"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
November 29, 2013
DNA Links Between the Americas and the Middle East: Lessons from a "Great Surprise" in Science
by Jeff Lindsay

In my LDSFAQ webpage on the turbulent topic of DNA and the Book of Mormon, I have mentioned how bad science or science improperly understood can lead to tragically incorrect conclusions. Although some critics have felt that DNA evidence settles the debate and clearly rules out the Book of Mormon, science does no such thing, though it certainly has challenged some improper readings and lazy assumptions Latter-day Saints have made.

The reality is that the origins of the Americas are more complicated than either our critics or early Latter-day Saints may have realized, and there is room for numerous intriguing stories among the many peoples who have moved across North and South America over the centuries, with still plenty of room left for the Book of Mormon.

Related to the theme of complexity and scientific surprise in the realm of DNA and the origins of ancient peoples in the America, consider this recent headline: "'Great Surprise' — Native Americans Have West Eurasian Origins" from National Geographic's Daily News, Nov. 20, 2013.

Some Latter-day Saint may have gotten overly excited about the new findings behind this story, but it is still worth considering. The leading paragraph certainly seems like the kind of thing that would excite Book of Mormon fans:

Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe, rather than entirely from East Asians as previously thought, according to a newly sequenced genome.

Yes, intriguing. Read the report, and then realize that while there may be a significant chunk of Western Eurasian / Middle Eastern DNA among modern Native Americans, the genetic ties may be too ancient to be of direct value in Book of Mormon studies. Yet the study does remind us of several important things:

  1. Scientists have not yet figured out the origins of all Native Americans based on DNA and other evidence.

  2. Using DNA to trace the origins of people is complex and tentative.

  3. Abandoning the Book of Mormon due to the alleged lack of Middle Eastern DNA in the Americans may be a bit premature.

  4. DNA science does not rule out the possibility of ancient migrations of small groups from Western Eurasia or the Middle East to the New World.

Science is forever tentative, with many surprises yet to come. This "great surprise" should at least open up some interesting new topics for debate and further discovery regarding the complex genetic roots of Native Americans.

In attempting to interpret DNA evidence in terms of Book of Mormon issues, it is important to understand that the Book of Mormon does not claim to describe the origins of all Native Americans, nor does it require that the continent was uninhabited before the Jaredites or Lehi’s group arrived.

It certainly does not require that the DNA from a tiny boatload of people arriving in 600 B.C. should be easily detectable today when 1) there may have already been millions of others in the New World who would continue to dominate the hemispheric gene pool, and 2) we really don’t know what the DNA of Lehi and his group was like, so even if we encountered its traces today in the Americas we might not recognize it or might mistake it as the result of recent admixture with Europeans.

However, if genes from Western Eurasian Jaredites and perhaps some later genes from Western Eurasian Lehites are part of the “Nearly one-third of Native American genes come from west Eurasian people linked to the Middle East and Europe,” that would be an intriguing and welcome surprise indeed.

This is certainly a topic for further study, and we eagerly await further research to more clearly elucidate the nature of these ancient links between the New World and the Old.

Meanwhile, if the seemingly powerful and sometimes deliberately deceptive DNA-based attacks on the Book of Mormon once shattered your faith, I hope these new findings will open the possibility that there may be more to the story than your realized.

In fact, I hope you’ll give the Book of Mormon another chance.

With faith, patience, and properly managed expectations, you can be an intelligent Latter-day Saint experiencing the lasting joy that the Gospel brings and finding great value in the Book of Mormon, an authentic ancient document written for our day.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.


About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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