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The DNA Challenge to the Book of Mormon

What is at the heart of the DNA Challenge to the Book of Mormon?The Book of Mormon claims that Native Americans are principally descended from a people group called Lamanites, who are of Israelite origin. DNA research, however, indicates that Native Americans are from the region of Asia around Mongolia. The title page of The Book of Mormon claims that it was "written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel." 

The introduction page of The Book of Mormon goes on to say that "After thousands of years, all were destroyed, except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."  Based on these claims of the Book of Mormon, the LDS Church has traditionally taught that modern-day Native Americans are descended from Lamanites, who were of Hebrew (Israelite) origin. What does the science say? The science says that there is no evidence of any connection between Native Americans and Hebrews.Archaeologist and anthropologist have long believed that Native Americans migrated to the Americas from Central and Northeast Asia in prehistoric times. The DNA evidence is backing these assumptions up quite solidly.

Mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA testing are effective means of determining the ancestries and relatedness of people and people groups.  DNA tests have been performed on thousands of individuals from scores of Native American tribes, from Alaska to the tip of South America.  The results of the test show that the overwhelming majority (96.4%) of DNA originated in northeastern and north-central Asia, which essentially corroborates what had an already become a widespread consensus among archaeologists and anthropologists of varying disciplines. The post-Colonial era intermarriage easily accounts for the remaining 3.6% discrepancy. 

In addition, the testing of the DNA in the pre-Columbian skeletal remains shows a 100% correlation with DNA from Northeastern and Central Asia.  No indication of Hebrew ancestry has been found in the DNA of Native Americans.  In other parts of the world, DNA has been used to positively identify people groups who do have a clear genetic link to Israel from ancient times. This shows that DNA can be used to clearly show a genetic link (or lack thereof) between people groups. If Native Americans really were descended from Israelites, then their DNA would back up that claim.

What are the implications for the Book of Mormon? It's not just a matter of the history in the Book of Mormon being unprovable; rather, it's that its history can be positively proven as false.So how are Latter-day Saints dealing with these challenges? This is proving to be a difficulty, because two "camps" have formed in response to this. The "camp" generally represented by the LDS hierarchy and church leaders is mistrust the science, and reason in general as "worldly" (that is, unspiritual) wisdom. In so doing, they dismiss the challenges as meaningless, since the story should be accepted on faith, and not based on any type of evidence or reason. Sometimes they will suggest that God changed the DNA of Native Americans, thus obscuring their Hebrew ancestry.

The second "camp" is represented by the LDS academic community, such as BYU, FARMS, and FAIR, among others. Their tactics in dealing with the challenge generally rely upon producing volumes of scientific jargon and conjecture. On the surface, it may appear to refute the challenges, at least to someone who is not well versed in the issues of DNA science.

In reality, however, what they put forth are "straw-man" arguments that don't address the challenges at all.These DNA counter-arguments do not hold up very well among scientists, which leave the LDS apologists with only one other option--to reinterpret the Book of Mormon to fit the science. For example, they may suggest that the Book of Mormon really doesn't teach that Native Americans as a whole are descended from Israel. They cite the probability that the Israelites were absorbed into a larger, pre-existing population, and so all DNA traces would be lost. Or they may say that the story was confined to a small geographic region and that the DNA evidence simply hasn't been found yet. The difficulty with this argument, however, is that the Book of Mormon teaches something very different.

There is no mention of other people groups or civilizations living on the land when the Israelite migration arrived or at any time afterwards. And there is nothing in the text that suggests the entire story was confined to a small geographic region. On the contrary, it speaks of a small group of Israelites who multiply and cover the face of the land, building huge cities and empires.The DNA evidence, when properly and fully examined, leaves us with only one conclusion: The Book of Mormon simply cannot be what it claims to be--an ancient history of the Americas.

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