Misunderstanding of both DNA-related science and the nature of the Book of Mormon led to premature rejoicing in some circles over the alleged refutation of that key scriptural text for Latter-day Saints, as previously discussed here and on my LDSFAQ essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon. DNA data is only a problem for the Book of Mormon is one makes unjustified and extreme assumptions about what the text requires.
The religious bias and serious misunderstanding shown in some coverage of that story is also illustrated in recent media coverage on the allegedly embarrassing discovery in DNA data that the ancient Canaanites were not wiped out but have descendants alive and well in Palestine. On Dec. 31, Evolution News ran the story, “#2 of Our Top Stories of 2017: Clueless Reporters and Canaanite DNA.” There is some terrific irony in the very unintelligent designs of the popular media when it comes to reporting on religion and science. Here is an excerpt from the story:
The science story itself is fascinating and to all appearances solid. Human remains dating to some 3,700 year ago from ancient Canaanites yielded DNA revealing a startling overlap with modern-day Lebanese. The latter thus appear to harbor descendants of the long-ago population (“Continuity and Admixture in the Last Five Millennia of Levantine History from Ancient Canaanite and Present-Day Lebanese Genome Sequences,” American Journal of Human Genetics).
Wow, that is interesting. How will they spin it? The headlines tell the tale:
- “Study disproves the Bible’s suggestion that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (The Telegraph)
- “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” (The Independent)
- “Bronze Age DNA disproves the Bible’s claim that the Canaanites were wiped out: Study says their genes live on in modern-day Lebanese people” (Daily Mail)
- “Scientists Find Evidence That Ancient Canaanites Survive Today: Was The Bible Wrong?” (Tech Times)
- “New DNA study casts doubt on Bible claim” (Mother Nature Network)
- “The Bible was WRONG: Civilisation God ordered to be KILLED still live and kicking” (Express)
- “Genetic evidence suggests the Canaanites weren’t destroyed after all” (Ars Technica)
- “Canaanites Weren’t Annihilated by Ancient Israelites After All” (Newser)
- “Study disproves the Bible’s claim that the ancient Canaanites were wiped out” (Click Lancashire)
- “Canaanites survived Biblical ‘slaughter’, ancient DNA shows”(ABC Online)
- “DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites” (Cosmos)
- “The Bible got it wrong: Ancient Canaanites survived and their DNA lives in modern-day Lebanese” (Pulse Headlines)
The only problem with this reporting? The Bible is detailed and unambiguous in relating that the Canaanites survived Joshua’s invasion. So it’s no wonder they have living descendants. I’m not here to pass judgment on ancient Canaanites or ancient Israelites, on the Bible, Joshua, or anyone else. But come on, reporters, where’s your elementary cultural literacy, of which knowing a thing or two about the Bible is a key element?
The author points out that Judges 1 lists all the places where the Canaanites continued living. Interestingly, one of those cities was Sidon (Judges 1:31) where the ancient DNA was found with genes that have persisted to this day in Lebanon. Yet these stories insist that the Bible has been refuted because the Canaanites were not completely wiped out.
Even the reputable journal Science, in a reporting article, had to backtrack with an editor’s correction, blandly styled as an “update”:
This story and its headline have been updated to reflect that in the Bible, God ordered the destruction of the Canaanites, but that some cities and people may have survived.
Not “may have survived.” In the Bible’s account, they definitely survived, in large numbers. The original headline? “Ancient DNA counters biblical account of the mysterious Canaanites.” It should be, “Ancient DNA confirms biblical account…”
No doubt about it, the war against the Canaanites is among the most politically incorrect narrative elements in the whole of Scripture. That it was incompletely carried out is attested to by the Bible, and now demonstrated by modern genetic analysis. That’s news, whether your interest is religion or science. Who will tell the reporters?
Such irony. DNA data from Lebanon is consistent with or even confirms one aspect of the biblical record, and yet through ignorance it is gleefully painted as yet another embarrassment refuting the Bible. While there are obvious problems in some aspects of that record and in the story of the conquest of the Promised Land, the fact that Canaanites survived and have living descendants today is clearly not one of the challenges Bible believers need to struggle with. Properly understood, the DNA data for the Canaanites considered in light of the Old Testament is what we should expect, actually. What we should expect from the media, though, seems to be very little when it comes to accuracy in reporting religious topics.