Written December 10, 2002     
 

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© 2014 Bob Lonsberry

 
 
OF DNA, PROTESTS AND RELIGIOUS FAITH

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In the cold outside the big Mormon temple in Salt Lake City the other night, a bunch of protesters carried signs attacking the church and one of its beliefs.

They were supporters of some PhD student in Washington state who says that the Book of Mormon is false.

It's something they believe in, the Mormons, a book that goes along with the Bible and says, among other things, that a small group of Israelites came to the Americas from Palestine more than 2,500 years ago. These people had an interesting history of greatness and gloom and their descendants, Mormons believe, live on among the hemisphere's indigenous peoples.

But this PhD guy says it isn't so.

He says that he's taken DNA from some Jews and from some Native Americans and he's compared it and he doesn't find a link. They aren't related. They don't have any blood in common.

So the Book of Mormon is a crock, he says, and so is the religion that reveres it.

And that's the end of his argument. For which, by the way, he wants to get a doctoral degree.

The sad part is some people will think he's onto something. They will accept his conclusions without giving them the slightest critical thought. Without seeing how flawed and baseless they are.

Without regard to whether or not you believe the Book of Mormon account to be true, the man's assertions are flawed upon their face. They might make good propaganda, but they are ridiculously poor science.

Here's why.

The Jews of today are not descended from the same tribe of Israelites whose members the Book of Mormon says sailed to America. Modern Jews are of the Israelitish tribe of Judah. The Book of Mormon people were of the tribe of Joseph. They lived next to one another, for centuries, but they were not the same people. Technically, they would have just one less generation of separation than modern Arabs and Jews. They would be, at best, astronomically distant cousins.

That's reason one. The DNA is different now because it was different then.

The second flaw in the argument is in the assumption that modern Jews are a people who have descended purely from their ancestors of almost 3,000 years ago. Over those many centuries it is only natural to assume that there have been myriad interminglings and intermarriages. The mere variety of Jewish genotypes -- including skin tones and general appearances -- indicates a broad and diverse genetic background. Jewish lines which have been in long-term residence in various regions of the world invariably resemble the dominant race and form of that region -- indicating interbreeding.

That's only natural.

And it is consequently only natural to question the premise that a vial of Jewish blood is a window into some sort of genetic time warp.

Ditto for Native American blood.

Who knows how many thousands of years the indigenous people of the Americas have lived here, raising families and taking spouses across cultural and even racial lines. Each new birth was a mingling of DNA that both diluted and merged ancestry. In becoming uniquely new, each person is less like any specific ancestor or ancestral group, as the percentage of DNA from a given progenitor becomes infinitesimally small.

One more point.

Who says the Book of Mormon people gave rise to all the natives of the Americas? The Book of Mormon sure doesn't. Its account doesn't in any way preclude other people coming across the Bering Strait or sailing here from other shores or any other explanation for the populating of the hemisphere. Even if the Book of Mormon is true, it's probably likely that a variety of ancient people came to the Americas from a variety of places a variety of times.

And it is also probably likely that the genetic identity of any one migration would be lost in the millenia of natural human interbreeding.

If you add all that up, the PhD student doesn't have anything.

His attack on the Book of Mormon is hinged on the assumption that, if it is true, modern Jews and modern Native Americans would be genetically linked.

But simple common sense says that, even if the book's account is true, it would be ridiculous to expect any DNA link between Jews and Indians. They weren't the same people to begin with; modern Jews are a genetically different people than they were almost 3,000 years ago; and the DNA signature of Book of Mormon people would probably be lost or muted over 2,600 years in the diverse native populations of the Western Hemisphere.

The man is wrong.

Not just on the science, but on the theology.

Because the veracity of the Book of Mormon can't be determined by scholars and technicians. It, like all matters of religion, must be determined by faith. You either believe in it or you don't. No amount of logic or science one way or the other is truly going to make a difference.

The Book of Mormon promises that those who read it and pray about it, who ask God in prayer if it is true, will get an answer, a spiritual answer whispered to their hearts. That is the only convincing way to know. It is the only convincing way to know any item of religious or spiritual truth.

It might be fun or interesting to argue back and forth, to look for scientific or logical proofs, but it will be ultimately unsatisfying. Faith is built on faith, not on logic or science. And answers to religious matters are found on your knees, not in the laboratory.

DNA will teach us a lot of things, but they won't be about God.

He sent his Spirit for that.


- by Bob Lonsberry © 2002

   
        
   
 
    

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