Asian DNA markers, that these people have the blood of Lehi in them.

**It’s interesting to consider that Abraham 4 depicts the plan for the creation, not the actual creation. The implication from Darwinian evolution would mean that the Gods planned billions of years of evolution before the Earth was actually formed, then executed the plan with billions of years of evolution in mortality. This means that, if we accept the scriptures, there is no way to escape creationism; i.e., even if you accept Darwinian evolution, it was planned spiritually first.

No comments:

Post a Comment