15. Genetic Evidence Discounts that Native Americans Descended from Jews
The LDS church claims that the ancient inhabitants of the Americas descended from the Jews.
"[The angel] said the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham…" (Joseph Smith, Journal, 9 November 1835. See Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books and Smith Research Associates, 1987), p. 51; Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith: Volume 2-Journal, 1832-1842 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), p. 70; Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 1:44.
Apologists sometimes claim that the Nephites and Lamanites shared their land with other inhabitants not from Jerusalem. However, this does not appear to be the case:
"8. And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
Despite claims by LDS prophets to the contrary, science does not support the view that Native Americans are of Jewish stock. For example, there is no blood antigen evidence for native Americans being related to the Jews. Natives of North and South America (and Pacific Islanders) have genetic alleles that can be traced exclusively to Asia. Mitochondrial DNA is transmitted unilineally, and is therefore not watered down by intermarriage-even the mitochondria of a single remote ancestor of a group would likely show up at least occasionally in tests.
As noted by geneticist Simon Southerton:
"I began searching for research papers having some connection with American Indians or Polynesians. Because I was familiar with plant genetics I became interested in recent research on the DNA of American Indians. The principles of DNA analysis are applicable to all living things so it was relatively easy to jump from the plant to the animal kingdom. I rapidly accumulated many scientific papers comparing the mitochondrial DNA of American Indians from numerous tribes with the mitochondrial DNA of other populations around the world. Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mother to child each generation. It is essentially a female genealogical lineage, or a maiden name if you like, stored in the mitochondrial DNA sequence. This part of the total DNA genome is used for population studies in many animal species. It is very simple to study because the mitochondrial genes don't get rearranged each generation like most genes, which are inherited as a mixed bag from previous generations. I was equally interested in more recent Y-chromosome DNA studies. Male lineages, much like DNA surnames, are passed from father to son and clearly reveal male genealogical lineages.
Consider also this recent conclusion (May, 2002) by Thomas Murphy that genetic research fails to show any connection between Native Americans and Israelite DNA:
"Some Latter-day Saints have expressed optimism that DNA research would lead to a vindication of the Book of Mormon as a translation of a genuine ancient document. The hope is that DNA research would link Native Americans to ancient Israelites, buttressing LDS beliefs in a way that has not been forthcoming from archaeological, linguistic, historical, or morphological research. The results, though, have been disappointing. So far, DNA research lends no support to traditional Mormon beliefs about the origins of Native Americans. Genetic data repeatedly point to migrations from Asia between 7,000 and 50,000 years ago as the primary source of Native American origins. DNA research has substantiated the archaeological, cultural, linguistic, and biological evidence that also points overwhelmingly to an Asian origin for Native Americans. While DNA evidence shows that ultimately all human populations are rather closely related, to date no intimate genetic link has been found between ancient Israelites and the indigenous peoples of the Americas-much less within the time frame suggested by the Book of Mormon. After considering recent research in molecular anthropology, summarized here, I have concluded that Latter-day Saints should not expect to find validation for the Book of Mormon in genetics. My assessment echoes that of geneticist and former LDS Bishop Simon Southerton whose survey of the literature on Native American DNA also "failed to find anything that supported migration of Jewish people before Columbus." He concluded "the truth is that there is no reliable scientific evidence supporting migrations from the Middle East to the New World." (Thomas W. Murphy, "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics", American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon)
Hugh Nibley argued that the Nephites and Lamanites were not the only inhabitants of ancient America:
"The book describes the doings of "a lonesome and solemn people" who do not claim for a moment to be the sole inhabitants of the hemisphere. When Brodie talks of Mound-builders and Mongolians she is not talking about the Book of Mormon at all; she is setting up a straw-man for her 'science' to 'disembowel'…The Moundbuilders actually resemble the Book of Mormon people not at all. Who said they did? The Book of Mormon tells of a people ages removed from the Moundbuilders and very far away. Yet Brodie insinuates that because the Moundbuilders (of all people) do not resemble the Nephites the Book of Mormon is a fraud." (Hugh Nibley, No Ma'am, That's Not History)
President Gordon B. Hinckley said in a January, 2002 interview that the DNA evidence is inconclusive:
"HN: Now, Mr. President, one question which is a little bit complicated for me to understand, but I heard it and one colleague asked me to ask you. What will be your position when DNA analysis shows that in history there never had been an immigration from Israel to North America? Could it be that scientists will find out?
On January 29, 2003 the following explanation was offered by Michael Whiting:
"Genetic drift and the Founder's Effect, two theories that can account for the loss of genetic markers within a population, were probably at work over the last 1,600 years since Lehi and his family came to the American continent."
For more information, an interesting RadioWest interview between Scott Woodward, Terryl Givens, and Tom Murphy is available.