A Significant and Scientifically Oriented New Statement from the Church on DNA and the Book of Mormon

For some of us who love science and our faith, the new statement from the Church on “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” comes as a pleasant surprise. This is a scientifically rigorous statement that delves into some of the complex issues of DNA studies and gives us wise guidance in understanding how they apply to the Book of Mormon.

The statement, in my opinion, seems to draw heavily on classical “FARMS-style” LDS apologetics, even citing work from well-known apologists such as Daniel C. Peterson and Ugo Perego, who has a Ph.D. in genetics. I had dinner with Brother Perego in Rome recently (I’m in Rome as I write this, about to visit the Vatican) and am pleased to see that his work has played a prominent role in this important statement from the Church. His own DNA results are mentioned in the article (turns out his mitochondrial DNA points to some of the same Asian roots found among many Native Americans, though he has no known Asian connection in his ancestry).

For those of us who have dealt with the Book of Mormon challenges raised by our critics based on DNA studies, this statement is much appreciated. I also like the implicit hat-tip to classical scholarship-based LDS apologetics. This statement comes from the Church and required lengthy review and scrutiny from the Twelve, as I understand. So nice to see it published. May we learn from it and consider its multiple healthy implications.

Update, Feb. 3, 2014: The FAIR Blog has a good discussion of some implications of the new statement.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

20 thoughts on “A Significant and Scientifically Oriented New Statement from the Church on DNA and the Book of Mormon

  1. “It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”
    What, exactly, is "secular" evidence? Is this a rejection of the scientific method? If there was a "silver bullet" that categorically proved the Book of Mormon based on scientific and "secular" evidence, would the leadership reject it based on this statement?
    Also, I like the polka-dot bow tie illustration. They should sell those at Deseret Book.

  2. The authenticity of the Book of Mormon relies on what Joseph Smith said about his reception of the record; namely, angelic visitations, divine power to translate the record, the record subsequently being taken by the angel Moroni. I am not aware of any secular (or scientific) method to prove the above. The Book of Mormon is to bring people to Christ and is not a field guide to Central America or any geographic region.


  3. The article has a postscript: "The Church acknowledges the contribution of scholars to the scientific content presented in this article." And up in the third paragraph is the disclaimer: "The conclusions of genetics, like those of any science, are tentative."

  4. The USA Today article has a quote from Perego “"The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,"” That seem very wrong to me and set me to look for the original person who coined this phrase (Sagan?), I came across this clarification at wikipedia


    For instance, absence of evidence that it rained (i.e. water is the evidence) may be considered as positive evidence that it did not rain. Again, in science, such inferences are always made to some limited (sometimes extremely high) degree of probability and in this case absence of evidence is evidence of absence when the positive evidence should have been there but is not.

    In the case of BoM and DNA, DNA added nothing other than being a final nail in a pre-existing coffin. The positive evidence that should have been simply was not.

  5. Regarding the article, Perego's quote is an example of a "functioning credulity principle" (innocent/truthful until shown to be guilty/false) in evaluating historical accounts. Credulity/credibility being "worthiness of belief", not "demonstrated truth" (veracity).

    (See "Credibility and Veracity — A look at evidential criteria" at http://bit.ly/1gjCHHT).

    Is it wrong to not apply this principle to the BoM, and hold it to a higher standards for both credibility and veracity? Only to the extent that it conflicts with other accounts or that there is a possible consequence to the truth claim worth anything.

    Any organization or person undermines the appropriate use of credibility and veracity in determining truth undermines the value of truth itself.

    I believe God is a God of Truth and will use verifiable and credible accounts to communicate his Word that will prove faithful throughout time. It doesn't mean everything he does is verifiable to all or credible to all, but the essential things he will reveal to many.

  6. Mormography,

    How many variables exist if it rains or not? Either it did rain (water on the ground when there is no way for water to be on the ground) or it did not rain. So, absence of evidence in this case is evidence of absence. Since there is only one archaeological evidence of crucifixion from the Roman times, I will therefore conclude that crucifixion is only a myth and passed down as a cautionary tale to dissuade would be criminals, because as we well know, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.


  7. Steve
    “in science, such inferences are always made to some limited (sometimes extremely high) degree of probability”

    That is an interesting degree of probability you have there.

    Or maybe you are suggesting that the Wikipedia crucifixion article needs updating


    or maybe the False Analogy or Cherry Picking articles need updating.



  8. Mormography,

    I am not sure what you are implying so you might have to be a bit more blunt.

    Are you suggesting that the analogy of the lack of rain compared to the lack of evidence about the Book of Mormon is a false analogy? Or, did you use the concept of rain fall to cherry pick an argument in your favor? Or maybe the articles in general need updating so as to quantify when the absence of evidence is indeed evidence of absence?

  9. 10:54 AM, February 15, 2014 Anon

    Who are you? If you are Steve, I essential asked what you were implying first, so you are going to have to be more blunt and answer first.

    If you are not Steve, well Steve is going to have to be more blunt first regarding his crucifixion analogy and his cherry picked archeology lack of example (whatever it is or is not) explaining why wikipedia is completely wrong regarding crucifixion. Then Steve will need to elaborate a little more regarding conspiracy theories among academics regarding attempts to suppress non Bering Strait theories, etc or why they are wrong with regards to a civilization numbering in the millions for centuries with metal, chariots, etc would disappear without evidence.

    "but mainstream historians and archaeologists do not regard the Book of Mormon as a work of ancient American history."

    Mormanity has an easy answer to this one. The BoM is mistranslated. Chariots are not really chariots, scimitars are not really scimitars, horses are not really horses, etc.

  10. Mormography,

    How many mainstream historians and archaeologists even know about the claims the Book of Mormon makes? How many even know it deals with the ancient Americas?

    My point is that likely every single "mainstream" expert simply doesn't care and would never ask for funding on Book of Mormon research. And that has nothing to do with its truthfulness or historicity.

  11. Michael,

    What you argued is as silly as asking how many mainstream academics are aware of Ignatius Donnelley's Atlantis Theory of the New World. I would venture to guess nearly all of them are aware at least superficially of such weak fringe ideas. The fact that apologist such as Mormanity have been forced to essentially argue that the BoM is mistranslated has everything to do with its lack of historicity.

  12. Mormography,

    It is only "silly" to argue with you. You respond with nonsense to my comments and you twist Jeff's arguments. I am done responding to your comments.

  13. Michael,

    LOL. You couldn't respond and essentially just admitted that you know you are in the wrong by expressing your irrational emotional frustration. What nonsense.

  14. Mormog, I never said that Joseph mistranslated the text. The question is one of our understanding or misunderstanding what was meant by the words an ancient people used to describe new things. While there is some evidence of some horses surviving in the Americas long enough to possibly overlap with the Book of Mormon, it's possible that another species of animal was given a similar name. Immigrants to a new land or any people encountering new items often use old words to describe that which is new. When Europeans saw the hippopotamus, they called it a river horse (hippo + potamus), when it has nothing to do with a horse. The same word we once used for trains (wagon car) is now used for the automobile, though it's not the same at all. We like to use old words for new things, as Orson Scott Card explains.

    So when we encounter a text that has gone through multiple languages and multiple editors/translators (e.g., Nephi and Hebrew, Mormon and later Nephite language, reformed Egyptian for writing, then translation into English) and has involved people coming from one continent and naming things on another, the exercise of understanding what the text means (including what the original speakers meant and what they actually experienced that made them word things that way) is not trivial. To expect them to give us scientifically accurate terminology for our day is unreasonable, especially when the intent of the authors makes it clear that horse/chariot/barley/whatever are all incidental details of tiny importance compared to the message they are seeking to preserve. To get all worked up over the naming of insects and mammals is to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, or horse, in a most unhealthy and unwise manner.

  15. Yeaahh … in the land where I come from we call what you just described a mistranslation, especially given the scale on which it occurs. But I get it. Where you come from there is a more scientific name for it, what is it, something like translatio commodius? Where one translation causes a potential anachronism blame it on a potential literal translation of the originating language. Where another translation results in a potential anachronism (ala King James Bible) blame it on a non-literal translation to a language familiar to the recipient audience. Whatever. At any rate it appears that we are strongly agreeing, just for different reasons, that is, the BoM should not be used as a basis of historicity.

    I am not sure who it is that is getting “all worked up”, maybe it is one of your straw-men buddies you have conversations with. In the land where I come from, saying things like “a most unhealthy and unwise manner” in this sort of forum borders on the definition of getting “all worked up”.

    I think the original expression was to strain-out, not, strain-at, as in to reject this or that, but accept a parodied version of it. It appears that it is the apologist that are rejecting (straining out) multiple items that question the historicity of the BoM allowing it to be accepted (swallowed). If you meant strain-at as into strain one’s eyes on a single minute detail thereby blinding one’s self to obvious items, well that would be the apologist again with NHM straining while swallowing a whopper. Either way it is the academics that are seeing the deciduous forest (come winter the fluffy, colorful leaves all fall down) while the apologists stare at sporadic shadows of single coniferous evergreens inside the deciduous forest.

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