Mormons and Mitochondrial DNA

by Chad Ressler

In August 2004 Simon Southerton released a book entitled Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church.1  Southerton concludes from studies of mitochondrial DNA of Native Americans that the Mormon claim of their descent from Israeli immigrants is unsupported by DNA evidence.  Wading through the scientific claims can be a daunting task for anyone not having specialized knowledge of the field.  The basic concept though is that the mitochondrial DNA taken from a group of surviving Native Americans demonstrates that they were descended from Asians and not the “ten lost tribes of Israel” as the Book of Mormon claims.2  So close is the connection that surviving Native American connection to Asiatic origin is close to 99%.3

Of course, these findings are devastating for the book of Mormon unless one decides to take a position of intellectual dishonesty which, oddly enough, is what the Mormon Church has done.  While there have been some detailed technical articles written by Mormon apologists they can be very difficult to read unless one has a good understanding of various fields in biology.  This is what Mormon apologists are counting on; that Mormon lay people will simply see there is a rebuttal, superficially skim through it, and be assured that their “feelings” are still correct.  Though the majority of us may not be able to understand all the arguments, I think it is plausible to conclude that this book does some serious damage to the veracity of the Book of Mormon.

The research by Southerton screams for an answer to the question: “If the so-called "Lamanites" (Native Americans) were spawned from an escaped tribe of Israelites, why does their DNA show a 98.6% Asian connection and 0% Middle Eastern?”4  The answer according to Southerton is,  “It's all mythology. Historical fiction.”5

A very telling response from LDS author John Butler says:

“A spiritual witness is the only way to know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  Although DNA studies have made links between Native Americans and Asians, these studies in no way invalidate the Book of Mormon despite the loud voices of detractors.”6

Notice what Butler said.  Although the evidence appears to disprove what so called “prophet” Joseph Smith wrote, you should ignore the evidence and simply trust your feelings.  Joseph Smith claimed that the Israelites found the New World uninhabited when they arrived, yet the evidence says otherwise.  Mormons claim to be Christians, but Christianity is not rooted in blind faith apart from evidence.  The Bible is clearly historical being grounded in real people who lived in real places which archaeology has time and again confirmed.  The Christian need not refer to his or her “feelings” as their primary epistemic justification for faith even in the face of contrary evidence.  The truth of God’s Word has stood the test of time, but Joseph Smith’s word, and his reputation as a prophet, seems to be discredited.

  • 1. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/october/8.20.html
  • 2. The introduction to the Book of Mormon states, "The record gives an account of two great civilizations.  One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel," (Introduction, Book of Mormon, 1982).
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Gwynne Spencer, "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church," Tribal College Journal, 10525505, Winter2005, Vol. 17, Issue 2.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no103.htm

 

 

 

 
 
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