Skip to comments.DNA Research and Mormon Scholars Changing Basic Beliefs
Posted on 12/22/2010 11:20:50 PM PST by delacoert
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Plant geneticist Simon Southerton was a Mormon bishop in Brisbane, Australia when he woke up the morning of Aug. 3, 1998 to the shattering conclusion that his knowledge of science made it impossible for him to believe any longer in the Book of Mormon.
Two years later he started writing "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church," published by Signature Books and due in stores next month. Along the way, he found a world of scholarship that has led him to conclude The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belief is changing, but not through prophesy and revelation.
Rather, Southerton sees a behind-the-scenes revolution led by a small group of Brigham Young University scholars and their critics who are reinterpreting fundamental teachings of the Book of Mormon in light of DNA research findings. Along the way, he says, these apologist scholars, with the apparent blessing of church leadership, are contradicting church teachings about the origins of American Indians and Polynesians.
"You've got Mormon apologists in their own publications rejecting what prophets have been saying for decades. This becomes very troubling for ordinary members of the church," Southerton said.
And while the work of the BYU apologists - the term means those who speak or write in defense of something - remains confined largely to intellectual circles, some church members who have always understood themselves in light of Mormon teachings about the people known as Lamanites are suffering identity crises.
"It's very difficult. It is almost traumatizing," said Jose Aloayza, a Midvale attorney who likened facing this new reality to staring into a spiritual abyss.
"It's that serious, that real," said Aloayza, a Peruvian native born into the church and still a member. "I'm almost here feeling I need an apology. Our prophets should have known better. That's the feeling I get."
Southerton, now a senior researcher with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, Australia, has concluded along with many other scientists studying mitochondrial DNA lines that American Indians and Polynesians are of Asian extraction.
For a century or so, scientists have theorized Asians migrated to the Americas across a land bridge at least 14,000 years ago. But Mormons have been taught to believe the Book of Mormon - the faith's keystone text - is a literal record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas who descended from the Israelite patriarch Lehi, who sailed to the New World around 600 B.C. The book's narrative continues through about 400 A.D.
The church teaches that Joseph Smith translated this record from gold plates found on a hillside in upstate New York in 1820, when he was 14. The Book of Mormon was first published in 1830.
In Mormon theology, Lamanites are understood as both chosen and cursed: Christ visited them, yet their unrighteousness left them cursed with dark skin. The Book of Mormon says Lamanites will one day be restored to greatness through the fullness of the gospel. (The original 1830 version of the Book of Mormon said they would become "white and delightsome;" in 1981, the passage was changed to "pure and delightsome.") Though not mentioned specifically in the Book of Mormon, Polynesians have been taught they are a branch of the House of Israel descended from Lehi.
Traditionally, Mormons have understood the Book of Mormon to cover all of the Americas in what is known as the hemispheric model. At a Bolivian temple dedication in 2000, church prophet and President Gordon B. Hinckley prayed, "We remember before Thee the sons and daughters of Father Lehi." And in 1982, the church's then-President Spencer Kimball told Samoans, Maori, Tahitians and Hawaiians that the "Lord calls you Lamanites."
Southerton's book details how these teachings have helped LDS efforts to convert new members, especially among Indians in Latin America and Maoris in New Zealand. He also offers primers on Mormon history and American race relations, quick tutorials on DNA research and syntheses of Mormon-related genetic research and DNA scholarship.
But in light of BYU scholars' recent opinion that the Book of Mormon's events could only have occurred in parts of Mexico and Guatemala - that is, Mesoamerica - the final third of the book is dedicated to examining the work of LDS scholars at the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, or FARMS, established 25 years ago and housed at BYU.
FARMS findings on Mesoamerica are based on the Book of Mormon's "internal geography," that is, descriptions of how long it took the ancient peoples to get from one place to another. The apologists now believe the events occurred only hundreds of miles from each other, not thousands - provoking new questions including how the Americas could have been so rapidly populated with people speaking so many languages without the presence of vast numbers of people who never appear in the narrative.
In a telephone interview from his Canberra office, Southerton said that keeping up with the rapidly growing body of work in genetic research made it difficult for him to finish the book while also keeping it up-to-date with critics and apologists and those in between all seeking to reframe the Book of Mormon in light of DNA research.
In particular, he's tried to keep up with FARMS qrticles, which he said are "completely at loggerheads with what the church leaders are teaching."
Church spokesman Dale Bills on Thursday said the church teaches only that the events recorded in the Book of Mormon took place somewhere in the Americas. The doctrine of the church is established by scripture and by the senior leadership of the Church, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.
"Faithful Latter-day Saint scholars may provide insight, understanding and perspective but they do not speak for the church," he said.
On its Web site, under the "Mistakes in the News" heading, the church declares, "Recent attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence are ill considered. Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin. The scientific issues relating to DNA, however, are numerous and complex."
The site then offers Web links to five articles, four of which were published last year in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, a FARMS publication. Aloayza believes that is tacit approval of what FARMS is saying.
"There is such a huge divide between what the scholarly elite with the LDS church knows and will discuss and what the ordinary member knows," Aloayza said. "The burden of proof is on the people who are advancing the Book of Mormon as the word of God."
BYU political science professor and FARMS director Noel Reynolds said FARMS research and writings are not aimed at proving or disproving the Book of Mormon. "We understand the difficulties of that. We get dragged into these discussions repeatedly because of books like Southerton's or ordinary anti-Mormon questions," he said.
The work of FARMS shouldn't be considered counter to church doctrine because the geography of the Book of Mormon has "never been a matter of official church pronouncement," Reynolds said.
While believing in a hemispheric model might be considered "naive," he said, "it's also fair to say that the majority of LDS over a period of time have accepted a hemispheric view, including church leaders."
Added FARMS founder and BYU law professor John Welch, "We don't speak officially for the church in any way. These are our opinions, and we hope they're helpful."
Southerton, who no longer is a member of the church, said given the state of DNA research and increasing lay awareness of it, church leaders ought just to own up to the problems that continued literal teachings about the Book of Mormon present for American Indians and Polynesians.
"They should come out and say, 'There's no evidence to support your Israelite ancestry,' " Southerton said. "I don't have any problem with anyone believing what's in the Book of Mormon. Just don't make it look like science is backing it all up."
This article sheds some light on the "Mormon Scholar" thing.
It seems that Scholars who start out Mormons have a difficult time staying Mormon.
And we’re surprised? Hell, basic analytical thought blows all kinds of holes.
The same could be said, to a lesser degree, about scholars who are Christians or members of other religions.
There is a definite correlation between years of schooling and loss of religious faith.
Are you sure that is the correct way of phrasing that?
Are they measuring the effect of the education and the schooling on people that start as committed Christians, from committed Christian families, or are they just telling you the religious level of the people that have that level of schooling?
We know this how? Liberal college professors and journalists tell us so?
Nope, I have seen studies showing quite clearly that the more years an originally devout Christian (or member of another faith) spends in schooling the more likely they are to become agnostic or atheist.
Doesn’t mean I approve or agree or think this is necessarily a good thing, but it is still a fact.
The primary reason is most likely the extremely anti-religious environment of higher education. It would be quite odd if spending more years immersed in it had no effect.
Such a loss of faith is of course not inevitable or universal, but there is a very strong statistical correlation. Unfortunately, I don’t have the references on me at the moment. You’ll have to take my word for it. Or not.
This is related to my point.
Scientists May Not Be Very Religious, but Science May Not Be to Blame
July 3, 2007 Did God make scientists? Most of them don’t think so.
“Among scientists, as in the general population, being raised in a home in which religion and religious practice were valued is the most important predictor of present religiosity among the subjects.
Ecklund and Scheitle concluded that the assumption that becoming a scientist necessarily leads to loss of religion is untenable.
Ecklund says, “It appears that those from non-religious backgrounds disproportionately self-select into scientific professions. This may reflect the fact that there is tension between the religious tenets of some groups and the theories and methods of particular sciences and it contributes to the large number of non-religious scientists.”
Seems like the honest comparison of the rates of attrition would be between Christian scholars trying to prove the historicity of the Bible versus Mormon scholars trying to prove the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Have any references on that? Care to weigh in with your personal opinion?
This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. It happens regardless of education level and can be illustrated in a survey taken of college professors where 94% of the professors surveyed believed their work was above average. Obviously 50% of them were ill informed if the average held for the entire population of professors. Interestingly, the more a subject actually knows about a topic, the less likely they are to claim to know the most about it. The converse is also true, which explains our Senate, Congress and unfortunately...most of America.
I don’t think there is any doubt attempting to prove the historicity of the BOM is much tougher than doing the same with the Bible.
The Bible is conceded even by its critics to be an ancient book written by men who lived during or not long after the events they relate.
The BOM is taken by all but devout Mormons to be a work of fiction written by a not particularly well-educated young American man in the early 19th century. As a work of fiction it is quite remarkable. As a work of history it is ludicrous.
I once tried to read the BOM. Could not believe how boring it was, compared to the Bible, which admittedly also has unbelievably boring sections. Even as a literary work it is much inferior.
Interesting but irrelevant.
The appropriate study would be of originally religious students and the correlation between their years of schooling and maintenance or loss of religious faith.
I am not trying to say that loss of religious faith among the “most educated” says anything about the truth or falsity of religion, only that more years immersed in an anti-religious environment has an effect. How could it not?
LOL, you want to make a stupid claim, then back it up.
The staunch ones seem: 1) to regard it as authoritative against the teaching and doctrine pf ALL Christian denominations, 2) to be emboldened by it to the extent that they are the proclaim themselves the only true Christians on earth (by way of the Smithian restoration), and 3) then to want to be recognized as Christian brothers by all those who have been judged heathen by their fictionalized polytheistic heresy.
Good points. I am unaware of any study along the lines you mention.
Although it is quite obvious that most “real” scientists are not “men of faith.”
This is merely an observation of a statistical fact, not a comment as to whether the scientists are right to hold this opinion.
For some obscure reason, if you mention the negative correlation between years of schooling and religious faith, many seem to take it as an attack on religion. As if somehow more schooling necessarily equals greater wisdom.
It is also a fact that the higher the level of education the greater the likelihood of a person being a liberal. That doesn’t make them right.
Not quite what I meant to say.
GOP vs. Democrat party membership, not exactly the same thing as conservative vs. liberal, but reasonably close, correlates with education as follows:
High school dropout - Democrat.
High school graduate - approximately split.
Some college up to an undergraduate degree - GOP.
Graduate school - increasingly Democrat the higher you go.
This correlates well with the observed fact that Democrats tend to appeal more to the two ends of the income scale than to the middle.