Another Scientist Takes on Southerton’s Inadequate Science

A new edition (volume 17) of FARMS Review of Books is out. There you can read an article of great value in the current DNA debates: “Missing the Boat to Ancient America . . . Just Plain Missing the Boat ” by Ryan Parr. This is a review of Simon Southerton’s Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church.

Dr. Parr has a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Utah and is currently vice president of Research and Development at Genesis Genomics, a Canadian biotech company exploring the use of mitochondrial DNA for the early detection of prostate and breast cancer. He has authored and coauthored mitochondrial DNA studies of Native Americans, specializing in ancient DNA.

Dr. Parr clearly shows the inadequacy of Southerton’s attacks on the Book of Mormon and the scientific likelihood that genetic traces of an individual or small group will be lost in time when there are larger population groups present. See a simulation of the propagation of genes in his Figure 3: “In general, if eighteen unique mtDNA, or Y chromosome ‘names’ are followed through time, by the twentieth generation, only two names will have survived. John C. Avise, Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution, 2nd ed. (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer, 2004), 144 fig. 4.9.” He also discusses some of the scientific evidence of ancient sailing and transoceanic contact that Southerton overlooks in his efforts to assign the origins of all ancient Americans to Bering Strait migrations.

Parr suggests that Southerton would do well to consider Henry Eyring’s perspective:

I have trouble understanding why people drift away from the Church. . . . There are all kinds of contradictions that I don’t understand, but I find the same kind of contradictions in science, and I haven’t decided to apostatize from science.

Here is Parr’s conclusion:

Nothing within the Book of Mormon precludes an Asian ancestry for Native Americans, nor is there any reason to believe that these same people, given geographic constraints, were not part of the events described therein. There are no “chapter-and-verse” genetic requirements for any of these groups, nor should we expect any. This does not mean that genetic markers of an ancient Near Eastern origin will never be found in the genetic record of Native Americans; however, there are compelling reasons to accept their absence. There will always be those who must have every detail before them prior to any acceptance of truth. This view always generates a cascade of doubt that ends in an appeal to the secular judge of science; however, in this particular instance, the insistence that the presence of small groups from the ancient Near East must absolutely be present in the current genetic record of Native Americans, as a means of testing the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, is an unrealistic expectation.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

122 thoughts on “Another Scientist Takes on Southerton’s Inadequate Science

  1. ” Nothing within the Book of Mormon precludes an Asian ancestry for Native Americans, nor is there any reason to believe that these same people, given geographic constraints, were not part of the events described therein. “
    This reminds me of what the FAIR site has in answer to what Joseph taught about people living on the moon.
    Here it is. It says so much about Mormon apologists and the one sided way they view any material presented that might shatter that fact proof screen they have in front of their faces. It’s like they are screaming, Please don’t challenge my world view and belief system. It is all I have and I am just so happy to be living the life I have. Don’t ruin it for me.
    Anyway, Here it is. It is so lovely I had to share it with you.
    Enjoy, Tom

    Another aspect of the matter needs to be considered. At the present time, man has no scientific or revealed knowledge of whether or not there are inhabitants on the earth’s moon. The fact that a handful of astronauts didn’t see any inhabitants in the tiny area they viewed when they landed on the moon decades ago certainly gives no definitive information, any more than visitors to earth who might land in barren Death Valley would have any idea of the billions of inhabitants elsewhere.

  2. “…there are compelling reasons to accept their (genetic markers) absence…”

    Nobody begrudges the Mormon view of the BofM as a document that offers spiritual guidance; but this insistence on validation from the historical and scientific spheres leads to concessions such as this.

    The backdrop of the BofM is a narrative of pre-Columbian native Americans; what bothers me about these apologetic attempts is that they attempt to obscure the historical record that is enfolding before our eyes – a record that is infinitely more interesting, complex, dynamic, evidence-rich, and life-affirming than JS’ story.

    From Monte Verde, to Clovis, through the Wari, Tiwanaku, Beni, Incas, Mayans, Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs, – linguists, archaeologists, botanists, biologistics and cultural anthropologists are studying these cultures, piling up evidences, and piecing together an incredible story arc that doesn’t seem to include Semites, horses, chariots, steel, etc. Why insist on twisting what God is revealing to us through this work – the spiritual power of history is there for the taking.

  3. Raymond at 8:15: The proper rejoinder is “So?”

    As you admit, the unfolding story isn’t completed yet. No one knows how it’s all going to piece together.

    No one is saying not to do, or to ignore, archaelogical research. Mormons welcome it and embrace it. But please don’t wag the finger at us until everything is discovered.

    And of course it’s going to be more complex and detailed than the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon doesn’t purport to be a complete historical record. Over and over the authors said they put in less than the hundredth part of what happened. And there are the glaring holes of where the BoM is silent. Were there other inhabitants besides the Mulekites when the Lehites arrived? Did other migration groups mix with the Nephites and Lamanites? Were there any Jaredite stragglers besides Ether and Coriantumr?

    As I kid I was fascinated by the mysterious “Mound Builders.” Were the “Mound Builders” of the Ohio to New York area of the Jaredite or the Lehite dynasties or neither?

    Hey, I would like to know what happened to the steel Jaredite swords and the horse bones too. But I’m not going to let it affect my faith. Because the absence of steel objects in Iceland’s archaelogical record was finally reconciled with an acceptance that they still had and used steel objects, but they just didn’t abandon them or lose them so they could be preserved for us to find in the digs. They were handed down, reused, recycled, and kept in “real time.”

    Similar thing with horses in the Hun empire. Historians accept that the Huns had plenty of horses. But archaelogists haven’t found horse bones in any digs in the Hun geography.

  4. Bookslinger said:

    “But please don’t wag the finger at us until everything is discovered.”

    Translation: “I don’t ever want to know.”

  5. I would invite anyone to find any historical document, even a purpoted complete history as the BOM, that accounts for every nook and cranny of its setting in the manner that critics ask it to. It is humanly impossible. The Pentagon Papers didn’t do it (there are gaping holes concerning the U.S. covert operations there). The Popol Vuh didn’t do (it is largely a lineage history, much like the Book of Mormon claims to be).

    This ought to leave us wondering: why would the Book of Mormon be anomalous to its purported setting? We should, instead, examine it next to its self-proclaimed context instead bemoaning how it doesn’t describe the things we want it to describe.

  6. “He also discusses some of the scientific evidence of ancient sailing and transoceanic contact that Southerton overlooks in his efforts to assign the origins of all ancient Americans to Bering Strait migrations.”

    What’s funny is that 4 years ago, at a university in the midwest, I was taught in anthropology class that the Bering Strait theory isn’t a good fit, and that it is more probable that many Native Americans arrived by boat by following the coast. Since water levels were much lower at the proposed time that this occurred, archaeological digs were starting to be done underwater near the coastline.

    I don’t worry much about missing swords and animal bones. After all, we still haven’t dug up every square inch of earth, and we especially haven’t dug up every square inch of underwater coastline. So I think it’s a bit preposterous to assert that those “missing” items don’t exist.

    Besides, there are much better things to hinge a testimony on than archaeology.

  7. Walker:

    Nice strawman.

    “…that accounts for every nook and cranny of its setting in the manner that critics ask it to.” –

    Whole civilizations, hundreds of thousands if not millions, disappear without a trace, and this just a few hundred years pre-Christ and then after Christ.

    That LGT setting will soon become a sandbar off the coast of Guatemala.

    Meanwhile the archaeological record in the Americas is filling out nicely, thank you, and it doesn’t include Semites on tapirs dragging chariots.

  8. I see no evidence that apologists are attempting to obscure or distort the record that is unfolding. Indeed I think almost all apologists would love people to become better informed in history and science.

    Don’t confuse discussing one small issue with the suggestion that it is *all* that ought be discussed.

    Further, it seems that cries of “look at the big picture, look at the big picture, don’t look in that corner” are themselves distorting in that they strongly suggest that inquiring after BoM origins is wrong and shouldn’t be done. It’s akin to saying that if one studies physics one can’t study cognitive science.

  9. Raymond,
    If you believe that the present state of known archealogical evidence trumps faith, then please inform the Jews that their ancestors were never in Egypt, because there is absolutely no archeological evidence of it. Without archealogical evidence to support him, Moses must have been a liar, and his religion must be a fraud.

    And if Moses’ religion was a fraud, then the one who claimed to fulfill the Law of Moses would be a fraud to.

    Your weapon that you claim cuts down the Book of Mormon and LDS, would also cut down the Bible, and hence all Jews and Christians.

    So why pick on us? Is it that Judaism and mainstream Christianity are acceptable delusions, but those dang Mormons just go too far?

    What about the lack of scientific backing for non-Judeo-Christian religions? Do you also do them the favor of visiting their web sites and blogs and pointing out where they are wrong?

  10. Raymond: “a record that is infinitely more interesting, complex, dynamic, evidence-rich, and life-affirming than JS’ story.”

    (1)

    I’m not sure how the history of the Americas becomes more complex with the subtraction of potential peoples and events. That needs some explaining, I think.

    (2)

    Also, regarding “life-affirmation”: I suppose it’s a matter of taste, but the appearance of Christ among the Nephites seems somewhat more “life-affirming,” to me at least, than does ancient Mayan ritual bloodletting or the Aztec cult of human sacrifice, which was carried out, one can justly say, on a virtually industrial scale. And I suspect that the Aztecs’ prisoners, lined up by the hundreds waiting for their hearts to be torn out of their chests, might have been sympathetic to my point of view.

    (3)

    Acceptance of the Book of Mormon story by no means precludes acceptance of Toltecs, Olmecs, Zapotecs, or the Clovis culture. It’s not a matter of believing in either one or the other.

    (4)

    And nobody seriously claims that the peoples of the Book of Mormon disappeared “without a trace.” They undoubtedly left “traces.” The question is whether those traces can be recognized as what they are. Such identification, even apart from the Book of Mormon, is not unproblematic, archaologically — particularly in the Americas, and particularly in the relevant period of the Pre-Classic. (Bill Hamblin’s early article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, on “Methodological Problems in the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Archaeology and Geography of the Book of Mormon” is excellent on this and related points.)

  11. (Sheesh, I just realized I’ve been spelling archaeology wrong.)

    Things like missing swords and horse bones and unexplainable DNA are mere pittance.

    Let’s not forget the center of our beliefs. The Book of Mormon is not the object of our worship. We’re talking about a God, the Son of God, who in outward acts healed lepers on the spot, walked on water, raised others from the dead, and rose from the dead himself. (Leaving aside the really big intangible thing like the Atonement for just a moment.) I have never heard anyone, not any preacher of any religion, adequately explain those things, especially to the satisfaction of someone outside of the Judeo-Christian belief system.

    Yet I believe those things on faith in spite of the fact that no one can explain how they happened.

    Therefore, I don’t have to have physical evidence of steel swords or horse bones or DNA in order to have equal faith in the Book of Mormon.

    Your whole “You can’t believe the Book of Mormon because there’s no scientific evidence of steel swords or horse bones, etc.!” accusation is silly. I believe in miraculous healings, walking on water, and resurrection without scientific evidence too.

    So if you’re going to stand on the soapbox of science and archaeology to ridicule Mormons for believing the Book of Mormon, please go ahead and show your true colors, and ridicule ALL Christians for believing the Bible, too.

  12. There’s one more aspect to the illustrated anti-Mormon attacks on our faith that is disingenuous.

    It is the false accusation that apologists are trying to prove that the Book of Mormon is true.

    The apologetics displayed on this blog are given as evidences of plausibility, not proof, but more specifically as counters to the incorrect or unfounded interpretations and presentations of the archaeological and secular historical records.

  13. Anon @10:51:

    “Meanwhile the archaeological record in the Americas is filling out nicely, thank you, and it doesn’t include Semites on tapirs dragging chariots.”

    Incidentally, my “strawman arguments” are created in the image of their opposition. 🙂

    Your generalizations/simplifications about Mesoamerica’s geography and Book of Mormon scholarship are largely unjustified. First of all, you assume that the entire Nephite people maintained their Hebraic culture throughout the chronology. Hardly. It was almost the wholly the intelligensia of the Nephites who kept the records and, of consequence, the culture. That the masses would adopt and assimilate (mostly) into the dominant cultures is expected (gradual language death, what is happening even now amongst the Hmong people of San Diego), hence eradicating any real possibility of seeing evidence of “Hebrews riding tapirs.” Indeed, it is apparent that both the Nephites and the Lamanites (both of which were by no means homogenous as seen by the references in which Lamanites were numbered among the Nephites) had a cultural interchange of customs (as seen in Alma 47 where the Lamanites borrow a Nephite rite). Nephites do likewise in Mormon’s letter (Moroni 9) where his soldiers have taken up pagan practices of cannibalism. More references are available.

    But evidence like this will hardly satisfy those who do not hunger for it. If you expect definitive evidence millenia-old artifacts with multi-lingual barriers, you will be sorely disappointed. Even famed Mt. Sinai has more than twenty candidates vying for the honor (see Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems…)

    If you wish to continue attempts at proving a negative, please feel free. However, anyone (even non-specialists like myself) who is generally conversant with the discipline of ancient history will be able to point out the holes in your argument.

  14. Incidentally, Dr. Parr is, I’m told by absolutely trustworthy authorities, just another one of the run-of-the-mill FARMS DNA reviewers. They’re no more than Utah hick seminary teachers, lacking even the slightest background in science.

    By sheer good luck, I’ve run into John Butler, the prominent human-DNA researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who wrote one of the early responses to the topic that appeared in the FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, twice during the past few weeks, once in Provo and once, on Wednesday night, back near his home in Washington DC. I informed him during one of those encounters that, since (as I’ve been reliably informed) he’s merely a seminary teacher with no scientific training, all those years he wasted on his Ph.D. in biochemistry and on internationally recognized research into forensic applications of DNA were a completely irrelevant waste of time.

    We both enjoyed a hearty laugh at that one. By the way, he doesn’t teach seminary.

  15. Bookslinger said:

    “I believe in miraculous healings, walking on water, and resurrection without scientific evidence too.”

    And

    “I don’t have to have physical evidence of steel swords or horse bones or DNA in order to have equal faith in the Book of Mormon.”

    I can respect both comments. As I initially posted, spiritual belief is not begrudged, nor is it ridiculed.

    So we are in agreement that the scientific or archaeological evidence for BofM historicity is wanting. I draw a different conclusion than you as to what that means.

  16. A quick musing: Reading this stuff from the anti-Mormon folks begs the question: How does our (meaning the many hundreds of thousands of faithful Latter-day Saints who have firm testimonies of the BOM)–how do our firm testimonies harm you guys? It’s as if our beliefs were depriving you of something, giving you a pain that requires you to whine while coughing up old, outdated accusations. If you could come up with something original, it would be a blessing.

  17. Raymond: “So we are in agreement that the scientific or archaeological evidence for BofM historicity is wanting.”

    Proof is lacking. Evidence is not. We can debate about how strong or weak that evidence is, but it’s simply false to suggest that there is none.

    Incidentally, Raymond, do you have any response to my four points above?

  18. Daniel Peterson asks:

    “do you have any response to my four points above”

    I didn’t read them as requiring a response. But to keep the thread going a little longer –

    1)

    Regarding the subtraction of “potential” peoples, I prefer to use the additive property of real cultures with a record.

    2)

    Do you really want to suggest that the magnitude of BofM violence compared with the Mayans and Aztecs gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling?

    3)

    When we can find intact four thousand year old textiles in Peru, and evidence of coastal habitation in Chile from over 13,000 yrs ago, and can piece together a metallurgical progression through the Incas, precluding millions of “potential” peoples becomes more reasonable.

    4)

    There’s a point here that’s trying to gestate. Pls give it birth.

  19. Raymond: “So we are in agreement that the scientific or archaeological evidence for BofM historicity is wanting.”

    Not quite. We agree there is no smoking-gun proof of the BoM.

    “I draw a different conclusion than you as to what that means.”

    Yes. We disagree on how to interpret some of the evidence. And we likely disagree on what evidence the Book of Mormon demands in order to satisfy historic compliance with what is written therein.

    And though I’m unsure which poster you’ve been through the many threads on this blog, most of those taking a stand contrary to the Book of Mormon tend to not just disagree on the interpretation of some evidence, they tend to outright ignore some.

    I’m still curious as to how you apply archaeological evidence to Bible history and relate that to modern Jews and Christians.

  20. Raymond: “1) Regarding the subtraction of ‘potential’ peoples, I prefer to use the additive property of real cultures with a record.”

    You’re shifting ground. You haven’t shown how lowering the number of peoples, events, and objects potentially present in a region makes the potential history of that region more complex. But, in fact, precisely that was your claim. I take it that you would now prefer not to have made it. If so, I can sympathize, and will happily let you retreat on that point.

    Raymond: “2) Do you really want to suggest that the magnitude of BofM violence compared with the Mayans and Aztecs gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling?

    I said nothing about warm and fuzzy feelings. Would you care to address the point I actually did make?

    Any way we look at it, there were a great many wars and much destruction in the pre-Columbian Americas. The Book of Mormon, however, affirms belief in a benevolent God, in an atoning Savior, and in that Savior’s visit to the New World. The pantheons of the Aztecs and the Maya and the other groups in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica seem, from my perspective, on the whole distinctly less palatable.

    What do you find that is more “life-affirming” in the fragmentary narratives available to us of Toltec, Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, and Olmec history — to the extent that such narratives even exist — than in what the Book of Mormon gives us? You claim to see in the Book of Mormon (or, at least, to allow that others might see) some sort of spiritual value. Yet you seem to attribute superior spiritual value to the world disclosed by secular Mesoamerican archaeology. Please indicate where you find it.

    Raymond: “3)When we can find intact four thousand year old textiles in Peru, and evidence of coastal habitation in Chile from over 13,000 yrs ago, and can piece together a metallurgical progression through the Incas, precluding millions of ‘potential’ peoples becomes more reasonable.”

    Perhaps. Would you have precluded the discovery of the Olmec only a few decades ago? Do you preclude the discovery of any additional peoples beyond those already in the survey texts? Do you intend to assert that Mesoamerican archaeology has matured to the point of equilibrium, and that no paradigm-altering discoveries remain to be made? On what basis do you do so?

    Raymond: “4) There’s a point here that’s trying to gestate. Pls give it birth.”

    I thought I was quite clear. But I’ll try again.

    The Olmec didn’t vanish without a trace, but it was only relatively recently that the ruins and artifacts that they left behind were recognized as “Olmec.” And, of course, the term Olmec is a modern one. We created it; we don’t know what they called themselves, and we don’t know whether they were a simple unitary ethnicity or, as seems more likely, a conglomeration of various ethnicities. Did they not exist before their artifacts and ruins were distinctively identified? Did they only flare into existence when that identification was made? What if we eventually decide to distinguish between different kinds of “Olmecs”? Will that have any impact on the ancient people or peoples that we’re studying?

    How do you know that we have not already found many Nephite and Lamanite artifacts? How would you distinguish a Nephite potsherd from anybody else’s pre-Classic potsherd? Does current Mesoamericanist nomenclature exhaustively cover everything that we’ve found? If you think so, on what basis do you think so? Have we found everything that’s going to be found? Or even the majority? Please justify your answer.

    Thanks in advance for your patience in explaining your thought on these matters.