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Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Apologetic Response to Losing a Lost Tribe

"Such practical wisdom eludes Southerton and confounds any ability to reason, think, and ponder through what he sees as inconsistencies. This drives a misunderstanding of the nature and character of the Book of Mormon and yields an unwillingness to acknowledge the limitations of the science upon which he relies so heavily. In addition, Southerton seems unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon. The second sentence of his preface proclaims that the principal groups and populations of the Book of Mormon "were practicing Christians centuries before the birth of Christ".... These myopias are astonishing for one claiming special insider knowledge not only as a former long-time member of the Church of Jesus Christ, but also as a scientist."
-  Ryan Parr, 2005 

An apologetic response to my book Losing a Lost Tribe was published by the Foundation for Apologetic Research and Mormon Studies in 2005. The article can be retrieved from the Maxwell Institute website by clicking on the title below.
Ryan ParrFARMS Review: Volume - 17, Issue - 1, Pages: 83—106

A review of "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church" by Simon G. Southerton Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2005

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Then editor of the Farms Review (2005-2006), Louis Midgley, introduced Ryan Parr’s review of Losing a Lost Tribe in his introduction under the heading “Secular Anti-Mormon Mockery Exposed.” According to Midgley, the FARMS Review provides:-
“more richly detailed, carefully written, fully documented accounts of the crucial texts and events in the Mormon past ... The growth of an obviously faithful and sophisticated literature on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, much of it published in this Review or elsewhere under the FARMS imprint, has led to considerable dissonance among dissidents, cultural Mormons, and anti-Mormon zealots. Critics respond to this scholarly literature with vilification, animosity, and acrimony, with slurs, name-calling, and unseemly personal attacks.” 
- Louis Midgley, 2005 

Louis Midgley was a Professor of Political Science at BYU for 36 years before his retirement 16 years ago (1996). This is the same man who after a recent panel discussion at UVU verbally assaulted John Dehlin. He threatened John and attempted to blame him for the death of a missionary on his mission (Brian Bartholomew), and with being involved with Grant Palmer a decade before John had even met him. This disturbing exchange was recorded on video.

My response to Dr. Ryan Parr was published on the Signature Books website in 2005 and is reproduced below. Proceed with caution!

In his review of my book, Losing a Lost TribeDr. Ryan Parr suggests that studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) inheritance in the fish species Poeciliopsis (below), a minnow from the Sonora Desert of Northwestern Mexico, has some relevance for understanding human population genetics.1 Due to a quirk of sex determination, the hybrid offspring of crosses between P. monacha females and P. lucida males are always female. The major findings of the paper were (1) that the frequency of paternal “leakage” of P. lucida mtDNA to the hybrid offspring is extremely low or absent and (2) that each successful hybridization “fixes” or adds another P. monacha mtDNA genome in the hybrid populations. It is difficult to imagine how such dated (1987) research in hybridogenetic fish is relevant to the application of mtDNA analysis to human genealogy, a field of research that traces its genesis to the same year.2

Offspring of crosses between P. monacha females 
and P. lucida males are always female

Extinction or coalescence?
Parr cites this research to document a concept he considers to be central, that of coalescence, which he nevertheless misunderstands. Notice his frequent references throughout his review to the coalescence, or what he calls “loss,” of DNA lineages:
Indeed, over time, the fate of most Y and mtDNA lineages is extinction through coalescence.3 
This natural elimination of “foreign” mtDNA haplotypes would accelerate mtDNA coalescence.4 
At the conclusion of the fourth generation, 13 of 18 Y-haplotypes would have coalesced, or become extinct.5 
Reasonably, the migratory groups described in the Book of Mormon are genetically lost through integration, selection, migration, coalescence, and the effects of time.6
In population genetics, the term “coalescence” refers to the fact that DNA lineages in living populations “trace back, or coalesce, to common ancestors at various depths of times in the past.”7 Lineages do not coalesce forward in time, through extinctions, to a smaller number of living lineages. Given such an error, it is ironic that Parr felt it necessary to attack me personally where I wrote that “whether or not Jews . . . found their way to the New World is susceptible to examination using DNA technology,” a concept Parr considers to be outrageous and an indication of “ignorance” on my part of “the complexities of population dynamics.”8

What Parr is trying to establish here is that if there were Jewish inhabitants in ancient America, as he believes there were, we would not expect to find DNA evidence for them. Where Parr writes about coalescence, it is to emphasize the process of lineage sorting, or “lineage extinction,” which he illustrates by reproducing an mtDNA tree from Avise.9 Parr is fond of this illustration because it shows an unbelievably high rate of lineage extinction over the space of twenty generations. Starting with eighteen unique mtDNA lineages or names, the tree shows that by the twentieth generation, only two would survive and sixteen would go extinct. This is the foundation for Parr’s primary argument that the vast majority of the DNA lineages of the founding Book of Mormon people would be expected to become extinct soon after their arrival in the Americas, making it unlikely they would be found today.

In his haste to emphasize the high probability of lineage extinction, Parr fails to mention that the Avise mtDNA tree was generated on the assumption that each female in the population would have, on average, only one daughter.10 Not only does this theoretical population not grow in size, in each generation about 37 percent of the females fail to produce any female offspring at all.11 Is this representative of any typical human population, let alone the highly fecund Book of Mormon lineage history? It is, in fact, a gross simplification, constructed for the purpose of taking a theoretical look at a strictly hypothetical situation. In the instance of the Book of Mormon population, we are told that soon after their arrival in the Americas, they “multiplied exceedingly and spread upon the face of the land” (Jarom 1:8). By about 46 BC they had spread until they “covered the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east (Hel. 3:8).

Consider the more real possibility that a woman might have on average two daughters, and the probability of lineage extinction in each generation drops from 37 to 13.5 percent. For an average of three daughters, it falls to just 5 percent. However, there is another more important detail which Parr overlooks completely. Each woman almost invariably shares an identical mtDNA lineage with many of her living female relatives including her sisters and the female offspring of her maternal aunts and half of her maternal great aunts. If she fails to have a daughter, these female relatives are very likely to vicariously pass an identical lineage on to future generations. Taking into account vicarious transmission and underestimates of fertility, the likelihood of lineage extinction is vastly lower than Parr suggests.

But our intrepid apologist goes further to advance this narrow model of population genetics, claiming it to be a universal rule for predicting the survivability of DNA lineages in any population. For instance, he applies this assumption in interpreting the population dynamics on the Polynesian island of Rapa, concluding that after four generations, 74 percent of the Y chromosome lineages (Native American and European) introduced by the slave ship Cora would have gone extinct.12 This overestimation of the rate of lineage extinction leads Parr to believe that the “Cora incident is not the only explanation” for the high frequency of Native American DNA lineages among Rapans and that other migrations may have occurred. He overlooks the fact that the slaves from the Cora introduced disease to the island that caused catastrophic population decline among the native Polynesians. While the slaves carried the disease, it is very likely that they also carried a measure of resistance to it, giving their offspring a decided survival advantage.

Parr also brings his fatalistic assumptions to his discussion of the Lemba people in Zimbabwe, who in his words are “currently winning the genetic lottery.” 13 Lemba males largely descend from a small number of Israelite males who were probably shipwrecked on the east coast of southern Africa roughly 1,000 years ago. About 17,500 Lemba males (70 percent) possess an Israelite Y chromosome; however, because 30 percent possess Bantu Y chromosomes, Parr predicts that with time “all traces of Israelite paternity” will be “lost.”14 What Parr overlooks is the fact that mixing between the Lemba and Bantu was likely a two-way street. As the Lemba mixed with neighboring Bantu populations, the frequency of Israelite Y chromosomes would have increased in the Bantu. As this mixing continues, increasing frequencies of Israelite Y chromosomes will begin flowing back into the Lemba and eventually strike a balance where lineage proportions are relatively stable. The Lemba example is not a case of winning against the odds. It is exactly what we would expect in adjacent, intermarrying populations.

And yet, Parr is far from finished with his miserly predictions. To eliminate any lingering doubts that might exist in anyone’s mind, he identifies various sundry challenges that maybe, just might have plagued the Lehite founders. For instance, since the group was “kin-associated,” disease-linked genes may have become so prevalent that it led to their extinction.15 In a further stretch, he posits that Israelite mtDNA may have been wholly uncompetitive in the New World, citing a recent study that found evidence of adaptive selection of mtDNA lineages.16 However, the study in question found changes in the frequency of particular DNA lineages, not wholesale extinctions, and the changes in frequencies occurred over much greater lengths of time than those relevant to the Book of Mormon. In any case, the Book of Mormon says its seafaring immigrants fared very well in the New World.

After grossly inflating the likelihood of DNA lineage extinction, Parr raises the bar further by imposing an unassailable technical constraint. DNA tests would only be of value if they were conducted on archaeologically well-defined ancient populations representative of the groups intended for comparison.17 Here Parr is insisting that we have ancient DNA from Israelites and Native Americans from the correct locations 2,500 years ago. Since we don’t know where the Lehites were supposed to have lived in the Americas, Parr knows he is asking for the impossible. However, Mormon apologists have not required this level of evidence to be convinced that Native Americans are overwhelmingly descended from Asians.18 Even Parr himself is persuaded on the basis of DNA comparisons between living Asians and Native Americans.19 To date, no DNA tests have been carried out on 15,000-year-old ancient bones from either continent.

Practicing Christians in the pre-Christian era
According to Parr, I lack “practical wisdom” and the “ability to reason, think, and ponder,” which drives my misunderstanding of the Book of Mormon and my “unwillingness” to see the limitations of the science. In Losing a Lost Tribe, I note that the Book of Mormon people “were practicing Christians centuries before the birth of Christ.” Parr is “astonished” that a former member of the church could exhibit such “myopia.”20 He provides no evidence to the contrary, apparently on the assumption that my statement is so obviously false.21 So, what does the Book of Mormon say about Christian worship centuries before Christ?

Consider these words from Nephi approximately 550 years before Christ’s birth:
… we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins (2 Ne. 25:26). 
… if ye shall follow the Son … repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, … then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost … (2 Ne. 31:13).
Nephi’s younger brother Jacob made similar exhortations.
Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest … (Jacob 1:7).
The Book of Mormon records that in 147 BC Alma baptized Helam and together they baptized numerous people who, via their baptism, joined the “Church of Christ” (Mosiah 18:13, 17). By 74 BC members of this church were referred to as “Christians” (Alma 46:13-16). King Benjamin’s address on Christ and the conditions of salvation in approximately 124 BC had such a powerful effect on those in attendance that they covenanted to be called the “children of Christ” (Mosiah 4:3; 5:7-8). Parr needs to explain why he thinks these Book of Mormon passages don’t support my original statement.

Feelings over facts
Parr claims that in Losing a Lost Tribe I criticize members of the LDS Church for using their feelings as a criterion of belief.22 What Parr interprets as criticism is simply a description of how Latter-day Saints determine truth. No criticism is leveled at ordinary members of the church. Latter-day Saints have feelings attached to many beliefs, which are difficult to distinguish from what they understand to be revelation received from the Holy Ghost. As a consequence, these beliefs are deeply entrenched in the church and show little sign of slowing, given that all prophets, including the recent leadership, have endorsed them.23

In his review, Parr totally overlooks the fact that for the last 175 years, the Book of Mormon has been presented to Native Americans and Polynesians as a history of their ancestors. The Book of Mormon has frequently been used to convince native investigators of their Israelite ancestry and played a major role in their conversion. Apologetic arguments that Lehi made an essentially undetectable contribution to the gene pool in the Western Hemisphere may make stimulating apologetics, but they trivialize the feeling-based beliefs of the wider Mormon community.

Official versus ubiquitous church views
In Parr’s view, I am wrong to assert as official church policy that Native Americans and Polynesians are exclusively descended from Book of Mormon people.24 I have not made this claim, and I go to considerable lengths to note the reluctance of church leaders to make any official statements concerning the whereabouts of the Lamanites.25 My only reference in my book to an official position is that “no one knows exactly where the events narrated in the Book of Mormon occurred; only that it occurred in the Americas.”26

Conveniently overlooked are my three chapters wherein I document the far-reaching support for the common belief among Mormons that Native Americans and Polynesians are largely descended from the Lamanites.27 The limit of Parr’s acknowledgement of the common mythology is to quote from the introduction of the Book of Mormon: “The Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” This statement has not been the reason Mormons hold these beliefs, but it is indicative of how pervasive the myth is due to its reinforcement by statements from the church’s presidents and apostles. Parr believes that church members do not “read the Book of Mormon for nuances and echoes of population demographics and population genetics.”28 It remains for Parr to explain an alternate theory for the origin of this myth if not derived from a plain reading of the Book Mormon and from the prophetic statements of the church’s leadership.

Multiple millennial stroll
During his undergraduate and graduate studies, Parr would have become aware of the considerable archaeological, anthropological, and now molecular evidence that the North American continent was widely populated at least 13,500 years ago and that the original Asian ancestors arrived in the continent in excess of 15,000 years ago.29 Because of Parr’s church experience, he will also be aware that many readers of theFARMS Review are unprepared to accept such early dates for the colonization of the Americas. Consequently, this is the extent of Parr’s description of the scientific view of the initial discovery of the Americas:

It is not difficult to imagine a multiple millennial stroll across the Bering land bridge, mostly because this idea is part of the “contemporary wisdom” that anthropologists have professed and to which they have adhered for some time; however, the associated archaeological clues do not offer the requisite breadth and detail to reconstruct more than broad generalities of this ancient process.
            -  Ryan Parr 

Parr deftly avoids mentioning the presence of people in the Americas as long as 13,500 years ago, an admission that would only raise further questions among many Latter-day Saint readers. While the details of this colonization are unlikely to ever be known, there is essentially a consensus among scientists that it was a very ancient process, and describing the original colonization as a “multiple millennial stroll” conveys no insight into the depth and breadth of scientific understanding of New World colonization. Few LDS apologists are prepared to be up front about their acceptance of such an early arrival in the New World, and Parr joins the ranks of the circumspect. It is disappointing that he, as a molecular anthropologist who is well informed about America’s prehistory, would choose to conceal rather than enlighten.

Plant genetics
A “curiosity” of my book, in Parr’s view, is my failure to address the evidence of “widespread human movement across the Pacific, attested by the distribution of cultigens and crops.”31 Parr includes a table listing thirty-eight plant species for which he claims there is “decisive evidence of transoceanic movement” between the Americas and Polynesia/Asia.32 The list was compiled by Carl L. Johannessen and FARMS scholar John L. Sorenson, well known in the archaeological community for their rigid support for pre-Columbian transoceanic voyages across the Pacific.33 Few of the tabled species, however, provide “decisive evidence.” In fact, there is very little evidence to support general human movement between Polynesia and the Americas. The assembly of questionable botanical lists in support of widespread cultural diffusion is symptomatic of a wider problem that has plagued Pacific archaeology for decades, as noted in a recent American Antiquity article by Terry Jones and Kathryn Klar:

Theories of transoceanic diffusion, of course, have been the scourge of anthropological archaeology for nearly half a century—largely for good reason. The “literature” of transoceanic contact consists primarily of a profuse amalgam of wild, ill-supported theories mostly proposed by self-trained archaeologists. … Most archaeologists have shunned these discussions because they often incorporate archaeological information in questionable ways and, even more commonly, border on the absurd.34
        - Terry Jones and Kathryn Klar

Any list or assemblage of a dozen, or even a hundred, unsubstantiated claims may make for relaxing bathroom reading, but it is foreign to the scientific approach. Before a plant can be a candidate for pre-Columbian transfer, there should be reliable historical accounts and/or linguistic evidence that suggest their occurrence in both Polynesia and the Americas at the time of first European contact, and there should be archaeological evidence of pre-contact cultivation. Unless these criteria are met, one has to assume the crops moved around the Pacific after European colonization in the mid-1500s when there was substantial movement of cultigens. The only plant species in the Parr table for which there is widely accepted evidence that it “diffused” across the Pacific prior to Columbus is the sweet potato. The only other species seriously considered by Pacific archaeologists as possible evidence of human contact are the bottle gourd, the soapberry, and coconut.35

Sweet potato (Ipomoea purpurea)

In Losing a Lost Tribe, I explore in detail the origins of the sweet potato. At the time of the first European contacts, it was an important crop “deeply embedded in tradition and ritual,” and archaeological evidence of fossilized tubers occurring prior to European colonization has been found.36 Most Pacific scholars believe the sweet potato arrived in Eastern Polynesia in about AD 1000 via a return voyage by Polynesian sailors who reached the coast of Peru or Ecuador. Recent molecular studies suggest that the story may be more complicated. Polynesian sweet potato varieties tend to be more closely related to varieties found in Mesoamerica rather than South America.37 Similar molecular studies on the bottle gourd have revealed that New World gourds are closely related to Asian gourds. The bottle gourd was widely used in the Americas at least 8,000 years ago. It is now believed that the bottle gourd and the dog, two “utility” species, were domesticated before food crops or livestock species, and that both were brought to the Americas by the earliest settlers.38 DNA tests suggest Polynesian bottle gourds are similarly related to Asian gourds with a possible small contribution from South America. Work is in progress on ancient Polynesian gourds in order to determine their genetic origins. 39

Interestingly, the recent report in American Antiquity by Jones and Klar suggests that Polynesians reached southern California some time around AD 400-800. They found evidence that the Chumashan and Gabrielino tribes suddenly began using elaborate, composite-style, bone fishhooks and sewn-plank canoes in the Santa Barbara channel.40 Both the fishhooks and the canoes are remarkably similar to those used by Polynesians at the time they reached Hawaii in about AD 800. Three Polynesian words referring to boats have been observed in the languages of these two tribes. These findings suggest that soon after colonization of Hawaii, Polynesians completed a voyage to mainland North America.

If American Indians migrated into the Pacific, as Parr apparently believes they did, they made essentially no impact on Pacific societies. The molecular, anthropological, archaeological, and linguistic evidence from the Pacific suggests very little if any interaction between Polynesian and American Indian societies. At the very least, if Eastern Polynesia was settled by Native Americans around AD 800 (when C14 dates say the east was settled), why did they not bring their pottery technology with them, or maize, beans, squashes, guinea pigs, and llamas, or Amerindian languages?41

Of science and faith

Parr enters the debate long after most LDS scholars have already conceded an Asian origin for Native Americans and admitted the absence of any trace of a presumed progeny of Lehi. Parr holds a doctorate in biological anthropology from the University of Utah and has studied prehistoric populations in the American Southwest.42 He is the first Latter-day Saint scientist with experience in human molecular genetics to publish a response to the DNA-based criticisms of the widely held beliefs about the Book of Mormon. He accepts the Asian origin of ancient Americans and argues that we should not expect to find evidence of Hebrews in the Americas. In that, we are in agreement. But his attempt to turn the absence of evidence into a hint of positive evidence is less than satisfying. He writes that “the fate of most individuals and events is lost through time. For example, the presence of the children in Israel in Egypt is not found in Egyptian records.”43

He begins from a position of faith, telling readers that DNA is “the divinely sculpted biological inheritance of the human family.”44 He suspects I place faith in science ahead of religious faith and believe that faith must be preceded by “scientific proof.” In fact, I believe that faith can flourish only when people are told the truth from whatever and all available sources. It makes no sense to insist on a belief in the unbelievable. There is an important difference here. In my case, for thirty years my religious orientation was accompanied by a distorted understanding of the true history of America’s past. Not only did I know little of the science that was applicable to this issue, I accepted without question the widespread urban legends in the church, one being that BYU scholars had found archaeological evidence in Mesoamerica that supported the Book of Mormon, another being that the Smithsonian Institution had used the Book of Mormon as a guide in some of their research. Scientific truth exposed my faith in a book that has no historical connection with the ancestors of the Polynesians or Native Americans. In the final analysis, this really has very little or nothing to do with the larger question of religious faith and much to do with conservatism, literalism and theological calcification.


1. See Ryan Parr, “Missing the Boat to Ancient America … Just Plain Missing the Boat,”FARMS Review
17/1 (2005): 83-106. The paper Parr cites is Avise and Vrijenhoek, “Mode of Inheritance and Variation of Mitochondrial DNA in Hybrido-genetic Fishes of the Genus Poeciliopsis,” Molecular Biology and Evolution 4 (1987): 514–25.
2. Global mitochondrial DNA variation in human populations was first examined in the influential work of Cann, Stoneking and Wilson, “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution,” Nature 325 (1987): 31-6.
3. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 87.
4. Ibid., 92.
5. Ibid., 97.
6. Ibid., 101.
7. John C. Avise, Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution, 2nd ed. (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer, 2004), 284. See also Mark A. Jobling, Matthew Hurles, and Chris Tyler-Smith, Human Evolutionary Genetics: Origins, Peoples and Disease (New York: Garland Science, 2004), 183, 500.
8. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 89-90.
9. Ibid., 87; cf. Avise, Molecular Markers, 144, fig. 4.9.
10. See the legend for fig. 4.9 in Avise, Molecular Markers, 144, 284-85; italics added.
11. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 97.
12. Ibid.
13. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 96.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., 92.
16. Ibid.; see Eduardo Ruinz-Pesini, Dan Mishnar, Martin Brandon, Vincent Procaccio, and Douglas C. Wallace, “Effects of Purifying and Adaptive Selection on Regional Variation in Human Mitochondrial DNA,”Science 303 (2004): 225.
17. Ibid., 90-92.
18. See Dean H. Leavitt, Jonathon C. Marshall, and Keith A. Crandall, “The Search for the Seed of Lehi: How Defining Alternative Models Helps in the Interpretation of Genetic Data,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36 (Winter 2003): 133–50; D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens “Who Are the Children of Lehi?”Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12 (2003): 38–51; David A. McClellan “Detecting Lehi’s Genetic Signature: Possible, Probable, or Not?” FARMS Review 15 (2003): 35-90; and Michael F. Whiting, “DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12 (2003): 24-35.
19. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 88.
20. Louis Midgley, in the editor’s introduction (“The First Steps,” FARMS Review 17/1 [2005]), introduces Parr’s review of Losing a Lost Tribe under the heading “Secular Anti-Mormon Mockery Exposed.” According to Midgley, what the FARMS Review has “provided and promoted are more richly detailed, carefully written, fully documented accounts of the crucial texts and events in the Mormon past (xvii).” “The growth of an obviously faithful and sophisticated literature on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, much of it published in thisReview or elsewhere under the FARMS imprint, has led to considerable dissonance among dissidents, cultural Mormons, and anti-Mormon zealots. Critics respond to this scholarly literature with vilification, animosity, and acrimony, with slurs, name-calling, and unseemly personal attacks.” But as anyone familiar with the discussion knows, it is precisely in the FARMS Review, most notoriously from Midgley himself, that one can most reliably expect to find name-calling and personal attacks.
21. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 103.
22. Ibid., 84.
23. Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 44-45; see also my “DNA Über-Apologetics: Overstating Solutions—Understating Damages,” Sunstone, Oct. 2005, 70-73.
24. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 84.
25. Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 3-4, 43.
26. Ibid., 43. This quote is taken from John E. Clark’s “Book of Mormon Geography,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992).
27. See Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, chaps. 1, 3, 4; Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 99-100.
28. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 91.
29. See, e.g., Francis Jennings, The Founders of America: How Indians Discovered the Land, Pioneered in It, and Created Great Classical Civilizations (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993); Michael H. Crawford, The Origins of Native Americans: Evidence from Anthropological Genetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
30. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 89.
31. Ibid., 97.
32. Ibid., Table 1, 105-06. Several of the plant species listed are flowers, weeds, or grass species of no economic importance. Hibiscus tiliaceus occurs widely throughout the tropics on beaches and is likely to be indigenous to both Polynesia and the Americas.
33. John Sorenson was serving an LDS mission in the Cook Islands at the time Thor Heyerdahl sailed the famous Kon-Tiki raft from Peru to the Tuamotus in 1947. He has been convinced, ever since, that there has been widespread diffusion of human cultures across the Pacific. See “An Interview with John L. Sorenson,”Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 11 (2002):80-85. Carl L. Johannessen, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Geography at the University of Oregon, is best known for his published claims about the identification of maize (corn) in ancient statues in India. Most archaeologists believe the depictions represent some other plant such as pearl fruit because, to date, no botanical evidence of pre-Columbian maize agriculture has been found.
34. Terry Jones and Kathryn Klar “Diffusionism Reconsidered: Linguistic and Archaeological Evidence for Prehistoric Polynesian Contact with Southern California,” American Antiquity 70 (2005): 457-484.
35. Chris Ballard, Paula Brown, Michael Bourke, and Tracy Harwood, eds., The Sweet Potato in Oceania: A Reappraisal, Oceania Monograph 56 (Sydney, Australia: University of Sydney, 2005), 7, 60-61, 185.
36. Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 113. See also James Coil and Patrick Kirch, “An Ipomoean Landscape: Archaeology and the Sweet Potato in Kahikinui, Maui, Hawaiian Islands,” in Ballard, et al., Sweet Potato in Oceania.
37. Dapeng Zhang, Genoveva Rossel, and Albert Kriegner, “From Latin America to Oceania: The Historic Dispersal of Sweet Potato Re-examined Using AFLP,” Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution 51 (2004):115-20. Chris Ballard and Roger Green have both criticized the selection of sweet potato lines in the Zhang study, which included few samples from Eastern Polynesia. See Ballard, et al., Sweet Potato in Oceania, 7, 44.
38. David Erickson, Bruce Smith, Andrew Clarke et al. “An Asian origin for a 10,000-year-old domesticated plant in the Americas.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 102 (2005): 18315-20.
39. Andrew Clarke, personal communication. Data is contained in a paper currently at press with Molecular Biology and Evolution.
40. Jones and Klar, “Diffusionism Reconsidered.”
41. Pottery was commonly used in the Americas but was not found in Eastern Polynesia, personal communication with Dr. Peter Bellwood, Australian National University.
42. Ryan Parr, “Molecular Genetic Analysis of the Great Salt Lake Wetlands Fremont,” Ph.D. diss., University of Utah, 1998.
43. Parr, “Missing the Boat,” 94.
44. Ibid., 84.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Has Middle Eastern DNA Been Found in Mesoamerica as BYU Scientists Claim?

In 2008 the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) published a DVD entitled The Book of Mormon and New World DNA. The DVD is an assortment of interviews with several LDS scholars and scientists. It contains the usual claims that the critics' conclusions and methods are flawed, but it also contains very surprising claims that there is credible DNA evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. Portions of the DVD are available in three parts; part 1, part 2 and part 3 on youtube. You can also purchase a copy of the full DNA from the FAIR Bookstore here

Undoubtedly, the most prominent scientist featured on the DVD is Professor Keith Crandall, a highly regarded evolutionary biologist formerly at Brigham Young University, but now at George Washington University. There are also contributions from two other scientists, including Jeffrey Meldrum, an anthropologist from Idaho State University famous for his Sasquatch (Bigfoot) research and Ryan Parr who has a PhD in human anthropology from the University of Utah. Other contributions come from Brian Stubbs, who teaches English and linguistics at the College of Eastern Utah. [Stubbs describes his own unpublished research where he claims to have found “considerable evidence” of Hebrew and Egyptian in a least one Mesoamerican language.] and FAIR apologists John Tvedtnes, Allen Wyatt and Michael Ash. 
Claims of Middle Eastern DNA in the Americas
Two participants interviewed on the DVD make the claim that evidence of Middle Eastern DNA has been found in Mesoamercia

Keith Crandall
The most striking claim on the DVD is made by Keith Crandall. He even claims that the authors of some recent DNA studies have identified Middle Eastern haplotypes (DNA) in Mayan peoples. Not surprisingly, these amazing claims are featured right at the beginning of the DVD. 

The Book of Mormon and New World DNA Part 1: 0.03 – 0.25min.  

 “The most recent DNA evidence that I’ve seen, in terms of peopling of the Americas, shows this Middle Eastern haplotype at greatest frequencies in the Mayan people; so if that’s your perception of where Lehi and company set up shop then the DNA evidence would be consistent with that.”
 Keith Crandall, 2008

Later in the DVD Crandall tells us a little more about this amazing discovery.

The Book of Mormon and New World DNA Part 3:  2.11 – 2.39 min.

"…there is an interesting bit of data that probably only an LDS scientist would pick up…[chuckle]…which shows for the Mayan people and maybe one or two other cultures close geographically to the Yucatan area…there’s actually a nice infusion of Middle Eastern…what they call Middle Eastern genotypes in those populations."
 Keith Crandall, 2008
If these finding were true then why hasn't the media got hold of this story yet? If scientists really did find evidence that the genes of Middle Eastern groups had been found in Native Americans I would imagine that they would be very excited about that discovery and would want the world to know. But there have been no reports of such a finding. Crandall also goes on to reassure listeners that the DNA studies are very difficult to understand, and that because the critics are not population geneticists like him, they couldn’t understand the research.

The Book of Mormon and New World DNA Part 1: 1:20. – 1:37min.

“The real issue is that these guys don’t actually look at the population genetic literature, they don’t understand the population genetic literature because they’re not population geneticists…so they couldn’t interpret these kinds of data. It's a very tricky kind of literature and a tricky kind of data to wrap your brain around. But it’s pretty patently obvious when you look at their data in this one figure in particular.  If that's what you’re looking for its there.”
 Keith Crandall, 2008
Several Mormons who have watched the DVD have contacted Keith Crandall to ask for references for his claims. He has typically referred them to two scientific research papers; one published by Jun Li in 2008 entitled “Worldwide human relationships inferredfrom genome-wide patterns of variation” and one authored by Noah Rosenberg in 2005 entitled “Clines, clusters, and the effect of study design on the inference of human population structure. Crandall directs them to figures (see below) within these papers that compare the ancestry of the nuclear DNA of individuals in worldwide populations. The figure below is drawn from the paper of Li et al. A similar figure appears in the paper by Rosenberg.

If you look closely at the data for the Mayan population, you will notice that their ancestry includes DNA likely to have originated in Asia (orange) and Europe (green). This is the DNA Crandall claims came from the Middle East. By far the most likely origin for this DNA is post-Columbus admixture, a common problem scientists encounter when studying the ancestry of Native Americans. Males introduced most of this admixed DNA. To avoid this confounding DNA most population geneticists studying Native American ancestry focus on a maternally inherited portion of our DNA known as mitochondrial DNA.

Admixture in mitochondrial DNA lineages can be avoided by ensuring that no European or African females occur in an individuals direct maternal lineage (their mother’s, mother’s, mother etc). Admixture is much more difficult to avoid when studying nuclear (chromosomal) DNA. Nuclear DNA is passed from both parents to their offspring as complex rearrangements of their ancestors DNA. To avoid admixed nuclear DNA you would need to ensure that none of the ancestors in a Native Americans family tree were European or African.  

Most of the admixed DNA was most likely derived from Europe as most of the admixed DNA was green, matching the European DNA. This is entirely consistent with the findings of mitochondrial DNA studies which have shown that the very small number of mtDNA lineages in Mesoamericans are derived from Europe or Africa (see my blog post "Where are the Lamanites in Mesoamerica?"). 

Could it be possible that Crandall has misinterpreted the research and not the critics? One thing is certain, his insinuation that the research papers state there are Middle Eastern genotypes in the Maya is incorrect.  Neither paper makes that claims. None of the authors of the papers Crandall cites conclude, as he suggested, that Middle Eastern DNA was found in the Maya. That is his interpretation of their research. Crandall also chooses to overlook a much more comprehensive study published by Wang et al. in 2007 that examined 499 individuals from 29 Native American populations (see figure below from Wang et al. 2007). This oversight is particularly glaring because Wang’s study was specifically focussed on Native American ancestry, whereas the studies by Li and Rosenberg were clearly global in scope.

The figure shown below is from Wang's study. The first thing that you will notice is that the level of admixture in the Maya is similar to the levels seen in many other Native American populations. There is also no evidence of any specific connection between the Maya and Middle Eastern groups. If you look closely at the Maya data in the expanded section you will see that the admixture includes Siberian (red) and Asian (pink) DNA (due to their ancient connection to these regions) and European (blue) and African (orange) DNA. The latter DNA almost certainly arrived after Columbus as we can see it cropping up in numerous North, Central and South American populations.

I have contacted Keith Crandall on several occasions and drawn attention to all of the things I discussed above.  He has shown no interest in correcting his claims, unlike John Tvedtnes, the other apologist in the DVD who makes similarly bold claims about DNA links to the Middle East.

John Tvedtnes (MA in Linguistics and MA in Middle East Studies (Hebrew) was a senior scholar (now retired) with the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts at Brigham Young University. Tvedtnes has published over 300 articles on a broad range of apologetic topics and has been particular outspoken in the DNA debate despite having no scientific training.

In the full FAIR DVD Tvedtnes claims that the Native American mtDNA X lineage had been found in Mesoamerica, adding support to the Limited Geography apologetic arguments that link the Lamanites with Mesoamerican civilizations (These claims don't appear in the three parts available on Youtube). He also claims that a DNA lineage named “N” found in Great Basin tribes was related to N lineages found in Europeans. The X and N lineage claims of Tvedtnes are both wrong and I drew these to his attention via email. After several months of corresponding with John I was able to convince him that his statements were incorrect and to his credit he requested that FAIR edit the DVD to remove the problematic comments. FAIR took the easy option and chose not to edit the DVD, but rather they added an obscure link to an errata page at the bottom of the DVDs home page, where Tvedtnes’ “corrections” can be found. They are quite comfortable to continue selling a DVD that contains several false and misleading claims.
“FAIR Errata
FAIR DVD: DNA and the Book of Mormon
John Tvedtnes was kind enough to revisit our interview with him, and made the following clarification. His remarks should be considered with these caveats in mind: 
I acknowledge that there are two parts of my interview that are problematic. The first is that, at the beginning, I said that haplogroup X is found in Mesoamerica, which is incorrect. Later on the DVD, I note that it is found in the eastern USA (and Canada, BTW), but "Mesoamerica" was incorrect. Also, the way I worded things made it sound like this was evidence for the Book of Mormon. It is, of course, not direct evidence, though it is true that the "brand" (as I put it) of X found in the New World is closer to that found in Europe and in the Middle East, where X is thought to have originated. Still, as I indicated in my later comments on the DVD, the likelihood is that the X of eastern North America came from Europe.

I also made an inadvertent mistake in assuming that the haplogroup labeled "N" for remains of Great Basin Natives was also found in Europe. As it turns out, the Great Basin studies used "N" to denote samples of mitochondrial DNA that did not fall into the ABCD haplogroups and was intended to mean "none." The real importance of these and X in general is that more haplogroups have been discovered since the original ABC (which expanded to ABCD, then added X, with others unclassified and usually labeled "other"). This suggests that one cannot close the door on more such discoveries, as some of the critics suggest.”
Even in his corrections Tvedtnes continues to get it wrong. There is no evidence that the X lineage found among Native Americans is more closely related to X lineages found in Europe and the Middle East. The relationship is very ancient. He also cannot help but try to turn his N lineage gaffe to his advantage. All Tvedtnes needed to do to avoid the N lineage blunder was to talk to the author of the research, Ryan Parr, who also appeared on the FAIR DVD!! We can safely assume that there is nothing in Parr’s research that supports the Book of Mormon because he didn’t talk about it on the DVD.

Why do I bother?
As a BYU professor Keith Crandall is in a position of trust. Many Mormons, including active members in my own family, place considerable confidence in the words of a BYU professor. Many trusting Mormons hearing his comments in the FAIR DVD could be excused for believing that scientists have found a firm genetic connection between the Maya and Middle Eastern peoples. This is simply not true. It would be particularly painful for me to hear that members of my extended family were reassured by Crandall’s words and as a consequence think that I am ignoring crucial evidence.

If any readers share my concerns please feel free to email Keith to see if he still stands by his position.  He doesn't seem to be listening to me. You can find his email address by searching for his name at BYU. Please try to be polite if you choose to contact him. I would certainly be interested in hearing if he has revised his thinking since the publication of the FAIR DVD.


Li, J. Absher, D.M. et al. (2008) Worldwide human relationships inferred from genome-wide patterns of variation. Science 319:1100-1104.

Rosenberg, N.A., Mahajan, S. et al. (2005) Clines, clusters, and the effect of study design on the inference of human population structure. PLos Genetics 1,660-671. 

Wang, S., C. M. Lewis, et al. (2007) Genetic variation and population structure in Native Americans, PLoS Genetics 3: 2049-2067.

Friday, 27 January 2012

First Encounters with Institutional Mormonism

Elder Holland angrily defends the historicity of the Book of Mormon
LDS General Conference, October 2009

There has been an apologetic firestorm in response to questions raised by DNA about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Links to much of this scholarship have been provided on official church websites. However, this academic kerfuffle took place some time after my first personal interactions with senior leaders of the church and LDS apologists. I observed a striking contrast between the way I was treated by local leaders, who trusted and respected me, and more remote senior leaders and apologists who instantly treated me as a critic and enemy of the church. This is an account of those interactions.

Encountering the science
I first came across DNA research on Native Americans in July 1998 when I was serving as a bishop of an LDS ward in Brisbane, Australia. Over a period of about 2 weeks I read about 30 research papers that presented the mitochondrial DNA lineages of about 2000 American Indians from about a hundred tribes scattered over the length of the Americas. It was clear that over 99% of their DNA was derived from Asia and was probably brought into the Americas in excess of 12,000 years ago. DNA studies also showed that the female ancestors of the Polynesians came from South East Asia and not the Americas. 

The first research paper describing the presence
of Asian DNA mutations in Native Americans

For two weeks I wrestled with the research. I struggled with the complete discrepancy between the research and my understanding of the Book of Mormon and the doctrine of the Lamanites. Like all Mormons I knew, I believed that Native Americans and Polynesians were largely descended from Lehi. This doctrine had been reinforced in my mind by every aspect of the Mormon culture I was immersed in. I knew many Polynesians in the church in Australia and they all thought of themselves as Lamanites.

For most of this 2-week period I firmly believed that the Book of Mormon was true; but I also had a growing knowledge that Native Americans were not related to Israelites. The intense cognitive dissonance this created was eventually resolved on the 3rd of August. When I woke up that morning I no longer believed that there were any Lamanites to be found. I no longer believed that the Book of Mormon was a historical document connected with the true origins of the American Indians. This was a devastating discovery that had an immediate impact on many other beliefs. Since I had based my testimony on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, as many prophets had counselled me to do, my belief in the truth claims of the church were also severely compromised.

If I had not been the bishop I could have quietly dealt with this challenge to my faith. But I was the bishop and I had severe doubts. To continue in my calling was unthinkable. I had no alternative but to ask to be released. I met with my Stake President two days later and asked to be released. He asked if I could hold on until a new bishop was called, but I insisted I be released as soon as possible. Within a week I had met with the entire Stake Presidency to discuss my reasons for asking for a release. All local leaders who knew me showed respect and kindness in the way they treated me. Not once did I detect judgement or anger. All of us were upset with what was happening. I was released about two weeks after meeting with my Stake President and a member of the Stake Presidency acted as bishop until a replacement was found. Releasing a bishop and calling a new one is not a simple process, and typically takes about 6 weeks in Australia.

Mormon Apologists
At about the time of my release the Stake President introduced me to a man named Warren Aston, who also lived in Brisbane. I was told that Warren was aware of many challenging issues and may be able to help me solve the problems I was struggling with. I gave Warren copies of a couple of the DNA research papers, we spoke very briefly, and we never met again. 

I learned afterwards that Warren Aston was a travel agent who specializes in tours to the Middle East. He is also famous in LDS apologetic circles for discovering a stone in Yemen carrying the inscription "NHM". Aston claims this stone may have been connected with the Book of Mormon location Nahom where Lehi built an alter. Intriguingly, noted Mormon scholar Terryl Givens believes that the evidence Aston has uncovered is among the strongest archaeological evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. Warren Aston is also a noted UFO researcher.

A couple of days after meeting Aston my Stake President rang to say that he had received a fax for me from the Foundation for Apologetic Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University.  The fax had the appearance of a published research paper, and was authored by Scott Woodward and John Tvedtnes.  Scott Woodward was Professor of Microbiology at BYU and John Tvedtnes was a BYU linguistics scholar who had published numerous apologetic articles on a wide range of subjects. 

I was alarmed by the tone and content of this document. Just weeks before reading it I had been faithfully serving in the church. The implication that I was a critic of the church looking for evidence to tear down the Book of Mormon was extremely disturbing. During my release I had never criticized the church. I had also not publicly questioned church teachings.  In private meetings I had presented leaders with the facts I was currently unable to reconcile with my beliefs. I was in fact trying to get in touch with senior leaders of the church to discuss the difficulties the DNA research would create for the church in the near future.

I was also very surprised to see Scott Woodward’s name on the FARMS document. I had begun corresponding with Scott about the research and he had always been very courteous. We were both trying to identify senior leaders we could talk to about the issues raised by the DNA. It turned out that Scott was unaware of the FARMS document. He recalled having a brief discussion with Tvedtnes several months previously about the DNA issue but that was all. He was very annoyed that his name had been put on the article without his knowledge. To do such a thing in scientific circles would be unthinkable.

Area Leaders
Within a couple of weeks I received another surprise in the form of a letter from the Area President, Elder Featherstone. I had never spoken to Elder Featherstone before. I learned afterwards that he had not even spoken to my Stake President before writing to me. He had written based on second hand accounts of what was going on in Brisbane with a wayward bishop. His letter was clearly intended to fill me with fear and guilt.  Fear that I would hurt my mother, family and future generations in my family. Fear that I might shake the faith of others who looked up to me. Fear that the eternal lives of my wife and family would be put in jeopardy.  Fear that I would become a “hollow shell” of the man that I once was.

All the people I have spoken to who have known Elder Featherstone agree that he is a genuinely kind man. His letter is simply the natural reaction of a person defending a belief system they are incapable of questioning. In spite of this it was an appalling letter to send and I shudder to think of the number of Mormons who have received similarly abusive letters from their church leaders. 

Featherstone interpreted my actions as a threat to his beloved church and his letter was purely aimed at defending the church. I had asked to be released because I had honest doubts and it was the right thing to do. I could not simply pretend that I was not troubled and continue on as bishop. At the time I was still shocked and confused and had not even decided that I was going to leave the Church. Elder Featherstone later apologized for sending the letter without first talking to my Stake President (who was also surprised by the contents of his letter). 

The area leaders initially questioned the validity of the science and assumed that my interpretation was incorrect. They were of the view that the American Indians were Lamanites and if the science doesn’t agree with that conclusion then the science is wrong. I corresponded with Dr Woodward on about four occasions until I became even more convinced of the seriousness of the situation. In the midst of his lengthy defences of the Church he acknowledged that greater than 98% of American Indian DNA came from Asia and that this conflicts with current thinking in the church regarding the whereabouts of the Lamanites today. He confirmed that scientists at BYU had tested over 6000 American Indians from Peru and they came up with the same problem of virtually all the female DNA lineages coming from Asia. To date this research has not been published.

After communicating with scientists at BYU and reading numerous FARMS publications I wrote to the Area President detailing what I had learned and I asked for his advice. Should I accept the new FARMS theories limiting Lehi’s impact to a small colonization and at the same time reject the words of the prophets or should I reject all the science and go back to what the Book of Mormon and prophets have said? This is the response I received soon afterwards.

Elder Featherstone's inclusion of dialogue I could memorize and quote to those inquiring about my status was particularly troubling. Like a mindless zombie I could say...

"We are all tried in different ways in the Church; and through those trials comes either increased faith and greater commitment, or a lost faith. I am committed to spending as much time as I need with the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price to get my previous witness back again as it was before.”

The thought of memorising and then delivering these words to inquiring members was sickening.  I had reached the end of the road. To stay an active Mormon it was clear what my future held. I would become a pariah and the subject of pity. The only way I could survive in the church would be to stop thinking, keep my doubts to myself, and lie to those brave enough to genuinely inquire about how I was getting on. Ironically, I would have become a "hollow shell" of the man I once was in the church.  

By December 1998 my wife Jane and all of our children (aged between 5 and 15) had decided to stop attending the church. We moved to Canberra a few weeks later and we have never regretted our choice to this day. All of our children have happily grown to adulthood with no religious beliefs. They are wonderful people who are free to make their own choices and they are starting to make important contributions to their community.