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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

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

The DNA Gospel Topics essay is part of a long-running debate between Bible literalists and scholars who think the Bible is merely metaphorical and useless as a guide to understanding the Creation. It is also part of the debate over Book of Mormon geography because the proponents of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories also reject Biblical literalism.

In this series, I'm discussing the Gospel Topics essay from the perspective of missionaries whose investigators believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, as well as from the perspective of LDS people who interpret the Bible and latter-day scriptures literally. 

I'm not saying any particular interpretation is "true" or "correct," but I am pointing out that there is a big difference between literalists and those who reject a literal interpretation of the Bible and the latter-day scriptures. In my view, the essay rejects the literal interpretation of the scriptures and ought to at least acknowledge such an interpretation as one of multiple working hypotheses. 

As it stands now, the essay is another hurdle for Bible-believing investigators to overcome before they even read the Book of Mormon.

The principal author of the essay, Ugo Perego, contributed a brief essay to the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF), an organization whose Mission Statement is “to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex.”

BMAF is also the parent corporation that owns Book of Mormon Central (BOMC), which explains why BOMC adamantly and exclusively promotes the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

Here is the statement by BMAF, with my comments in red:

DNA Statement by Book of Mormon Archaeology Forum

Please, don't fall for the DNA "evidence" being promoted by some members of the Church. We believe in the Book of Mormon with all our being, [as a Mesoamerican codex] but we also believe when we use science to prove something, then we should consult the experts and follow basic scientific methods. [This is a clever straw man fallacy. No one involved here is using DNA science to proveanything, but as we’ll see, the DNA evidence may corroborate the Book of Mormon narrative—just not in Mesoamerica, which is why BMAF wrote this statement.]

The Church (approved by the First Presidency on LDS.org) has just released a statement about using DNA to promote a Book of Mormon agenda:

“Much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, [notice, the actual essay refers to support, not proof] the evidence is simply inconclusive. [This sentence conflates the use of evidence to support a proposition with a claim that evidence is conclusive. These are two separate concepts. It's true that some anti-Mormon groups have portrayed the evidence as conclusive; i.e., that the DNA evidence disproves the Book of Mormon. That's an easy argument to refute, and the essay does a great job demonstrating that, because in reality, the evidence is not conclusive. But really, that's axiomatic. Scientists use evidence to support or falsify theories, but science is and must be open-ended, always subject to additional discoveries. The debate is really over what propositions the DNA evidence tends to support, not whether it is conclusive.]  

Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. [As I mentioned before, I think it’s safe to say we know Lehi’s people were of Hebrew descent and came from Jerusalem, which narrows down the possibilities from the entire universe of DNA to a fairly small subset of DNA possibilities, which is not “nothing.” A better phrase might be “Little is known.”] 

Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today. [The “unlikely” characterization is based on the undisclosed Mesoamerican assumption that Lehi’s people were all absorbed into a much larger Mayan culture. This is why it is so telling that the essay never even quotes from the scriptures, except in footnoted materials written to support the Mesoamerican theory.] https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies?lang=eng.”
Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

From Ugo Perego, PhD

There is a video circulating widely on the internet about NEW INCREDIBLE DNA EVIDENCE in favor of the Book of Mormon. I want everyone to know that I do not support the views presented in this video (here is the link on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mADM3RYKl5Y&feature=youtu.be).

I personally believe the Book of Mormon to be sacred scripture, but not based on genetic evidence. [Which is also undoubtedly true of everyone who believes the Book of Mormon to be sacred scripture; i.e., no one has a testimony based on genetic evidence.]

It is my opinion that the presenter in this video (Rod Meldrum) [We’ll discuss what Brother Meldrum presents later; for now, I’m explaining the context of the Gospel Topics essay and some of the motivations for the way it is written and footnoted.]

is oversimplifying and stretching complex scientific data to fit its own view and purposes. [Simplifying is how any scientific information is presented to the public. I suggest readers consider this point once we delve into what Brother Meldrum was actually saying.]

This is dangerous because some people might actually believe in what he is saying and take for granted his conclusions. [This is equally true of every side of these debates, of course. Brother Perego implies that one side is right—his—and one side is wrong—Brother Meldrum’s. Brother Perego’s conclusions are based on Darwinian evolution; some people think taking evolution for granted as an explanation for the creation is a dangerous approach. This is really a debate about Biblical literalism, as we’ll see.]

I have listened to Rod Meldrum in the past and spoke with him on several occasions. I have also tried to explain to him the mistakes with his approach, but to no avail. [I can’t speak for Brother Meldrum, but I have also spoken with Brother Perego and I think I understand his objections. But he doesn’t understand, or doesn’t accept, and certainly doesn’t acknowledge, the counterarguments to his position.]

Here are in a short few points the main problems with the information presented in this video:

1. Lineage (haplogroup) X in the America [sic] is an unusual marker, but there is absolutely no evidence to link it to Book of Mormon people. [This absolute argument is in the same vein as the claim that we know nothing about the DNA of Lehi’s people. The evidence may not be substantial, may not be conclusive, may not be persuasive to Brother Perego and others, but there is some evidence of a link. I’ll discuss the merits in more detail later, but for now, consider that the unusual (actually, unique) haplogroup X2a in the Americas is concentrated around the Great Lakes region and the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. The only place in the scriptures in which the Lord designated specific people as Lamanites was in D&C 28, 30 and 32, when he sent Oliver Cowdery and three other brethren to preach to the Lamanites in New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas (where they had been driven from the eastern states.) This geographical connection between haplogroup X2a and the revelations in the D&C is evidencein any sense of the term. The probity and utility of the evidence can be examined and debated, but it is not “absolutely no evidence.”]  

2. As far as science has been able to determine to date, lineage X has been in the Americas probably long before Book of Mormon times (based on both carbon dating and the molecular clock). [The question of dating is really the crux of the matter. As the footnotes in the Gospel Topics essay explain, Brother Perego says lineage X has been in North America since around 7,000 B.C. This date is long after X separated from other, earlier lineages, and is in line with the standard evolutionary assumption that the first homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago. The “molecular clock” referred to in the essay is an assumption about the mutation rate of biomolecules that measures evolutionary rate variation among organisms, again based on the 200,000- year-old evolutionary development of homo sapiens. “Carbon dating” is the technique used to determine the age of an object by measuring levels of radiocarbon (C-14). These two measurement techniques contradict the Biblical account of Adam and Eve, which is how this discussion of DNA implicates Bible literalism. In other words, people who interpret the Bible literally believe Adam and Eve were created around 4,000 B.C., based on the chronology given in Genesis. Mormons who interpret the Bible literally find corroboration in the Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price. At least with respect to Adam and Eve, they are on common ground with Bible-believing Christians. Literalists think there are problems with the carbon dating and molecular clock that explain why those methods contradict the scriptures. For them, the Gospel Topics essay is problematic because it rejects Biblical literalism outright.]
3. It is not true that the first four lineages in the Americas prior to the discovery of haplogroup X are identical to lineages found in Asia. They are related with each other, but the ones in the Americas have their own unique characteristics. [This is an important clarification; these lineages changed as people migrated to the Americas from Asia, whether they were Jaredites or other Asian peoples.]

4. Likewise, lineage X in Northern North America has its own unique characteristics and it is not found anywhere else in the world. The one in the Americas is known as lineage X2a. [This is what we would expect of Lehi’s DNA as well; i.e., that it would be unique after some period of time in North America.]

5. There are other lineage X's in the world (Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Asia) but none of them is the same as their American counterpart X2a. [Again, exactly what we expect of Lehi’s DNA. Lehi left Jerusalem shortly before the Babylonian siege and invasion. That invasion was a genetic bottleneck; only the poorest people were left in the land, with 10,000 taken to Babylon. It would not be surprising that the DNA of Lehi’s group was unique (X2a) because their relatives were killed.]

6. It is not true that lineage X was identified in the Americas in 2003. Data on a fifth lineage in the America has been widely published since 1991. [Good point of clarification.]

7. All the DNA that has been talked about in this video is referred to a [sic] genetic molecule known as mitochondrial DNA that is transmitted exclusively along the unbroken maternal line. This means that this approach cannot be easily used to determine the genetic ancestry of male lineages such as those described in this video and in the Book of Mormon. In other words, this is not the DNA we would expect to find today from Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Lehi, Nephi, etc. [Good clarification, but mDNA is still used to trace migrations. This mDNA would be coming from the women in Lehi’s group and would still represent their Hebrew and Middle-Eastern origins.]

8. The LDS Church does not support DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. [Nowhere does the essay say this, of course. The essay claims there is no DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon, not that the Church would not support such DNA evidence if it existed. And the main reason why the essay claims there is no DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon is because of its assumption that Darwinian evolution explains how humans arrived on the earth, a product of evolution around 200,000 years ago.] 

Here is something more official found on the LDS.org website: https://www.lds.org/topics/book-of-mormon-and-dna-studies… [In classical citation cartel practice, Brother Perego cites his own essay, although, to be fair, he is a world expert on the topic, which I respect, so I don’t have a problem with this. But the Gospel Topics essay is unsigned, and people who read this BMAF version should be aware that Brother Perego wrote both essays. Actually, his BMAF essay is more accessible and understandable than the Gospel Topics version, but the gist is the same. The Gospel Topics essay is only partly a response to anti-Mormon critics; it is also an argument for why Church members should not believe Brother Meldrum and the link between the X2a haplogroup and the Book of Mormon.]

There is much more to it but this should be sufficient for now. It is too early to know for sure what the actual relationship of lineage X in the Americas with the Old World is and we need to be careful to jump at any conclusions at this time." [This is a fair statement with which I agree, but again, it’s the assumptions about dating that are the underlying issue.]

This analysis demonstrates that the DNA issue in the Gospel Topics essay is a component of the ongoing debate over Biblical literalism vs. scientific repudiation of the scriptures.


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